Shame and New Orleans

Human rights are axioms. They can coexist on the market with many other axioms, notably those concerning the security of property, which are unaware of or suspend them even more they contradict them: “the impure mixture of the impure side by side,” said Nietzsche. Who but the police and armed forces that coexist with democracies ca control and manage poverty and the deterritorialization-reterritorialization of shanty twons? What social democracy has not given the order to fire when the poor come out of their territory or ghetto? Rights save neither men nor a philosophy that is reterritorilized on the democratic State. Human rights will not make us bless capitalism. A great deal of innocence or cunning is needed by a philosophy of commmunication that claims to restore to society of friends, or even of wise men, by forming a universal opinion as “consensus” able to moralize nations, States, and the market. Human rights say nothing about the immanent modes of existence of people provided with rights. Nor is it only in the extreme situations described by Primo Levi that we experience the shame of being human. We also experience it in insignificant conditions, before the propagation of these modes of existence and of thought-for-the-market, and before values, ideals, and opinions of our time. The ignominy of the possibilities of life that we are offered appears from within. We do not feel ourselves outside of our time but continue to undergo shameful compromises with it. This feeling of shame is one of philosophy’s most powerful motifs. We are not responsible for the victims but responsible before them.
— Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? pg 107-108.

Although we do not discuss it in these terms, Mel Gregg and I attempt to isolate the opposite of this shame in our forthcoming publication on the Unlawful Combatant conceptualised as we call the ‘refrain of the right-eous’. The Right has no shame. The Right can not live with shame; it is shameless. It acts with a righteousness that knows no shame.

The events occuring in New Orleans are truly horrendous. Bush asks his citizens to have patience.

“I know this is an agonizing time, or we all know this is an agonizing time for the people of the Gulf Coast,” the current president said. “I ask their continued patience as recovery operations unfold.”

‘Patience’ in the US context has a specific meaning. It signals that Bush is doubly righteous: firstly, for not having the shame to act in another way to help calm his citizens than to merely say ‘have patience’; secondly, for expecting his citizens to accept his call for them to ‘have patience’. Both are shameful acts (amongst others). Watch news reports closely and any comment that is spoken without shame is guaranteed to be spoken by someone on the Right. We should a collective ethics of dignity in this shameful era, not righteousness. Anyway…

‘Have patience’ is, first of all, a temporal relation premised on the to-come that seeks to quell the anxiety of the not-yet. You would think that most poor people in the US can live with the ‘not-yet’, because, well, they don’t have anything. However, a crucial dimension to popularist US market-based ideology is something like the equivalent of the Australian myth of the ‘lucky country’. “Anyone can make it” in the US. That is a lie. There are structural disadvantages that will never be overcome by those who feel the full force of the radical neoliberal economic policies. Yet, urban myths of ‘making it’ circulate… perhaps that is one for Mythbusters?

Regardless, ‘have patience’ should be considered a key ideological mantra of the righteous neoliberal position in relation to the poor, socially disadvantaged, racially segregated, masses of the US under- and lower-classes. ‘Have patience’ tells people that one day their Saviour/lottery win/life might come in the gamble of postmodern capitalist society. They may live in abhorrent conditions, but at least they have the chance that one day it might change. Embrace the chance: have patience. Patience is a structural mechanism of control. However, in New Orleans people don’t want a chance that they will survive, they want to live; they don’t have any more patience — witness the rage of the New Orleans Mayor.