Midnight in Paris & the Power of Love

Posted: November 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

As Walter Benjamin explains; “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” The current ‘war with no frontlines’ involves us all in “a form of civil war cutting across the social body.” In this war, the enemy includes all of the competitive, regimented, authoritarian and violent subjectivities that capitalism produces and reproduces within people. Thankfully, it is widely understood that a ‘war against humanity’ cannot be won by an escalation of violence. Instead we defend ourselves by organising global peace movements and networks capable of powerfully confronting terror and war, deploying our most effective weapons – solidarity, communication, encounter, assembly, creativity, democracy, hope, peace and love.

Responding to the latest attacks in Paris many people have highlighted the lack of attention to, and concern for, those attacked in other parts of the world. Others have pointed to France’s long history of repression, colonialism and imperialism. None-the-less, France and Paris have a range of alternative people’s histories, at the heart of which is love. Paris is widely known as the ‘city of love’; for some this conjures up romantic thoughts of ‘amour’ and for others revolutionary ideas about fraternity, the Paris commune, or the revolts of 1968. For me, it’s a combination of these and many other notions and practices of love.

A couple of years ago, I visited Paris with my partner and youngest daughter. One day, Sharon and I purchased a padlock from a little stall on the left bank of the Seine and crossed the Pont des Arts. The bridge was festooned with thousands of ‘love locks’ and we found a place for our little lock near the centre before throwing the keys in the river and embracing. Then in June this year, the Paris council removed all forty five tonnes of padlocks from the bridge, due to ‘safety concerns’. At the time I posted this picture on Facebook

love blog

declaring “They may dismantle the artefacts of our love, in the spaces of revolution we adore. But these are mere symbols, of a power which cannot be tamed.”

I have previously written about Paris during ‘the Summer of Love’ and how the youth of the city sought to overcome the tension between subjectivities of pleasure-seeking and social revolution. In Paris in 1967, Raoul Vaneigem explained that “those who speak of revolution and class struggle without changing everyday life and without understanding what is subversive about love . . . have a corpse in their mouth”. In 1968, as revolt swept across France, many of those on the streets opened their hearts and proclaimed; “Embrace your love without dropping your guard”; “Revolution, I love you”, and “The more I make love, the more I want to make revolution. The more I make revolution, the more I want to make love.” Forty years later, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made clear that the legacy of revolutionary love was well and truly alive in France, when he insisted the goal of his government’s conservative renewal process was to do away with 1968 “once and for all”.

The response of many governments, authorities and people to the recent attacks in Paris has been to stoke fear, foster hate, deepen despair and unleash more violence, yet love will not be tamed or done away with. While the attacks add to unending sadness and heartache, what I have mainly been struck by is the ability of people to be brave, hopeful, peaceful and loving. The intent and the result of terrorism is that it wounds us all and those who use violence to increase fear and hatred can be found everywhere. Some have appeared on my Facebook feed. Yet, my friends have also made sure that I see messages and examples of courage, hope, peace and love. This has included the circulation of information, statements, the discussion of opinions, the creation of blog posts, memes, songs, poems, etc. Importantly it has included a widespread defence of Muslims & refugees – from the French city of Lille, where anti-Islamists were forced off the streets just hours after the Paris attacks,

to peace songs and ‘Muslim hugs’ on the streets of Paris,

 

to the Illawarra People for Peace BBQ (mainly organised by the local Christian, Muslim, Catholic & Buddhist communities) I attended last week.

illawarra people for peace

Across the world, once again, we can see powerful creative action to help deal with war/crisis/terror, with countless gatherings, engagements and events building bridges across borders and demonstrating that hope, peace and love can be, and is, embedded in our practice.

HOPE

Along with every horror, the reality of common hope remains. A few months ago I blogged about the importance of hope and how fears and anxieties are transmitted between people – leading to widespread hopelessness. I also discussed how hope effects the way people think about and perceive events, the way we behave, and how it motivates our activity. Hope involves the expectation of something good, and we tend to use the past and present as the best indicators of the future. If we view the past as a long series of disasters and defeats, the present and the future are likely to appear grim. Instead of looking back with a sense of disappointment and regret, we can keep alive the experiences, lessons and experiments that offer us some hope. Our optimism can be based on the reality that, despite the level of current suffering, what we want has already, and does already exist in some ways; or at least parts of what we desire are already present. This can provide evidence of what is possible. Every day, around the world, there are many wonderful things happening and these should give us confidence that when we try to create a better world it is possible to succeed.

PEACE paris peace

The shock and awe of terror and war shrouds our love, dims our hope, makes us angry, scared, and want to fight. Yet, despite obvious setbacks and obstacles to peace, the desire and struggle to end violence is widespread. A common response to the attacks in Paris was an outpouring of creativity and the most popular artwork was this peace symbol. Still, I do not underestimate the power of those creating, maintaining and profiting from war and terror and have recently written about these threats. The question of when/if violence is a legitimate defence from attack is a complex issue which I’ve discussed at length elsewhere and I hope to finish another post on the continuing power and influence of the global peace movement in the near future. Faced with a global war of terror, feelings of powerlessness are understandable. Yet, despite the impact of military propaganda, in word and deed, the reality of hope, peace and love are evident; illuminated by a multitude of brave, powerful and peaceful acts.

LOVE

Today, there is a renewed interest in love and an upsurge of experiments to unleash our positive desires for connection, for more constructive and profound relationships. Here love is a desire for collective development and fulfillment, a social process that satisfies the need for love at the same time as satisfying the desire to love. This love isn’t spontaneous; it requires organisation, education and training. It is a gift produced for shared use through a variety of forms that help to coordinate this sharing.

All over the world people can and do resist isolation and estrangement and build togetherness and caring communities by confronting violence and repression. Yet, love is under constant attack and our ability to defend it depends on people’s capacities to act in affectionate ways, to share knowledge and power, to look after each other and to construct alternative social relations by building love in families, amongst friends, throughout social networks and movements.

From below, the most popular global response to war and terror is to turn to each other for support, to reach out to others, to seek safety in the embrace of those who care for us and who we care for – from those right in front of us through to those we cannot see or hear due to the noise, smoke and destruction created by bullets, bombs and deception. In the face of tragedy, most people demonstrate the desire to help others; to aid recovery and healing, to share and care, and to make life better, inspiring a vast amount of affective social action.

COURAGE

Still, people are often paralysed by despair and hopelessness. In the face of unending horror we ask ourselves ‘what can I do?’ For me, it is the reality of hope and the existence of love that demonstrates what we can do, here and now. Finding better ways of living with and remedying violence, hatred and fear involves concentrating on our treatment of each other. Many people and movements have understood and articulated their struggles as forms of love, and learning to love has countered their isolation and connected them globally to others involved in struggle. Yet when we touch the hearts of others, we also touch their sorrows. Love can be scary, because it makes us vulnerable, puts us in touch with each other’s pain, and is what most of us desire more than anything else. Because loving involves vulnerability it is often seen as a form of weakness. However, love is a form of power; a power which produces more love.

A little while ago I wrote a post about global war, terrorism and the widespread defiance of attempts to frighten us.  Most people are tired of fear and the more we share our fears, the more we make connections with others who share these fears, and the more we take courageous action based on our common concerns, the more likely it is we can declare – ‘We are not afraid!’ Even though we are afraid, we declare that we are not – to defy terrorism, to defy fascism, to stand in solidarity, to be brave, and to encourage others to be brave.

Most of us know only too well the stresses of putting our families, friendships and other relationships under strain as we dedicate ourselves to various causes. Yet today there is a growing understanding that these relationships are vital to progressive social transformations. Many contemporary social movements generate different types of interpersonal relationships through the creation of caring spaces, openness to diversity and the organisation of communal activity. They bring people together in supportive groups and joyful activities, realising a desire to locate ourselves in community, to make our struggles a shared effort, to experience the value of our connections with each other and the tangible power of love.

Why is it that a short statement on the Paris attacks delivered on a low rating ‘current affairs’ show has now been viewed by more than one hundred million people across the globe? Is it because Waleed Aly’s argument that ISIS is weak resonates? Or because it gives people hope? Or is it because his call to come together and counter hate with love speaks to people’s common understandings and desires?

 

And why the widespread popularity of this Parisian father and son video? Is it just that such care and love is beautiful and reassuring? Or is it also because love actually is more powerful – because it is the weapon that most people use to defend themselves and others?

 

Nick Southall

 

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