05 November 2010

In which Judith Butler's semantic brilliance leads to a mantra for uppity activists

"To make trouble was, within the reigning discourse of my childhood, something one should never do precisely because that would get one in trouble.  The rebellion and its reprimand seemed to be caught up in the same terms, a phenomenon that gave rise to my first critical insight into the subtle ruse of power: the prevailing law threatened one with trouble, even put one in trouble, all to keep one out of trouble.  Hence, I concluded that trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it." Judith Butler, preface to the 1st edition of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Well there you go.  We're all in trouble anyway, we might as well make trouble for all of the right reasons.  This is a call for subversion, and for civil disobedience.  

Civil disobedience is stating, through actions, that laws do not define what is just, and certainly not what is real.  Civil disobedience says, "this law that denies me my full humanity is not real.  I am real.  I am only an outlaw as defined against your oppressive system.  It is oppression, and not me, that needs doing away with."  Laws are merely a reflection of the current state of progress, or lack thereof, in a culture's social contract and the resultant legal code and associated judiciary and penal systems. 

Another way I often think about the unnecessary deference we pay to the law is when people, upon discovering that I go by a chosen name and not my legal/father-given name, often ask, "oh, well what's your real name then."  My real name is whatever I tell you it is.  My legal name is James Paul Flesher.  It's on a birth certificate and a driver's license and a passport as well.  All of them were issued by agencies of a government that has deemed me a second class citizen.  I am real.  It is not.  My name is Rudy.  I am an outlaw, not because I live outside of what is just, but because I refuse to let an arbitrarily oppressive system define my reality.

Let's cause some trouble.  Clearly we're in for it anyway.  Let's caucus on how best to make it and what best way to be in it.


Post a Comment