Last week I entered the Acquario Romano, a historic gorgeous building in the surroundings of the main train station in Rome, eager to breath some fresh air in the lately very depressing hallways of politics.
Yannis Varoufakis was there to launch his newborn movement, DiEM25: an ambitious name that stands for “Democracy in Europe Movement” while the 25 sets in the year 2025 the deadline for the dream to come true. Young activists in their thirties had gathered there from all across Italy to meet the former Greek minister of Finance and volunteer to make the movement come to life. I heard a group of Danish young professionals telling their Italian peers how they would book a cheap airline flight and AirB&B a few nights in Rome just to be there and help out. I saw the familiar faces of long time activists and political theorists Toni Negri and Franco Berardi BIFO standing next to an energetic and casually dressed Varoufakis, ready to speak to the crowds about this Europe of us, that “will either be democratized or it will disintegrate”, as the movement motto states.
The gorgeous hall of the building was full of energy and great expectations when, to my greatest disappointment, Varoufakis – who professes to be a marxist – clarifies that DiEM25 is not a left-wing movement, but a movement that aims at reaching out to the entire political spectrum, including liberals, right-wing: literally anyone. Being a long time leftist activist I have to confess that I shivered once heard the sentence. Dear Varoufakis, you such a brilliant, cultivated man, the former hope of European left-wing movements who celebrated you when you walked out the bankers’ meeting on your motorbike: now that you can choose your own path, start your own movement, you, despite professing to be a marxist, decide that anyone should be included in it?
Feeling very uncomfortable I ask myself: does democratizing ultimately mean including everyone into something? Does the erasing of legitimate political differences and identities naturally imply to be democratic? I am horrified by this idea of one-size-fits-all democracy which, in my view, turns into a populistic version of a “DemoCrazy” instead.
Yet, being a very curious – and, generally, optimistic – person and a patient ethnographer, I decide to stay, regardless of my poor little leftist self being very frustrated by the idea of the one-size-fits-all DemoCrazy circulating around the gorgeous building. So, when the plenary assembly with Varoufakis is over and it’s time for splitting into smaller groups to discuss crucial issues for the future of Europe with fellow activists peers, I sit with the “democracy” group. The group has a 30 something people, sitting in a circle, and is moderated by a young blu-eyed guy who speaks in English, being the crowd a truly European crowd. Somebody sitting in the middle of the circle holds a huge piece of white paper and, with a red marker, writes some key words on it.
“How will democracy look like in 2025”, that’s the main question that the group needs to answer to: a creative, imaginative effort whose results will be translated into key words to be written on the poster, which will be later hung on the walls for public contemplation.
“Imagine yourself in ten years from now” is a familiar question to anyone who has sat, at least once in a lifetime, in a job interview with an American employer. After working for five years for a Silicon-Valley based organization the white piece of paper , with colored sticky notes progressively mushrooming on it as everybody at the table engaged in the imaginative effort, was also a familiar scenario. I might sound quite an old-fashioned leftist activist, but I don’t see anything particularly European or particularly democratic in the sticky notes; and not even in the one-minute imaginative effort of seeing yourself – together with democracy– projected in a ten years time. I understand that this might be an ice-breaker for a crowd who has just met; I understand that there is a time issue when five or more round table discussions have to wrap up and present their “results” in a plenary.
Yet I question the form as it hints to a very specific substance: the mere idea that democracy should be debated in a sort of “unconference” format which would give it enough coolness, openness, and horizontality not to be considered a topic heavy to digest. Is the precarious flexibility of the sticky notes; the time-sensitive creativity of key words; the coolness of geek formats à la Silicon-Valley a good answer to our thirst for democracy?
Cause there is, indeed, a craving for a more fair, democratic politics: and that’s why Varoufakis’ meeting was crowded and filled with hopes. But also with disappointment, as I heard a young man with a southern Italian accent saying in the plenary: “this seems like a business meeting rather than a gathering to start a new political movement”. Which completely resonates with my own frustration, after having heard words such as: self-empowerment, initiative, enterprise, sustainability, pitching. Can we get rid of neoliberalism at least in the words we use to imagine politics? Or is it so dramatically enmeshed into our daily jargon that we don’t even notice that discussing politics has become like talking about the stock market, or trying to impress your future boss in the most awesome job interview?
The answer to my unspoken question comes from a woman, a young volunteer who reacts to the remark made by the southern Italian man. “What do you mean? There is no such a thing as a political movement here. We gave you input: now you have to build the movement by yourself. Nothing is ready-made here”. She has been honest, at least: input was the right word, a perfect word for a neoliberal vocabulary. Input gives the right measure of time, when there is no time for discussion.
“We are here to launch the movement”, people say; which is totally coherent with the Twitter mantra: write first, verify later. Launch first, discuss later, as there is no time to discuss something that will be anyway measured later by the likes and shares of the social media universe.
Varoufakis’ performance will be also assessed not as a political performance but rather as an aesthetic one. No need to bother Rancière to grasp the political implications of those aesthetic experiences named “selfies” that I see blossoming on my Facebook wall portraying Varoufakis and Anna, Varoufakis and Emma, Varoufakis and Francesca.
The experience of arousal is aestheticized through those young female faces smiling with their object of desire. Varoufakis has been fetishized by this politics of the selfie, and he seems to have learned the lesson so well.
No collective identities are moved by the politics of the self(ie); just individual bodies in desperate need of personal experiences of temporary arousal.
If we want to counteract neoliberal politics, rising racism, xenophobia, extremism, austerity, sadness, financial and human depression, we badly need a politics of the orgy, a collective arousal of bodies and souls. And orgy has always been a much more satisfying way to reach pleasure than a lonely masturbatory selfi(e)sh act.