Revolutionary fun

Revolutionary fun is the only justified form of fun. Revolutionary fun is the fun had by playing with the power of those who have more power than oneself. Playing with the power of those who have more power than oneself is fun because it is the assertion of will over and against an illegitimate status quo. It is the enjoyment of creating anti-power. It is revolutionary because in its bold idleness it is inexplicable, enchanting, irresistably attractive. The human who can make a toy out of those who have more power is a magical creature to whom others will always wish to draw nearer. Playing with those who have more power is, in other words, an expression of _sheer will, _supported by neither material resources nor short-term instrumental calculations. Really though, it is neither magical nor even exceptional; to exercise the will is simply to be human, and to “poke fun” at the powerful behind closed doors is one of the most natural and common practices in the world. Because power is already levity in the face of suffering, to make light of the powerful is really just a deflation of false cruelty and a return to equilibrium. To actively and provocatively make such a plaything out of the false power of others appears as a magical inversion only because the real exercise of human will has been barred from so many people for so long.

This kind of fun therefore has two effects that are legitimately revolutionary—microscopic no doubt, but real nonetheless. First, it shakes the possession of power within the hands of those who hold it. A cop can easily bash the skull of a protester making some political demand, and a businessman is not phased by the dozen homeless people he passes on his way to work, because the social narrative they had to master to obtain their power in the first place—the narrative in which the strong are strong because they are superior to the weak—is exactly what gives them countless reasons for feeling perfectly fine in their brutality. Those who comfortably and without hesitation execute brutality will only be forced to hesitate, they will only falter and weaken and retreat, when they suddenly find themselves in social theatres for which they have no scripts.

In addition to concretely loosening the grip that the powerful have on power—we could just as well refer to the grip that power has over the powerful—revolutionary fun holds the line against the near abolition of human will altogether. It maintains a model, a memory, an instance no matter what might happen, of sheer will despite anything that might come. At a time when social control has become so solidified and the human will so thoroughly squeezed out of life; when, as in our society, even the prospect of heroic death against an enemy is barred by an enemy whose tactics involve the very impossibility of heroism—to make fun is to hold the last line of defense.

This holding of the last line of defense and the irresistible seduction referred to above are one and the same. In a social war such as ours, people obviously and always want what effectively defends humanity from that which destroys humanity. No matter how microscopic the mechanism may be, anything that effectively resists power and defends humans will be charming, beautiful, attractive, irresistible—and the more microscopic the mechanism the more fuzzy will be the comprehension of the attraction. Of course, unfortunately, it does not follow that everything charming and attractive is in defense of humanity. This is why the powerful have invested so dearly in learning the mechanisms of attraction. But in no way does the malleability of desire and attraction contradict the rule—nearly a tautology—that whatever effectively resists power and defends humans will be charming. If it is not somehow charming and attractive, we can be sure it is not effectively resisting power and defending humanity.

Finally, it is obvious that the privilege of toying with the powerful is a privilege unequally distributed throughout society. A minimum of personal security is necessary to dare and risk the real retribution of cops, bosses, teachers, bureaucrats, etc. But real tactical opportunities must not be dismissed on account of the limited conditions under which they are feasible; rather than discourage the privileged from using their privileges in the calculated, revolutionary fashion that corresponds to their social position, we should simply extend our efforts to delineate different tactical opportunities corresponding to each and every space in our increasingly differentiated social topography.  Just as the engine of an airplane looks, sounds, and functions very differently than the electronics in the cockpit because they are made of different materials and perform different functions in a larger design, the revolutionary machine will have to be composed of very different moving parts. The blueprint for a well-functioning revolutionary machine must be based_ _on the critical awareness that privilege and oppression, abundance and scarcity, power and repression are distributed unevenly. This requires that the question of what is properly revolutionary activity not be confused by our hatred of privilege and the temptation to dismiss legitimately revolutionary tactics because they happen to be those of a privileged group. The critical point is to elaborate, as rigorously as possible, the various sorts of effectively revolutionary activity available to all people depending on the raw material available to them in their particular social position.

Cite this post: RIS Citation BibTeX Entry

Murphy, Justin. 2012. "Revolutionary fun," (April 24, 2017).