What with all the angry troll-bloggers, Corporate Media ‘coverage,’ and right-wing paranoiac derision, you’ve probably heard about ‘safe spaces’ at this point. I know it’s natural for people to be apprehensive of new ideas, especially when it comes to overt social change. Basically, a safe space is nothing but a no-asshole-zone.
“To be attacked by an enemy is not a bad thing, but a good thing.” Mao.
Safe spaces are primarily places of open-ness and maturity that go beyond the ‘mind your own damn business,’ tolerate-ignore code of ethics of postmodern capitalism. It’s a progressive idea in that it breaches individuality, actively acknowledging the social; a safe space reminds us that we are not closed-off, atomized, sealed and rational perfect individuals, in reality; we all affect and define each other. That’s why capitalists/conservatives can’t stand it; the promise of gentleness, thoughtfulness, and basic human decency is actually extremely dangerous, in the big picture. It could, if given enough room and psyches to take root in, lead to… (gasp) SOCIALISM!
Safe spaces do not ‘limit free speech.’ They encourage open debate. They are not so much a place where certain opinions can’t be expressed as much as they are a place that allows for socially unacceptable discussion to happen. In a safe space, you will not win an argument with the word ‘faggot.’
The idea: if we have a space where everyone is free to be as they feel, without fear of being attacked, then the obsessional anger and defensive-fixations of homophobias and racisms can dissolve their tension and disappear. You don’t have to pissed off here, where we’re all accepting each other as flawed, unknowing mortals, and acknowledging history, and thinking about and learning from each other… Come on man. That’s fucking beautiful.
If your eyes are occasionally off your phone, and your ears free of head phones, you will probably realize that we live in a profoundly dehumanizing and oppressive social order; you might realize its insidious gleaming ideology masking all the horror with cheerful advertisements goading us to Consume, Don’t Think™. Certainly, somewhere, behind all your racing thoughts, you can feel this.
Isn’t this why we were forced to create safe spaces? This is why the mainstream attacks the idea so vehemently, without ever asking why they exist in the first place, maybe wondering why people feel the need for them. Nope.
So why? So what? What’s the problem with living in a giant un-safe space? A dehumanizing, neurotic social order?
Well, let me introduce you to Gaga: the boy who destroyed the world.
Psychoanalyst Kontic shares with us a story of his experience treating children traumatized from the Balkans wars of a decade or so ago. One special boy, named Gaga (common Slavic name) was weird to the other kids because he was a deaf-mute, with tremendous difficulty speaking, and two antenna-gadget hearing aids protruding from his head.
One day the twenty children were working on a collective painting, everyone dabbing brushes and adding to the world of the canvas, creating something special that would last. Unfortunately, “None of Gaga’s peers would let him close… he was the subject of mockery. They would hit him on the head as soon as he moved, they laughed at his inarticulate speech. Of course they didn’t let him close so that he could also leave a creative track on that collective deed.”
Gaga waited until the kids left the scene to get a snack. He stayed behind at the canvas, and when the coast was clear, took a wet sponge and dragged it across the artwork in an act of revenge and destruction.
I guess I’m a sap; I cried when I listened to the story the first time. Imagine Gaga’s world, how does he see himself and the others? What does exclusion feel like? To not be seen or heard or wanted. For your presence to be a problem. I think it’s in the capacity of all human beings to recall at least an echo of this feeling, or at least imagine it.
“Surely anyone would react this way. When I don’t find myself in a surrounding which has at least some basic elements of humanity… that is when that part of human nature (thanatos, destructive-desire) emerges. Even in the attempt to preserve one’s humanity.”
Exclusion is a common punishment. To be left alone with one’s alienation and no one else to mediate and alleviate your unknowable self. The psychoanalyst here is arguing that exclusion leads to Thanatos. I think a recent example coasting on the news will follow this logic accordingly, exclusion pushing one to extremism, culminating in a psychotic act of violence on the social body (the collective painting, the public space)
“We are all Berliners”
I propose the word ‘sociocide’ to depict a certain form of violence inflicted upon the social body, performed by an individual or very small group. In so far as each murderer is a terrorist, and each killer an extremist, it makes no sense to differentiate whether the mass murderer is an angry brown muslim man or an angry white man. They are both committing the same crime- each case is produced by the same social system through analogical means of individuation within a specific social hierarchy and forms of exclusion. They operate by the same logic, just with different words. I know this is heresy, but, ultimately, we must ask, what pushes someone to ‘extremism’?
That’s quote-unquote ‘Extremism.’ When really what we mean is homicidal insanity and Thanatos. What could cause someone to be so angry at the world? So confused? Obviously we are averse to the answer. What pushed you to such a point of hopelessness and despair that you’re only option is running over strangers in a semi-truck? To jerk the wheel and smash the gas pedal over those Human Beings celebrating with their families and enjoying the holiday season, being grateful for existence. How can you be locked so outside of this feeling so as to maniacally resent it and everything it represents? How? Why? From where does this come?
Us. Society. The social structure we live within and erect. If we didn’t exclude Muslims and if we didn’t eye them with suspicion or mock them, I’m sure we would see less lone wolf shooters. Oops, I mean Islamist extremists. And if we didn’t bully and beat down and recreate emotionally repressive and an intellectually deadened atmosphere of conformity and alienation, we would certainly see less Jihadist violence. Ooops, I mean school shooters and suburban massacres. In both of these increasingly-common forms of sociocide, it is exclusion which pushes the unbalanced and rejected into extremism and a desire for violent revenge against a society which doesn’t see, hear, or want you. In an attempt to assert your own humanity you destroy that which takes it away from you: your society.
The response from the people of Berlin is utterly beautiful. “You will not divide us. We are all Berliners.” But who is the ‘You’? The demonstrators are calling out the very social system which creates such a deadly alienation and misery with a calculus of exclusion and bigotry. That is, capitalism. Which has us all more or less (literally and/or symbolically) lunging at each other’s throats in a marketplace-world where Belonging is auctioned off to those who play the Game with the least conscience. Something’s gotta give. And the heartbroken people of Berlin are responding with the essence of Christian love. Resist this dehumanizing social order with love. You don’t fight fire with fire, you fight it with a flood.
And we arrive where we began; addressing both the necessity and the radicality of safe spaces. I think the resistance from the media towards this new idea is only a symptom, indicative of the social order which is refusing to change and address its own diseases. Something’s gotta give. Another World is Possible. We certainly don’t have to be complicit in this; create a safe space with you everywhere you go, but remember: “it’s so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind.”
Peace out (: