This contribution was voted the winner of the 2016 Pike & Hurricane Writing Contest. Click here to read the article that was ranked second.
That day I acquired the tool at the heart of all resistance, the instrument lurking behind both the merciless wrath of the oppressor and the fierce resistance of the oppressed. It was a specific moment in history, the great political awakening of my generation – a verdict that was only established in hindsight as none of us seemed particularly aware of it at the time. For years we had been living in total dominion – our fate in the hands of people who seemed to understand our struggles so little. But how could they? It is in the nature of such extraordinary human dissonance that those in power seem to pursue their own ends, and while they might claim that their actions are directed toward your benefit, the simple fact of being at the mercy of the hand that feeds you, renders your exposure all the more palpable.
We were slaves to one of the greatest power asymmetries in human history, yet our predicament went beyond the relation to our rulers – though it certainly constituted the locus of our frustration: never had we had the freedom to have a say in who should govern us and for how long. We found ourselves at both center and periphery of society. Those in power seemed to categorically ignore us, and it would not be far-fetched to say that we were systematically marginalised, particularly when it came to decisions concerning us as constituency. Control was at the heart of everything. We were under constant influence, again, without knowing it – the people whom we loved most, heavily invested in this nation-wide conspiracy. Those in power seemed to understand the importance of our generation from the get-go and stopped at nothing short of social conditioning tactics, particularly through education (to make us into “good citizens”) utilising both of what Foucault had formerly identified as punishment and normalisation in shaping our behavior.
Within this environment, I began to grow increasingly critical of the mundane. For years, had I ignored the obvious, had never learned to focus on what was right in front of my eyes – seemingly always distracted by a flood of frivolities so commonly employed in a consumer society with a propensity to shut down all sorts of deviant spiritedness. (Only years later would I learn about the surveillance that was employed in virtually all households containing ‘us’ who had been identified as sleepers long before we became aware of it ourselves.) Now, the critical mind only had to be translated into action. However lucky I had been to come thus far – to even recognise the strength of my own voice after all those years of enduring silence – this was the moment that would separate the men from the boys. I stood in awe, just before this great breakthrough, a revolution, that might soon penetrate all layers of social life, if only I was brave enough to move from theory to praxis. The question remained how? How could we break free from our chains? How do you go about breaking chains that so many around you have not even identified as chains? How do you emancipate an entire generation that has from the beginning been shut off from the outside world, denied access to critical inspiration, starved from political awareness? We were suffering a heavy case of paternalism. But as with all great political uprisings in history, the emancipation of the group follows the enlightenment of the individual – me finding my voice, my personal epiphany laying the ground work for the years to come. So it happened.
That day I acquired the tool at the heart of all resistance. All those moments of denial, of silent opposition, fragments of years of endured infantilisation perpetrated by the culprits, the creators, behind the golden cage of my pathetic existence culminated in this once in a lifetime moment. And boy did it have an impact: the acquisition constituting my first step toward both political and personal maturity. Surely, I was far from mastering its utility but soon would its usage spread from me – and others around me who had independently discovered its powerfulness as well – to the rest of our peers that had yet to establish their righteous place in this world.
The acquisition left my rulers jaw-dropping, gaping into the void of what was soon to become their fading grip over my existence. They knew it was the beginning of the end. Or the end of the beginning I should rather say. To my surprise however, their terror soon gave way a tender acceptance, and from that point on I—as so many others that simultaneously found their way out of the silence—became more and more included into the decision making processes that governed our lives.
I was two years old. And I had just acquired the word “no.”
Picture 1: Jemma D, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Picture 2: Chris Devers, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0