Blog: The outsiders within

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By Herbert Docena Photo credit: afsc.org Llamas? woes are a cause for concern for those of us who share his radical goals: his predicament raises the age-old questions about the possibilities and the perils facing all those who refuse to just criticize from the outside and actually try to ?reform? government from within Some of the country?s most prominent thinkers and leaders have come to Ronald Llamas? side (Randy David, Dodong Nemenzo, President Joseph Estrada) but his most articulate defender yet, in my view, has been this one anonymous DVD vendor in Quiapo interviewed on TV. Echoing what most Filipinos who buy DVDs would have asked, but forced to hide his face to protect his identity, he demanded to know: What is so wrong with buying our DVDs? If not for people like Llamas and other DVD buyers, he added, he would be out of job and his family would go hungry. Llamas? defender was in effect making a simple moral claim: that there was nothing reprehensible about buying his goods and that Llamas should be thanked, rather than crucified, for helping people like him. It is a stance that easily resonates with those who can?t afford to pay ten times more for authorized DVD copies or for cable TV and who feel compelled to commit what the philosopher Michel Foucault calls popular ?illegalities?? those practices more or less tolerated by the state because it can?t possibly punish all forms of legal transgressions at all times. This moral claim is obviously repugnant, however, to those who see private property as sacrosanct and who see DVD reproduction as theft ? even if they themselves have piles of unauthorized DVD copies at home or in their Macbook Pros. It is also particularly threatening to those multinational record companies who ? like the pharmaceutical companies who want to protect their ?intellectual property? even if it means depriving cheap life-saving drugs to the dying ? demand that the government serves as their local police enforcement agents. This controversy is therefore a tale about morality ? but not of the kind that David suggests it to be (i.e. of an ?outsider? succeeding in remaining good inside an evil world). For the issue of DVDs is not a simple question of personal virtue or law enforcement, but part of a broader clash between two sets of moral claims: between a popular morality which challenges private property, on one hand, and bourgeois morality which affirms it, on the other. Llamas was caught up in this clash and it couldn?t have been easy for him: he is both a socialist, one viscerally opposed to corporate greed, while also serving in the inner chambers of a state committed to capitalist accumulation. In fact, though rarely mentioned in the controversy, Llamas? politics arguably helps explain why he is not particularly beloved in certain circles and why they?re watching his every step. But this is also why this is more than just about DVDs or about Llamas: His predicament raises the age-old questions about the possibilities and the perils facing those who refuse to just criticize from the outside and actually try to change government from within. At work on Llamas have been precisely the kinds of structural forces that will constrain any attempt to change states from within, and those forces need to be understood by those of us who share Llamas? radical egalitarian vision if such attempts are to have a chance of succeeding. For Llamas is now no longer exactly just an ?outsider,? as David suggests. His position is rather similar to what the sociologist Patricia Hill Collins calls the ?outsider within?: those who are part of ? and yet not quite part of ? a privileged circle but, who by virtue of their ambiguous position can challenge the truths and prerogatives of its insiders. They occupy a treacherous terrain similar to that occupied by those who see themselves as revolutionaries waging a Gramscian ?war of position? within the interstices of the state: They are not quite ?inside? because they don?t ultimately wield power, but they are not quite outside as well, since they can, in this case, exert a measure of influence. The question, as always, is, what price does one have to pay in order to exert that influence inside? This is not an easy question, and it should not be reduced to a debate on Llamas? character because to do so would be to set the terms of the debate to one that already favors private property fetishists: that what?s in question here is Llamas? personal virtue, not the morality of ?piracy.? Llamas had essentially two options when caught: He could have stood up for all the ?regular guys? like him who buy unauthorized DVD copies and ? if it?s too much to for him to attack the government?s anti-?piracy? campaign ? at least challenge the taken-for-grantedness of bourgeois morality in society. But this could only have provoked his detractors further and forced the President ? who himself is not particularly eager to see respect for private property eroded ? to sack him. His other choice was to just apologize to placate his critics and keep his job even if by doing so, he ends up buttressing that bourgeois morality which he rightly despises: that which considers the purchase of DVDs from poor peddlers ? but not the private expropriation of commonly owned resources, or the refusal to redistribute haciendas to the landless ? as a crime. In the end, he chose to turn his back on the Quiapo vendor who had valiantly defended him ? and on all of us DVD pirates who were waiting and ready to root for him. Llamas and his party may well reason that he has more consequential policy reform goals, and that he can better pursue those goals in office rather than outside. But what are the lasting effects of all those reforms if, in achieving them, the capitalists? moral fortress is stronger than ever? Waging the ?war of position? against capitalist power is not only about changing the administration or revoking this or that policy; it?s also about challenging the very morality on whose basis they rule. Llamas says his fault is to forget that he?s no ?no longer just a regular guy?; the hope is that he doesn?t forget that it is precisely because he is no longer just a regular guy that he is in a better position to fight for those who continue to be just ?regular guys.? Because if outsiders within can?t fight for those outsiders outside, then Llamas and others like him may well look indistinguishable from those inside. That would be tragic for, in his heart, he knows that he is not one of them and doesn?t want to be one of them. This essay was originally posted by the author as a note in Facebook]]>

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