Reading Rebecca Solnit in University Class


Photo: Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views

Students in my class are reading Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit. Following the current disaster, I hurriedly decided to assign the book for discussion in the class.

It is often said that we fall into panic in the face of great disasters, but it is not so. In fact many stay calm and continue living their lives in mutual aid — as seen in the soup kitchen after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906; the solidarity amongst seamstresses after the great earthquake in 1985 Mexico City; the mutual aid organizations in New Orleans after the disastrous Hurricane Katrina in 2005… Through her anarchist imagination, Solnit suggests that the space of mutual aid that emerges in times of disaster shares the same nature with temporary autonomous zone (TAZ), politics of prefiguration, as well as the practice of Zapatista National Liberation Army. Simultaneously she depicts conflicts between the ruling power and the people whose autonomous politics is often destroyed by the former (i.e., “the world view of General Funston” from the San Francisco earthquake).

One of the graduate students who had gone to the stricken area said he saw a youth who smashed vending machines and took out canned beverages to distribute among evacuees in a shelter. I posed a question to my students on behalf of Solnit: if such an act in such a condition can be affirmed. According to Solnit, humans are to reach for necessary materials for survival, and even to ignore their personal properties in times of life-and-death emergency. The ruling class and the wealthy respond to these acts in fear and try to crackdown on them by utilizing military and mercenary forces, calling them ‘looting’ and ‘panic’.

Shibuya [SH]: I think looting is tolerable in an intense life-and-death situation.
Student [ST]: How about violence, like hurting others?
SH: Hurting somebody isn’t okay. Whereas acquiring your necessity is. In another instance, you can call it an emergency when you lose your job and are forced to live on the edge. If so, would violation of private property not be tolerable, like squatting for example?
SH: Every year, over thirty thousand people commit suicide in Japan. This exceeds the number of victims from the current disaster. Combining these numbers would make a huge disaster. To commit suicide after the lay-off and poverty defeats the purpose of working to survive. Instead, you could go about looting and squatting.
ST: But isn’t it called selfishness?
SH: (Describing European squatting movements and their backgrounds, SH says) some illegal acts can be allowed on the basis of agreement between the parties concerned, local residents, public opinions, the court judgment and jurors. Some illegal acts would even be encouraged if all the members of the community think it’s a right thing to do. However, negotiations are crucial.
ST: But then, would it not be “the war of all against all” termed by Hobbes?
SH: I would say it would avoid unnecessary wars. Since it depends on community support and public opinions.
ST: Where would you draw the line?
SH: It all depends on each situation.
ST: Maybe you’d get arrested, no?
SH: Call me up if you need any help paying off for your trial.

I was surprised to see many students sympathized with my arguments, while I’m not sure whether they took me seriously or jokingly. It was reassuring that the book by Solnit provides a great argumentation for direct action. True direct action is justified by mutual aid – or one can rephrase it with love or friendship – and true mutual aid cannot exist without direct action.

The current disaster made many recognize how unreliable the system of the state and capital is, and how difficult it is to survive without direct action and mutual aid.

In 1980 when NATO decided to deploy 160 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles in RAF Greenham Common, E. P. Thompson published a pamphlet entitled Protest and Survive, which gave a big impact on the movements for abolishment of nuclear weapons throughout Europe (END).

In his pamphlet Thompson criticizes the concept of “civil defense,” parodying the government-issued leaflet titled Protect and Survive in which thorough descriptions on nuclear shelters are provided in do-it-yourself fashion, urging the public to prepare for a possible nuclear war. For example, it describes how one should “dig underground shelter, take used doors to make a small room, fill the surroundings with sand bags, books and heavy furniture, prepare 14 days worth of food and water, portable radio and portable toilet, and make sure to have a can opener” before evacuation. But what about radioactive materials pouring over you thereafter? What about more food after 14 days? To begin with, there cannot be a limited nuclear war as such. A nuclear war will inexorably be a totalized one. The government would lose nearly half of its population, and it should be well aware of the possibility.

Thompson states that the only realistic form of civil defense is “protest.” To protest before destruction. “We must protest if we are to survive.”

The same applies to the situation in Japan. The Japanese government proposes the evacuation zone that is too small to properly protect residents from internal exposure, and it even weakens safety measures of maximum radiation dose for children. Their attitude on food investigation is indecisive as well. The government is practically encouraging a “civil defense.” It is, after all, implying that individuals must self-manage all the necessary measures for survival, from both temporary and permanent evacuations to obtaining safe food and water – everything on their own.

However there are differences from the condition in the Cold War-era Britain. It is no longer plausible to rely on the governance of the state in Japan where the great disaster has already occurred and radioactive materials have been scattered and continue to scatter to this day. The government has lost its control. Thus we need not only to protest against the government, but to practice many more forms of direct action in order to survive. For instance, our needs include: creating evacuation camps for children, autonomous monitoring of radiation, attending demonstrations, meetings and study groups, sharing information and know-hows. Evacuees may have to practice squatting as well. Many parents need long hours daily to obtain safe water and food for their children. Some of them may have to reduce work hours.

In doing so ‘direct action’ would turn into ‘survival.’ One can call it a ‘bio-politics from below.’ We ought to conceptualize life and politics as one and inseparable practice. Anarchists have long been practicing this as in ‘prefigurative politics’ and ‘affinity group.’ They have refused merely passive act of survival; with a conviction that it is possible to live an autonomous life in cooperation and mutual aid, they have practiced it. I think that such knowledge of practice must be the very necessity at present to live “well” under the disastrous condition.

After all, our capitalist ‘livelihood’ might have been another way of mere survival, not too far from evacuation into shelters. Alone and exhausted in competition, one seeks for a compensation in living ostensibly ‘wealthy’ life of spending: a life of falsehood.

The Situationists in the 1960s criticized that nuclear shelters were only for surviving the rest of one’s life. It wasn’t only the ‘civil defense’ that they criticized, but they also stated that ‘wealthy’ consumerist life is only the remnants of life. In this context they point out that nuclear shelters are similar to public housings.

Indeed this nuclear disaster is the result of our practicing ‘wealthy’ lifestyle. In order to conceal the fact that capitalism itself is the ‘great disaster and to continue to stage  middle-class society – the spectacles of consumerist society – capitalism had to offer excessive use of electricity for the public. Nuclear energy was a sine qua non to achieve that. In consequence the entire coastline of Japan had come to be surrounded by nuclear reactors before we knew it. So they broke down. And now “all-electricity” households in the fog of scattering radiation are nothing but a nightmare.

PDF (English)





授業でレベッカ・ソルニットの『災害ユートピア』(亜紀書房)を読んでいる。今回の震災を受け、急きょこのテキストを決めた。大災害のとき人々はパニックに陥るとされているが、事実は違う。多くの人々はむしろ冷静であり、互いに助け合い、災害を生き延びてきたーーーサンフランシスコ地震(1906年)のスープキッチン、メキシコシティの大地震(1985年)の縫製労働者たちの連帯、ハリケーン・カトリーナに襲われたニューオーリンズ(2005年)の相互扶助組織……。彼女はアナキスト的想像力によって、災害時に立ち上がるこの相互扶助の空間を、「一時的自律ゾーン(TAZ)」、「予示的政治politics of prefiguration」(「具体的目標数値の政治」は訳)、「ザパティスタ解放軍」の実践が同質であることを示唆する。と同時に、これを破壊する支配者の側の力(サンフランシスコ地震の「ファンストン准将の世界観」)とのせめぎ合いを記述する。


学‥じゃあ暴力は? たとえば人を傷つけるとか。
し‥人を傷つけるのはよくない。必要なものを調達するのはいい。仕事がなくなり、生きるか死ぬかの野宿者になったときも非常時。空家に住 むなど、私有財産の侵害は許されるのでは。
し.. 連絡してくれれば裁判費用はカンパする。

この教員の意見が冗談なのか本気なのかいぶかしがりながらも、共感する学生が多かったのは意外だった。この本は直接行動のためのすぐれたテキストだということをあらためて実感した。直接行動は相互扶助? 愛とか友情とか類的存在と呼んでもいいが?によって正当化される。真の相互扶助は直接行動なくしては成立しえない。


1980年、EPトムスンは、グリーナム・コモン米軍基地に核を搭載したNATOの巡航ミサイルが160機配備されることが決定されたとき、「抵抗して生き残れ protest and survive」と題するパンフレットを書き、その後のヨーロッパ核廃絶運動(END)に影響を与えた。

ここでトムスンが批判しているのは「民間防衛」という発想である。イギリス政府は「防衛して生き残れ」という核シェルターの「日曜大工」のパンフを配布し、「限定」? とされる? 核戦争に備えるよう人々にうながしたのである。このパンフは「自宅に地下壕を掘って、古ドアから板切れで小部屋を作り、回りを砂袋や本や重い家具で固めてもぐり込み、14日分の食料と水、携帯ラジオと携帯便所、それに必ず缶切りを持って」退避することを推奨する。しかし、その後の放射性物質は? 食料は?そもそも「限定」核戦争というものはありえない。それは必ず全面化する。政府は国民の半分近くを失うだろうし、政府もそれを織り込み済みのはずだ。



だが当時のイギリスの状況との違いはある。すでに大惨事が起き、現在も放射性物質がばらまかれている日本では、もはや国の統治を当てにすることは難しい。政府は統治不能に陥っている。したがって政府への「抗議」だけでなく、私たちが生き延びるためにいっそう多くの「直接行動」が必要である —子供たちの避難キャンプ、放射線の自主計測、デモや集会や勉強会、情報やノウハウの共有。避難者によるスクォッティング運動も必要かもしれない。また子供に安全な水や食事を与えるためには親たちは一日のうちの相当の時間が必要である。これを確保するためには、共働きの親の場合、長時間労働を拒否することも必要だろう。


1960年代、シチュアショニストたちは、たんなる「生き延び=余りの生( survie)」として、核シェルターを批判した。だが彼らが批判していたのは「民間防衛」だけではない。彼らは「豊かな」消費生活もただの「余りの生」にすぎないとして非難した。彼らは団地と核シェルターは似ていると指摘する。

原発事故はこの「豊かな」生活のなれの果てである。資本主義自体が「大災害」であることを隠し、消費社会のスペクタクル ーミドルクラス社会を演出するためには、電力の過剰消費が可能でなければならない。原発はそのために必要だった。そして気がつけば日本の海岸線は原発に囲まれていた。そして壊れた。放射性物質が降りそそぐなかの「オール電化住宅」とは悪夢そのものである。


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