The Mix
Keller Easterling
5 Apr 2024

New York
40.7128° N, 74.0060° W

Culture often stubbornly searches for singular evils and singular solutions. The residual White Enlightenment mind exalts the one and only and believes it can only generate thought through a dialectic progression of opposing forces towards an ultimate. In this hierarchical world of dualisms and warring binaries, ideation must assume the structure of religious fairy tales. Stories must have conflict as their engine. Legal forms must exist as arguments. Quantifications proceed through axiomatic expressions towards a proof. This is the apparatus of reasonable thinking. It is treated as a form of sophistication rather than a primitive blunt instrument.

Project an image of Karl Marx next to Peter Kropotkin, or Gabriel Tarde, and, even though the line-up is restricted to white men, most populations of college students will only be able to identify Marx. And even if the others can be named, they will likely be regarded as supporting characters and minor texts in relation to the lead role. It is a culture that would seize on and create what Vilém Flusser called “textolatry” around one thinker who must have the solution. For the Enlightenment mind, just opening the door to others might be seen as an attempt to depose Marx and put a rival in his place! But this is just a symptom of the same stubborn habit of mind that, making a category mistake, confuses part with whole. Thinking in this way, multiple markets will be treated as one market that must be crushed and comprehensively replaced. Activist positions must demand that followers are either for them or against them, and phrases like “speaking with one voice,” seem to appear by default. There is only one fight on which all other fights rely.

The entirely reasonable rationale for this all-or-nothing approach is that compromise or centrist positions only bolster power and maintain the status quo, and yet the all-or-nothing position may also strengthen even more dangerous forms of power. The single evil, single solution, single ideology approach makes it easier for political superbugs who deploy populist or authoritarian tactics. Recognizing the acculturated success of singular gods and binary fights, superbugs scramble and conflate ideological positions as they harvest loyalties, incite violence, and establish themselves as that god. Meanwhile, there is no singular evil but rather a spectrum of dangers from capitalism, fascism, racism, whiteness, xenophobia, sectarian violence, religious intolerance, caste, femicide, sociopathic leadership, and countless other means hoarding authoritarian power while oppressing others and abusing the planet. Human agents have also passed off their power to many non-human agents. The spectrum keeps forming familiar mixtures of whiteness, imperialism, settler colonialism, racialized capital, and labor abuse. And those sewing the clothes, mining the minerals, sitting on the exhausted land, or facing the fire and water are often people of color or other victims of the extremes of inequality. Still, as the various dangers come braided and temporarily allied in different combinations, at any one time, the ideologies used to describe them may or may not catch all of their disguises and modes for camouflage.

Just as there are no singular evils, there is no correct form of dissent. Activism is advocating, rioting, marching, looting, blockading, boycotting, sanctioning, sabotaging, and divesting, among many other things. Nothing changes without pressure. Sometimes, the most forceful activism is the gentlest response to the environment violence and damage caused by powers that demolish, poison, abuse, subjugate, erase you not just with a gunshot or a drawn sword but with fossil fuels, sheltered wealth, monopolies of data, murderous policing. But to declare a correct way to protest is a weak position. Those who do may also come from a position of privilege that does not risk death when speaking out—that does not require forms of fugitivity to survive. And activism also requires the sneakiness to double-cross the political superbugs who run rings around singular solutions and singular evils. Dissensus is stronger when there is a mixture of techniques to keep the superbugs guessing, starved, and disoriented.

Setting aside monolithic thinking and broadening of the activist repertoire redoubles the potential territory for dissensus. Luckily, the seminal figures of textolatry are quickly overtaken by the abundance of thinkers on the other side of White Enlightenment thought. Those who have been the victims of so much of its harm are often offering the most potent counter-logics and antidotes. The swell of voices from abolitionist, anarchist, feminist, Black, Brown, and Indigenous thinkers suggests that, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore has asserted, “abolition is a horizon.” To redress injustices, something more like a field condition or broad gradient of varied activities and multiple fronts? Might it even mean that abolition is not infinitely delayed but coming more quickly? Power is not replaced but overwhelmed by multiple approaches that do not adhere to the mono-ideational belief or the binary fight.

That same abundance of thinkers, scholars, and activists meets a contemporary opportunity for solidarity—one that recalls the international solidarity between the Pan-African, Non-Aligned, Tricontinental, and civil rights movements in the twentieth century. The work of Adom Getachew, Anne G. Mahler, or David Featherstone, or Cynthia Anne Young tell the stories of these exiles, government leaders, intellectuals, writers, activists, and artists who built an international network during a wave of colonial independence and just prior to a neoliberal turn. While that moment of solidarity was crushed by late-twentieth-century neoliberal forces that further tilted the playing field in favor of established power, a contemporary wave of solidarity potentially moves beyond the international to the planetary.

This text has been excerpted from forA issue #1: Frictions. To read the full essay, purchase the journal here:

Keller Easterling is a writer, designer, and the Enid Storm Dwyer Professor of Architecture at Yale. Her books include Medium Design (Verso 2021), Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (Verso, 2014), Subtraction (Sternberg, 2014), Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and its Political Masquerades (MIT, 2005), and Organization Space: Landscapes, Highways and Houses in America (MIT, 1999). She also co-authored (with Richard Prelinger) Call it Home, a laserdisc/DVD history of US suburbia from 1934–1960. She lectures, publishes, and exhibits internationally. Her work appeared in the 2014 and 2018 Venice Biennales, and she was a 2019 United States Artist in Architecture and Design.

1.Vilém Flusser, Toward a Philosophy of Photography, trans. Anthony Mathews (London: Reaktion Books, 2000), 3–4.