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Al contadin non far sapere

By paoloplot, 23 December 2010

9th of December 2010, around 3pm, after a seminar with my students, I join my friends at the demonstration in Parliament Square. I go there from Goldsmiths College with one of my students, we walk arm in arm, acting as if we were tourists, as a light-hearted couple admiring the buildings in Whitehall, indifferent towards the police all along the road, and laughing, enjoying this silly performance. We just had a seminar where we discussed the current planning of the demolition of the UK education system, the devastation of places like Goldsmiths, where the public funding will be cut 100% and the fees raised to 9.000 pounds a year. The places that are going to be privatized completely are precisely those where what is asked to students is not so much to collect knowledge, but to think critically.

Today, for the first time in a seminar that I facilitate, Korean and Chinese students are those who talk the most. I have been asking myself for a long time what makes it so hard for Korean and Chinese students to take part in the seminar’s discussions. It might be a language problem, it might be a gender issue... today Korean students give some answers themselves: “every time we have to talk in public we are scared, to talk in public means fear for us, and this is because we have been repressed for so long and so heavily, our grandfathers were killed by the police, our families persecuted”... “A conversation like the one we have here could not take place in a Korean university”... “I was happy to see so many books written by radical thinkers in the Goldsmiths Library, you cannot find them in Korean Universities”... “I have the impression that the UK university will become what the Korean university already is, a place where you pay a lot of money just in the hope to find a job afterwards.” We say how university in the UK already functions like a shop were the student is a costumer: she knows what she wants and is supposed to complain if she does not get it. The student/customer wants to bring something home, she takes notes, she accumulates knowledge, that is, notions, and measures carefully how much she gets in exchange of the money she pays. The privatization of university is also this: you enter the shop, you get something called knowledge, you exit the shop, most of the time you don’t find a job, but you are supposed to feel enriched by this accumulation of accountable knowledge, enriched, and most of all self-reassured and self-content: nothing has happened. If, once in the shop, you start feeling some sort of unease, a sense of shifting away, a crumbling of your notes under your hands, you shouldn’t lose your time and write immediately a complain.

We arrive in the square, this demonstration seems rather different from the previous one, a month ago, which was overflowing with joy, colours, sounds. Everything here seems dark, there are a few fires scattered around the square, the atmosphere is rather tense, but I’m happy to see my friends, we drink a hot cognac that I brought in a thermos, and after half an hour we decide to go somewhere warmer. We head towards the ICA, but the street is blocked by a line of policemen. “Go through Whitehall” a policeman says “you can exit there.” We go to Whitehall and there is even more police blocking the street. We then go back to the policeman we spoke with before, saying that Whitehall is blocked as well. “Yes, it was blocked, but now is open.” We go to Whitehall again, but there is no way to go through. We start realizing that the policemen are lying to us. We try the tube station but it’s closed as well. “Are we in a kettle already?” I say smiling to my friends. I’m sort of joking, they cannot kettle thousands of people into such a huge square, right? I brought with me hot cognac and plenty of warm clothes because people were talking about kettles the day before at Goldsmiths, but I didn’t really think I was going to use them, double socks, double scarf, double jumper. We spend some time thinking what to do, trying to go from a place to another. With an IPhone we read in the Guardian website that, yes, the whole square is blocked, but they let out whoever wishes to join the candle march in Embankment. But this is just another lie. I’m walking around, trying to warm up, and I see someone with a covered face walking fast towards a boy and punching him in the face. The boy screams, he comes towards me crying “my eye... it’s burning...” I don’t know what to do, I don’t understand what’s going on.

There are some guys going around the square and randomly punching people on the face, it looks like complete madness. This is the first act of violence we witness. The only way I can make sense of this is that these guys are not protesters, and they are paid by someone to be here and punch people at random. The violence has started after the kettle was made, and not before, and it was not started by the protesters, but by whoever has organized this nightmare. Because minute after minute, hour after hour, this is becoming more and more a nightmare, something like a horror movie. The police repeatedly charges the crowd, the crowd runs away, some people are bleeding. We are enclosed in a place where everything can happen to us, we are forced by the police to be exposed to a violence organized by whoever gives orders to the police, in a space that immediately makes me think about what Giorgio Agamben calls “camp”, a space which is constructed both inside and outside the law, a space where we are stripped “bare”, in the sense that we can be freely killed without this killing to be considered a crime. But soon I think about something else, this is not just a “state of exception”, there is something more at stake: this looks like a set of a Hollywood movie, an apocalypse movie, something like John Carpenter’s Escape from NY, but with no escape. It is dark now and a helicopter is flying over the square projecting a beam of light towards the square, but the light is not really illuminating anything, the helicopter is just part of a horrifying choreography, of a staging where we are enforced actors of a drama that will soon appear on the TV news. A TV horror movie where the protesters will be the “protagonists”, smashing windows, throwing bricks, lighting fires, destroying an entire square. But what on the TV screen will look like a chaos provoked by a huge number of uncontrollable protesters, is in fact entirely and carefully planned and organized by someone else, by whoever gives orders to the police around us and to the disguised mercenaries amongst us.

The day after the police will say that nothing of this would have happened if the protesters would have followed the established route. But it is the police that blocked all the streets and led everybody into Parliament Square. Now the smashing of windows is coming near to us and we can see better how it “works”: whilst people smash on the ground floor, on the upper floors the windows open and someone takes photographs of the spectacle below. This is like being part of a film that, at the same time, is real, it is our life being exploited in this film, in a film that you never decided to take part in, where people with smashed heads, and smashed for real, are carried next to you whilst the police refuses to let them through.

Before the police starts charging people we try to talk, to make jokes, we smile at each other, “despite everything, I’m happy to be with you all!”. To try warming up we improvise a dance class where one of us teaches to the others different dance steps. But after a while we just try to keep on smiling, and the more we stay here, the less we are able to talk, we see the screams getting nearer to us, another line of policemen on the opposite side of the square is charging people. It is many of us, so many, a crowd of people looking terrified at a nightmare getting closer. We stay very near to the police line, the one behind us, as to seek protection, and how pathetic to think about us still seeking protection from danger by the police now that I’m writing all this. We beg them to let us out, there are people crying. A policeman tells one of us, with a confidential tone of voice, that the place where we are is safe, that we should stay here. After five minutes the same policeman with all the others in his line is charging us. All this seems madness to us, we don’t understand, also because they look like human beings, despite the way they are dressed and the weapons they carry, and you want to see them as human beings, because you are frightened, upset, my bowls turn over. And they also talk like human beings, and their tone of voice changes, from confidential, to reassuring, to authoritative. It’s only after leaving this nightmare that we understand that they were not human beings there, they were just acting as human beings, they were just part of a spectacular machine of violence. I heard accounts of ’68 when students used to discuss with the lined up police, and it happened that some policemen started trembling because of those discussion. Now it is the police that looks for discussions, but these are not discussions, because the policemen are trained to say what they say, and to even think what they think, they are just a sort of shell that still appears human, but is deprived of the capacity of thinking. And the policemen are paid to act in that way, and trained to act and speak and think in that way, and there are so many of them, and they are so well trained, and so much money goes into paying for all of this, and after today this money will be even more, more money for this lobotomy of a police training, and less money for education, for this other very different “training” that develops a critical thinking.

And the money, of course, is not going to us here, once again it is we who are working for free, as unprofessional actors this time, this is free and enforced labour, we are forced to act in a TV drama where our life is put in danger for real, in a sort of huge horrifying snuff movie, that will be used by its brilliant producers to convince the TV news watchers and everybody else that stronger measures have to be taken against this uncontrollable terrorism that the students and the youth are able to provoke. Thanks to this kind of productions more and more people will accept for this country, and not only for this one, to further descend into this sort of spectacular fascist regime, which is urgently shutting down and destroying the places where is taught to people how to use their own brain (how to use our own body to think).

>>>We need to keep cracking this control over the media<<< >>>We need to contrast this monopoly of violence<<< >>>We need to reappropriate what has been taken away from us<<<

A girl with a megaphone screams asking the students of Manchester University to gather, a bus is waiting for them, the students are allowed to leave if they show their ID card. A guy is distributing tickets for the bus and he puts a couple in my hands, I ask for more, my friends stretch their hands towards him. For a moment I think ourselves as a bunch of Jews in Nazi Germany trying to desperately save their lives, holding this piece of paper very tightly in our hands. It is when the Manchester students, and us with them, prepare to leave that the police charges all of us. We cannot believe it, this is what we are still able to say to each other: “I don’t believe this”, this is not possible, it doesn’t make sense, not here, not in this country. There are all sorts of people amongst us, there are some smartly dressed girls, young people, old people, there is a guy who stares the policemen, face to face, for hours, immobile. There are also some of my students that have never been to a demonstration before. I try to smile at them, as if everything would be fine, but after a point all I can do is to pretend to be annoyed, and I shake my head as to say “This is all so silly”. But this is not really what I think and feel, and I don’t even know what I feel anymore. We run away from our spot, from the police charging us. Now we are on the other side of the square, squeezed, we don’t feel the cold anymore, our bodies are pressed together. The police starts releasing people one by one. It is around 8.30pm I think. Every time we hear a window crashing we all tremble, we, this crowd of people that we don’t see where it ends. Now I start worrying about what can happen when we leave the crowd. We know that it is our right not to say our name. Someone suggests to cover our face when going out.

I am about to leave, the guy before me has a scarf covering his mouth, the policeman shouts at him, the boy takes immediately the scarf away from his face, but another policeman takes him away. I show the content of my bag to a policeman and I leave. I pass beside two more policemen with a camera but they don’t take any pictures of me. Two of my friends come after me. But we are the last to leave the crowd. The line is closed again now. I’m outside now but I still can’t believe what is going on. The three of us hug each other looking at the crowd behind the line, at the row of horses in front of us. One of my student phones me, she is crying: “Please, do something, help me, talk with a policeman, I cannot stay here any longer, please...” I don’t know what to say, I mumble something to her, and then I ask a policeman where will they let people out, even though I know it doesn’t make any sense to ask this. Westminster, he says.

The police shouts with a megaphone: “You are free now, just go to Westminster bridge and leave the square.” By now people know that this is just another lie. The police charges the crowd. We decide to leave. Our friends and everybody else will be pushed onto Westminster Bridge and detained there for another couple of hours. I don’t know much of what happened there. I know that people were let peeing themselves. I heard that more violence was perpetrated by the police. They had dogs on the bridge. I called my friends after they were released, but they were not really able to talk. “Great, you are finally free!”, I say. “No, it’s not great... it’s not great... it’s not great...” is the reply. The same night my friend writes an email saying “I’m not sure I could ever endure something like that again – which is what they intended”. The day after she sends us another email: “The numbness is wearing off now. From now on I will join every single demonstration.”

Since I left Parliament square I have been about to cry many times. I haven’t done this yet. A friend told me “you must have been really scared”. But I was not scared, it was something else, something that I could not really describe. And this is the question I ask myself since that evening: how to channel all of this into something else, into something different from a feeling of hatred? How to turn this violence into some other kind of different violence, how to use it as a force that is neither physical nor psychological, as the one used by the police? How to have this something that presses tears in my eyes doing something else, how to make it proliferate it all around, instead of having to vomit it out in the form of a “human” violence like to the one perpetrated on us? And possibly, how to practice something like a militant education, which is not educating to militancy, but rather an education that is moved through the same intensity of something like a militancy?

Because precisely this was at stake the other day, and now, right? Pedagogy was the issue, education and its collapse, and what can emerge from this. A militant pedagogy like that of Jacotot, which spreads outside the institution where is exercised, a pedagogy which even the peasant utilizes, a pedagogy which can operate, but almost imperceptibly, inside an institution, but which cannot be institutionalized, and which now is long gone as it was, but it has never really died. The same night I tell to my Colombian and Serbian friends what happened in that square, and they understand everything immediately, right from the start of my account. I spent most of my life in a country that has not been ruled under what is properly called a dictatorship for more than half a century. I know that European so called democratic countries, like the one where I was born, have organized in a recent “democratic” past some nightmares which were much worse than the one I experienced. I realize that unless you don’t experience something like this you cannot have a sense of what it is. You read this in the newspapers, you watch a documentary, you read it online, but you cannot really get what it is. Now I think I have a sense of this, and it is as if I share something else with friends coming from countries like Colombia and Serbia, who have experienced what is called a dictatorship. From what my friends told me, I know that in Latin America the university has traditionally been one of the few places where people could exercise and develop something like a political thinking. This makes us understand the decision to destroy the few places in Europe where people can learn how to exercise and develop something like a political thinking. I wasn’t able to make sense of the closure of the philosophy department at Middlesex until two days ago: why should the managerial board of a university close a prestigious department that attracts many students and consequently brings high profits? They said it was because of the economic crisis, but this would be an illogical paradox. And now everything becomes more clear.

There is an old Italian saying that goes like this: “Al contadin non far sapere quanto e’ buono il formaggio con le pere”, that is, don’t let the peasant know how good is cheese with pears. This is at the very bottom of what is happening here, at the bottom of the sinking of this country, and not only this one, into a spectacular fascism ruled by national and international elites and corporations. This is what the saying tells: “Erase all the possibilities for people to think and experience what they have not experienced, what appears as impossible, like having pleasure in eating something salty together with something sweet for an Italian person in a time where there was no TV explaining us how to eat and cook, and how to mix all sorts of ingredients together. Erase for the people the possibility to think and experience something different from what is offered or imposed on them. Erase the conditions for something possible to take place.” But there is another version of the same saying, it is less known perhaps, but it has been sometimes used nonetheless. It goes like this: “Al padron non far sapere quanto e’ buono il formaggio con le pere.” Don’t let the master know how good is cheese with pears. It is here, through this doubling of the old saying, through the doubling of this manufactured collapse, that we can create, keep creating, the conditions for a possible to take place.