February 25, 2024

To Not Lose Sight Of The Good – Notes On The Zapatismo Ethic, Part 2 (Matt Rosen)

The following is the second of a two-part series. The first can be found here. The article is republished from Religious Theory.

The recasting of the field of three against the field of two, which is the field that is anterior to it and unilaterally determines it while being foreclosed to what would be its determinations, is the production of genuine alterity, but this is only true in some cases. The field of three can only coexist with the field of two such that this recasting is possible insofar as the field of three is not imagined to be totalizing, that is to say, insofar as there is not a twice-forgetting of the field of two.

The field of three is made up of three general terms: a self, an Other, and an analogical link between them; this link can be a structure, an institution, a system, an apparatus, etc. In the analogical schema of the field of three, the self is for-the-Other and the Other is for-the-self; each term is different-by-degree from the other term, and the norm or mean of this difference is set as the self or the self-same. This link interpolates both the self and the Other in the relation, in which these two terms – self and Other – are seen to be its terms, inextricable from the nexus itself.

In other words, the self and Other are colonized mutually by each other in their relation; each sets its self or what is self-same to it as the norm; each term is victimized by the other term and is its persecutor. The victimization-persecution dialectic cannot be abrogated in the field of three except by its suspension in the recollection of the field of two, which as an immanent praxis, and not merely a hope, bears within it the present possibility of a ‘perpetual peace,’ or a deliverance from the victimization-persecution cycle.

This recollection of the two would, as François Laruelle writes in Intellectuals and Power, be “a utopia of the Victim and the intellectual that is grounded upon a refusal of justification through history,” a rejection of the possibility of an ethic in the field of three (being-in-history, being-in-the-world, being-in-the-political, etc.) which therefore necessitates the recollection of that topology which is its ‘presupposed’ determination, viz., the field of two.

If the analogical schema of victimization and persecution, of the self-for-the-Other and the Other-for-the-self, is taken to be primary, and thus totalizing of the self and the Other, the field of three becomes the field of three-as-one. While there are three terms in this field – self, Other, and their relation – all three are counted ‘as-one,’ as totalized within the relation itself without the possibility of their excess. All three terms are taken to be entirely within one and the same analogical context inasmuch as the self and Other are of a self-same analogical or qualitative relation (the self totalizes the Other with the quality of ‘for-the-self’). In the three-as-one, the positions of the self and Other are taken to be auto-positional.

If the three are counted as one in the field of three-as-one, such a field cannot coexist with the two; thus, the field of three-as-one renders the production of alterity impossible. It is in this sense that we can say that there is no ethic in the three-as-one. Ethics only exists in a field of three if it permits the recollection of the primacy of the two; this is a field of three which does not totalize the self and Other in a subsumption under their relation, a field of three which can coexist with the two insofar as it is secondary to it.

It is for precisely this reason that the Zapatistas’ ethic of absolute welcoming must precede political and positional engagement, for if it were the other way around, such an ethic would no longer be realizable. Ethics and politics, which is to say, the field of two and the field of three, can only coexist insofar as the former is anterior to the latter; otherwise there is only politics, only the three-as-one and all of the injustice and inequality that is born from it.

In the coexistent two-and-three, each thing has two senses: as given without givenness, and as given by givenness; as material, and as immaterial; as visible, and as invisible; as ‘like’ or ‘unlike’ me, and as absolutely Other; as objectivated or interpolated, and as immediate-as-lived. In each case, the latter is anterior to the former and the infinite distance between them, the lack of proximity of the former to the latter which is the distinction between a thing in the fashion of the no-matter-what and a thing in-the-world, is the ‘performance’ of the infinity-(of)-alterity, i.e., its production in the recasting of the latter against the former which is primary to it. This coexistent two-and-three is, as we have said, the explicit structure of la Otra Campaña, and also necessitates the priority of ethics vis-à-vis politics such that the two are both possible.

We can further specify the relation between a quantum finitude in its non-position in the field of two and its position in the field of three as characterized by an attunement of indifference. A quantum finitude, in recollecting the primacy of the two in which it is whatever it may be, in which it is non-qualitative, is indifferent to its position in the three insofar as the three is thus non-total as a merely partial positioning of it.

The position of a quantum finitude as different by degree in an analogical schema is seen to be partial in a movement from the three to the two, in the application of the axiom of the no-matter-what which is the remembering of a radical qualitative insufficiency, an as-kesis or stripping-away which includes in what it discards as primary the quality of ‘positioned in the three’ (being-in-the-world, etc.). Difference in the sense of the infinity-(of)-alterity is thus indifferent difference, or unidirectional difference, inasmuch as a quantum finitude unilaterally determines the positional and is foreclosed to what its determinations would be.

The generic is therefore idempotent vis-à-vis its position in the field of three from the vantage point or posture, which appears from within the three as a ‘view from nowhere,’ of the immediate, lived, and a priori inhabiting of the field of two. Thus, we can say that a quantum finitude is indifferent to its own sense of being given by or in the givenness of the field of three.

The ethical question, then, is essentially the question of whether a thing is totalized or not within the field of three, i.e., whether or not a thing’s position in the three is counted as part of a one, whether it is taken to be merely positional, and thus auto-positional, or else recollected as non-positional in the field of two, given in its immediacy without givenness. The ethical task par excellence is the remembrance of one’s abnegational position, which entails a welcoming of all Others in the field of two as generic in the fashion of the no-matter-what which is the piety of the axiom-schema of abnegation.

We can thus write the fundamental ethical question as follows: is a thing recollected as welcomed in the fashion of the no-matter-what, or not? Have I lost sight of the Good and done so twice? And evidently, in asking this very question, the recollection is already a matter of course. The Zapatistas’ ethic of absolute hospitality, which is, as we have illustrated, a generic ethic, can be distilled into a singular formulation: to all Others, in the fashion of the no-matter-what. It is precisely in this sense that ‘anyone can be a Zapatista.’

One instance of this ethic can be seen quite clearly in the Zapatismo notion of horizontalidad (horizontalism), which is a political formation in contradistinction to the classical political party or revolutionary program. In “Zapatismo and the Global Origins of Occupy,” Thomas Nail describes the impetus for creating such an alternative in the following way:

Horizontalidad emerged, in large part, as an alternative to political parties. Political parties have long been the organizational tools of both the Left and Right for bringing together large groups of people under commonly shared platforms and ideological positions… The party structure is the way in which the power of the state is divided up and executed. But this division is precisely one of its problems. The very nature of parties is to be partisan, oppositional, and divide the people between conflicting positions… There is no real way to change the system of party representation through the election process [which is why the Zapatistas did not put forward or endorse a candidate in 2000 or 2006]. Division and corruption are two major concerns at the core of the party system – and two motives for creating an alternative.(22-23)

In lieu of a political party or a unifying program, horizontalidad offers the gathering or assembly: this is a form of direct and egalitarian democracy in which people, with no regard to commonalities or shared qualities and identities, come together to propose solutions to communal issues. As Nail puts it, “In contrast to the oppositional structure of the party, the assembly is not divided by party lines, ideologies, or represented constituents.”(23) Instead, it is a welcoming of each and every person who wishes to be involved, an Encuentro.

The structure of the horizontalidad is a clear and unambiguous case of a coexistent two-and-three; because the primacy of absolute hospitality is recollected, because each participant remembers the field of two structured by the asymmetrical axiom-schema of abnegation and the piety of its no-matter-what, it is then possible to conceive of a non-totalized and utterly horizontal field of three which is not counted as-one.

The condition of the possibility of horizontal relations in the field of three is the remembrance of the asymmetrical non-relation of the field of two (hence, mandar obedeciendo, leading by obeying, leading after a first abnegation). Asymmetry precedes and unilaterally determines horizontality such that the two can coexist, for if horizontality is taken to be first, it inevitably dissolves into the stratification of political parties and programs. If there is to be ethics and politics in coexistence, ethics must be anterior to and determining of politics.

‘Anti-Power Against Power’

The axiom-schema of abnegation which defines the field of two does not entail a theorem of absolute surrender or capitulation, as many critics of the EZLN’s ‘symbolic morality’ seem to think. This is not just a negative claim; as we said previously, we must show that resistance can be derived from a generic ethic, that it follows from the absolute hospitality of the field of two. In other words, it must be demonstrated that a ‘theorem of resistance’ can be derived from the axiom-schema of abnegation, that the two permits, at least in some cases, a non-capitulation. This would be the derivation of an ‘against-power,’ or a resistance to the powers of the field of three which would count its terms as-one, from the ‘anti-power’ of the field of two; it would be a demonstration of the possibility of antipoder contra poder (anti-power against power).

An example should suffice to show that resistance is indeed derivable from the field of two: suppose that, on a cold and rainy day, two strangers approach the door of a building in which a Zapatista Encuentro is taking place. The first is an indigenous person and the second has made of all their wealth in a business which usurped the rights of indigenous people. In a recollection of the first abnegation, we let them both in, feed them and fetch them water, and bring warm clothes and blankets – and then we begin talking. Soon enough, we discover that one of our guests is proudly Mayan, while the other cares little for the rights or welfare of indigenous people.

The indigenous person confronts the capitalist on the subject of their seemingly unethical business practices, and the capitalist in turn lashes out, declaring that indigenous people ‘don’t deserve rights anyways.’ The indigenous person remains still and calm, silent before their accuser, unwilling to engage and indifferent to the assault. We find ourselves upset; after all, we have invited both guests into the Encuentro, we have shown both of them our hospitality. Who is the capitalist to think that they can torment our other guest? At the same time, we must recollect that we are in an abnegational non-position vis-à-vis the capitalist, as well as vis-à-vis the indigenous person.

So how do we proceed? In the recollection of the field of two, we do not give over the capacity for resistance but rather ground it. The axiom-schema of abnegation in application to both the capitalist and the indigenous person demands, in the very act of remembering this twofold abnegation, a non-capitulation to the violence of either of our guests against the other. In the very act of remembering the abnegation to each, we must fight in the name of the no-matter-what in a defense of both Others without regard to their given qualities.

Abnegation compels us to be true to it by stepping in; we cannot be idle in the face of victimization and persecution but must rather seek to suspend the whole victimization-persecution dialectic – the condition of angst in which each self is both the victim and the persecutor of every Other – by recollecting the primacy of the field of two. Thus, resistance to the victimization-persecution dialectic can be derived from the axiom-schema of abnegation as theorematic in the case of the violence or colonizing act of one against another.

Or more exactly, it can be derived from the abnegation of the field of two – where responsibility for the Other is recollected as the only thing (todo para todos, nada para nosotros) – and a secondary fact about the world of the field of three into which we have been thrown: there are always multiple Others at the door. Justice can be derived from the charity owed to all Others.

We can therefore say that it is sometimes the case that acting in the fashion of the no-matter-what, that is to say, recollecting the always-already-acted-ness of abnegation, demands non-capitulation, and it is likewise sometimes the case that it demands capitulation instead. In either case, though, the capacity to resist is not at stake; for resistance, when demanded by the ethical, can be definitively derived.

The derivation of the theorem of resistance does not necessarily entail an uprising or a violent insurrection; it does not always demand a repetition of January 1994. There are two reasons for this:

Resistance is not ineluctably a collective matter.

Resistance is the determining and ‘invisible’ counterpart in the field of two to what may be, in the field of three – in the ‘visible’ world of relations, positions, and so on – either revolution or apparent conformity. As a theorem derived only from a coexistent two-and-three, resistance cannot be totalized as the inescapable necessity of armed revolution or the like, which would be the counting of the three as-one such that it could no longer coexist with the two. This totalization would be a twice-forgetting of the two. Uprising – which we can define for our purposes as collective action against a structure for the end of changing it in some way – cannot be derived from the axiom-schema of abnegation with certainty.

Uprising is a feature of the field of three insofar as it coexists with and does not contradict the field of two, and a feature of the field of three-as-one insofar as it does not coexist with and does contradict the field of two. In the former case, we can say that an uprising is ethical – that is, if it is compatible with resistance in the sense of antipoder contra poder – and in the latter case, uprising is unethical in the sense of poder contra poder because it renders the coexistent two-and-three impossible.

The theorem of resistance is itself secondary, ulterior to the absolute hospitality of the field of two from which it can be derived.

Let’s differentiate between a ‘subject’ and a ‘person.’ A subject is a positioned-person, i.e., a person positioned within the field of three – this can be either a coexistent two-and-three or a three-as-one. A person is non-positional in themselves, or in the fashion of the no-matter-what as a radical insufficiency of qualities, as a quantum finitude. In the case in which the uprising-subject imagines the primacy of their subjecthood and thus neglects their personhood (say, as a becoming-subject in the fidelity to the ‘truth’ of the uprising), they conjure the absolute or total linkage of the analogy or field of three and thus count it as-one in the very act of revolting against it.

As Lacan said, “What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master: You will have one!” (12) The distinction between the resisting-person – who is an uprising-subject in some cases but does not take their subjecthood in the field of three to be primary to their personhood (or genericity) as a quantum finitude in the field of two – and the uprising-subject who is totalized as such is a distinction between which principle is absolutized: the uprising-subject who is totalized as such absolutizes the field of three, the analogy and the positions of its terms, such that it is counted as-one, whereas the resisting-person in the fashion of the no-matter-what absolutizes the partiality or contingency of the analogy, i.e., its factical nature as shown in its inadequacy to count or contain its terms as-one. That is to say, the resisting-person absolutizes the recollection of the field of three’s failure to totalize its terms as terms and nothing besides; this is the absolutization of the field of two, of the Other who is the Absolute in the sense that it condemns us to the non-position of abnegation.

The uprising-subject who is totalized as such makes the structure (such as the state) against which they are revolting into the Absolute, totalizing even their own position in that structure qua ‘uprising-subject.’ Their uprising act against the old master thus necessarily supplants that master with a new one; this is the result of one and the same act. In contradistinction, the ethical act of resistance against the old master, derived from the axiom of the no-matter-what and the coexistent two-and-three, predicated on the recollection of a first abnegation, is a resistance against the primacy of structures as such, of being-in-the-world and so on.

It is a resistance against the absolutization of the field of three intothe form of the field of three-as-one and is possible insofar as it is derived from the field of two, that is to say, insofar as it is an instance of antipoder contra poder; this field is then one from which we can resist the absolutization of the three and the positions of its terms, from which we can refuse the count-as-one of the field of three. Resistance is therefore subsequent to absolute hospitality by necessity, and is possible, i.e., derivable, only in that case.

Against the critics of the Zapatistas who proclaim that insurrection must come first, before ethical considerations, we can now say that such a prioritization of uprising over and above welcoming leads to the impossibility of the coexistence of the field of two and the field of three, and thus the totalization and absolutization of the three and the positions of its terms in the three-as-one. In other words, a politics before ethics is a politics without ethics (poder contra poder), and cements, in the very best of cases, a master who is more favorable than the previous one; but it can never result in resistance against the totalization of the field of three which allows for a master to arise in the first place. In granting hospitality primacy to resistance – ‘anyone can be a Zapatista’ and‘todo para todos, nada para nosotros’ precede ‘antipoder contra poder’ – Zapatismo allows both to coexist.

The topology inhabited by the Zapatistas is the field of the coexistent two-and-three precisely because the two unilaterally determines and is foreclosed to the three, because the three is thus non-total and not counted as-one, which is the absolute fact that leads to the recollection of the field of two, and its axiom-schema of abnegation which locates its piety in the axiom of the no-matter-what.

Allegiance to all Others in the sense of a first abnegation, distilled in the formulation of the generic ethic: ‘to all Others, in the fashion of the no-matter-what,’ is therefore an a priori posture of the defense of all Others and a stance of the resistance which can be derived from it; this is the posture and the stance of the Zapatistas.

Matt Rosen is a student at Colorado College. He works mainly on issues in ethics, and is the author of Speculative Annihilationism: The Intersection of Archaeology and Extinction (Zero Books, 2019) and the editor of the forthcoming volume of collected papers, Diseases of the Head (Punctum, 2020).

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