It is clear (although perhaps not to Fox News viewers) that we are living in a moment of historic political resistance. The “Arab Spring” is convulsing the political regimes of the Middle East and the “Occupy” movement is emerging as the most widespread political protest in the United States since the 1960′s. While there are necessarily many differences between the movements due to their cultural situatedness, there is an essential similarity: they are all anti-ideological. Not only do they oppose neoliberalism (the dominant ideology of our times) as it is variously reflected in our societies, they remain steadfastly against coalescing behind any alternative ideology.
What these movements express is often mistakenly called ‘populism.’ This appellation is correct in the sense that the demonstrators in New York and Cairo are rebelling against their exploitation by a socioeconomic elite, but an -ism connotes an ideology or at least a unified plan of action: social-ism, commun-ism, etc.
Rather, the protesters are acting in the spirit of what philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy has called “being singular-plural,” a collective assertion of a group identity that is constantly heedful of the dignity of the individual. It’s through their refusal to assent to ideologically established terms of discourse that the collective actions of these demonstrators speak so loudly. It may make them look chaotic or ineffectual in the short run, but profound social change comes gradually, not all at once.