Salida Zapatista

A great question from Anon on CuriousCat earlier today:

Dude, loved reading your exit posts that you’ve been producing recently (just finished the one on the gothic line). It isn’t something i’ve seen you talk about (and don’t really know if you’re interested), but would love to know if/what you think about exit-movements in latin american such as the zapatista movement or indiginous resistance in places like Brazil (well, thinking about it i really can’t even tell if they can be considered the type of exit politics you’ve been drawing up, but still seems like there’d be some spark).

To expand on my direct but more informal reply:

The way I see it, any future instantiation of large-scale patchwork is wholly dependent on movements of internal resistance, whether indigenous or otherwise.

The Zapatista movement, in particular, is a fascinating example. I remember they were repeatedly mentioned last year by a Guatamalan friend of mine who was particularly interested in artistic forms of protest (as performance art or otherwise) and so the Zapatistas, with their inherently creative approaches towards resistance, are an fantastic example of the various forms exit strategies can take.

Anon’s reticence to refer to these movements as coming under “exit politics” is understandable. There is little “physical” exit involved in their aims but, as has been explored in various forms already on this blog, exit must likewise refer to the carving up of “interiors” — whether geopolitical or ontological.

The seasteading movement, for all its faults, is certainly aware of this (at one level) and so they have actively pursued the creation of entirely new territories. This is most likely an easier way to achieve secession (if you’ve got the resources) than the carving up of what is deemed to be the pre-existing sovereign territory of a nation-state. However, that doesn’t alleviate the problems of other subject groups.

This is partly why I have stuck to considerations of a UK patchwork. Not only is it my home country (“write about what you know”, and all that), but border lines have been constantly shifting here for centuries, whether related to the Irish Troubles, Welsh devolution, Scottish independence and other examples, like Yorkshire, which I’ve already been considering here.

But beyond this, the main reason is that post-colonial politics are not, admittedly, my forte. Therefore, references to these politics have been glaringly absent from this blog — but absence is not a sign of indifference.

The post-colonial politics of Latin America and India — to take another example — have repeatedly been on my periphery. (India especially, as last year I spent a surprising amount of time working on art projects that were related to Indian independence from British rule — 2017 marked the 60th anniversary of this. For instance, to momentarily lift up my lazily-maintained mask of anonymity, I worked on this.)

In thinking about this, I came across an essay by Jill Lane, “Digital Zapatistas“, which actually opens with a fantastic introduction, laying out some very familiar thoughts with regards to exit and secessionary desires that become entangled, particularly today, in geopolitical and cybernetic politics and the effects of these politics on contemporary subjectivities:

Critic Paul Virilio suggests that our new times are marked by the “industrialization of simulation”: dominated by commercial and government interests, televisual and internet cybermedia perpetuate a “dissuasion of perceptible reality,” and — for better or worse — instantiate new formations of reality, new relations between self, space, and a sense of the real, whose moving contours require new conceptual maps. As with all space exploration, real or imagined, the cartography of such simulated spaces — or of what Virilio calls “cybernetic space-time” — is shaped both by the past travel and desired destination of the traveler. Ricardo Dominguez, founder of the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT), notes the range of metaphors that have until now informed our imagination of cybernetic space: “frontier, castle, real estate, rhizome, hive, matrix, virus, network”. Because cyberspace is by definition a discursive space, the imposition of any one metaphor has a performative effect on the cyber-reality it describes, turning cyberspace into the domain of private ownership, or frontier outposts, or rhizomatic community. “Each map,” says Dominguez, “creates a different line of ight, a different form of security, and a different pocket of resistance”. Each map enables and effaces certain kinds of travel and their attendant social infrastructure: ports of entry and exit, laws of access, and rights of passage.

The maps that now govern our “globalized” world suggest a world in which public spaces are increasingly privatized, in which the poverty exacerbated by neocolonial and neoliberal economic practice pushes more and more people to migrate, only to nd themselves criminalized as “illegal” aliens by those who guard “legitimate” access to nation-states. Shall such maps be reproduced in cyberspace? What recourse — what lines of flight, what type of travel, what practices of resistance — can be made in cyberspace for protest, justice, or alternative realities?

Lane goes on to highlight the Zapatistas as a particular example but it is, ultimately, a story of voice over “exit” — whatever kind of exit that might be.

The fascination I have with these considerations of voice/exit are precisely related to the fact that voice is always ultimately captured. In staying within the confines of democracy, all we seem to end up with is a mess — whether that’s the close race that was Brexit leading to emboldened resentment and discontent rather than resolution or, as in Catalonia, “unofficial” democracy can be used to undermine a supposedly resolute decision made by a prospective nation.

This is surely related to the inherent paradox of democracy, now pretty old hat (not to mention obvious).

It goes like this:

If, like in the Brexit referendum, you are given two choices when faced with a contentious issue, probability suggests you’ll have a near-even split of 50/50.

In democratic elections more generally, multi-party systems become preferable in that they help uphold an illusion of fairness. The problem, in reality, only gets worse: no party will ever have a majority. (And when they do, like in Russia recently, for instance, the rest of us are highly suspicious.) With winning parties generally taking less than 50% of a vote, you will always have the majority of a nation unsatisfied. But, because its “democratic”, we accept it.

We accept it because the alternatives to our democratic system are, supposedly, even more unfair and dystopian. (That is, of course, the ones we’ve managed to try.)

There are no alternatives.

(Nietzsche’s critiques of democracy, whilst still contentious, speak to this particularly, if I remember correctly. I once wrote about them for my A Level General Studies class (of all things) many, many years ago but those notes will be long lost now and that’s a tangent for another time.)

All of the above is obvious, perhaps, but as technologies further complicate this paradox of democracy, surely now is the time to work out and embrace more experimental alternatives to our present politics? Do we really have to accept the paradox of democracy? Or to the potentials of patchwork allow for higher percentages of satisfaction when split up into smaller patches.

Rather than anti-democratic, these positions are extra-democratic. The view of this blog is very much like Cambridge Analytica‘s view of politics (bizarrely): if you can’t change politics, change culture and politics may follow.

Changing culture at scale remains an uphill battle, unless you’re Alexander Nix. Smaller scale cultural differences are already painfully apparent but nation-states continue in their attempts to homogenise differences.

The innovation of the Zapatistas was precisely an attempt to resist homogenisation and they did this by embracing socio-cultural and, most interestingly, technological changes in order to then change politics.

Recognising their inherent minority status, their use of the web allowed for the amplification of their collective voice in unprecedented ways that allowed the movement to grow exponentially. Lane, again, writes:

While the Zapatistas thus made tactical use of embodied — and theatricalized — presence, the movement also took advantage, from the beginning, of the Internet as a means to build a global grassroots support network. Dominguez describes this “digital zapatismo” as a “polyspatial movement for a radical democracy based on Mayan legacies of dialogue [that] ripped into the electronic fabric not as InfoWar — but as virtual actions for real peace in the real communities of Chiapas”. Within a week of the first uprising, a massive international network of information and support was created through the most basic digital means: e-mail distribution and web pages; witness the extraordinary Internet site, ‘Zapatistas in Cyberspace‘ to grasp the scope of that network. The radical disjunctures between the sophisticated presence of the Zapatistas on the Internet, at the same time that Chiapas has had none of the requisite infrastructure — in most cases, not even electricity — earned the movement its reputation as the “first postmodern revolution”. Thus the Zapatista’s own recombinant theatre of operations meshed virtual and embodied practices in a struggle for real material change and social well-being in Chiapas.

The aim of this blog’s recent explorations of patchwork, even in their localism, are to provide further examples to this already substantial sphere of thought, exemplified by indigenous and other post-colonial movements. The focus on localism is also, of course, to avoid slipping into homogenising comparisons.

That is not to reject alternatives. Alternatives need to proliferate and so the highlighting of even further examples is, of course, greatly encouraged.

Ed, as ever, is killing it in the comments, expanding on Zapatista tactics as a form of “social Netwar”.


  1. The RAND Corporation carried out an analysis of the Zapatistas, using the movement as paradigmatic of “social Netwar”, that is, “the term netwar refers to an emerging mode of conflict (and crime) at societal levels, involving measures short of traditional war, in which the protagonists use network forms of organization and related doctrines, strategies, and technologies attuned to the information age… netwar differs from modes of conflict and crime in which the protagonists prefer hierarchical organizations, doctrines, and strategies, as in past efforts to build, for example, centralized movements along Leninist lines. Netwar is about the Middle East’s Hamas more than the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Mexico’s Zapatistas more than Cuba’s Fidelistas, and America’s Christian Patriot movement more than the Ku Klux Klan.It is also about the Asian Triads more than the Sicilian Mafia, and Chicago’s “Gangsta Disciples” more than the Al Capone Gang… Many if not most netwar actors will be nonstate, even stateless. Some may be agents of a state, but others may try to turn states into their agents. Moreover, a netwar actor may be both subnational and transnational in scope. Odd hybrids and symbioses are likely.”

    Definitely fits with the Digital Zapatista materials you cited here – there’s two elements that are really interesting that I think has big implications for patchwork/secession/fragmentation. The first is that the political atomization (dropping out from larger homogeneous stateforms) is clearly contextualized within the flux of deterritorialized, transnational flows, pointing us towards the high connection (in terms of flows) and low integration (in terms of higher-order political unities), but how that relationship plays out needs more assessment imo. The second is the fundamental time-tangling: an indigenous movement calling, embedded in the past, calling upon – and ultimately being a byproduct of, and shaped by – the bleeding edge of techno(economic) development.

    1. This is great! The diagonal of high connection / low integration is something I’m really interested in at the minute. I want to expand on this more, particularly as it fits into my readings of Bataille on “communication” in this context: patchwork will necessitate more communication rather than skirt around it. This seems antithetical at first, especially when citing “information bubbles” as antecedent to future patchworks, but I think Bataille’s writings on it are diagonal in the same way.

      The time-tangling is key to this too. Part of what I liked about Land and Fisher’s essays on the Paris terror attacks — Fisher calling ISIS “cybergothic” in this same sense: “beheadings on the web”. It becomes a difficult thing to drag out when examples like that are currently the most visible.

Leave a Reply