In Praise of Unsubordination

Except in the world of finance the word unsubordinate has been lost to us, last seen in an 1828 Webster’s Dictionary, meaning "not reduced to subjection," and in translations of the Manifeste des 121. In this manifesto, published in 1960 with 121 signatories, although there were more, French intellectuals spoke out in opposition to the war against Algeria, which had been going on by then for six years, and in support of both those who refused to fight there and the porteurs de valise who provided material support to the Algerians. As the drafters of this document stated, this war was not a war of conquest, national defense nor a civil war, but one of the last gasps of colonialism by a French military that had brought back the use of torture as an institution. The signatories saw the cause of the Algerian people to be the cause of all free men and women. They included Simone de Beauvoir, André Breton, Jean-Paul Sartre, François Truffaut, and Robert Jaulin, a French ethnologist.

Jaulin defined ethnocide in La Paix blanche: introduction á l’ethnocide as the systematic destruction of the thought and way of life, the very culture, of a people. He had witnessed this first hand when he lived among the Bari people of South America in the 1960's. In the case of the Bari, there were many vectors of this ethnocide, including the Catholic Church, various armies and an American oil company - little colonists, as Jaulin called them. Jaulin continued his study of ethnocide in L’univers des totalitarismes: Essai d’ethnologie du ‘non-être.’ He believed that the notion of non-being, the division of people into agents and objects, allowed the dehumanization and vilification. Those who become subordinate, adopt the posture of the ruling class, and become its agents against other objects. Jaulin felt that the theoretical limits of this expansion would coincide ultimately with self destruction.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations, in effect since 1976, states in part in Articles I and II that: All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and that: Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Ethnocide is at its most insidious when people are forced to abandon their language, punished for speaking their language. Not just the Irish, but also the Tuareg, the Sami, the Lombards, the Kurds, Walloons and Cantonese, and a majority of other minority language speakers are struggling to keep their mother tongues from drowning in the prevailing seas. Just as biological diversity is a more successful model than monoculture, embracing cultural diversity is necessary if we are to avoid our own destruction.