In Volume I of History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault famously notes:
Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power.
Earlier this month, Foreign Policy magazine published their “First Annual List of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.” Notably, the list included figures like Dick Cheney, General Petraeus, Larry Summers, Salam Fayyad and Ahmed Rashid – a combination of people that many, including those of us here at PULSE, felt fell short of exemplifying what FP claimed it was doing: presenting a list of ‘thinkers’.
Insofar as these ‘thinkers’ were voted in by FP’s readership, or what we might more democratically call ‘the people,’ we felt that the list gestured towards a problem that had deeper origins than those that may appear to lie in the establishment where it was published. Beyond simply suggesting the political bent of FP and its readers, this list revealed the dangerous implications of misrecognizing ‘influence’ for thought; a danger that emerges whenever an idea that ‘lacks thought’ meets with and is consolidated by power, and whenever the value of a thinker is determined by his or her salience, rather than the content of their thought.
In response, PULSE asked each of its writers to suggest their top 20 picks for a ‘counter-list’. The results were published earlier this week and, perhaps inevitably, this act of resistance produced its own set of resistances. While some of our readers feel we have not been sensitive enough to issues of race and gender, yet others are wary of the regional emphasis on Israel-Palestine. In reading these generative responses, we have been reminded of how quickly an act of resistance can be instantiated as an act of power that necessitates its own resistance. To this end, we welcome the re-realization that resistance is always in a dialectic relationship with power.
In order to address some of our readers’ emergent concerns, we offer not explanations that seek to dismiss critique, but a set of considerations that may compel you to think with us, as you have compelled us to think with you.
To begin, we must consider the problematic form of the list itself. Given that producing any list is a reductive endeavor, we anticipated that any attempt to do so would leave us desiring more than its form is capable of providing. The problem of form presents itself in both directions, both when a list is so large that in attempting to include everyone it fails to say anything coherent, as well as when a list is too small, and in the process leaves out too much.
Recall that part of the problem with FP’s list stems from excess. In publishing the top 100 thinkers, surplus enables them to create a space in which the breadth of representative thought -left, left of center, right of center, and conservative- produces the effect of moderation or a ‘balanced analysis.’ This method of arriving at balance, however, also creates what Nietzsche has described as “mediocrity, though it be called moderation”.
The question that FP’s list compels is: How balanced is this supposed form of balance? For answers, imagine what might happen if FP hosted a cocktail party for its honorees. No doubt, the entertainment would be provided by the cacophony of its small-talk. The danger of FP’s list is that although it presents a wide range of voices, it fails to explain how these very different people — some of whom would be characterized as war criminals in a just world — deserve to be acknowledged as ‘thinkers’.
In an attempt to reveal the existence of people who not only think deeply but who do so by recognizing as well as challenging the limitations of the political, economic and social world we live in, our list produced its own issues. Fundamentally, we selected figures who speak, write and think about the condition of the contemporary world in a manner that retains at its core, a ‘genuine’ concern for humanity and commitment to the production of knowledge. In our list, there was no place for those whose insidious claims of humanity require that we sacrifice the rights and lives of others in order to attain that other, better world, or for those who would have us believe that in bombing the world into pieces, we are somehow bombing the world into peace.
Although we successfully presented this possibility, some of our readers felt that we had overlooked several things in the process. They felt we needed to include more women and people of colour, and that we had put too much emphasis on the issue of Israel-Palestine. We will not deny the merit of some of these critiques. We feel the weight of the historical struggle for recognition that such comments seek to remind us of. However, while we welcome the inclusion of more women and people of color, we ask that you consider the fine line between representation and tokenism. While we aspire towards the former, we abhor and continue to resist the latter. Additionally, although we are compelled to widen the scope of our list so that it aims to problematize the notion of ‘global recognition’ via the inclusion of those who – for systemic reasons- do not have the luxury of global exposure, we depend on our readers to help us in this endeavor by telling us about the people who we cannot and do not know, but perhaps ought to.
Despite these realizations, we unequivocally resist the assertion that Israel-Palestine is an issue that we have given too much weight. The conflict in Israel and Palestine is amongst the most potent examples of so much that is indisputably wrong with the world today. Attention to the conflict in that region is essential not only because of its socio-historical particularity, but because — beyond that particularity – exist a set of underlying issues that enable it to come into conversation with historical and contemporary conflicts around the world. Through the Israel-Palestine conflict we see how power and hegemony are asserted and legitimized through legal and political structures, and how political influence – which is at present contingent upon the marketability rather than value of an idea — is often exercised in the absence of ‘thought’.
In the aftermath of publishing our top 20 list, we have learned a lot, but we rest easy in the knowledge that at a basic level, none amongst our ‘thinkers’ represents the kind of deprivation of thought embodied by figures like Cheney and Summers. Insofar as a considerable population deems this ilk of ‘unthinkers’ worthy of recognition, PULSE endeavors to continue challenging not only the assertion that such figures are ‘thinking’ beings, but also the occlusion of thought that enables them to be voted for as such. We understand any such occlusion to be a ‘resistable,’ albeit unfortunate, tendency of the human condition.