This is Commandant Narsha (aka Bernadine Doh Rn) of Brown Eyed Girls with Communiqué #10 for any individual - or should i say “subject” - that attempts to see through the capitalist, consumerist, nationalistic, so on and so forth ideology that seems to occupy every corner of the world. For too long we have thought about ideology as a set of ideas that induces “false consciousness” in the subordinated. But this view, although having a limited validity, needs to be expanded and elaborated into deeper insights. Let’s start with that disturbed communist and reader extraordinaire of Gramsci, Louis Althusser. Althusser described more than any other clinically depressed communist the real workings of ideology. Althusser understood that the problem of capitalism is not only the reproduction of the means of production but the reproduction of the relations of production; how will capitalism reproduce docile subjects that find the system they are born into natural and therefore legitimate? It was Althusser’s key insight regarding the operation of ideology to identify the process of interpellation, i.e. an act of hailing. Althusser’s example was the cop behind you yelling “Hey You!”. As we respond to this hailing we recognize ourselves in the other’s call to us. This recognition is really a self-recognition because we see ourselves as the subject being hailed; we become the subject being hailed. It is important to state here that in the most general sense we are always interpellated as subjects within a specific social institution (Althusser called them Ideological State Apparatuses or ISAs e.g. schools, religion, the legal system and of course work).
It is crucial that hailing be viewed as the first step in a series of institutionally grounded material practices which command us without having to pass through consciousness at all. Althusser sees ideology as a set of material practices or rituals which we are always already inserted into once we recognize the hailing. As we are hailed and recognize ourselves as that subject being hailed, we are being constituted as ideological subjects within a social order with prescribed roles, rules, ideas and practices that seem to us natural. In this sense ideology is a set of predictions which we fulfill and thus legitimate. Although Althusser never articulated the different registers of this materiality, we can begin to analyze these practices or rituals. Furthermore Althusser’s notion of ideology, with its notion of institutional rituals implies that we need not behave as fearful subjects but that we always see ourselves within these institutions as consenting free individuals who perceive the system’s roles, rules and rituals as our own; the external compulsion must be felt as an internal motivation and act of free will.
For example in an advanced consumer culture - and what is tumblr but the quintessence of this advanced consumer culture - it is now crucial that we be addressed (and see ourselves) as “prosumers”. Not only ads, but the entire system hails us continuously with its explicitly or implicitly stated “You the consumer/producer.” The “You” is simultaneously addressed to all potential consumers and to me specifically. As an ad hails us, as it communicates with us, it is reproducing social relations and situates us within those social relations and institutions. What is interesting here is that, unlike the usual notion of ideology which depends on belief, Althusser’s notion of ideology can function even without the subjects deep belief. Certainly giving our consensus to the capitalist institutions that hail us allows the system to function at its best but it is not necessary. All that is necessary is that we take up the hailing, see ourselves as the one who is hailed and then carry out the prescribed role. We can do this with complete faith or with cynicism and distance. In other words, we are always making decisions that have already been made beforehand without our participation.
Given what has been said, we can see that our political and social systems - with its debates, voting, political parties and endless consumer-like selections of more of the same - are built on purely ideological ploys. (Isn’t tumblr precious when it reproduces this system with the fervent postings of tumblr “users” regarding “issues” such as unfair taxation, Republican shenanigans, disparity of wealth and so on, forever within the system that interpellates us and constitutes us as safe, obedient little tumblr users with our political opinions and little else.) What becomes crucial are direct political actions that break the circuit of interpellation: the walkout, the strike, the occupation, all the lived acts of negation and revolutionary organizing that comprises our refusal to respond to the hailing of capitalist institutions. These tactics are only the beginnings of a revolution that must be carried out by the working class and its allies. All power to the Paris Commune and the Homestead Strikers! Long live the armed struggle of the Harlan County miners! Long live August Spies! Anyone who does not see that the only legitimate authority is authority that seeks to relinquish itself has a corpse in his mouth.