Every part of life and planetary being is marked by modes of antagonism, and therefore agonistic. Even our more pacific natures and cooperative relations in nature and society feature the interplay of pressure, weight, friction. This antagonism does not mean that life is simply divided up between good and evil forces; rather, the forces to which we give those names, and the many pervading forces of antagonistic tension, are deeply complex, violence-engendering systems that are part of the complex emergence and unfolding of the oneness of all planetary being. This antagonism, though, can engender liberating spirit; the problem is how liberating spirit can undo – work “liberation” – amid such all-pervasive antagonism.
In human life, this antagonism is sustained by powerful systems of imposed social suffering. These systems spawn antagonism as exploitative inequality and violence among humans, and are integrally bound up with exploitation of earth itself. The antagonism is evident not simply in forces of opposition, but in the cries of lament and rage, of moan and tremor. Imposed social suffering is especially brutal as colonizing and neocolonizing forces, that are dependent on dynamics of economic exploitation, racism, gender and sexual injustice, as well as imperialism and nationalism. Many of these forces crystalize in U.S. mass incarceration today, about which I have written for over two decades – historically, theoretically and theologically (see The Executed God). Much of Christian theology, and many intellectual traditions, sustain a fundamental “abstraction” from this antagonism. This abstracting posture ignores antagonistic relations, looks above them, or loses focus of them in the name of a specious “complexity.”
Antagonism is no simple interest of jousting politicians, no concern limited to a few alienated people with “anger-issues” or “trauma-addictions,” no merely occasional topic for activists and peoples of conscience. More deeply, also, antagonism names the complex play of forces colonizing our pervasive ontological condition as historical and social beings. This is a political condition wherein human systems of imposed social suffering structure and weigh-down everyday being, life – indeed, increasingly, the earth’s ecological and planetary matrix. Violence, especially as shaped by U.S. geopolitical interests, also secures the everyday living of privileged groups, often making possible what citizens of the U.S. and the global North nations call their “freedom.” Nevertheless, systems of repression can become also sites of hidden and visible resistances. Antagonism can occasion the birthing and erupting of a decolonizing, liberating spirit.