Didier Fassin’s work on the social fact of suffering in France and the solution prescribed by the social services agencies dedicated to greater integration has brought to the fore some distantly related pieces of information about this subject that I’ve come across over the years. They resurfaced throughout my reading of his text only because his context was France, and because my knowledge about social exclusion, marginalization and racism in other nations is rather small. Any piece of information is bound to remain in my head. In his introduction, Fassin mentions the situation of refugees, perhaps the international face of suffering, perhaps the most apt to be excluded from even the more democratic forms of viral engagement that Fung and Shkabatur detail because their suffering itself is the story under discussion (as was the case with Darfur, and to an extent, Kony 2012). Their access to the body of the French (and American polity) depends on their ability to bring carnal proof (for example, Marie’s story, Fassin 141-2) of their suffering to bear (and really nothing else about their agency). The indignity and unfairness of the asylum situation, granted that many of these applicants are arriving from nations that have been plundered, shunned and abused by the First World, is obvious to me. Having to prove their physical, mental and emotional distress in order to be marginalized in a context considered safer and better than their home nations, the governmental control they experience and the affects that stick to them as outsiders seems degrading and painful, but perhaps part of the “obligations and exchanges” (Fassin 135) of being admitted. But is the trade really fair? This reminded me of the Dominique Strauss-Khan sexual assault case, which was dismissed upon grounds of lack of credibility for a woman said that have provided false proof of suffering (she claimed to have been assaulted) in her application for asylum in the United States. Her inability to provide consistent proof of her past suffering denied her justice for her present situation. So basically she (and other asylum seekers) suffered for their inability to have the right kind of suffering. Meta-suffering?
I was pleased to see the fact that Fassin points to the French government’s vision for a solution of this problem (i.e. listening stations in wealthy neighborhoods, the general normalization of suffering in the cites and banlieus of the city) failed on many accounts because it attempted to “pacify rather than to treat” and to listen (in my opinion a sublimely passive action) rather than to actually change the realities of the marginalized and excluded. One thing that was valuable from the experiment was the extraction of the idea of suffering fatigue. I’ve heard this term used before in relation to what occurs when people are saturated even with the few causes that are mediated and predicated to go viral. When asked to listen to the suffering of others, psychologists experienced fatigue, vicarious suffering, perhaps even a hardening towards the social fact of exclusion. I think the same thing occurs to people who are constantly asked to engage in Slacktivism. I feel removed from Slacktivism because I am fatigued of the insistent asks from Change.org, Moveon.org, Unicef.org, etc. in my inbox. After watching KONY 2012, I was asked on Facebook to attend a party for Unicef at Wishco this week. Only because a close friend invited me, I clicked yes,(maybe just to make the guest list look larger?) though inside I was screaming “No, No. NO. I won’t ‘party for a cause’ because the cause is not going anywhere no matter how many overpriced drinks I down in one night.” Point is, I still clickled yes regardless.