The phrase ‘better to be a road sweeper than a judge’ comes from Gilles Deleuze’s Dialogues II. I use it in my book Other People’s Struggles to illustrate an argument about how social movements might approach the problem of the adherent. This is the problem of the difference between ‘insiders’ motivated by standing to benefit if the movement is successful, and ‘outsiders’ who do not stand to benefit, but participate (for example) out of a sense of altruism or moral obligation.
Most of the book concerns the question of whether, when and how the outsiders — or adherents, as I term them — can participate. The answer, I suggest, turns on what the movement is trying to do. But in one chapter, towards the end, I reverse the question. I ask what would a movement have to be trying to do for such participation to be unproblematic. The answer I propose is that it would have to be ‘becoming–’ something other than it is (or, indeed, just ‘becoming–’) The idea of becoming– (the en-dash – is intentional) comes from reading Delueze’s open-ended philosophy.
For Delueze, to quote from Dialogues II again, ‘judging is the profession of many people, and it is not a good profession, but it is also the use to which many people put writing.’ Judges pronounce rules. They preside over courts and lay down the law, impersonally, without themselves being implicated in the judgments they make. They recognise, regulate, admit and decide, rather than simply encountering otherness and seeing where it takes them. They ‘speak … in the name and in the place of others’. This is why it is better to be a road sweeper than a judge.
The phrase is not a negative contrast of professions. It is not that judging is so dreadful that even road sweeping — a hard, dull job — is actually preferable. The contrast is that where judges assume the power to lay down the law and restrict what others can do, road sweepers clear the way for others, perhaps also for themselves, since road sweepers use roads too. Road sweepers assume nothing, but merely help to create the conditions in which all sorts of traffic might happen.
This, I think, is the sort of ‘becoming– work’ which — if pursued by a social movement — might allow insiders and outsiders to participate together, in solidarity. But, whatever else it might be, such work is hard to define, because defining is the work of judges and not road sweepers. It is also often hard to pursue, not only because some people like being judges, and because judging does have certain value and rewards, but also — as Deleuze suggests in Dialogues II — because ‘some people demand to be judged, if only to be recognised as guilty’.
IMAGE CREDITS: ROBERT DOISNEAU, UN BALAYEUR REPARE SON OUTIL DE TRAVAIL (1948) / ROBERT DOISNEAU, LE CORBUSIER (20 OCTOBRE 1953) (1953).