Gendered Violence

Throbbing Gristle: Convincing People

Over a steadily plodding synth bassline and kick drum punctuated by intermittent guitar fuzz, a chant begins:

There’s never a way
And there’s never a day
To convince people
You can play their game
You can say their name
But won’t convince people

The vocals are delayed, creating a hypnotic call and response over the electronics in the background. The chanted message contradicts itself:

There’s several ways
And there’s several days
To convince people

This is the initial tension of Throbbing Gristle’s Convincing People. At first, there was no way, no time, to convince people—now suddenly there is. I want to use the convoluted concept of convincing found in Convincing People as a starting place to consider the origins and mystification of structural violences found in neoliberalism.

Now you’re people
And we’re people
We’ve gotta be
To convince people
It’s the name of the game
It’s the game of the name
Convincing people

In the song, the act of convincing people is explicitly described in three ways: as an impossibility (“there’s never a way”), as something attainable through multiple possibilities (“there’s several ways”), and as a larger phenomenon (“the name of the game”). By the end of the song, we never learn about any of the “several” ways to convince people; we actually hear about a way that you’ll never convince people (by telling people what to be convinced of), but for the most part, the means of convincing are fundamentally ambiguous: it’s not what is seems, or is it? So maybe the song is nonsense, and it doesn’t have a properly argumentative claim regarding convincing people—but still, the song’s hypnotic instrumental and its droning vocals work to convince the listener of something, producing a mood which vacillates between the trivial and sinister.

As Francoise Vergès observes, neoliberal capitalism arrives enters into communion with popular feminisms by “coopting” universalist forms of the latter, and ignoring “combat based” feminisms.[1] She writes, “[d]riven by market logics, the structural adjustment programs imposed by international institutions on the Global South had devastating consequences, particularly for working-class racialized women and for Indigenous peoples.”[2] This is essentially a description of structural violence, which aptly exemplifies the aforementioned “vacillation” of convincing people: here the banal intricacies of financial and political policy generate the sinister in the form of immediate and long term consequences for racialized people. At perhaps the smallest level, “market logics”—inherently ones of persuasion—have convinced state and corporate actors to compile, revise, and enact policy. The same market logics lead to the economically-touted notion of consumers as rational actors, while knowing that rationality is subject to persuasion. Policy legitimizes and abstracts violence, it convinces while simultaneously condemning the act of convincing. Outwardly, there’s never a way to convince people, but in fact there are several ways: for neoliberalism, convincing people is the name of the game.

Likewise, neoliberalism is the game of the name. Practices of nomenclature, identification, and subjectivation work to legitimize its regime, while discrediting anything that is not named. Do you believe in a better alternative? Name it—how else could anyone be convinced to take you seriously? No one wants to buy an unnamed product. Against convincing, perhaps we can thwart its regime by denying subjectification, desubjectivizing ourselves, always refusing to be convinced.

Like the song convincing people, the neoliberal machine covers its own tracks, mystifying the banality of policymaking as a completely rational one, in spite of its violence. As Vergès identifies, it sacrifices blameable “violent men” as bad apples to remain structurally intact, to “generate abominable violence.”[3] We don’t want to convince people…

Pat LeGates


[1]     Françoise Vergès, A Feminist Theory of Violence: A Decolonial Perspective, trans. Melissa Thackway (London: Pluto Press, 2022), 5.
[2]     Vergès, 6
[3]     Vergès, 8

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