Nationalism is racism and borders are apartheid

November 1, 2018 Leave a comment

(I have written about nationalism here and here, and borders here. My views on capitalism and other things I mention have changed considerably since writing those posts but many of the basics of my argument are the same today.)

Donald Trump’s recent use of the word “nationalist” to describe himself is not only disturbing because he contrasts the word with “globalist”, an anti-Semitic dogwhistle term. It highlighted how widely accepted the idea of nationalism is compared to racism. But why would either be acceptable? Nationalism is akin to racism in its effects, including body count. It is a way to separate people into hierarchies based on factors we did not choose and cannot affect. And those hierarchies are inevitably exploited by the powerful to commit violence for their own benefit.

At its base, nationalism is believing people are divided into separate nations, and that that is the way things should be. While distinct cultural groups can exist, they are usually heterogeneous, with considerable overlap among groups. Nations, cultures, civilizations and races do not have histories where they were long isolated from others, and any contact with outsiders risked contaminating its perfection. Nations, cultures, civilizations and races have always been influenced by outsiders, through communication, trade, migration, and so on, over centuries and still today. One cannot control the development of these things without erecting barriers held together with violence.

The reason we believe in these things is a few people can gain power by making us believe them. If people can make us believe we need a state to “represent” and “lead” the nation, they can make decisions for themselves and tell us those decisions are on our behalf. Having a population loyal to a nation-state means having people who will kill and die on behalf of the people who claim to represent that nation-state. Since most nationalists cannot see the difference between decisions powerful people make in their own interest and decisions made by a nation, they fall in line. They get told who their enemies are and believe, without question, those people need to die. As such, nationalism has been a condition for war for thousands of years.

Now, in addition to making it easy to legitimize war simply by appealing to “national security”, states have made it hard or impossible for most people to move freely around the world. States are forged in war, and borders represent the territory states have captured in war. They do not represent some primordial demarcation of a cultural group, like people seem to believe (because that is what they are told), as, again, groups are heterogeneous, especially near borders. But we are told we need these borders. We need to keep the wrong people out, you know, those people who want to come here to make better lives for themselves who were simply unlucky enough to have their hometowns bombed or ravaged by environmental change or destroyed by a dictator or some other misfortune. They are the wrong people, for whatever reasons we are told. The same reasons keep showing up as justification for fearing and hating others: they are violent, bring disease and hate our values. They won’t assimilate into our special culture. They’ll change our special culture. They’ll pollute it with their different languages (as if everyone in the same space has to speak the same language), their different ideas (though surely as long as they are peaceful there is nothing to fear), their poor work ethic (as if immigrants were not hard workers), and so on. Everything we are told we value is at stake if we let these people in! We had better stop them!

The nation state has never represented a well defined group of people and now it is even less relevant than ever. States do not have national constituencies; their loyalties are to whoever gives them the most money, wherever those people are in the world. A government that speaks of the nation and assures everyone it is acting to benefit all the people of the nation is more accurately described as populist, appealing to high ideals through rhetoric. Nationalist implies people in power actually care about their people and the abstract and poorly defined concept of a nation, rather than power. Populist or nationalist rhetoric does not change the fact that states work for themselves and their friends, not for the whole nation.

All states create an elite. Elites have never been loyal to nations or cultures. They fly all around the world, visiting their many houses, checking their offshore bank accounts, ignoring laws as they like. A sociologist who interviewed wealth managers for the super rich said in an interview with NPR, “the lives of the richest people in the world are so different from those of the rest of us it’s almost literally unimaginable. National borders are nothing to them. They might as well not exist. Laws are nothing to them. They might as well not exist.” But most people are not so lucky.

borders walls violence

I was shocked to see how shocked my mother was when I told her I (a white guy with Canadian and British passports) could get into foreign countries much more easily than my friends from the Philippines, Egypt and elsewhere in the so-called third world. Mom had been under the impression we all had equal chances of entering foreign countries. She did not realize how much more common it is to get rejected for a visa or citizenship if you are from a place like the Philippines. In some places, I don’t even need to apply for a visa; I just show up at the border, pay a small fee and I’m in. I’m embarrassed to tell this fact to my friends from the “developing world”, who have to wait for months or years and even then might not be allowed to leave their countries of origin. That is because borders and their paraphernalia (passports, visas, border guards, walls, etc.) are a global system of apartheid.

Many of the people who argue for borders are the cynical racists who do not want people of different colors or cultures to “pollute” their societies, but many are not. This latter group is not people who hate outsiders but merely people who swallowed too much propaganda. They say things like “it’s not really a country if it doesn’t protect its borders”, which is neither correct nor relevant, “or “immigrants come here so they can live off welfare”, which is in the case of nearly every immigrant a lie propagated by the far-right. Irrespective of what they say, non-racists who argue for borders do not realize they are playing into the hands of those nativists they claim to disagree with.

What did they ever do to you?

They claim to want to help the poor but just not in the easiest possible way, by letting them move from where they can’t make a decent living to where they can. They believe in diversity, but only if the different people fill out endless forms, pay various fees and pass pointless tests. They believe in freedom, but wherever the law contravenes a basic freedom like moving around they favor the law. They don’t like bullying, but say nothing when migrants get bullied.

Even when people finally make it to the new country, they find it impossible to work in their field for several years. Local lobby groups restrict one’s ability to qualify for jobs that might threaten the paycheck of local doctors, dentists, engineers, architects. You name the highly skilled job, there is a lobby in North America and Europe making it an ordeal for an otherwise qualified migrant to enter the field.

People do not usually want to leave their homelands. Many are forced to do so by necessity. Some have to leave because of war or persecution. Some leave because it is better than being dirt poor. Most of the people who leave get treated like slaves: the worst jobs at minimal wages, jailed or deported at the smallest infraction, not allowed to unionize, bullied by their employers, police and racists, at constant risk of being trafficked, and expected to be thankful for the opportunity. And nobody benefits from this system of exclusion except the small minority profiting off it, such as populist politicians, border guards, private prison operators and human traffickers.

Like other exclusive ideologies, nationalism cannot lead to understanding or peace. It leads to hierarchy, violence, borders and war. We should be aiming for a world of free movement. We should want peaceful relations with others, not competition and suspicion. We should see ourselves as part of a human family, not exclusive families we should use violence to keep together. We should show solidarity with the struggles of free people around the world, not fear them just because we are told to.

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Why anarchism? Freedom.

October 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Anarchism is the idea that we should be free, free from other people’s rules and laws, other people’s systems, other people’s violence, unless for some reason we think it is worth it and we consent. It means organizing society horizontally, without hierarchy, force or violence. The only idea or philosophy out there that really seeks to liberate is anarchism. All other ideas promote a different kind of oppression.

The main reason so many people who know what anarchism is (a small percentage of people who have heard the word) object to the philosophy is, for whatever reason, they don’t believe in freedom. They may think a few laws here and there should change or even the whole government, but none of them propose permanently doing away with all systems of oppression and injustice.

I think the reason most people do not want freedom is they are simply used to have someone in charge, in control, telling others what to do. They assume we need people at the top (with good intentions) to get things done. I think there is no evidence for this belief. It comes from our indoctrination. School, media, government, business–all of them collude in creating a perception of human nature and society that tells us we should not be truly free, so don’t listen to those dangerous people who tell you otherwise. Indeed, university is such good indoctrination it teaches millions who go through its halls how to uphold the status quo while thinking they are questioning it. As such, people do not prioritize their own freedom and often actively campaign to eliminate that of other people. The elite have an interest in promoting a fear of freedom.

They tell us we are already free, because voting is political freedom and the market is economic freedom. Anything more would be chaos. They proceed to prove it by pointing to instances of violence as examples of anarchy when in fact they are the opposite: products of a society in which power is highly concentrated. And until we start listening to the dangerous people and seeing the world more clearly, we believe the lies. These beliefs form part of our identity, to the point that people would rather attack the messenger as “an extremist” or some other word that closes the mind than admit they are not as free as they thought they were.

I said anarchism seeks to liberate but all it can really do is help people see the world differently. In the end, only you can liberate yourself. Even if I break you out of jail or help you escape the plantation, you still need to be the one to decide it is right for you. I can only show you the door. It is your decision whether or not to walk through it.

Anarchism is a person on a street corner shouting “you don’t need a president! You don’t need a king! You don’t need a boss! You can handle freedom!” and getting blank stares from 99% of passersby.

Finally, if you want to know “why freedom?”, you may want to read this post on what freedom could mean for the world.

Is slavery still relevant in the US?

October 10, 2018 Leave a comment

White Americans, especially conservatives, love to talk about how slavery is simply not relevant anymore, and as such, black people need to “get over it” and “move on”. But is it no longer relevant? Or do they just want to feel good about the country they were born in? This incomplete guide to the enduring legacy of slavery might help high-school-history teachers answer the question.

The origins of racism

Racism originated with the Transatlantic slave trade. No, slavery was not the first time anyone had been racist. The point is, all modern racism in Europe, the Americas and to a lesser extent the rest of the world was “invented” to legitimize slavery. The rich Europeans who wanted slaves naturally had an interest in pretending blacks were inferior, or not even human, as they would therefore be unworthy of respect, freedom or justice. They needed soldiers, slave catchers, plantation hands and so on, to make sure the slaves remained in their place, so not only the elites were made to believe in slavery. The whole white population would be made to feel superior to others, thus making them willing to help with slavery or at least turn a blind eye to it, and deflecting criticism of the elite to other races. (Moreover, the “Indians” they found in the Americas, as well as the Arabs, Asians and whatever other groups they met on their adventures of conquest, could also be subjugated if judged inferior.)

The racism that began with the slave trade has not died. It continues to exist in many forms. It is easy and necessary to point to the large number of right-wing militias that exist largely for the sake of starting a race war. They are killing people and spreading lies about people of color. It is harder but also necessary to see the subtle racism of everyday life. When the media tell us about whites who break the law, we hear about their home lives, their hobbies, their friends. When the media tell us about blacks who break the law, we hear about the severity of their crimes, and even (as if it were relevant) about other laws they may have broken. Blacks don’t get picked for jobs or promotions as often as whites. They get harassed by the police more often. They are more likely to get arrested, jailed or killed by a supposedly blind justice system for the same crimes as whites. These are not accidents. They are the product of centuries of actions by a white-supremacist state.

The history of the US is not one of slavery but then happiness and freedom for black people. It is bad enough that slaves were not given the land they worked their whole lives. Slavery was followed by sharecropping, segregation, eugenics, lynching, bombings, police brutality, incarceration and, at every stage, blacks being mocked for their wretchedness. (The Nazis got many of their ideas from the US.) When they have tried to fight back, it was considered proof that blacks are inherently violent, untrustworthy and unworthy of freedom. The same is true today. Look at how the media and conservatives talk about Black Lives Matter or Colin Kaepernick. They never gave them a chance. They never listened. They mock them by saying “what about black-on-black crime?” and tell them to shut up by saying “all lives matter”. Some actually use the word “terrorism” to describe an attempt by marginalized people to make others believe they are equally worthy of respect. And the same white people who say “all lives matter”, who never listen to black protesters and who hate Colin Kaepernick would balk at the accusation that they are racist. They seem to think the time of denying black people equal rights based on their skin color died with MLK.

White Americans have always been unwilling to acknowledge real problems in the US. They seem to have no idea, for example, that they are not free. There are laws restricting their every behavior, and police or other security forces breathing down their necks at every turn, but “we are free” because we have been told we are free. Racism is another thing white Americans have trouble seeing. Most conservatives will actually deny there is much racism against people of color in the US, to the infuriating extent that they believe white people are the true victims. But that is what happens when you get your information from other racists and not from the actual victims. You might think because you saw a video of some black people angry at whites that means whites are all going to be killed. You might have seen countless stories of black people committing crimes and very few of white people. You may take it for granted that white police who kill black civilians were acting in self-defense. White conservatives rarely acknowledge any racism by white people but revel in pointing out “race baiters” like Barack Obama (where he has said anything anti-white I am not aware) and Al Sharpton, who they seem to think is the king of angry black people.

White skin, black self-hate

In the US and all around the world, people are taught that darker skin is uglier, dirtier, a dishonor, a sad genetic accident. Why? Because white people have spread the idea, and because people in power in places like East Asia have an interest in keeping that idea alive. Darker-skinned people, especially women, tend to get the short end of the stick. Black and brown people end up hating themselves for their hair. Their hair! What could be wrong with “black” hair? But that is what happens when white supremacy spreads around the world. People of color in the US find themselves in the same culture as whites, so it should not be surprising many of them hate themselves and hate other people of color, while believing in white politicians, bureaucrats, bosses and preachers.

Slavery destroyed the black family and the culture of every person who was enslaved. The psychological effect of having your home, your culture and family taken away with you is immeasurable. These things last beyond the initially enslaved and turn into generational problems. But black people, both while enslaved and since then, have created and maintained a vibrant new black American culture. Afro-American culture created jazz, blues, rock n roll and hip hop, something the world should be grateful for. And yet, it gets mocked, ignored, delegitimized.

Slavers used to have no compunction about taking slaves’ children away from them. They did not treat slaves as human; why would they care if their slaves got upset? I cannot comment on the lasting psychological effects I am sure that heartless cruelty had. I can, however, point out that descendants of people who owned slaves still do not care about separating brown people from their parents, as the policy continues to this day at the border. They turn a blind eye or use words to justify it to themselves. They do not care that children are being separated from their parents, that children are being kept in cages, or even that the people in government are getting rich from it, because it has all happened before. It was considered normal. The racism created then to make people feel nothing for slaves continues as people feel nothing for “illegals”.

Indeed, slavery itself is still alive and well in the US. The prison industry houses nearly 1% of the US population. This figure is much higher than any other country in the world. Prisoners tell of all forms of abuse from guards, along with rape among inmates. But they are also worked as slaves, making peanuts for themselves and making a few people rich. Some whites have become so cold they consider abuse and slavery part of the punishment (for whatever crime, however minor or victimless). How could they object so strongly to a black person selling weed or a brown person crossing a border as crimes but have nothing to say about ruining someone’s life and making them a slave for the profit of the elite? Racism would seem to be the only explanation.

When slavery ended, the era of mass incarceration began. Whites occasionally went to jail for terrorizing black people, but police have never gone to jail for selectively enforcing the law. Black people are disproportionately jailed, particularly in places where slavery existed most prominently–in other words, where fomenting racism against blacks was most important for the elite. Is it just an amazing coincidence?

From wars for slaves to wars for empire

The Civil War was not the only one fought over slavery. Nor is it the only war who causes have been virtually erased in history lessons. Many of the US’s wars that took place during slavery were demanded by slaveowners who wanted to expand the legal territory for owning and catching slaves. The British helped thousands of slaves escape during the War of 1812. Slavery was threatened in East Texas by Mexico, so the US started a war with Mexico to expand the number of slave states. Countless wars on native tribes meant expanding the US’s territory, and was often related to slavery, such as the Seminole Wars that ended up annexing Florida. Slavers wanted more territory, so the US went to war. Slavers wanted to catch runaway slaves, so the US went to war. Each time, it killed people of color and expanded its territory. It should be obvious that the effect of these wars has lasted into the present, as (like all countries) war and conquest has given the US the territory it has today.

But these wars are also still relevant because the US is still making war all over the world. People used to profit off war then, and they continue to do so today. Indeed, the profit of the rich was usually the reason for the US’s wars, just like today. Once the US had finished expanding across the continent, it went to East Asia and conquered territory overseas. It now reserves the right to make war anywhere in the world on whatever flimsy pretext (eg. invading Afghanistan and Iraq because of a terrorist attack), and kill as many brown people as it likes. A white-supremacist state is not necessarily a genocidal one. It is one that can make war on non-whites for the wealth and power of the elite and its white subjects could not care less about the wars (or even encourage them), because only brown people are dying.

With the prospect of indiscriminately killing and torturing brown people, is it any wonder so many outright white supremacists are soldiers, along with police and prison guards?

Conclusion

It is clear the legacy of slavery is still alive. Descendants of slaves are treated as criminals to be jailed and re-enslaved, and mocked whenever they try to shed light on their condition. The territory gained through wars for slavery remains part of the state. The contempt for non-whites is present in political discourse. And when confronted with evidence of racism, privileged white people dismiss it. “I’m not racist,” they will say, as if that is the end of the discussion. They need to acknowledge the past or else continue to live with it. It is not because you are white that you are the problem but because you have internalized the values of a white-supremacist state. You learned to think one way and you can unlearn.

The point of this post is not to blame white people. What would be the point? They should not feel guilty but angry. They should not feel they are helpless because of history but stirred into action by the present. They could start by educating themselves, which consists mostly of listening but sometimes calling out racism among friends and pointing out the history behind the oppressive institutions of today. People are still trying to divide us, including rich elites giving money to far-right racists. We should unite against the dividers.

What it means to be white in America

September 25, 2018 Leave a comment

So many white Americans don’t like to hear the words “white people”. That is because they think they are being attacked. Unfortunately, mere words calling white people out for their bullshit, puts them on the defensive, and they refuse to listen or learn anything. Their closed minds have created a dangerous situation.

The first thing so many white Americans don’t get when you talk about “white people” is what the word really means in America. White people have a history of genocide and slavery on a wide scale, all over the Americas, and that history is still relevant in ways so many white people ignore. Instead of coming to terms with it, they have paved over it in the history books, smothered it with conformity to civic customs as a basis for national unity and callously told the survivors to get over it. Acknowledging this past is the first step to understanding the way the US is today, and why people are talking about “white people”.

So many white Americans give excuses not to listen to someone who says they have been a victim of racism, unless the victim was white, in which case they somehow are able to sympathize. Anyone who implies there may be historical reasons black, native or other people might not have the same privileges white people do get told these bad things like slavery were a long time ago. Things are different now. We’re all “equal” now. Because “I don’t see race [because I don’t want to]”. Being white in the US means forgetting and not needing to remember, ignoring and not needing to listen, living in ignorance and not wanting to know.

One thing so many white people who try to win an argument will say is black people were involved in the slave trade. They bring it up even though it is rarely relevant. No one is saying you were part of the slave trade because you are white. They are saying you don’t understand what it is like to live as a person of color in a white-supremacist state, and you prove you don’t understand by arguing with them. They also say there have been slaves throughout history. Yes, and many other parts of the world also have problems due to unacknowledged history. But the descendents of slaves in ancient Sparta are not still suffering in the present. If the slavery we are talking about was in recent, relevant history, such as that of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, it is important to understand its legacy. If you use slavery elsewhere as an excuse not to talk about the legacy of slavery where you are, you are simply not interested in listening.

Think slavery doesn’t matter anymore? You’re wrong.

Why do they bring up black people in the slave trade? Because they think they are being attacked just for being white. They once saw a video of a group of black people saying “kill whitey” and thought there were hordes of people who hated them for being white. (Just like how they saw a video of brown people saying “Allahu akbar” and thought they needed to support war in the Middle East.) It’s a strange excuse not to listen. It’s like saying some Jews were paid to work for the Nazis during the Holocaust. It’s a tiny percentage compared to the rest who suffered. What’s your point? Very few people are saying being white makes you evil (far fewer, incidentally, than white people who hate anyone who is not white). Europeans created the market and some Africans took advantage of it, showing us that people are corruptible in any culture.

The other thing so many white Americans don’t understand is the enormous legacy of the events of the past 500 years. It is, quite simply, the elephant in the room. The history of the colonization of the Americas (and the whole world) is that of enslavement, massacre, taking land and building monuments to white people on top of it. Many millions have been killed during the wars that killed and drove the natives off their land and into wretched arrangements with the state. Those are the wars that created the vast territory of the US as it is today. Most of the native inhabitants have lost their land to European empires, followed by the states the empires left behind, such as the US, Canada and all of Latin America, and then in our day by corporations with legal claims.

The legacy of colonialism includes the strengthening of the empires of Europe so they could make war on far-flung people, then later with each other, and now on far-flung people again. It has meant the creation of powerful states and corporations that bleed people dry and kill them in the thousands when they resist. These states tend to have white-supremacist laws, given that most of them were created to protect the property of the rich white minority.

The people in power needed to justify the brutality necessary to carry out the project of colonizing the world so they, in effect, created racism as we know it. All states and empires have told the people in their heartland they were special. They created the opposing identities of “us” and “them”. That is, very briefly, the reason we have countries today: defining citizens or taxpayers or non-slaves in opposition to those being conquered. European empires have told their subjects they were superior to the far-flung natives because they were white. Over time, in their heads and in law, people who were defined as white got cut off from the rest of humanity. They were shielded from the worst excesses the state inflicted on people. They were expected to fall it line when it was deemed necessary to destroy an entire native town or round up runaway slaves. The same pact exists today: white people turn a blind eye to the state’s greater violence against minorities (or post a screenshot from Fox News to tell themselves it isn’t true) in exchange for the privilege of not getting the short end of the stick.

Slavery is not the only thing that has happened to black people in the US. Since the Civil War, blacks have been kicked out of government, kicked off their land, lynched, legislated out of jobs, rezoned out of residential areas, harassed, arrested, beaten, spied on, shot or given the electric chair for little or no reason besides the color of their skin. Do those things figure in your understanding of race in the US? Like all hierarchies, racial hierarchy must be enforced through words and laws and symbols. The South was not the only place with racism, either. Many Northern liberal towns had explicitly racist policies until as late as the 1970s. To the so many white people today who claim to be victims of racism, did these things happen to you or your family? When you say blacks are complaining about something only their ancestors suffered, you’re talking about their parents.

Yet so many white people wave a Confederate flag around, get angry about tearing down statues to Confederate war heroes and say it’s about “heritage not hate”. Do these people simply not know the history of the symbols they love? Do they not know those people fought to uphold slavery? Or are they lying, and they hate black people and wish them to return to their subordinate role?

white afraid slavery confederates

This denial of history is not only unfair to the survivors of the US’s original sin. It is a matter of life and death. An unarmed black kid gets shot in the street at night by a white guy. Imagine two possibilities. In the first, the whole city or even the country come together to condemn the killing and acknowledge the racism that it made it possible. In the second, millions of people rush to the defense of the white guy. They believe everything his lawyers and the newspapers say and call the boy a thug. If the former scenario had happened and the whole country opposed killing a child and using self defense as an excuse, the act of killing would seem less justifiable, fewer would get killed and people would feel safer. Instead, the latter happened, and keeps happening every week.

Yes, not all white people were or are rich, and yes, they get shot by police too. Yes, some people of color are rich nowadays. But to think you have it bad because you’re white in a country with a history of white supremacism is a slap in the face to the people of color you are not listening to. Start listening to people who tell you they got turned down for an interview because they have black-sounding names. Start sympathizing with someone who went to prison (especially for a victimless crime like taking drugs) for something a white man got a slap on the wrist for. That person might not be able to get a job either because, even though they were told they had “paid their debt to” a society that did not love them, they still do not get treated equally. Start believing the huge numbers of people who get repeatedly harassed by police because they are black or brown, whether in a non-white-majority neighborhood, because the police are always there harassing people, or in a majority-white neighborhood where white people are scared of people different from them so they call the cops. Start talking to people about a court system and a prison industry that puts people of color away (and works them in slave labor) in far greater numbers than white people. Justice may be blind but the law, the police, the judge, the lawyers and the juries are not.

black child arrested handcuffs

Do you really need context?

And why do so many white people have no qualms about all the people of color shot by police? They always seem to be able to find some way to justify the death. Every time a cop guns down a person of color, so many white Americans take to the comment sections to say why they support the officer and support law enforcement no matter what it does. Some of them actually send large sums of money to killer cops, as if to tell them “thank you for getting rid of one of them. Sorry some people disagree.”

So many white people have reached the point that racism against minorities simply does not exist. Every case that could provide evidence for racial bias is swept under the rug. You hear them say “fake”, “liar”, “he deserved it”, etc. And they have the nerve to get mad at the inconvenience when the things they tried to sweep under the rug keep popping out again. White people were openly racist until the 1960s or later, and now they claim not to see race. They seem to think this claim insulates them from the consequences of 500 years of colonization. The same people actually despise people of color so much they can’t bring themselves to agree that black lives matter. Whenever they hear the phrase, they shut the speaker up with “all lives matter”, as if they were trying to prove they didn’t understand, they didn’t want to talk about discrimination against black people and they wanted an entire race to shut up about its problems. To claim racism is over, or that white people are victims of racism, when you refuse to listen to people of color living with the violence you don’t know about, is the height of ignorance. Do you want to remain ignorant, not understanding (or pretending not to understand) why millions of Americans are angry, and what part your whiteness plays in their oppression?

There are white militias around the US training for a race war they are hoping to instigate. They are killing people already and are vocal about the fact that it is because of their race. That is the consequence of all this racism so many white Americans refuse to see. Many of them have infiltrated law enforcement and the military. But still, people of color are expected to shut up. So many white Americans have the arrogance to tell people of color to get over their grievances, no matter what happened to them, no matter how recently, no matter how obviously the product of racism, because to so many white Americans, there is no racism against people of color. When people of color protest, they get told to stop protesting, or start protesting something else, or protest in a different way that does not inconvenience anyone, and go get jobs. Meanwhile, so many white Americans are still grieving for 9/11, which happened 17 years ago in a city they had never visited to people they had never met.

The first thing white (and other) Americans could do is learn about and acknowledge the history of the United States. No, you did not learn about it in school or on TV. Learn from the perspectives of people who are not the winners or the beneficiaries of history.

Next, you could use the knowledge you gained to understand the reasons why things are the way they are today. How did Columbus pave the way for the world as it is today? What about all the other empires that have invaded the continent since then? How did the slave trade create the Americas and modern racism, how did it aid in the development of capitalism, how did it lead to the wars and conquests of the United States and why might black people still want to talk about it?

There was nothing inevitable about genocide and slavery. Let us apply a little knowledge and imagination to how things could have been better. Not all white people wanted to kill natives or thought it right to own slaves. Some of them even ran off to join indigenous people, preferring the relative peace and freedom to the rigid laws of the settler states. What if more white people had refused to turn guns on natives, or had fought on their side? What if more white people had set more slaves free, or at least shamed and shunned everyone involved in the trade? What if, instead of believing the divisive rhetoric, white people had seen themselves as people too, and never attacked the natives at all? What if they had lived side by side and integrated with them? Think of all they could have learned from each other and how much more harmonious the present would be. Americans often talk about how much freedom they have, but the US could really have become a Land of the Free if it had eschewed the central state for the decentralized model of some indigenous people. If they had simply had different ideas, different attitudes, things could have been much better for all concerned.

But since genocide and slavery are the truth of history, white people need to understand. The ones in the comment sections claim to understand, but they do not, and their failure to listen is the reason they feel attacked.

Don’t criticize the rich

September 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Why is it that ancaps, who know the economy is based on theft and violence, will attack you for wanting to “redistribute” wealth (whatever you or they mean by it)? Why is that they tell you you are just jealous and want something you don’t deserve? Is it because they hate socialism (or love capitalism) so much they will attack you to defend the current order? Smash the state, but don’t take away any of the money acquired by the violence of the state. That would be stealing!

When Voltaire said “to find out who rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize”, he was not talking about political correctness. The point of political correctness is to make it no longer all right to hurt marginalized groups, like ethnic minorities, disabled people, the poor, and so on. When making fun of people reinforces beliefs about people’s inferiority and thus contributes to their lower status in society, we are punching down. We should be punching up.

So who else are we not supposed to criticize? Ask people in the US, Canada and other places what they think of the rich as a class. Ask if it’s right to have much more money than 99% of the rest of the people. Among many–ancaps and conservatives tend to have this trait in common–it is considered normal that the rich earned their wealth and subsequent power. They will say, given the system is basically fair, most of them earned their money legitimately.

But the system is not fair. So how is it legitimate? What did they do? How did they get their money? And why would having money justify having power over us? Most people can only become wealthy by taking advantage of the state’s use of legal force. That is how wealth and poverty are created together virtually everywhere: forcing people into subordinate relationships and making them work on the productive resources available. Like the corporation, money and the wage system do not exist because they were widely considered good ideas. They are the products of a long process of ordering an economy to create a few rich people and a subordinate class dependent on wages. We should pay more attention to the people making money off this system and expose it all.

We are allowed to criticize wealthy individuals for individual actions–think of villains like Kenneth Lay or Bernie Madoff–while nearly all the rest of the people doing equally bad things get off scot free. How many executives of Lockheed Martin or Boeing can you name? How many have you seen in the news over the number of dollars each has made from war? Even when someone at a food company makes a decision that poisons a thousand people, the company spokesperson comes out and says the company made a mistake. Who made the decision? Why will there be no justice? Can you name any other powerful person that you don’t regularly see in the media? The rich are the class you are not allowed to criticize.

rich poor man crime

Is it only from the concentration of wealth that we make any progress? If so, does that justify corporate or any other hierarchy? We should be allowed to keep the product of our labor and pool it with whoever else chooses to do so. We should be creating organizations so others can flourish, not so we can use them to create wealth for ourselves. We should be cooperating with people working on the same things as us, not competing with each other in different organizations, conducting research separately and spying on each other, creating redundant products, spending time and money on advertising instead of simply distributing that money to everyone involved.

There is no doubt that through organization we get things done. But we do not have to have a hierarchical structure where some people make all the important decisions, including how the money is spent, while most have no such power. The existence of such structures is why hierarchical society is allowed to exist. Even if we managed to eliminate the state, the presence of large concentrations of wealth would lead back to a privileged class that makes the rules.

Of course, people who eliminated the state would be vigilant. We could only ever reach that point if a large proportion of the people agreed with the cause and took self-defense into their own hands, and they would be on the look out for the power-hungry. But if we continue to live somewhere money piles up very unevenly we might still ignore the real problems it causes, and end up back where we started. The problem is inequality.

Consent

September 17, 2018 1 comment

Why is consent only important at some times and not others? Consent is necessary for sex; otherwise, it is rape, and rape is never ok. Regarding sex, it is assumed we are in voluntary relationships with the people who touch us. But we are also in non-consensual relationships and people never talk about them.

For instance, why do I need a “representative”? Surely, to represent me they would need to act in my interests. What if my so-called representative does not represent me? Can I withdraw consent from this relationship? Can I vote for no one? No. Their decisions apply to me. I didn’t join anything. I never gave any hint I wanted them to represent me. They never even asked me.

The police are authorized to arrest you if you have drugs. In other words, there are people who will use violence against you for ingesting or possessing something that someone in another city decided you were to face violence for ingesting or possessing. You are not allowed to ingest or possess something if that guy in a suit in the other city wrote down that you were not allowed to. If you do, the people who will use violence against you might hit you, kidnap you and throw you in a cage (and even force you to work as a slave), or kill you. When did I consent to any of this? Why does consent not matter in this case?

The example of drugs shows us the state considers our bodies its own property. Laws against taking drugs show that our masters do not allow us to put things into our own bodies, as if they were loving parents and we were children getting into the chemicals under the sink. The power to criminalize prostitution is another example of the state’s claim to have the final say in what you do with your body.

You pay taxes. In other words, if you do not pay money every day to a group of people you do not know who will decide what to do with it, regardless of your opinion on what they do with it, some people can kidnap you at gunpoint and lock you in a cage. Why do you not get to decide how that money is spent? What if you have better ideas than what politicians owned by lobby groups have in mind? Why does consent not matter in this case either?

And I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to care that some of the money we make goes toward making war. In other words, some people take your money and use it to buy weapons to kill and torture people neither you nor they have ever met in other parts of the world, making the people who made these decisions richer and thus more influential over the very system that rewards killing people all around the world. Do you consent to that? Or does your consent not matter?

I have been told that we tacitly consent, usually because we are not actively fighting against these things. But that is not how consent works. Consent must be positive. If want to take your clothes off, I need your consent. If I do not know whether or not it is all right with you, it isn’t. However, if I want to harass you, kidnap you, cage you, beat you or kill you, I just need a badge.

Why does consent not matter to us? Because the system that feels normal to us does not ask for it.

A truly democratic system would be one where decisions were made together, and when one does not consent, the others can coax, plead, bargain or apply pressure but should not force the dissenter. That is why such decisions should be taken in groups of 100 or less, not in groups of millions where it is impossible to come to a consensus and an elite develops. We do not need an elite. We can govern ourselves.

Governance just means making and enforcing rules. Government, on the other hand, is an institution that claims a monopoly on governance over its conquered territory. All societies have governance. Not all societies have government. Self-governing, egalitarian, non-hierarchical societies and organizations exist and have always existed. We do not need too many rules. Each of us should play a part in creating them, or if we just arrived, agree to them. We can all have the power to enforce them. At any rate, most of our rules would come from norms, as they already do, rather than written rules that might differ in detail from place to place.

Though nearly all decisions would be made in small groups, such as families, clubs, factories, and so on, for the occasional decision that needed to be made in a larger group, it would be possible to delegate authority to a representative. In other words, you could tell someone to vote yes on a certain proposition. If they do not vote yes, the decision must be retaken or considered null. That said, nowadays even the idea of delegates is probably obsolete, as we have the technology to make decisions across decentralized organizations in minutes.

When is an organization democratic? Joining the organization is presumably consenting to its mission, structure and policies, and members can leave at any time. (Cooperatives often start new people on probation before they can become full members.) At minimum, all members should have a vote on leadership (if there are leaders) and new policies. There should be no secrecy: Meeting minutes and other important information should be available to all members. The members should be able to recall leaders for violating a policy, such as acting outside the scope of their mandate. Again, these organizations would ideally be small, as the smaller they are, the more democratic they can be, as each member has proportionally more influence over decisions. Such organizations do not need to compete with each other to exploit others like the corporation but cooperate to empower people as part of their mission.

Politicians do not consult us on their votes. We do not have access to meetings between lobbyists and their clients, or lobbyists and politicians. We do not know what people who are making the decisions that affect our lives with our money are saying to each other behind closed doors. Why would we ever consent to such a system? Because we’ve been told it’s necessary?

Consent matters.

Authority is not inevitable

August 3, 2018 Leave a comment

“That is what I have always understood to be the essence of anarchism: the conviction that the burden of proof has to be placed on authority, and that it should be dismantled if that burden cannot be met.” – Noam Chomsky

Anarchists are informed every day that authority, hierarchy and law are inevitable, universal and necessary. Without them, society would collapse into chaos. These critics do not realize their point of view comes from their immediate culture and the beliefs that inform it. There is more to the story.

First, let us think about what authority is. There are two basic meanings in common usage. The first is of superior knowledge. I accept the authority of the plumber because they understand where the water in my home comes and goes from better than I do. I listen to them, pay them and let them work unimpeded because of their superior knowledge. However, I do not let them force me to accept their services or their prices. I have the final decision.

Not so with the second use of the word “authority”. Authority is also used to mean the people in power, usually government and its agents (the police). In this case, I have no choice but to submit to their will or be attacked. Their superiority lies not in some greater knowledge, some claim to moral authority or even, as is the case with (some) parents, a plausible claim to care about my welfare. It lies only in their greater capacity for violence. As such, if I do not submit to the authority of the state, I am liable to be fined (my money forcibly taken), incarcerated (kidnapped and thrown into a cage), beaten until I submit, or killed. It is clearly wrong to conflate these two definitions of “authority”.

Has authority, by the second definition, always existed? The answer is no. History has countless examples of societies free of authority. Indeed, such authority, in any form that could be recognizable today, did not come into existence until about 5000 years ago–a blip on the monitor of humankind’s history. And when it appeared, authority, which led eventually to the state, consisted only of slavers and warlords.

Society existed long before the state. As the latest research indicates, proto-states came into existence when a few people decided to steal the surplus of other people’s labor on the land. Appropriating the surplus of the labor of the majority is the constant of all states, the one defining trait that all states, regardless of time or place, have in common. They must have had a society whose labor they exploited in order to establish their states, one which grew and gathered more food than it needed, so that the few could live parasitically off the many. And those societies must have had governance.

It is often assumed by those arguing against anarchism that government has always existed. This thinking confuses government with governance. Governance is simply making and enforcing rules. Government is a monopoly on making and enforcing rules, thus creating a class that rules over the majority. When people say we need some form of law and law enforcement, they are probably correct. Few anarchists would disagree. Their mistake is in believing authority to make and enforce laws needs to be in the hands of the few. Most societies throughout history let everyone, or all adults, or perhaps some group of “elders”, come up with and enforce laws. (As an example, you can read how John Hasnas explains how laws were enforced in Britain before law was monopolized by the state, or how laws are enforced in kin groups in Somalia.) None of these groups were thought to be unchallengeable authorities.

In his book The Art of Not Being Governed, James C. Scott explains a number of ways people have avoided both the states that threatened them and the hierarchy that leads to illegitimate authority. There is no reason the rest of us could not also avoid being ruled by other people. We could band together to prevent others from forcing us into their regimes and laws. People have at many times in many places. We do not have to submit.

Moreover, why would want to impose authority on yourself and others? Do you need to be ruled by others? Would you run around killing if there were no police? Or is that only everyone else? Many people want to be free of rule by authority they consider illegitimate. Why would you not support them?

I have elsewhere pointed out the dangers of hierarchy and inequality. Here I have shown why history tells us they are not inevitable. They will continue as long as people continue to make excuses for them. But even if things like hierarchy and authority were constants throughout human history, it would still beg the question to assume that meant we needed states. Today’s states are vastly more powerful than anything history has ever seen. Anarchists are called extremists, but what would you call concentrating trillions of dollars in the hands of a few hundred people while billions go hungry? What would you call waging war on the other side of the world? What would you call locking millions of people away in jail for stealing food, smoking a plant or moving to a new part of the world? If anything, the status quo is extreme and anarchists merely want to restore some balance.

In conclusion, those who assume we need modern institutions to have any semblance of society need to prove their point far beyond merely asserting they have always existed, because they have not.