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Crime is not the problem

August 16, 2020 Leave a comment

This post is a transcript of my video, which can be found here.

I made a video a few months ago about the law and why most people don’t actually care about the law and no one could possibly follow it. You might ask why I would need to make one about crime, since crime is just the other side of the coin. Well, even though literally dozens of people have seen that video, it’s possible the lessons haven’t quite permeated the culture yet. You might even want to watch that one before this one, because I talk about how laws are made (lobbying) and give lots of examples of the many foolish laws most people don’t know about but could still get caught for. This video is about why we should stop talking about crime, and stop using the word crime, and focus on what matters.

Law and crime are such big, important topics and yet most people don’t even question them. I never get a logical argument for why crime itself is a problem and why criminals are bad. It tends to be circular logic: they broke the law. You can’t break the law! Why not? Who says we should follow the law? I bet you don’t. If you think you do, again, please check out my other video because, well, no one does. The average adult commits three felonies every day without even realizing it. No one follows the law because no one can. It’s too complicated. The law governs every aspect of life. Everything is regulated. That means the state considers every aspect of life to be under its power. It considers your body its property. People get incredulous when I say that but it’s easy to demonstrate. The law says you’re not allowed to put certain substances in your own body, even if they would be good for you. And why not? Because they are competition for legal substances. And whenever someone gets arrested for weed or something equally harmless, someone says “police should be out catching the real criminals”. Sorry, but any time you break any law you’re a criminal. As long as the laws and the institutions of enforcing laws exist, those people are still criminals. But that doesn’t mean they’ve done anything wrong. Who did they hurt? The problem is not crime but that we lump everyone who committed any crime in together, so criminals are anyone from someone smoking something Daddy Government says they’re not allowed to smoke to killers and abusers. Our language doesn’t distinguish between them, and neither do courts and prisons.

In another clear example of the state’s ownership of your body, the law says you’re not allowed to engage in sex work, so you’re not allowed to consent to exchanging your body for money. Well, unless, of course, you film it. Why? Because of some medieval religious morality? It was only a few generations ago the police were arresting women for revealing too much ankle.

Is that a reasonable use of your taxes? Well, it was a crime and those women were criminals. If you’re against all crime, you would presumably have applauded the cops for enforcing indecency laws back then and for throwing millions of black and Latino people in jail for getting high today. Then you probably excuse it all by saying, well, it’s the law, as if that meant it was right, and the police and the courts and the prison guards are just doing their jobs, as if their jobs should exist. I also get told it’s not the fault of the police or whoever, as if they weren’t responsible for their own actions and shouldn’t be expected to question anything. Their individual intentions get brought up when their intentions are irrelevant when the institution sets the rules. If you were a vegan and you worked for a slaughterhouse, would your personal beliefs play a role in your job? Would the people giving you orders and signing your paycheque take them into account?

But I’ve also been told that the institutions aren’t the problem either, just a few bad apples, so don’t think about the institution as a whole, don’t study its impact on its agents or on society. Just look at individuals. Blame the politicians, we’re told, since they make the laws, and then vote them out. Yeah, we’ve tried that but the new ones do the same things, because they have the same rich donors. They have to if they want to win elections, and other than raising their hands that’s pretty much their whole job. And I bet you already knew that. So why don’t we question the power they have, the power to make laws over us, the power to define crime. No number of elections will take that power away from them. People will believe in institutions for hundreds of years based on what they were told in school, and however wide the gap between carefully chosen words and the institutions’ results they never lose faith that one day it might live up to the words. Maybe I should start calling this channel the unquestionable, supreme truth of the universe that everyone should listen to. But then, I’m not taught in school.

The power to define crime is the power to create it. Why do you think there are millions of people in jail around the world? How many of those people ever actually hurt anyone with the actions they’re charged with? And how many of those need to be locked up? Why do we assume the state’s preferred methods of punishing them are legitimate? What if the victims prefer reconciliation or compensation? It doesn’t matter. They have no say in the matter. This is a democracy!

The news and pop culture make us think crime is a big problem when they don’t even define the word. Is crime anything I don’t like and think should be punished? Is crime violent and anti-social? Not necessarily. I think we should stop using the language of our oppressors and say what we mean. And maybe look suspiciously at anyone who wants “law and order”.

“Law and order” means increasing police violence, especially against the poor and people of color. In North America, many laws serve a racist function. We get told there is no systemic racism because the law doesn’t literally state it should be applied unevenly. So you’ve got to look beyond words at the results of those laws, and in the case of the US and Canada, they’ve made black, brown and indigenous people the targets of permanent police occupation, with all the fear and poverty and violence that come with it. In many countries, laws favor citizens, so migrant workers have no protection from predatory bosses and cops.

But laws don’t have to be racist. They just need to serve the people who make them. To keep the veneer of democracy, every law that people actually hear about is held up as having been made with the interests of the whole country in mind. But they never consulted us. They told us what they were going to do to us, they used propaganda to persuade us, then they forced it on us. Why would we think they did it for us? Does this system actually regard us as something other than taxpaying workers who are one mistake away from jail?

The same propaganda telling us we should care about crime also uses the phrase “the rule of law”, as if laws prevented crime rather than creating it. By defining activities as illegal, the state turns whoever was doing those things into criminals. When you’re a criminal, the state claims the power to lock you up and have complete control over your body. And when police, prison guards and private prisons are lobby groups, it actually pays for politicians to criminalize more victimless pursuits and lock more people up. We call them lawmakers but it would be just as accurate to call them criminal makers. That’s why those of us who care about freedom hate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris just as much as their Republican counterparts.

They’re prime examples of criminal makers. And some people actually want to vote for them.

Dealing with crime is the opposite of solving social problems. Stopping and harassing people, locking them in cages, attacking and killing them whenever they resist–this is violence. Why is it ok just because it’s legal? I don’t know all the causes of violence but I can put two and two together. If you’re poor but you live in a culture where your value as a human depends on how much money and stuff you have, you might resort to desperate measures to get some. So how about we make sure poor people have all their needs met? And while we’re at it we can stop admiring others just because they were lucky. And if you say the poor just need to get jobs and work harder, you need to clean the capitalist propaganda out of your head and start questioning what you’ve been told.

And I’m not saying poverty creates crime, because those are two really vague concepts. Does poverty necessarily lead to violence? Maybe. But more importantly, poverty is a result of violence. People are poor because they’ve had everything taken from them, including the support of a community. (I’ve made a video along these lines too.) And some people who’ve been robbed will resort to violence to get some of it back.

But why would we be more concerned with crime, in other words, whatever poor people aren’t allowed to do, when compared to the widescale violence of the state? Another cause of violence is empowering and encouraging people to use violence as agents of the state. Why don’t we compare state and non-state violence? We’re so distracted by a tree we don’t see it’s part of a forest. I find people who are most worried about crime watch or read a lot of news and TV. TV crime shows especially normalize police violence and turn us against its victims. But the news is hardly better. When you follow the news every day, the organizations whose reporting you consume, usually huge media corporations, determine what you consider important. If the news talks about individuals acts of crime, you’re going to think crime is a big problem. And if you look at surveys, you can see perceptions of how big a problem crime is bear no relation to how much there actually is. But we don’t look at the causes of those acts, at the effects of systemic violence, the disproportionate violence against certain groups, like black people, indigenous people, disabled people and trans people. We see racism and sexism as individual phenomena, rather than being embedded in the culture, and we think of them as irrational hatred, rather than calculated self-interest. We don’t think about how systems limit our thinking and our ability to solve problems. We don’t look at the capitalist system’s devastation of the environment, so we think climate change is inevitable. We don’t see how it’s all connected. Too many trees, no forest. In our situation, the idea of crime is meaningless. It’s a propaganda word to distract us and make us think anything we do the state has told us not to do is bad, and anyone who breaks the law deserves punishment. The state is going to continue to criminalize and punish everything we do to fight back to try to stop systemic violence. So why would we trust it to tell us what’s right and wrong?

The label of “criminal” is a stigma people who’ve gone to jail carry their whole lives, even though all adults living under the modern state break the law. Words like crime and criminal throw together everything from stealing a pack of gum to killing a hundred people. These aren’t differences of degree. They’re differences of type. And when we talk about violent crime, we’re still assuming all other things the state says not to do are a problem too, when they might not be. When we talk about crime we’re saying you should be at the state’s mercy whether you harmed someone or not, because the state says so. Maybe we should start thinking about right and wrong for ourselves, instead of outsourcing our thinking to the ruling class.

We don’t even actually stigmatize crime. We stigmatize getting caught. I could steal something and still get a job. But if I get caught and go to jail and have a criminal record, whatever it was for, companies won’t hire me, landlords won’t rent to me, banks won’t lend to me, etc. Some people remark that under capitalism the only real freedom you have is the freedom to starve in the street. But you don’t even have that freedom, because people living in the street are subject to laws against vagrancy and loitering and camping. Unhoused people get harassed, arrested and attacked as much as any group, because they are vulnerable and the police are bullies and they know not enough people will find out about their shitty behavior to do anything about it. I’ve always been told prison is about rehabilitating people to rejoin society. That has never been the intended purpose of any kind of state punishment, and if you want to understand the world you need to look at the history and results of the institutions you’re learning about, not the words used to justify them. Really, the result is the opposite of the rhetoric: the so-called justice system destroys communities and destroys people’s lives so they’re more likely to re-offend.

To me, the most obvious flaw in our beliefs about crime is the double standards. The US military has killed tens of millions of people since World War Two, without trial, without even suspicion of wrongdoing. The people at the top get lucrative jobs and the paid killers get the admiration of millions of ignorant people. If I killed ONE person, regardless how long I spent in jail for it, I would probably never be able to get a job again, never even go into a store without getting called a murderer because I didn’t have state approval and a uniform, and no one told the public I was doing it for freedom. And I would inevitably get a much harsher sentence than the most ruthless cop or soldier, because different groups get different sentences. Black and brown people go to prison for years for selling drugs to willing buyers, while huge corporations who launder drug money get a slap on the wrist. Maybe violence, as distinct from violent crime, is the problem. Maybe we shouldn’t be locking people up just because they stole a pack of gum. Maybe we shouldn’t be selling people into slavery because they stole a pack of gum. Maybe caging and enslaving people is a bigger problem than whatever they were accused of.

Even the idea of the war criminal irks me. It’s a useful term for rhetorical purposes but it perpetuates this belief that legal equals good. We assume the rule of law makes things legitimate so we also assume war is only wrong, or maybe just worse, when a court declares it illegal. We call people like Bush and Obama war criminals and there’s no doubt they’re guilty of war crimes as defined by international law. But what if prosecutors couldn’t find enough evidence for the exact crimes they’re alleging, or more realistically, what if no one actually took war criminals to court? What if the state were selective about which crimes it punishes? Hard to believe, I know. It wouldn’t reduce the number of people Bush and Obama had killed and tortured. It wouldn’t rebuild the houses and schools and hospitals they destroyed. It wouldn’t house the countless refugees they created. The problem is not that a given war is illegal. The problem is some people have the power and even the incentive to kill millions of people because they get rich off it.

So please stop telling me things like “there are bad cops, but…”; “there are bad laws, but…” Stop using the law to justify violence and using crime to justify your fears and prejudices. Support criminals, not cops. Support lawbreakers, not laws. Let’s take our language out of the hands of the ruling class.

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.

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.

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.

Bullies don’t deserve civility

July 16, 2018 1 comment

There is a lot of talk among the politically interested about how we should be nicer to politicians and their hired enforcers. The power of propaganda is so strong you could wear an anti-bullying ribbon and still not realize who the bullies are. No one is ever expected to respect or thank their playground bully. But most people believe, whether they realize it or not, that bullies should be in charge of all the most important aspects of their lives.

I can’t stand bullies.

It’s bad enough for kids to have to put up with shitty parents or their angry little peers. At least at some point you leave school or leave home. When you get older, you can’t get away from bullying.

You’ve got the molesters and the rapists. You’ve got the racists. You’ve got other bigots who harass you for having a different sexual orientation or gender, or for whatever reason they have. I’m lucky enough never to have been bullied by those types, but I would gladly step in to stop them.

Not all bosses are bullies, but like the physically stronger in school, many bully you because they know employees that do not belong to unions are in no position to fight back.

Then you’ve got the ones who bully all of us. They threaten you into paying their salaries so they can threaten you with punishment for anything they want and tell you it’s for your own good. Politicians, bureaucrats, police, TSA, ICE, DEA, NSA, FBI and occupying militaries bully us professionally.

The professional bullies claim a monopoly on violence–they can use it against you but you can’t use it against them. They claim a monopoly on making and enforcing laws–you can’t do anything without their permission. In fact, with the power to regulate food, drugs and sex they even claim a monopoly on what you are allowed to put in your own body. They demand “respect”, by which they mean obedience, and if they use violence against you it must be your own fault for not being “respectful”. If you don’t follow all their rules (and remember, they’re watching you), you face whatever kind of punishment they decide is necessary. Sounds like bullying to me.

Bullies prey on weakness and fear. They try to pick you off one by one. They goad you into fighting back and then tell you you deserve every punishment they inflict on you. If we stand united there is much less they can do. The professional bullies know these things, which is why they spend so many resources on propaganda to divide us by race, class, religion, nationality and every other way.

How do you think bullies react to civility? DO you think they are willing to listen to people they consider weak and inferior? Do you think you can simply make a cogent argument to a police officer or bureaucrat about why punishing people is wrong? They have their excuses. They will tell themselves anything to justify their paycheque. When you get paid better than most people to bully, you are not likely to be interested in reasoned arguments about why your job should not exist.

Grown-up bullies deserve their faces kicked in and their heads dented with rocks. We should be burning down their homes and places of work. Making fun of them in restaurants and making it hard for them to go home to dinner is the bare minimum we should be doing. Civility is for slaves.

What is the state?

September 17, 2017 3 comments

“The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine. It can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.” – M.K. Gandhi

When looking at the US government today, one can barely fathom the tiny government it started with. The US became such a powerful and destructive government by constantly enlarging the scope of its action. Since the beginning of the federation it has expanded, from the westward march of federal government jurisdiction to the cause of the Civil War: the president’s war on secession. All told, 50 states were incorporated into the union. Now the government controlled resources on an entire continent, like China and Russia. Once the land was conquered, the US government expanded its ability to capture the wealth and challenge the sovereignty of other countries. Sometimes it used trade agreements; sometimes it used guns. There were many civil liberties, and a productive free market, but as the economy grew, the state grew. That is the state’s purpose: to expand the power of those who control it. Liberty quietly slipped away.

Max Weber defined the state as that organisation that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given (national) territory. “Legitimate” here merely means legal, as actual legitimacy is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. That is why Albert Jay Nock countered Weber by saying the state “claims and exercises a monopoly of crime” over its territory. Statism is the belief that this monopoly of crime is good or necessary. David S. D’Amato explains its effect: “the state’s principal manner of acting is to make peaceful interactions crimes while protecting the institutional crime of ruling class elites.”

After all, what does the state do? It steals, but it calls its theft taxation. It kidnaps, but calls kidnapping arrest. It counterfeits, but refers to state counterfeiting as monetary policy. It uses force and compulsion which it calls the rule of law. It commits murder on a wide scale, but prefers terms such as war and execution. The state claims to act to protect person and property, but in practice claims ownership of both (through, for instance, laws that tell you what you can and cannot put in your body). It claims to protect freedom while taking it away. It claims to aid the less fortunate when in fact it benefits the powerful at the expense of everyone else. If I go to another country to kill people I do not know, I am a murderer. When the military does it, it is fighting terrorism and promoting democracy. This sleight of hand and clouding of truth is how the state manufactures legitimacy.

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The state pursues petty criminals partly because they threaten the stability of the system the state has erected and the security of the wealthy, but also because it claims a monopoly of crime. Mafia organisations are even more dangerous, as they pose a more fundamental threat to the state as competitors for plunder and dominance.

I think it is fair to include any state-protected monopoly as part of the state. Monopolies are a large part of the problem. Monopolies tend to lead to abuse, and they destroy the wonderful benefits of spontaneous order. A monopoly is always held together by force, except in the rare case of companies like Standard Oil, which was so popular because it lowered the price of heating oil to a fraction of what it had been (and competitors—not customers—used the state to break it up). In a communist society or even just a freed market, monopolies cannot exist, at least, not for long.

Anarchy is, in fact, the destruction of monopoly. Nearly all monopolies are created by the state. Monopolies and oligopolies, whether on patented medicine, oil supplies or national security, are protected by law. The state thus gains a measure of control over the distorted market and the government works for those rich people it creates. The relationship is symbiotic. The Federal Reserve system is not technically part of the government but a cartel institutionalised by the state. By my definition, it is part of the state.

I also consider the people behind the scenes who pull the strings part of the state. For example, what might be called the US foreign-policy establishment is not merely members of the State and Defense Departments. It includes high-ranking businesspeople. Executives, directors and shareholders in large oil companies probably have far greater influence over the use of the US military than, say, a couple of senators taking stands against war. It includes the Council on Foreign Relations and other influential think tanks, academics and “consultants” (often retired officers) affiliated with those who craft US foreign policy. Intelligence agencies—and not only those in the US government—influence the process as well. Andrew J. Bacevich points out “‘Military-industrial complex’ no longer suffices to describe the congeries of interests profiting from and committed to preserving the national-security status quo.”

This is the world behind the curtain, detailed in the work of Bacevich, among others, that can be described as the permanent foreign-policy establishment. The faces of the state change, but the clear continuity of US foreign policy reflects the interests of those truly in power. The same is true, to one extent or another, for all areas the state attempts to control.

The state’s raison d’être has had different pretexts as times have changed. It was originally a tool for conquering and controlling territory around a kingdom. Social scientists studying the emergence of states note the state began with the divine right of kings: the sovereign, or totalitarian king, kept his subjects in awe of the wrath of gods. Franz Oppenheimer, in his sociological survey of the state, describes its origins.

The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors. No primitive state known to history originated in any other manner.

As European states grew in technological power, they spread outside Europe as overseas empires. The ambition of conquering and subjugating the weak had not ended. To demarcate their possessions, states drew lines on maps. Countries are only countries today because of the movements of empires. States are products of conquest. Borders are the geographic limits to the power of individual states. States owe their existence and their growth to war. That is why Randolph Bourne called war “the health of the state” and Charles Tilly said “war made the state and the state made war”.

An empire is simply the growth of a state beyond its previous borders. A look at the pre- and post-imperial world gives us no reason to believe that uninterrupted rule by indigenous elites would have been any better than by empires. The liberation of most of the world from the colonial yoke was heralded as a new era of freedom, but in most cases results were very disappointing. Government by locals and foreigners alike leaves the governed wide open to abuse.

Today, states are still about a monopoly of crime over a given territory, but the humanist direction of the moral evolution of society has demanded new functions of the state. Due in part to the pressure from anarcho-syndicalist unions and the supposed alternative to capitalism in the USSR, for example, Western states felt compelled to mitigate the worst aspects of capitalism and introduce the eight-hour work day, the five-day work week, breaks, vacation time, and so on. It is now expected that, since society is rich enough to afford education, housing, health care and so on for everyone, those things will be provided by the state, the organisation with the most resources. The only reason people believe the state is necessary for social programmes, scientific research, relations with other states and so on, is because it has taken on those functions. The state does not exist to provide social programmes; it provides social programmes so it can continue to exist.

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The state is not about social programmes and emergency rescue. It is about domination, power over others. People who believe otherwise do not know how to think like the state.

Thinking like the state

What does the state want? In a word: power. Power could be defined simply as the ability to enforce one’s will on another. A further definition is the ability to carry out violence on another if necessary to get one’s way. An abusive husband and father is violence on a family level. The state threatens and employs violence on a local, national and global level.

Its power to carry out violence everywhere exists in the form of local, national and international police; armies, navies, air forces, spy drones, national guards and special branches; intelligence services, surveillance cameras, wiretapping, reading mail, reading email, reading instant messages and collecting data on everyone; and spy satellites in case you try to escape Earth without authorisation. The state has evolved from the small confines of localities to go global. It has a measure of power over us everywhere we go. Such power over so many concentrated in the hands of a few is dangerous.

The state is a monopoly on force, but the constant expansion of the state has led it to take on other monopolies over time. Modern states came to control land, the money supply, infrastructure and the security of the streets. As it has grown, the state has created new monopolies and oligopolies. Having a monopoly on the provision of law, it has created corporations, which relieve their owners and operators of responsibility; granted patents, enabling some of the biggest corporations, from Disney to the pharmaceutical giants, to attain their current size; and used complicated and unnecessary regulations, tax codes and barriers to foreign trade to prevent competition for the big players in the market. The state creates monopolies. Monopolies promote abuse, because they grant power and power corrupts.

Thinking like the state means understanding it expands its power in every direction by every means. If it can close a loophole enabling a citizen’s freedom, it does; if it can write a new one for its friends, it does. But instead of thinking like the state, most of us think the way we are told.

Thinking like the state wants us to

“The voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group leaders in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of public opinion.” – Edward Bernays

“They don’t want a population capable of critical thinking. They want obedient workers, people just smart enough to run the machines and just dumb enough to passively accept their condition.” – George Carlin

An even subtler power is the state’s ability to shape our thinking. Through its control of primary and secondary education, its influence over tertiary education and the media, the state sets the agenda for what we are to think and believe. The prevailing norms of any statist society are those that benefit the ruling class, until that brief interval of revolution which, so far, has inevitably led back to statism. What kind of person does the state want to create?

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The ideal citizen is one who believes he or she thinks for him or herself but does not. Our socialisation comes, to a great extent, from the state. The ruling class has certain ideas it benefits from: statism, nationalism, militarism, consumerism, fear, and to a lesser extent in today’s world, religion. We are surrounded by these ideas and bombarded with “evidence” they are correct. As such, we take so many things as given that we have considerable trouble thinking independently. But those who are told they are free believe it, while they fall in line with the orthodoxy of the ruling class without question. They come to love the symbols of the state: the flags, the uniforms, the songs, the slogans, the language of family, honour, duty and sacrifice. They come to think of them as representing the family of the nation, rather than the institutions of the state. They chastise those who go against the truth they have been given. How dare you question democracy? You are unpatriotic! As George Orwell said in 1984, “Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

On the other hand, people who do not follow conventions are bad citizens. H.L. Mencken described these people.

The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is apt to spread discontent among those who are.

The state exists to establish a social order that benefits the ruling class, protect that class and its property, expand its power and wealth wherever possible, fool the people it rules into believing this is all for their own good, and subdue those who do anything counter to its interests. I think we need more bad citizens and less state.

Why our world is so harsh for so many

March 11, 2015 Leave a comment

The world is a complex place and any simple description of it will be incomplete, but I think it is fair to say we are the subjects of an artificial system of theft and oppression that continues to make the world harder to live in.

Look at the sources of power in the world. Look at government, corporations and the media. Laws written for rich people have created a system where it is necessary for us all to sell our labour to the owners of businesses. They own the land, the factories, the offices, the infrastructure. We need to earn money to survive and the best and sometimes only way to make money is to work for a large corporation. We make money for the people who own and run the corporation and they give us back some of it. Next, the government takes its share, claiming it needs it for roads, schools, hospitals, pensions and security, and gives as much as it can (for example through contracts) to corporations. It does not give people a choice to keep that money, decide what to do with it themselves and get what they need through mutual aid (helping each other) like they used to. Some people work their whole lives making others rich and still end up penniless. Why? Because they didn’t work hard enough? Because they were evil in a past life?

The media tell us to consume. The remaining money we have earned, the last bones we have been thrown, we are encouraged to spend on things that make us feel rich: nice houses, cars, furniture, decorations, restaurants, two-week vacations and fancy coffee. Consumers spend their lives working for corporations and giving most of their money back to them. Instead of pursuing their dreams, they work hard in order to spend hard.

I understand people who do not do anything about it. Politics can be pretty boring. I disagree with people who say you should pay attention to politics even if you are not interested in it. You should not be compelled to pay attention to the news and what it tells you the people in power are doing. If they do not have your consent, they should not spend your money or pass laws over you. Moreover, most of the people who expect you to follow politics pay attention to the wrong things. They watch party nominations and election results and contribute to political parties and candidates who never make any real changes. But the media tell us those are the important things. That is how we can make a difference. There are no alternatives, except competing warlords or some USSR/North Korea nightmare. The system works. Stop questioning the system.

Enormous power is thus concentrated in the hands of only a few thousand people, most of whose names you and I have never heard before. A few million or so more wield power on the national level in different parts of the world with some autonomy (think the generals in Egypt) but they have mutually beneficial relationships with members of the upper ranks of the global elite. Look at what the elite do with their power. In the old days, a king would send soldiers somewhere and thousands of people would die. They had power over small parts of the world. Nowadays, power has become global, and as such the crises it leads to have gone global as well. Look at all the (supposedly unintended) consequences of all the wars the US government has been leading, all the people who have been tortured and killed, or who lost their homes and their livelihoods, and continue to do so even after the foreign militaries have left. And yet, consider who has got rich from those wars. Look at the economic carnage from the last financial crisis. Look how many people lost their jobs, homes and all their money, all around the world. And yet, the people who caused it actually made more money from it. And they tell you not to worry, because there will be an economic recovery. Do you believe them? Where is the justice?

Finally, “education” tells us what to think. I’m sure you can think of reasons why the system we live under is the best possible system. You learned it in school, and if you learned it in university like I did (political science major), you have even more reasons why it works best. We need leaders because without people making our decisions for us, society would collapse. We need rich people because without them, who would start businesses for us to work in? We need police to protect us from all the bad people around us. We need hierarchy: all societies have hierarchy, right? All other ways of living go against human nature. Don’t think too much about it: watch TV instead.

As far as I can tell, most people are neither interested in understanding the system nor willing to take the risk of fighting it. Again, I understand and I don’t judge. I just think they should understand it better than they do. If they choose to do something to change it or to change their circumstances, that is their choice and I will support them. I warn you, however, if we do not fight back, one day it will be too late.

War, part 7: where have all our freedoms gone?

July 3, 2014 1 comment

It is hard to see how at any point in American history, whether it’s the Civil War, World War One, the Cold War or the War on Terror, it’s hard to see how these infringements on the right to dissent, infringements on basic civil liberties actually have any military value whatsoever. Does anybody think that Germany would have won World War One if Eugene Debs had been allowed to speak in the United States? Or is it really the case that we can’t allow people basic civil liberties, the right to a trial, the right to see the evidence against them, because otherwise Osama bin Laden is going to take over the world? – Eric Foner, professor at Columbia University and president of the American Historical Association

Necessity is the excuse for every infringement of human freedom. – William Pitt

Since its inception, the state has existed to make war. In this age of imagined liberty, some people expect certain rights. They believe, for instance, they have the right to say what they want on the internet without being targeted by law enforcement. But during war, the state does not permit rights. The age of imagined liberty is in fact the Age of Perpetual War. Along with fighting fabricated enemies abroad, the war has been expanded to the home front, and every dissenting group is targeted.

What Professor Foner does not point out is the actual reasons the state took away all our liberties during the various wars. Among others, dissent from the official line, especially loud, public dissent (such as that of Eugene Debs), undermines the state’s power to wage the war. The state, at all times but especially in war, desires uniformity of thought, as getting the masses to tow the official line enables the decision makers to do as they please. During the 1960s in the US, young people protested the war on Vietnam. The state cracked down on them violently for protesting, but dissent grew. What did Richard Nixon do? He declared war on his home-front detractors—not on demonstrations but on drugs. Smoking pot was common among those who opposed the war. Nixon found it politically useful to escalate violence by claiming marijuana would destroy the country, and not enough people defied him to reject his policy and humiliate him. Since Nixon’s resignation, other power-hungry people have given the War on Drugs a life of its own, with the purpose of attacking the lower classes or entire racial groups, as well as the politically unpopular.

Naturally, the US government’s attacks on dissent go back to its founding. Consider the Alien and Sedition Acts, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, Wilson’s Espionage Act and his jailing of dissenters, decades of the Red Scare, COINTELPRO, and so on. But while those measures established the precedent that war would mean no freedom, they were temporary measures. Today, war is not meant to end, and freedom is not meant to return.

The War on Terror has been even more destructive of liberties. The Patriot Act and the NDAA instantly bring to mind the practices of torture and indefinite detention to anyone who has been paying attention. The US government has suspended the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Conventions indefinitely. The NSA’s extensive spy network and the drones over American skies—that’s 30,000 drones by 2020—ensure the state knows if you are violating any one of its millions of statutes. The police have been militarizing since 9/11 (or before, thanks to the War on Drugs), ostensibly to combat the miniscule terrorist threat but probably to prevent any kind of insurrection. The FBI uses blatant entrapment to jail and destroy the lives of otherwise innocent people for life under trumped-up charges and spread the lie that the terrorists are everywhere. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, for example.) It has harassed activists its clients do not like, such as anarchists, Greenpeace, PETA and Antiwar.com. The state legitimizes its war on you by claiming it needs to defeat an enemy that exists largely in our imaginations—“the terrorists”. It has claimed complete control over you in its endless war. (See more here.)

The state’s unwitting accomplices in the legal war on freedom are the millions of Americans who never cease to yell at anyone who disagrees with what the military is doing. These people repeat the state’s line about the wars’ being about freedom and security and democracy, not realizing they have in fact got it backward. They believe the US as a nation (represented, of course, by the US government) has a divine purpose to spread these things around the world. Their job as loyal citizens is to lash out verbally (and sometimes physically – see here) at anyone who does not believe the gospel. (See this page for countless examples.)

As such, anyone who thanks soldiers for securing their freedom has it backwards. Soldiers make war possible, and war is the excuse to take away freedom. If soldiers want to fight for freedom, they can stop going to war.

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