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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.

Inequality

February 20, 2017 5 comments

This post is part 3 of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist (ancap).

One thing anarchism has given me is a relentless desire for freedom–not just for myself, but for everyone. It has extended to my personal relationships and to the food I eat, as I believe animals are just as worthy of liberation as humans. I think equality is an essential part of freedom.

Ancaps tend to shy away from the word, as if “equality” meant conformity, or sameness. No anarchist believes in a Harrison-Bergeron state, where people with talent are fettered so others don’t feel bad. All equality has to mean is having an equal say in the decisions that affect you. We do not have that now, as most people are locked out of the political process, and we do not have that under any hierarchy. In the moneyless, propertyless society anarcho-communists and others envision, there would be no inequality of wealth, either, as everyone would share and thus have equal access to everything. (More about this in my next post, on property.) Ancaps tend to assume, as I used to, that there is no particular harm in inequalities of wealth if no one has control of the state’s tools of violence, and that attempting to reduce inequality is a pointless distraction. I think this belief is mistaken. Tolerating inequality is dangerous, particularly under a state but even in a stateless society.

Some ancaps invoke an analogy of Robinson Crusoe to justify exclusive ownership or private property. Alone on his island, Robinson can do whatever he likes. But when Friday comes along, now there are two people and things need to be divided among them. If Robinson spends time making a fishing net while Friday basks lazily in the sun, Robinson should own the fish he catches and should not be obliged to give any to Friday. This situation is plausible on a desert island. But that analogy can take us no further than a new society of able-bodied people who start with nothing. Our world is a world full of established order, of force and violence, of wealth acquired by force and inherited for generations. It is a world where laws, regulations, taxes and, underpinning it all, unequal access to resources have made it impossible for many people to earn a living wage, and yet where ancaps tell people whatever “the market”–not the ideal free market but the market as it is now–dictates their wage should be is correct.

An ancap once told me it is right that some people are given ownership of the means of production because those people are more productive than others. This elitist view begs the question. We have no idea who the most productive people are if only a few own the way to produce anything. So someone owns factories or other facilities; so what? What if they were more efficiently run by different people or more people? Who says flattening the organization would not make it far more productive? Some article on Mises.org? And even if you could prove, perhaps with some scientific study, one person or group was naturally better at running everything than everyone else, it will also beg the question to say the more productive people deserve more money or anything else because of it. They are proposing that only people who are better at producing things deserve to make the important decisions and have all the many advantages that come with more money.

Ancaps will tell you “no one owes you anything”, to the effect not of proposing ethics for a free society but to justify the market and property relations of today. They speak as if most CEOs and rich people were simply workers who had worked particularly hard and somehow deserved not only their enormous salaries but the power over workers and politicians that position brings with it. They do not appreciate that a major feature (some might say the defining feature) of capitalism is how the people on top own the product of a worker’s labor and then give as little as they can get away with back to the worker. If you produce $50 worth of widgets in an hour and make $10 an hour, the corporation has taken most of the value of your product away. That is what socialists mean by exploitation. If you are a fly-by-night employee working for people who have put many years of sweat into their business, this arrangement is not problematic. However, if a hundred people have run a factory for years, they are the true source of the wealth of the owners and bosses. Yet, if they attempted to take over their factory, ancaps would say they are stealing, and violence is a justifiable response.

The capitalist corporation

While I think abolishing the state would significantly reduce the power of the rich, if they are simply left alone they could easily find a way to reconstitute the state in a different form. Capitalist enterprise always sends money up the hierarchy. Retaining hierarchy, the money system and unequal access to resources could make it profitable to raise a private army. While most anarchists envision a society where everyone’s needs are met, many ancaps simply assume this situation would arise if we eliminated taxes and barriers to work. But what if it did not?

Theft would still be an issue, which means security guards would still work in the employ of the rich. Whether or not security guards became a private army, the employment of security guards is a highly inefficient way to allocate resources–protecting wealth rather than creating it. Why would that situation be preferable to more equality, more access to what we need, less need for protection from either theft (for the rich) or predatory armies (for everyone else)? How can you justify turning someone away from a hospital or denying them life-saving drugs when there is easily enough money to pay for it? How can you justify letting someone go hungry when supermarkets owned by rich people are full of food?

Another problem with the current economic system, whatever you want to call it, is it necessarily produces winners and losers. It inherently–not incidentally–produces unemployment, homelessness, poverty, debt and non-state violence. These effects are not due to lack of hard work. I think most ancaps, at least thoughtful ones, understand this point. What it means in practice is, as unfortunate as it might be, we need welfare programs. Yes, there are better ways of providing them, but until you are helping organize mutual-aid arrangements, please do not encourage the dismantling of programs that help people keep their heads above water.

On a related note, while I sympathize with the desire to abolish the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax or intellectual property, these things are simply not going to happen while power is still concentrated in the hands of the rich. The people who are really in charge benefit from these things, which means that even on the off chance a large majority of voters agreed with these policies, the system would perform as it always does on such occasions: Politicians would talk about the need to “do something”; they would either pass a law hailed as monumental or complain about being stymied by the president, the Congress, the courts, the pressure groups or whomever else; if they were successful in passing the bill it would be too watered down to have any significant effect or it would be quietly repealed a few months later and things would somehow return to how they were. That is why the slogan “evolution, not revolution” does not take the workings of the system into account. A popular revolt can topple a government in a matter of days, and has often led to anarchy. If people have the right ideas and initiative, they can create a free society in this situation.

Capitalism creates a class system, which creates stress, a significant cause of illness. It creates boom-and-bust cycles, which put us in a state of hypervigilance, fearing for our very survival. It leads to domination and hopelessness. It leads to substance abuse, as we try to find a way to dull the pain. (More on all these effects here.)

More people in our world need to learn about humanity’s long history of mutual aid. Charity may be necessary in a world where we do not organize and take care of each other but we will not have a revolution worthy of the name without mutual aid. Charity is only necessary because of the systems of exclusion and exploitation that destroyed mutual aid. Charity is a top-down approach.

Rich people are not generous just because they give money to charity. They may have made their money through inheritance, the violence of the state (eg. intellectual property) or simply by having enough capital to start and maintain a business, paying workers as little as possible and keeping the rest. Anarchists advocate a non-hierarchical, non-paternalistic, empowering approach to solving our problems, not one where you can give a small amount of your enormous wealth away and be called a public benefactor.

I have written more on this subject in another post. Suffice to say, inequality is not “good” or “natural” and ancaps should learn about the dangers it poses to freedom.