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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.

There is no “alt-left”

February 22, 2018 4 comments

The alt-right (or perhaps just the corporate media) have invented the term “alt-left” to smear leftists like antifa who actually do something (as opposed to progressives who just vote). They seem to think if you imply they are simply the left-wing version of the alt-right (whatever that would mean) they must be as bad as the alt-right. The problem is, the term is meaningless.

It might be useful to point the difference between right-wing and left-wing. These terms are somewhat hazy, but I might, after fifteen years of hearing the terms bandied about, have figured out the difference.

political chart compass

The standard “political compass” looks like the image above. The more libertarian (ie. believing in freedom for all), the lower down. The more authoritarian (ie. willing to impose one’s vision for the world on others) one is, the higher up on the chart one is. Right and left are less often defined but no less significant. Here is what they seem to mean.

The right wing believes different people deserve to be treated differently, and it is inevitable different people will have different amounts of wealth and power. The top right thinks it is fine to use force to keep these structures in place, while the bottom right thinks if you reduce the amount of force (usually by reducing the amount of government) it will (inevitably) mean inequality. That is why racist ideology is essentially right wing: it holds people should be treated differently, regardless of what they did to deserve it.

The left wing believes people are essentially equal and should be treated equally. People should have roughly equal social power. The top left thinks redistributing wealth and social power should be effected by authoritarian means, while the bottom left thinks the ideal is to eliminate structures of power and authority, as those are the root of the problem.

Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Tony Blair are not left wing, nor are the progressives and “liberals” who support them. They waged war all over the world, threw people in jail for selling and buying drugs, deported millions of people and gave trillions of dollars to large corporations. These are right-wing policies. The only reason they were ever called left wing is their political opponents were even further to the right, wanting more deportations, more incarceration and more war. Or perhaps more accurately, the people who hated Hillary, Barack and others like them did not realize how right wing they actually were. One could also argue these people are centrists: they stand for nothing.

Castro Tony Blair war left

The alt-right, being mostly in the top-right quadrant, are willing to use violence to remove from society those they believe do not fit in their vision for it. They want to ethnically cleanse whole countries of non-whites, non-Christians and leftists.

Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep, explains why “alt-right” is still a useful term.

Here’s why I call them the “Alt Right” instead of just “Nazis.” The Alt Right is a composite of a number of far-right tendencies including anarcho-capitalists, silicon valley neo-reactionaries, MRAs, Klansmen, and other forms of fascists. Broadly, it’s a fascist movement, but it’s a fascist movement of a certain character. Calling them the Alt Right makes a clear, descriptive identification specific, and shows that this is a discrete group, or rather group of groups, with a set of visible, self-proclaimed and established leaders.

Alexander might have added that many American conservatives approximate the alt-right position. Fascists know conservatives are easily manipulated by feeding their prejudices and do so through media such as Breitbart and Facebook pages.

You may have heard of the “[right-] libertarian-to-alt-right pipeline”. There are several possible reasons why many right-libertarians have joined the alt-right. (See this video for some of them.) One of them seems to be that racists have convinced libertarians only white people appreciate or can be taught to appreciate freedom. They have thus embraced Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s ideas about “physical removal” of anyone who they say does not believe in freedom, which in practice is anyone to the left of them, plus Muslims, plus anyone from another culture. You will likely hear much more about “anti-communism”, as many on the right label all those to their left communists.

The comparison between the alt-right and the left grows even weaker when you consider leftists are quite open about their beliefs, while the alt-right lie at every turn. Deception, just like racism, power and violence, is integral to fascist ideology. The left is not the same. For all the hate socialists, communists and anarchists take, they are quite open about who they are and what they believe. That is presumably because freedom, justice, anti-racism, anti-imperialism and so on are noble virtues, and giving all power to a white-supremacist elite is not.

Charlie Kirk socialism

The idea of the “alt-left” comes from horseshoe theory, the belief that the more extreme one’s politics get, the more one comes to resemble the other side. This theory is nonsense. The extreme left would never accept the enormous concentrations of wealth that have created so many problems in the world. The extreme left would not tolerate racism, discrimination against disabled or LGBT etc. people, class society, wage labor or slavery. I am thus bottom left and have nothing in common with the top right. There is no horseshoe.

the true political compass

Themes of Power in the Great White Hype

October 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Easily my favorite Samuel L. Jackson role is that of the Reverend Sultan in 1996’s the Great White Hype. Indeed, this often overlooked movie is one of my favorites, and the Rev is largely to thank. An imposing figure in gold and a turban, owning the screen with his wide grin, the Reverend Sultan is a boxing promoter clearly modeled on Don King. He understands and wields power as effectively as anyone in Game of Thrones, just in a different context.

It is easy to think the central theme of the Great White Hype is racism. The story revolves around a heavyweight boxing champion, played by Damon Wayans (in a role slightly reminiscent of Mike Tyson), who has become so good no one wants to pay to see his fights anymore. The Rev solves the problem of falling ticket sales by finding a white guy to challenge the champ. The Rev uses racism–not the vicious kind but a more subtle, competitive version that is easy to deny–to whip up interest in the fight and sell tickets in one fight between the champ, James Roper, and the man who beat him as an amateur, named Terry Conklin. His strategy works. White and black Americans become divided (again, not viciously; the fighting stays in the ring) on which fighter they support, and all are inflamed with the excitement of “their side” beating the other.

The subject of race is reasonably well explored for an average-length comedy that doesn’t preach to you. It is not treated as a simple division between black and white or whatever other color. We see how clever people use racism as a tool to blind others and then lead them in a certain direction. “It ain’t about race,” says the champ on hearing of the Reverend Sultan’s plan, “it’s about boxing.” The Rev laughs in his face. Divisions among black people are touched on here and there, as when the champ says “A white contender? The two words don’t even go together. It’s like saying ‘black unity’.” And the challenger gets named “Irish” Terry Conklin because “it’s boxing: it just means you’re white.”

But to end our search for themes there is to miss the point of this movie. Racism is a tool to divide people and motivate them, but motivate them to do what? Divide and conquer is an old a strategy for getting people to do what you want, and it works. The people fork over their money in return for the thrill of competition. I cannot help thinking arbitrarily dividing the masses is a story that, though (or perhaps because) it is so common as to be essential to modern-day political power, is not clear enough to people. People do not realize how divided they are. They are unaware how these divisions sap their empathy, break up their community and make the prospect of solidarity in the face of power harder. They compete with each other in ways ranging from supposedly harmless sports to total war, fighting each other when they should be uniting to guillotine their kings and banish the aristocracy.

Power is always at risk. People are always trying to take power from you, and the more you have, the more you have to lose. Power is certainly a means to an end, as it means more of some of the luxuries of life (including people surrounding you willing to kill to protect you). But it becomes an end in itself. Powerful people constantly pursue and expand their influence. It is their 24-hour job. They often become paranoid, so even if their power is secure they could feel the need to lop off a few heads for good measure. They may find ways to imprison, kill or otherwise incapacitate more of their enemies. They may find ways to enlarge their armies, bring in more gold, build more castles or force more peasants into servitude. They might do all those things on the same day.

On that note, let’s go back to the Reverend Sultan. The man is the center of the boxing world. He lives in a palace with all the finest things. The Rev covers all his bases. His chosen title alludes to both Christianity and Islam and implies someone holy and trustworthy but also a man of power. All that in two words. The first thing he says to the media is “Glory be to God, all praises to Allah, God bless America”. He creates and cultivates this image so he can be all things to all people, much like a state that claims to represent everyone, uphold various rights, manage the economy, provide healthcare and education and keep people safe. He talks smack in front of the cameras but in person is steady, charming and intimidating, as the situation calls for. After he breaks his promise to the champ at the beginning, he, with the aid of his employees, puts on a big act to convince the champ of his contrition. Though the champ is never quite convinced, having dealt with the Rev’s bullshit before, this tactic works. It calms the champ down. The Rev proceeds to explain his plan to “create” a white contender for the heavyweight title. The champ is sold on the idea.

The Reverend Sultan came a long way

He is a skilled manipulator, painting a picture others want to believe in. Terry Conklin is skeptical when first informed of the Sultan’s plan. “I give my money to the homeless.” Terry puts his motivation in front of him for the Sultan to use against him.

“Good,” replies Sultan, “because if you take me up on my proposition and [fight the champ], I guarantee that you will personally wipe out homelessness in America.”

He tells Terry, “You can still kick [the champ’s] ass!…He’s scared shitless of you,” later confiding to Terry’s trainer, “When the bell rings, he’s dog meat.”

“This could be the fight of the century,” Sultan claims, but Terry sees through it:

“Yeah, right, until the next ‘fight of the century’.”

“You’re a shrewd man,” says Sultan, knowing complimenting most people’s intelligence puts them off their guard, “but if not for yourself Terry, do it for the tired, the poor, the teeming masses yearning to breathe free.”

Like Terry, Jamie Foxx’s character (whose name is never spoken) falls to the Reverend Sultan. Foxx plays the manager of the top contender. He attempts to act boldly on several occasions and always falters under the influence–sometimes no more than a look–from the Reverend Sultan.

The character that I think best illustrates how the Rev wields power is Mitchell Kane. In an exemplary performance by Jeff Goldblum, Mitchell Kane is an independent journalist making a documentary about the Reverend Sultan. He appears to us several times at the beginning looking into a camera and narrating his report. It begins, “You and I are going to take a very close look at this boxing promoter, this exploiter, embezzler, charlatan and demagogue.” Kane is the only one outside the Rev’s inner circle who knows how dangerous he is. Anywhere with a “free” press is likely to have some radical journalist speaking truth to power, but they, like Mitchell Kane, go mostly ignored.

Kane attempts to blackmail the Reverend Sultan. He forces Sultan to arrange a meeting. But the meeting is not in some coffee shop or even an office. It is in Sultan’s home, on his turf and his terms, in his sauna. He naturally has the advantage.

“So what do you want?” asks Sultan jovially.

“I want to destroy you,” answers Kane, as if he has been wanting to say those words for some time. He hands over photographs of the Sultan in compromising positions with prostitutes. Sultan laughs as he goes through them. “I like you. You have a goal and you have the balls to reach that goal. You have a blind, stupid belief in yourself.”

“Flattery is not going to work. I–”

“No, no, no, I want to offer you a job.”

After an apparently long discussion, Kane exits the sauna to find his documentary crew waiting for him. He addresses the camera. “Some have said this upcoming title fight is built around racism. But…” The Rev had co-opted him, appointing him his new PR guy with a nice, new salary. As is sometimes the case, the journalist (or the academic, or the social worker, or the more highly skilled union employee) likes what the powerful guy has to offer and sells out. Kane is soon throwing out nonsense like “In the cynical age that we live in, it’s rare indeed when someone or something becomes so transcendent as Terry and this fight have become.”

Julio Escobar gives the Rev more opportunities to show how he wields power. Cheech Marin plays Julio, president of the boxing association and thus the guy in charge of ranking professional boxers. Naturally, the Rev has Julio in his back pocket. The Rev has the money, so he is in charge. We see an example of this power imbalance in every scene featuring Julio. In Julio’s first scene, the Reverend Sultan finds out Julio’s assistant is smart, so he hugs her and says “You work for me now.” Julio objects:

“Hey, wait a minute, she works for me!”

“Uh, Julio, she works for me.”

“Okay, fine.”

Later, the Rev meets with Julio after finding Terry.

“I want the WBI to rank [Terry Conklin] in the top ten so I can give him a title shot,” says Sultan.

“You know Reverend, over the years I have bent and greased and stretched the rules for you…but even I cannot rank a fighter who has not had a professional fight!”

“Now, what’s it going to take for you to make this happen?” asks the Sultan suavely. “Money? Sex? Drugs? …Power?”

“Yeah, power.”

“You’re fired.”

“Okay! Money, sex and drugs.”

The Reverend knows you do not ask someone for power; you bargain for it, you demand it, you take it, but you do not get it by simply asking those people actively wielding their power over you.

“Don’t pull your shit out if you ain’t ready to use it.”

In the next scene, at a press conference, Sultan calls him “the honorable, estimable, incorruptible Mr Julio Escobar.” If you want to lie, lie big: turn the truth upside down. Smother the truth under articulate, high-quality bullshit.

Controlling one’s image requires controlling the message and only admitting being wrong if it benefits you strategically. Part of being in power therefore means somehow avoiding answering the tough questions. We have all heard politicians do it: attacking the interlocutor’s character; “That’s not the question. The real question is…”; etc. While leaving the room of the press conference, a white man accosts the Reverend Sultan and shouts “Julio Escobar is a whore on your payroll.” This man speaks the truth. He must be silenced, his comment forgotten.

“That is a libelous statement and a racist comment simply because Julio Escobar is of Latin descent.” Both barrels. The Rev continues the deflection as the man shifts uncomfortably. “Are you saying something about brown-skinned people? Do you hate Jews and Negroes as well?”

“I am a Jew.”

“Then you’re an Uncle Tom!”

The Rev turned another man from one who literally speaks truth to power into a “racist” in a brief exchange of words, discrediting him in the eyes of his peers and shutting up anyone else who might make the same accusation as he did.

Image is reality, and in the following scene the Reverend is complaining about initial media coverage after the announcement. He is addressing his PR guy, Saul, played by Jon Lovitz. “Why are they saying these things?”

“Because it’s the truth,” says Saul.

“The truth needs to be shaped and molded and framed, Saul.” Sultan is describing how PR (propaganda) works.

With threats, intimidation and co-opting for people who might present him with a challenge to controlling perceptions and images, the Reverend Sultan shows us both how to use power and why people with power are so hard to dislodge. Of course, the Great White Hype is about the world of boxing, not the coercive power of the state. The power of the state is incalculably more dangerous, and as a result, political-power relations are far more competitive and even more lucrative for the winners.

So what happens to the Rev? Does he lose his empire, or does he come out on top? Do you need to ask? He is the only one in the movie who truly understands power. He’s not going anywhere.

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Hierarchy

February 2, 2017 2 comments

This post is part 2 of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist.

A pure focus on the state distracts somewhat from the more general problem of hierarchy. Not all “authority” is bad, since I defer to the authority of the carpenter, the tailor, the bus driver and so on every day. That is ad-hoc authority: I follow them for now for my own benefit. Institutionalized authority is the problem. Anarcho-capitalists (ancaps) agree with this idea but limit their focus to the institutions of the state. But it is not only the state’s authority that is harmful.

Power corrupts. The state is not the only source of power. In a world where money buys influence, the lack of a state would only partially diminish that power. Money could still buy authoritative-looking media sources and spread any kind of lies, fear, hatred, etc.; it could be used to bribe any kind of leader (such as union leaders or town elders); it could be used to raise a private army, and once those things had taken place, the non-aggression principle (or NAP) would be no longer a norm but would return to, as it is today, little more than an ideal to aspire toward. The state would be reborn.

I disagree with other anarchists who look down on anarcho-capitalism because they think it would be even more tyrannical than today. If that were true, why would the rich not be at the forefront of calls to eliminate the state? They are the true beneficiaries of the state. They might be able to reconstitute the state if it were eliminated, but without it the accumulation of wealth and power would be more difficult. When I was an ancap, I wrote about how people in a stateless world could defend themselves against people trying to restore the state. I do not disagree with ancaps on everything. However, I no longer see anarcho-capitalism as the ideal. We could go much further toward freedom and justice if we dig deeper into anarchist theory.

Anarchists oppose institutional hierarchy. Hierarchy as we know it today is largely a product of state violence, what Marx called primitive accumulation, but does not exist solely in the state. It has transformed people from hunter-gatherers and self-sufficient farmers into dependent cogs in the wheels of the capitalist/corporatist/whatever-you-call-it system. The majority is, by the design of the system, locked out of making decisions regarding it. That is just as true in a corporate hierarchy as in the state.

capitalism Mr Peanut

People with money are far more likely to become owners and bosses than people without money. They can afford the best education and the best means to impress others (eg. nice suits, lavish parties). They can afford to start their own businesses and do not have to work for minimum wage. They can afford the accountants and lawyers necessary to navigate the complex regulatory state. The owners and bosses make decisions, including the decisions about whom to promote up the ranks. Hierarchy thus reproduces itself. When there are other hierarchies in society, such as in unions, powerful people can co-opt them by buying the influence of the leaders. Hierarchy thereby creates a class system, buoying the people on top not only through the state but through their informal influence, and keeping the people on the bottom down by locking them out of the decision-making process.

But why should workers not participate in decision making at the organizations where they work? It seems cruel to tell them they should buy stock in the company or start their own when these things are far easier said than done. It sounds a bit like “if you don’t like it here, move”. Moreover, ancaps often say those things in regard to the current economic system, not some ideal free market. It is almost as if they are mocking people for not having enough money to buy influence over decisions that affect their lives when the system they live under makes doing so impossible.

Business is full of high-profile scandals (along with countless others we never hear about) involving people in positions of power using those positions to harass or go to bed with those lower down the ladder. If you want to be part of our organization, or to get a raise, or whatever, you must “play ball”. You could call this activity abuse of power but any hierarchical system enables it.

All these reasons are why anarchists believe in non-hierarchical or horizontal organization–no superiors, no subordinates, everyone on an equal footing regarding decision making. In my view, that does not necessarily mean equal salary: I might choose to divide my time between two organizations and thus take only half the salary from each. It does, however, mean all employees can decide those things together, and do not have to beg or butter up their bosses for raises and time off or live in constant fear of getting fired for some mistake or failing.

To address the ancap concern, non-hierarchical organization does not require violence. It requires creating such structures as viable alternatives to the life of class, money and power. It could mean starting cooperatives, where employees are also owners; it could mean starting communes, where property is voluntarily given up; it could mean any other form of mutual aid, working with the people around you to solve your problems. The abolition of hierarchy is an ideal to be striven for, just like non-aggression.

Turning fear into empowerment motivates people and reduces stress. They take responsibility. They are accountable to each other. They do not need to compete for dominance. These things distinguish communities from corporations. Hierarchy, on the other hand, creates stress and fear, as people worry about getting told off or fired or merely docked an hour’s pay for coming in five minutes late. The people in charge have no responsibility to their employees beyond the necessarily unequal terms on which they were hired. (And in a stateless society, who is to force a boss to honor a contract? I have written on this subject too, and yet can no longer see how someone begging to be hired could ever bargain on equal terms with a rich person who can afford better representation.) As such, bosses can, say, fire employees en masse with no notice. Hierarchy creates positions of better pay and power over others that only a minority can fill, which others can only compete for like crabs in a bucket. (And if you do not think the ability to fire another for any reason you like is power over that person, we must agree to disagree. Being able to quit, at least in today’s world, does not compare, since the company can simply hire someone else.) People jockeying for power are forced to defer to the people on top, to kiss their boots, to show themselves willing to serve and dominate, to play a rigged game with a smile.

These hierarchies are not “voluntary”. Ancaps say we should own the product of our labor, but do not oppose bosses and hierarchies like anarchists do. They only mean we should not have to pay taxes. The wage labor system, like the state, are forced on us. All employers claim the product of our labor and give us back a small portion of it in the form of money. And we are not “free” just because we can choose a different employer (as the new employer will also control the product of our labor) or start our own businesses (because of how difficult it is to do so in a world of endless regulations and taxes).

Hierarchy, anarchy, solidarity, freedom

To illustrate the problem, consider racism. A racist seeks to impose a kind of hierarchy. A racial hierarchy is not very different from a social hierarchy. I know of no perfectly fluid class societies where it is a simple matter for poor people to get rich. At least one survey has found a majority of poor Americans never even make it to the middle class. A racial hierarchy makes it impossible for all within the subordinate race to reach the top (without a revolution), though the masters can elevate some members of the subordinate race by creating house negroes and field negroes, dividing the subordinate race and refining the hierarchy. A social hierarchy is only somewhat less bad in that it makes it impossible for most to reach the top. That should come as small consolation to the poor.

Hierarchy necessarily creates inequality. Though my next post will focus on inequality, for the time being I can point out inequality is not an ideal. Forced equality is not, either, of course (again, anarchists are not Stalinists), but most inequality is simply unnecessary and harmful and too readily tolerated by ancaps. If we somehow eliminated the state without eliminating the stark inequality of power in society, the dominance and submission we know today would not disappear. It would simply regroup and return in a different form.