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Anarchist vision

March 18, 2019 Leave a comment

Considering how many anarchists there are writing blogs and making Youtube videos, there is something of a lack of details about how any of us envision an anarchist society available for those curious about anarchism. I myself am guilty of giving out endless bitter critique but little to aspire to (though I have written a bit on the subject here). I have sometimes said I cannot paint an accurate picture of an anarchist society because, given how free it would be, forms of organization will likely be so various I could not explain it in the present. However, there are some things we could say about the free society. This post will sketch my vision of an ideal society based on anarchist principles.

Culture is made up of norms, which are beliefs and assumptions about the way things are and actions that derive from those beliefs. Norms govern a great deal of our behavior. They make it easy to think the way things are is the only, the best or even the “natural” way to be. Many or most people in the world believe it is normal for them to work long hours, pay taxes, rent and debt, and fear the very real violence of the police. Anarchists think this state of affairs should never be considered normal. If anarchist goals become more widespread (and of course one does not have to identify as anarchist to believe in any of the below), a free society can grow in the ruins of the authoritarian one we have today.

Autonomy

Freedom, liberty, autonomy, independence–whatever you want to call it, anarchists believe the people should be as free as possible be to pursue what they want. Most people are fairweather friends of freedom and do not realize the potential benefits of it. While not everyone agrees on what freedom means, surely it would at least mean making and taking responsibility for one’s own decisions, instead of letting others impose their will on us. Most laws that exist are destructive of freedom, so we would no longer value laws written by someone else. No one would stop you from doing things that did not hurt others, but you would still take responsibility for your actions.

Freedom to do the things we want could be impeded by others bullying, threatening, harassing or other oppressive behaviors; an anarchist society would actively stamp out such practices. Therefore, not only would slavery be a thing of the past, but so would harassment. Thanks to mutual aid and solidarity (see below), poverty would be gone as well, so people would have the time and energy to pursue those things they want for most of the time, rather than spend all day at work.

I think privacy would be an important part of freedom as well. People in cultures that value privacy will expect others not to spy and collect information on them the way states and corporations do today. That said, norms would emerge regarding when to intervene, say, when there is a dog in a hot car, or when neighbors suspect a man is keeping someone locked up in his basement.

Prison is another tool of oppression that will need to be torn down. A free society would not threaten people with imprisonment and all its concomitant violence except as a last resort. While forms of governance will vary (see below), it is likely free people would deal with the problem locally, focus on getting to the root of the problem, repayment and reconciliation. Violent punishment for non-conformity is not conducive to a free society.

As I will explain more below, an anarchist world would be one where people could associate with whom they want, move where they want and, unless it oppresses others, do what they want. They would be free from slavery, incarceration, stress, discrimination, poverty and violence, or at least, much freer in all those respects than they are today.

Equality

In the society I envision, it would be normal to treat everyone equally. We like to think we already do that but we do not. Class, money and status are measures of inequality, and our culture accepts them. People discriminate against others based on race and gender, as well, often due to the unconscious influence of culture, in spite of our conscious efforts. These norms of unequal treatment are not just “differences of opinion”. They lead to violence. For example, landlords can and do deny people a place to live because they are transgender, and bosses deny people employment due to their skin color. As a result, racial or gender minorities (and especially people who are both) are more likely to be unemployed, poor or living on the street. This kind of violence is known as structural violence: The landlord himself may not have raised a hand to you, but the police will if you do not comply. But none of this discrimination or violence is necessary, and does not exist in egalitarian societies. In a post-landlord world, no one would own land or homes. They would simply inhabit them, owning them in effect but not having any rights to the place if they move. I see no reason we could not have decent homes for everyone, enough food that people could have all they want, and access to whatever other goods they choose. (Indeed, they might well have much better goods, as capitalism is a highly inefficient form of production and innovation.)

It has been proposed (eg. here) that people have decision-making power to the extent they are affected by something. My decision to put a photo on the wall of my bedroom was presumably not one taken democratically but dictatorially. My decision to paint a mural on a building downtown might concern far more people and should therefore be taken democratically. Perhaps we could have an app with which to vote collectively (which already exists, eg. here). What if I wanted to put on a play in the park but someone else wanted to hold a wedding there at the same time? An organized society might create a website one could visit to see who might want to use the park for what activities at what times, thus avoiding the need to bring everyone who could possibly be affected together to make a minor decision.

Equality would not mean some kind of perfect equality achieved through constant violence, like some people seem to think it means. There is no need to hamper those with significant abilities, like in Harrison Bergeron; indeed, in a free world, they would have whatever they wanted to thrive. They would just not get to amplify their power over others, because there would be no means (ie. a state) for them to do so.

Along with eliminating poverty, equal access to necessities would greatly reduce stress among working people who spend most of their waking time struggling to survive. Reducing stress and eliminating the stark inequalities of today’s society would improve mental health and reduce all kinds of violence.

Mutual aid

So if everyone can have their own house, who is going to build them? In a word, anyone. Mutual aid just means taking care of each other. State welfare is not an example of mutual aid. In today’s pre-revolution world, mutual aid might mean a community banding together to make sure all its members have health insurance. It might mean sharing food. It might mean providing services for free to those in need. As a teacher by profession, I also think it should mean educating each other. And if I have anything to do with it, that will mean tearing down schools and designing education for each student. We want education, after all, not schooling.

I would also like to mention that without mutual aid, there is no revolution. A revolution (or at least the only kind I want to be a part of) is one that decentralizes power. In other words, instead of giving power to make major decisions to just a few people, the purpose of revolution is to distribute that power to everyone. Mutual aid is how we ensure power goes to everyone, that no one is left out because they are too poor to pay for heating or medical treatment, or because of their race, or because they do not conform to our expectations of gender. People ask me what would happen to all those the state takes care of now through welfare. I tell those people, if we aren’t taking care of those people, the revolution will have failed.

The Black Panthers provided breakfast for children in their communities.

Mutual aid would also mean mutual protection of each other. Safety is essential. An anarchist society would be one with much less fear. Vigilance is important, but fear of police, terrorists, military occupation, poverty and discrimination will be gone. People would organize as communities to make decisions and engage in mutual aid, but they would also doubtless organize across communities to protect against invasion by a state or whatever form the violence they face might take.

Voluntary association

Another principle many people believe in in the abstract but hardly ever in practice is freedom of association. We like to think everyone should be free to associate but at birth we are inducted into a number of involuntary associations, such as the nation state and a religion. But if the nation state or religious community does not help us as individuals, if it is not an association I would enter into voluntarily, then it has no authority over me and should not exist.

Freedom to associate would mean being a part of any group, organization, community, etc. that helps the individual achieve their goals, and leaving them when they have outlived their usefulness. It would mean being able to move anywhere in the world without the need for papers, passports, stamps, fees, background checks, patdowns and all the other security theater designed to keep us divided into a hierarchy of nation states.

So if no one rules us, how are decisions made? Quite simply, we make them. Instead of government, meaning rule by a few, we would have governance, which is just another word for making and implementing decisions for a society. Plenty of societies have governance that does not require imposing one’s will on others. Those decisions that need to be made in groups will likely be made in the smallest possible groups, such as in a neighborhood of houses or a block of flats, the workers at a factory, or perhaps a family. If people want to fix or build a road, there is no need for them to call other people and ask them for permission. They can do what is in their interest, as long as their perceived interest does not step on others’ toes. If it might step on another’s toes, that person is affected and should be consulted.

When a decision could affect more than a handful of people, or when there are major problems, people would turn not only to their immediate communities but to a wider confederation of communities. Imagine someone was trying to invade the country where you live, but the country has already eliminated a central military command. Communities would likely have little hesitation in committing resources to fend off the struggle. They might have an app that allows them to communicate and vote easily (such things already exist, after all), so they can support each other and the wider self-defense effort. Moreover, no one would need to wait for the approval of another before they actually start defending themselves from the invaders. People would be accustomed to helping each other and would have no belief in property, so they would also accept refugees.

Forms of governance will vary from town to town. Governance is easier and more transparent when there is a constitution, especially if everyone needed to agree to the constitution to ratify it or to be a part of the community in the first place. The constitution might say nothing more than how decisions are made and implemented, a few rules (eg. don’t hurt each other and take care of each other) and the process for dealing with people who break those rules. A community of 50 people might prefer to make all collective decisions by consensus. A community of 100 people might say majority rule is fine for most things but 2/3 votes need to be cast to amend the local constitution. Punishment is likely to defer to reconciliation wherever possible, but a community might also punish someone harshly for murder or kidnapping. Punishments could be a reprimand for something small or a first offense, ranging to being kicked out of the community and being put on an online register for something much worse. In a land that prefers not to punish, prisons would only be for people who clearly could not control themselves. In every case, instead of asking who did what, we would also look more carefully at why. Trials could be conducted by a random representation of the town’s adults, or all the town’s adults, or even just one judge voted in, with everyone else watching, keeping check on the judge to make sure they do not abuse their power.

While there would be no laws punishing victimless crimes, we would still be expected to take responsibility for our actions. Our local communities might be expected to punish us if we dumped trash in the local park or river. We might get our names put on a list everyone has access to if we were caught harassing someone. If I hit you in your town, the norm might be that your community punishes me for it. Norms would spread in a stateless world, so many forms of governance or rules or how to deal with people would likely be the same in nearby places.

I personally am in a historical limbo, with no legitimate “leaders” of any kind, and will therefore recognize no master. However, not everyone in the world would consider freedom, justice and equality to mean having no leaders at all. Many indigenous people around the world are governed by groups of elders or even just one person. Of course such arrangements could be abused but elders, in stark contrast to politicians, are very close to the people. White anarchists like me should do nothing to change them and merely support them in decolonizing so they can actually live their culture. (That is freedom, after all.) Likewise, many small towns around the world have just one policeman, who is much more a symbol of following the rules than someone who will shoot you in the name of the War on Drugs. Again, there is no real reason to change such an arrangement, except, again, to observe the person and make sure they do not abuse their power. It is likely that someone in a position of authority, such a policeman, the chair of a committee, head of a council, would in some communities be on a rotating basis, randomly selected or at least up for election.

I expect there are people still asking about the difference from the way things are today, but the difference is night and day. We currently live under a political system with a constitution that we did not consent to. New laws are passed all the time, bringing more power over more things under the power of those who control the states. But why would we need so many millions of laws? How is any of this in our interest? We can design structures of governance that actually empower us, rather than one that makes all the important decisions for us, and we make decisions for ourselves, rather than letting others make them on behalf of a few rich people. We would no longer live under the constant threat of violence for non-conformity to someone else’s laws.

Common ownership of the means of production

Like collective decision-making, reconciliation, leaving people alone and taking responsibility for one’s actions, cooperation would be a major part of a revolution. Cooperation is one of humanity’s greatest strengths and will be absolutely necessary both to succeed in the initial parts of the revolution (eg. tearing down the state) and to remain free in the later parts (after the state is gone). It will thereby be a cornerstone of the free society. We will not be atomized and alone. We will have thriving communities where children learn from all the people around them. We will decide together how to use our resources. We will protect our environments from destruction. And we will own the means of production together.

One part of an anarchist revolution would need to include seizing the means of production. When they get class consciousness, those working in factories, offices and other soul-sucking places will kick out the bosses, managers and owners and run them for themselves. In other words, at some point, workers will need to use force to become managers. Anarchism is about freedom, and owning your own workplace gives that freedom. Anarchism is about equality, so instead of the hierarchy pyramid of the corporation, workers will now have equal say in how the business is run and (until money is phased out) how the profits are distributed.

Many jobs and entire businesses are unnecessary and wasteful. If they are not oriented to pro-social goals, they can be eliminated. Some people work in tax compliance, but when there are no taxes, the job will be redundant. Advertisers will not be necessary anymore, either. But they have nothing to fear if mutual aid has become the norm, because they will be just as well taken care of as anyone else, and they can do other things. Many businesses can be merged. Look at how inefficient it is to work separately in several different organizations to develop a new drug. In the absence of competition, all those scientists could be combining their research and working far more efficiently. Workers would not under pressure to perform all the time, under the baleful eye of cameras and time cards and bosses, thus considerably reducing their stress.

There are many other tendencies within anarchism that would also be part of the revolution, such as care for the environment (see Murray Bookchin on social ecology). Critical thinking is not actually a principle of anarchism but I think it is absolutely necessary to it. For one, without thinking critically about the ways things are, most people will not become anarchists or join the revolution. For another, even during the revolution there would still be some people tempted to recreate states, monopolize resources, enslave others, etc., and people will need to recognize the signs and work together to prevent anyone from retaking power. Practicing critical thinking is a kind of individual safeguard against someone else’s influence, and it can be taught.

All of this vision is achievable and has been realized in one form or another throughout history, so we know it is possible. Building a new world is a very difficult task but I think it is worth it.

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.

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.

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.

Changing the culture by changing the focus

April 14, 2015 4 comments

I have been the head admin of the Facebook page Shit Troop Supporters Say since its founding a year ago today. I have a lot to reflect on. It has been an interesting year.

Occasionally I think it is mean picking on troop supporters. Calling out the average flag-waving support-muh-troops guy for not using logic or knowing history is like making fun of a five-year-old for not understanding quantum physics. (And of course some troop supporters do know those things, so it is best not to stereotype.) But then I remember five-year-olds aren’t the ones beating the drums of war, encouraging murder without trial and torture without evidence. They don’t support the police no matter what they do and then claim to believe in freedom. They don’t tell people they don’t deserve to live somewhere because those people were from the wrong part of the world and didn’t pay the fees, and then tell themselves they believe in freedom for all people. Neither do 5-year-olds refuse to learn the history of the regions and conflicts they are so sure someone needs to bomb. People who have taught millions of 5-year-olds to share and play nicely with each other are willing to lend their unconditional support for actions that cost them thousands of dollars and kill thousands of people who posed no harm to anyone.

Calling out the politicians, meanwhile, which is what troop supporters and liberals (not necessarily mutually exclusive categories, of course) tend to suggest, is a good catharsis but not much of a plan for change. I think focusing on politicians might merely reinforce the status quo. Voters often say they don’t trust any politicians, but when election day comes they nonetheless feel it necessary to cast their vote for someone they don’t trust. There are good reasons you can’t trust politicians and they are mostly related to the requirements for winning in politics.

People who say we just need to change politicians but not blame soldiers for signing up seem to have this fantasy of politicians who will not send the troops into harm’s way on principle. But politicians do not have principles. They have tools and they have enemies. Signing up to carry out their orders requires you to understand that.
One group that does not seem to receive enough focus might be those the politicians work for. It’s not you, by the way. They are much richer than you. The people at the top of the business world are the ones really benefiting. So why do people always talk about politicians? Because voting and complaining about politicians is a brilliant way to let the masses let off steam and keep their eyes on the wrong people, like yelling at a poster on your wall.

So Shit Troop Supporters Say looks at how the elite benefit, but we also look at what troop supporters say. Why? Because as a huge and assertive part of the population, troop supporters are the people unquestioningly believing, reproducing and thus legitimizing or making true the beliefs that keep the wars going. That means a big part of the culture is based on a nationalist-warrior mythos that leads to all kinds of unnecessary violence.

But some people are listening and thinking. And some people already know and trust you. To those people who are actually listening you can show the long history of nationalist myths and racism in the US (or wherever you are from) and their legacies. You can show them the history of propaganda in the US, starting from World War One. You can show them how many statements made to sell wars have been misleading or outright lies, or how little truth the newspapers told about what was going on. You can show them how large groups of people can protect themselves by mutual aid rather than hoping hierarchical militaries will do it. If you can discredit the troop-supporter and war-supporter message by reaching those who might listen, especially people you know, you can change the culture.

But we can’t get there with the wrong approach. You don’t impress people by being arrogant, you don’t pull people in by being pushy and you make others turn their ears off when you insult someone. And most people are either not listening or not easily convinced. The latter need to hear the message clearly and repeatedly and the former are not worth your time. The only reason I would argue with the people you can’t reach is because others are listening, and then would only stick to the facts. I fear we lose many opportunities to communicate by simply using the wrong tone.

At any rate, I consider exposing the ignorance of support for war an important endeavour, one that requires research and patience and a little humour. I hope you will continue to support me!

How to kill a million people

November 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. – Lord Acton

Power kills. Absolute power kills absolutely. – RJ Rummel

Do you want to know what a sociopath looks like? Think of George W. Bush. Think of all the people he knew were killed due to his policies. Do you think he cared? Did you see him joking about finding weapons of mass destruction in front of the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2004? Do you think he had pangs of guilt later that night? I don’t think so. Sociopaths are people with no conscience. Many of those who have lost their consciences kill them over time by committing, ordering, approving or otherwise knowingly facilitate murder.

bush rumsfeld cheney Obama_laughing

Psychopathy and sociopathy (in particular the so-called dark triad of narcissism, Machivellianism and sociopathy) broadly refer to the condition of having little or no conscience, no guilt, no feeling of responsibility, no ability to feel sympathy for others. Sociopaths lie, cheat, manipulate, intimidate, use violence for their own benefit and do not feel as though they have done something wrong. Some of them occupy positions of power in big business, politics, the bureaucracy and security agencies. Do you think that matters?

Are people born without consciences? Some might be, but environmental factors play a major role. Do you think we could reduce or eliminate some of the incentives to put aside one’s conscience? How might we do that?

Well, how did George take on the characteristics of a sociopath? Was he born that way? Possibly. Did his parents and his upbringing contribute? Probably somehow. But people in power usually kill their consciences over long periods. Few people are dropped into positions of considerable power. They climb to them over time. When Little George was still at university, he connected with other powerful people. He spent years in top positions in oil businesses. Did these roles teach him to control his conscience? When running for Governor of Texas he said he approved lowering the age of the death penalty to 14. If he was a full-blown sociopath by then (which he may have been), he could have signed the death warrants of a million 14-year-olds with no pangs of conscience. But even if he wasn’t yet, he had already begun to chip away at his conscience. He could simply tell himself killing teenagers was for the best for Texas, for “society” or for God and remain emotionally detached from any violence.

One reason soldiers commit suicide is because they can’t live with the guilt of killing people. George W. didn’t see a drop of anyone’s blood. He did the killing with strokes of the pen. His job was to shake hands and give speeches, not think. His PR people cultivated a highly likable image that made sense to enough voters. What are politicians but actors? He knew he would be rewarded for doing what other powerful people wanted him to do. If he ever felt ill at ease, he could always tell himself it’s all right, this is for the good either of others or of myself. But any excuse would do.

The more things they do they might otherwise have felt guilty about, the more cuts people make to their consciences. Soon, they simply don’t care about anyone but themselves. Now, consider how many millions of people around the world have power over us, from bureaucrats who can deny us permits and visas, to taxmen seizing what we worked for, to soldiers occupying our countries, to politicians who make it all official. This is the state, people. This is why your world has been so messed up for so long. They weren’t all born to be bad. This system sucked out their consciences like a leech. Its agents go through a process of learning to control any feelings of guilt by finding reasons to justify their decisions.

Actually, all of us justify hurtful actions sometimes. If we tell ourselves we did the right thing, we are more likely to do it again and with less guilt. But not all of us benefit from doing things that make us feel guilty or repressing that guilt. I can lie, but I might lose the trust of those I rely on. I might steal, but I might face all kinds of social penalties if I do, including jail. Having power means not needing to take responsibility. Indeed, unless there is a sufficiently large scandal and perhaps scapegoating (in a democracy) or rebellion, those in power are rewarded with more money and power. The most powerful in today’s world wield their power through the state.

The state is an instrument of concentrated force. The small minority who control the state can use it to build consensus for their plans or simply impose them without asking, but ultimately the choice is theirs. As long as the state and its precursors (pharaohs, kings, popes, and so on) have existed they have been a means of theft, whether by overt plunder, such as ransacking a town or enslaving people, defensive violence such as protecting large estates acquired by overt plunder, or covert plunder, such as taxation or economic policies. Working with the state, including trying to change it from within, inevitably means following the orders of those at the top of the pyramid to plunder the people.

Power feeds all the elements of the dark triad. The admiration and awe that come with power feed narcissism. As expert manipulators and ruthless competitors, Machiavellians benefit most from a competitive system. And sociopaths make decisions on impulse and take no responsibility for any harm they cause. The state’s monopoly on force shields all these people from consequences.

Any of us could walk the path to these disorders. We are not immune to knowingly hurting others for our own benefit, or in the name of some idea whose implications we do not understand but which we invoke to ourselves for the sake of assuaging our consciences. People have trouble resisting taking power over others when it is offered to them, or when they condition themselves to believe it is right. Concentrating and institutionalising power incentivises sociopathic behaviour. If we considered everyone equal and thus not deserving of power over others we could achieve a free society with far less violence and suffering.

The problem with inequality

October 18, 2014 1 comment

The state is a tool to create a ruling class of people who acquire their wealth through theft. Inequality means those who have can buy protection from those who do not, and that tends to lead to repression in the form of police states or slavery. The state cannot, by its nature, eliminate inequality. But what if we abolished the state, as anarchists want? Would inequality still matter? I used to believe inequality was not a big deal, or it only mattered to jealous people. I was wrong. Here are three reasons why, especially today but even in a stateless society, inequality is an issue of major importance.

-Psychological effects

Studies suggest we have an innate desire for equality and fairness. The UK Mental Health Foundation finds that living in an unequal society causes psychological and physiological changes. Inequality can lead to a constant “fight or flight” reaction and perpetual stress. It can lead to violence directly through increased crime (including homicide), and can also create the conditions in which violence festers: less trust, disintegrating families and communities, poor scholastic and work performance and mental illness. The US and the UK, the most unequal societies in the rich world, show the strongest symptoms.

So much for those of us on the bottom of the pyramid. What about those on top? People with relatively large amounts of power and wealth are known to take on the characteristics of psychopaths. Compassion, empathy and sense of guilt decrease (“why don’t the poor just work harder?”); narcissism and entitlement increase (“of course I deserve to be where I am”); rules become for other people (“survival of the fittest”); lying and manipulating become easier; irresponsibility becomes the norm; and the desire to accumulate overrides other goals. (Find more here, here, here, here and here.)

-Structural violence

Structural violence is a kind of indirect violence whereby social structure and institutions prevent people from meeting their basic needs. Intellectual property laws that prevent people who need medicine from receiving it are one example. Borders preventing needy people from entering places where they could make a living are a second. Hoarding food or means of sustenance and surrounding it with fences or security guards is a third. Excessive debt, certain forms of discrimination, structural unemployment, poor working conditions and even just beliefs in the rightness of social hierarchy are further examples. Hellen Keller became a radical socialist soon after she realised blindness and other handicaps were mostly concentrated among the lower classes. A considerably inequitable social structure could lead to structural violence.

-Statism

The modern state is both a cause and an effect of the endless accumulation of wealth. Historically, it has not been possible to create and maintain vast fortunes without violence. Primitive states were forged in conquest to accrue and protect fortunes at the expense of their subjects, and modern states continue to exist for this purpose. (The actions of the so-called Islamic State mirror the actions of a primitive state.) Capitalist states emerged to protect and privilege those who made their fortunes as owners of capital, and while not all of “the 1%” want to use violence to make or expand their wealth, all benefit from and most refuse to question the violence of the system. A hierarchical or unequal society would make it possible for new states (or other forms of violence, such as human trafficking) to form. A stateless society should have safeguards against such a possibility.

-Protecting ourselves from the unequal society

The people of an anarchist society must protect themselves against the mental stresses and violence of unwarranted privilege and the potential reemergence of a state. My suggestion is a very widespread feeling of solidarity: the idea that we are all of equal inherent value and have no right to rule others; taking care of those in need; organisation based on mutual aid, including, of course, self defense. Sufficiently large numbers of people skilled at wielding modern weapons would make it easier to prevent the rise of a new state. We will be truly free when those around us are free, and we will only achieve freedom by working together.

The Black Panthers offer a model of an egalitarian community organisation. Imagine a confederation of them.

The Black Panthers offer a model of an egalitarian community organisation. Imagine a confederation of them.

It is not necessary—in fact, it is contrary—to enforce a state of equality. Benjamin Tucker wrote that the word “socialism” scares people because so many others think one can dismantle privilege by destroying competition and centering production in the hands of the few. But as he went on to point out, as Mikhail Bakunin had years before, anarchism is socialism without the state. If we organise to make decisions together and take care of each other, we have no need for authority. It is not necessary to kill rich people but simply to eliminate the system of violence that privileges them. Laurance Labadie once said “[i]n a world where inequality of ability is inevitable, anarchists do not sanction any attempt to produce equality by artificial or authoritarian means. The only equality they posit and will strive their utmost to defend is the equality of opportunity. This necessitates the maximum amount of freedom for each individual. This will not necessarily result in equality of incomes or of wealth but will result in returns proportionate to services rendered. Free competition will see to that.” Market anarchists might take this to mean freed markets and free association. Gary Chartier explains here and in Markets Not Capitalism, freed markets can work to abolish wage labour and corporate hierarchy as the main form of economic organisation, as well as the formation of a dominant class. (You may want to follow the links provided to read his proposals as to how to work toward such conditions.) He goes on to point out that those who protest in the millions against capitalism are not opposing private ownership and free exchange but a system that exists to grant the owners of capital a huge amount of power over society.

The future will be determined by what we value and why we value it. If we value equality as a means to freedom, we can have both.