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Is slavery still relevant in the US?

October 10, 2018 Leave a comment

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

The origins of racism

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

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

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

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

White skin, black self-hate

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

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

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

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

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

From wars for slaves to wars for empire

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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.

The mainstream discourse on terrorism is still a shambles

June 4, 2017 Leave a comment

I once believed we had gone beyond “they hate us for our freedoms” and similarly fatuous rhetoric. I thought as 9/11 slipped further into the past fewer people would use it to excuse every act of state violence. When I started following the troop-supporter, Muslim-hater Facebook pages, however, I realized this ignorant nonsense still goes on every day.

Every day, thousands of people talk about terrorism with no reference to its actual causes, and about Muslims as if they were a cohesive terrorist organization. This kind of talk is to be expected at the fringes of popular discourse; unfortunately, it is increasingly becoming the mainstream position, and those who shout loudly and angrily about subjects they do not understand have marginalized the people who know something about terrorism and Muslims. I clearly had not considered how useful the phantom of Muslim violence was to the ruling classes, or how lucrative the Islamophobia Industry would be.

First, if we are going to talk about terrorist attacks committed by Muslims, we should be talking about imperialism. The further back into the history of European imperialism we go, the more we can understand about what is going on today. But if you do not want to read dozens of history books, just look at what the current imperial powers are doing now. The US and UK have been bombing Iraq continually since 1991. They have occupied Afghanistan continuously since 2001, despite what the media have told us. They have been arming Saudi Arabia since its founding, and those weapons (such as UK-made cluster bombs) have been causing horrible harm to the people of Yemen. The US, UK, France and Turkey have all been bombing Syria since the civil war started there. There was a terrorist attack in London just yesterday. Could the hundreds of civilians the US and UK have killed in Syria and Iraq recently have anything to do with it? Did you even hear about them? And people have had the nerve to respond to the attack with “when will we start fighting back?”

However, the words “imperialism”, “hegemony”, “foreign occupation”, “state aggression” and “state terrorism” are largely absent from mainstream media (unless they describe Iran or North Korea) and thus popular discourse. Instead, we hear about heroic soldiers keeping us safe (us) and evil terrorists who hate us (them); deliberate attacks on innocent civilians (them) and collateral damage (us). Most commenters in the West know nothing of what their rulers are doing in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq or Syria, and have no interest. As such, their opinions on war and terrorism are worthless. Nevertheless, they are very influential.

Many people commenting from the safety of their homes in rich countries have no curiosity about the causes of terrorism. They speak of it in isolation, as if it had no causes. Others put all the blame on Islam, as if such a variegated religion somehow inevitably produced terrorists, and neither imperialism nor ideology played any role. Take this meme.

I have seen this meme posted several times on the support-the-troops Facebook pages. In other words, people who are just fine with whatever American and British troops are doing overseas, who are suspicious of or hate all Muslims, who have no idea what caused the attack on the World Trade Center, want to keep alive the anger that fuels the many wars in the Middle East. This anger leads not only to indifference when civilians get terrorized by the US and its allies but gloating. Countless people talk about how many Muslims support terrorism, yet they never bring up the astounding number of Westerners who laugh at dead civilians, cheer on indiscriminate bombing of their homes and infrastructure and then, out of sheer cowardice, refuse to let the victims take refuge in their countries. They talk about the “radicalization” of young Muslims but never use the word to describe the millions of Americans who now love killing and torture and see freedom and justice as luxuries.

Liberals are not making things better. They say things like “Christians commit acts of terrorism too”, instead of looking at causes of questioning the War on Terror as a whole. They bring up the Crusades and the Inquisition, which is easily countered by the argument that those things ended long ago. The War on Terror is itself a crusade. Why not point out the millions who have died and will continue to die until it ends? Why not point to the nationalist and religious rhetoric that is driving state violence against innocent people all around the world?

In the US, far-right (eg. neo-Nazi) groups are much more numerous and dangerous than Muslim terrorists. However, the mainstream media do not report these facts, and loud, anti-Muslim, conservative, internet media write them off as insignificant, misleading or lies. Instead, they focus on violence committed by Muslims. Moreover, far-right groups tend to attack Jews, Muslims and assorted brown people, so comfortable white communities have little to fear from them.

Liberals also tend to support the state’s humanitarian justifications for war. They join conservatives in their excoriation of “Muslim countries” for their repression of women and homosexuals. They are carrying on the centuries-old tradition of waging war in the name of white men saving brown women from brown men. They make ignorant, blanket statements about Muslims and Islam, sometimes referring to “Muslim culture” (as if Muslims didn’t belong to countless diverse cultures) or a monolithic “sharia law” (because they know nothing about interpretation) and repeat the lies about Muslims they read in the internet media (“Muslim no-go zones” is an example that keeps raising its ugly head). And despite all their supposed concern for oppressed Muslim women and homosexuals overseas, they know and say nothing about the bigotry, rape, assault and murder by police and non-state actors that occurs in their own countries every single day. If you need an example of privilege, look at one man’s claims to be worried about people on the other side of the planet and his indifference to those in his own community.

The entire concept of “terrorism” needs reexamining. The word is used to shut down debate about causes, make us think killing civilians is the exclusive province of non-state actors and legitimize any action the states deems necessary to fight it. In fact, many times more people die in war, that glorious occupation states engage in for our freedom, than in acts of non-state terrorism. And since virtually every Muslim who has committed such an attack has cited imperialist war as a motivating factor, you might think fewer people would say “they hate us because we’re not Muslims”.

The exception to the rule about state aggression as a cause of terrorism is attacks by ISIS. On the one hand, they could never have started without the wars in the Middle East and the CIA gun running intended to prolong the war in Syria. On the other hand, their violence seems to have little to do with fighting imperialism (though imperialism is unquestionably a useful recruitment tool for them). But here again the media mislead us with the word “terrorism”. ISIS is referred to in the news as a “terror group”, or something similar. A more accurate description would be a state. ISIS is attempting to gain power in various places by terrorizing people. That is how all states are established. (See, for instance, Bruce Porter’s War and the Rise of the State or Franz Oppenheimer’s The State.) They tax and impose laws on their subjects. That is the state’s means and end. The only difference between ISIS and other states is they are not recognized as a state by other states, and are thereby not a legal state. That simple fact does not change their actions.

Most people do not understand terrorism and do not care to understand. They have much to learn before jumping into every conversation on the subject and spraying their opinions all over it.

Violence

April 28, 2017 2 comments

Several years ago, I wrote about the virtues of the Non-Aggression Principle, or NAP.  I mistakenly wrote that anarchists (ie. most anarchists) believe in it. However, the more anarchist and revolutionary material I have read, the more I see the NAP as unnecessarily limiting.

Non-aggression means you should never initiate force against other people, and that force should only be used defensively. Inextricably linked is the right of property, which I discussed recently.

The NAP is a fine rule for interpersonal relationships and would be a reasonable way of organizing a small community. But when we live in a world where rich people pull the levers of the state and make decisions to evict people from their homes, steal their livelihoods, pass unfavorable laws and use the police to hold us down, fighting back should be considered self defense.

Similarly, white supremacists and fascists necessarily believe intimidation of and violence against vulnerable minority groups is legitimate. But many people who follow the NAP as an ironclad principle seem to believe only those who actually wield the weapons are legitimate targets. Many ancaps will tell you reasoned discussion with or about these people is the best or only way to defeat them, or otherwise tax evasion or secession. While all these options are ideal, they do not solve the pressing need to protect people from predators.

If someone is on the corner preaching hate, that person could gain a following, which could turn into a gang, attacking people it deems worthy of attack, or a political party, which could become a ruling party. Dangerous people will hide behind “freedom of speech” until they gain power, by which time it is too late to stop them. To be nipped in the bud, you could try reasoning with the person or satire, but if these things do not work, intimidation and the threat and application of discriminate violence should not be taken off the table. Why not make these people afraid to leave their houses?

This last question is particularly timely. Far-right, fascist, neo-Nazi movements are on the rise in North America and Europe. They are organized, motivated and gaining in popularity. They are using violence to take control of the streets. Ancaps make ignorant claims that anti-fascist (antifa) organizing and violence make antifa just as bad as the people they oppose. They actually take the side of the fascists and say antifa call everyone they disagree with fascists to legitimize violence against them. While of course that might happen on occasion, ancaps should know better than to believe everything they hear in the media as representative of all anti-fascists. Ancaps have no strategy for dealing with such people except to sit back, let them take power and then criticize them when they do.

Many ancaps falsely accuse anti-fascists of calling everyone else bigots and fascists in order to legitimize using violence against them. This claim is largely baseless. While there are undoubtedly some that do so, there is no reason to believe it is a normal practice among anti-fascists. Moreover, this wide generalization should be above any ancap who claims to oppose “collectivism”.

In August 2017 ancaps criticized antifa again for attacking fascists for marching and making speeches while some of the same people were attacking innocent people in the same town. They claimed it is fine to prevent people from committing violence but their preaching of hate and violence is all right until they act on it. That is not how it works. The incitement and the violence are very closely linked. You cannot have one without the other. As such, you do not get to select which counter-violence you like to condemn. It was all necessary to stop the threat. Letting them organize would have multiplied the violence. Learn to see the real threat. Stop holding the “freedom of speech” of fascists and bigots in such high esteem. Stop criticizing the people who are doing something about this serious problem.

The above situation about hate preaching could be likened to that of US soldiers during the Vietnam War who fragged (killed) their superior officers. One could argue the officers were merely advocating violence, not actually committing it themselves. But the killings were an act of resistance to an aggressive and tyrannical war machine, and probably played some role in ending the US’s prosecution of the war. How could it not be justifiable?

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Did these people end the war, or did the Vietnamese and US troops who raised the cost of war too high to continue it?

I would take the utility of violent resistance one step further. If a group of owners and bosses is reducing salaries, cutting pensions, firing employees and attacking strikers for no other reason than to protect their pocketbooks, it is all very well to say “go and start your own business then” or “you should have saved your money”, but that does nothing for the newly impoverished. Can you explain why taking away someone’s source of income is not violence (even though security guards and police are there to protect legal owners) but smashing the windows of the decision makers is?

What if a board decides to poison a river people or animals rely on for their health? Is that not violence? And what if it is not clear who the precise decision makers were because the board does not make its meeting minutes public? Surely, attacking members of the board would be an act of self defense, whether to prevent them from doing it again or to prevent others from doing the same. If you do not agree with using overt violence against them, why not at least fight back some other way, say, by taking down their websites, hacking their emails and hacking their bank accounts?

A purist adherence to non-aggression would prevent someone made unemployed and homeless by the force of the political-economic system from, say, breaking into a supermarket and stealing food. Even though ancaps are well aware the system robs some people of everything they have, they have no solutions for those people besides charity. What if the sum of everything given to charity is insufficient to feed and clothe and house all the people in the streets? Ancaps would tell those people to wait for the generosity of others, because stealing food from a business is a violation of the NAP. Thus, to reiterate, while the NAP can work for small groups, it is not ideal under this system of plunder.

I understand the hypothesis violence against even worthy targets leads to the expansion of the police state. But the police state will take any excuse it can to expand, and in the absence of a reasonable excuse it will fabricate one. If we stand by and watch rather than fighting back, we have already lost. Many people, particularly ethnic, religious and gender minorities, are already subject to the kind of abuse you fear will be brought down on all of us. If we are trying to reduce the amount of violence and repression, we will need to fight back against oppressors. We can start by recongizing and supporting the struggle of marginalized and brutalized people and stop criticizing their methods. That is what is meant by solidarity.

In a world where the people in power do not respect the NAP but those who do refuse to invoke it to fight back, it amounts to pacifism, and pacifism is a luxury. Ward Churchill, in Pacifism as Pathology, writes

If you feel a relative absence of pain, that is testimony only to your position of privilege within the Statist structure. Those who are on the receiving end, whether they are in Iraq, they are in Palestine, they are in Haiti, they are in American Indian reserves inside the United States, whether they are in the migrant stream or the inner city, those who are ‘othered’ and of color in particular but poor people more generally, know the difference between the painlessness of acquiescence on the one hand and the painfulness of maintaining the existing order on the other.

And at what point is it legitimate to start fighting back? Only when we are certain they are killing innocent people? Secrecy makes such knowledge impossible. Look at the Holocaust. Most people did not know it was taking place until it was over. Derrick Jensen, also in Pacifism as Pathology, puts it thus:

One of the smartest things the nazis did was make it so that at every step of the way it was in the Jews’ rational best interest to not resist. Many Jews had the hope–and this hope was cultivated by the nazis–that if they played along, followed the rules laid down by those in power, that their lives would get no worse, that they would not be murdered. Would you rather get an ID card, or would you rather resist and possibly get killed? Would you rather go to a ghetto (reserve, reservation, whatever) or would you rather resist and possibly get killed? Would you rather get on a cattle car, or would you rather resist and possibly get killed? Would you rather get in the showers, or would you rather resist and possibly get killed? But I’ll tell you something important: the Jews who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, including those who went on what they thought were suicide missions, had a higher rate of survival than those who went along. Never forget that.

They tell us that if you use violence against exploiters, you become like they are. This cliche is, once again, absurd, with no relation to the real world. It is based on the flawed notion that all violence is the same. It is obscene to suggest that a woman who kills a man attempting to rape her becomes like a rapist. It is obscene to suggest that by fighting back Tecumseh became like those who were stealing his people’s land. It is obscene to suggest that the Jews at who fought back against their exterminators at Auschwitz/Birkenau, Treblinka, and Sobibor became like the Nazis. It is obscene to suggest that a tiger who kills a human at a zoo becomes like one of her captors.

All of this closed-mindedness–this intolerance for any tactics save their own (one pacifist in his review of Endgame wrote “Give me Gandhi or give me death!”)–is harmful in many ways. First, it decreases the possibility of effective synergy between various forms of resistance. Second, it creates the illusion that we really are accomplishing something while the world continues to be destroyed. Third, it wastes valuable time that we do not have. Fourth, it positively helps those in power.

We already know the state and its patrons are killing people. The time to resist is now, before they can grow too large to challenge.

Peter Gelderloos in How Non-Violence Protects the State (which I strongly recommend) also puts forward the idea of effective synergy among forms of resistance, a diversity of tactics, as he calls it. No thoughtful revolutionary thinks in terms of purely violent resistance, as it is likely to lead to dictatorship or chaos. But if violence is used strategically and combined with educating the public (including through satire), counter-economics, boycotting corporations and taxes, strikes, the takeover of the means of production, building decision-making and mutual-aid structures, community and personal autonomy and secession, there is the chance of meaningful change and even revolution.

Portrait of a hipster man mediating on white background

The US is complicit in arming ISIS

May 20, 2015 3 comments

I have never held original documents written by officials in the Reagan administration or the intelligence apparatus that indicated the CIA armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan, yet we can be pretty sure they did. We have enough accounts from presumably credible sources (such as Zbigniew Brzezinski) the US was the major party involved. Evidence the US has deliberately supported ISIS has come to light in the form of classified documents leaked to Judicial Watch. In fact, we already had several reasons to believe the US had been supporting ISIS.

We can speculate on how the US might benefit from creating an enemy like ISIS. It is clear from the way ISIS sprang into the news in mid-2014 the people in power wanted you to begin to see the new face of the enemy. Why would they need such an enemy?

Contrary to the claims of both those who love and those who hate Barack Obama, the Iraqi parliament booted the bulk of US forces out of Iraq, setting the deadline for their withdrawal for January 1, 2012. The Iraqi security forces were apparently strong enough to fight (or make deals with) militias, but would of course need foreign assistance in dealing with a large group of battle-hardened zealots. My guess is by the time we were seeing ISIS all day on the news the White House had already decided to bomb ISIS in Syria and Iraq and send whatever troops they will send when things escalate further.

In mid-2013 you might recall Barack’s failed attempt to raise enthusiasm for intervention in Syria. Not only was public opinion lukewarm on the idea, Vladimir Putin actually wrote a very diplomatically worded letter in the New York Times to Americans (but really to Barack). The underlying message was clear: Don’t mess with Bashar alAssad or you’ll be sorry. So that idea fell apart. We forgot all about it. ISIS came along. Assad’s crew, as well as many of the groups fighting them, have done things that would disgust us as much as anything we have heard ISIS has done. But we have not heard about them in the news to the extent ISIS has been shoved down our throats. And remember, to a number of Americans and others, ISIS represents Islam, and Islam (or at least “radical Islam”) is the enemy.

The US made some noise of its support for the Free Syrian Army. This was in effect how they recognized a single opposition group as the legitimate rulers of Syria. A number of people are on record as saying many of the weapons and so on given to the FSA ended up going to ISIS. They have presumably been receiving weapons in Syria from the US for three years or more. In discussing Syrian rebels, John McCain has said “the whole National Security Team recommended arming ISIS” and “I know these people intimately.” Asia Times reported Pakistani defense sources as saying Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of what evolved into ISIS, received arms from the US via Pakistan as far back as 2004. The Express Tribune quoted an alleged commander of ISIS as having said the same. (Find more here.) Syrian rebels have also described training by American trainers in Qatar, and Der Spiegel reported Americans trained them in Jordan.

Judicial Watch obtained documents demonstrating the US government knew not only US-supplied weapons were being routed to Syrian rebels through Benghazi, but also the rebels were dominated by the radical types Americans are told their government is fighting–al Qaeda, Jabhat alNusra, the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS. The White House knew and made no attempt to stop it. It is likely they wanted to use Syrian rebels as proxies to fight Assad.

It might well have been nothing more than an accident any given shipment of weapons slipped into the hands of ISIS, just as the last two times we heard weapons were dropped ostensibly first for Kurds in Kobane (not an enemy yet but there is no way they will accept US hegemony) and the other day to Iraqis defending the oil refinery in Baiji that ended up in the hands of ISIS might have been accidents. But it is not necessary to give the benefit of the doubt to an institution that has a long record of arming rival groups in wars and playing sides off one another. The results show a more consistent pattern than simple incompetence would imply.

Assad, Syrian rebels, Iraqi militias, even Iran have all failed to provide the Real Enemy, the “evil” that it took to legitimize reentering the region in a large capacity. ISIS has people screaming for blood.

Moreover, we have also learned from reliable sources that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar (see here, here or here, for example) and possibly Israel have indeed supplied jihadists in Syria affiliated with ISIS with what they needed to become a state—weapons, funding, training, recruits. It is implausible US intelligence services and thus the White House did not know about it, especially considering the New York Times reported as much and Reuters reported on the jihadist elements in the FSA in 2012. They either joined in aiding their most important allies, gave them the green light or were powerless to stop them. Strictly speaking, this is not evidence the US is complicit in making ISIS what it is, but again, given what we know from history, it is hard to believe otherwise.

Surely, if Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States wanted to destroy ISIS, they would be attacking it. Instead, Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen. Saudi hegemony over the Middle East is at stake. If the House of Saud is not worried about ISIS next door but feels threatened that Houthis would take over in Yemen, we can infer a lot about their priorities. ISIS is their ally. The US is their ally. They are in league.

Finally, if, in spite of all clues to the contrary, all that has happened has been unintentional, it is obvious all this meddling has not been worth it to you or me. And since it is not ending, we still have no idea what further blowback will come from it all. All these factors contribute to what I infer from the evidence (the results of the empire’s actions) is a larger goal of keeping the region unstable. Instability in the Middle East means higher oil prices, more weapons sales, more pretext for repressive policies, more terrorism (thus completing the circle) and more legitimacy for existing regimes as people get scared.

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!

“Political correctness is killing this country”

March 19, 2015 2 comments

(For Shit Troop Supporters Say)

It’s hard to believe how easy it is for troop supporters to tell themselves they are not being bigots right after saying something about how all Muslims are bad by saying something about “liberals” and “political correctness”. They just brush it aside. Islam isn’t a race, therefore I can make whatever hate-filled statement I want about all Muslims and not be racist. I’m not racist just because I said something hateful about a large, diverse group of people that I don’t understand, right? Nah.

People will say ANYTHING about a religious, ethnic or any other group about which they know nothing—Arabs and Muslims (same thing, right?) today, Asians a couple of generations ago and Catholics—boy, those guys were dangerous. When Irish and Germans began moving to the US in the early 1800s, Americans of previous generations heard about Catholic plots to take over the country and indoctrinate everyone in fanaticism. Blood was spilled in the name of this irrational fear, which lasted more than a century.

islamophobia racism nationalism war on terror

Today, troop supporters and others say things like “they are trying to kill us” or “they hate us for our way of life” or “they are trying to impose their laws on us”, “they” meaning everyone and everything in this amorphous group they call Islam. All they need is an anecdote here or there about how a Muslim did a bad thing somewhere in the world—or, for that matter, an anecdote about how someone did something bad to a Muslim—and the flame of hatred burns a little brighter. “Don’t you remember 9/11?” they say, as if all Muslims were guilty of the crime. “Why don’t Muslims speak out against terrorism?” They do every day. You just don’t listen.

They consider thinking in stereotypes sufficient basis for hating and killing anyone in that group and anyone resembling that group. If they actually questioned their beliefs by meeting people and learning their viewpoints with an open mind, they would find they were wrong. If they thought about what freedom really meant, they would stop forcing everyone they are suspicious of to conform to their rules and standards.

Again, it is hard to believe how ignorant these people are. I wish I were exaggerating. But I observe it every single day I visit the troop-supporter pages. They make sweeping generalizations with no basis in fact about a huge group of people and if you call them out on it they say you’re just a liberal who can’t face reality, and that political correctness is killing this country. You wouldn’t say it is your refusal to question your beliefs by asking questions and doing research that is leading this country down the spiral of an imperial police state? Do you not get where the state gets its authority to spy on people, militarize the police, detain whomever they want indefinitely without trial and make war on distant people with impunity? It’s from fear. Your fear of people you don’t understand. Whatever the state does to others, it grants itself the power to do to you. Your ignorance is their power. But hey, if you want to stay frightened and paranoid, you had better learn to love your enslavement.