Releasing the hand, extinguishing the lust, disabling that state, are the imperatives of our age. And any invocation of freedom or human rights or bodily integrity that does not also recognize this is hypocrisy.
“Police state?” I hear the objecting murmurs now. The spectacle of Ferguson, Missouri, ought to have scattered illusions about what lay beneath the scrim of placid life, but since most Nation readers are not black youth a hair trigger away from a police special or grenade launcher, it may be necessary to follow the wire linking Ferguson to swelling violence budgets and shriveled social ones, to “quality of life” policing and spatial control of the poor, to police-cordoned “free speech zones” and mass arrest of protesters, to the border “fence” and Border Patrol surge, to the “cleanup” of Times Square’s XXX underbelly for hypercorporatized, hyperpoliced space, to random police stops and dog sniffs, to random drug testing, to the ubiquity of surveillance cameras, to NSA snooping, to the $350 billion US security business, to TSA full body scans, to drug blimps, to asset forfeiture and consequent corruption, to immigrant detention, to “zero tolerance” at schools, to enhanced penalties for “hate crimes,” to sex-offender registries, to civil commitment, to torture as policy, to legalized discrimination, to legalized suspension of constitutional rights for ex-cons, to the redefinition of pimps as “traffickers” who (in California anyway) may be sentenced to life, to vice squad entrapment systems, to law upon law passed amid the clamor for safety, to… the gulag of prisons advertised along America’s highways, the captives most of us cannot see except weekends on MSNBC, the road signs warning against picking up hitchhikers who may be escapees, the statistic we all know—or maybe don’t—that about 7 million Americans are in prison, on probation or parole, roughly one out of every thirty-five adults.
In The Politics of Denunciation, Kristian Williams nicely articulates the authoritarian nature of political correctness on the Left and lays out a way past it:
A year ago, on February 28, 2013, at an event titled “Patriarchy and the Movement,” I watched as a friend of mine attempted to pose several questions based on her experience trying to address domestic violence and other abuse in the context of radical organizing.
“Why have the forms of accountability processes that we’ve seen in radical subcultures so regularly failed?” she asked. “Is there a tension between supporting a survivor’s healing and holding perpetrators accountable?”
At that point she was, quite literally, shouted down. An angry roar came up from the crowd, from both the audience and the panelists. It quickly became impossible to hear her and, after a few seconds, she simply stopped trying to speak.
VIOLENCE AND THE UNIVERSITY
Make no mistake: to threaten someone with a stick is the ultimate anti-intellectual gesture. And if one thing has become clear in recent months, this is the first—really the only—impulse of the current government when faced with challenges to their vision for higher education. Police infiltration, surveillance, elected student leaders banned from political activities on campus, the arrest of students for simple acts of expression like chalking slogans on sidewalks, send a clear and constant message. There can be no reasoned discussion on these issues. There is no longer anything to talk about. Certainly, democracy has absolutely nothing to do with it. The pursuit of knowledge and understanding have been declared nothing but a consumer product, or else a form of technical training to increase overall economic productivity; these are the only way these matters can be discussed; if anyone wishes to gather to object to this, to gather in places of learning to insist that knowledge and understanding are not mere economic goods but something precious and valuable in their own right, they can only do so by permission of those who are telling them otherwise; otherwise, they can expect to be physically attacked.
This excerpt is from David Graeber’s 2004 pamphlet Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, page 68. After discussing the need for a better anarchist theory of the state–one that can explain the complete anthropological record–Graeber turns his argument to non-state entities:
So that’s one project: to reanalyze the state as a rela- tion between a utopian imaginary, and a messy reality involving strategies of flight and evasion, predatory elites, and a mechanics of regulation and control.
All this highlights the pressing need for another project: one which will ask, If many political entities we are used to seeing as states, at least in any Weberian sense, are not, then what are they? And what does that imply about political possibilities? More…
The geopolitical scene today is very similar to that in 1914, where China is Germany, the U.S. is Britain, and the Middle East is the Balkans.
Professor Margaret MacMillan, of the University of Cambridge, argues that the Middle East could be viewed as the modern-day equivalent of this turbulent region. A nuclear arms race that would be likely to start if Iran developed a bomb “would make for a very dangerous world indeed, which could lead to a recreation of the kind of tinderbox that exploded in the Balkans 100 years ago – only this time with mushroom clouds,” she writes in an essay for the Brookings Institution, a leading US think-tank.
“While history does not repeat itself precisely, the Middle East today bears a worrying resemblance to the Balkans then,” she says. “A similar mix of toxic nationalisms threatens to draw in outside powers as the US, Turkey, Russia, and Iran look to protect their interests and clients.”
Professor MacMillan highlights a string of other parallels between today and a century ago. Modern-day Islamist terrorists mirror the revolutionary communists and anarchists who carried out a string of assassinations in the name of a philosophy that sanctioned murder to achieve their vision of a better world. And in 1914, Germany was a rising force that sought to challenge the pre-eminent power of the time, the UK. Today, the growing power of China is perceived as a threat by some in the US.
The original post with updates can be found at Jeremy’s blog.
As the year rolls to an end, I’d like to compile a few thoughts on the handling of the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Ryan Gallagher, and others. This debate has occurred on ephemeral media like twitter, and these matters deserve a more extended treatment. There have been many developments since my last post on the subject; one of the most interesting has been the journalistic issues surrounding this episode.
Throughout this post, keep in mind that I approach this as a radical, anti-institutionalist anarchist. My values place very little weight on compromising secret government plots for any reason. I disagree fundamentally with Snowden’s desire for selective leaking, though it shouldn’t surprise anybody that an ex-NSA employee would maintain very different priorities than an anarchist. Nothing could be more useless or moronic than to expectrelatively establishmentarian, statist folks like Snowden, Greenwald, or Poitras to act exactly like I might were I in their shoes.
However, I have a basic respect for Snowden’s sacrifice and Greenwald’s work that transcends my political preferences (I’m not familiar with Poitras’s work prior to this episode, though she has my respect as well). I will not sully that respect by dragging any of these people through the mud, even if their chosen acts don’t quite conform to my personal standards. Indeed, I wish to advance a critique of their conduct that can actually contribute to the debate without drowning everything in the noise of acrimony and belligerence. More…
I regret to bring up pop culture, but this is a great challenge to the censorious establishment. A star of the most popular show on TV made offensive remarks about homosexuality and has been suspended from the show, and Brandon Ambrosino asks why we always have to make people go away.
Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them? Why do we dismiss, rather than engage them? One of the biggest pop-culture icons of today just took center stage to “educate” us about sexuality. I see this as an opportunity to further the discussion, to challenge his limited understanding of human desire, to engage with him and his rather sizable audience — most of whom, by the way, probably share his views — and to rise above the endless sea of tweet-hate to help move our LGBT conversations to where they need to go.
G.K. Chesterton said that bigotry is “an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.” If he is right — and he usually is — then I wonder if the Duck Dynasty fiasco says more about our bigotry than Phil’s.
Chase Madar, author of The Passion of Bradley Manning, surveys the breadth of the contemporary police state in the U.S.:
If all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. And if police and prosecutors are your only tool, sooner or later everything and everyone will be treated as criminal. This is increasingly the American way of life, a path that involves “solving” social problems (and even some non-problems) by throwing cops at them, with generally disastrous results. Wall-to-wall criminal law encroaches ever more on everyday life as police power is applied in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.
The piece-meal approach and the political need for categorization also leads the left to valorize people in terms of their membership in various oppressed and exploited groups, such as “workers”, “women”, “people of color”, “gays and lesbians” and so on. This categorization is the basis of identity politics. Identity politics is the particular form of false opposition in which oppressed people choose to identify with a particular social category through which their oppression is reinforced as a supposed act of defiance against their oppression. In fact, the continued identification with this social role limits the capacity of those who practice identity politics to analyze their situation in this society deeply and to act as individuals against their oppression. It thus guarantees the continuation of the social relationships that cause their oppression. But only as members of categories are these people useful as pawns in the political maneuverings of the left, because such social categories take on the role of pressure groups and power blocs within the democratic framework.
Grigg examines the phenomenon of firing on motorists avoiding checkpoints that seems to have been imported from the Iraqi theater to a growing number of domestic jurisdictions:
In Iraq, the official doctrine of “force protection” dictated lethal pre-emption of any potential threat. An enhanced version of that doctrine is in effect in the Imperial Capital, which is inhabited by people whose unfathomable corruption is matched by an immeasurably vast sense of entitlement – and coupled with a vague but insistent sense that at some point their crimes will provoke retaliation. Since such people are unburdened by conscience, they see nothing amiss in authorizing summary execution of anybody who might pose some unspecified potential threat to their physical safety.This mindset has become ubiquitous as police checkpoints have proliferated throughout the Soyuz.
Given Switzerland’s non-interventionist foreign policy and lack of full engagement in the Anglo-American empire, it’s interesting to see what threats they perceive. Could they know something we don’t about what lies ahead for the international order?
Carried out in August, the apparently outlandish army exercise was based on the premise of an attack by a financially stricken France split into warring regions, according to Matin Dimanche, the Lausanne-based daily.
One of these, “Saônia,” corresponding to the existing Jura region, was preparing attacks on Switzerland to retrieve money it had apparently swiped from France.
Operation “Duplex-Barbara” went as far as imagining a three-pronged invasion from points near Neufchâtel, Lausanne and Geneva, according to a map published in the Swiss newspaper.
Behind the dastardly raid was a paramilitary organisation dubbed BLD, the Dijon Free Brigade bent on grabbing back “money that Switzerland had stolen from Saônia”.
“For its credibility, the Swiss army must work (to ward against) threats of the 21st century,” Antoine Vielliard, Hauate-Savoie councillor, told Matin Dimanche.
by Jeremy Weiland
The collective responses to the dramatic revelations of NSA mass surveillance feel like the well-worn plot of a classic movie. The story reminds me of the government’s admission a few years back that Iraq did not, after all, have weapons of More…
This passage from the interview of Julian Assange by Google CEO Eric Schmidt exemplifies the kind of radicalism I most admire. Notice the lack of a clean, rationalist philosophy or any sanctimonious univeralist moral bravado.
I looked at something that I had seen going on with the world. Which is that I thought there were too many unjust acts… And I wanted there to be more just acts, and fewer unjust acts. And one can sort of say, well what are your philosophical axioms for this? And I say I do not need to consider them. This is simply my temperament. And it is an axiom because it is that way. And so that avoids, then, getting into further unhelpful discussions about why you want to do something. It is enough that I do.
The rest of the interview has some fascinating insights, anecdotes, and theory on networks, politics, even technology and even ontology. Highly, highly recommended!
SUSAN PATTON, the Princeton alumna who became famous for her letter urging Ivy League women to use their college years to find a mate, has been denounced as a traitor to feminism, to coeducation, to the university ideal. But really she’s something much more interesting: a traitor to her class.
Her betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.
By Nicholas Kristoff
Is the left so intellectually superior to the right? On balance one would have to say yes but there’s a certain bankrupt and authoritarian streak within the left which has severely undermined the wider movement’s credibility. Ideologically inflexible, the authoritarians rush to embrace most any country or leader who challenges the US, however questionable. What is worse, by pushing a doctrinaire agenda, the authoritarian/sectarian element within the left gives a lot of ammunition to the right, which needless to say never misses an opportunity to score political points or expose underlying vulnerabilities.
A number of recent controversies have served to highlight questionable positions within the left (see, for example, my piece about the authoritarians and the Arab Spring), but now a new imbroglio has stretched political contradictions to their limit. In their zeal to defy the US, some on the left have developed a very problematic association with political throwback Belarus no less, a former Soviet Republic known for its appalling record on human rights.
According to James Livingston in the Jacobin, socialism may be more ubiquitous in America than anybody realizes, precisely because it has not been achieved through explicit political maneuvering by traditionally socialist political elements. It’s an interesting corollary to the argument that the Left has been historically victorious in capturing the state, since it implies that the real ends of socialism (both positive and negative) continue to be realized through less obvious means–indeed, as a natural progression of capitalism’s inherent contradictions, as Marx predicted. Excerpt: More…
This essay shows that, although many left anarchists disagree with ARV’s goals, many realize something is deeply wrong with their tactics and overall frame of reference.
The anarchist current in North America (esp. the US) has all the trappings of a social movement, without the movement. The what of a social struggle, with little to no conception of the how, or the why. We ask ourselves what makes sense in terms of action and organizational form, with little attention given to the context, or the conditions in which it makes sense to do anything at all. We seek blanket solutions, models and forms, things that could be applied everywhere—and are effective nowhere. We build models for resistance and solidarity, with no concept of how these things could be weapons. We seek answers where there is merely the silent face of the world that confronts us. More…
Is America too big for democracy? Too big for its traditional republican form? What does it mean if the answer is yes? This video series proposes that the source of our biggest social and political problems is our SIZE.
Like the obese, 600 pound man who experiences heart failure, diabetes, and dozens of other ailments, so too does America–only its diseases go by the names Debt, War, Entitlements, Gridlock, and Corruption. Our problems cannot be fixed through any change in ideology or bi-partisan agreement in Congress, because those are not the root of our problems. The source is our size. As America’s population increases, the level of representation and control each voter has must inexorably decrease. As power centralizes in a federal government, literally out of the hands of its citizens, conflicts and problems mount. What can be done? Please watch and join the conversation.
Every corporate newspaper columnist eventually takes a shot at their favorite whipping boy, the conspiracy theorist. And they use that term like it’s a bad thing.
In the years leading up to the French revolution, big festivals dominated public entertainment-festivals in which characters from the ruling monarchy were often mocked and ridiculed. Royalty tolerated these insults, even underwrote the costs to produce the shows-a totally unprecedented move. Historians today believe they did so in order to allow accumulated public resentments to dissipate before they spilled over into revolutionary fervor. It didn’t work; it only lead to complaints about bread and circuses we still hear echoed today when governments try to buy our votes, but it’s a fascinating first attempt at government spin control nonetheless.
Or consider what began popping up in village squares all around Europe in the 11th century: larger-than-life statues of important figures from the Bible, each depicted in rich colours and long flowing robes, each with the same peculiarity: their right hand was held palm forward with the first two fingers up and the other two tucked down under the thumb. Historians tell us the problem for the Roman Church, as it attempted to colonize the vast pagan lands surrounding it, was how to instill authority in locally recruited priests-the young village men who spoke the local dialect and knew the people. The solution was to use the glamorous statues to endow the hand signal with great prestige, then instruct the locally appointed priests to use the hand signal when they returned from their seminary so the prestige and authority of the impressive statues would rub off on them. Thus was born the first corporate logo and the celebrity endorsement, the first Nike swoosh that today is seen depicted on the world’s greatest and most virile athletes-and also on crappy overpriced merchandise in stores we’re meant to buy because it carries that symbol that Tiger Woods was wearing.
by Jeremy Weiland
As a longtime libertarian and an avowed egalitarian socialist, I’ve struggled with the concept of “political correctness” for as long as I’ve had a political awareness. I went through a neoliberal democrat phase in the 90’s where what many denounced as PC simply looked like good manners to me. Don’t get me wrong; some of it was just that: the attempts of well-meaning people to navigate a culture permeated with deep-seated privilege and oppressive features. And yet, just as much polite talk is not exceedingly honest, I always had a nagging suspicion that politically correct habits were something more than mere social graces.
So this essay has been a long time coming for me, as I try to figure out where I fit in on the Left. My heart is in… More…