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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Conversations With Anarchists and Democrats

Here are a few exchanges with a couple of folks on my view that democratic politics are properly nonviolent but not anarchic, they are all upgraded and adapted from the Moot or are drawn from related conversations elsewhere. I thought there were some useful ideas and nice turns of phrase among them. My interlocutors are blockquoted and italicized, while the replies are mine.

If it’s [Occupy] middle-class campaign to reclaim the American dream and elect Democrats, I don’t want any part of it. I value Occupy Wall Street to the extent that it furthers local and global struggles against state, capital, and heteropatriarchy. Let’s (un)Occupy and Decolonize. I send so much revolutionary love to my comrades wherever you are. ♥ Embrace your desires, don’t discipline them. Instead of visions of respectability and attracting the mythical mainstream, I imagine intense insurgency, communal criminality, and portentous promiscuity. We’ll dance on the ruins on reformism before this is all over.
The Democratic Party has often been and should much more be an instrument for democratization, social justice, and sustainability, and as such, it should be made better by the existence of movements like feminism, civil rights activism, organized labor, environmentalists, and Occupy inspiring it, provoking it, pushing it from its left. But in the absence of such an instrument none of these movements can accomplish their ends -- and, of course, a third party could function as such an instrument should our institutions be reformed to support viable third parties as at present absolutely they do not, one can even imagine a transformed GOP in the aftermath of the fever-dream of its market-fundamentalist religious-fundamentalist Movement Republican epoch as such an instrument, the Democratic Party is not logically indispensable to such movements though right now it practically is, and denying these realities is not something that impresses me. Definitely jerking off alone in an empty room won’t free a single person from the prison-industrial complex, it won’t end the racist war on drugs, it won’t end war profiteering, it won’t help wanted queer lifeways to legibility and liveability in a world of intolerance. Every actually serious progressive person who says “let’s!” decolonize and “let’s!” make nonviolent revolution knows that what this means on the ground is engaging in the endless heartbreak and frustration of actual stakeholder politics to reform this country's norms and institutions in the direction of such outcomes. You think it is radical to embrace desire while refusing discipline? Are you a child of two? You think it is “ominous” that I want to democratize governance to ensure actually equitable recourse to accountable law, to provide a more substantial welfare to render everyday relations actually nonduressed? Your response is to wave a wand and pretend you can willfully dis-invent stakeholder impasses and inertial incumbency? You seem completely deluded, and proud of it, too, you seem mostly useless, and proud of it, too.
I’m part of the global anarchist movement and far from alone. Living in the Bay Area, you know we exist. A hundred radical queers took the streets and smashed up a Bank of America in Oakland two weeks ago. I was just hanging out with a visiting comrade from NYC the other day, and before that, one from LA and one from Melbourne, Australia. We are everywhere. We don’t agree about everything –- sometimes not even much -– but we share opposition to the electoral politics you advocate. Expect to see more and more of us.
Dance parties are neither sustainable nor scalable, not enough to address our shared problems or reconcile our stakeholder differences. And wishing won’t make it so. And pretending otherwise is just denialism, not radicalism. And this “we are everywhere” “we’re coming to get you” stuff is nice smack talk but I live in the neighborhood, I’ve been doing queer and feminist and antiwar and environmental activism and teaching for years, and I know the hard truth that progressive politics is a long reformist slog in the face of awful resistance and well-meaning ignorance and inertial institutions, and it is compromised and costly and heartbreaking and still well worth it. And yes there is also joy and dancing and discovery, thankfully, but that’s not all there is and if it were we wouldn’t get anywhere. I know you think it is supremely revolutionary to deny that, and declare the sea is made of lemonade when it isn’t, and obviously I am not going to convince you otherwise. But what I say is true nonetheless, and I say it so you will remember it later when you need to. Anarchy is finally for dupes and egomaniacs and fluffers. But you are young and you should have your fun, I suppose, and think you are a titan and all the rest. Do it up.

By the way, it isn’t really that hard to vote (or even phone bank or organize campaigns for congenial legislative outcomes) IN ADDITION to protesting and making art and reading party politics for filth. People died for the right to vote and people whose politics you surely revile are fighting to disenfranchise people from voting right before your eyes, right this very minute. Electoral politics isn’t everything, it isn’t even enough, but it is something and to disdain a tool for nothing is a terrible thing. To disdain the slightly better over the much worse is fine in a philosophical discussion, but since actual lives can be ruined or ended between the slightly better as against the much worse disdaining taking a part in that struggle is a truly ugly thing in my view, scarcely compensated by the beauty of the ideals you may share with your like-minded dance partners.
I have limited objections to participating in the electoral process as long as it’s not exalted or presented as necessary. I’m personally registered with La Raza Unida party, which is a socialist party locally. I’ve traditionally voted in presidential elections but may well not this year. If I do, it sure won’t be for Obama or Romney. People died for all sorts of things, including autonomy from the U.S. nation-state and anarchist communism. Whatever you do, you potentially insult the dead.
I don’t know if you think I am “exalting” voting or not when I point out that disdaining existing tools to help accomplish outcomes one claims to cherish doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. I don’t happen to think the word “exalt” fits such a situation, but your mileage may vary, as usual. For the rest, my point was not to complain that the dead feel insulted by our disdain since I don’t think they do, my point was that you are missing the point of their sacrifice and that you should know better. Remember that voting even for a President is not voting for a dream date or identifying with a celebrity ideal who completes you, but voting for the best actually viable occupant of the actually-existing actually-influential Executive Branch of your own government, whether you like it or not.
Violence haunts even the most seemingly peaceful state institutions.
If everything is violence nothing is. When you see jackbooted thugs where they aren't, this is not the virtue you seem to think it is. Among other things this self-congratulatory error of yours dulls the force of recognitions where jackbooted thugs actually are.
[this is a different interlocutor] It seems to me that the nonviolent/violent distinction only serves to oversimplify the very complex and overlapping systems of violence within which we all are implicated in very material and social ways, both in struggle and in everyday life.
Certainly this can be true. In other writings of mine on violence I have pointed out that one can describe as an epistemic violence the circumscription through which certain acts can be legible as violence in the first place. This means that democracy and nonviolence co-construct one another in my view, not that one properly assumes or stabilizes the other -- I have already pointed out even in these schematic comments that democracy doesn't only provide alternatives for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes -- but that what counts as violence is one of the disputes. I disagree that even canonical Kingian nonviolence is naive or idealist in the way that worries you. I find King and Fanon very closely allied -- even if the postage stamp versions of each treat them as antitheses -- about which I say a little bit more, for example, here.
[another interlocutor] The omnipresent threat of state violence disciplines
As I never tire of repeating, violence both precedes and exceeds the state. If you concede this point but still continue to preface references to violence fixedly to "state" in this way it looks to me like you are indulging in a theoretical fetish that functions to simplify what isn't simple the better to congratulate yourself on a superior radicalism that isn't.
Democracy by itself means little to me. I wouldn't care if a majority of the folks Taos support my friend's incarceration there.
Your friend has a better chance in a more democratic state providing more equitable access to more accountable law and supporting a more free and more independent press, needless to say. Smashing the state won't help, but democratizing it will. That's something that should mean something to you. I have said that democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. There are many actual and possible implementations of this notion. Some involve majority decision making norms but certainly not all of them do. I consider rights that protect minorities FROM majorities an expression of democratization, too, after all. If you say that you don't care about people having a say in the public decisions that affect them, I don't believe you. I just don't.
[another interlocutor] Again, I feel as though we very much agree politically, but have rather large differences semiotically and linguistically. My experience in u.s. social movements over the last decade and a half have largely (and rather unfortunately) been deeply affected by a divisive and foreclosing language of nonviolence which has only served to divide movements into good and bad partitions, into legitimate and illegitimate binaries. For example, one doesn't have to look too far to see how the demonization of anarchists within occupy from portions of the left has created an environment within which repression against them finds justification, and that has largely occurred within the discourse of nonviolence. I want to reiterate that I feel our political views are not so far apart, but I also feel it's important to assert that the language of nonviolence is too often instrumentalized in the interest of dividing movements and it makes me deeply question whether its a useful framework for approaching these important questions.
While of course any radical doctrine or revolutionary tradition can be misrepresented (especially by those who find it threatening) or misapplied, for myself, I find that the more I actually know about the practical and intellectual resources of nonviolent resistance and the politics/ rhetoric of reconciliation, not to mention its accomplishments, the more impressed I am by it. That said, nothing's perfect, and nobody knows enough to know all the answers or even to know if they did. But you know all that already. I hope it goes without saying that my strong disagreement with anarchist positions is not the same thing as demonization of individual anarchists ("Summer" and I have been sparring vociferously for years on these topics, you should know).
[another interlocutor] I can only assume that you consider the violence of state in enforcing social and spatial norms legitimate. Jackbooted thugs or not, the cops practice force against disobedience bodies. In the hegemonic discourse -- which you appear to support -- the government's supposed popular mandate and rationality justify this violence. Regardless of whether it's justified, it sure as hell ain't nonviolent.
Your definition of what constitutes the nonviolent seems to me a vacuity, and amounts to a disavowal of the substance of history and politics altogether. You can try to use it as a cudgel to transform a years-long activist and teacher of democracy, nonviolence, feminism, sustainability, and art into a celebrant of police brutality and plutocratic hegemony but I trust few will find your effort particularly plausible.

Look, people are different from one another: the ineradicable potential for violence inheres in that condition of plurality itself -- as does any possibility for its contingent overcoming and forgiveness/ restitution. Grasping this is a precondition for understanding any democratic politics and it seems to me anarchisms tend to confuse or refuse this point at the cost of their relevance to the outcomes they claim to cherish.

Either we administer our common resources and solve our shared problems and engage in interpersonal commerce and reconcile our differences through sustainable accountable institutions dedicated to equity-in-diversity in a legible scene of consent -- or we fail. It seem to me that in your anarchism you repeatedly opt for pre-emptive failure and then, to add insult to injury, declare this perspective righteous.

States have been instruments of exploitation and violence and states have been instruments of equity-in-diversity and consent. That they can be made more the one than the other drives the struggle of democratization against anti-democratization that always also coincides with the ongoing administration and reconciliation through and in resistance to the state of the state at hand, all of which together IS democratic politics in my view. Again, as I say, a certain amount of walking and chewing gum at the same time is necessary in democratic politics.

It seems to me that like so many anarchist-identified folks, whether right or left or "beyond right and left [which usually means right-wing]," you have found your way to a lame but superficially lovely poem about spontaneous order that sounds good to you, especially when you recite it to yourself in the mirror, and which you think of as politics when it isn't really of any use to anybody or to most of the progressive outcomes you claim to cherish. But I do wish you luck, of course, in your world-shattering crusade against all architecture and a few pronouns while you revile the authoritarianism of efforts at democratizing reform with which I sympathize myself.


Anonymous said...

The whole problem with your ideology is that you have this strange idea that human beings care deeply about things like “equity in diversity.” What about human psychology or history suggests that this is true?

Don’t you think that in reality, human beings are driven by desire for *unlimited power*, and they use various ideologies to try to justify this basic imperative? You are as guilty of this as anyone; you use the common slave religionist tactic of justifying your will to power by appeals to moralism. But a godless universe doesn’t care about such things – it only rewards superior power! So give me an honest power-seeker any day over all these deluded, lying moralists!

The real Golden Rule in this ‘verse was laid down long ago by the Antichrist of Western philosophy:

“What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases – that a resistance is overcome.”

If you accept the truth of this, then your political ideology must change. If you deny it, then I submit that you are delusional, and an enemy of mankind. Because in a hostile universe, only ever-greater power offers mankind any hope of success. Therefore greater power should be your first principle. I submit that your ideology is hostile to greater power, and therefore hostile to humanity.

Contemplate this on the tree of woe…

Dale Carrico said...

You are wrong to call me a liar when I mean what I say, and you are also wrong to assume everybody is an asshole like you when they aren't, and you are also wrong to think your terribly embarrassing undergraduate philosophizing impresses anybody beyond the circle of your suburban white boy dojo, yo.

Dale Carrico said...

"Amerikan," if you are looking for your comment, I cheerfully deleted it as I always will spam advocating the wholesome benefit to me and my readers of reading the right wing neo-feudal white racist websites you enjoy and to which you link in your comment.

Summerspeaker said...

Are you saying you don't support arresting people for violating social and spatial norms? Are you saying arrest isn't violent? I can't tell at this point. My definition of strict nonviolence aligns with much of the scholarship on the subject as well as the Gandhian tradition. The Gandhians I respect most are anarchists - Pancho comes to mind. The law, as Robert Cover famously wrote, is "staked in blood."

Again, I don't advocate strict nonviolence myself.

Dale Carrico said...

Are you saying you don't support arresting people for violating social and spatial norms? Are you saying arrest isn't violent?

Which norms under what circumstances? Do you never recommend arrest of those who themselves are engaged in or threaten violence even on your own terms? Are you saying that because arrests in which governments engage are sometimes violent, that this renders everything that government does violent or renders government essentially or exhaustively violent, even in those endless details and enterprises in which it obviously is not?

To be honest, Summer, I am not entirely sure you are even proceeding in good faith here. Can you really pretend not to know where I am likely to stand on such questions in cases where actual police brutality is taking place or where corporate plutocrats are looting common resources or exploiting everyday folks? I mean, doesn't it matter to you that I rail against such abuses all the time? If you think that only those who jump off the deep end with you and endorse your abstract fantasy of spontaneous order can really resist such abuses I am here to tell you the fact that the overabundant majority of those who do resist such abuses have nothing at all to do with anarchistic nonsense should suggest to you the necessity of rethinking at least some of your guiding premises. The fact that after you indulge in all this Church Lady preening you say you don't even advocate nonviolence yourself is just, I mean, wtf, are you for real?

Anyway, you may be glad -- or possibly perplexed -- to know that I teach about the enclosure of the commons (via EP Thompson and Karl Polanyi) as I also teach the luddite resistance to unilateral industrialization, as matters of violent plutocratic aggression and dispossession against majorities. I teach (via Frantz Fanon and Paul Gilroy) about the architectural articulation of hierarchy and control -- from Apartheid, to Palestine, to LA walled burbclaves maintained by the "illegal" precariat. I have repeatedly published here on this blog celebrations of the mass re-occupation of privatized public spaces, I support many instances of squatting on privatized and vacated spaces, but that doesn't mean I would defend anybody who might want to invade a private home or shop without hearing a whole lot about the context.

Now, I don't disapprove the very idea of private ownership of land as such, though I do think public and common goods should be administered by accountable governance and I disapprove the appropriation without compensation of traditional resources and knowledges (a key issue in corporate biopiracy today, as you no doubt know), and I think the introduction of disruptive industrial infrastructure can be ameliorated by a substantial safety net, public education and retraining programs, invitation to collective ownership of enterprises producing disruption for those whose lives are dislocated by them and other measures (ideas one finds premonitions of in the actual protests of the luddites themselves).

That is to say, I surely disapprove many or even most of the abuses you do -- as anybody who actually reads this blog with any honesty or intelligence at all would already know -- but I do not use these abuses as rationalizations for infantile fantasies of how awesome lawlessness would be.

I know that some nonviolent theorists and activists are anarchists. Needless to say, for the reasons I have made clear, I think they are confused and wrong.

Summerspeaker said...

To be honest, Summer, I am not entirely sure you are even proceeding in good faith here.

I feel the same way about you. See a fuller response here.