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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nonviolent Statism?

Anarchists recoil in alarm from my proposal that violence both precedes and exceeds the state, and my conclusion from this that the advocate of nonviolence should then be concerned not with smashing but democratizing the state. How they shake their heads at me! As though the very idea of nonviolent governance is inconceivable... despite the fact that in the actual world, all around them, nonviolent governance is happening all the time, nonviolent governance is in fact commonplace, ubiquitous. To amplify a bit:

My point is NOT to deny the specific violences of actual states but to argue that violence does not exhaustively characterize states.

A corollary to this point: contrary portrayals by anarchists are actually paranoid and function to rationalize anti-democratization.

My point IS to deny that violence is either essential or definitive of states. (Yes, I know this view is unorthodox, for more about what I mean and why I mean it read relevant posts archived at the sidebar under the heading Against Anarchy.)

A corollary to this point: contrary portrayals by anarchists render the productivity of power invisible at the cost of productivity and the possibility of civitas invisible to the risk of its possibility.

And For My "Advanced" Readers: Even granting the epistemic violence of the circumscription of possibility and importance through which the maintenance of values, norms, and affordances yields the apparent normality that sustains this palpable ubiquity of nonviolence in democratic governance, it is crucial to grasp that the attempted attribution of specific violences to these operations is no less dependent on alternate circumscriptions and so provides no basis for an objection to my initial point (indeed, the objection seems rather conspicuously a matter of trying to have your cake and eat it, too). This is especially important to the extent that, as I would argue, a feature of democratic governance is the facilitation of an openness to the perpetual re-contestation of the norms through which such epistemic violences play out, which suggests that democratization of the state provides pathways to nonviolence at multiple levels in a virtuous circle, just as the anti-democratizing extremities of totalitarianism and anarchism yield in my view vicious circles of ramifying violence.


squirrel said...

It has long seemed to me that to the extent anarchy would function, it needs to, in some manner, govern. It also seems to me that in a properly democratized state, such as you advocate (and I would as well), the government becomes very hard to distinguish from the de facto governance of an anarchist regime.

Dale Carrico said...

I always say that what I like best in the many self-identified anarchists I admire (Chomsky, etc.) is their fierce commitment to a democracy that their anarchy would in fact abolish. I think it would be very wholesome for especially the left anarchists to identify instead with democracy the better to dis-identify with the infantile spontaneists and market libertopians who would be left to languish ineffectually as they deserve without the passion and ingenuity of the left anarchists to bolster them by inapt association.

Dale Carrico said...

From an exchange elsewhere online:

shagggz - September 20, 2012

Violence is indeed both essential and definitive of state. Where is nonviolent governance ubiquitous? Can you name even one instance of state-level governance where this is the case?

I replied:

Those social workers with clipboards are all really gun totin’ thugs! Elections? Bloodbaths! No doubt you will next insist taxes are theft. You ask incredulously for ONE instance? Anarchism has obviously made you paranoid. Actual violence is INCIDENTAL in even comparatively democratic governance.

This is not to deny that citizens should remain vigilant about vulnerabilities to exploitation, corruption, militarism inhering as a permanent possibility in policing functions, nor to deny that resistance should focus on abuses and exhibitions of violence. But this doesn’t alter the fact that no state -- even the most tyrannical -- could or does maintain order only with violence, and hence the definition of the state essentially through violence distorts our understanding.

Democratization of the state consists entirely of mobilizing governance to overcome the violence inhering in the ineradicable plurality of stakeholders to the present, creating nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes, maintaining a legible scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce through the provision of substantial general welfare, accountable administration of common and public goods to circumvent their private parochial structural expropriation and abuse.

To disdain all this the better to pretend that Health and Human Services is a fascist torture squad is not particularly clear-thinking or useful as far as I can see, But then “shagggz” you're a transhumanoid robot cultist are you not? One won’t go far expecting too much sense from techno-immortalists and nano-cornucopiasts.

Summerspeaker - September 21, 2012

Government structures that allow folks to opt out without getting arrested and imprisoned become potentially compatible with anarchism. Are you familiar with what anarchists actually advocate and practice? Apart from the post-left folks – with whom I sympathize but don’t necessarily agree – anarchists form organizations and associations all over the place.

Again, just because people comply with state power doesn’t mean they do so freely. The threat of violence shapes my behavior by the minute; I doubt I’m alone in this. Without the vast networks of state and private coercion that current operate, humans would act quite differently.

George Orwell wrote the following: “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.” While exaggerated and imprecise, this quotation sheds much insight about the dynamics of life under the state.

I replied:

You can't "opt out" from the world (human plurality) and stakeholder struggle (human history) in which you emerge as the "you" that opts for anything. "Post-left" usually amounts to usual right. "The threat of violence shapes my behavior by the minute" …as any paranoid will agree. What you attribute to “life under the state” I attribute to life in plurality, which is why the democratization of the state seems to me so indispensable.

Summerspeaker said...

I've got to make sure I never become a respectable anarchist like Chomsky. Death to democracy! (Does that help?) If I must rely on violence to survive, I'd rather it come from queer street gangs than cops.

Dale Carrico said...

Uh, whatever gets you through the night.

Summerspeaker said...

A queer street gang would definitely help me get through the night. In this case, I like how your mind works, Dale.

Chad Lott said...

I'm highly in favor of queer street gangs. Especially if they're rocking Big Freedia:

jimf said...

> A queer street gang would definitely help me
> get through the night.

You know, once upon a time, I thought that being queer,
per se, was a reason to trust someone.

I learned the hard way that, as that Gershwin song goes,
it ain't necessarily so.

Dale Carrico said...

Queers in the street?
How quite indiscreet!

Mitchell said...

Vice Magazine once claimed that there are "a hundred lesbian gangs" in the Chinese city of Chongqing. But perhaps something was lost in translation.

Anonymous said...

I'm hesitant to engage in these debates with much vigor as I question what value will result, but nonetheless I feel compelled to contribute. So, in the tradition of railing against binaries........

I still feel as though these debates are largely predicated upon a very narrow definition of the terms which prohibits us from considering what is actually valuable or productive about these different projects/practices.

For example, I don't see the importance of a claim to 'nonviolence', but rather see the necessity of maintaining a sharp criticality when we do decide to engage in violence, as well as when others do. I believe that you're not a utopian, and I know that you know that systems of governance will also always be in the business of distributing violence in some way. The question, I believe, is doing so in the most transparent and accountable way possible, to ensure that whatever practices of necessary violence that remain are just. In summary, it's never a question of if we are violent or not, but rather how accountable we make ourselves to others in this process and relationship. How is it productive to place an off and on switch on something which is ongoing and is a necessary part of being in the world?

Furthermore, the (false) dichotomy between anarchism and democracy seems even less productive. We can certainly point to many examples of anarchism-in-practice and democracy-in-practice which would be both ideal and indistinguishable. We can also point to abhorrent examples of each which we would not like to associate with. Why appeal to simplistic oppositions when we can instead talk about what each tradition offers us in our own participation and thought. It seems as even if we were to maintain the binary as a foil of sorts, we would still be in a situation where each position doth protest too much about the other. The antiauthoritarian and anticapitalist traditions of anarchism can be quite potent, as can the traditions of transparency, horizontalism and accountability within democracy.

Perhaps this position is the result of my own theoretical biases, but I truly believe we have more to gain from the play and flexibility of these terms than we do in their simple opposition.


Anonymous said...

P.S. - it seems a coalitional politics would necessitate an open negotiation, flexibility and criticality when making use of these contested terms.


Dale Carrico said...

Look, sure, sure, we can concede that all words always only provisionally corral the play of signifiers into contingent salience in the service of certain values -- scientific (prediction and control, say), moral (belonging, say), political (stakeholder reconciliation, say), and so on, just as as can concede that distinctions are always actually a bit ambivalent, some of them plenty ambivalent, and that the pretense otherwise usually polices hierarchies into play that seduce academicians into becoming deconstructionists and so on.

But we are using words on the assumption that something like communication is happening here, and when I am using the word "nonviolence" I am using a word that means something roughly communicable and worthy of attention, and while I am happy to concede a whole lot of wiggle room as to the precise set of actual or logically possible events that I would describe as violent ones as against my hunch about which ones people in general would describe as violent, just as I would concede the same in every instance of language use, and yet I think we can concede this and still agree most of the time such assignments are quite possible and so urgently necessary.

So, I agree with plenty of your nuances, but I am incredibly far from conceding your point "it's never a question of if we are violent or not, but rather how accountable we make ourselves to others in this process and relationship." Never? I don't believe that, and to be honest I don't believe you really believe that either.

Dale Carrico said...

Earlier in your response you make this point, that goes more to the substance here (at least I think so): "I know that you know that systems of governance will also always be in the business of distributing violence in some way." Yes, of course. I think this goes without saying but I do repeatedly also say it. But as I also repeatedly say, violence both precedes and exceeds the state. This means that the point that matters to me is that it is far from true that only states are in this business of "distributing violence" as you say, but also that it is for me far from true that this business of "distributing violence" is the most structurally predominate, essential, or exhaustive business of states. To say otherwise -- which anarchisms indeed do, essentially, relentlessly -- is to be importantly wrong, wrong in ways that can generate a prejudicial take and selective focus on governmental administration and election processes and foci of political campaigns and so on that are profoundly skewed, and this does matter to me.

I honestly don't know what you are talking about when you speak of "anarchism-in-practice" that is indistinguishable from "democracy-in-practice" -- an unplanned party among friends? the emergence of mafiya warlords in the streets of a Russian city the vacuum of the fall of the Soviet government? Occupy's People's Mic? There is debatable substance here, but to review the way I have been talking about these issues hitherto, on the one hand, dance parties are neither sustainable nor scalable enough to justify those who want to smash the state, and on the other hand, I think democracy is just the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them (including sometimes decisions about who are the people, what is the public, what is a decision, and so on) and that there IS no democratic eidos at which we are aiming but an interminable process of democratization in which we struggle to enable ever more people have ever more of a say in ever more of the public decisions that affect them involving institutional experimentation but also, crucially, healrtbreaking compromised struggles for reform in the belly of the beast of the status quo.

"How is it productive to place an off and on switch on something which is ongoing and is a necessary part of being in the world?" Many left anarchists at this very moment think it is better not to vote even though that is one among many real tools at their disposal to yield outcomes closer, in some instances only marginally, to the ones they themselves incessantly claim to cherish, while many right anarchists at this very moment think we would all be better off dismantling government altogether so that spontaneous market orders indistinguishable from a feudal warlordism they denominate liberty. If your "on and off switch" refers to the usefulness of these words to help grasp the not at all false distinction that yields these structurally complementary idiocies provoked by the facile fantasy of a spontaneous order that trumps the impasses of stakeholder politics, then I disagree with you -- if your "on and off switch" reminds us not to fetishize a distinction as leaky in inopportune moments as most distinctions are, even the useful ones, then I agree with you, but I think the point is something of a tail wagging the dog.

I hope this response justified your effort in proposing your intervention, and that you don't think I am merely being flippant in engaging you.

Dale Carrico said...

Re: your PS, definitely yes. See Carl Rogers and the rhetorical model of argumentation model inspired by his mediation strategies called "Rogerian Synthesis" (which I -- alone! -- teach at Cal in the Rhetoric Department as part of my Rhet 10: Rhetoric of Argumentation core course).

Anonymous said...

"I hope this response justified your effort in proposing your intervention, and that you don't think I am merely being flippant in engaging you."

I appreciate your response - It def. helps me understand your position better, although I feel we still disagree on some level about how claiming these terms fundamentally operate politically.

"I honestly don't know what you are talking about when you speak of "anarchism-in-practice" that is indistinguishable from "democracy-in-practice" -- an unplanned party among friends?"

While I love and take great pleasure in the spontaneous forms of anarchism, this is not what I'm appealing to here. When I say anarchism-in-practice (as a form of governance) I'm appealing to the anarcho-syndicalism of spain pre-ww2, or even other movements which never adopted the formal language of @ but I would argue adopt its processes and structures such as many of the decolonizing projects in India and perhaps even the IWW in the U.S.. These are not spontaneous orders, but instead are horizontal and participatory (even democratic!) projects which, although short lived due to huge amounts of repression, had significant successes and important contributions which I feel should be considered seriously in the contemporary moment.

I also hope that you're not taking these interventions as quarrelsome or contrarian, but rather as genuine provocations in the interest of nuance and understanding.


Dale Carrico said...

Co-ops in Spain, what's not to like? As you say, they were/ are far from spontaneous orders, and to be sustainable must in any case be protected and regulated by equitable and accountable law, which only to the already- anarcho- bamboozled would seem to support an anarchist position of all things. I agree with your implication that democracy might be a better word to describe such enterprises -- I will cheerfully admit that democratizing the economy seems to me as desirable a business as democratizing the state. And please be assured, I find your interventions perfectly genuine and interesting and congenial. I've enjoyed the conversation, here's hoping readers enjoy eavesdropping on it as well.