Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Non-Violence In A Word

I have a Liberal Arts meeting that is taking up my afternoon (yes, on the weekend! and uncompensated, by the way), so in lieu of blogging here is an exchange from the Moot with an "Anonymous" respondent (also, pseudonymously, "i") exploring the topic of democracy and nonviolence I've been talking about so much this week. I thought there was some real substance in the exchange, and also that there were a few new turns in the argument as it played out. First, "i"'s intervention, blockquoted in italics, followed by my response.
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.

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

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 in 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 to have ever more of a say in ever more of the public decisions that affect them involving institutional experimentation but also, crucially, heartbreaking 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 will emerge. 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.

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).


Summerspeaker said...

If you support structures that distribute violence, in what way are you nonviolent? How is nonviolence a meaningful concept in this context? Does nonviolence just mean opposition to nonstate violence and state violence deem illegitimate?

Dale Carrico said...

If you support structures that distribute violence, in what way are you nonviolent?

I deny the facile formulation of "support" you are implying. Does one "support" gravity in recognizing it? Does one "support" the murderer who deploys a scalpel in advocating the usefulness of a scalpel in surgery?

When you leap on my apparent concession that "state structures distribute violence" you fail to see that for me the phrase might just as well be that "state structures distribute nonviolence."

That the furniture of state has been an instrument of violence is obvious, I have never said otherwise, indeed I say so incessantly. But what matters to me is that this obviousness not be mistaken for a mis-identification of the state WITH violence, since the state is indispensable to nonviolent politics.

EVERY fact, every value, every norm, every custom, every infrastructural affordance is susceptible to violent misuse, is susceptible to futural refiguration as a violence where now it might not seem to be, the furniture of governance included.

Dale Carrico said...

Again, it would be nonsensical to deny either the conspicuous history of war, expropriation, enslavement, tyranny organized through the state form, or the permanent susceptibility to violence, corruption, injustice in every facet of governance devoted to the contrary.

But violence both precedes and exceeds the state, and the state form is indispensable to the struggle to overcome, circumvent and heal violence. My whole point, stated at the outset and repeated over and over and over and over again, is that democratization of the state is the struggle to provide alternatives to violence, to overcome violence, to circumvent violence, to provide recourse for the violated, to facilitate the open negotiation of the terms on which violence is legible as such.

Violence inheres as a permanent susceptibility in the condition of human plurality. Nonviolence is a commitment and a struggle, but one cannot ever claim it as a secure accomplishment (although one can distinguish the comparative violence of an unjust law or a perpetrator as against the comparative nonviolence of resistance to that injustice or a victim in suffering a violation).

You ask in what way am I nonviolent? Well, for one thing I am not in the habit of making immodest declarations of such accomplishments having had ample experience of my proneness to ignorance and error, and so I would prefer to declare myself earnestly committed to nonviolence and strongly opposed to those, especially those who deem themselves democrats, Democrats, or radicals of the left, who are no also so committed. Still, I will add that I was literally trained in nonviolent civil disobedience by the King Center in Atlanta when I was a co-ordinator for Queer Nation Atlanta. I regularly teach the theory of nonviolent resistance and revolution, as well as rhetorical strategies for reconciliation, mediation, and peacemaking.

As I said, I am committed to the ongoing democratization of the state. Part of this requires a commitment as well to arguing with those who would smash the state out of a hasty mis-identification of the state with the violences it has been historically instrumental to and remains structurally permanently susceptible to.

Dale Carrico said...

Those who foolishly pine to demolish rather than to democratize it are paranoiacally misapprehending essential, exhaustive, ubiquitous violence in even those comparatively democratic state forms which

1. provide for comparatively peaceful changes in leadership,

2. provide for comparative accountability of governance to the people governed,

3. provide for comparative amelioration of tendencies to corruption, violation, and abuse in the state form through separation, federation, and subsidiarity of their powers,

4. provide for comparative equity in recourse to law and its nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of interpersonal disputes or disputes of citizens with duly constituted authorities,

5. provide for comparative protection of minorities from majorities through the rite of rights culture,

6. provide the general welfare (education, healthcare, income) through which a scene of informed, nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday interpersonal commerce is comparatively secured, a scene of consent the substance of which is paid for by

7. the provisions of a comparatively progressive taxation

a. that circumvents anti-democratizing concentrations of wealth that skew communication of fact and merit and hence corrupt accountability of governance,

b. that yokes the maintenance of government to the people governed through the principle of no taxation without representation,

c. that creates no initial barrier to accomplishment but functions as an a posterior filter ensuring that to those to whom more is given more is required,

7. and comparatively accountably administers common and public goods in the public interest and hence circumvents the structural violences involved in the externalization of social costs, the misappropriation of the common inheritance and commonwealth of civilization, the violation of the planetary resources on which we all depend for our survival and flourishing,

8. provide a space for the ongoing contestation and collaboration over the terms on which violence is legible as such through the comparative championing of rights to free expression, press, and assembly, comparative generality of the franchise and right to run for elective office, comparative equity of recourse to law, comparative celebration of diversity secured through comparative equity of the scene of consent.

Dale Carrico said...

Needless to say, all these "comparatives" name for me sites of ongoing democratizing reform and struggle, while no doubt for others they function as alibis and rationalizations for complacency in the face of ongoing inequities, exploitation, abuses, and parochial privileges.

You ask, "Does nonviolence just mean opposition to nonstate violence and state violence deem[ed] illegitimate?" Well, depending on what you mean by "deemed" (by whom? as registered how? with what consequences to whom?), I think maybe my answer is "yes," although it seems to me anybody who wants to put "just" before mean there almost certainly is not grasping what I mean. I think you are looking to dismiss the force of a commitment to nonviolence on these terms the better to engage in a vision of radical politics that amounts to a profoundly superficial, irresponsible, self-congratulatory disavowal of the political altogether. In part I say that because we have been arguing on these topics now for years and there is nothing I say here that I have not said to you before and yet it seems as if for you none of these endless careful delineations remain in your memory at all, there is nothing but your eagerness to seize on one word or phrase that gives you the permission you so desperately crave to expose the secret authoritarian in me the better to get on with the eating of the cake and having it too that is what your dance party anti-politics peddling itself as revolutionary politics finally amounts to.

jimf said...

> Those who foolishly pine to demolish rather than to
> democratize [government] are paranoiacally misapprehending
> essential, exhaustive, ubiquitous violence in even. . .
> comparatively democratic state forms. . .

Something I came across the other day in Christopher Hitchens'

From Hitchens' 2007 introduction to Rebecca West's
_Black Lamb and Grey Falcon_ (West's reflections on
her travels in the Balkans between the First and Second
World Wars):

Assisting her. . . and sometimes contradicting her as well,
is the near-ubiquitous figure of "Constantine." He is supposed
to speak for all those who have resisted the long, rival
tyrannies of Austria-Hungary and Turkey, and who are now trying
to teach the discordant peoples of Yugoslavia to speak with
one voice. One's attitude. . . to West herself depends to
a very great extent on one's view of Constantine. . .

I happen to like Constantine. . . When dealing with an
incensed young Bosnian who accused him of being a government
stooge, he responds with some gravity by saying: "Yes. For
the sake of my country, and perhaps a little for the sake of
my soul, I have given up the deep peace of being in opposition."
This is one of the more profoundly mature, and also among
the most tragic, of the signals that West's ear was attuned
to pick up.

andrewggibson said...

Re: Jimf's comment, I found the following quote from 1000 Plateaus when I was writing something small about the politics of the last third of The Dark Knight Rises. The question had been raised (by Ross Douthat)of whether it the movie was a Rand-y circle-jerk, or whether there was some lesson in the constitutional art of political compromise:

"You don’t reach the BwO, and its plane of consistency, by wildly destratifying … If you free it with too violent an action, if you blow apart the strata without taking precautions, then instead of drawing the plane, you will be killed, plunged into a black hole, or even dragged towards catastrophe. Staying stratified – organized, signified, subjected – is not the worst that can happen; the worst that can happen is if you throw the strata into demented or suicidal collapse, which brings them back down on us heavier than ever. This is how it should be done; lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times."