BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
Subscribe

Archive for the ‘Core’

Some Thoughts on Voting for the Newly Disillusioned

August 03, 2016 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking

I’m seeing quite a few people in my Facebook and Twitter feeds who have just now realized that the political system is not the path to what they are looking for. They are feeling angry, cynical, and lost.

I get it. I’ve been there.

I was crushed when Bill Clinton gave us welfare “reform,” NAFTA, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I was one of those people everyone blames for the 2000 election because they voted for Nader. And, even though I had long before become cynical, I really hoped that Obama at least kinda meant all that stuff he said about civil liberties. Other people maybe picked Howard Dean or Ron Paul, but many of us have had at least one moment of political hope followed by inevitable disappointment.

Of course we have. We have been trained our entire lives to focus our attention on the shiny circus of Big P Politics, especially presidential elections. We are taught it was LBJ and FDR that made things better. It is as if all the people who went door to door, marched, organized strikes, wrote, exposed corruption, and took direct action did not even exist.

The good news is that now you are free. There are millions of things you can do and millions of people who also think things suck. Now that you have safely eliminated presidential politics from your arsenal of tactics that work, you can put your energies towards better things.

I’ve spent a lot of the last decade reading about social movements – from the kids involved in the civil rights movement to the anarchists in Barcelona. And I’ve spent a bit of time, though not nearly enough, participating in them. I don’t have a magic formula for you, but I do have a basic path that has started to form in my head. It goes something like this.

  1. Imagine how you want your life to be and what is standing in your way. Figure out what you want your world to look like. It doesn’t have to be precise or perfect, but you do need something to reach for.
  1. Find other people who want the same things that you do. Build communities of trust and support. (That trust and support part is crucial.)
  1. Plan direct actions. Ideally they should provide for immediate needs and disrupt the systems of oppression.
  1. Identify the obstacles that you will face and prepare for them, figure out how you will defend yourselves.
  1. Act
  1. Review the action. Figure out what went well and what didn’t. Reassess. Adjust. Make sure all your people are taken care of.
  1. Rinse and repeat.

That doesn’t mean that voting can never, ever be a part of what you are doing.

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” – Emma Goldman

All due respect to Emma (and I love her), her statement is kind of a case for voting. After all, it has been and still is prohibited for a whole lot of people (former felons, for instance). And it is not true that voting never matters at all. Voting for someone who is less likely to mow you down in the street is a totally reasonable defense strategy. Voting a terrible prosecutor out of office is a legitimate tactic. If two dudes are running for town sheriff and one is a sociopath, we might consider voting for the other guy.

But then we should go right back to working on ending the position of sheriff or prosecutor entirely. We should learn how to build community for ourselves rather than constituencies for people with their own agenda. We should learn how to resolve conflict ourselves, not empower violent authorities to run systems of oppression and retribution.

It is a lot harder to do those things than to stump for a candidate and vote every couple years. But we can only get out from under these people if we take responsibility and represent ourselves. I screw up every damn day in every way imaginable. But that is why it is called a struggle. And it is so much better to be struggling – to be a better person, to build alternate systems, against oppressive structures, with my community –  than to be looking for some kind of savior to come along and make it better.

Now that you are free of the constraints of electoral politics, what are you going to do?

The Road to Hell

April 29, 2011 By: Mel Category: Core, Criminalization, Seeking

My mother has a platitude for every occasion. One favorite is “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

I thought about that saying as I read this piece on prostitution arrests in Honolulu. I have no doubt that some of the people pressuring the Honolulu PD to make prostitution a priority think they are doing a good thing. And I understand how someone hears about really awful trafficking stories and wants to do something about it. But the end result of their pressure is that a bunch of women are getting arrested, sometimes on multiple occasions. They even published some of their names in the paper. How the hell is that supposed to help the women that they are supposedly so concerned about?

The paper notes that, in nine months, the police have arrested only one pimp.  An associate dean at Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, explains why:

A prostitution arrest is very easy. You can do that quickly. You can go out on the street or go on Craigslist and get the individuals involved. But to get the pimp, it is harder to make that case.

Let’s set aside the fact that a whole lot of prostitutes don’t have pimps. It is an absolute truism that the law goes after the easiest pickings. If a six month investigation will result in one arrest of someone with a good attorney (who will probably get them off), but one afternoon on the corner can result in multiple arrests of people who can’t afford an attorney, who do you think most police departments pursue?

Back in 2004, a report was prepared for the Racial Disparity Project in Seattle. Like in the rest of the country, blacks and Latinos in Seattle were being incarcerated at higher rates than whites. The researchers set out to determine why. They found that the Seattle PD focused on downtown areas where crack was sold, ignoring areas where white people were selling heroin. The researchers found no “racially neutral” explanation for the disparities. In other words, the police were targeting the black community. It is always going to be the people with the least status who are targeted by the laws. Always.

I know I have written about this before when I talked about Over Reliance on the Law and Why the Legal System Does Not Work For You, but I just keep coming up on the same mental block. People see something horrible and they feel like they would be a bad person if they did nothing. And the only thing they can think to do is pass a law or call an authority or violate a person’s rights in some way. If to save one person, you hurt ten (or ten thousand), what the hell good does that do?

I was recently contacted by one of my friends, we’ll call her Carrie. Carrie is worried about one of our mutual friends who is going through a really rough time right now. Bad stuff. Deaths and illnesses and breakups and generally more than anyone can really handle. Our friend, we’ll call her Sandy, is not necessarily utilizing the most healthy coping mechanisms. (Neither would I be, but that’s another tale.) Carrie wants to do something to save Sandy from herself. I get it. I love Sandy. She is family to me.

But trying to save people from themselves almost always goes horribly wrong. It is how you get prostitutes being jailed in the name of saving people from sex work. It is how you get minority drug addicts being jailed in the name of saving people from drug addiction. And it is how you get women being institutionalized against their will in the name of “helping” them.

I’m not suggesting that we all just think about ourselves and do nothing about suffering. If someone asks me for help, and I can give it, I will. If someone says that something I do hurts them, and I can stop it, I do. If I see injustice and I have the ability to call it out, I will. If I can be there for a friend, not judging them or telling them how to live their life, I’m there.

I realize that means that I will sometimes have to watch people that I love hurt themselves. And that sucks. But we can’t save anyone but ourselves. We can’t prevent one another from experiencing pain. We can be there to lean on. We can be kind to people. We can make people laugh. We can remind people about the parts of life that don’t suck. We can forgive people their imperfections.

We can respect that the road that they are on may be the one that they need to travel, even if it is long and ugly and dangerous. Because really, in the end, all those roads end in the same place.

On Facts and Truth

February 10, 2011 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Seeking

Our book group just finished reading The Whites of Their Eyes by Jill Lepore. Lepore is a historian and spends a lot of time focusing on historical facts that contradict the tea party narrative. So the group spent some time discussing whether or not there is such a thing as verifiable fact, whether the truth is really knowable.

It is common in U.S. politics for the left to assert that they deal in fact, while the right deals in mythology. You can certainly make a case for that when it comes to, for example, sex education or evolution.  But when I got home from the book club, I started thinking about another, similar discussion I had about facts and truth.

Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia is the testimonio of an indigenous Guatemalan woman.  Menchú lived through Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war, a war that resulted in an estimated 200,000 killed or disappeared and more than one million displaced. The book recounts the torture and murders of her family members and her journey from unknown indigenous woman to Nobel prize winner.

But the book caused controversy when anthropologist David Stoll started investigating some of the details.  He found, for example, that witnesses claimed Rigoberta’s brother was shot rather than burned to death.  He discovered that she had more education than claimed in the book.  And he brought out information about an intra-indigenous land dispute that was not mentioned in the story and which he thought pertinent.

People on the left rushed to Menchú’s defense.  They claimed that indigenous people had different senses of history and fact.  They said it was common in testimonio to mix together stories of what happened to you and what happened to others, that there was not the same sense of individuation that we have.  They claimed that whatever facts might be off, the overall story that she told is accurate.  Her book conveys how the war effected indigenous communities.

Although I was one of the few people in class who actually sympathized with some of Stoll’s arguments, I also had to admit that the facts in question didn’t really matter much to the overall truth of what she said.  As a writer, I know that there are some truths that I could probably only face in fiction.  And I suspect that Arundhati Roy, in the introduction to Field Notes on Democracy, is onto something when she says,

As a writer, a fiction writer, I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise, to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on.  Does it eventually mask a larger truth?  I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we really need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.

I believe that.  I believe sometimes you can get mired in the details and lose site of what is important. And I believe that your belief system, your narrative, your ideology – they determine which facts you pursue.  So the motivation behind the pursuit is often more important than the facts themselves.

The reason that the left reacted so violently to Stoll is that they wondered what his motivation was in going after Rigoberta Menchú in the first place.  As I thought about that, I realized that one of the reasons I really disliked Lepore’s book was that I was suspicious about her motivations for writing it. And my suspicions were very soon confirmed by how she approached the issue.

She mocks the Tea Party.  It isn’t the kind of obvious mocking that you would get on The Daily Show. In fact, she makes herself seem like a very reasonable person who sat down and talked to them.  It is a subtle, intellectualized mocking where she points out all the facts they get wrong and glosses over or trivializes the things they get right.  Right at the beginning of the book she says,

But the Tea Party’s Revolution wasn’t just another generation’s story – it was more like a reenactment – and its complaint about taxation without representation followed the inauguration of a president who won the electoral vote 365 to 173 and earned 53 percent of the popular vote.  In an age of universal suffrage, the citizenry could hardly be said to lack representation. (emphasis mine)

Really?  I think there are about 5 million people in prison or felon disenfranchised who might disagree.  There are millions of undocumented immigrants who might disagree.  There are lots of young adults under 18 who might disagree.  And most of us eligible voters don’t feel represented by the customary choices of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.  That’s why we don’t usually bother to vote.  But thanks for dismissing us with one fell swoop of “facts.”

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know I have a somewhat different take on the Tea Party crowd.  I think the Tea party is right that they are not represented.  I think they have been hella slow figuring it out.  I don’t know how to reach some of those people, but I am certain that combing through their words to find every fact they have wrong is not the way to do it. Inconvenient facts are great for winning a debate, but not necessarily helpful for reaching an understanding.

I am not claiming that facts do not matter at all.  I won’t go so far as to say nothing is knowable.  But I do think that we select what facts to go after and what facts to use.  We can as easily use facts to obscure the truth as to uncover it.  Facts and truth have a more complicated relationship than might seem to be the case and sometimes you have to go beyond facts to get at truth.

Fighting Words

December 10, 2010 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Core, Seeking

If I say blue, are you confused?  But I might be thinking cobalt while you are thinking cornflower. Maybe the person next to you is colorblind and can’t tell blue from green. Maybe the person next to them is completely blind and can’t understand color.  Maybe we weren’t talking about color at all. Maybe we were talking about emotion.

Words are less precise than we think.

Am I a Jew?  I probably wasn’t born Jewish.  I was raised to be Jewish.  I have cultural experiences that are Jewish.  I identify with Jewish history.  I don’t subscribe to the religious beliefs.  I don’t practice Judaism.  There are people who will dislike me because of my Jewishness, regardless of how I feel about the religious beliefs.  If the question relates to religion, I am an atheist.  If I am accused of being Jewish, then I am a Jew.

Words are contextual.

Why do we call people Latino whose origins go back to long before Columbus stumbled upon the Americas?  What is “Latin” about Latin America?  Thousands of languages have been spoken in the Americas, yet we refer to people as Hispanic. Why should a Quechua speaker be called Hispanic?  Why should a Guarani whose second language is German be called Hispanic?  Why do we even call that language Spanish?  Lots of languages are spoken in Spain, Castilian is only one of them.

Words have history.  Words erase history.  Words categorize.

In the old movies I used to watch with my father, they used the word gay all the time. But I’m pretty sure The Gay Divorcee with Fred Astaire was not a coming out of the closet story. When the Flintstones told us to have a “gay old time” they probably weren’t suggesting we all go out and attend a pride parade.

A word’s meaning, use and significance changes over time.

Lots of people have defined themselves as libertarians.  Do Noam Chomsky and Ron Paul mean the same thing when they refer to themselves as libertarian?  No. Not exactly. Two people who know each other well may know exactly what kind of libertarian they mean and can use the word and continue on their merry way.  People who don’t know each other will have to clarify if they want to be sure they are talking about the same thing.

Words are shortcuts.  Sometimes a shortcut will get you there faster. Sometimes a shortcut will get you lost.

It may seem like we are just fighting over words.  But it isn’t because of words that we fight. Words are just the imperfect tools we have to express the conflicts that are an inherent part of being human.

As humans, we fight to self identify rather than having other people label us.  We want to have our histories included and not obfuscated by the narrative of the “winners.”   We struggle with our desire to be understood.  We feel connections with people who have similar experiences to us. We try to find ways to honor the things we value most in life. We struggle to differentiate ourselves from people who don’t seem to value the things we do, even though that struggle is often just a reflexion of our own self hatred and self doubt. We use words to imagine how things might be.

Some words are more loaded than others.  The more complex the meaning of a word, the more care we should take when using it.  But when even a word as simple as blue can be misunderstood, is it really possible not to use loaded language?  How long would every conversation be if we removed every word that represents years of history and philosophical discourse?

We can’t stop fighting over words.  All we can really do is keep questioning and clarifying, both our own thoughts and the thoughts of those around us. We can keep in mind that words are understood through the lens of our experiences.  We can respect the history of words.  We can respect other people by allowing them to define themselves in the way that feels right to them. We can remember that words are sometimes weapons. And we can wield them with care.

The Power of Principle

November 04, 2010 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics

So I got into a little twitter spat a few weeks ago.  One of the people I follow made the following statement:

Some bloggers feel it’s better to be principled than in power.

Naturally, I objected. The conversation turned into one of those us v. them tropes.  Us, in the case of this twitterer, being  progressives.  Whatever that means.

We have to stop the conservatives.  We have to choose between “2 years of investigations about birth certificates, or trying to inch forward with our agenda.”  (I’m not sure what “our” agenda is.  Mine doesn’t include assassinations, American citizens or not, or massive bailouts to hedge funds.)

More importantly, it’s a false choice.  You don’t have to compromise your principles to have power.  You only have to compromise them to have the kind of corrupt, coercive power that has gotten us into this craphole.  Didn’t Martin Luther King have both power and principle?  How about Gandhi?  Emma Goldman?  James Baldwin?

The people whose power lasts are those whose power comes from their principles, not from selling their principles out.  It’s not naive to think that people shouldn’t sell their principles to power.  It’s naive to think that someone in power who has sold their principles can do us any good.

And now the progressives/democrats/liberals/whatever are out bemoaning their loss of congressional seats.  And they wonder why.  Hello out there!  People know when you are willing to sell out your principles and they generally don’t like it.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the actually tweet that started this all was referring to the five bloggers that Peter Daou thinks are “bringing down the Obama presidency.”  I thought I must have somehow made a mistake, that I was misunderstanding.  I mean surely it was not being suggested that the media should become a cheerleader for the democrats.  Guess it was my turn to be naive.  The twitter convo is below.   A third party jumped in.  He actually quoted Macchiavelli – – fucking Macchiavelli.  I kid you not.

And these people wonder why they keep losing.

_______________________

Me: I don’t understand.  You think Greenwald et al shouldn’t write about those things?

Shoq: I think they can be constructive critics without threatening to tear down any progress we’ve made against a rabid right.  In fact, it’s helping to drive us farther off a cliff.

Me: They aren’t working for the democratic party.  That’s not their job.

Shoq: I don’t work for them either.

Then this guy jumps in:

JeffersonObama: Greenwald, Olbermann should help the Dems by posting voting info and supporting all Americans opposed to Teabag sycophants

Me:  Journalists/Bloggers jobs are to tell it like they see it, to give people info to make informed choices…Despite what Fox may have people believe, it is not their job to be partisan hacks

JeffersonObama: Fox News is the reason their voters are organized to vote on election day..they have maps, sites & work with 501s, 527s & GOP

Me: So just our side and their side, leave your principles or honesty at the door.  Win, win, win..no thought to what you win?

JeffersonObama: Our bloggers tell our voters to hate Obama, our values and then fold up and run. Bloggers are Cowards. Some of us are fighting

Me: I’ve never heard Greenwald say people should hate Obama.  Being in lockstep with dems when they are wrong is not brave.

JeffersonObama: Simply, as Machiavelli writes, “The answer … it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.” Stand up & fight

Me: LOL.  The only thing people seem afraid of is being principled even when it means giving up their “we’re the good guys” bs

JeffersonObama: Bloggers like you hate our party more than GOP. That’s fine, but at least don’t discourage our fighters to take on GOP-Teabags

Me: You miss the point.  I don’t hate.  And I definitely don’t make life out to be a football game btwn 2 teams of 9 yr olds

JeffersonObama: I’m not talking Football. I’m noyt talking low brow slogans..I’m talking about winning in politics..not meant for some obviously

__________________

Headdesk.

P.S.  In case you missed it, Glenn Greenwald took Daou and the rest down.

Food, Water, Air and Care

October 27, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Politics, Stratification

Remember Maslow’s hiearchy of needs?  Sure you do. It is usually presented something like this.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
You start at the bottom with the most basic needs.  As basic needs are met, you go up the pyramid.  I’ve seen a few of these pyramids.  They usually list the same stuff for basic needs – air, water, food.  They always forget the same basic need – care.

Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. – Jean Jacques Rousseau

I blame Rousseau, myself.  Man is not born free, he is born attached to his mother by a cord and is not capable of looking after himself for at least seven years (seventy in some cases). – Katherine Whitehorn

I often think of those two quotes, especially when people ask why there are so few women anarchists and libertarians.  The recent anarchist survey came back with 82% of the respondents being men.  Libertarian surveys also have lopsided results.

Why?

When I lived in California, I worked for a small nonprofit that assisted caregivers of people with brain impairments. I picked up the phone one day and spoke to a client who had just received her first bit of respite.  That’s where we provided money for the caregiver to hire someone for a couple hours.  The woman had been taking care of her husband since his motorcycle accident a decade before.  She was crying.  She said it was the first time away from her caregiving responsibilities in all that time.

Our program was paid for in large part by tax dollars, both state and federal.  Who do you imagine that woman was going to vote for when the time came?  Do you think arguments about taxation being theft are going to persuade her that she should forgo those precious few government-funded moments of freedom?  How does your vision of freedom actually help her?  Are you going to go take care of her husband for her?

The vast majority of our clients were women, more than 80%.  Nationwide, the vast majority of people providing care for aging or disabled family members are women.  And even where men do provide care, they usually spend a lot less time doing it.  All that care has a cost.  Caregivers are stressed out.  They are depressed.  They earn less money.  They don’t take care of themselves.  They are struggling.

Women are seen as caregivers.  Women see themselves as caregivers.   It is what society expects of us.  The expectation is that we are supposed to want to play that role, to relinquish our freedom willingly out of selfless motherly/daughterly/wifely love.  Why would talk of freedom be expected to resonate with people who aren’t even allowed to want it?

There is a small part of biology involved in the idea that women are caregivers.  Those women who are able and choose to get pregnant have a biological caregiving role.  But the caregiving role that women are expected to play goes way beyond what is biologically determined.  The ability to get pregnant does not make someone caring.  Once a child is out of the womb, there is no biological rule about who should or would do the best job of caring for them.  The fact that women are the caregivers in our society is socially constructed.

That doesn’t just suck for women, by the way.  It sucks for men too.  I worked for divorce attorneys for many years.  Some of those bitter, “men’s rights” activists do have a legitimate gripe.  I saw many men get screwed in their divorce because, historically, the default was for kids to be with their mother – the caring one.  I saw kids begging judges to live with their father, only to be denied.  It happens.  I hate to agree with those schmucks on anything, but the sun shines on even a dog’s ass some days.

And if the gendered nature of caregiving weren’t damaging enough, our “independent,” nuclear family focused, transient society has taken away the collective caregiving that women have historically depended on.  Now we are expected to take care of our kids and our aging parents, often at the same time, and with little or no help from other family members or the community.  Is it really a surprise that, as women’s caregiving responsibilities increase, they become more liberal?

I don’t claim to have definitive answers on why women aren’t responding to anarchist and libertarian philosophies in the same way men are.  But I do think that the gendered nature of caregiving, how little most men talk about caregiving, how central caregiving is to our lives, and how much caregiving restricts our freedom has to be a factor.

And I find it interesting, in the context of this discussion, that so many anarchist and libertarian women are childless or did not participate in the raising of their children – Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, for instance.  I would be very curious to know how many anarchist and libertarian women are mothers.  Most women are mothers.  If we can’t reach mothers, we can’t reach women.

The fact is that every one of us had our baby diapers changed by a woman.  And there is a damn good chance that your adult diapers will be changed by one to.  Complete independence and freedom are an illusion.  It is an illusion that women are not in a position to hold.  We are interdependent.  And we are only free in so far as everyone is willing to share in taking responsibility for the caregiving that is a fundamental need for all humans.

Whoever is addressing the real life situations that women face is going to get their attention – whether that is liberals offering government social programs, conservatives offering church social programs, or anarchists offering something new.  Talk to me about how to have the freedom to pursue my dreams without leaving a mountain of young, old, sick, and dying to fend for themselves and I’ll listen.

Solidarity?

October 21, 2010 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking

I am really beginning to despise the word solidarity.  I’m constantly hearing calls for solidarity – with women just because they’re women, with anarchists just because they’re anarchists, with workers just because they’re workers.

Do you know what I think of when someone asks for solidarity?  I think of cops.  Nobody shows more solidarity than cops.  You could have a cop on video beating the crap out of someone, with a dozen of his fellow cops standing there watching, and not a one will cross that blue line to do what is right.   That’s some fucking solidarity right there.

And I think about Hebrew school.  I think about how we were always being asked to donate to Jewish causes, to plant trees in Israel, to rescue Jewish Ethiopians.  I was supposed to care more about one human being than another on the basis of some happenstance group identity.  The idea of “looking out for your own” repulsed me at nine and repulses me now.

Solidarity is about group cohesion, which means you have to see value in group belonging.  And I don’t.  I’ve never wanted to belong to a group.  All too often, group belonging means conformity.  It’s why the Amish all dress the same.  It’s why every kid in middle school has to run out and buy the same pair of jeans as their friends.  It’s why every pundit in Washington thinks exactly the same and why  we have all those little boxes on the hillside.  Conformity breeds intolerance, ignorance, group think, and stagnation.

You can only belong if others don’t belong.  There have to be boundaries and soon enough there will be people policing those boundaries.  The next thing you know “mean girls” are telling us we can’t wear sweatpants to school.  Your greener than thou friends disown you because you throw cans into the trash.  You’re kicked out of the anarchist group because you think smashing windows is pointless.  Debate is not an option.

That doesn’t preclude people joining forces for their common interest.  But it has to be about more than just group identity.  Support between workers halfway across the world, who have never met one another, is bound to be weak.  But if those workers are in the same industry or work for the same company and know that their fate is inextricably tied to one another in a very tangible way, then you have something.  And it isn’t just some vague notion of solidarity.

If you want me to do something or support something, do not appeal to me on the basis of group identity.  Appeal to me on principle.  Appeal to a real human relationship that we have.  If I think your cause is just, I’ll be there.  And if I also know and care about you as a human being, I’ll go to the mat.

If you just want solidarity, join the mob or the white nationalists or the police force.

Intellect as Evasion

October 14, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Politics, Seeking

Normally, I like Jay Smooth.  But this video really irritated me.

I understand why people are critical of the anti-intellectualism displayed by right wing populists who seem so disdainful of reading books, processing facts, or critical thinking of any kind.  But it amazes me when otherwise observant people can’t see that anti-intellectualism is reactionary.  It is a reaction to the idea that there is a small cadre of elites who are uniquely able to make important decisions on behalf of all of us.

There is no essential difference between supporting a ruling class based on blue-blood birth or ivy league degrees – it’s usually one and the same anyway.

The Christine O’Donnell commercial Smooth refers to is focused on morality, not intelligence.  She is saying that she will “do what you would do” in the context of not being a corrupt politician.  Now I have no doubt in my mind that she will be just as corrupt as the rest, but why not confront the issue of morality and corruption directly?  How does being an intellectual make someone more moral?  Is intellect the only thing of value in life?

For people who supposedly do a lot of critical thinking and evidence-based decision making, those who think like Smooth offer no proof that these supposedly smarter, more moral people are good leaders.  In fact, they seem completely blind to all evidence to the contrary.   Bill Clinton was smart and totally fucked us over.  Karl Rove is smart.  So is Paul Wolfowitz.  I hear Stalin was smart.

The intellectual hierarchy implicit in this way of thinking bugs me, but I think what bugs me even more is the abdication of responsibility.  In one part of the video, Smooth talks about how he wants to vote for someone who actually knows about stuff he doesn’t.  I realize that none of us can know everything, but that also includes politicians.  That’s (presumably) why they hold hearings and listen to people with expertise.

It reminds me of a blog comment that really irked me some time back.  The commenter was responding to the idea of anarchism.

I have literally no interest in doing much of the day to day running of a city myself, nor do I want to be at the mercy of “might makes right” types. I am happy to cede some powers to government to have them do those things for me.

So basically, the commenter wanted to be able to sit on their ass watching Top Chef without having to trouble themselves with the boring details of life.  And if their ability to do that is only won by giving power to people who will use it to enrich their friends, bomb children in Afghanistan, or put millions of poor people in jail?  Fuck em.

How selfish is that?

One of the reasons we constantly get screwed is that people think they can remain ignorant of policy and process.  They think they can leave the tedious stuff to others.  If we actually want any justice in the world, we need to take the time to learn boring shit.  We can’t just sit around in our underwear eating family-sized boxes of cereal, at least not all the time.  Maybe if we all got off our asses and did something we would find out that we are more capable than we have been led to believe.

Anarchy, Disability, Purity, and Doubt

June 07, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Stratification

I’ve been thinking about the Americans with Disabilities Act and about a conversation I recently had about social security.  You would think that, as an anarchist who wants a stateless society, I would be against both.  That would be the ideologically pure position, no?  To be honest, I’ve had a bit of cognitive dissonance on this issue.

The need for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and for social security is real.  My aunt grew up with cerebral palsy (CP) in a time when people hid their relatives with disabilities.  She lives in a private home.  The home was started by a woman whose child had CP.  She started the home knowing that, when she died, there would be nobody to take care of her kid.  This valiant effort by one individual has provided a home for many people.  But it would not survive if the people living there, many whose parents are no longer alive and who have no children, did not receive social security.

The kids I helped at Camp Challenge were sometimes trapped in their houses most of the year.  The profit driven market has no interest in starting an accessible transportation company for one kid in rural Tennessee.  There is no profit in that.  The market does see profit in at-home care, but only for those people who have an extra $2,000 a week to pay for it.  And eventually those kids’ parents will be gone and they will need a place to go and a means of support that they can count on.

Saying the market will take care of them, in our present circumstances, is absurd.  It is true that there is coercion involved when people have money taken against their will and redistributed to others.  But it is also true that we live in, and help to create, a society where differently abled people have virtually no freedom at all – that the freedom to not help them can be directly in contradiction to their freedom to leave their house, get around, have a job, communicate with people…Doesn’t their freedom count?

I pointed out in my previous post how Rachel Maddow gave the government credit for integrating Woolworths, rather than giving credit to the everyday people that actually did it.  And that is true.  But it is also true that my aunt could not march over to Woolworths and insist that they lower the counter to accommodate her.  She needs someone to dress her and feed her.   She needs a wheelchair.  She needs ramps to get out of her building and into Woolworths.  She needs people who have the patience to listen to her as she struggles to get out the words.  She needs people who can see past her chair and drool and speech impediment and who will listen to the brilliance of her thoughts.

We all need to take responsibility for ourselves and the people around us.  But we also need to acknowledge that some of us face obstacles to taking responsibility that others don’t.

So I see a need, in our present circumstances, for the the ADA and for social security.  But I also see how these things are part of the problem. It isn’t just about some idea of freedom or the free market.  It isn’t just about some principle against coercion.  The home that my aunt lives in is run by grossly underpaid, African American women.  Having an anonymous government bureaucracy deal with the details makes it so much easier to keep those women (and the people they take care of) out of site and out of mind.  I can just file that tax return and never have to think about the whole lousy system – until I end up in it, of course.

The worst part about supporting government programs is knowing that I am helping to feed the machine that causes so much destruction.  The machine that is supporting my aunt is murdering people in Afghanistan and incarcerating millions of people who have done nothing wrong.  That machine uses a few token programs to bolster its legitimacy so that it can continue to exploit and oppress at will.  Every small bit of good it does comes at someone else’s expense.

So where does that leave me?  It leaves me with a moral dilemma.

My instinct is to try and resolve that dilemma with some neat philosophical jujitsu.  But every practical bone in my body fights against it.  And, if I’m being honest here, every selfish bone in my body fights against it too.  If I were going to be ideologically consistent, I wouldn’t rely on the state at all, right? I would tell my mother and aunt to stop collecting social security.  I would give up my job and my life.  And I would try to find some way of supporting them and taking care of them myself.  (No idea how I would have a job and provide 24 hour care for my Aunt.)  But should I really be expected to give up any freedom I have?

The truth is that sometimes there are no good choices.  And I am going to have to live with some moral ambiguity.  That bothers me.  But not so much as it bothers me when people pretend that everything can be wrapped up in a nice package and that these issues don’t pose any moral dilemmas.

Our world was designed by and for a very limited number of people during a very limited portion of their lives.  An anarchist world would be a very different place.  A world designed by all people – all ages, all abilities, all backgrounds, where everyone has a seat at the table, where all can express their own needs and desires – would not have these contradictions.  But we don’t live in that world.

I know that the system can never be the solution to a problem it helped to create.  But I also know that I cannot snap my fingers and have magically appear an all voluntary non-coercive method of dealing with the problems of real people.  In the time between now and then, real people have real needs that need to be met.  Too often, we anarchists get so caught up in philosophical discussions that we forget that.

It is, I believe, a real weakness to pretend these moral dilemmas don’t exist.  It delegitimizes our arguments in the eyes of people who experience the obstacles we too often ignore.  And it constrains our strategies in trying to imagine a new world and how we might get there.

In short, what I am trying to say is that I think we should embrace the doubts, ambiguities, and moral dilemmas that are inevitable with the world as it is being so far off from the world as it should be.  Rather than having litmus tests for authenticity or trying to pretend that we are all ideologically consistent, we should admit that it is impossible and give each other room to breathe.  By allowing for the ambiguity, I suspect we will find ourselves better able to reach out to people who find our beliefs somewhat alien.  And I suspect that we might find ourselves better able to come up with creative strategies for getting from here to there.

What if the North Had Seceded?

May 10, 2010 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics

Here in the United States, the idea of secession is inextricably tied to slavery.  And there is damn good reason for that.  Despite what some putrid politicians may claim, the civil war was very much about slavery.  But the Confederacy didn’t invent the idea of secession.  They aren’t the only people in the world who have seceded or want to secede.  And the people who want to secede aren’t always the bad guys.

Those of us who are horrified by slavery (and I hope to hell that means you) have a tendency to see the Civil War in very simplistic terms.  The Southerners wanted to own people.  The Northerners wanted to stop them.  But I would like you to ask yourself this –  How badly did the Northerners wanted to stop them?

Northerners consistently compromised any principles they claimed to have in order to appease slave owners.  When slaves escaped to non-slave states in the North, Northern officials helped to capture those slaves and return them to their enslavers.  Not exactly the actions of the good guys.

What if the Northerners had really been passionate about the human rights of those slaves?  What if they had been so appalled by slavery that they refused to make compromises with the South any longer?  What if, rather than continue to compromise their principles, the North had seceded?

In this fictional world, the adamantly anti-slavery North would not have returned runaway slaves.  They would have given them asylum.  Perhaps the North would have helped freedom fighers like Nat Turner to procure weapons and overthrow the plantation owners.  Perhaps slaves would have gotten their 40 acres and a mule, rather than a post reconstruction sellout of Jim Crow and the KKK.

One thing is for certain, what we associate with the idea of secession would be much different. And then perhaps it would not be so difficult for us to speak about the principle underlying the idea of secession.  Secession is about self-determination.  Every anti-colonial and nationalist struggle in history has been about self-determination.  Democracy is about self-determination.  If you think that secession is only for neo-nazis, but have a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker on your car, I have news for you.  Tibet is trying to secede from China.  Tibet wants self-determination.

It’s asking a lot to separate the idea of self-determination from the context in which it was used.  We cannot ignore history for the sake of principle.  But nor can we ignore principle because of history.

Secession is back in the news lately.  And often it is on the lips of exactly the kind of white supremacists that you expect to talk about it. Undoubtedly, many of these people would not be talking secession if the president were not black.  But, as Chris Hedges laid out in his recent article, it isn’t just racists who are thinking about seceding.

Many people are disillusioned precisely because they thought electing Barack Obama was meaningful change.  He is an extraordinary person with an incredible life story.  He galvanized communities.  He inspired even the jaded.  We elected an African American community organizer.  From the perspective of the mainstream left, Barack Obama is quite likely the best we can do.  And the best we can do isn’t good enough to get out from under the rule of Goldman Sachs and the Military Industrial Complex.

I’m not writing this to argue for secession.  I don’t think a new state would be, ultimately, better than the old state.  And I’m sure as hell not trying to defend racist separatist movements.  I’m just trying to point out that it is completely possible to be a rational and decent person and believe that a government, our government, any government is beyond hope.  I’m just trying to say that it is not such a bad idea to imagine what real self-determination, out from under the power of Exxon and Halliburton, might look like.