BroadSnark

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

Legality, Morality, and Dehumanization

January 25, 2013 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Drugs, Inequality, Sex

According to Oliver Willis, some of us on the left are dumb because we aren’t ready to declare that a woman arrested for prostitution with her son present is an open and shut case of wrongness. He claims it isn’t about whether or not we think prostitution should be legal. It is illegal. She brought her kid. She involved “her child in what is very clearly illegal activity.” End of story.

But does Willis really think that people should never do anything illegal? Back in November, Willis claimed that Martin Luther King was one of the most important figures in black American history. And in this piece, he asked “Do people on the left think that Martin Luther King simply held one protest and those in power immediately rushed to pass the Civil Rights Act?”

I certainly don’t think that MLK held one protest. I know that he held many protests. I also know that he spent quite a bit of time in jail for breaking the law, as did a whole lot of other people in the civil rights movement. It was, after all, MLK who said “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

But perhaps Willis just meant that children should never be involved in illegal activity, even the illegal activity he might find moral. It so happens that I am currently reading Freedom’s Children, interviews of people who were children during the civil rights movement. Kids were actively recruited by MLK and others to participate in protests and nonviolent disobedience. They integrated movie theaters and restaurants. They went to jail. They got their asses kicked. Does Willis think that shouldn’t have happened? I doubt it.

What about immigration, Oliver. You said Romney lost because he “embraced in a bear hug the most fringe anti-immigrant position out there.” You seem to support immigration reform and scoff at Republicans who use the term “amnesty” to refer to legalizing those who crossed our borders without papers. Do you think immigrants who crossed the border illegally with their children should be strung up from the nearest lamppost?

No. I don’t believe that this is really about legal or illegal. I think Willis would agree that disobeying unjust, immoral laws is perfectly acceptable. If not, he has some explaining to do about his love of MLK. This is about Willis’s opinion of sex work and the people who do it. It is about his willingness to dismiss and dehumanize someone because they did something he finds icky.

Back when I took my first class on the drug war, I had this click moment in my head. Even though I had never been in favor of the drug laws, even though I knew many people who were caught up in the injustice system, I never really recognized the scheme for what it was. How I never saw the process of dehumanization is incredible to me. I mean, I had been reading about Nazi Germany’s laws against Jews since grade school. I knew how vagrancy laws were used during Jim Crow. I understood how laws were enacted to criminalize certain groups and justify their oppression. But somehow I never saw it clearly when it came to the drug laws.

And it wasn’t until relatively recently that I really gave a lot of thought to the laws against sex work. Who are they meant to control? Where did they come from? Who is getting their freedom taken away? What is the result of the War on Sex Workers?

But Willis doesn’t want to ask those questions. He doesn’t want to ask why a person might do sex work. He doesn’t want to ask why sex work is looked down upon more than working for Goldman Sachs. He doesn’t want to ask why someone might have to bring their kid to work with them. To ask those questions would mean seeing that woman as a human being and not a “criminal” – that classification which justifies taking someone’s freedom, taking their children, marking them for life.

When someone dared suggest that perhaps the woman’s choices were limited and that we should try to understand more about her circumstances before we judge, Willis chose to get butthurt that people had lower standards for the poor. Apparently, he thinks that following the rules and working hard will eventually pay off for everyone – despite all the evidence to the contrary.

No, Willis. Asking questions, refusing to completely dehumanize that woman, is not a “degrading” assumption that “a poor person must break the law to eat and that that’s somehow okay.” It is an understanding that some human beings have more limited choices than others. It is an understanding that laws are often made for the purpose of controlling certain groups of people. It is the unwillingness to dehumanize and degrade.

Willis believes in “absolutes, ” by which he means that laws are laws and should be followed by all. Nobody gets a break. The guy who stole millions in mortgage fraud schemes is exactly the same as the starving guy who stole bread.  For him, anything else means “no moral guidance, no right and wrong… anarchy.”

Except that “no moral guidance” is not what anarchy means. Anarchy means no rulers. It means no hierarchies that allow a few powerful people to make laws that oppress the rest. It means understanding that moral and legal are not the same.  It means freedom, mutual aid, and respect. It means trying to understand what your fellow human beings are experiencing and not assuming that your morals and choices are universal.

Laws against sodomy, laws against miscegenation, laws against drugs, and laws against sex work have all been used to target marginalized people. And even when some of the people who support those laws have good intentions – like those who know how destructive drug abuse can be – they cannot just close their eyes to how the laws are used. That is immoral.

Vilifying Palestinians, Erasing Movements

June 04, 2010 By: Mel Category: Change, Violence

There is no justification for the actions that the Israeli government took this week.  There is no justification for the blockade on Gaza.  There is no defense for allowing settlers to invade Palestinian land, eating it up piece by piece.  The apartheid in Israel/Palestine is immoral, unjust, inhumane, and repugnant.  Everybody knows it.  Even Israel’s defenders know it.

The typical response from defenders of Israel, when faced with Israel’s actions, is something like this one that I read on Facebook this week

And we all know what martyrdom means to Muslims – it is an honor they often seek.

Muslims, you see, are particularly irrational.  (The fact that not all Palestinians are Muslim doesn’t seem to matter in the slightest.)  That’s why, when butted up against a moral wall, an Israeli I spoke to defended his country by saying “Palestinian women strap their kids with bombs.”  What that Israeli meant was – Yes, our actions are crazy, but it’s because we are dealing with crazy people.

Even people who recognize the immorality of Israel’s actions still vilify Palestinians by erasing their actions and ignoring their movements.  Take this video from the Young Turks. (Thanks to Mariana E. for posting it.)

Once again, someone is lecturing Palestinians about nonviolence.  Once again, someone is telling Palestinians that they should learn from Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  Which is infuriating.  Because there has always been nonviolent, Palestinian resistance.

the reality is that Palestinians have consistently chosen nonviolent resistance before arms – from the general strikes of 1936, to the consistent appeals to international legal bodies, to the weekly demonstrations against the wall. It has been the continued dispossession at the hands of Israel, and the silence of the international community despite these nonviolent efforts, that has led some Palestinians to view violence as the only option.

As Yousef Munayyer describes in the article quoted above, if there is a Palestinian Gandhi, he or she is most likely languishing in an Israeli jail.  Just because the New York Times doesn’t report on the nonviolent movements or pretends as though they are new does not make it so.  Like most U.S. media, they prefer not to contradict the image of Palestinians as irrational, inhuman, crazies.

So below I am linking to videos, articles, and websites that show a different picture of the Palestinian people than you get on the U.S. mainstream news.   Next time someone gives you the “they’re all crazy and violent” response, feel free to provide them a link.

You can read about past and present Palestinian nonviolent movements in Tikkun, Peace Magazine and especially this article in The Holy Land Trust.

Here is the trailer to a new film about the protests in Budrus. (Note: I haven’t seen it yet.”

Democracy Now often does interviews with Israeli and Palestinian activists, including this one of three women who toured the U.S. together and this one with two members of Combatants for Peace.

You can find links to Palestinian peace and human rights organizations here and here.

And if you want to get news on Israel/Palestine, forget the New York Times.  Read Electronic Intifada or Mondoweiss.

Even the Daily Show interviewed Anna Baltzer and Mustafa Barghouti about nonviolent movements.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Anna Baltzer & Mustafa Barghouti Extended Interview Pt. 1
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Are Anarchists Naive?

November 02, 2009 By: Mel Category: Anarchism

Once people find out I’m an anarchist (and get over the shock that I am not a fifteen year old punk rock white boy who likes to smash windows), they want to know what anarchy is (if not violence and mayhem).  I explain to them that anarchy means “without rulers” and that I am against all forms of domination.

Now, of course, they want to know how we are going to live without domination.  They tell me that, without police, we will have no protection from violent criminals.  They tell me that, without bosses, nobody would do anything and we’d all starve.  They tell me that, without coercion, people would just argue forever and nothing would ever get resolved.  They tell me that, if you remove coercive institutions tomorrow, someone would just go about trying to recreate them.

They think anarchy is a utopian dream.

They’re right.  It is a utopian dream.  And there is nothing wrong with utopian dreams.  Whenever humans have made progress, it has been because of people who had seemingly unrealistic dreams about human possibility.  Mother Jones, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King had utopian visions for the world.  Their visions may not have been fully realized, but they changed things radically for the better.

I don’t believe I will ever see a society that is completely free of coercion and violence.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m just going to roll over and accept coercion and violence.  I don’t believe I will ever see a society where hierarchies don’t exist.  But that doesn’t mean I’m just going to roll over and accept man over woman, white over black, straight over gay, rich over poor, owner over worker.

When they tell me that, without police, we will have no protection from violent criminals; I tell them that half the people who are languishing in prison are not violent criminals.  I tell them that “17.6 % of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape.”  I tell them that most rapes go unreported and most rapists unpunished.  I tell them that, in many cases, the police are the rapists and not protecting us at all.  I tell them that I don’t think I’m protected now.

When they tell me that, without bosses, nobody would do anything and we’d all starve; I tell them that people are starving now.  I tell them that “almost one person in six does not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life.” And I tell them that there are alternatives to hierarchy.  I tell them about the FASINPAT in Argentina and Arizmendi bakeries in California.  I tell them about AK Press and Mondragon (soon coming to a U.S. town near you).

When they tell me that, without coercion, people would just argue forever and nothing would ever get resolved; I tell them that ordinary people, working together, can come up with solutions on their own.  And if they don’t believe me, they can ask nobel prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom.

I don’t disagree that there will always be people trying to rebuild the coercive institutions that we manage to tear down.  There are people out there who long for the antebellum south.  There are people who would like to bring back ruling monarchies.  And obscene amounts of people supported McCarthyism and the Patriot Act and every other rollback of civil rights some butthead has proposed.  That’s not an argument against anarchy.

I’m not naive.  I understand the challenges.  I understand how imperfect we all are.  But I also see the possibilities.  I see anarchy happening in little (and not so little) ways all over the world.  And I know that the people are wrong who think obtaining power, and using that power over others, is the only way to accomplish anything.  It isn’t the only way.  It isn’t the right way.

I do not believe that the world will ever be all peace, love, and cotton candy.  I do believe that the more people adopt anarchist principles, the better off we will be.

Anarchism and Civil Disobedience

October 05, 2009 By: Mel Category: Anarchism

I recently finished reading Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory by Uri Gordon.  It’s a great book and a must read for anyone interested in contemporary anarchist thought, action, and dilemmas.

Like many anarchists, Uri emphasizes direct action, “action without intermediaries, whereby an individual or a group uses their own power and resources to change reality in a desired direction.” Direct action can entail blocking a roadway or tearing down a wall. It can also be creating something new within the old system, like a worker-run cooperative.

Direct action is not civil disobedience. Uri explains,

It is important to distinguish between direct action and a related concept, ‘civil disobedience’. I take the latter to mean any conscious collective defiance of the law, either for moral reasons or in an attempt to mount pressure on the authorities to respond to one’s demands…Thus civil disobedience is essentially a confrontational form of political dialogue between insubordinate citizens and the state, which does not challenge the basic legitimacy of the latter (since the state is expected to act in response to the disobedients’ demands – changing an unjust law, for example).  Often civil disobedience is accompanied by rhetoric that calls on society to live up to its professed ideals, reinforcing rather than challenging the status quo on society’s basic relations and institutions

I see Uri’s point, but I believe the picture he paints is incomplete. Often, the primary dialogue is not between the insubordinate citizens and the state, but between the insubordinate citizens and other citizens (either of their own country or of other countries in the world).

Actions by Gandhi and Martin Luther King were specifically designed to demonstrate the violence and injustice of the state.  MLK chose Montgomery, Alabama because he knew that the particularly brutal authorities would take action that would shock people, people who were not necessarily allies to that point.  Civil disobedience is theater as well as dialogue.

Anarchists could learn from their example.  It is a fact that there will never be anarchism without widespread commitment to anarchist principles.  Anarchists need to be more aware of how their actions will be perceived from the outside.

Anarchists should anticipate how their actions will be presented to the public by authorities and media.  And anarchists should be ready to respond to that presentation – clearly and creatively.  Unless we learn to do that, people will not be receptive to what we are saying.

Obama, The Military, and the Dreaded P Word

September 15, 2008 By: Mel Category: Violence

During the recent community service forum at Columbia University, Obama said the ROTC should be invited back to Columbia and other college campuses who don’t currently allow them. He said that he recognized the “differences in terms of military policy,” but felt it was a mistake that “young people here at Columbia or anywhere at any university aren’t offered the choice, the option, of participating in military service.”

Now it so happens that I agree with Obama, if only because I don’t feel I have the right to impose my morals on others. But by copping out with a weak statement about “differences in terms of military policy” he avoided talking about some issues that we really need to be talking about.

First of all there is the dreaded P word. No, I’m not talking about Palin…or Pig…or Pussy. I’m talking about Pacifist. Now I don’t expect any politician to be one (god forbid), but it’s like they can’t even say the word. We revere Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and yet being a pacifist is seen as naive and weak. If a presidential candidate uttered the word, would their candidacy immediately go down in flames?

Perhaps even more importantly, military service is not just about sacrificing and laying yourself on the line for others. It is about taking other peoples lives. It involves joining an institution that expects its members to follow orders, even when those orders turn out to be disastrous. Willingness to serve in the military isn’t just about willingness to sacrifice, it is about trust in the people who are going to be asking for your sacrifice.

In my father’s generation (he was born in 1929), military service was far more common. World War II was heinous, as all wars are, but soldiers felt honored and honorable when they returned. They felt they were fighting the good fight. People trusted that their government was sending them where they needed to go.

Many Vietnam-era conservatives will tell you that it was lack of support by traitorous hippies that made Vietnam different. (Ironically, the same conservatives who scoff at distrust of the military will swear that government is incapable of doing anything right when it comes to anything else.) But the truth is that any lack of support from the American people was well deserved by a government that lied to us repeatedly (and continues to do so).

Obama speaks often about taking us past the old battles of the baby boomer generation. He talks about revitalizing a culture of service (military and otherwise). He talks about restoring faith in government. If he really wants to do those things, he can’t avoid discussing the issues at the root of our distrust, and apathy, and unresolved anger.