“White People” – Yelling at Historical Figures

On the Absurdity, Narcicism and Cognitive Dissonance of Southern Whites, circa 1865

To be honest, I’ve always been a little irritated when people start a condescending exposition on “White People.” And I use the word “irritated” quite deliberately: I’m not shocked or offended, it’s very far from the worst affrontery I see, and while it is racist [1], it is pretty damn mild and ignorable as far as racism goes and in no way compares to the racism which non-white’s are far too often subjected to. It’s just obnoxious and I find it a little annoying, like people who carry a speaker with them to listen to bad “aussie hip hop” on the train because if they used headphones nobody would know how cool they are. But anyway, I have been reading Been in the Storm Too Long, a history of the aftermath of the American civil war, and I sympathise more than ever with tone in which people sometimes utter the words “white people”. More than once I have thought aloud, “white people are fucking crazy.” So I get it. It will stthannoy me sometimes, no doubt, but I do get it.

Southerners circa 1860, however, are in a class of their own when it comes to stupidity and racism. Their thoughts, words, and actions are so constantly and so glaringly hypocritical, and often absurd, that it is hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that these people actually existed. I can’t imagine anybody saying so many of the things they said with absolutely no self-awareness or sense of irony, but there it is, incredibly, a matter of historical record. There are so many examples of Southern hypocrisy that I hardly know where to begin. So I’ll start with the portion I was reading today, the facet of Southern life in the first years of emancipation which has brought me such joy and laughter to read about: former slaveholders and their families having to work for the first time in their pampered lives and complaing vociferously (and frankly, deliciously) about it to their diaries and in letters to family. After so many other statements to the effect that coloured people were inherently lazy and disinclined to work, the very same people would soon lament, seemingly oblivious to the irony, that “I have not one human being in the wide world to whom I can say, ‘do this for me’.”

In their lifetime of cursing the idleness of coloured folk, nothing had prepared them for this great tragedy; as the wife of a Louisiana ‘planter’ [2] declared, “I never so much as even washed out a pocket handkerchief with my own hands, and now I have to do all my own work.” Meanwhile, a Virginia woman admitted “with considerable [and delicious] anguish” that “the distances separating the kitchen, the spring, and the dining room seemed all to formidable.” And although they had no apparent sense of irony, they were at times keenly proud, as was one Emma Holmes who saw women left without servants “cooking and washing without a murmur” as a great example of the “heroism and spirit” of southern womanhood. Another southern woman discovered the significance of the opposable thumb when she took up knitting, though it was hard on her “poor unused fingers.” But perhaps I give the wrong impression: men and women alike found themselves suddenly doing chores around the house, its just that the men were more apt to complain about their trouble finding free labour without slavery, so most of the descriptions of families’ newfound domesticity came from women. Although the patriarch of one family who had divided the chores amongst themselves told them: “This is what has made the Anglo-Saxon race great: they are not afraid to work.” Again, he did not seem to be aware of the contradiction in believing colored people were lazy inferior despite their ability to perform backbreaking labour for ten hours a day, six days a week, but extolling the “greatness” of his own race when once his family had done the work of feeding and cleaning up after themselves for a week.

Seemingly the incredible difficult they had performing a fraction of the labour they demanded of their slaves never once gave any of them pause to reflect on how hard it must have been to do it for ten hours a day, six days a week, for somebody else, from birth until death without compensation, under threat of beatings and murder. No, it was they who had it hard, having to take care of themselves after a life time of idleness. A woman from Tennessee wrote perhaps the starkest example of the selfish and delusional attitudes of southerners towards housework and the people who formerly performed it for them; “I’d give a mint of money right now for servants like I once had,” she wrote, “to have one all my own! Ladies at the North, if they lose their servants, can do their own work; but we can’t, we can’t!” Her former slave had moved to St Louis and made a living as a dressmaker. “She could read and write as well as I could. There was no kind of work that girl couldn’t do. And so faithful! – I trusted everything to her and was never deceived.” If this reads like a confession that the colored people who she held in bondage were better and more independent than her by a country mile, it is not a conscious one – this woman concluded that “emancipation is a worse thing for our servants than us. They can’t take care of themselves.” Yes, the woman who does not know how to perform any kind of labour, is incapable of feeding and clothing herself while maintaing her household; the women who just praised her former slave as capable of any kind of work, her former slave who not only worked at a trade now to earn money but managed to feed and clother herself and maintain her home as well; yes, that woman is really claiming it is the gainfully employed coloured girl who cannot take care of herself. Like no other people I have ever read about, the civil war era southerner is truly the living embodiment of cognitive dissonance and narccicism. And I have only mentioned their opinions on one issue.

The push for segregation in the first years after the war was driven largely by white fears of ‘miscegnation’, or interracial breeding. And yet not one southern man of the era seems to have recognized the irony of them, who had for decades been using their slaves as sex objects and birthing mixed race children by them, they the principle practitioners of miscegnation, suddenly acting outraged by the possibility. Had somebody pointed the irony out to them, they would no doubt have argued that it was different; a white man forcibly raping his slave is perfectly civilized, but a white woman freely engaging in consensual relations with a black man is depraved. Often this fear was the unspoken motive behind white attitudes and policies, but it was also talked of openly, many expressing their concern that if miscegnation were to be allowed their bloodlines would be polluted and the glorious white race bred into extinction. They argued for restrictions on blacks on this basis without any sign of recognizing that such a scenario would equally require their own participation; that if they did not want to breed with newly freed blacks they could simply refrain from doing so. It was as though they couldn’t trust themselves to heed their own warnings, which in fairness, to judge from the large number of mixed race slaves at the outset of emancipation, they probably couldn’t.

It was even argued, at one point, that it was dangerous to give equal rights to colored people because if placed on an equal footing they might surpass the white race. The reason this would be unacceptable, if you’re wondering, is because coloured people are naturally inferior. It would be a profound injustice for the inferior race to surpass the superior race by such unfair means as equal opportunity. Certainly it wouldn’t prove that the belief in their inferiority was erroneous in the first place, though, right? Come to think of it, acknowledging the possibility is already and implicit admission that this belief was erroneous. Never mind, the southern man is not troubled by logic or by implications – if it couldn’t be grasped by a three year old it is imperceptible to the southern imagination.

As well, the utter depravity and savageness with which so many whites act did not cause any of them to question their unshakable belief that black people, by virtue of their colour, were “savages”, and therefore civilized and unstable white men were right to beat, stab, shoot, or hack at them with an axe at the slightest provocation. Just one Bureau officer, reporting only part of the crimes in a few counties, reported the following: twenty-three cases of severe and inhuman beating and whipping; four men beaten and shot; two more robbed and shot; seven just shot, two of those surviving with wounds; four beaten to death; three women beaten and raped; two women tied up and whipped mercilessly “until insensible”, and two men and their families beaten and driven from their homes, their property destroyed. Again, this was just in a few counties, in one year, and the Bureau officer did not include all crimes because there was insufficient evidence for many more. The stories are plentiful, but I’ll recount just a couple. One old colored man working in a saw mill “sassed” a white man, so somebody split his head open with an axe. Another colored man walking peacefully down the street was asked by a passing white man who he belongned to, and when he answered (truthfully, since the savage and inhuman institution of slavery had been abolished) that he belonged to nobody, the white man demanded, “sass me?”, proceeded to beat the man and cut and stab him several times with his knife. This is the behaviour of men who believed themselves to be the civilized race, and blacks to be mere savages. Fully prepared to murder a human being in cold blood because they didn’t like what he said. Unmoved by the women they’re whipping, beating, raping, unmoved by their screaming and crying and pleading, totally insensible to human emotion, seemingly bordering on sociopathically inhuman, and yet, with still no sense of the irony or the absurdity, they declared that “niggers don’t have human emotions.” Do you, poor buckra? You never noticed or cared how devastated they were as you casually tore them from one another, separating wife and husband, mother and child, without the slightest hesitation or sympathy for their tears or their begging; do you have human emotions?

Finally, the absurdity and cognitive dissonance of southern thought in the civil war era aside, I want quickly reflect on the significance of armed resistance

The era following the civil war is also a very important, and much neglected, period in the history of the second ammendment. Here was a newly freed people who were under constant assault from civil society, who were not afforded the rights which are customarily the privilege of free men, neither the police nor the courts could be trusted to lift a finger in their defence, and even the Yankees for whom they had fought to put down the Confederate revolution now sided with the whites they had called traitors and ordered these same colored men to shoot only months, or years, before. Juries were all white, and would almost never convict a white man of murdering a colored man, and yet would never fail to hang a colored man who had killed a white in self defence. In New Orleans, a criminal court sentenced a white person to one day in prison for the theft of goods worth $13, and on the same day, in the same court, a colored person was given three months for theft of goods worth $18. As the local black newspaper put it, “three days for stealing and eight-seven days for being colored.” Perhaps worst of all, white men freely paraded around with there rifles at the same time as police conducted unconstitutional raids to seize any weaponry black citizens may have. Hence, one black citizen wrote, “if there is no protection for us at the hands of the municipal police or the military guard, if there is no redress for our people before the Criminal Courts in cases of murder and rape, then let us form at once societies for self-protection and have recourse to personal defence.” Indeed! And ever has it been true since. People of colour can not count on the police or the government for anything but belligerence – it is their right, and necessary for their safety, to arm themselves and actively protect their families and their communities from the depravity of racist, violent white trash. “In times of peace prepare for war,” a black man in New Orleans wrote: “They have burned our churches, murdered our friends in their own yards, in the presence of their own family, and yet our civil government is still running, and the murderers are still allowed to roam our streets undisturbed.” Here was the true spirit upon which America was founded; resistance against tyrants, standing up to oppression and asserting the rights of oneself and others! As the New Hampshire state motto puts it, live free or die.

In the seventy years that elapsed between these events and the beginning of WWII, things can barely be said to have progressed much at all. Perhaps that is the most disturbing thing of all. Colored were still murdered without provocation, inhumanly beaten and hanged from trees. I recently read Clark Terry’s autobiography – even he was very nearly lynched for standing next to a pale skinned girl. A police man knocked him out and left him in the mud while he went to round up a mob. When he returned with a gang carrying knives, bats and chains, and asked Clark’s white colleagues where “that nigger I left lying in the mud” went, they misdirected the gang, having already brought him inside their train car. He also talked about a girl he dated who was uncomfortable around white people, because when she was a girl a group of them had dragged one of her cousins out of her house and hanged him from a tree in the yard in front of the whole family. Fair enough. I wouldn’t feel comfortable around white people either. One hears of the bravery of the US soldiers who fought Nazism, but one has to wonder, if it had been black people in the gas chambers of Germany, would the white south have even objected to Nazism? One might suspect they’d be sympathetic to fascists with delusions of racial superiority and programs for restoring purity.

Things change ever so slowly. In 1866 as in 1940 as in 1963 as in 1993 as in 2017, justice is far from assured, racism is institutionalized, and the right of the people, especially marginalized peoples, to keep and bear arms is of paramount importance as it has always been. It is only through privilege that people can pretend there is no reason somebody should ever need a gun; many millions of colored people have had very, extremely good reasons to arm themselves to the teeth. Indeed, the Union may not have won the civil war if it hadn’t finally relented and allowed the formation of coloredregiments. If peace may only be wrestled from the cold dead hands of the sons and daughters of American racism, then so be it; leave the oppressed with the only equalizing device they’ve ever had available to them.

I won’t get into the argument over whether and which gun control measures make people safer. Even if disarming minorities made them a little safer, it would make them a lot less free. And if people had never been prepared to sacrifice a little safety for their liberty, emancipation may never have come about. Anyway,

Peace.

[1] People have taken to saying that racism without power isn’t racism, which sounds important and significant, but when you examine the foundations of this new theory you will find it doesn’t actually mean anything. It is a tautology. The logical argument is ‘I have decided to refer to concept x as label y, therefore x is y and the concept formerly known as y is now something else. Racism without power isn’t racism in the same way that y is no longer y. It doesn’t express any new information, it simply changes labels whilst pretending the concepts themselves had changed. And all of this to introduce the concept of systemic racism into the discourse. Couldn’t we have just talked about systemic racism? Did we really need to change labels around in order to be able to say thag systemic racism is the only ‘real’ racism? Does anyone think this strategy has lead to a broader understanding or discussion of systemic racism? No. Instead it made the definition of a word the focus by changing the definition and not acknowledging that that’s what happened and frankly the whole affair is fucking inane.
[2] ‘Planter’, as distinct from a farmer who works for a living.

On Power and Oppression

Or, Why Identity Politics is Counter-Revolutionary

Having decided it was important to say something about Identity Politics, I have spent a long time agonizing over how exactly to go about it. In part, this is because I am frankly angry, and yet I feel that one of the major problems with the discourse on this issue is that it’s so loaded with emotion and anger and hyperbole, so what use would there be in me writing another angry screed? None. I thought also of simply writing a systematic critique of both ‘left’ and ‘right’ Identity Politics, exposing the flaws and falsehoods I see in these ideologies, which at least has more merit than simply blowing off steam, but is still too reactionary to feel useful. Another reason I feel so compelled to write something is to offer a sane analysis of identity and related issues, to offer a third way, in the hope that less well-intentioned young people will get caught up in toxic movements and hateful ideologies if there is a rational and humane alternative, and this reason, finally, suggests a way to proceed. I am so angry partly because the issues involved in IP are extremely important, and I see them being co-opted for all the wrong reasons, and I see it being profoundly harmful to the disadvantaged and the oppressed in the long run. I don’t disagree with the identity politicians of the left because I’m uninterested in discrimination and inequality and oppression, it’s precisely because I care about these issues that I find their ideology distasteful. So instead of reacting to their version of ‘leftism’, I offer you a constructive view of what a ‘leftist’ movement which truly empowers and liberates might look like.

Leftism is a vague term to begin with, and we know that politics is too complicated to be explained in terms of ‘left’ and ‘right’ – I choose to use these words, for now, because they still have currency. For the purposes of this essay, a ‘leftist’ position is concerned with subordination, deprivation, and exclusion. In short, it is concerned with the welfare of human beings, particularly those who don’t have enough, those who are excluded or discriminated against, those who are oppressed and controlled, and so on. We are interested in power; in how it functions and where it resides, who possesses it and with what consequences, should it be dispersed and how, etc. Ultimately, this is what the arguments and conflicts of identity politicians are about.

Power is distinct from privilege, though they are related. To my mind, this distinction is too frequently blurred or ignored in the discourse of identity politics. The ‘right-wing’ identity politicians (henceforth RWIP) sneer at the concepts of white privilege and male privilege, but they are perfectly reasonable. Because we live in a society that has been shaped in part by misogyny and racism, there are certain undeniable advantages to being born a white male in a society which tends to favour white males. This means that a white male is in a more privileged position than a white female of comparable circumstance, or a coloured man of comparable circumstance – he doesn’t have to deal with the discrimination they do, or overcome the hurdles that they do. What it doesn’t mean (and it is this interpretation that has often brought the concept into disrepute) is that a white man is ipso facto more privileged than females or POC. This is obviously false. But I don’t think this interpretation is as popular as RWIP like to portray it as, in fact they often talk like this is all that white privilege means and therefore the whole concept is bunk. This is also obviously false. But it is worth pointing out, because it tells us something about the limitations of generalization, and of applying analysis of groups to individuals.

Left-wing identity politics (LWIP) supposedly has roots in intersectional feminism: a concept describing the overlap or intersection of social identities when describing oppression, eg. a black woman faces problems that neither black men nor white women do. This is also accurate and useful for revealing general truths, but it too suggests that one must focus in on individuality for a better measure of truth. In the same way that a black woman is uniquely positioned in society, so is a disabled man, or a white woman with a severe mental illness, etc. Different traits and identities intersect and therefore interact in so many ways that when you get down to it, terms like ‘white man’ or ‘woman of colour’ are inadequate descriptors in many circumstances. No two individuals are alike, nor can any one individual be defined solely by his race or gender.

It seems to me that the predominant narratives of power and oppression focus on racism and misogyny; and in these narratives, as a corollary of POC being oppressed white people as a group are identified as the oppressor, and as a corollary of women being the oppressed party men are identified as the oppressor. Obviously these are important issues, but this presentation is not entirely honest or enlightening, and there is much more to be said about power and oppression in society. The fact of white privilege does not bestow a controlling interest in society to all white people, and the same is true of male privilege. It is a factor, but it is not the primary determinant of someone’s position in society.

There are other ways in which people can be privileged. Access to better education, being born into a wealthy family who could afford to send you to a good university, these are quite important factors. Lots of people are born into poverty, and they are at an inherent disadvantage. This affects people of all races and genders. Some people are born into abusive or broken homes, and this is perhaps the greatest disadvantage of all. We know that people who are abused during childhood are far more likely to suffer from mental illness and drug addiction in later life, and account an extremely disproportionate number of prisoners. Life is complicated, and there are thousands of big and small factors which influence a persons place in society. And this is only to address disadvantage, leaving unexamined the issue of organized oppression.

So we’ve discussed deprivation and exclusion, but a leftist position worth its salt will also give a detailed analysis of subordination – in other words, oppression. And no such analysis would be complete without an understanding of how wealth is generated in our political economy.

We live in a society defined by a large and powerful State and an economy dominated by goliath corporations. The nature of this economy was best described by Murray Rothbard described “total neo-mercantilism” and “what is essentially a neo-fascist ‘corporate state'” This neo-fascist state, which is a powerful influence on the economy, is bought and paid for by corporate interests. As such, far from being restrained by economic regulation, as even Noam Chomsky would like to believe, corporations are very often the beneficiaries of “an intricate and decisive network of subsidies, privileges, and direct and indirect grants of monopoly protection.” This is important to anybody seeking to understand and fight oppression, for clearly this economic order, and the businessmen and corporations who thrive on it, the state functionaries and enforcers who benefit from it, in short, the ruling classes, are the major source of oppression in our society. “White people” don’t hold the power in our society, this is a clumsy use of language; CEO’s, judges, district attourneys and politicians, etc., hold the power.

In saying this, I am by no means denying that racism is still an important factor. It is true that CEO’s and politicans, etc., are disprortionately white males. But by no means are the ruling classes made up of one race. More importantly, it is a minority who belong to this ruling class – as you go down the ladder of economic and legal heirarchy, you find the masses – the black and white, male female, immigrant and native masses. You find the majority of society working hard for fifty plus hours a week just to survive, and why? Because our neofascist corporate economy is designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many; because the masses have been robbed over generations, decades, centuries, they have been denied their due. So still, they are at the mercy of the company that hires them. They have no capital, generally, and if they do have capital the State forbids them to use it. So they have no choice but wage labour, for fifty or sixty years until they retire or die.

But keep going down the ladder, and you’ll find an even more multiethnic and diverse group of people who are the most oppressed of all. These are the disabled who are vulnerable to abuse and receiving inadequate care. The mentally ill who struggle to even perfom wage labour for subsistence, who experience great pain and little sypmathy. Then there are those struggling with drug addiction, who have been systematically demonized for a century now, who have been literally criminalized, who are treated as scum by the general population and by the police alike and who, if they are unlucky, are thrown in a cell and let out only to perform slave labour for the State. More than a million people in the US have been imprisoned for “victimless crimes” (which are not crimes), ie. drug posession. And the thirteenth ammendment, famously, inlcuded a clause which allows the State to hold slaves provided only that they’re criminals; and the State, famously, can decide on a whim who to call criminals.

And this leaves the most difficult task of all before us: the task of empowering the disempowered and dismantling the ruling class. But this task becomes much, much easier once we realize that we are all suffering under the same oppression, that we are not enemies, and begin cooperating. This, most of all, is what I wish to ask of identity politicians, left and right: stop this infighting. Stop trying to cause fights amongst the oppressed matters over petty issues. Help unite people in common struggle against the leviathan State and the corporations that it is beholden to. Help us secure the welfare of the poor, the disabled, the addicted, the mentally ill. Let’s have a real discussion about what needs to be done.

If you want to write articles about why white girls shouldn’t have dreadlocks, or why liberal arts students need to harden up, then you are a counter-revolutionary. You may as well be an agitator for the State. You are NOT HELPING. This “Culture Wars” bullshit doesn’t help anybody.

Welfare for Libertarians

Okay, we all know that moderate libertarian parties are for lowering taxes and government spending, and certainly that’s important, but there is danger in believing therefore that cuts are ipso facto good. And yes, there are far too many rules and regulations governing trade and everything else, but again I would implore you to stop and think about whether we should therefore support any and all repeals.

Here’s why: the order in which government functions disappear is important. For example, you wouldn’t defund the fire brigade and then privatize it the next year. It might be a silly example, but the point is important; the illogic and the consequences generally aren’t so stark, but there are consequences. Because there is what you might call primary and secondary economics interventions. A primary intervention is done for it’s own sake; a secondary intervention deals with the effect of primary interventions. They’re amendments, essentially; sometimes laws have unforeseen consequences, and rather than repealing them, new laws are introduced to ‘fix’ or in some way alter those consequences.

To give a real world example, put on your libertarian lets-slash-welfare hats and think about all the laws surrounding the research, production and sale of pharmaceuticals. Quite a lot, isn’t it? Tends to make the whole process, and therefore the drugs themselves, pretty expensive, especially with patents allowing de facto monopolies for a set number of years. We also have laws establishing a Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, so people with low incomes can still access important medicine without the burden of government-mandated testing imbedded in the price. So we have an economic intervention: a set of laws governing the pharmaceutical industry. We have a consequence: higher prices for medication. And we have a second set of laws dealing with the consequences: the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Now, your ideal may be a society in which neither of these laws exists. Me too: I’m an anarchist. But I don’t happen to buy the idea that removing the secondary intervention but leaving the primary intervention is a libertarian policy.

This is profoundly important. Critics of libertarianism tend to believe that economic interventions and regulations are intended to govern and restrain corporate power. Some libertarians believe this too, but it’s nonsense. The facts clearly (and extensively) refute this notion, showing that in fact economic intervention is enacted on behalf of the corporations they’re believed to restrain; that the State is an instrument of the wealthy and well connected, a channel for the orderly and systematic predation of private property, which has created the situation we have today: an economy defined by corporate power, and by an overwhelming majority of people utterly dependent on wage labour to secure bare subsistence. The critics of libertarianism, mistaking the cause for the cure, believe that removing the laws and regulations which enable corporate power would make things worse. They are wrong.

…unless of course libertarians advocate for removing secondary interventions, leaving primary interventions largely in tact. Unless they remove benign and beneficial regulations but leaving pro-corporate regulations in tact…This is where it becomes important. I’m not arguing for libertarian purity, but if you believe in gradually dismantling the State, there is a right way and a wrong way; go about it the wrong way, dismantling welfare, education, and healthcare at the individual level while leave corporate power otherwise in tact, then you will prove the critics wrong.

But I haven’t spoken about welfare yet! Oh! Because the reality of a rigged, pro-corporate economy, is that workers are disempowered by the fact that there are less jobs than workers, a permanent unemployed class, and therefore for unskilled labourers jobs must be taken on whatever terms they’re offered. And this unemployed class, which is unavoidable in our corporate economy, needs to eat. Therefore, there needs to be welfare. Remove the system which creates the class before you removes the means of that classes subsistence.

Culture Warriors and Identity Politicians

Or, Why I am sick to death of the mainstream discourse on Oppression. 

The phrase ‘culture wars’ gets thrown around sometimes, and when it comes to issues like identity and individuality, race, gender, and sexuality, people tend to act like they’re fighting a war. There is a great deal of vitriol and a widespread belief that there are clear demarcations between one ‘side’ and the other. This atmosphere, which is not conducive to lucid thought or productive debate, is the main thing that has been holding me back from writing about identity politics: I don’t wish to be wind in the sails of either side. And I suppose the fact that I don’t actually agree with one side more than the other, and I don’t identify with either, leaves me precisely where I’d like to be: an impartial observer. The last thing I want to do is write just another volley in the culture wars. But these issues are important, damn it, and to see them reduced to a dichotomy between two angry perspectives is depressing. So I’ll give my two cents, which I believe to be fair and balanced, and I give it in the spirit of cooperation rather than combat – I hope others will take up these issues in the same way.

There are obvious merits to talking about identity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and so on, and generalizations can be extremely illuminating. But there also obvious limits to this way of thinking. One must acknowledge the diversity of individuals as well. One must understand that generalizations do not necessarily apply to individuals. But I often see the proponents of identity politics making precisely this mistake of talking about individuals as no more than members of groups, a fallacy which is lazy at best and more commonly disingenous. For example, it may be generally true that white people are favoured by employers, but it does not follow that any given white person you talk to has been the benificiary of favouratism. One can similarly come to general conclusions about the experience of women of colour, but these conclusions are not nearly so helpful when talking about a particular woman of colour.

Fallacious conclusions of this kind are almost always presented as tolerant and progressive, as they are expressed by people who proclaim solidarity with WOC, or trans people, or whomever they’re generalizing about, but generalization can also be profoundly insulting. By this perspective at its most vulgar, a WOC is a WOC, a white man is a white man, and there are axioms which tell us what to think, relatively, of a WOC and a white man. Nevermind that the woman of colour might be the First Lady of the United States. Nevermind that the white man may be homeless, mentally ill, a recent immigrant, may have an intellectual disability, may be at the intersection of any number of axes of oppression. And it is not progressive or tolerant to make the assumption that a woman of colour is more oppressed, it is offensive – it is condescending and presumptuous and dismissive of her individuality. It is the bullshit faux-liberalism of a middle-class, college-educated intelligentsia which claims to be the voice of the oppressed…

As for the voice of the oppressed, well, this is perhaps the most wrongheaded of all their ideas. Their can be no unified voice of an identity group – identity is not solidarity. A college-educated woman of colour has no more right to speak for the uneducated and the working class than I do, regardless of her skin tone. Even disregarding their privileged position, identity is not solidarity. The fact that you share certain characteristics with other people doesn’t mean they share your ideology, doesn’t even mean you are a ‘group’ in any meaningful sense. And beyond these enormous flaws, their activism shows us that they don’t simply believe in a theory of intersectionality, they have a rigid notion of which axes of oppression are more important or worthy, and these are based almost exclusively on notions of white racism and male sexism. Ergo the argument that two workers at the bottom rung of a heirarchical corporation, one white and one black, have less reason to be grouped together than the black worker and his black CEO. And in all this drawing of lines on dubious bases, the ideology is not just divisive, it is counter-revolutionary: it sets the oppressed against the oppressed.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: we live under a system of neofascist corporate governance, and in this system there is a ruling class. This class includes lawmakers, judges, lawyers, CEO’s and executives, the extremely wealthy, and so on. This class includes all genders and ethnicities, and yes not in the same measures but for now let us not concern ourselves with affirmative action for the neofascist ruling class, shall we? Now, everybody else, those who have to perform wage labour 5, 6, 7 days a week to survive, to feed their families, those at risk of imprisonment for victimless crimes, the broad majority of society are the class of society which is ruled, ie. oppressed. And yes, some people are more oppressed than others, but if your ideology does not identify the true ruling class, then its crusade against the oppression this class is primarily responsible for is doomed to irrelevance.

I’m always saying that discourse is to incendiary these days, and the advocates of fourth wave feminism or intersectionality or whatever you want to call it (the people who often get called “SJW’s”) are among the worst offenders. I suppose this comes from the presumption that they are doing what is ‘right’ and moral, and the obnoxious fallacy that therefore anybody who disagrees with them is immoral. Eg., ‘I’m just arguing that people shouldn’t be racist, why would you disagree with me? You must be a real piece of shit’, the flaw in which is obvious when you note that this whole article so far has been disagreeing with these people, but never with the point that people shouldn’t be racist – it’s all the dogma and ideological baggage that has been attached to that noble goal. Anyway, whatever the reason, I do not get the impression that they care about changing hearts and minds. Every “discussion” I’ve seen take place with such people has involved them being sassy and condescending with the obvious goal of demonstrating their superiority and demeaning the other person (not promoting the ideals of feminism, anti-racism, etc.).

To which somebody will undoubtedly respond, ‘oh, okay, you’re one of those white boys who think we should play nice with the neo-Nazi’s? LOL okay buddy’. And that’s all well and good if you’re talking about some skinhead with the iron cross tattoo’d on his fucking forehead, but it loses weight when you treat literally everybody who dissents to any degree like this. People are capable of change. Some people grew up being taught subtle misogyny, some even grew up under the influence of racist parents, and no this doesn’t excuse racism or misogyny, but it generally means their minds can be changed with a little exposure and the proper blend of the dialectic and didactic. I have seen people change their minds after being presented with new information, I have seen them become more tolerant. Hell, I have seen someone deradicalized from the cult of neo-Nazism. The “rad fem” technique of shouting at someone and calling him a cunt will just perpetuate their anger and closemindedness.

And make no mistake, this is their technique, and their only technique. I repeat, they have no interest in changing hearts and minds. Anybody who doesn’t goosestep their party line is considered the lowest form of human life, to be belittled and excluded. Hence ‘call out culture’ – I have seen somebody speaking out against racism, who in doing so naively repeated a slur that somebody had said. The sensible, adult response would be to tell him that his anti-racist stance is great, but keep in mind that those words can be hurtful and try not to use them in future, even if you’re just quoting something you disagree with. He would have taken it on board, learned from his mistake, and been a better ally to the cause for it. But of course, the university educated intelligentsia “called him out” on it, meaning he was belittled and ostracized as a piece of shit white boy, and told where he could stick his support for the message of anti-racism. I’ve seen this happen countless times. And this is how they treat people who are trying to agree with them.

Now, I’m of the opinion that if you care about a cause, then you will care about being an effective advocate. You don’t even need to be a student of political activism to know how utterly ineffective the above posturing is. The purpose is not to further the goals of feminism, or anti-racism, or tolerance; the purpose is to demonstrate one’s own moral virtue in wearing these position liking a fucking ANZAC day badge or a big red fucking clown nose. And make no mistake about it, those who care more about posturing and fighting than being an effective advocate for the cause do not give a fuck about the cause.

So forgive my anger, but I am sick to death of people like this claiming a monopoly on the values I care about. I’m sick of people who don’t give a fuck about minorities using the universities computer rooms to tell me I have no right to speak about the issues which affective disadvantaged people. I’m tired of white girls posting self-righteous bullshit about “white people”. I’m sick of the conflation of identity and solidarity. Basically, I am sick of the self-serving and counter-revolutionary swill of the middle class ideology of identity politics.

To be fair, I’m also sick of people referring to the above described as ‘feminism’, and I’m as sick of the opposite extreme, the ‘alt-right’ and whoever allies with them. I don’t care about your ‘this is why I don’t need feminism post’, and if you’re an anti-feminist, conservative contrarian don’t let this be wind in your sails or so help me I will sink your fucking battleship. It is precisely because I care about the values which used to define ‘leftism’ that I’m enraged by their misappropriation by self-righteous, privileged pseudointellectuals. The best definition I have read is that a leftist is somebody who is concerned with subordination, exclusions, deprivation, and war. That includes a concern for the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, for women in a misogynistic society, for people of colour in a racist society, for the working class in a Capitalist society, for those suffering from mental illness or disability – for, when you get down to it, a profoundly diverse bunch of white, brown, black, African, Asian, male, female, trans people who deserve more from our post-‘enlightenment’ and profoundly wealthy society. If you share these concerns, then please do heed my simple warning: fuck the partisans of Identity Politics.

[I intended to write this in a very unhyperbolic and academic way, but ultimately I found it was more honest and informative to write how I actually feel. That said, I am willing to discuss anything contained in the calm and academic way I suggest conversations should be conducted.]

Brendan O’Neill: you are not a journalist.

On the glamourization of mental illness. 

This is an important topic which I have had on my mind for a long time. I haven’t written much about it because I feel that there is so much more I would like to know first, a better understanding to be reached. But professional and pathological contrarian Brendan O’Neill feels no such drive, and somebody has to respond to his weak article about the ‘trendiness’ of mental illness. Oh well, it tells us something about the stanard of journalism today. A good journalist would seek to explain why mental illness has become fashionable and would seek to understand the motivations of teens and adults who find the idea of being mentally ill appealling – something is clearly not quite right here. They might even speak to a few of them. The hack journalist is content simply to say that it has become fashionable, to make a few snide remarks about people who’ve been caught up in the trend, and let it go at that. Personally, I feel there is much more to be said. And what’s more, I don’t think the situation of a teenager to whom mental illness seems attractive is trivial; I suspect that happy, contented teenagers don’t fall for this allure.

I’ve written about this before, albeit as it applies to drugs and addiction, because I feel this trend (the glamourization of all things dark and edgy) is one of the defining features of our times. It has pervaded our popular culture since at least 1980 and has been a monumental influence on every teen subculture to emerge in the 40-odd preceding years. I have seen this glamourization produce terrible effects in the lives of the young and impressionable. I know teenagers who found their way to heroin because Lou Reed and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers made it seem cool. I have seen their friends follow them into addiction because teenagers are pack creatures. And yes, it is just profoundly stupid to start using heroin because of the Velvet Underground, unfathomably so, but the reason I’m not content to simply make fun of them and then go on with my life is this: they don’t listen to Lou Reed, anymore, but they’re all still shooting dope. However trivial the original impetus for their experiments, they are genuinely sick, and I suspect their willingness to follow fashionable miseries in the first place suggests they always were.

A journalist interested in understanding these trends, rather than simply passing judgement on them, would seek to understand why some people are drawn to these kinds of fashion’s and why other people aren’t. Perhaps they feel unnoticed and uncared for and this was a way to get attention? This is also regularly trivialized: “they’re just doing it for attention.” Oh, is that all? I thought they were somehow unwell, but it turns out they were just so desperate for attention that they thought they’d give schizophrenia or heroin addiction a whirl. This is clearly the behaviour of a mentally healthy person with a trivial motivation. [I’m being sarcastic as fuck, if you can’t tell.]

I have known these people intimately, and have several times had occassion to reflect upon their youthful attraction to illness with them when they were older and more self-aware. And in every case I know of, they were at the very least unhappy in the first place. Why should they wish to be more unhappy? That’s not what attracted them about mental illness. They saw friends who were genuinely very unwell, and they saw those people who were the most deeply ill being cared for and hugged and worried over and they were jealous. I repeat: this is not the motivation of a healthy teenager, to see somebody terribly unwell and think only of how nice it would be if people paid as much attention to them.

I knew one person who was very mentally ill, but felt like they had “no excuse” because their homelife looked superficially happy, and so they made themselves more ill to try to justify something to themselves and others. I’ve known others who felt their family didn’t take their illness seriously as young teenagers, and went down a self-destructive path to “show them”, to make them take it seriously. Again, these are examples of people deliberately pursuing mental illness, and their motivations are symptomatic of mental illness as well.

I’m sure there are other reasons. I’m sure there is more to say. I’d have held off on writing any of this until I had a better grip on what to say, but I offer the foregoing as an antidote to Brendan’s lack of empathy and basic journalistic curiosity. If you’re interested in understanding and changing this trend, these are some leads that might help you. If you just want to take a few easy jabs at unstable teens, contact the editorial department of Medium.

Islam and Open Borders

I believe in an open society. I love my cosmopolitan city and my multicultural country. I feel this way not because of any attachment to my Australian heritage; on the contrary, it is because I consider myself a part of the human family. This is where my loyalty lies. And in the following pages, I will try to explain why this is important and why all people should think of themselves as a part of the whole. I don’t see how our troubled family will ever know peace while we are mired in factionalism, tribalism, and partisanship. No; it is not until we embrace a broad humanism and stop thinking in terms of ‘Us and Them’ that the horrors of this world, which we’re forever perpetrating against the Other which is ultimately Ourself, will cease. I will also explain why opening our borders to refugees is the only humane response to a world in crisis, and a moral obligation for Christians and secular agnostics alike.

Throughout the West, there is a fear and often resentment of immigration. This has many sources, contrary to the popular explanation that it boils down to racism and xenophobia. However, I do believe that ignorance is at the foundation of most, if not all, concerns. In saying this, however, I do not want to alienate people who are opposed to immigration, and I do not believe (as some do) that they have bad intentions; if they are reading this, I want them to simply hear me out.

I’ll start by addressing the concerns which some people have about Islam. And let me just say that the progressive approach of labelling this perspective as Islamophobia and summarily dismissing it is unhelpful: it is important in an open society to engage sincerely with opposing points of view. Whereas derogatory labelling doesn’t change any minds, it just leads to people preaching pointlessly to their segregated ideological bases, which we should all be thoroughly sick of by now. Instead, let’s actually address their concerns. The argument against Muslim immigration is often based on an interpretation of Islam, rather than a characterization of its followers. The ideology, it is argued, is inherently, fundamentally violent, and at odds with Western civilization. Such an argument depends on a homogeneous and clearly defined Islam, which obviously doesn’t exist. As one Muslim writer put it, this “suggests there is an Islam that exists and has meaning without people practicing it.”[1]

This seems to me to misunderstand the nature of religion, which has always seemed to me to be more cultural than ideological. The fact is that individual Muslims believe very different things depending on the communities and families they grew up in, depending on the teachers they listen to, and depending on their own free thought.

With all due respect, the fact is that religion is not always rational or coherent, and individual adherents are sometimes forced to sort out contradictory messages when deciding what they believe. In Letters to a Young Muslim, Omar Ghobash talks about growing up with Islamic teachings, being told that harming oneself, and therefore suicide, are sins. And then as a teenager, watching fellow Muslims cheer on the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, people would praise the example of suicide bombers as righteous, the ultimate sacrifice to Islam. Obviously a young man must decide for himself: which is true? Is suicide a sin or isn’t it? Thus people make their own judgements about what is right or wrong, and as Muslims (that is, as people who seek to live a moral life) seek their own truth.

It can readily be seen that there is ample room for variation and dissent within Islam, as in any religion; that it does not compel anybody to violent, to harm non-believers, to burn down churches. This simplistic brand of Islam is the result of profoundly sad and disturbed individuals, and not of serious scholarship – it is strange that its adherents and the vocal opponents of Islam are the only groups who believe it to be the only truly pure form. Furthermore, it is dogmatic and rigid approaches to theology that are the true cause of violence, much of the time. Groups of Muslims who believe in a True Islam must believe that all divergent paths are False Islam. People who believe this will behave with fanaticism. They will declare people who disagree on the finer points of theology infidels, and often enough they go to war over it. Whereas a Muslim who respects the diversity of approaches to Islam, who believes in the eternal pursuit of truth that each man, and each Muslim, must undertake, is unlikely to be certain enough of their own truth to kill over it.

In saying all of this, we certainly ought to be concerned about the increasing prominence of certain violent, dogmatic strands of Islam, and it does nobody any good to claim that Islam is a religion of peace and leave it at that. Islam is not a religion of violence, no, but neither is it a religion of peace; it is a religion of individuals and of human beings, in whom both potentialities exist. As Victor Frankl wrote in concluding his book on his experience in Auschwitz, “we have come to know Man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” Religion can inspire people to great kindness and purity of spirit and it can inspire people to the most profound cruelty. Remember that the word ‘fanatic’ comes from the Latin word for temple, and means ‘worshipper at the temple’ or ‘inspired [or possessed] by God’.

It can clearly be seen in the great diversity of Muslims, or in the history of the religion, that a person’s faith is not the primary determinant of whether they will be a force for good or evil. It is incumbent upon us to discover what factors lead a person to violent jihad. This is a question that has received much attention in the post-9/11 world, and one prominent answer is that poverty and political instability are hugely important. This raises many more complicated questions about geopolitics, aid, and development, but it does tell us one thing which is relevant: by welcoming Muslims into our country and our community, and if necessary ensuring their quality of life, we can feel relatively safe in the assurance that the context which has always given rise to radical Islam does not exist for Muslims in Australia. Well, mostly – the possibility of disenfranchised nuts doing stupid and heinous things always exists on the margins somewhere.

There are precedents in history which perhaps show us how Christians ought to treat people seeking asylum. In the earliest days of Islam, followers of the Prophet Mohammed were subjected to violence and persecutions. Mohammed told them to flee to Abyssinia, and there they were given asylum by the Christian King of Ethiopia. This King saw what many today still fail to see: that despite their differences, Christians and Muslims are both sincerely seeking the same truth in different ways. Indeed, Jesus Christ is regarded as an important and holy figure in Islam.

On the other hand, history also shows us how Muslims ought to behave towards Christians. Mohammed gave a statement of the attitude of Muslims in the form of a charter to the monks of Monastery of St Catherine near Mt Sinai. This charter instructed Muslims to protect Christians from injury and to defend their churches and the residences of their priests. Christian women who married Muslims were to be allowed to retain their own religion. And if the Christians should need help repairing their churches or any other matter pertaining to their religion, Muslims were to assist them.

As for non-believers, the Prophet took a more forgiving stance than, say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Asked to curse them, he replied that it was unworthy to curse anyone or to abuse anyone. As the Qur’an says: “Wilt thou compel men to become believers? No man can believe but by the leave of God”. And: “let there be no compulsion in religion”. So we see that it is not exactly true that the Islamic religion insists that Muslims conquer or kill all non-believers. If it contradicts itself on these points, the most that can be said is that Muslims may choose how to act; but they are not compelled to act violently for the dominance of non-believers and agnostic societies. The claim is pure nonsense.

Libertarians have maintained for decades that trade and diplomacy are the most potent forces for peace; that the more we interact with other nations and other cultures, the more closely intertwined and interdependent we become, the less willing people are to wage war against their trade partners and their holiday destinations and their academic colleagues and so on. So let’s welcome Muslims into our society with warmth and kindness. Let them find, in our country, a place where the more intelligent and peaceful forms of Islam may thrive. Let’s welcome them in our communities and our schools and our homes. For genuine friendship is the surest guarantee of peace among people, and the social and intellectual climate of Australia is a fertile ground for tolerance, which the world could certainly use a bit more of.

The next barrier to the open society is protectionism; but we shall save that for another essay. For now,

Peace.

[1] Which is not to say nobody does practice it, but it does not exist (as argued) as an abstract ideal Islam, but rather exists only to the extent it is practiced, and in this is coexist with a million other Islams.

 

Notes on Anarchism

I am forever saddened by divisions within anarchism. I do not believe that agreement is a prerequisite for respect or friendship. Above all I value kindness and generosity. Having just read Left of the Left, the biography of Sam Dolgoff written by his son, I feel this warm and spirited wobbly and anarchist exemplifies the qualities I admire most in an anarchist. In an important sense they even define anarchism, at least anarchist-humanism: an anarchist-humanist is one who sees injustice and feels revolt in his heart. An anarchist-humanist sees the poor, the hungry, the exploited, and yearns to help.

As an anarchist and a humanist, I feel these instincts deeply. As such,although Dolgoff was a socialist and I am not, although we would have much to disagree about, I feel that he is a comrade; he was one of my people. There are others who I agree with more but who do not feel these instincts, and I feel no kinship to them. But in this humane instinct which I and others like Dolgoff share, we should be united.

Instead, I struggle to bridge gaps in ideology: some people just aren’t interested. And as soon as they find out what beliefs you adhere to, that it clashes with their own beliefs, they become immediately hateful and antagonistic. They lose all interest in the human being who holds these beliefs. They become no more than partisans, and there is nothing in this world so utterly useless as a partisan.

It happens like this: as an individualist, I believe that a market is perfectly acceptable in a free society. By this I mean trade between people who own property or means of production (such as a farmer). Communist anarchists adhere to a theory which says there will be no market, and most of them imagine that when I say ‘market’ I mean pretty much what we have today, massive inequality, gargantuan corporations, and all. They also ‘don’t believe in property’ and hold that the means of production should be owned by the workers, and don’t realize that the possibility exists for more than one type of organization (a factory owned equally by all the people who work in it) which satisfies that condition.

So when I say I believe a market would exist in a free society, they immediately conclude that I am an idiot, an apologist for the mass oppression inherent in State capitalism, that I don’t care about the condition of the worker or the humanization of work life; they conclude that I am a selfish, rich kid who just wants the freedom to fuck people over, and as a necessary inference from this, that I am a profoundly mean-spirited person with an ugly soul. Of course, none of this is even remotely true, and such an extreme reaction and series of assumptions is the result of a fanatical devotion to dogma.

I feel for all the world that I can’t make communist anarchists hear what I’m actually saying. I’ve long since abandoned the idea that they might be persuaded that they’re wrong; I hope only to convince them that not everyone they disagree with is literally the spawn of Satan.

Because if they understood, they would realize we should be friends. I may be wrong, but I only advocate what I do because I believe it would lead to a far more even distribution of wealth, because in my ideal society people would be free, and support networks would exist the economic, social, and emotional well-being of the people. Further, I am a devoted humanist, I care deeply about the condition of humanity, and I have only ever wanted to help.

Maybe I’m wrong in my beliefs about political economy, but I’m not the devil. Why, in light of all I’ve just said, do all communist anarchists I speak to viscerally hate me, at best, and occasionally tell me that my back will be against the wall come the revolution at worst? I’m a generally thick-skinned person, but these encounters always leave me feeling upset.

Love is as important as freedom. If what somebody sincerely believes (particularly if they only think it will help people) makes you hate them, then your politics is as toxic as any in existence. It’s that kind of fanaticism that makes atrocities possible.

Communists act as vehemently as they do because they believe they are the supreme movement for the liberation of people, the one and only holy dogma. They, like the Soviets, have their program; and all is subordinate to it. And their rejection of thinkers who allow for the possibility of a market is telling: they argue that ‘anarchism’ during the 19th century referred mainly to a particular movement, and that this movement defines anarchism. The word is ancient, and that one group of people derived a set of beliefs from its meaning (basically ‘without rulers’) does not preclude others from doing so. The suggestion is inane: they offered their vision of a free society a century and a half ago, and their descendents now argue that nobody else can present a vision of a free society because they already did.

But concepts evolve, and new ideas about anarchism are a logical progression from the old. With a century intervening, some new ideas will conflict with the old; it is only the dogmatic communists who are foolish enough to say the new ideas are a priori incorrect because they clash with old ideas. So it is that their ideology is relates primarily to the organization of factories: because they have preserved it intact, unchanging, since the early days of the industrial revolution. In seeking friends and allies, I’ll address myself to the 21st century.

I have spent far too much energy in this conflict already, in my short life. If one wishes to be a productive, creative thinker in this field, there comes a time when one realizes communists can’t be reasoned with and stops giving a shit what they think. I don’t insist they stop using the word anarchism; if they would like me to, they can come and make me.

I have a lot of ideas for the future of anarchism. I have projects I want to begin, things I want to write, and proposals for how the anarchist community can reach out. I’m going to use this space to set down my thoughts about the future of anarchism.

Firstly, outreach. Black clad protesters and temperamental youths have done much to damage the name of anarchism, but it’s certainly not beyond repair. As I see it, there are a few possible outcomes of anarchist outreach. (1) We can increase the acceptance of particular anarchist ideas, even if the people we convince do not become anarchists. (2) We can show the world a different side of anarchism; the peaceful, the creative, the loving anarchism which concerns itself with the construction of communities and not the destruction of the bourgeois. In doing this, we may find allies, people who we have common ground with and can work together with to achieve our common goals (again, even if they do not become anarchists). And (3) lastly, we can convince others to adopt the anarchist belief system and live an anarchist life. This is the most difficult task, and I suspect it should be taken up only once significant progress has been made on the first two fronts, which will create fertile ground for the recruitment of new anarchists.

Regarding the first outcome, I have lately been pondering the idea of a journal. I want to tap into the pervasive outrage and fear that comes of awful people taking control of powerful governments, for instance Donald Trump being handed enormous executive power by Barack Obama. After such a stark demonstration it is much easier to convince people that the government is far too powerful.

It’s easy to tap into that disillusionment when we, as anarchists, are the only ones who can tell them how to take some power back and feel like they can actually do something. Thus, the premise of the journal: what is your goal, and how can it be pursued within civil society. The journal will point out that government is not going to do anything for the people, so if they want something done they’ll just have to do it themselves. It will encourage people to think creatively about how to do it themselves. And it will provide a platform for organizing people with shared goals and creating action committees. Importantly, while this gets people thinking in terms of a free society, one doesn’t have to be an anarchist, and hopefully it will attract a diverse group and give them a practical education in what voluntaryism looks like.

The Long Future of Anarchism

A free society will not come into existence over night. The founding of a truly anarchist society would indeed be a revolution, but importantly it would be so in the sense of the industrial revolution or the sexual revolution. It has been debated in the past whether anarchism should be achieved by a violent revolution, but it is a moot question: anarchism can’t be achieved by a violent revolution. Time and time again history has made fools of those who believe their ends can be achieved by fundamentally inconsistent means; those who refuse to accept that the means employed determine the results. The necessary revolution is not nearly so simple as destroying the State. To the contrary, it is the long and loving labour of creating an alternative.

I’m going to dwell on this for a moment. It has been amply demonstrated that violent revolutions almost unexceptionally give rises to totalitarian regimes. The claims of rebel bands to be the sole and true representatives of the people are almost invariably a farce. Look to any revolution you like: Russia, Mexico, Cuba, Algeria, or anywhere else in North Africa for that matter. The exceptions are very few and far between. I have been reading lately about the war for independence in Algeria, and once again I noted with sadness that revolutionaries are always such unethical and inhumane brutes. The cause of this was quite clear in Algeria’s case…

In the beginning, there were many of humane instinct who sought independence, and these formed various organizations and movements of a moderate nature. On the other side, though rarely in favour of independence for the Algerians, there was the occasional figure in French-Algerian politics willing to negotiate in good faith and to work towards equality and a greater standard of living for the native Algerians. A short time into the war, initiated by the extremists on the Algerian side, and spurred on by the retaliations of the extremists on the French side, this middle ground had disappeared, one of the first casualties in the brutal struggle. To read the story, in the fullest possible detail, it becomes clear that a person’s willingness to resort to violence is in inverse proportion to their sense of ethics. Thus, the revolution is always started and controlled by those with no morals and no restraint..

All too often, anarchists and other people of conscience find themselves supporting the revolution as a fallacious extension of another belief: because they oppose colonialism, they must support anti-colonialist rebels, etc. Such was the anarchist Simone de Beauvoir’s facile position on Algeria. She was a most dogmatic supporter of the revolution because, like all anarchists, she hated colonialism. This inspired in her the most profound intellectual dishonesty: every brutality of the French was rightly criticized, but silence reigned when the FNL cut off a civilians cock and stuffed it in his mouth and bombed a dozen others; after all they were doing it for independence. Somehow I expect the thousands of Arabs the FNL slaughtered would have preferred life to independence, much less independence on the FNL’s terms. When they brought the war to France, she praised the discipline imposed by FNL militants, even as they extorted taxes from cafe owners down to manual labourers to fund their war of independence.

Similar attitudes are generally held by communist anarchists, who have an affinity for the romanticized image of the revolutionary. Hence their clashes in the street, their waving of black flags, their imagery of anarchists, bandanas covering their faces, hurling Molotovs at riot police. This may be attractive aesthetically or socially, but it is inane politically and intellectually. These anarchists will continue to show up at various protests for the next century or more, and absolutely nothing positive will have come from it.

We need a serious movement, lifelong commitments, and pragmatic thought to establish a protracted intergenerational revolution. At its core, this revolution will be about building the new society within the shell of the old. Anarchist theory is about an alternative society, a free society which is not built upon force. Anarchist practice, therefore, is not about bomb making or protesting, it is about creating this society.

This is a difficult task, indeed, and in the near future it will require cooperation from the non-anarchist population, as discussed above. Again, they needn’t agree that an ideal society would have no government; they only need to be persuaded that government in its current form is corrupted and ineffective and that it would therefore be easier to pursue their goals in civil society than through government. This is easier than it sounds. If someone is deeply concerned with ensuring the welfare of disadvantaged members of society, it is not hard to convince them to form or join a civil organization which pursues this goal. And so on, for a variety of important goals.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to fully outline the civil institutions which are most important to a free society and what they might look like; but that is the purpose of the proposed journal.

In the long term, there needs to be an intellectual evolution away from the State-centric mindset. Today, people view all the fundamentals of society as the sole responsibility of the government; and conversely, few people feel any responsibility to actively contribute to society. In the move towards a free society, people must eventually come to understand and believe that the stable, caring, and humane society they desire is best achieved by active participation by all members in providing welfare, community organization, etc.

At present, most people upon seeing something which needs to be done petition the government to do it. If the government fails to do it, they protest the government. They see no alternatives. Civil society will not be strong and harmonious until this mindset changes; until people see something which needs doing and do it. We are not absolved of our responsibility by the monoliths which lounge in our capital’s. The only way anything has ever been achieved is by the actions of human beings. We are not powerless. We don’t need a party or a government, we need only to believe once again that we are capable of action and we can achieve whatever we desire by cooperation.


I hope to organize these thoughts better in the near future, and I will be developing the concept of a Journal to discuss civil society and voluntary action. If anybody would be interested in contributing to the development of this idea, or to the journal once it is being assembled (editors, writers, graphic designers, etc.), feel free to email me at kavanagh1@hotmail.com.