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.

Trump-Watch

I have written that the president is an overgrown, narcissistic child. I am not happy, not surprised, to be vindicated so much in the first days of his Presidency, as I no doubt will be for the next four years. As I have also said, I wish I were wrong. I really do. This isn’t good.

He’s a bit like Nixon. Nixon as he was, not as he pretended to be or as people thought him to be, but as he was. All the self-aggrandizement and narcissism and obsession with control is naked, and still people voted for him. Still people support him.

Within days of taking office, his inner circle were leaking stories to the press. The day after his inauguration, Trump is increasingly furious at a series of tweets comparing the crowds at his inauguration to that of Barack Obama. This, an irrelevant criticism on fucking Twitter is what the new President is concerning himself with. This is not new: throughout the campaign Trump’s own twitter account smouldered constantly with petty frustrations and the candidate personally lashed out at every popular critic he had. But one always hopes a candidate will settle down after an election (now that votes aren’t so important) forget the critics and settle down to the serious work of running the country.

Not this time. Under orders from Trump, press secretary Sean Spicer told the press that Trump’s inauguration crowd had been “the biggest in history.”

You might say I’m making too much of this, but I don’t think I am. As I write this on the 26th of January, a Chinese foreign minister has just told Trump to stay out of territorial disputes in the South China Sea. How he handles this may be very important. It may affect a huge number of people. And the man can’t handle criticism on Twitter. And he is handling it clumsily, testing his belief that the US needs to be tougher in its dealings with Beijing. In practice, as we are seeing, this means aggressive rhetoric and the threat of intervention, courting a major conflict with a nuclear-armed major power. At the same time, Trump’s policy of protectionism, it seems, is leading him to abandon free trade with allies in the region, damaging important economic and diplomatic relations and possibly leaving a void for China to fill, bolstering their influence in the region.

His obsession with illegal immigrants has now found expression in the law of the United States, as Trump has issued two Executive Orders on the subject. The text of the first of these orders (Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States) tells us that illegal immigrants “present a significant threat to national security”, particularly those who engage in criminal conduct. One wonders how serious a threat illegal immigrants actually pose, especially those who don’t engage in criminal conduct. But Trump believes it to be so, and on this basis he has made the following decrees:

  1. 10,000 new Federal immigration officers are to be hired. (Sec. 7)
  2. In addition, State and local law enforcement will be authorized to perform the functions of immigration officers. (Sec. 8b)
  3. Illegal immigrants are to be excluded from the protections of the Privacy Act. (Sec 14.)

I have no doubt that libertarians who dubiously support Trump will point to his hiring freeze on Federal civilian employees as a commitment to small government. The fact that this does not apply to the military, as well as the fact he has ordered that ten thousand people be hired to chase illegal immigrants, shows us that like all the false icons of the right wing, he does not favour small government at all and hacks away only at benign facets of the State, leaving power wholly in tact. Perhaps it is good regardless, I don’t know; I only know that I couldn’t give a toss if small cuts are made to the budget of an overreaching authoritarian State with a powerful military and police force. That’s not small government.

The authorization of law enforcement to perform the functions of immigration officers is worrying – in the context of widespread complaints of police brutality and corruption, particularly against minorities, does he really need to give police more power as well as an impetus to treat people who look foreign with suspicion and hostility?

But to return to the issue of immigration law, the second of two executive orders (Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements) makes even more provisions requiring significant resources and personnel to enact and maintain. These include:

  1. The construction of a physical wall along the border between the US and Mexico, and a large force to man the wall and ensure “operational control” of the entire border. (Sec. 4a)
  2. The establishment (and continuing operation and staffing of) detention facilities near the border. (Sec. 5a)
  3. Pursuant to the first provision, the hiring and training of an additional 5,000 Border Patrol agents. (Sec. 8)

Again, small government my ass.

Those who believe Trump will be a force for good on the whole have a very heavy burden of proof upon them. When I push for this burden to be met, many people just act like it’s obvious that Trump will be a force for good. It is not. Many act like I’m being silly. I am not. At any rate, I am trying to keep an open mind and I would love to hear a detailed argument from the other side. But so far it doesn’t look good.

Well, we can agree on something: let’s keep an eye on the new President, shall we? If you want to argue in favour of the President, be sure to visit the Briefing Room on Whitehouse.gov regularly and see for yourself what he’s doing.

For now, I’ll step down from the podium…

Peace.

On the Inauguration of Donald J. Trump

What will come of this event, I do not fully know. But I have little reason to feel hopeful. There are many measures of a man, some subjective, some objective, and by all of them I find little to admire in or expect from the new President of the United States. One of the more subjective, but also -to my mind- one of the more basic measures of a man in such a position is whether you trust him. Whatever he is saying, however you feel about it, do you think he believes it? Do you think he is trying in good faith to do what is right? I don’t. He strikes me as a deeply and fundamentally dishonest man. He strikes me as a duplicitous and mean-spirited child, a  definite narcissist and probable sociopath. (I have known more than a couple of literal, DSM sociopaths, am familiar with the psychiatric understanding of the disorder, and do not use the term lightly.) And I am more than confident that objective measures and, sadly, his presidency will bare out this analysis.

What first struck me about his campaign was the familiar, malevolent atmosphere of his rallies. Dissenters and protesters were often attacked by fanatics while Trump smugly commentated from his podium. He joked about what would have happened to these people in the “good old days.” “I love the good old days. Let me tell you, in the good old days he’d be leaving on a stretcher.” The mood was reminiscent of Chicago ‘68 at best, Alabama ‘62 at worst. He said it himself: there was a longing for the good old days; the days when peaceful protests were disrupted with brutal force. The good old days of billy clubs, fire hoses and jackboots. Seriously ask yourself what kind of person who was 22 in 1968 looks back on Chicago and police brutality with fondness.

It was reminiscent, as well, for the atmosphere of blind, pack allegiance to a leader. To be fair, every successful Presidential campaign is like this in a big way, but Trump’s in particular resembled Dictatorships of the past in two ways. Firstly, there is the Glorious Leader element. Unlike all previous campaigns, it was not really a Republican campaign. It was not about a party, or the ideologies to which it is tenuously and falsely related (conservatism, small government, family values), or the longstanding partisan ties that generally characterize all campaigns. It was about Donald Trump, and his own twisted personal philosophy, and the promise that he (not ‘his’ party or his people) would single-handedly save America. Like his business, he would sit at the very top and command supreme control of his empire. Secondly, the intolerance of dissenters and outsiders discussed above, the -at times- violent, almost hysterical mob atmosphere.

And like a Dictator, Donald has a long history of harassment, intimidation, blackmail, and nuisance lawsuits directed against anyone who he found inconvenient or even simply distasteful. His legal history is informative when studying his character and I encourage you to look into this history and the 3,500 lawsuits Trump has been involved in – an average of one a week for his almost fifty year career. I have decided not to go into the detail I would like to, as the many and long paragraphs it would take to adequately discuss his ethical bankruptcy as demonstrated throughout this career would harm the readability of this piece and may as well be saved for another.

Yeah, yeah, I know – talk about his politics. I will, indeed, and it’s not any more flattering than the rest of his miserable life, I assure you. His campaign consisted mainly of a hodge-podge of familiar elements: nationalism, protectionism, populism, and a good deal of fear mongering, as is traditional in the race for the White House, only Donald appealed far more openly and shamelessly to racial prejudices than any of his recent predecessors.

It is totally uncontroversial to say that the jumbled ideology he espoused was nationalistic: it was openly and proudly so.

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America

Protectionism is built on the notion that foreign business in America decreases American prosperity, because some of the profits go home to foreign nations. This notion is false: every bit of money that business spends in America is money that would otherwise never have entered the American economy at all otherwise, so banning it altogether to stop foreign profit hurts everyone. It’s cutting of one’s nose to spite ones face.

We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.

When American companies buy raw materials from other American companies that they could have bought cheaper overseas, their product is more expensive than it could have been, and while the company they trade with benefits, the customer and the country bare the cost.

His populism was (and is) very much like the populism of Clinton: he will happily lie, flip-flop, or say two different things to two different people to increase his popularity. Like all politicians, he says what he thinks people want to hear, with no regard for the truth. It is for this reason that confidence in Trump is so naive – so far it can only be based on what he has said, and he has said a whole lot of things, almost none of it was of any substance, consistency was by no means very great, and he is a known fraud. He has a history of promising what he can’t deliver, of exaggerating, lying, all as a matter of public record. Why on Earth would you believe he’s turned honest since he decided to become a politician?

There is even talk of Trump as an anti-establishment politician. This is perhaps true in the limited sense that he is a self-serving narcissist. But it would be foolish to expect him to do anything about the structure of power and the pervasiveness of the State. Throughout the campaign he argued for surveillance of Muslim communities and mass deportations as well as tougher border defence, all things which require a powerful powerful law enforcement wing to achieve. He sided with police vocally and often in the context of a national debate about police brutality and militarization, saying things like “the police are the most mistreated people in America,” and “we need to give the power back to the police.” This last statement is especially concerning and reminds us of the crime wave that exists only in Trump’s head – crime has been steadily decreasing for decades. It’s difficult to imagine what it means in his delusional world to “give the power back” to the most powerful and overreaching police in the country’s history. And that’s not even the worst of it…

He has argued that the military should murder the families of terrorists, civilians whose only guilt is by association. He is a vocal advocate of torture who sees waterboarding as entirely too mild, and would order military personnel to commit even more heinous acts. He would still do so even if these acts yielded no information, simply as a retaliatory measure, because they “deserve it, anyway.” When it was pointed out that both of these policies constitute war crimes and that the military has been trained to refuse such orders, he responded, “if I say do it, they’re going to do it.” However, this did bring the Geneva conventions to his attention, and he now believes some changes need to be made to the historical series of treaties which are designed to prevent crimes against humanity.

He has refused to rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe. He has threatened to shoot down Russian aircraft, an act of war. In his first television ad he promised to seize Middle Eastern oil fields. To achieve this, he wants to deploy 30,000 troops, figuring that if he conquers the land ISIS has conquered, anything in it belongs to him rather than the people it was taken from.

He wants to introduce a mandatory death penalty for anyone found guilty of killing police. Mandatory sentencing, of course, removes discretion from judges, something we rely on for a just legal system. Not only this, but he believes lethal injection is too comfortable and should be replaced with a more cruel and painful method of execution.

It would seem he poses no threat to the prison-industrial complex, the military-industrial complex, or police or Federal agencies, whether intelligence or law enforcement. The question arises: what establishment is he going against exactly?

I sincerely cannot think of anything redeeming about the man, his campaign, or his rhetoric. As for his Presidency, we shall see. I hope I’m wrong, I really do, but I do not have high hopes. And yet I see people who call themselves classical liberals and libertarians celebrating, here and there. I would like very much to have something to hope for: perhaps one of them could give me a sound explanation of why anybody should be glad about or excited for a Donald Trump Presidency.

On Charities (and Solicitation)

Why I’m tired of explaining I’m broke every time I go to my local station.

To charities, and those who work for them soliciting donations on the street or on the phone,

The way in which you operate is manipulative and ethically dubious. Perhaps it is effective on the gullible and the vulnerable, but the effect on nine out of ten people is to bring the institution of charitable organizations (all charitable organizations) a great deal of disrespect and disrepute. In the long run I see this leading to a decline in support and donations1.

Ostensibly you are the representatives, the public face of the charities which employ you. In practice, you are salesmen and saleswomen – a universal symbol of deceit and one of the least respected professions in our society.  Your technique is thoroughly aggressive, albeit ‘hidden’ behind a veneer of friendliness and enthusiasm stretched so tight as to be transparent. We all know the methodology – it is the same at every charity.

It first takes advantage of our social mores and innate politeness: when somebody stands directly in front of us and begins talking, we listen and respond. So you ask a series of questions which demand an answer: “how are you today?”, “Lovely! And what do you do for work?” etc., leaving no opportunity to opt out of the conversation. Of course, our social mores and innate kindness tell us that it is impolite to stand in front of somebody and begin talking: you invite them to converse. Nonetheless, now that you are standing in front of somebody, talking, their politeness will keep them there until you stop, so you make sure to leave no pauses for thirty seconds to a minute, by which time you’ve explained the dire circumstances of somebody or other, elicited their sympathy, and made them feel as though they are now in the middle of a conversation and cannot leave.

Once you stop, they might tell you that they don’t like donating to charities without first doing their research or they might tell you that they can’t actually afford it (and save you some time). But you stick to the script. Do not ask open ended questions. Do not stop talking unless you have asked a closed question’s which can only be answered “Yes” or “No” and as soon as that word leaves their mouth resume talking. And of course, ask questions which no polite person ought to say “No” to, like, “Would you like to help make children who are dying of cancer happy?”, but which have a double meaning. ‘Yes of course I would like to improve the circumstance of so-and-so’, your target answers. ‘I’m so glad you’d like to donate!’ you respond.

By now you’ve been having a “conversation” with this person for about five minutes, implied repeatedly that only a monster wouldn’t want to help and that ‘helping’ means ‘donating’, and prompted them to agree to the explicit and obvious meaning whilst reluctantly conceding you the implicit and not at all obvious meaning. I assume they usually donate, once you’ve got them this far.

This is obviously problematic, incredibly rude, and doubly so for being delivered with the unwavering smile of a used-car-salesmen (which by the 20th or 30th backpacker who stops you to talk about homelessness or disease begins to look like the grin of a hyena). But that’s not the real problem. The problem is how this changes the public’s relationship to charity, and how it changes the way we donate to charity. The fact is that this essentially randomizes people’s donations – they go to whichever organization is being represented by the huckster who hoodwinks them. It should go to the organization which they believe to be the most effective or whose cause they care the most about.

People should take time to research charities, find out if they’re effective, find out where the money goes, and donate accordingly, not just cornered on the street and talked at until they cave and hand over their credit card details.

There is a government commission responsible for keeping data on Not-For-Profits and charities but it’s not super user friendly, and I would like to see a straight-forward overview of major charities analyzed by multiple factors. I’d like to know more about the five or six charities I regularly get stopped by at my local station.

 

Footnotes:
1. It may be that a lack of or decline in donations was the motivation for this to begin with. I do not know how we have come to be in this situation. Perhaps you have been forced to take these actions to avoid extinction. If somebody could enlighten me I’d be happy to listen.