Posts Tagged ‘ the gun in the room

The State and Other Oppressors

I’ve said it before, and I doubt you’ll be spared me saying it many times again: for most people on this planet, the state isn’t the primary impediment to their freedom and happiness.

Not to downplay the millions of victims on the receiving end of US “foreign policy,” or caged in global or domestic gulags–the withering away of the state will mean life instead of death or imprisonment and that is, of course, a very good thing.

A component of that withering, both underestimated and inestimable, is the recognition and dismantling of systems of oppression besides those enshrined in state institutions.

While the parallels between the violent nature of the state and the violent nature of other power structures are striking, they’re hard to address because, like state violence, their pervasiveness makes them difficult to identify. Highlighting the true nature of these systems to someone who has grown up within them is nearly impossible. Enlightenment, if and when it happens, usually comes when the “violence inherent in the system” manifests itself on the soon-to-be-enlightened, or perhaps a loved one thereof.

The other path to seeing the previously unseen is repeated exposure to the idea that the system is based on violence, founded on inequality. This requires profound patience on the part of all involved and a waiting out of the bluster and bombast and whatever other defense mechanisms are in place to prevent one seeing what is in front of one’s nose.

Anarchists get that the state relationship is based on violence: not just the wars and the prisons, but every law. The proof of this is trivial and it’s an axiom, literally, of all post-highschool political science, yet most Americans refuse to see the violence in the system. They believe that they are voluntary participants in institutions necessary for civilization when the truth is actually the opposite.

Outside of the persistent targets of state violence: immigrants, the poor, and racial minorities, only the disobedient get a taste (or more, depending on how quickly they relent) of what stands behind every law, every ordinance, every statute.

I have some rudimentary insight into a particular non-state parallel that I’ve written about before. Prepare to detect in yourself the defense mechanisms that will attempt to force your mind away from a very clear and obvious truth: women are oppressed, not primarily by the state, but by men.

Yes, there are exceptions; yes, the state historically supported the dominance of me; no, not all men are violent oppressors; no, not all women are victims of physical violence. Neither are all citizens victims of state violence and neither are all state agents perpetrators of violence. As Charles Johnson and Roderick Long point out in their must-read paper, Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved? regarding a common non-feminist reaction to the claim that we live in a rape culture:

Libertarians rightly recognize that legally enacted violence is the means by which all rulers keep all citizens in a state of fear, even though not all government functionaries personally beat, kill, or imprison anybody, and even though not all citizens are beaten, killed, or imprisoned; the same interpretive charity towards the radical feminist analysis of rape is not too much to ask.

The analogy I’ve used is the experience of being approached by a policeman. In a given encounter, it’s very unlikely that the cop will beat, cage or kill you. The anarchist analysis, felt in the gut of virtually everyone even if it can’t be put into words, is that the policemen could beat, cage or kill you and would almost certainly get away with it.

If he wants your name or ID or for you to disclose the contents of your pockets, it’s considered by most to be a normal social interaction. Your resistance to his desires is considered unnatural and potentially risky. Anything that happens to you if decide to break with the social norm is going to be seen by most people as your own fault, by one twisted rationale or another.

Women are in an analogous position vis-à-vis an encounter with a man. A woman is expected to make conversation and be cordial if approached and can reasonably be asked her name, phone number, and what she’s doing this weekend. None of this is considered socially invasive. It place in a context where violence could very well be the result of refusing to participate. In most cases, barring sufficiently enlightened witnesses, alot of people will bend over backwards to blame the woman for whatever ills visit her as a result of the encounter.

Denying that this is the case, especially denying it to people who have had that very subjective experience, is, well, fucked up.

I’ve got alot more to say about this, but in the interest of actually posting something, I’ll break it off here. This feels rambly anyway, so I’d be happy if somebody focused my thinking on some aspect of the above.

The Unprincipled Nature of Political Violence

A few thoughts on the attempted murder of Gabrielle Giffords.

Firstly, I want to express massive sympathy to the friends and families of the victims. The lack of empathy towards those who have had loved ones irrevocably ripped from their lives by human violence is a foundational reason that we live on a planet overflowing with needless sorrow.

That said, everyone in the political class is projecting their world view onto this event with almost no sign of even basic circumspection. This event didn’t take place in a vaccuum, and the angry political speech that is, in some circles, being blamed as the cause didn’t spring from nowhere, and the notion that the solution to a problem is to kill it wasn’t invented by Jerrod Loughner.

We are surrounded by a society steeped in violent domination of the weak by the strong. The foundational premise of human political institutions is that one group should use weapons, cages and confiscation to impose it’s will on another group. The foundational premise of our nation is that the non-ruling group can justly kill and replace the ruling group if, for example, taxes get too high, or the court system is deemed unjust.

The entire structure of our ruling institutions comes down to us from a barbaric and superstitious past. In this one unique thread of human endeavor, no hint of modernity has been allowed to permeate for 2,500 years.

The gun is always on the table in politics. Nearly every American supports both the use of state violence against undesirable people *and* the use of anti-state violence against oppressive government[1]

The credibility of the grievances varies (surely the weakest claim of oppression was that of the colonial americans in the 18th century), but there’s no political principle about when anti-state violence is good and when it’s bad–it’s entirely subjective[2]

There’s also no principle governing the appropriate use of state violence. Some people prefer guns be waved at those who farm certain plants or cross invisible lines. Others want to threaten those that have sex with forbidden persons (or in forbidden ways) or drop trash on unowned land.

This lack of principle, the lack of any basis for rational discourse, is precisely what leads to angry screechy shouting, jumping up and down, waving of arms, gnashing of teeth, and when those impressive displays repeatedly fail to convince: the threat of and use of violence.

We live in a domination system, a patriarchy, a rape culture in which the predominant belief is that physical control of one group of humans by another is necessary for our continued existence. As long as this is the case, violence will be used by individuals who feel that it’s a reasonable way to solve a particular problem. Most of the time, the victims will be the poor and politically powerless, but on occasion, the victim of violence will be a member of the ruling class or their enforcers.

The only way to avoid violence against the ruling class is to refuse to legitimize violence as a means of human interaction. Of course, it’s the ruling class that monopolizes the institutional use of violence against the rest of humanity, so to some degree the ball is in their court.

I imagine that we’ll know that we’ve reached the dawning of a new day when every murder around this planet is treated with equal horror. Since this killing is the first of the thousand-or-so politically related murders of the last year that has made the news in anything but a passing manner, I know that dawn is not yet come.

Update: The always amazing IOZ hits my note (but funnier) in paragraph 4.

Update: See for yourself has a nice round-up of other quality online publications that are presenting what I believe to be largely the same sentiment in a number of ways. Here’s a nice summary sourced by one of the linked posts:

Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
– Derrick Jesen, Endgame vol. 1

  1. [1] The right-wing rhetoric that’s got everybody in a tizzy currently was used by the left in the 1960s. It was used by third world nationalists in the 40s and 50s and by anti-colonialists for 100 years before that. It was considered a sign of hope in post-soviet eastern europe and still is in the nuclear boogieman-of-the-day, Iran.
  2. [2] If one concedes the use of revolutionary violence, it certainly seems most appropriate against the regime that holds 1/4 of the worlds prisoners, that is fighting a whole host of wars that are illegal by any international agreement or treaty regarding national conflict back to 1648, that is responsible for 10s of millions of deaths in the third world since the mid 20th century, that claims the right to detain or assassinate anyone on the planet–including its own “citizens” without any process other than a go-ahead from the supreme leader.

All are Sustained by the Sword

What is called human government is usurpation, imposture, demagoguism, peculation, swindling, and tyranny . . . Unquestionably, every existing government on earth is to be overthrown by the growth of mind and moral regeneration of the masses. Absolutism, limited monarchy, democracy — all are sustained by the sword; all are based upon the doctrine, that ‘Might makes right’; all are intrinsically inhuman, selfish, clannish, and opposed to a recognition of the brotherhood of man.
– William Lloyd Garrison

(source: Patriotic gore @ google books.) H/t Jesse Walker @ Reason

Political Power, the Barrel of the Gun and all That

I believe that the only human future, that is, a future with humans in it, is one in which violence as an acceptable mode of human interaction is renounced. This renunciation will make the state, as we know it, impossible. Every power of the state rests, ultimately, on its power to “legitimately” kill its citizens. I realize that I’m repeating myself, but there seemed to be some disagreement over my claim and I thought it worth while to clarify my position and attempt to come to some understanding before I go on and make yet more outrageous claims.

I am not claiming that the only action that state agents can take against a citizen is to kill him or her. I have been fined and put in jail. I hear they have over two million people in prison, so yes, I understand that alternatives to execution exist for the government. However, I can’t imagine very many of those 2 million would have gone willingly to prison or would be easy to keep there if the death of an inmate at the hands of a policemen or guard were considered murder (which, by any objective standard, it is).

People submit to state agents specifically because those agents are authorized to kill people who resist. Nobody surrenders to mall security*.

Without the ability to drag people to jail, authorized to kill resisters and escapees, how does the state level fines? Unless they can take houses, killing those who defend themselves as they would against any other home invader, how can they levy property taxes? Without threatening employers, how do they collect income taxes?

This stands separately from the claim that they shouldn’t do these things. It’s not a novel position that they should, but it cannot be claimed that these powers ultimately rest on anything other than the power to kill people.

Everyone likes to call out state violence–well almost everyone–that they don’t agree with while justifying or redefining the state violence that they support. This argument is as old as time and has gotten humanity nowhere**.

While we may disagree about the necessity for violence to maintain social order, provide for the sick and the old, or educate the young–it is disingenuous to deny that, ultimately, agents of the state require the monopoly on violence and the “authority” to kill citizens to enforce the preferences of the ruling class.

*Actually, I take that back: there are people, broken people, who will submit to any authority figure. I submit, without evidence, that those people were likely broken by violence at some point in the past. Broken by aggressors who, explicitly or implicitly, threatened death for continued resistance. That’s a topic for the future.

**In reference to the undeniable increase in the standard of living and the no-longer-being-as-frequently-killed-to-death of huge swaths of humanity under state control: These victories resulted from a multitude of individuals sacrificing their lives and wealth to drag the state kicking and screaming out of some aspect of barbarity. In reference to the idea that, for example, not arresting homosexuals who marry (or those that marry them) is a good use of state violence: it is a good renunciation of state violence–yet another subject to revisit.