Friday, July 29, 2011

On What Do We Depend?

It is a very unpleasant thought that billions of people in our world depend on nothing more than the desire for prestige and marginal increase in income on the part of those more powerful.

We may scoff at the voter, scoff at the industrially-entangled, scoff at the common idiot citizen, but when it comes down to this whole performance, this whole debt ceiling rot, I find it absolutely sorrowful and shameful to ask "What are they fighting for?"

These are people who are probably set for life. Every one of them can survive even the worst outcomes of the crisis. So what are the stakes for them? Re-election. The income that brings. The pride of winning. Talking engagements? Book deals? A television show or five?

And out of a fraction of their profit, how many of us are made to make our lives?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Enforced Chaos

Somalia has become a byword for anarchy. I've often heard and read liberals throw it in the faces of right-libertarians, and I've heard rightists speak with disdain for its lawlessness and unpredictability. What they need, I'm told, is someone to get in there and whip up a little law and order. Chaos! War! Tribal conflict! Mayhem! Piracy! Man's descent into barbarism: Somalia! Somalia! Somalia!

And now they are starving in Somalia.

The BBC cites population growth and drought as contributing factors, but they also note:

More often than not, though, conflict has been a contributing factor at times of hardship.

The 1973 famine in Ethiopia occurred against the background of a creeping coup against Emperor Haile Selassie.

The 1984 famine there came at the height of the war between the government of Col Mengistu Haile Mariam and Tigrayan rebels.

And the 1992 food crisis in Somalia occurred as the country was descending into anarchy.

And I think a good argument can be made that nearly twenty years of war is a major contributor to the famine, as food surpluses, manpower, and ingenuity have all been diverted to battle. Complicating matters is the Islamist militia al-Shabaab, which objects to UN food distribution efforts in the areas they control.

The solution? More fighting!

Our correspondent says the fighting started just after dawn when the government and African peacekeeping troops launched an offensive on an al-Shabab stronghold in the north of the city, about 7km (four miles) from the airport....

Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the 9,000-strong AU force in Mogadishu, said its "short, tactical offensive" against al-Shabab would make it easier for aid agencies to work in government-held areas.

Please take a moment to laugh darkly at the phrase "peacekeeping troops launched an offensive..."

And then take a walk down memory lane. Remember five years ago, when the dreadful anarchy in Somalia... ended. Did you miss it? I can't blame you. It didn't take too long before the US-backed military of Ethiopia, combined with a US naval blockade, surrounded the nascent victory in the Somali Civil War and strangled it. Somalia descended into war. Moderate and hardliner Islamists, their alliance defeated and destroyed, squabbled. Guess who won! Things got much, much worse, at least judging by the number of internally displaced people and refugees rushing the border. Rocket attacks began. Death squads operated freely. And now there is a famine in Somalia. Which only leads to more death, Western and proxy advance.

And now the last five years are down the memory hole for most of us. The BBC waxes nostalgic about life before 1991. Gone are the memories of what the war to save Somalia is in actuality. Now we can go back to mourning, and act as if the loathsome al-Shabaab is a foreign contaminant as opposed to a force that was fostered and nurtured with a steady diet of intervention, oppression, and blood. The bastards, like Mugabe or Saddam or any other scrappers that rise to the top of the heap not through navigating bureaucracies but through clever brutality, are the only force that can survive in Somalia. Being a bastard can have its uses.

And if we think about life before 1991, let us think about the military dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre, or more specifically its end. Here is the difficult truth for those interested in anarchy and anarchism. Somalia is a perfect example of devolution. It was imperfect, messy, and unattractive. It was egoist anarchism in action. Siad Barre overreached. The Cold War's end left him without backers. The government became more authoritarian. Ethiopia, still watchful over Somalia after their war over ethnic-Somali-populated Ogaden, probably encouraged internal dissension. Siad Barre sought to restrain separatists and oppositionist tribes. He failed, was overthrown, and died in exile a few years later.

I think the word "anarchy" is thrown about lazily, but the end of the Somalian (as opposed to the Somali) regime represents an interesting case example for state dissolution. We may wish to avoid its example in some or many ways (I certainly do), but that it is thrown in the faces of some does not mean we should cast it away without looking at it carefully. In Somalia, separatists succeeded in Somaliland, and now Puntland. In Somalia, individual tribes allied, feuded, or ignored each other. They confederated, and maybe that means the end of anarchy and the forming of states, but again, I have a more liberal interpretation of what the state is and see the state damn near everywhere, so anyway--what we call it may differ, but in this I see order emerging. In short, there was no overarching authority and merely the contest, violent or otherwise, between those who held territory and those who claimed it. To expect that to be lacking in the anarchy that follows the collapse of a state is foolish.

So I suppose if you believe in a negative anarchy, in which the state is removed, the Somali revolution did not go far enough; statelets remained. If you believe in positive anarchy, in the imposition of something in order to preserve freedom or autonomy or whatnot, then perhaps the revolution failed or was averted. Either way, what occurred in Somalia was a step toward anarchy. I don't think this can be denied.

But that was in 1991. What of 2011? Twenty years on, you cannot call what has occurred in Somalia anarchy, or a step toward it, or anything resembling it. Somalia is not independent but lawless. It is lawless and under the jurisdiction of powers whose bases are far outside its borders. It is a playground for Ethiopia and Eritrea and the United States of America. It developed a state, to which I was hostile. Once the Islamic Courts Union took Mogadishu, I knew it would abuse power, seek its own ends, behave with impunity, and so on. I knew this because of very simple assumptions I hold. It was a state! Of course it would behave according to its own narrow interest! Of course it would abuse power! And yet it emerged from Somalia. Did it impose its power with violence? Yes it did. And yet it was a product of Somalia. I doubt it would have made it a paradise. I don't doubt it possessed elements that were ugly and warranting deposition or death. And yet it did compromise. And yet it did serve local autonomies. And it was followed by something much, much worse. Authoritarian theocracy and foreign occupation. Piracy as a means to bring income to a nation where war has become the paramount industry. Radicalization of local culture. All the products of proxy war and geopolitical polarization.

But don't call it anarchy by any means. Somalia may not have any state, but it is the baby of quite a few states. It exhibits the barbarism only civilization can foster. It is enforced chaos. And every mortar shell that falls, every baby corpse abandoned by the side of a road, is not the result of a lack of rule but rather the imposition of rule from far abroad.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Natural Tyranny

Today, as with most days, my work begins with my children. I clean up the younger's waste, dress him, get the older boy's stuff together or tell him to do so, prepare lunch, while my wife gets a few extra minutes of sleep. The significance of all this, long since become routine, is the subject of a future post, but it gets me thinking about something K. F. Ochstradt said yesterday about suicide.

understandable exception for dependent minor/child having parent/guardian trying to stop suicide, but otherwise, whence the right to control another?

At the time, I moved past it quickly, because I readily accepted his point.

Today I think about it again, not because I object to it but because it makes me think about how we decide the rights of the young.

I have long felt that hierarchy begins in the home. This is what separates me from a lot of family-and-village anti-statists that I've known on the rightwing, conservative side of things. I tend toward a thorough-going rebellion, and I've always feared the authoritarian tendency in myself and other parents. Like Mr. Crow, I also object to the use of possessives in English, such as "my wife," "my children," and so on... They do evoke the ancestry of family, however, as a situation of ownership, and I feel that it's the root of our mistreatment of the young.

Why do we not recognize the autonomy of children? I can think of three main arguments.
First, that they are born as a result of adults' physiology and action. But this doesn't satisfy--first it does not explain why this sense of ownership is important for a time and then, ideally, becomes less and less significant.
Second, that their brains are undeveloped and that therefore, they do not have proper control over themselves. More on this in a bit.
Third, that we must teach them to behave because of the generational nature of society and tradition and so on. And any person pretending to anarchism must balk at this, because it suggests that society must be inculcated, maintained by power, and so on. I would add the complaint that it is pointless; tradition is reinvented with every iteration. The Hasid is not replicating Herod's temple; the Baptist has less understanding of Jesus than a 1st century Zoroastrian. Tradition drifts. Words' meanings drift even as the same monkey sounds are used. "God" today is not nearly as powerful to the industrial Westerner as He was even a hundred years ago.

So back to the second. I hear this thrown out by many a technocrat, usually liberal, to legitimize voting age and driver's licenses and legal alcohol use and so on and so forth. I'm unsettled by the precedent--that we can judge capacity without regard to action--and also unsettled by the ignorance of ends. We bar the 15-year-old for voting and do not seem to care if a 25-year-old, or a 50-year-old, make any horrible decision they like in the voting booth or in other political and economic exercise. What is just about cheating a 40-year-old of "sound mind"? Is the assumption that judgment is based on biology? That due to their lobe development, they "should know better"?

There are many attempts to draw the line--based on biology, based on physical growth, based on averages, based on social custom, based on a good, round number, based on transfer of one's daughter to her new owner called "husband," based on recognition by elders, and so on. None of them satisfies and yet--is there a line at all?

I think there must be. I think a child is at some points nearly helpless. Yes, even though we downplay their intelligence and their prepubescent sexuality and their understanding of truth our social lies prevent us from seeing, they are nevertheless incapable, at some points, of making some decisions. I've used hard power and soft power. Restraint, and internalization of norms. It scares me, honestly, because I know how coercive parents can be, and how subtle they can be while doing it, publicly and behind closed doors. But it has been necessary for my children.

But it won't always be. And part of that, a decisive part, will be in their liberation of themselves, their insistence on their own rights. And that will be hard, but good. But another part of it is in how I behave as a dominator, and it's been that role that I dismiss in the social sphere because I see how few powerful are willing to relinquish their authority over others. Is it different? I don't know how the tyranny of families and the tyranny of society relate. I am a tyrant, at least in some way, and I try to plant seeds of dissent and rebellion in my sons. It is very difficult, and I think about it a lot.

Usually when we talk about the rights of children, it is to enhance our power, not theirs.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Other Tragedy People Talk about on Facebook

I'm not sure I understand--and I'm not declaring my lack of understanding as some critique or rejection--what makes the appreciator of art feel a deep kinship with the artist. Some part of me feels great disgust when this is, say, displayed in politics.

"Stop, you fools!" I want to, and have in better words, cry. "Can't you see he's casting a spell!" And it's times like those I hope someone has readied an attack action with a missile weapon.

Anyway, that may be a post for another time--the aesthetics of power. I long ago recognized that while I heard a very, very big difference between King's words and Hitler's, most of these were because of socialization and my own thorny thought process. I heard in the failed Austrian painter the passion before which millions fell in worship. And if the truth is more complex and that they did not do all that they did because he told them to--well, he made excellent background music for a madness that consumed millions as they turned on millions more, bloodthirsty and relentless.

So what bridges the gap between artist and appreciator, what evokes the sense of longing and loss when, say, a John Lennon is shot to death? Or when Amy Winehouse apparently dies as a result of her addiction to substances?

I'm not sure. I'm not really free of such sentimentality. And if I am more objective in beholding my ignorance of the late Ms. Winehouse, I am certainly subjective elsewhere in regards to other artists whom I have never met in person.

I am not surprised, but still saddened, to hear others judge her. Some of the kinder words I heard in person stated that such-and-such "felt absolutely no sympathy" for people who killed themselves, likening Winehouse to Kurt Cobain. I don't know if Winehouse meant to kill herself and I assume that she did not... I have made a point, after knowing many people fall to their addictions and other failures, diseases, or troubles, to assume nothing and always leave room for the best interpretation. I did not say, but perhaps should have, that my grandmother died of cancer no doubt linked to her decades of smoking. Surely that would be seen in a different light. Alcohol poisoning, use of illicit drugs, these are low deaths. Cancer kills the noble. No, I will not damn Winehouse and condemn my kin for my mistakes at the same time. I don't get to do one or the other.

What is this need in people, to stand in judgment, to withhold or grant their compassion like some great divine gift? To demand that others jump through hoops and live up to their expectations of nobility? Is there anything so loathsome? Is there anything so petty? Is there anything so distracting from one's own problems? How many cluck their tongues at the dead addict while gorging themselves on sweets and salt and cigarettes? How many find vile satisfaction at a death supposedly deserved while tipping toward one of their own?

Who cannot look at the point of their death and say that perhaps they could have done more? That's a curse we all carry. Could have done more.

That said, my heart doesn't bleed much for a woman who had so much. But I don't blame her, hate her, judge myself better than her on account of the way she died. I do wonder what one does with this in a family setting, however. So much of this is to be found in prevention, in building a life, not steering away from the diseases of essential humanity and modern life. But once expressed, what do you do? Coerce them? Let them kill themselves with their obsessive consumption?

I don't know, and I've been in this shit professionally and personally quite often. I think as a society we move toward legality of use, isolating the chemical consumption from the acts of violence that, through our legal regime, we have forced to be combined. But that is simple. The next work is hard. Do we maintain laws that permit the forceable capture and treatment of addicts by family, medical personnel, and law enforcement? That they allow some a window of sobriety is matched by their use in abusing those already put in a very hard place by law and class and "public morality." If not the state, then do we permit families to perform such detoxification? Or do we defend the rights of those who will use and use and use--until they, perhaps, die?

Monday, July 25, 2011

On the Violence in Norway

What is an anarchist response to violence?

We know what the statist response is: identification of suspects, pursuit, apprehension. We know well too that this is no perfect process. It commits many crimes in itself, perhaps even worse because they masquerade under the name "justice."

So what justice is there in a system where there is no intermediary between victim and violator?

I suppose that in such a case, individuals would be in charge of reprisal killing or apprehension. Perhaps they would hold trials; perhaps they would not. This would depend on the composition of those offended and aggrieved. Perhaps they might vote on the methods to be used; perhaps communities would have already-standing policies related to enforcement of their rights.

This attempt to organize my thoughts is in its infancy. Likewise, my thoughts on the acts of murder in Norway. But we anti-authoritarians must think about how we respond to acts like this madness. He acted outside of the political system and exercised his autonomy as an individual to do terrible, terrible things... If we do not have a murderous state to resolve the issue, we will have to resolve it ourselves. And so we should take a moment at such a terrible time to not only cheer that the death of the state will free us from crimes like the occupations of foreign countries, but to ruminate on the thought of going about the bloody business of responding to heinous crime without becoming monstrous ourselves.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Tipping Point

Can you have power without a state? Sure you can.

You can exercise that power, too. A fistfight between individuals doesn't have to be an act of political domination, if it is still political--being concerned with power. That said, fistfights between individuals cannot be ruled out as acts of political domination, for it is likely that the first wars were between small groups of individuals, with little more than their fists and perhaps some sharpened stones or bits of bone.

So exercise of power is not necessarily a state. Violence or threat of violence is not necessarily a state. A state may contain these things and yet it requires more.

How much, I wonder, does it require? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions to form a state?

The excellent Mr. Crow explains that the state "has to [be] identified by its form." And all this builds on his terrific post, which I will quote in part now:

The State - and let's just flash back to Kropotkin - exists to protect property and to kill, hurt, maim and break the ruled classes who must not be allowed control of that property. The state exists to control populations so that class which controls the state can have its preferred forms of property. No matter how many times men have tried to capture it and use it towards a different end, the state returns again and again to its stable form of power, and its stable function.

Mr. Crow takes a moment to worthily lambast liberals' historical myths, and invoke the fury which used to be associated with anarchism, before punk rock and scrawling on high school lockers became the near-whole of anarchist expression.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a progressive prattle on about the American Dream, I'd have enough money to arm a whole army of Lucy Parson's grifters, grimers and tramps. Oh, happy day...

And there is my historical disagreement with Jack Crow, in that I do not see a power capable of dislodging the state that will not become a state. I do not assume that he believes the grifters, grimers, and tramps will simply abandon power and return, like Cincinnatus, to their well-defended homes and livelihoods, but I do wonder what he imagines would follow. For the record, Cincinnatus would have re-emerged the moment his class' power was threatened again, like Sulla; power won cannot be yielded except in the case of a challenge unanswered, but now I'm losing my track and will return to my point.

None of this is to say that Crow, or I, or anyone, needs to say what will follow. None of this is to say that the potential for power wrested means a group or an individual should never make the attempt. But how can we be blind to the state within us, to the oppression that is not merely a foreign contaminant to avoid but inherent in every socially organized exercise of power?

Mr. Crow does me a great favor by posting a scenario to consider.

Let's assume for a moment that someone you love is badly injured or sickened by a negligent party; that the person in question, in the process of dumping benzene into your local swimming hole, poisons a family member of yours.

You decide to seek recompense from this person and collect several friends to help you in your task. You visit his place of residence, persuade him to understand the gravity of his predicament and the unlikelihood of escaping it and then suggest a number of remedies, up to and including providing support for your sickened kin until such time as her illness passes, if ever.

Have you formed a "state" to achieve these ends, or does a state have to meet more criteria than just "organizing to seek redress"?

Organizing to seek redress is different from organizing to impose redress, should it come to it. You can see in this a one-off deal, an ad-hoc "kinetic neighborhood action," or you can see it as probably an apt description of but one way that humanity fell into the morass that "law and order," "crime and punishment" has become.

Because what law, in a stateless world, forbids poisoning water? Personal law. Here's where I do not differ with Mr. Crow; I would likely do exactly what he details here. I want to emphasize that. I do not think his described action is reprehensible in any way. In fact, it sounds noble. Only too noble. But it is no less political. It is no less an act of aggression. Perhaps to counter wrong. Perhaps to counter the excessive power of others. But it is not light versus dark, because there is no light. There is no dark. There is no morality but what we say there is. And when it comes down to it, the poisoner can say "I didn't make your little girl swim." "I didn't pour it down her throat."

And what do you say to that? "You permitted the circumstances to exist?" What responsibility does anyone have under this circumstance?

The issue here is not what the state is and what we are in opposition to it. The state is merely the most powerful entity around. If it dissolved, another would form and reflect the characteristics of those who steer it. Some are short-lived, and some live long.

But I recognize a dynamic when I see it, and this use of force, this assertion of principle, this claim of responsibility, this demand of recompense, this challenge of power against power... Let us call it what it is. It is rule. Perhaps a more familiar exercise, a more understandable one, but it is the compulsion of others to follow one's will. It is the positing of a maxim, the threat of future reprisals of this sort. Does that make it evil? That's another question.


My brain is a soup.

I always got the feeling when I read IOZ that his was the kind of mind that liberal arts educations are supposed to create or at least encourage. I've known a few people who can sample from so many theories and do so well.

I'm considered well-read by my breathing-same-air friends, but they really have no idea how much there is out there. By most specialists' standards, sure, I'm well-read, but when I come up against somebody who's deeper, my shallowness ahem, stands out.

So there's a little Nietzsche and a little remembered Marx. There's Niebuhr and Guevara and Lenin and Red Rosa and there's Orwell and there's Goldman's critique of authoritarian socialism. I'm a hodge-podge, a melange.

I'm going to try to organize it. I'm going to aim for manifesto and hope I'm just able to string a few thoughts together like I did years ago, before commenting became my primary mode. I've done this before and then I've abandoned it. Maybe I'll abandon it again. But I want to try again.