Cowardice asks …

Cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.

-MLK (h/t to Freddie)

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On Lupe Fiasco and Voting

So, last night, Lupe Fiasco was apparently run off stage partway through an anti-war song,* which included anti-Obama rhetoric and had gone on for 30 minutes, where he was performing at an inauguration rally. Ta-Nehisi Coates mentions it and embeds some video of Fiasco’s ousting here.

*Interesting the way an anti-war song morphs into an “anti-Obama” song in the eyes of some writers. As if, you know, war and Obama are essentially synonymous.

The article itself is really nothing more than the embedded video. Now, Coates’ blog is one of the few where I’ll actually check the comments (he curates and responds! One of the few writers who will do that, and I wish more would. It makes for interesting discussion and seems to spur Coates to regularly write interesting follow up articles based on comment discussions, which is great), and given the subject and the minimal content in the original post, I figured there’d be a few interesting tidbits. Sure enough, a rather robust debate ensues primarily centered around two things: 1) Was Fiasco behaving appropriately in the first place?, and 2) what of Fiasco’s politics, anyways?

To the first point, Coates comes down on what I think is the pretty reasonable side of “hey, you booked him, you should know what you’re getting.” As long as Fiasco was fulfilling whatever contractual obligations he committed to, it doesn’t seem like he really did anything that you could criticize. Usually, we applaud artists who take creative risks in the pursuit of artistic expression. That folks are bagging on Fiasco for not playing a “regular set” seems either hypocritical or banal. They remind me of the people who go to older artists’ shows and shout for nothing but golden moldies and complain whenever new material is played. But whatever. To each their own on that one, I guess.

To the second point, some comments come down pretty hard on Fiasco’s politics (as one would expect from the statist, centrist Atlantic crowd). Disturbingly, Coates approvingly endorses this comment, from reader Craig:

“As political as the statement sounds, Fiasco, who grew up on the West Side, says he doesn’t vote or get involved in politics.”

Then, to put it bluntly, shut the f*ck up Lupe Fiasco. Don’t vote? Don’t complain.

I find this one of the most, er, disagreeable sentiments to be found among statists. Unlike other points of major philosophical conflict, which can be debated – passionately! – and in which we can at least assume good faith intent with each other, the point of the “if you don’t vote you can’t complain” line of reasoning is nothing more than a hollow attempt to silence voices who radically and fundamentally disagree with you. Frankly, it’s beneath Coates.*

*As an aside, I wonder if Coates would have been so approving of the sentiment to tell a radical black man to “shut the fuck up” if he knew, say, that “Craig” was white. Obviously, I have no idea who Craig is or what his background is (or if he’s even a he!), but there’s something that should register as kind of gross and icky to tell Lupe Fiasco to “shut the fuck up” for not being sufficiently bought into the prevailing power structures that govern this country.

It’s also wrong on a number of levels. First of all, it creates a catch-22 for those who oppose the state. If you don’t vote, you need to just “shut the fuck up” about, well, everything. Particularly anything related to the evils perpetrated by statists. On the other hand, voting is always – always – seen as an affirmation of the consent of the governed by those doing the governing, the media and – at least – whoever’s side “won.” After every election, for example, you hear talk of “mandates” and “approval” and all that stuff. My Democrat friends always wax on during their voter registration drives about the need for everyone to participate – no matter who they vote for, durn it! – because participation is what grants legitimacy to the system. So, either vote and throw your lot in with the State, or abstain and shut the fuck up. Not a lot of choices there for the person whose political interests lie elsewhere.

Beyond that, and as riffed on by the likes of George Carlin, there’s an argument that the “if you vote you can’t complain” folks have it precisely backwards. By this line of thiking, people who vote are the ones going in with eyes wide open, knowing they’re endorsing war mongers and Wall Street stooges. If voting is the great endorsement those of us who abstain are always told it is, how dare they turn around and complain about the policies of the guy they just elected? They knew full well when they were in the voting booth that they were voting approvingly for this list. To turn around and say they oppose such a policy is meaningless. In the only area Obama cares about – his ability to retain his power – those who “oppose” such policies publicly affirmed them. They have no leverage on Obama now. No way to make the killing stop. And it won’t. Not as long Statists who tell people like Lupe Fiasco to “shut the fuck up” – and thoughtful people like Coates who endorse that kind of message – keep lining up to vote in those same policies election after election, year after year.

Look, if you disagree with all that, fine (I don’t agree with it all!). If you think that we can create an ethical state, and a better future, by working within the system, then let’s have that conversation. But let’s make it a conversation  And that means not demanding that those who don’t buy into your value system “shut the fuck up” (or simply dismissing abstentionism as a “cop out” as Coates does in the linked comment) when they don’t do do as you command them to.

Addendum: Now that I’ve posted this, it occurs to me that I’ve probably given Coates the most uncharitable possible interpretation of his comment citing “Craig”. Which isn’t a very Agreeable thing to do, and as such a bit at odds with the mission of this blog. Still, at the very least, the “shut the fuck up” sentiment is such a common and pervasive one that someone as sharp as Coates decided he didn’t even see the need to mention or push back against it and simply expressing it is no barrier to being approvingly cited for sharp work highlighting a radical’s “cop out” positioning. Here’s Coates’ comment that I’m objecting to:

Because it’s money and probably a chance to showcase his anti-Obama politics. I don’t see where he’s actually wrong. Lupe was being Lupe.

I find his cynical apoliticism (which Craig highlights) to be a cop-out. But if you book Ted Nugent you might actually, like, get Ted Nugent.

So there you go. Bolding is mine, I think I probably came down too hard on Coates’ initially, but I think this flirtation with the “shut the fuck up” position to still be pretty stifling for anyone who may actually not vote.

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The Institution of Marriage

Background:

President Obama recently announced his support for gay marriage. And so there was much rejoicing among the Statist Left.

Analysis:

While I think Obama’s declaration in support of gay marriage should be applauded, it should be noted that it was conditional support. He included an important caveat, one more bit of meaningless tacking-to-the-center-ism, which renders most of his support confused if not downright inane. From an article on the statement:

The president stressed that this is a personal position, and that he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own.

In other words, he articulated that gay marriage was a personal decision, one that should be left to the states. Now, I can appreciate that it may be tactically preferred to win the battle for equality at the state level, but as a statement of principle this is simply nonsense. By definition, a “personal decision” is something decided, well, personally. To leave such a decision in the hands of your neighbors and legislators deprives such a decision of the singular quality of being personal. Alternatively, one may consider that Obama doesn’t consider there to be a meaningful distinction between the individual and the state. That makes his position make more sense logically speaking, but it moves his statement from the well-meaning but mildly inane to the downright insidious. So, pick your poison.

It’s also worth noting that, given his belief that gay marriage is an institution to be allowed or banned by government, he most certainly doesn’t (publicly) consider said institution to be a right. Rights, essentially by definition, cannot be denied to people in the normal course of affairs (we may deny a person certain rights if they commit a crime, I would imagine it’s not Obama’s suggestion that we should consider being-gay-while-in-North-Carolina to be a legitimate crime) and Obama seemingly has no taste for suggesting that gay marriage should fall under the conditions of an inalienable right. Again, in some sense this is fine (it’s still more than any other president has ever supported, to be sure), but it’s a rather fundamental error to suggest that Obama supports the right of gay marriage.

Both those things said, Obama deserves some kudos. Cynicism about the politics aside, this declaration from Obama still represents a kind of bellwether for the American public, and a step forward in leaving behind – perhaps shrieking most of the way – the kind of repugnant and backwards thinking that has dominated the American discourse until quite recently.

For myself, I simply hope one day not just for a president who will affirmatively support equality for an institution, but call for the destruction of the institution itself.* The move for marriage equality is, in some ways, pernicious and suspect. Andrew Sullivan and other conservative gay marriage advocates have articulated it perfectly (in his support of gay marriage), by calling for marriage equality as a way to get more people to buy into the predominant social paradigm. But, friends, I come to bury that paradigm, not praise it. I long for a time when the struggle for freedom tackles the essentially shackling nature of marriage as normative, rather than the folk tradition for certain people of that bent and interest, as it should properly be considered.

*I’m being slightly cutesy here, essentially conflating the use of “institution” to mean both a political institution and a social institution. I favor the destruction of marriage as an institution in both cases, leaving it as a folk ritual for those who personally want to imbue the arrangement with some weight, but without any greater social power.

In other words, marriage should be neither a government sanction nor the “default” social arrangement (regardless of government intrusion). If it is to exist at all, it should be one among many equally legitimate options. But I think government sanction unfairly (and purposefully) bolsters marriage’s status as the default social arrangement.

And, of course, the idea of marriage itself can and should become more multifaceted. It need not merely mean “monogamous nuclear family arrangement” (or some minor derivation thereof). The sort of strict defining traits of what should be a social arrangement which would, naturally, be subject to various local customs and traditions seems largely a product of the kind of top-down enforcement of marriage not simply as a tradition for those interested, but as an institution supported by the state and designed to hook people into our capitalist consumer society.

Marriage should exist as a social ritual for those interested, but not as an arrangement with any currency beyond any other social arrangement. And with no sense of social obligation to enter into it.

As for Obama’s support of state-sanctioned gay marriage, well, institutions are better when they are equal, but they are best when they are destroyed.

Further Reading:

-Same Sex Marriage: Pro and Con, edited by Andrew Sullivan. Probably the best one stop shop for “mainstream” arguments for and against gay marriage. Sullivan provides his own take on how gay marriage helps draw the gay community into buying into and supporting the predominant economic, social and political hierarchies and redirects them from advocating for radical change (and he means that as a good thing).

-Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, edited by Ryan Conrad. As the name suggests, these are arguments from the queer community against gay marriage. A collection of probing and thoughtful essays that look more deeply into the flip side of the Sullivan “buy in” position, and a challenging and eye-opening read for those of us on the Left who were brought up to believe that the pursuit of gay marriage was one of the ultimate expressions of freedom, justice and equality.

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On Ron Paul, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the Civil War

In case anyone who follows political discussions at all has been totally living under a rock, there’s been an interwebs bru-ha-ha regarding the Ron Paul Question. Specifically, the question of whether liberals/progressives/leftists/etc. should support Ron Paul, or even dare to suggest any of his positions may have merit. Sucked into this vortex of internet cross-chatter have been some of my favorite bloggers/columnists, including Glenn Greenwald, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robert Wright and Broadsnark (among many others). If nothing else, my RSS feed the last couple weeks has been nicely interwoven together with folks all responding to each other on various points.

Now, out of the folks I listed above, Coates has been the most critical in tackling the issue of whether progressives/leftists should be engaging with the Ron Paul candidacy in any way – mostly, Paul’s anti-war stance – and he comes down pretty definitely on the side of “no”.

Now, I like Coates a lot and I’m not really a fan of Ron Paul, so I’m not inclined to get too bent out of shape for him taking close to the same position that I do: that Ron Paul is damaged goods and whatever value he may have in pushing good anti-war, anti-authoritarian ideas is weighed down by the baggage he brings with him and his creepy Cult of Personality fanbase (note: that last bit is my own characterization of the issue of his rabid fan-base). That said, Coates brings up a couple of issues that I think those of us on the Anarchist Left need to engage in more satisfactorily if we’re ever going to be able to convince good, thoughtful people (like Coates) to consider more radical alternatives to the status quo.

First, I think it’s worth addressing an issue that both Broadsnark and Coates engaged in: Ron Paul’s view of the Civil War and whether it was a war of necessity or if alternatives to fighting it existed. Broadsnark brings up a Howard Zinn quote, suggesting that the Civil War wasn’t the only way to end slavery and Coates pushes back a bit:

I really wish Zinn had pushed through, instead of simply posing questions. I wish he had made a case for Lincoln responding in some other way, after the Confederacy launched a war with the explicit aim of raising an empire that would protect and expand slavery. I really wish he’d taken a hard up the Haitian Revolution, which did not have a bloody “civil” war–but suffered a bloody war, nonetheless. I wish he’d tried to explain why these other places did not have Civil War, instead of retreating to the notion that we somehow just chose it.

I think that’s fair. I know that, for myself, it’s easy to throw out positions (e.g. “We should have found an alternative to the Civil War”), more or less assuming that a whole host of ideas and understandings of the nature of the state, violence and resistance are kind of understood to be dangling after such a declaration. If we’re going to convince people that even deeply held convictions (like, the Civil War was the best way to end slavery) need to be carefully scrutinized, we have to do better. So, in that spirit, here’s an alternative that Dylan Waco suggests (after spending some time making precisely the same criticism of anti-Civil War positioning that Coates makes) to the the North and South going to war to end slavery:

None of this should be read as an endorsement of the “Civil War.” In fact it is my opinion that Northern abolitionists had it right back in the early 1830′s when they seriously considered secession, primarily because it would end their responsibility to adhere to the Fugitive Slave Laws. Such a strategy, combined with an outbreak of slave rebellions in the South, would have saved thousands of lives and kept government reasonably decentralized. As it was we got the worst of both worlds.

So, there’s an alternative proposal to fighting the Civil War. Rooted in actual proposals and actions that were happening at the time and, at least in the author’s opinion, not relying on slavery to slowly die out. Would it have worked? That’s a worthy topic of debate and people much better versed in the history of the Civil War can probably get into the nitty gritty of historic details better than I can, but it seems to me to satisfy the conditions of creating an environment where slavery can be immediately fought and which avoids engaging in actual warfare and satisfies the condition that us anarchists like so much of finding an alternative to the increased concentration of government power.

I think this illustrates another problem the anarchist position has to grapple with, which is that it’s really hard to persuasively argue that alternatives to the way history actually played out might exist, and that difficulty increases proportionally to scale of the alternative being proposed. Not that difficult to suggest it would have been better to order a pepperoni pizza than a sausage pizza if the latter made you sick when you ordered it the other night. Way harder to put forward a definitive argument that the Civil War could have been avoided and slavery could have been promptly ended without engaging in rampant, often tenuous, speculation. I don’t know exactly how to overcome this problem in a way that’s convincing for folks who require detailed alternate-history timelines in order to find anything persuasive, but I do think that it speaks to the need for people to take seriously coherent moral worldviews. Even if we can’t know to a certainty what the result of an attempt to both end slavery and avoid a Civil War would have looked like, we can check what did happen against our moral framework and figure out if it’s something we think is, you know, good or bad.  One should should weigh means at least as highly as ends, is what I’m saying.

Now your answer, obviously, will depend on your answers to whether war can ever be just, how to deal with aggression, whether state violence is legitimate, and an array of other stuff (and I think Coates does engage this framework, and comes up with plenty of coherent and defensible positions – even if they aren’t my positions – which is what makes him such a thoughtful and humane writer). But I think that, in an era of debate where a certain narrow band of Pragmatism and Realism define what are and aren’t considered acceptable policy prescriptions, the only way for anarchists to get their ideas taken seriously is to be sure conversations are grounded in first-order moral principles.

The second thing that struck me, when reading Coates, was his response to a piece Glenn Greenwald wrote about what progressives have to accept if they choose to support Barack Obama:

The equation is unbalanced, but the idea–accepting the flaws of your candidates–is about right. In that spirit, I wish he had not reduced the claim against Paul to “no associations with racist views in a newsletter,” because I think his point still stands.

No matter. I accept the frame, nonetheless. A world without “a defense of reproductive rights for women,” is world that risks the life of my wife. (And my mother. Sorry you gotta buy the book.) For me, it’s that simple.

I think this is another pretty serious issue that the anarchist movement, or any radical anti-establishment movement, needs to honestly contend with. I remember Matt Taibbi getting some flack a while back for saying he could never support Ron Paul – despite his myriad, trenchant criticisms of President Obama – with critics essentially saying “how can you point to Paul’s domestic flaws when people are dying in the Middle East?” Now, to some extent, this seems to be the correct question, right? U.S. military adventurism is one of the defining moral issues of our lifetime, and to consider policies which lead to the deaths of innocent people in the Middle East as somehow secondary to various domestic concerns seems to require an ability to devalue the actual lives of Pakistanis and Iraqis and Afghans (and all the various other people we’re blowing up with predator drones) in favor of supporting the comforts of the middle class of the richest country in the history of human civilization.

But, that’s not really what’s happening when people like Matt Taibbi or Coates say they can’t support Ron Paul, right? For them, it’s a life and death question either way. Coates doesn’t argue that he has to support Obama over Paul because he’s worried that a Ron Paul presidency would weaken the bargaining power of police unions or whatever. For him it’s a question of the life or death of his wife and his mother. Maybe we’re supposed to ask folks to count the bodies of loved ones and weigh that against the bodies piling up that find themselves on the wrong end of the United States’ policy of global hegemony, but that strikes me as a particularly cruel calculation to force people to make.

This is why using Ron Paul as some kind of intellectual exercise to “out” liberals as not being sufficiently anti-war is such a crap way to go about doing things. Maybe this makes me a bad anarchist, but I don’t blame people for making decisions based on what they think will mean the life and death of their loved ones. Instead, if we want to get people to give up on the Democratic Party (and the Republican Party and whatever other party) we should be working to convince people to say a pox on all their houses and give up on this farce of an electoral process that requires you to choose make calculations between dead bodies at home and dead bodies abroad.

And that means we need to, instead, work on getting people excited about how to engage in practical anarchism in their own lives. Convince folks why the state is a poor way to protect the lives of your loved ones and how we can do a better job helping our fellows if given the chance. And we can’t assume it’s obvious. It’ll take a lot of convincing and repeating ourselves over and over again. Because while it may be obvious to us it’s not obvious to thoughtful, intelligent guys like Ta-Nehisi Coates and that means we have to show our work, explain our values, and offer solutions to the life and death struggles people are in every day of their lives. We have to do it all, or else we’re not doing enough.

And by “we” I, of course, mean other people. Because this blog only updates like once every three or four months. *cough*

For more on this subject:

-Bloggingheads Debate between Glenn Greenwald & Katha Pollitt. Greenwald and Pollitt go over a lot of what they, and others, have been debating online for a while re: Ron Paul. It’s mostly quite good and informative, although for someone like me it gets painful to see Greenwald continue to make mental contortions trying to justify “lesser of two evils” voting instead of advocating for principled abstentionism, which seems to be a much more coherent conclusion given the rest of his positions. But, hey, nobody’s perfect.

-Anarchy in Action by Colin Ward. Hey, back in print! Probably the best guide for what anarchism can mean for daily life. Do I link to this book every time I post here? Maybe.

-Stumbling in Blood by buddhadada. This blog’s own buddhadada on morality and war. He’s addressing current U.S. military conduct, but I think there are plenty of takeaways for discussing war and conflict in general.

UPDATE: buddhadada adds a short post of his own responding to this. He starts off by clarifying some ideas I was also trying to get across in this post and takes it from there. Worth a read.

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Obamarchy

In a discussion on Facebook having to do with my choosing not to vote for Barack Obama, my friend Jeff raised some points. As I owed him a longer reply than FB would accommodate, I’m doing it as a blog post.

Before continuing, I encourage Jeff and anyone unfamiliar with anarchism to read the following brief post:
http://thebuddhadada.blogspot.com/2010/12/kropotkin-and-ward.html
There are many misconceptions about anarchism, and that should make clear what it is we actually favor.

Jeff writes:

What’s an example of a successful society in history that you think America should emulate? When have your ideas ever worked?

The short answer is that there is no single example in history that combines all the elements I’d favor in an anarchist society. However, for most statists, there is no single perfect statist society either. There are always imperfections as any society is, well, messy.

As for the long answer, I think there are three different things to look at in order to answer this question:

1. Stateless societies and societies where at least some of the services we associate with the State were provided communally or privately. The following examples are drawn from both market and social anarchist accounts, and so might be disputed by one kind of anarchist or another. This is by no means an exhaustive list:

An example of voluntary law is the Law Merchant, a system of commercial law that emerged in the late Middle Ages in response to the need for a common set of standards to govern international trade. The merchants, fed up with the excessive rigidity of governmental laws regulating commerce, and frustrated by the lack of uniformity among the commercial codes of different nations, simply formed their own Europe-wide system of courts and legal codes. For enforcement, the Law Merchant relied not on state-imposed penalties but on credit reports; those who refused to abide by the system’s rules and decisions would have a hard time finding other merchants willing to deal with them. (The case of the Law Merchant shows that systems of private law need not depend on kinship or other local ties for their success.)

With these, I’m highlighting stateless mechanisms of order, not necessarily anarchist content–many of these societies wouldn’t pass muster in terms of enlightened liberalism, but they are examples of functioning societies where services we think of as state services were provided in a non-state fashion. That’s why I distinguish between statelessness and anarchism proper.

(An aside for anarchists: most of the above links are to market anarchist sources simply because libertarian legal theory is a bit more developed than social anarchist legal theory. I lean strongly toward social anarchism, but I draw upon libertarian legal theory.)

2. More or less intentionally anarchistic societies. There is some overlap here with the first category, but I’m separating them because their ideological content is more explicitly anarchist. Here I’d list:

Many of the revolutions and uprisings of the 20th century had anarchistic features, especially in the recurrent organizational form of worker and neighborhood councils. The Russian, Bavarian, Hungarian, and Iranian revolutions and uprisings all had anarchistic features, as did the events in France of May 1968, and the occupied factories movement in Argentina.

I recommend Kenneth Rexroth’s Communalism for more intentional communities related to anarchism. Not all would count as anarchistic, but some would. My favorite examples from this book are Josiah Warren’s experiments and of course the Diggers.

3. Everyday anarchism, which is presented so well in Colin Ward’s Anarchy in Action. In this view, anarchism is the cement that joins the bricks of society. Kevin Carson’s Organization Theory discusses the various ways employees get around hierarchy and bureaucratic rules in order to make a business functional as part of a broader practical argument against hierarchy. As this post is already long, rather than enumerating them, I recommend just reading Ward’s book.

This piece by Ward on local music gives some idea of how anarchists treat ordinary problems:
http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Colin_Ward__Anarchy_in_Milton_Keynes.html

See also Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes by Robert Ellickson.

My friend Tomas reminded me to include Elinor Ostrom’s work here. Here are a few articles that summarize her work. First:
http://www.cooperationcommons.com/node/361
and in less dense form:
http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/why-those-who-value-liberty-should-rejoice-elinor-ostroms-nobel-prize/
The latter is by a market economist, but should be easily digested by social anarchists. See also this piece by Kevin Carson:
http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/common-versus-government-property/

Jeff again:

let me just make one final plea for hard-headed pragmatism over idealism. the arc of American society is toward greater rights. if we were liberals in the 1920s, we’d be stunned by how far America has come. it moves slowly, not overnight, and I believe that America is slowly moving in the right direction with Obama. imperfectly, perhaps, but still.

1. Under Obama, there has actually been some shrinkage of rights rather than expansion–for example, Obama claims the authority to assassinate an American citizen abroad without any judicial oversight. Here are a couple ACLU reports on his civil liberties record:
http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/EstablishingNewNormal.pdf
http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/secrecyreport_20110727.pdf

2. Interesting point about people not being able to see how far things have come. Two things about that:

a. I think it’s questionable that that was the result of pragmatic politics. Throughout the period from the 1920s to today, there was a ton of struggle and self-activity by the oppressed. They were not handed their rights; they fought for them.

In connection with this, I’d like to quote my friend Kevin:

I’ve said it before, but the pragmatic/idealistic narrative always strikes me as pretty off-key. From where I’m sitting, using the electoral process doesn’t strike me as a particularly pragmatic way to increase income parity, decrease the American empire, or properly redistribute goods and resources to make a more equitable society. Major advances are usually made in spite of government, not because of it, and minor advancements are typically offset by major negative policies. The health care bill, for example, may have had some good elements in it – but it seems more than offset by the extremely insurance industry-favorable elements which leave American citizens victims of the caprices of industry policies. To me, it seems strikingly idealistic and naive to think you can vote your way out of the massive structural problems which favor an elite oligarchy over the rest of us.

b. People in the middle ages probably couldn’t conceive of today’s representative democracy with its mass enfranchisement and its large populations. It’s amusing to me that you would invoke imagination here as it’s an equally valid argument for anarchism—just because we don’t have anarchism now does not preclude the possibility of anarchism. You have to object to it on different grounds—something that shows it to be either undesirable or plain unworkable.

And if you don’t mind slow progress, hell, why not join the long struggle?

Jeff once more:

do what your conscience dictates. if you think America can afford another republican presidency, don’t vote for obama. if you think poor folks can survive another republican presidency, don’t vote for obama. if you think America will be better off with a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, don’t vote for Obama. if you think America will be better with presidents who push for anti-gay marriage amendments, don’t vote for obama. if you think America is better when the wealthiest 1% get the tax cuts, don’t vote for Obama. if you think America will be better with no health care plan, don’t vote for Obama. it’s really easy

1. As an anarchist, I know countless examples of mutual aid throughout history—where the poor, when forced into a corner, have carved out a niche for themselves. That’s not to diminish the real suffering that occurs as the result of cuts to welfare. Several relatives of mine are dependent on federal and state aid. As a result of government intervention, a host of mutual aid skill sets and organizations no longer exist, and that leaves them vulnerable, at least in the short term. That’s one reason I’ve argued against libertarians who seek to gut the social safety net without having a substitute already in place to pick up the slack. Plenty of anarchists, especially in Europe, actually struggle quite militantly against austerity cuts to welfare and social programs.

However, the anarchist puts welfare in the context of broader State policies that create and support poverty—that enrich elites at the expense of the poor. The State breaks your legs and gives you crutches. The goal is to end the leg-breaking, not beg for crutches. Why should we honor the bargain if the other side refuses to?

2. I object to liberal paternalism because it rejects the self-activity of the working class. I think the poor are ultimately better off claiming property than relying on the largesse of the ruling class. And this is a perfect example of why: if they’re dependent on the state, then they are subject to its whims. If you go for property, then you address the underlying structural causes of poverty.

3. If you can privilege certain domestic positions over Obama’s war, civil liberties, and foreign policy record, and conclude that he’s worth voting for, then I think it’s fair for me to focus on those rather than your favored issues and conclude that he isn’t. Both of us are weighing Obama’s record with differing selective emphases.

4. Given his centrist position, I see little reason to believe that Obama would not capitulate and compromise on these points among others. As you admitted, Obama extended the Bush tax cuts. I’d point to his recent praise of Lincoln for being willing to compromise on slavery in order to save the union as evidence of his only unwavering principle: maintaining the power of the state.

5. I should note, of course, that my opposition to the State rests first on moral and philosophical grounds, which I can elucidate for you if you’d like, and then on practical grounds. I think I would be forced, by consistency, to be a philosophical anarchist even if I thought anarchism weren’t feasible. At base, my objection to people pleading with me to vote for Obama is that, as a pacifist and an anarchist, it’s rather like asking a Muslim to go to a Southern Baptist church. It just isn’t compatible. What it reveals to me, though, is that people care less about my beliefs than they do about my vote. So they’re treating me as means rather than an end, which is my whole damn problem with the system to begin with.

EDIT: I was so fatigued by technical issues that my reply ended up far less detailed than I originally intended. Feel free to raise things in the comments—I’ll be sure to answer them. My apologies for how rough this post ended up.

EDIT 2: I wrote this in the comments, but I want it up here as well.

When I cite Medieval Iceland, Anglo-Saxon England etc., it’s not to endorse the particular fashion in which those services were provided, but merely to illustrate that it is possible to provide them outside the State. I think there are likely better ways to provide voluntary law and order, and that we can improve on those examples. Hell, I think we can even improve on Anarchist Catalonia.

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Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau

It’s the dude’s 194th. birthday. The man Emma Goldman called “the great American anarchist” and the writer of a few classic little titles that any self-respecting anarchist should take a gander at.

And I bet he would have been a Red Sox fan.

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Quick Hit: Scary Anarchists Actually Love Dogs, Work!

The Washington Post has a story up today about an anarchist dog walking collective:

The seven people present belong to Brighter Days, a dog walkers’ collective founded on anarchist principles. Last year, the five-year-old business grossed more than $250,000. Its members have equal ownership and make business decisions by reaching consensus during weekly meetings such as this one. Any of them can block any decision. They split their earnings evenly, have a group health insurance plan and cover for each other on days off. They even get paid vacation — seven weeks of it.

Not only that, but a former member of the collective has started his own dog walking collective and seems to be doing pretty well with it:

Stephens went on to start a second anarchist dog-walking collective that encompasses Washington, Baltimore and New York, where he now lives. Members of the new collective don’t get to participate in decision-making for a year while they take a course in animal behavior and study texts on cooperative business management, the politics of revolution and alternative economics.

When people say that no one can Do Anarchism, this is what anarchism is. The article goes into some interesting discussion of the ways these collectives have had to adapt within a larger statist framework, but I think that just goes to show how durable anarchism is – even in adverse conditions. It isn’t all just about smashing the state, it’s about how we conduct ourselves with our fellows and making sure we’re engaging in partnerships of equals and not hierarchies. As Stephens says in the article:

His main focus in organizing the business was eradicating all forms of hierarchy. “Anarchism,” he says, “is about turning all relationships of domination into relationships of cooperation.”

Yep. And most of us love dogs, too.

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