Monday, March 19, 2012
On De-Legitimizing and Building Within the Hollow Shell
[NOTE: Yesterday's post was intended to be about the continuing propaganda regarding the saga and struggle of the soldier in custody for the latest Afghanistan Massacre. But the events in New York took precedence. I spent most of the day going through written reports and videos of what was going on. As for yesterday's intended post, a digest:
The soldier in custody is being tried and acquitted in the media based on a continual feed of "information" about him and the difficulties he's faced -- basically building a defense case in public -- that is almost all coming directly from the Pentagon. Fascinating, isn't it? Though he is being held for murder most foul, those holding him are at pains to defend him because of his multiple deployments and his wounds and in yesterday's propaganda, because he and his family have been facing severe financial difficulties as well. In other words, the facts that might lead to justice are of no interest at all; the dead and wounded aren't even mentionable any more. This situation oddly mirrors -- or maybe not so oddly, come to think about it -- the lack of any concept of rational justice when it comes to matters involving the financial and economic destruction wrought by our Overclass. To the extent their victims exist at all (we're all their victims in one way or another) it is only as objects and foils to their depredations; the idea of "justice" under the circumstances is a cruel joke.]
Alcuin in comments links to a 2004 essay by David Graeber called "Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology" that I cannot recommend highly enough. It's almost 10 years old now, but it is in nearly every way apropos to right now -- on top of which, it is an utter delight to read. Sometimes academics -- and Graeber himself -- come off a ponderous blow-hards (I should talk!) but in this case, Graeber explores his topic with a light and vigorous approach that really makes it almost magical.
In the broadest sense, "Fragments" is Anarchist apologetics which some people will reject out of hand. I tend not to be a political dogmatist, nor am I all that wedded to a particular political ideology (though my leftist bent is clear enough, but that comes from something deeper, not strictly speaking politics.)
Until the Occupy Movement got under way, I had never given much thought to anarchism or anarchist theory. Like most Americans, indeed like most people around the world, I had been conditioned to disregard anarchists and anarchism as a serious political philosophy because anarchists blew up the Los Angeles Times building in 1910, an anarchist shot William McKinley in 1900 and so forth. Furthermore, like most Americans and others around the world, I had been conditioned to believe certain "facts" about anarchism, such as the "fact" that it was a theory of political chaos, the "fact" that without a state, there could be no civilization, and the "fact" that anarchism could ultimately be reduced to Social Darwinism run amok. So. Like most everyone else, I dismissed anarchism and those who professed to be anarchists as essentially irrelevant to serious political consideration. When it came to notions of "Revolution," anarchists were simply out of the picture altogether. They might trigger destruction, but they had no capability of construction, let alone re-construction after destruction.
Occupy has changed my thinking, maybe not as much as some would like, but it's a substantial change from my previous perspective. I have not got any piercings or tattoos, nor is my attire all black; I'm not much into primitivism, though I have long had a strong regard for individualism and some forms of tribalism, and throughout my life, I have tried to live lightly on the land. I don't much care for the hair-trigger temper that seems to infuse some anarchists as they go about their daily lives (though I admit to having something of a temper myself '-D ). And I'm not particularly fond of endless -- circular -- debates over inconsequentials that somehow seem to loom as insurmountable during practically every discussion that involves anarchists.
For years, though, I've had an kind of arm-length association with anarchists in real life and online, and I've often suggested that if they wanted to form a New Society of Voluntary Association -- or what have you -- go ahead and do it; there is plenty of opportunity to do so in this country. In fact, these efforts at building New Societies are fundamental aspects of the American experience; they're built in to the national consciousness -- so go, do, prosper!
The point being The Demonstration. Show us how it works. Well? Where's The Demonstration? We're waiting. Show us! Nothing happens... Back to the circular argument that seems to require the destruction of the present system before any New Society can emerge.
Well, Graeber seems to reject that notion in "Fragments." In fact, he seems to be saying, based to a great extent on his field experience in Madagascar, that the (anarchist) New Society can emerge spontaneously within the rotting shell of the old, and that it can persist side-by-side with more rigid and structured political frameworks without necessarily causing more than a minor disturbance. In other words, accommodation and replacement are both possible outcomes; the proof is all around us. He saw it in operation in Madagascar when he was doing anthropological field research. Obviously, what he saw made a profound impression on him and continues to inform his thinking and writing to this day.
When "Teh Revolution" comes, it doesn't have to be -- probably won't be -- anything like we expect a Revolution to be, and it certainly doesn't require a violent framework to take place or to succeed. Successful Revolution -- of which there have been a few - is more a matter of social affinities, alignments and timing, not necessarily force of arms or even uprisings. It just... IS.
Well. What a concept.
And here we are, in the midst of what is arguably the first Global People's Revolution, one that has been spontaneously generated at the root level -- if not actually at the soil level in which the roots reside (but I won't expand on that thought too much here). The spontaneity of Occupy is one of its iconic features; it just arrives and "is," it isn't directed or emplaced, it just... "is." Without an obvious structure or even necessarily a declared purpose, let alone stated goals and objectives, it just... "is".
Graeber wrote "Fragments" long before the appearance of Occupy, of course, but not before some of its precursors, such as the anti-globalization movement, the Zapatistas, the Situationists and the Insurrectionists, and so forth. Occupy did not come out of nothing after all; this ground has been prepped, plowed and planted for quite some time. Direct precursors are the North African uprisings, the European uprisings that interconnected with them, and in the United States, the uprising in Wisconsin.
Two strategic factors of Occupy help to clarify what's happening, what the Revolution This Time looks like: 1) de-legitimizing present authority; 2) demonstrating how a Better Future can, does, and will work.
This is not taking place on a theoretical plane, it is going on day by day in somewhat fanciful but ultimately practical ways in the real world -- in sequence, alternately and simultaneously.
These entwined strategic factors seem to be taken directly from Gene Sharp's manuals for revolution, manuals which actually propose something very different is necessary for a successful revolution than what Occupy has been doing for the last few months.
A problem I have had with Sharp's theories and recipes for Revolution is that they don't work anymore. We've seen the results of following Sharp's revolutionary models in the catastrophic and blood-soaked situations in Libya and Syria, Bahrain and the Yemen, among many other places where rebels have studied Sharp and adopted his program. A deeper criticism of Sharp is that the Revolution he proposes is not a People's Revolution at all, it's a marketing campaign on behalf of Neo-Liberalism and all that goes with it.
In other words, what you get from a Sharp-style Revolution may not be anything like what you signed up for, and it could well turn out to be worse for the People than what you were rebelling against.
I've often said that no one should engage in Revolution mindlessly or take a Revolutionary path without considering the consequences as fully as possible. But human nature often doesn't provide for that kind of in depth consideration of actions especially under the circumstances we face today.
What happens instead is that most people hold back from a Revolutionary course by force of conditioning and habit, while the few who can do so take the risk to see what can be accomplished, if anything, on a rebel path. Most often, they are simply crushed like a bug. But if the situation is ripe for change, or if alternatives and change are somehow integral to the current social framework and situation, something else, something unexpected, may take place.
I think that's where we are in this country. The concepts of change and alternatives to established institutions and power centers are built in to our conception of a national identity. Questioning/challenging authority while developing and demonstrating alternative models of social, political, and economic organization has been going on in America since before there was an "America."
The simultaneous de-legitimizing of present authority while demonstrating alternatives to it are the key factors of Occupy, and Graeber's "Fragments" helps to show how this approach to Revolution is both more radical and perhaps more natural than we may think.
This interview with Graeber expands somewhat on his thoughts on the nature of things....