Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thinking Like a State and Otherwise

The topic of anarchists voting, or not voting, has been coming up a lot lately. This is happening, of course, because the national Presidential Elections are coming up soon here in the U.S. More locally, pertaining to Minnesota in particular, there are two big amendment thingies that will be coming up for a popular vote as well. I have personally decided to vote for the Green Party candidates for president and vice president, and a group that I am connected with, the MARS Collective, has decided to publicly take a stand regarding the amendments that are to be voted on here in Minnesota. This all leaves some people, both anarchists and non-anarchists alike, reacting with a confused and surprised “What the hell?!”

I have decided to vote for the Green Party not because I am wanting there to be a “Green President” (or any “president” for that matter), but more as a way to publicly protest against both the Democrats and the Republicans while at the same time adding a little bit more weight to a general lefty public voice (assuming that that is a useful thing to do). The way that I view it, what I personally think about the topic of elections and politics in general are expressed by me when I talk about it and write about these subjects. Voting does not really express what people think and feel about things, it is simply just raw numbers being tallied up by a bureaucratic machine. Votes are in essence devoid of any real meaning in and of themselves – they are just that are put out there that other people can interpret and put whatever meaning they want to on them.

Given that the Green Party is usually thought of as being in favor of lefty things, adding one more number to their name could (and I am hoping would) be registered in the public eye as being a little bit more known support for lefty things. This is the same logic as going to protests or having political bumper stickers. It’s purely symbolic, and that may or may not possibly contribute to some positive social change. But in the end I do not think that it is all that important or interesting.

When looking at the topic of anarchism and voting, I think that it is important to examine – what is the state, per se? After all, voting and electoral politics over all are primarily functions of the state, they are one part of the general state apparatus (at least for the states that use a representative democracy system). The state is a social institution of organized force, control and coercion, and it is maintained and perpetuated by people acting in accordance with it, going along with it, and just generally playing the game by the rules that are drilled into us from birth. The state exists because you, me, and millions of others both believe in it and act accordingly.

To abolish the state, then, requires the opposite of all that. To abolish the state means that people stop believing in it and stop playing along. This means not voting, yes, but it also means so much more than that. It means not paying taxes, not following laws, not getting government-issued I.D.s, not using government-issued currencies, not filling out government-issued paperwork, and basically not operating based on the symbol structures that are set up and arranged by governments. It means counter-economics, basically.

The idea behind all of this is basically to “ignore” the state as much as possible, to “do your own thing” instead. It can be said that “laws” do not exist, but people with guns who are willing to forcefully put you into cages do. Relatedly, “money” also does not exist, but starvation does, as do those same aforementioned people with guns who are willing to put you into cages. All of these institutions are based on collectively agreed-upon social meanings that we choose to ascribe to things, and our willingness and ability to play along with them. Or not.

I view the act of voting as being a situation where people are being told that those folks who have their guns and their cages and who are making threats at you, as well as all those people who are playing the game of “money” and the whole series of chain-reactions of cause-and-affect that go along with that, could possibly maybe make certain choices and go in certain directions if you perform a particularly designated mass ritual and mark an “X” in one box or another. That’s super. But ultimately, so what?

There comes a time when it’s appropriate to put down the games, to turn off the entertainment, and to face the real world with the real people that are in it. And this brings me to Leah-Lynn Plante. This person, along with Matt Duran and Kteeo Olejnik decided to not play along with one of the games set up by the state, a game called “grand jury investigation”. As a result, people with guns forcefully put them into a cage. Now Leah-Lynn Plante is out of that cage, while the other two are still there, and it is currently unclear whether this was because she decided to start playing along with the state’s game or not.

This brings me to a point that I wanted to make – to be rigorously and consistently against the state, to absolutely refuse to go along with that whole thing, to live a life based on “counter-economics” essentially, is to completely be putting your life on the line. They can kidnap, torture and kill you – that’s what states do, it is a part of their basic function. To be against that, one needs to make a personal assessment and a personal decision of what one is willing and able to do. It must be understood that not everyone is at all times up for taking such enormous risks.

One of the things that was publicly known about Leah-Lynn Plante was that she struggled with various mental health issues. With that being the case, she may have decided to at some point start prioritizing her own mental health and well-being over consistently resisting the state and the various demands that are associated with it. If that is the case, I would urge there to be compassion and understanding for how she could make such a choice. Not everyone is cut out for being a public sacrificial martyr for a cause.

The case of Leah-Lynn Plante and the issue of anarchists voting is related in that we all, as individuals, have to determine for ourselves how much and in what ways we want to play along with the games of the state. We each determine what things we go along with, which mass functions we want to act in accordance with, and what meanings we want to ascribe to things. We each choose what lines we will draw, and what lines we will or will not cross.

In the case of the two Minnesota amendments, I plan on voting “no” on both of them, but for different reasons that other folks commonly give for this. “Voter I.D.”, just like any other kind of government-issued identification, is just one more form of state control and an arbitrary set of bureaucratic hoops to jump through that I would like for people to avoid. And the institution of “marriage” is not something that I want to have frozen in place, but instead see it be played with and experimented with. Of course let’s have same-sex marriages, but why stop there? How about having three or more people be married to each-other? How about having whole communities of people be married to each-other? To me, the focus should be on encouraging new forms of closeness and commitment between people, not on abiding by government laws.

So yes, I will vote, but in the end that is not all that important. The elections will come and go, and other rituals and demands associated with the state will come up as well. Time and time again I and other anarchists will be confronted with these realities, and will need to choose how we want to respond. We each need to determine for ourselves what choices are most in integrity with our values, what battles we want to fight, and when it will be best to save our energy to fight another day.

I do not want to establish universal moral codes or standards for all anarchists to follow regarding voting, or anything else for that matter. At its base this is a matter of individual responsibility and choice, and from that foundation we can then come together to determine what projects we can create that are more interesting than those that we have been presented with.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Voting for the Elections

Right now the national election season is in full force in the United States. Almost everywhere you go you come across something that is related to it in some form. Because of this omnipresent media saturation, a number of folks have asked me for my thoughts on this subject. Usually, this then segues into these people asking me who I will be voting for in these elections. Invariably, this then winds up as a request for me to vote for Barrack Obama.

I can talk the talk of electoral politics, probably better than a lot of people can. I follow the news avidly, I have since I was a child, and all of that can fool people into thinking that I really believe in this stuff. I don’t. I see electoral politics as being much like professional sports; I view it for entertainment purposes only. What I don’t want is for the athletes or coaches to be controlling the lives of me or anyone else in the real world. When the TV or computer is turned off, I don’t want that game to still be affecting people. There is a phrase, “it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye”, and unfortunately because of electoral politics people all over the world are getting maimed and killed as a result of this game.

To answer the question that is on so many people’s minds, no, I refuse to vote for Barrack Obama. I think that nobody else should vote for him either. I will not be voting for Mitt Romney, nor do I think that anybody else should too. I believe that Obama has crossed a moral line with the large amount of killings and terrorizing of people around the world by making decisions that he is responsible for. Murders and other human rights violations have been committed because of Barrack Obama - both Americans and non-Americans, on U.S. soil and in foreign countries, both civilians and combatants, both in countries where the U.S. is officially “at war” in and in countries that are officially “U.S. allies”. I find this all to be absolutely deplorable and inexcusable. I do not think that this kind of behavior should be encouraged in any way. Voting for him would be a way to encourage this kind of behavior. At some point one needs to take a moral stand and say “No. This is wrong and this has to stop.” Some of the reasoning behind this is further elaborated by Conor Friedersdorf in an article here along with a follow-up piece here

I think that it is important for each person to be really clear on where they draw their moral lines at between what they find to be acceptable and what they find to be unacceptable behavior. Apparently the people who support Barrack Obama think that it is acceptable behavior to kill hundreds of people in different countries using drones. At what number does this become unacceptable? When 4000 people have been killed? 5000 people? When one million people have been killed? Or perhaps these murders are acceptable because the people being killed are from places that most Americans have not gone to and they speak languages that most Americans do not speak. If these killings took place in Western Europe or Mexico or Canada would they then be unacceptable? How close to home does it have to be until it is considered to be wrong? Do these murders need to be taking place on U.S. soil until they are considered to be wrong? In your home-town? In your neighborhood?

Or, regarding how similar these victims are to you - if the people being killed spoke English would it then be unacceptable? Do the people being killed need to be Caucasian in order for it to be unacceptable? If they shared your same political or religious views would it then be unacceptable? Does it need to be your own friends and family members being killed in order for it to be considered unacceptable? What I am trying to get here is a clear threshold to be stated: at what point does one consider these actions to be wrong and thereby becomes unwilling to support them continuing?

As I see it, murder is murder, and murder is wrong no matter who does it, be it U.S. forces or anyone else. And if we are serious about actually stopping murder from happening, then we need to take action to do so.

Here it seems applicable to bring up the famous quote that is attributed to Martin Niem├Âller:

“First they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”

As I see it, without having clear moral lines in place, and speaking up about them and standing firm by them, tyranny, brutalities and infringements on people’s basic human rights just grow and grow, expand and expand. This has been the case in Barrack Obama’s presidency, and it has been the case during the regimes of other people in power in other times and places too. It is very important for these patterns to be stopped.

And to be absolutely clear here, I also fully believe that Mitt Romney would do the same kinds of horrible things, and possibly more of it, which is why I do not want people to vote for him either.

I have frequently heard people say that Obama is “the lesser of two evils”, and that therefore one should vote for him. Quite a number of different people have said that Obama has done and will do bad things, and that Mitt Romney will do even worse things, therefore one should vote for the person who will just do bad things. My response is – what if I do not want to support people who are doing bad things? What if I don’t want to support “evil” at all, regardless of whether it is “lesser” or “greater”?

The response that I get to that is always – “you can’t”. The thought is that if one does not vote for one of these two “evils”, then one is by default then supporting the “greater” of the two “evils”. In a lot of people’s minds, “none of the above” is automatically taken to mean “the greater of two evils”. In other words, the way that things are framed here in popular discourse - one can’t not support evil. One can’t support good. One only has to support bad things.

Well, to hell with all this “supporting evil” stuff - I reject this whole paradigm. If the system is set up in such a way that the only real choices available to us are “bad” and “worse”, then it is the system itself that is the problem, not the candidates. The replacement that needs to occur is at the level of structure that would allow for such a horrendous situation to come about in the first place. Just acknowledging this opens the door to a whole world that is hidden right in front of our eyes.

To me, this whole problem goes back to when people made the transition into democracy and away from autocracy, monarchy and those kinds of things. The idea was that one person should no longer be bossing everybody else around. The goal was for the population itself to control things instead of a ruler. The problem was that people stopped short of realizing this goal and wound up instead with a modified version of what was going on previously: representational democracy.

With this model one person still did boss everyone around, the difference is that they just do so for shorter periods of time and they are replaced by other people whom the population chooses. The grand narrative explaining who these people were changed from them “representing God’s will on earth” into them instead “representing the people’s will”. Somewhere along the way the thought “it’s horrible to have that one guy bossing us around all the time, let’s get rid of this whole structure and run things ourselves” got replaced with the thought “let’s have inter-changeable bosses”. The impulse that people had for real collective freedom and democracy was lost in favor of setting up shorter-term replaceable tyrannies.

This then leads to those who are trying to get elected doing all kinds of behaviors that people don’t like in order to get elected: pandering to special interests and powerful lobbies, openly lying or distorting the facts, publicly insulting and slandering people, criminal and other shady activity, trying to scare people by emphasizing various horrible things that could happen if they do not get elected, and so forth. Often things degenerate into a kind of “by any means necessary” mindset in order to gain political power. With representational democracy, the main goal of the politicians becomes gaining and maintaining their own power, not fulfilling any kind of “popular mandate”. History is filled with all kinds of horror stories about the different maneuvers and atrocities committed for the sake of getting the necessary votes and gaining political power.

When it comes down to it, whoever is elected into positions such as “the President” is the ruler of the country. Regardless of what they say or do to get elected, once they are put into office, they are then the top dog. So when presented with the question “do you want this person to be your ruler or do you want that person to be your ruler?” if one were to give the response “I don’t want anybody to be our ruler, I want people to work out their affairs cooperatively among themselves”, that response is not recognized within this frame-work. That response is either conceptually rammed into one of the available slots-fit-for-a-ruler, or the response itself is assumed to be faulty and therefore worthless. No meaningful conversation between people can be had within the narrow confines of: “Do you chose option A or option B?” So then the frame-work itself needs to be changed, for the sake of real diversity, real democracy, and to give everybody a voice in these conversations that affect us all.

As it stands now, we have available to us a variety of different social organizational, group process and interpersonal models and methods that can be used for people to manage their own communal affairs and to make collective decisions directly without representative democracy. Technologically-speaking, we also now have the ability to communicate with each-other and to organize large amounts of complex information with more ease than ever before, making electronic direct democracy now a very real possibility. There is simply no reason to continue on with representational democracy when other options for how to do democracy directly exist just waiting for us to implement them. At best, one can say that representative democracy is an outdated social technology.

Then there is another issue which is kind of an elephant in the room that nobody is talking about: the global climate is changing in ways that are quite dangerous, deadly and will fundamentally alter life as we know it world-wide. The questions for humanity, or at least the industrialized world, to address are: how deadly does it have to be, how can we most constructively prepare for it, how can we mitigate the damage, and how can we reverse the dangerous trends. Neither Obama nor Romney are talking about these questions, nor are the various intergovernmental institutions that are set up to address this issue taking the matter seriously.

Climate change has been affecting us now in major and dramatic ways – killing scores of people, destroying communities, and causing innumerable species to go extinct world-wide. Now and for generations and generations to come, if there are even to be future generations. This matter affects both human and non-human life alike, and it crosses all borders. What this is about is the future of the human race and life in general. Compared to this enormity of scale, this magnitude of importance, most everything else that is being discussed in popular culture shrinks down to minuscule size. To quote David Suzuki: “We're in a giant car heading toward a brick wall and everyone's arguing over where they're going to sit."

What I would like to see is a radical restructuring of society as soon as possible. The various industrial systems and structures which are thoroughly integrated in with our lives need to be rethought and reorganized for the sake of better adjusting to and minimizing the effects of climate change for the benefit of all. This is best done within the context of direct participatory democracy to include as many different people as possible within the conversation, since these matters do affect us all in life and death ways. Not only that, but the more people that are involved actively thinking together, and brainstorming together, the more of a possibility there is for finding and implementing creative new means to better support the continuing life on this planet.

So, no, I will not vote for Barrack Obama. I want there to be real change and real hope. Obama has not brought about either. But really, I don’t believe that any politician, or any ruler of any kind, can do that. It is humanity, especially in the industrialized world, that needs to do this in a genuinely democratic way. It is a “hope” and “change” that needs to take place on both the level of how we organize ourselves together as well as how we relate with the environmental and ecological world around us. Voting for elected representatives just doesn’t cut it. “Thinking outside the box” applies to the “ballot box” as well. The whole sphere of humanity and the earth itself need to be included for where we’re going.