The death throes of Leviathan

***This is probably my last post here. Thanks to those who have read any of my bullshit.***

He might think of it as a worm, a giant worm, not a living worm but a carcass of a worm, a monstrous cadaver, its body consisting of numerous segments, its skin pimpled with spears and wheels and other technological implements. He knows from his own experience that the entire carcass is brought to artificial life by the motions of the human beings trapped inside, the zeks who operate the springs and wheels, just as he knows that the cadaverous head is operated by a mere zek, the head zek.

[…]

Everything is artifice, and whatever is not will soon be artifice. There is nothing outside but raw materials ready and waiting to be processed and transformed into Leviathanic excrement, the substance of the universe. Some raw materials resist the transformation more than others, but none can withstand the inexorable March of Progress.

I’ve long considered Fredy Perlman’s Leviathan to be a useful metanarrative for the totality of modern-day society (or culture, civilization, “the way things are,” etc.). In Against His-story Against Leviathan! he reimagines and recontextualizes the forms and functions of Hobbes’s Leviathan as it rampages across the globe. There have been numerous Leviathans throughout human history, continually configuring and reconfiguring, dissolving and recombining, but we have long since reached the point where it is One, containing most of humanity within its entrails.

With imagination, from the outside, one can perceive it in different lights, shimmering, obscuring – here it looks like a hellbeast despoiling the wild, there it looks like comfort and longer life spans granted to the fortunate. With imagination we can behold it as a collective whole – what it has done and what it is currently doing. Even then, we can only tenuously grasp the size and scale of its monstrosity.

There are many divisions within Leviathan, constantly warring against each other. Scraps are fought for by large conglomerations of entities – nation-states, corporations, revolutionary groups (both reactionary and otherwise). On a smaller scale, individuals and families fight for access to plush areas of Leviathan’s decaying interior in the hopes of remaining relatively free from the unsightliness of its worst excesses. Members of the fortunate classes do everything in their power to ensure that they and their progeny gain access to what they rightfully deserve. The unprivileged hordes, existing in the less desirable margins of Leviathan while being exploited for the benefit of their social betters, must know and accept their place for Leviathan to function properly.

Regardless of the manners in which classes of people are divided, within Leviathan we stagger ever ahead. The diffusion of control is such that there is no one person (no “head zek”), or collection of persons that can be said to have control over it. Sure, some may have more of a say in lurching this way or that, or conjuring different ways to execute its modus operandi, but it is accurate to say that it is largely autonomous. Its agenda consists of two primary components: depositing the raw materials of the earth into its gaping maw and, in its gut, cohering these raw materials into products which diffuse into every nook and cranny within the great creature. The primary concerns are related to how to go about doing this in the most profitable and efficient manner possible. These products – with their congealed and abstracted environmental destruction and human misery – find their way via labyrinthine pathways into every facet of human life. Surrounded by the fruits of mass production almost every second of every day, it is as impossible to conceive of the human/environmental costs of each and every product as it is to conceive of life without them.

In Leviathan’s wake, vibrant mountains are converted into poisonous slag heaps, bountiful estuaries into anoxic dead zones, biologically diverse forests into denuded greenhouse gas producing pasturelands. In short, converting the living into the dead. Capitalism and industrialization are the steroids that catalyzed pre-existing processes and kicked it into overdrive [1]. But it would miss the point to apportion blame solely to these hyperobjects – the origins of what we have wrought transcends both of these human creations, as elaborated by Perlman and many, many others.

Outside, there is no life, no existence – only materials waiting be consumed. Though that is not entirely accurate: there does happen to be some form of existence, however it is – as Hobbes contends – nasty, brutish and short. It is barely worthy of legibility to Leviathan, unless, at some point, it is determined that it stands in the way of Progress. Otherwise, there is little to no utility in its quasi-existence.

***

A few weeks back, the IPCC released yet another damning report about industrialized capitalism and its conduciveness to the continued existence of human and non-human life. Like this essay, its contents are broadly similar to what has been written, researched, and reported on 2, 5, and 10 years ago. More will be written – albeit with updated scientific data – 2, 5, or 10 years in the future. When confronted with this, many will shake their heads sadly and get on with their day. Because what else can you do? We are so habituated to “the way things are,” that we cannot conceive of how to live outside of the suffocating confines of Leviathan. This is unfortunate because there is the possibility that we will, out of necessity, be forced to do so.

To live with the prospect of impending, though vaguely defined doom is new to those of us that have never labored under the delusion of a religion-inspired apocalypse. It is also new to those too young to have lived with the threat of nuclear annihilation. What we are collectively facing is frustratingly vague – if it weren’t, if it were easy to comprehend its enormity, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the situation we find ourselves. Perhaps more of us would actually perform meaningful actions to stop it.

I do not know what it’s like to believe that Jesus, with a flaming sword protruding from his mouth, will descend from heaven heralding the apocalypse. I do not know what it was like to live in fear of nuclear annihilation. The Bible’s vision of the endtimes is fantastical, but comprehensible. Nuclear annihilation is all too easy to understand. Both are less complicated and easier to grasp than what the depredations of the Anthropocene (the crystallization of Leviathan’s aforementioned modus operandi) and catabolic capitalism have in store [2].

***

Some see Leviathan for what it is and wish to extinguish its death-drive by any means short of violence against others. Thus far, despite scattered and localized success via direct action, their efforts have done little to so much as slow its gait. Their small numbers have left them largely unable to conjure tumors, or abscesses. When they do, they are easily ignored or scarred over. Moreover, Leviathan’s antibodies have proven to be very adept at infiltrating, entrapping, and mitigating infections.

Excepting illegal resistance – denied by most as desirable – leaves only the usual, unsuccessful means that have also utterly failed thus far: encouragement of responsible personal lifestyle choices and, especially in the heart of Leviathan, voting for the party that is partially less beholden to the same world-destroying interests as the grotesque party of rank bigotry, ignorance and gleeful earth annihilation. To think or believe this is sufficient is sheer wishful thinking – you may as well decide which god you find most likely to exist and get praying.

The balance of power in Washington has subtly shifted with the Democrats winning the house. Leaving aside what the political ramifications of this will be for the next two years, what if the Republicans maintain power in the next presidential election? Then what? Marches? Protests? Devastatingly witty and hilarious infotainment from celebrities and comedians? More liberal vote-shaming? More exhortations for mindful, “ecologically sound” consumerism? Not using plastic bags or straws? Will it be the same old shit that has proven unable to halt or slow our culture’s death march? Probably. And yet, much of the same things would happen under a more liberal administration but, insidiously, also containing the false sense of security that many will have with “the right people” regaining power. After all, 8 years of Obama did little to halt climate change, environmental destruction, and mass production/mass consumption (the same goes for income inequality, US imperialism, institutionalized racism, the Flint water crisis, the Dakota Access Pipeline, etc.).

On the heels of the latest damning report from the IPCC, millions are, as they have been for years, exposed to insipid bullshit like this:

See how easy it is? You can even feel a smug sense of superiority for your enlightened consumerism. After all, you’re doing YOUR part, and the only discomfort you need feel is in your pocketbook, as environmentally conscious products tend to be more expensive. (I kind of feel ripped off because I actually do many things considered to be “green” – and have for many years – but weirdly enough it hasn’t appeared to have made a difference (this should go without saying, but none of this should be taken as an argument against doing “green” things))

It should be obvious, but the vast majority of carbon emissions are the result of multinational corporations. So you reading this – assuming you are not a captain of industry – are not responsible for the existence of Leviathan and what it is doing to both its inhabitants and its host. What you do and don’t do within the context of living your day-to-day life probably doesn’t matter. You were born into a socio-politico-economic system you played no part in creating. However, you (and me) are responsible for attempting to stop those who maintain and perpetuate this destructive, fundamentally unequal/unjust socio-politico-economic system (that is, if you grant my premise, which I’m sure many of you don’t). Especially if you are a beneficiary of it. I won’t speak for anyone else but I know I’m failing.

***

If I’m correct that we are neither close to nor will ever be close to voluntarily reigning in Leviathan’s worst excesses, what is most likely to occur is a series of Hail Marys on a global scale. Geoengineering is inevitable – leave it to the First World to put our hopes in fixes that will allow us to maintain our lifestyle. In doing so we will, as we approach nearly every systemic problem, address only the symptoms while leaving the root causes undisturbed. It’s the easy way out (not that the specific geoengineering projects will be easy). We won’t abandon our hyper-consumptive lifestyles without being forced to do so. Perhaps these projects will enable “the way things are” to continue for the foreseeable future, and thus prolonging the inevitable need to confront the contradiction implicit in capitalism’s “infinite economic growth on a finite planet” ethos. Maybe this new Scientific Revolution could enable the oppressed classes to lead better lives – though if neoliberal capitalism continues as the global economic system this is almost impossible to believe.

In addition to the widespread implementation of geoengineering and its promises for a better tomorrow, there are two other broad paradigms that could be in store: the proliferation of dictatorships as resources dwindle and the consequences of climate change become impossible to ignore [3]; or collapse, as efforts to prop up Leviathan fail, leaving large amounts of people, land and resources outside of centralized state control.

If a series of collapses were to occur, the resulting communities would be kaleidoscopic in how they develop over time and depend on an uncountable number of variables: population density, environmental conditions, access to land and water, culture, religion, food acquisition techniques, self-defense abilities, base of knowledge of the natural world, and, perhaps most importantly, the extent to which any specific community is able to deal with breakdowns in the product distribution networks that are the hallmark of modern-day civilized life. Some will be violent and tyrannical. Some less so. Some friendly, others insular. Some will flourish, others will suffer and die. Some will defy conventional means of description. Most will be mixtures of every trait imaginable. And none will be static, as human communities are fluid and continuously changing.

Looking to the past, human societies have existed in countless forms throughout our history as a species [4]. To continue with the thematic narrative of the previous paragraph, some have been more egalitarian, some less so. Some relatively peaceful, some warlike. Some completely vegetarian and others almost entirely carnivorous. There have been socially stratified hunter-gatherers, and egalitarian agricultural villages. There have even been many societies that walked away from collapsed central power and thrived. Most of them haven’t rendered wide swathes of the planet uninhabitable for their human and non-human neighbors (the WWF recently determined that we have “wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970.”). And, perhaps, a number of post-collapse communities will tap into that legacy.

***

Cycling back to our present-day quagmire, to channel comrade Lenin, what is to be done? Shall we seize power and transition to some kind of eco-socialist economy that equitably distributes goods and services in a way that doesn’t destroy the biosphere [5]? Vote actual leftists into power in the hopes of mitigating at least some of the detrimental effects of mass production (and institutionalized racism, economic inequality, etc.)? Is it sufficient to merely find concrete ways to dissuade those who profit the most off of earth’s destruction? Should we myopically enact doomsday prepper fantasies? Participate in decentralized mutual aid networks in preparation for inevitable discrete and ongoing disasters that states are unable/unwilling to adequately address? Should we destroy oil extraction infrastructure? Torch gas guzzling vehicles and aircraft? Dismantle power-plant apparatuses? Or do we sit back, cling to our lifestyles based on extraction and consumption, and hope that Science and Technology, in conjunction with the friendlier capitalist political party, will save us?

Such is the immensity of Leviathan that there is an infinite number of things one can do. Such is the immensity of Leviathan that it is unknown to what extent anything one can do will actually matter – both globally and, to a lesser extent, locally. What is to be done?

There is one possible endgame – some of Leviathan’s inhabitants may claw their way out of its corpse, behold the world in a new light, and build societies on top of its decomposing remains. They may use the putrefying entrails, but these communities can work to ensure that they are never able to recombine into another monstrous iteration of Leviathan, and thus begin the world-destroying process anew. Maybe they’ll dance on the rotting husk of what used to be a world-encompassing death machine.

One may write this off as utopian and naïve. And you are very justified in thinking this, at least for those of us firmly entrenched in Leviathan. But for the indigenous the world over – from the Sentinelese in the Andaman Islands, to the San in southern Africa, to the Sami in northern Scandinavia, to the Mohawk Nation in Akwesasne straddling the border of the U.S and Canada (to say nothing of exploited, terrorized and endangered nonhuman animals) – it’s not at all inconceivable. Their hope lies in the death throes of Leviathan not taking them down as it feeds upon itself.

Perhaps I’m just plain wrong – a wild-eyed, Nietzschean madman stumbling about, howling “industrial civilization is killing the planet!” instead of “God is dead!” Steven Pinker might just be right about the likes of me. As I write this in my office cubicle, I can’t fathom how anyone in my vicinity would seriously consider more than a few things I’ve written to have merit (the same goes, I think, for many readers who’ve made it this far). Like me, they want to finish their work, go home, and live their lives. They have other things to worry about. Broadly, tomorrow will be like today. Next week will look like last week. Next month will be similar to last month. But it seems as if we are inching closer to… something. After all, our culture’s doomsday prophesiers are not the charlatans of yore; instead, they are those to whom we in the West have entrusted the empirical study of the totality of existence to.

In closing, I’m reminded of Ishmael, by the late Daniel Quinn, which is sadly even more relevant today than it was in 1992. The novel features a series of conversations between Ishmael, a gorilla-sage, and the unidentified narrator, a surrogate for the privileged, civilized man who senses things maybe aren’t so great:

Ishmael frowned […] “As long as the people of your culture are convinced that the world belongs to them and that their divinely-appointed destiny is to conquer and rule it, then they are of course going to go on acting the way they’ve been acting for the past ten thousand years. They’re going to go on treating the world as if it were a piece of human property and they’re going to go on conquering it as if it were an adversary. You can’t change these things with laws. You must change people’s minds. And you can’t just root out a harmful complex of ideas and leave a void behind; you have to give people something that is as meaningful as what they’ve lost — something that makes better sense than the old horror of Man Supreme, wiping out everything on this planet that doesn’t serve his needs directly or indirectly.”

I shook my head. “What you’re saying is that someone has to stand up and become to the world of today what Saint Paul was to the Roman Empire.”

“Yes, basically. Is that so daunting?”

I laughed. “Daunting isn’t nearly strong enough. To call it daunting is like calling the Atlantic damp.”

“Is it really so impossible in an age when a stand-up comic on television reaches more people in ten minutes than Paul did in his entire lifetime?”

“I’m not a stand-up comic.”

“But you’re a writer, aren’t you?”

“Not that kind of writer.”

Ishmael shrugged. “Lucky you. You are absolved of any obligation. Self-absolved.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“What were you expecting to learn from me? An incantation? A magic word that would sweep all the nastiness away?”

“No.”

“Ultimately, it would seem you’re no different from those you profess to despise: You just wanted something for yourself. Something to make you feel better as you watch the end approach.”

[…]

“One thing I know people will say to me is ‘Are you suggesting we go back to being hunter-gatherers?’ ”

“That of course is an inane idea,” Ishmael said. “The Leaver life-style isn’t about hunting and gathering, it’s about letting the rest of the community live — and agriculturalists can do that as well as hunter-gatherers.” He paused and shook his head. “What I’ve been at pains to give you is a new paradigm of human history. The Leaver life is not an antiquated thing that is ‘back there’ somewhere. Your task is not to reach back but to reach forward.”

“But to what? We can’t just walk away from our civilization the way the Hohokam did.”

“That’s certainly true. The Hohokam had another way of life waiting for them, but you must be inventive — if it’s worthwhile to you. If you care to survive.” He gave me a dull stare. “You’re an inventive people, aren’t you? You pride yourselves on that, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then invent.”

__________

[1] It is both tragic and somewhat fitting that the home city of the Venetian Octopus (Perlman’s term for pre-modern sea-based Leviathans), which played an integral role in the rise of globalized capitalism, will likely be rendered uninhabitable by it.

[2] Craig Collins describes catabolic capitalism as “a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by devouring the society that sustains it. As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.” This already exists in parts of the world – the question is to what extent the affluent West will experience it. The article is well worth reading in full and I can’t help but quote a bit more of it:

Catabolic capitalism flourishes because it can still generate substantial profits by dodging legalities and regulations; stockpiling scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; scavenging, breaking down and selling off the assets of the decaying productive and public sectors; and preying upon the sheer desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.

Without enough energy to generate growth, catabolic capitalists stoke the profit engine by taking over troubled businesses, selling them off for parts, firing the workforce and pilfering their pensions. Scavengers, speculators and slumlords buy up distressed and abandoned properties – houses, schools, factories, office buildings and malls – strip them of valuable resources, sell them for scrap or rent them to people desperate for shelter. Illicit lending operations charge outrageous interest rates and hire thugs or private security firms to shake down desperate borrowers or force people into indentured servitude to repay loans. Instead of investing in struggling productive enterprises, catabolic financiers make windfall profits by betting against growth through hoarding and speculative short selling of securities, currencies and commodities.

[…]

Catabolic capitalism is not inevitable. However, in a growth-less economy, catabolic capitalism is the most profitable, short-term alternative for those in power. This makes it the path of least resistance from Wall Street to Washington. But Green capitalism is another story.

As both radical Greens and the corporate establishment realize, Green capitalism is essentially an oxymoron. Truly Green policies, programs and projects contradict capitalism’s primary directive – profit before all else! This doesn’t mean there aren’t profitable niche markets for some products and services that are both ecologically benign and economically beneficial. It means that capitalism’s overriding profit motive is fundamentally at odds with ecological balance and the general welfare of humanity.

While people and the planet can thrive in an ecologically balanced society, the self-centered drive for profit and power cannot. A healthy economy that encourages people to take care of each other and the planet is incompatible with exploiting labor and ransacking nature for profit. Thus, capitalists will resist, to the bitter end, any effort to replace their malignant economy with a healthy one. [emphasis added]

[3] Again I quote Collins:

As globalization runs down, this grim catabolic future is eager to replace it. Already, an ugly gang of demagogic politicians around the world hopes to ride this catabolic crisis into power. Their goal is to replace globalization with bombastic nationalist authoritarianism [the most recent example being the absolutely vile Bolsonaro in Brazil]. These xenophobic demagogues are becoming the political face of catabolic capitalism. They promise to restore their country to prosperity and greatness by expelling immigrants while carelessly ignoring the disastrous costs of fossil fuel addiction and military spending. Anger, insecurity and need to believe that a strong leader can restore “the good old days” will guarantee them a fervent following even though their false promises and fake solutions can only make matters worse.

[4] One can find sources just about anywhere. While writing this, I had in mind Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott and Worshiping Power: An Anarchist View of Early State Formation by Peter Gelderloos. I don’t expect anyone to actually purchase them so, if interested, check out this rather long article by David Graeber and David Wengrow.

[5] Unlike the Soviet and Maoist Leviathans – both as adept at world destruction as the capitalist West – hopefully this new “dictatorship of the proletariat” would actually progress towards a state in which the very scaffolds propping up Leviathan wither away. Seems unlikely.

The pope should shut the fuck up about indigenous resistance

[Note: I wrote almost all of this blog before learning of Caine’s passing. I only interacted with her a few times, but I was repeatedly struck by how fierce she was in her writings. She will be missed.

Some months back, she had written that she’d like to see her fellow bloggers write about indigenous issues and we had a little back and forth about it. A coincidence, then, that it is the topic of this post. Condolences to those who knew and loved her best, and anyone else who’s enjoyed her work on FtB.]

Via The Onion:

In a historic admission of the Catholic church’s complicated and often shameful history, Pope Francis admitted in an informal public statement Thursday that “like, 97 percent” of Catholic leadership are “probably burning in hell right now.” “Believe me, contemporary Catholics are quite familiar with our legacy of murder, rape, cultural exploitation, and thievery on every scale from splitting up South America for silver rights down to just stealing stuff—make no mistake, most of those holy men were simply terrible people who deserve to fry in their own considerable fat for eternity,” said His Holiness, who took time during an informal lunch meeting with interfaith leaders to deliver a capsule history of manifold crimes committed by Vatican higher-ups, complete with a running commentary on the church’s long tradition of manipulating and mistreating its devotees. “Keep in mind this was just the stuff they did to other Catholics—at least, they were Catholic when those vicious scoundrels were done with them. Well, they’re paying for it in searing pain and screams now. Oh, and if someone wouldn’t convert, or couldn’t be converted by force? That’s when we get into Crusades, the Inquisitions, Spanish and others, the name of Christ invoked in the slaughter of native peoples, which is why their eyes will forever boil from out of their roasting skulls.

This is one of the many times I lament the fact that The Onion is #fakenews. What a welcome sentiment this would be in light of the Cool Pope’s somewhat recent shitty comments on the Mapuche conflict in Chile (this is something I meant to write about way back in January). First, though, who are the Mapuche and what made Francis think he had the right to tell them what to do? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

[T]he arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century seems to have triggered the amalgamation of several indigenous groups and the forging of closer social and cultural ties, all of which is part of what we know today as the history of the Mapuche identity. The Mapuche people rebelled against Spanish subjugation and burned the cities built by the European colonizers south of the Bío Bío River. This rebellion marked the beginning of the Arauco War, in which Spain was forced to maintain a professional army to guard its territorial borders and to recognize Mapuche autonomy within indigenous lands. The Mapuche people did not submit to outside rule until 1882, when the Army of the Republic of Chile began its campaign for the “Pacification of the Araucanía Region.” The campaign came in response to the urgent need to conquer usable land and was driven by an ideology that sought to eliminate indigenous groups by “civilizing” them. After the Chilean military victory, the process of colonization by European and local mestizo settlers was facilitated by restricting local indigenous inhabitants to small plots of communally held land. The direct consequences of this process for Mapuche society included a drastic decrease in their territory through reiterated, large scale usurpation, dependence on the Government as an external agent, and the breakdown of Mapuche society due to the loss of authority of the lonkos or chiefs.

The struggle has continued in fits and starts to the present day, with different groups pursuing different ends with different means – some are peaceful and some engage in property destruction (what the state and media refer to as terrorism) [1].

Their current adversaries are the usual suspects: a panoply of different entities including the state and military, non-indigenous landowners, the Catholic Church, and, of course, foreign & domestic capitalists:

Today, the Mapuche people are fighting to recover their territorial rights in the Araucanía Region. In these efforts, they confront forestry companies as well as the military. The consequences of the conflict are dramatic. Levels of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and illiteracy in this region are the highest in the country.

Moreover, the mass media labels Mapuche protests as “terrorist,” misleading the general public and encouraging the spread of violence. The economic consortiums that control the forestry industry in the region also own the national mass media. This relationship fuels the conflict, protects specific economic interests, and validates military intervention against the Mapuche.

As for Cool Pope, he became upset because churches were burned in Mapuche territory. But, why would such things be done?

Between 1818 and 1950 during the first stage of Chilean colonization, the Chilean State used methods of evangelization [that] were used to submit and dominate the Mapuche People.

This meant the internal plunder of the self or person (what the Chilean government and the bishopric class calls the desecration of faith). Our Machi [Medicine Healers]  were demonized, and their rewe [medicines] plundered and destroyed. Our sacred spaces (tren tren, trayenco, mawizantu) destroyed and eliminated, and among the ruins they planted pine and eucalyptus, houses and churches were built, and we were confined to spiritual and emotional imbalance.

In the definitive occupation of our territory, the Catholic Church played an outstanding, even military, role, acting as the vanguard in the displacement and occupation of Wallmapu [Mapuche Territory]. They were not only the transmitters of dominant norms and values, but also controlled and punished indigenous transgressors, prohibiting the continued belief in their traditional ways, imposing determined values of resignation, obedience and respect to so-called superiors.

Currently, it is not surprising that the Catholic Church owns all educational facilities in the Araucanía Region, and that every school serves as its economic bastion.

So into the fray he descends, bestowing these words of wisdom:

You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division [actually, one can definitely do that – Christians were able to assert themselves all over the fucking world by destroying others and their culture. Also, burning churches isn’t the same as destroying others]. Violence begets violence; destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie.”[By that logic, wouldn’t violence perpetrated by Christians in the name of Christianity turn Christianity into a lie? Nah – how silly of me to apply his own words to his religion] [2]

Anyways, the pope is an asshole. That he’s apologized for Catholic complicity in the horrors of colonialism (which, next to absolutely nothing, is the bare minimum the Catholic church should have done a long time ago) certainly doesn’t grant him moral high ground – especially when the legacies of those horrors are ongoing and still perpetuated by members of his flock.

You don’t get to tell people who have been oppressed for generations by adherents of your religion how to resist their oppressors. Although, far be it from me to tell the infallible messenger of God what to do – but the Mapuche are eminently justified in telling him to fuck off.


[1] There was an incident in 2013 where white landowners, Werner Luchsinger and Vivian Mackay, were burned alive in their home by Mapuche protesters. I was only going to briefly mention this, but I ended up going down a rabbit-hole. The details are sketchy, but this occurred on the five year anniversary of a Mapuche activist shot by police on Luchsinger’s property. Both situations, the shooting and arson, were preceded by conflicts/arguments that lead to death.

There was one conviction for the arson. Most recently, 11 other defendants were acquitted, with the ruling stating there was “not enough proof to support the prosecution’s allegation that it was a terrorist attack or a premeditated plan to stir fear and pressure farmers into leaving their land.”

To give more context, the Luchsinger family

arrived in Mapuche territory from Switzerland in the late 1800s and benefited from the government’s colonisation policies for decades thereafter, becoming one of the largest landowners in Chile’s Patagonia region. Their forestry and ranching companies now occupy vast stretches of southern Chile, and impoverished Mapuches live on the margins of their properties.

The nephew of the deceased couple stated that “with this attack it seems that my prophecy was being fulfilled that the region is suffering attacks to empty farmers and entrepreneurs.” So long as the farmers and entrepreneurs remain, his prophecy may continue to be fulfilled on a somewhat regular basis.

[2] I don’t really consider burning churches as violence. One can’t commit violence against a non-sentient object. I used to think this without qualification, until I considered domestic abusers and their victims – an abuser using property destruction as an intimidation tactic certainly qualifies as violence, not to mention it being unjustified and reprehensible.

To me, when the power disparity is such that those with far less power commit property destruction against individuals or entities with far greater power, I’m not inclined to view it as violence (whether or not I agree with the cause will ultimately influence if I see it as warranted or not). The burning of Catholic churches in indigenous territory may cause psychological harm to Catholics who work there, but I don’t really give a shit – the enormity of the historical and contemporary crimes & injustices perpetrated against the Mapuche by the entity they freely chose to join utterly dwarfs destroyed property. But that’s just me.

The venerable police of my city are bracing for backlash

My hometown of Milwaukee has a bit of history of police violence, which I believe is pretty well known at this point. Less well known is a history of making professional athletes feel, let’s say unwelcome. With the story of Sterling Brown, who plays for the Bucks, these two aspects converge. Earlier this year Brown committed the heinous crime of parking across two disability parking spaces at Walgreens, followed by a confrontation with a cop which led to him being tased and arrested. Parking in a disability parking space is a dick move, but one I would say is somewhat mitigated by the fact that this occurred at 2am – I doubt the parking lot was very full. Nonetheless, I would hope most agree it’s not a tase-worthy offense.

[As an aside, Brown was released from custody at around 5am. Later that same day he played with a busted face and tallied 4 points and 9 board in a win. Pretty bad ass IMO. Also, the game featured this awesome Giannis dunk:

Let’s have a look at what Milwaukee Police union president Mike Crivello had to say shortly after the incident:

Special treatment for special people [regarding perceived mayoral interference].

You put your hands on and/or strike a police officer who is doing nothing more than what he is sworn to do, what he is paid to do, what all other citizens should want him to do, you need to go to jail and you need to at least have the charges referred to the district attorney’s office.

Hm. Sounds like he had some insider info. Or is a huge piece of shit. Or both! By this point in the saga it wasn’t known exactly what happened.

Bucks fandom was largely supportive of Brown. However, there were, of course, rats crawling out of the sewer spewing barely disguised racism. How dare Brown get uppity with the noble policeman whose only goal in life is to keep the city safe! I don’t think many were Bucks fans. For a little background, a lot of white people in Wisconsin hate the Bucks and the NBA in general, while at the same time lionize the more fundamental-driven [read: less black] college game. Many of these upstanding citizens seemed to heartily enjoy a black professional athlete of a league they don’t like being put in his place.

Up until yesterday, it was perplexing how tight-lipped everyone had been, from Brown, to the Bucks, to the authorities. After the hoopla within a few days of the event, next to nothing came out. It appeared that the story would get swept under the rug, with many theorizing that Brown was being an asshole while the cop overreacted. It appears this might not be the case:

Brown did not appear combative or threatening when officers questioned him about a parking violation in January, according to two sources who have watched the video. The sources asked that their names not be used because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about it.

[…]

“This could be bad,” said one source who watched the video. “The player doesn’t appear to be provocative at all.”

[…]

Police officials have been preparing community leaders for the release of the body-camera footage by showing it to selected local officials, including a closed session of a Common Council committee.

[…]

Assistant Police Chief Michael Brunson Sr. referred to the Brown video in a speech at a Milwaukee church Sunday during the city’s Ceasefire Sabbath.

“There’s going to be a video that’s going to come out soon, in the next couple of weeks, involving the department, and I’m going to honest with you, we’re going to need your support during the challenges,” he said, according to video posted on WITI-TV.

What the nature of the anticipated “backlash” will be, who knows? Will it only amount to mere backlash? Could it morph into unrest? Or perhaps a riot?

Earlier this month, cops beat the shit out of a kid at a mall in Wauwatosa (a lily white suburb that uncomfortably shares a border with the city proper (as distinct from adjacent lily white suburbs safely insulated from the terrors of the inner city)). The “backlash” thus far has merely been bad PR. Brown’s case will likely result in the same, but with the added annoyance (to the MPD) of national attention. But it will all eventually fade away, as all stories of this nature do.

One wonders if this would have received even local attention were it not for Brown’s cachet as a professional athlete. God only knows how many stories like this there are that don’t receive any publicity whatsoever. I’ve thought about this often over the years and it always makes me feel angry, sad and hopeless.

ETA: Right as I posted this I found out Brown is suing the MPD.

60 Gazans murdered, 2000+ injured

While scumbags celebrated the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, Gaza burned, with 60 dead, and 2200 injured. If there were any Israeli casualties, I haven’t seen the numbers – surely it is much, much less.

1234

Making this even more cruel and indefensible, the embassy opening was scheduled one day before Nakba Day, a “day of commemoration of the displacement that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.”

Setting the geopolitical ramifications of the embassy move aside, what kind of person, when considering the vast power disparity between the state of Israel and those forced to live in what amounts to a literal open-air prison, would side with the gaolers?

How can anyone feel that, were they in Palestinian shoes, that they wouldn’t be seething with rage at the power structures that dominate and kill them with impunity? And, no less, a power structure that is composed of people that fucking hate them. I wonder if they celebrated as they did in 2014:

“Die! Die! Bye!” laughing teenage girls shout at the celebration in Tel Aviv. “Bye, Palestine!”

“Fucking Arabs! Fuck Muhammad!” a young man yells.

“Gaza is a graveyard! Gaza is a graveyard! Ole, ole, ole, ole,” the crowd in Tel Aviv sings as it dances in jubilation. “There is no school tomorrow! There are no children left in Gaza!”

For context, this is what was the cause for such jubilation:

Palestinian militias, armed with little more than light weapons, had just faced Israeli tanks, artillery, fighter jets, infantry units and missiles in a 51-day Israeli assault that left 2,314 Palestinians dead and 17,125 injured. Some 500,000 Palestinians were displaced and about 100,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.

[…]

Terrified Palestinian families huddled inside their homes as Israel dropped more than 100 one-ton bombs and fired thousands of high-explosive artillery shells into Shuja’iyya. Those who tried to escape in the face of the advancing Israelis often were gunned down with their hands in the air, and the bodies were left to rot in the scorching heat for days.”

I hope I’d have the courage to stand against tanks, bombs and armored soldiers with nothing but a rock in my hand and a t-shirt wrapped around my face. But maybe I’d work within the system, repeatedly smashing my head against a metaphorical wall that shows no signs of breaking. Or maybe, with or without hope, I’d do nothing and just try to get by. I don’t know.

But I do know that I would hate my oppressors with every ounce of my being. There would be no hope for reconciliation, except in a fantasy-world where they would beg for my forgiveness. In the real world, of course, the Israeli state wants nothing more than docile obedience. Ideally, this would be without any form of meaningful resistance. Resistance is tolerable more or less – surely Israel knows that without changing strategies the status quo will continue. But better for the subjugated to live with their tails between their legs in fear of overwhelming, state-sanctioned violence, though it doesn’t appear that this will occur anytime soon.

This shit’s been going on for far longer than I’ve been paying attention. And I, living a relatively comfortable life get fatigued with what amounts to being a spectator. That’s pretty fucking selfish, but I don’t know how else to process so much human misery for which I have no means of lessening.

 

Violence against indigenous peoples at home and abroad

I was recently thinking about the deaths of Colten Boushie and Jason Pero, both of whom were murdered by scared white men. The fear of their indigenous victims, of course, was enough to justify a hung jury in the former, and no charges in the latter. I was wondering how many people knew about it, and if it was receiving what I felt was sufficient media coverage. I think the answer is probably no.

Who can say what alchemy is involved in the viral nature of some events but not others? For example, a cop shot an unarmed black man lying on his back in a northside suburb of Milwaukee. Against all odds, charges were filed against the officer. However, the case resulted in a hung jury a few weeks back, and prosecutors have decided not to retry the case. A Google News search yields results that are almost all local. For whatever reasons, it didn’t filter out into the national consciousness.

Jason Pero, a 14-year-old member of the Bad River Band in northern Wisconsin was murdered after he called 911 to report a male walking around with a knife matching his own description. The cop – Brock Mrdjenovich –  takes up the story from here saying that Pero refused commands to drop the knife. Pero supposedly lunged from 10 feet away and Mrdjenovich, fearing for his own life, was forced to take the entirety of the legal process into his own hands as judge, jury and executioner.

Mrdjenovich reported that Pero said between bullets that he wanted to die, and Mrdjenovich was quick to oblige, despite also having a taser and pepper spray at his disposal. There were no witnesses or video to contradict Mrdjenovich’s account. St. Croix County prosecutors declined to file charges. Since he was determined to have done nothing wrong, Mrdjenovich remains employed, though the police district is  “dedicated to rebuilding and restoring trust and a working relationship with the community at all levels through continued community policing, officer education and training, and proactive involvement with all citizens of Ashland County.”

I actually kind of believe Mrdjenovich’s statement about Pero’s final words – with no one to contradict him, it would be far better for his defense strategy to claim that Pero was screaming he was going to kill him rather than himself. Then again, one would think Pero’s admission would get him to stop firing. A trial likely wouldn’t have yielded a conviction, but neglecting to bring the case to a jury trial is absurd – a man with a gun shot a boy with a knife from 10 feet away.

This is similar to another story, one I hadn’t heard of before writing this, regarding another apparent “suicide-by-cop” scenario:

Back in July 2015, Denver police shot and killed Paul Castaway [a Lakota man] who they said was charging at them with a knife. However, other eyewitness accounts and a surveillance video showed he was holding the knife to his own neck, and the 911 call his mother made said he was mentally ill and drunk. Castaway was only a danger to himself, but the police thought shooting him in the chest was the quicker solution instead of helping him.

Charges weren’t filed. Pero also showed signs of distress and mental illness. There were cuts on his arms and he had fentanyl in his system at the time of his death. The common thread of possible mental illness in the two stories highlight another area that the police are ill-equipped to deal with, especially with regards to Native communities (and, sorry, here’s another horrible story from my hometown that was recently brought to light). That mental issues may arise from institutionalized racism (both similar and different to that experienced by African Americans) is tangential to the larger issues of how the State and their shock troops interact with Native Americans, who are

killed by police at disproportionately high rates. […] [A]ccording to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans were killed by police at a rate of 0.21 per 100,000 from 1999 to 2014, and African-Americans (who outnumber Native Americans roughly 10 to 1) were killed at a rate of 0.25 per 100,000.2

Even so, police killings of Native Americans are probably undercounted, said D. Brian Burghart, a journalist who runs the Fatal Encounters database, one of several independent projects aimed at producing a more complete tally of the number of Americans killed by police each year. Killings by police, as a whole, are undercounted by the CDC and other federal agencies. For instance, in 2014, the CDC logged 515 such deaths, while Fatal Encounters found more than 1,300.

And when police kill Native Americans, even the more accurate independent databases often miss or miscategorize those deaths, said Burghart and Samuel Sinyangwe, co-founder of the Mapping Police Violence database.

It’s a nesting doll of incomplete data that leaves Native Americans as both one of the groups most likely to be killed by police and the group most likely to have its deaths at the hands of police go unrecorded.

For Jason Pero, outside of a few articles, notably in CNN, Huffington Post, and the New York Daily News, the story didn’t receive what I would consider to be widespread coverage. There also didn’t appear to be many follow-ups regarding developments subsequent to the time he was murdered. And so, while it merited a blip on the radar, it was soon buried under the constant churn.

Colton Boushie, on the other hand, had significantly more coverage and was seen as just the latest indignity inflicted on the indigenous natives of Canada. Though it hasn’t really seemed to enter into the general consciousness of their neighbors to the south. Or perhaps it has and I’m wrong.

This time, the murderer was not an agent of the State, making him unable to benefit from having the full heft of its weight behind him. But, as a white man, he was more than able to benefit from combining his whiteness with fear. That, as we’ve seen so often, is a deadly combination, both in terms of justification of deadly force and for crushing the chances that victims and their family have for receiving any modicum of justice.

Boushie, a resident of the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation of Saskatchewan, was murdered by Gerald Stanley, on whose property the incident occurred. Though it was alleged that Boushie and his friends were attempting to break into cars in the area, they were never charged. Which is pretty odd. It was a case that focused far more on Boushie and his friends than Stanley, the only person that day who murdered someone. As Darcy Lindberg writes in The Conversation,

It is clear that Colten Boushie, despite breaking no law, was never provided the presumption of innocence before guilt that Gerald Stanley was given in his trial. The mix of being a stranger on someone else’s property, intoxicated and Indigenous were lethal to Colten’s life, and most likely fatal to justice afterwards.

While many are decrying that Colten’s indigeneity had nothing to do with his death, such a view dangerously ignores the century plus of evidence planted in the imagination of the prairie settler, one materially aided by law. Once planted, it has created a dangerous license that continues to have devastating effects on Indigenous peoples.

It’s pretty fucking enraging that so many are quick to assume that bigotry played no role. Also enraging is that the mere possibility of biased indigenous jurors was able to be weaponized by the defense – any juror who even looked indigenous was removed. Further, the chosen jurors weren’t screened for racial bias and were not instructed by the judge to disregard any prejudice they may have had (not that it would have mattered most likely). It just goes to show how malleable and adaptable white privilege can be.

Obviously there’s much more to the case than what I’ve written, but I just want to highlight the following, from the same link in the previous paragraph. Part of the defense hinged on Stanley claiming

his finger was not on the trigger when his gun went off as it was facing Boushie’s head (that is, he claimed it to be an accident and not an intentional act) and that he reasonably believed the gun was empty (i.e. no negligence).

In support of his testimony, Stanley relied on a phenomenon known as “hang fire” – a delay between the pulling of the trigger and the gun firing. In this case, there was a significant delay between when Stanley said he last pulled the trigger as part of a series of warning shots and when the gun fired the fatal shot. That period of time included him taking out the magazine, getting to the car, reaching in to move a metal object and then across the steering wheel to turn off the ignition.

If that sounds like highly improbable bullshit, that’s because it is:

Both the Crown and defence experts testified that the gun was functioning properly, not prone to misfires and that hang fires are exceptionally rare. According to the Crown expert, any delay is usually less than half a second.

Instead, the defence relied on two lay witnesses who testified about their experience with similar delays with different guns. One of them, who approached the defence to offer his story during the trial, testified about his experience 40 years ago while gopher hunting. Despite serious questions surrounding the admissibility of this evidence, the Crown did not object.

Jesus. Fucking. Christ. A fucking gopher hunter with a 40-year-old anecdote. I guess the jury of Stanley’s peers saw a fellow peer in this mysterious gopher hunter, who magnanimously came to the defense with his exculpatory bombshell.

Racial violence against unarmed or mentally ill, both perpetrated by the State and by individuals, can easily be justified by five simple words: “I was scared for my life.” For the indigenous of North America, these present-day manifestations of racial violence are seamlessly incorporated into centuries of bigotry, in conscious and subconscious form.  In its subconscious form, it is so old, so reified into the relationships with the State, that it probably doesn’t even feel like bigotry to the actual humans who perpetuate it. Can it even be called hate, at this point? To those whom are continuing the historical legacies of settler colonialism, it probably just feels like how things are. How easy it would be, such people think, were the indigenous to just act White. Although, the word they would actually use is Normal, and would likely fail to admit that White and Normal are virtually synonymous in their worldview.

***

Pero and Boushie belong to a class of people that are seldom visible to the general populace, except as “inspirations” for mascots, casino owners, or merely living relics of a bygone era. They can also, at times, emerge as a cause célèbre amongst #resistance-types, but such instances are always ephemeral – remember Standing Rock? And would it surprise you to learn that there are continuing battles between the fossil fuel industry and the indigenous? I can confidently say that that isn’t widely known. It’s not like I’m that much better – I know vaguely about a few, but it takes several Google searches to give me a better picture.

Appalling treatment of indigenous peoples by the nation states they happen to exist within isn’t relegated to North America. To name but a few, there are the reindeer herding Sami of northern Scandinavia; Sama-Bajau sea nomads of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines; Iraqi Marsh Arabs; and the Andamanese and Sentinelese  inhabitants of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Such peoples have long resisted integration into the surrounding vampiric socio-economic infrastructures that lust after unmitigated access to their land, resources, and labor. The ramifications have been and will continue to be catastrophic. At least as long as those infrastructures exist.

Perhaps most galling is the bewilderment displayed by those who are unable to comprehend why anyone wouldn’t want to shed their cultural identifies in order to fully assimilate into the dominant paradigms that have oppressed, displaced and killed them with relative impunity for generations. But then again, they probably haven’t read any Steven Pinker. Thus, they sadly don’t truly know the error of their ways – beckoning on the horizon is the shining city on the hill that is global capitalism nestled within the cocoon of meritocratic nation-states. Their humble entrance into its bottommost rungs – not as Others, but finally as true Citizens – will show them the self-evident superiority of what they’ve long feared. Truly the sky will be the limit with discipline, hard work and a can-do attitude.

All kidding aside, their continued resistance is really fucking admirable – in a just world, such resistance wouldn’t be necessary. At the very least, when they are killed, their killers should have to face actual consequences. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Guns

I’ve only fired a gun once or twice in my life. I don’t really know if that’s more or less than most. In my family, all of the males, and a few females learned to hunt at an early age. I’m hazy on the temporal details, but it must have been around middle school. At that time, my brother and similarly aged immediate cousins were formally introduced to hunting as a thing to do. I was the only one that was unable to comprehend why it would feel good to kill an animal. At that point, I had no ethical issues with it, or anything like that – I just didn’t want to kill anything. I’ve generally understood on an intellectual level, but I can’t fathom feeling it.

My grandpa, a hard man who looked down on soft city living of which I was accustomed to, took me and others to a shooting area. I was given the gun, and a few instructions. I have no idea if I shot anywhere near the target. All I remember is the gun smashing into my face, and the subsequent pain and embarrassment. I was told I needed to hold the gun tighter, something that should have been self-evident. I can’t remember if I took a second shot.

***

At my house, we have no weapons, unless you count a cracked wooden baseball bat that I’ve somewhat inexplicably kept through the years. Up until recently I counted it as a viable weapon. That is, until I took a swing and instantly realized that I would only get the one, which would almost certainly break it. There’s also the fact that I don’t think there’s enough open space that have enough room for a hard swing. So the vague plan is to use a fire extinguisher, which I think could double as a weapon in self-defense.

For myself and family, I’m not convinced that having a gun would actually increase my safety. This is grounded in a fear of weapons and distrust in my abilities to use them adequately when the time comes. It’s not just guns. I’m deeply uncomfortable with sharp objects and fire. I can be clumsy and am prone to dropping things. In the event that a weapon may be necessary, I have a hard time believing I could use it effectively.

However, there is a part of me that DOES want a gun. The alluring narrative of guns providing a sense of safety is apparently seared into my brain but is contrasted with my unease at having that kind of destructive power. Nonetheless, if I wanted to, I could very easily get a gun now and in the future – even in the event that gun laws are strengthened.

***

What we are doing (or not doing) is not making things better in terms of gun-related violence. There are two general, opposing sentiments voiced on either side of the divide in terms of increased regulations:

  1. If someone wants to commit violence with a gun, they will get one no matter what. People have a right to defend themselves and should be able to do so without, or with very little governmental restrictions.
  2. Increased restrictions will increase the difficulty in procuring guns. These difficulties will curb violence since it could lead to a “cooling off” period or altogether prevent those whom would enact violence from having guns in the first place.

These are inherently simplistic characterizations, and neither should be seen as completely true or completely false. If there are X amount of incidents of gun violence, it stands to reason that there are Y amount that may not have occurred due to the inability to procure weaponry. How large of a proportion that is is impossible to say. So it appears that certain regulations, such as policies preventing children from gaining access to guns and bans on assault rifles, might be warranted – after all, the status quo is not working.

But does it necessarily follow that any kind of change would be beneficial? We don’t really have enough data to say one way or the other. A new report by the RAND corporation summarizes the state of the research. Via NPR’s synopsis:

They found, for example, no clear evidence regarding the effects of any gun policies on hunting and recreational gun use, or on officer-involved shootings, or on mass shootings or on the defensive use of guns by civilians.

There were some categories with better data, however, Morral says. There is relatively strong evidence, for example, that policies meant to prevent children from getting access to firearms — such as laws that require guns to be stored unloaded, or in locked containers — reduce both suicide and unintentional injury and death.

Previous work has also found that places that require a permit (issued by law enforcement) for the purchase [of] a firearm do reduce violent crime.

There is also some evidence that prohibitions against purchase by people who have been diagnosed with mental illness reduce violent crime, and that “stand your ground” laws, which allow citizens who feel threatened in public to use lethal force without retreating first, lead to an increase in violent crime.

In general, however, good studies were few and far between, the RAND researchers say.

[…]

[T]hose surveyed varied widely in their predictions about how different policies would affect each outcome.

“Where they disagree is on which laws will achieve those those objectives. So this is a disagreement about facts,” says Morral. “And the facts are sparse.”

I understand the sentiment that change is needed, but this should give one pause before accepting as fact that increased legislation is the ultimate panacea.

***

Unexamined by RAND are the effects of gun policies on marginalized communities, whom are disproportionately more likely to experience violence and may wish to arm themselves for protection. How would stronger gun laws affect them? Alex Gourevitch, professor of political science at Brown University stresses that

[H]ow our society polices depends not on the laws themselves but on how the police – and prosecutors and courts – decide to enforce the law. Especially given how many guns there are in the U.S., gun law enforcement will be selective. That is to say, they will be unfairly enforced, only deepening the injustices daily committed against poor minorities in the name of law and order.”

This is further explicated by Natasha Lennerd at The Intercept, who bluntly (and rightly in my opinion) states that

there’s no reason to think new legislation and bolstered government profiling in the name of gun control would suddenly take aim at dangerous white supremacists, instead of continuing to criminalize people of color.

Given the history of policing in America, this should be intuitive. One only needs to consider law enforcement’s racist beginnings, and then compare the State’s treatment of the Black Panthers to Cliven Bundy’s gaggle of dipshits. Even today, the FBI is apparently more concerned with “Black Identity Extremists” than white nationalists, despite the glaringly obvious fact of which is responsible for higher body counts.

From what I can tell, the above isn’t much considered by those calling for more gun control. The totality of the carceral state has been and will continue to be a categorical failure that is unequipped and unable to address the underlying structural problems brought about by capitalism and institutionalized racism. That its traditional victims would likely be subject to even more adversarial involvement with the authorities  as a result of increased gun laws is worthy of intense scrutiny.

On the other hand, there are portions of the dominant class that are unable to leverage their privileges to achieve what they are led to believe they deserve, and scapegoats are needed. This can be due to personal failures, trauma, or, more likely, some mixture of both. Such damaged persons exist in an increasingly atomized, alienating and hyper-competitive social structure that can be a breeding ground for latent fury when desires – valid or invalid (such as access to women’s bodies, the denial of which can lead to violent responses) –  are thwarted. However, in contrast to this widespread atomization/alienation, the ubiquity of social media has made it much easier for the angry and violent to locate and feed off of each others’ heretofore impotent rage against society at large.

The problems that emerge from the foundational issues described above are as numerous as they are varied. We graft solutions onto them while neglecting the rot festering beneath the surface. But if those issues are unlikely to be meaningfully addressed, much less solved, in the foreseeable future, what can be done in the meantime? For solving the gun crisis, any kind of reform is likely to be akin to a band aid on a gaping wound.

(None of this should not be seen as a negation of the admirable Parkland students and the awesome things they’re doing. Likewise, none of this negates the utter contempt and scorn that should be directed at the NRA and their gun fetish cult at every opportunity.)

***

I don’t presume to know what state and federal governments should do with regards to guns. I’m not very knowledgeable in this area and I can’t say I’m too confident in anything I’ve written other than my anecdotes and quotations of those who know much more than I. I do think I should be able to get a gun if I want. I’m lucky enough that stricter laws would not exclude me, and I wouldn’t have to worry about increased scrutiny from the authorities.

One of the more interesting findings from RAND is on the banning of assault rifles and high capacity magazines: it’s inconclusive if it actually curbs mass shootings and violent crime. It’s hard to say, in light of the above hypotheses that increased regulations would disproportionately affect marginalized populations, if this would be beneficial – especially in light of the dearth of research that answers authoritatively in the affirmative. But I can’t help but think that would at least be worth a shot, as is restricting the access of children, for which there is some evidence for its efficacy. Both seem like common sense measures that should be adopted.

When they’re not busy securing money and power, and bickering along party lines, politicians throw shit against the wall to see what sticks. If/when they decide to throw more restrictive gun laws against the wall, who can say whether they will stick or not (stick being synonymous with “work” in this tortuous metaphor)? Maybe gun violence will decline, but if history is any indication it will fucking stink for many.

Or maybe we can just stay with the tried-and-true blueprint of the last decade or so: thoughts and prayers from the ignorant and spineless, and their subsequent, righteous flagellation by those whom are sick of insipid thoughts and prayers by duplicitous cowards.

For Rojava

The destabilized Syrian and Iraqi hinterlands have given rise to a bewildering constellation of organizations, warlords, and opaque borders, the causes of which are complicated and manifold. Out of that fog has risen a new kind of state, centered on a mélange of anarchist, socialist, and other skeins of broadly leftist ideologies – the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, colloquially known as Rojava. It is an eminently worthy and important experiment.

This most recent manifestation of an autonomous leftist region is under siege. However, its existence isn’t very well known by the general populace. This shouldn’t be too surprising – to most, they are just one of many entities existing within the context of a civil war in Syria that is barely comprehensible and not worthy of too much scrutiny. ISIS are the bad guys, and aside from them, the surrounding states, and the meddlesome West, the other entities are virtually indistinguishable. One is reminded of the confusing and fluid state of Afghanistan after the US invasion in 2001.

In the past several centuries, it’s taken war to provide the unique and varied set of circumstances necessary for revolutionary attempts at sovereignty. Just about all were either eliminated in the cradle or transformed into authoritarian regimes that were never able to implement their specific ideology’s lofty ideals. Of the ones that persisted, the justifications for their betrayals varied from place to place, but in the end, they only offered funhouse mirror images of the excesses of capitalist states: “the revolutionary organization cannot reproduce within itself the dominant society’s conditions of separation and hierarchy.”

Rojava is somewhat comparable to the Catalan anarchist-controlled areas during the Spanish Civil War, particularly in the similarities between the mujeres libres and Rojava’s Women’s Protection Units. More broadly, both were born during the chaos of war. Both were (and in the case of Rojava are) obviously imperfect in implementing their utopian ideals, but this should be expected as their existences have occurred during the trauma and destruction of warfare and surrounded by a variety of powerful enemies. Rojava has even attracted would-be revolutionaries from the West, echoing the exodus of leftists to Civil War era Spain, and contemporarily paralleling the modern-day allure of ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist groups to disaffected Muslim youth.

Currently, they are on the verge of being crushed by the considerable might of their Turkish neighbors to the north. Taking a page from the Bush-Cheney handbook of giving military exercises Orwellian names, the offensive is called “Operation Olive Branch.” This has been on the horizon since its inception – the Turks have long had an uneasy coexistence with the Kurds within and adjacent to their borders. They could scarcely have picked a worse person to get their inspiration from than Abdullah Öcalan, one of the founders of the hated Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Anti-Kurdish sentiment is something they have in common with every other state in the vicinity, all of whom are hostile to the idea of a pan-Kurdish nation state. It doesn’t take much imagination to ponder why Kurds wouldn’t want to remain under the watchful eye of authoritarian regimes that hate them.

As of today, Afrin has yet to fall. I glossed over this earlier, but the area is a veritable hornets nest of competing interests. The US are content to give funds and munitions to the Kurds (as they have for decades) but oppose any kind of Kurdish state. Turkey is simultaneously backed by Russia and collaborating with the remnants of ISIS, while seething over US support for the Kurds. Syria wants its territory back. NATO has remained silent. The UN is powerless. Obviously, the preceding snapshot is not entirely correct and certainly missing key narratives (this is a good summary of the geopolitical situation). But the underlying theme is that a good thing is in peril. I don’t really know how else to end this other than to say that this sucks.

What about the Catalan anarchists?

It doesn’t seem like violent state repression of the Catalan independence referendum is that great an idea. If I were an undecided resident, I can’t fathom desiring to remain a part of Spain after the events of the past weekend.

In an area steeped in the romantic ideals of early 20th century anticapitalist movements, I found myself wondering how contemporary Catalan anarchists perceived the independence movement. It’s certainly not intuitive that they would support the secession from one state and the creation of another. Thankfully Crimethinc has it covered:

Anarchists hadn’t thought about what to do in relation to this movement until the referendum was approaching and the Spanish state began to crack down on civil liberties. Faced with the censorship imposed by the state, a large number of anarchist groups from different parts of Barcelona, who have already been organized in their own neighborhood assemblies and social centers, decided to give support to the local independentista movements.

Within the anarchist movement, there are people who support the referendum itself, and also people who don’t. Independentist people are demanding basic democratic rights and civil liberties, such as the right to vote, and some anarchists believe that anarchists should be out there with them. There are also people involved in the independence movement who we lost track of years ago when the political parties like CUP and Podemos that gained momentum after the 15M movement in 2011 institutionalized the energy from the streets. Now, with the referendum, people are returning to the streets, so we decided it was an important moment for us to be out there too. But this has created a good deal of debate within and between anarchist collectives, because we are definitely not coming from the same place politically as many of the independentistas.

For us, it has been really complicated. For me personally, sure, I hold contradictory positions all the time, like supporting certain reformist campaigns or engaging with single issue movements… but to defend a democratic process towards national dependence… it’s very hard to figure out where I stand. Many of the comrades in our neighborhood are trying to figure it out too.

Many of us went home yesterday very annoyed, because we had a lot of differences with what was happening. About two weeks ago, the anarchist collective here in my neighborhood had a discussion about whether or not to defend the process of national “self-determination.” There were many people close to us, with whom we share a lot of political affinity, who said it was better to struggle against the institutions of a Catalan state because it would be a smaller state. Many people also supported the process in hopes of destabilizing the Spanish state, because at the moment the Spanish state is very weakened. It’s a moment that could tip either way.

Personally, I don’t like either of the options. We can’t lose track of where we stand as anarchists. I think we should be supporting people in the streets, but I truly believe the worst thing that could happen to us would be if a Catalan state gained independence. In the end, it’s just a way to legitimize the social and political exclusions that exist today to believe that we’d have more control over them in a smaller state. But it’s hard for people to see a Catalan state as something other than their own, especially after struggling for years to achieve it.

I too have mixed thoughts. I’m totally all for a group of people leaving their nation-state if they so choose. But is what follows going to be better? Of course, as someone who doesn’t reside in the area, my opinion is completely irrelevant. However, in cases like this, one should always be cognizant of the odious themes of nationalism, and its associated bigotries of xenophobia and racism.

Catalonia, Kurdistan, Rojava, Scotland, Palestine, the Donbass, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, Tibet, Xinjiang, Chiapas – these are only a few of many examples of unease within sovereign countries that are decades, if not centuries in the making. Many of these are bound to come to a head sooner than later. Though each situation is contextually different and related to their geopolitical particulars, they are associated thematically with the ongoing death spasms of neoliberalism, and the very real possibility of fracturing nation-states on the horizon. As to what comes next, and whether or not it will be for the better, who can say?

 

Leave Kellyanne alone

I’m going to give Kellyanne Conway the benefit of the doubt on misspeaking “one word.” Because who could be intellectually dishonest enough to allege a nonexistent massacre and subsequently claim her mistake was no big deal? Who among us hasn’t said “massacre” while intending to say “terrorists?” It’s an easy mistake.

But maybe, due to lamestream media bullying and SJW ridicule, she’s too ashamed to admit she misplaced her massacre by roughly 200 miles and 235 years. Indeed, there was a massacre near present day Bowling Green. The perpetrators, however were not Muslim immigrants or refugees, but American militiamen (almost certainly Christians, all). The victims were pacifist Christianized Native Americans living outside of the boundaries of the nascent United States of America:

In early March 1782, the Lenape were surprised by a raiding party of 160 Pennsylvania militia led by Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson. The militia rounded up the Christian Lenape and accused them of taking part in raids into Pennsylvania. Although the Lenape denied the charges, the militia held a council and voted to kill them.

After the Lenape were told of the militia’s vote, they requested time to prepare for death and spent the night praying and singing hymns. They were held in two buildings, one for men and one for women and children.

The next morning on 8 March, the militia brought the Lenape to one of two “killing houses”, one for men and the other for women and children. The militia tied the Indians, stunned them with mallet blows to the head, and killed them with fatal scalping cuts. In all, the militia murdered and scalped 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. Two Indian boys, one of whom had been scalped, survived to tell of the massacre. The bodies were piled in the mission buildings and burned the village down. They also burned the other abandoned Moravian villages.

The militia looted the villages prior to their burning. The plunder, which needed 80 horses to carry included everything which the people had held: furs for trade, pewter, tea sets, and clothing.

In 1810, Tecumseh reminded future President William Henry Harrison, “You recall the time when the Jesus Indians of the Delawares lived near the Americans, and had confidence in their promises of friendship, and thought they were secure, yet the Americans murdered all the men, women, and children, even as they prayed to Jesus?”

Maybe Conway will find the courage to clarify her initial comments and educate the masses about their heritage. I suppose I shouldn’t hold my breath.

 

 

 

 

Do what you’re told

The stories are trickling in regarding Trump’s immigration restrictions. It’s almost startling how fast these restrictions were implemented, or at least it would be if we had any reason to expect things to not be shitty. The president gives the order and immediately his demands are carried out. He says jump, and the federal, state, and local authorities comply, from office workers to the security officers on the front lines – spineless cowards, all of them. It’s something important to keep in mind.

A culture that deifies [1] authority figures gives unwarranted truth to the lie that they can do no wrong. They’re just following orders after all, whether they agree with it or not. For every terrible thing Trump orders there are underlings who have to decide whether or not to carry it out, as it filters through the institutional hierarchy. I have nothing but contempt for those that do, even if they have reservations or concerns. I guess it’s easy for me to say, since I generally don’t work at places I consider ethically compromising (though I was in debt collection for a minute and it was exceptionally soul destroying).  If you won’t quit because you need the job or can’t find a new one, well, I just don’t really care. With the ubiquity of horrors in this world, my empathy rations are running thin and don’t extend to such people. I hesitate to reference “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” by Hannah Arendt, but fuck it:

[T]he murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did. The troops of the Einsatzgruppen had been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German Army, and their commanders had been chosen by Heydrich from the S.S. élite with academic degrees. Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!


[1]. “Whites have consistently been shown to appear in a “hero” role on television news, being overrepresented as both officers and victims. In the past, authors have produced multiple alternative explanations for distorted race and crime portrayals. Three specific perspectives should be highlighted: (1) ethnic blame discourse, (2) incognizant racism, and (3) structural limitations and economic interests.”