Gonzo Times article for 8/10/11: What’s the Enemy? (Part 1)
The article where it was originally published can be found here.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about who’s the enemy. From this post, which, in my opinion,started it all and then to George’s follow up post, to a response on GT, another response on GT, and finally George’s last post on the subject. So the talk about who is the enemy of the anarchist is in dispute. Not only this but whether we should see other people as an enemy itself is another thing at stake. These ideas also relate to effective communication and to illustrate what that may look like I’ll be referencing George’s final post on the matter and this post by George, as well as my own thoughts.
Related to this discussion is that once we know who the enemy is, what do we do about it? What’s the right course of action to deal with the enemy? (Assuming the answer to our previous questions is that we actually want to regard other human beings as our inherent enemies which it may not be.) If the fact is that it’s not proper to talk to other people like that or relate to them in such a fashion (regarding them as enemies) where do we go from there? How do we evaluate the best course of action in dealing with people who are fundamentally against some of our ends?
And finally how do the answers to these questions relate to the riots in London?
The Discussion of the “Enemy”
Responding to: Statists are not the Enemy:
I think it’s most convenient to respond to each article as it’s own separate part and then try to bring it all together. Based on that structure I’ll quote the sections that I think sum up the main points of the article/posts starting with this article,
“That’s what is wrong with labels, and with fashioning your arguments around clean-cut categories that do not exist in real life. We are dealing with people here, not things, not interchangeable cogs in a big machine.
Not only do real people have a mess of often conflicting and inconsistent tendencies of statism and anarchism in different varieties, they also change over time, sometimes drastically when outside events rattle their cages (witness the growing crowds of protesters in Egypt).
Yes, there are in fact “statists” who can let you be in some respects, maybe the respects you care about, and that does not automatically turn them into “voluntaryists,” or make your arguments crash into logical inconsistency. Such arguments only fail if you have a weird view of what people are. They are not cogs. They don’t fit into neat, perfect categories.
Yeah, guess what, we can’t just go out and find people with the word “statist” tattooed on their heads, and shoot them. We have to deal with them, some way or another; and the best way to deal with them is persuasively, and through example, and through friendly trade. That can only be done if we haven’t turned them into “enemies.”
And the conclusion:
“We definitely need to stop thinking of “statists” as enemies (and other disrespectful terms such as “sheeple”), and start thinking of them as people, imperfect just like we are–and victims of the state, just like we are. Stop collectively throwing everybody into some category, and deal with them as individuals. When we finally have our “Egyptian moment,” we will need them out there on the streets along with us.”
So first off I’ll say that I agree with almost everything in this article but I’ll elaborate why after I summarize the main points:
1. Ideas are only as useful insomuch as they coincide with our own actions. The idea of declaring people “statists” however in some universal fashion as a means of deciding who agrees with what ideas and actions doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense because peoples ideas about how they can carry out their actions differs in countless ways. And not only this but what it means to carry out their actions or what their ends should be are also things that differ in countless ways.
2. Because people do not fit into neat categories or what have you it makes no sense to try to do so with the term “statist”, especially on the scale of millions of people.
3. Not only this but if you do so you may start dealing with people in particularly damaging ways that don’t help conversation or your cause. And when push comes to shove and we need more people for the movement (and we always do and will) you probably can’t count on the people you treated as less than human because they disagreed with you.
I do think that most of these (if not all) of these premises and conclusions do make valid points and are reasonably sound. I question what exactly are the benefits of regarding someone as a “statist” or your enemy. What does it give you? I’d think at best it gives you a very imprecise way of talking to people and regarding them as something totally different than you. But if it doesn’t affect your actions towards them if this is the only that happens and only your thought, yet you never act on it in any new tangible way what does it really matter? If an idea hardly effects your actions in at least a neutral sense there doesn’t seem to be much value in the idea itself. Here too it seems to me that at best that you might get some neutral response but also a bad way of thinking about people. And at worst you could start becoming actually dialectically aggressive towards these people . This is not only ineffective for communication but it’s not a healthy way of thinking either.
But does it necessitate this bad thought process? Well it’s not even that actually. Instead, it’s the fact that this thought process is seen as legitimate by the person which might lead them to do destructive things to not only themselves in their way of thinking of others but those people who they try to talk to. This sort of thought process even if it’s not acted upon could inevitably in of itself be a sort of self-isolating factor. And this may lead to lost opportunities, valuable alliances and other things missed in the process. All of this in the name of regarding people as enemies.
Responding to: Statists are not the Enemy
George’s post here is substantially shorter but here’s the part that I think sums up his point:
“In fact, hating the state is a form of ad hominem. If you hate the state, want to be an enemy of the state and/or want to hurt state-supporters and/or state agents, your energy is illogically misdirected. You’re focusing on attacking the people. You’re not focusing on a reasoned discussion. You’re just saying things like “You suck.” or “You should be killed while you sleep.” (Yikes!)”
Now George not only reaffirms the previous positions I’ve held in regard to the first article I responded to but he’s added on to them. What has he added? Well, he says that by having this sort of attitude your whole frame of mind is not is not going to produce positive results when you try to communicate your ideas. And that you are actually ignoring discussion if you only focus on the fact that they hold a particular belief and you think it’s bad. Obviously some ideas are bad but just saying it and making it look like the person is bad is not a reasonable discussion. As George says a little further down in the post, if you’re focused on bad ideas as opposed to bad people then it makes more sense to get into a discussion with someone. But if you’re only after them as the person they are instead of the ideas they’re presenting which are really the problem then the conversation is more likely to devolve.
George finished by quoting some guy named Nick Ford (never met him personally…) who had this quote to say about the topic:
“The hallmark of political anarchism is its opposition to the established order of things: to the state, its institutions, the ideologies that support and glorify these institutions.” -Paul Feyerabend
I think I can also add another quote to further the idea of that quote:
“To defeat the aggressors is not enough to make peace durable. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war.” – Ludwig von Mises
The ideas in this quote and the one I’ve added are pretty easily seen as parallel. Just addressing the people is not good enough. In fact it’s nowhere good enough. You should criticize the ideas, how they are expressed and what constitutes them, etc. not be calling names, labeling people your enemies and so on. That’s none too productive. If you criticize the idea on some principle or comparative basis or what have you then discussion becomes more reasonable as a result because there’s less of a chance it’ll result in name calling and the like. Likewise, this applies to a more broad range of concerns such as the state itself. If all your doing is telling people Obama is a bad person because of his position and what he’s doing with it, etc. that’s a good start. However, what is even better, is criticizing the idea of the position itself and perhaps listing some ideas for the person you’re discussing it with why the position itself is illegitimate, etc.
And like Feyerabend says, it’s not only the idea that directly perpetuates the structures and institutions that you find illegitimate but the ones that glorify them or give them some kind of credit when credit is certainly not due to them. This goes back to the idea of thick libertarianism and the idea that there are multiple concerns for anarchists. I think it also makes the point that anarchism and anti-statism are not the same thing.
I shall now continue my responses with the articles written from Gonzo Times.
Responding to: Re: “Statists are not the Enemy”
This one may be comparatively be a bit longer but what I thought were the main points were pretty easy to find:
“Virtually everyone has a libertarian viewpoint on at least one issue. Screaming “STATIST” at them and treating them like crap for supporting entitlement programs, the never ending list of wars my country has begun, or wanting to put up a US-MX border fence is not going to win them over, even incrementally.”
“Why would anyone want to be a part of a movement that doesn’t help you muddle through complex issues and figure out answers to difficult questions? These are new ideas for a lot of folks, and it would be beneficial all around if we responded with helpfulness and kind words instead of animosity and hatred of teh evul evul STATISTS!1!1one!”
These two points again reinforce previous points I’ve agreed with and extrapolated on. Therefore, I’ll try not to bore the reader by repeating myself yet again…too much. I do think it’s worth reiterating that Vicky, George, and Paul Bonneau (the author of the first article I responded to) are all on a similar train of thought. We all think it’s worthwhile to consider our audience, who we’re talking to, why we would want to talk to them and how to go about doing it. In the end I think this approach is a lot more beneficial, not only for the person you’re talking to but for yourself.
Vicki’s second quote that I’ve put here makes note that not only is it ineffectual but that there are negative consequences to displaying yourself like you dislike the person as a person just for their beliefs. I think it’s time we as anarchists treat people how we would like to be treated. And since I’m assuming that most anarchists would prefer a respectful tone then we should try to treat the “other” people the same. This is especially the case if the other person who you’re talking to has somehow gotten past the cultural perceptions, lies from the media, schools and government, etc. and still treats you on equal footing knowing you’re an anarchist.
Well Mr. Harris certainly knows how to make a provocative title, I’ll give him that much right off the bat.
But unfortunately it’s my opinion that articles need more than a good title to be considered good all around. That being said let’s see how some of Mr. Harris’s arguments amount to:
“Statism is, quite clearly, an ideology. It’s an ideology which advocates not just violence on a global scale, but the initiation of violence against innocent people on a massive and global scale.”
To start, statism is indeed a system of particular ideas about how the world is and how it should be. But again…which statists? Why does it make sense to call people this? I think the issues of communication and how we deal with others is really the crux here. The institution known as the state and its allies in its destruction of people is certainly a legitimate threat but what about the people under the system? Don’t all of these people have different ideas? In some way one who supports a state must necessarily support such violence, this is a fair claim. But do they actually act on it themselves? Or do they just rely on the state and its allies to do so? It seems odd to treat the people under the system as if they’re dishing out the violence themselves or actually know about it to begin with.
Now, I’m not saying this is what Matt’s arguing but just pointing out what the train of thought that all people who support the state are such and such and that such a statement isn’t too great of an idea communication wise.
The next quotes I found worth addressing/disagreeing with…
“If an anarchist sees someone on the street being attacked by police, the least they’re going to do is video the event or get someone on-site who can. At most, they might step in and try to defend a civilian from the state. The same is not true of an average statist. “
“The statist is the enemy of the innocent person being beaten, and the statist is the enemy in an even more tangible way of an anarchist who may choose to video the event or step in to defend the victim.”
Both of these quotes refer to each other quite well so I thought I’d address both.
First, I think we’ve all seen videos where police are beating up someone and someone videotapes the cops doing so or perhaps reports them or gets in touch with the media or whatever. Now let me ask: do anarchists make up most of the population? Last I checked they did not. Ordinarily, it seems to me that while people may trust cops more than anarchists if they see someone being beat, especially for no reason at all then they will also at the very least record it. I think it’s out of common decency that people do these sorts of things. They know something is wrong within the context here and plenty of people to my knowledge and recollection of police abuse videos come from ordinary people (“average statists”) and not anarchists.
So on to the second point. Here we go with the line of “enemy” again. Now if I’ve proved, reasonably, that Mr. Harris’s case isn’t necessarily true and thus even logically sound then I don’t think it follows that some people who are more inclined to like the state might stop other people from defending others from cops. Back in the 60s and 70s the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was built on the basis that black people needed to defend themselves against racist and prejudicial cops. And this was largely a community effort by non-anarchists. In fact some anarchists may even argue (an-caps, right-libertarians, etc.) that the BPP was more statist than your average person because they liked people like Mao, etc. but even so and even accounting for this being a special case I think it shows that it can and does happen even without anarchists.
But why? Well because people recognize wrong things sometimes independently of their political positions. If people see a white cop beating a black man who’s on the ground doing nothing wrong then they’ll either ignore it out of safety of their lives, record it, or if they’re feeling brave they may attempt to save the man’s life. I don’t entirely disagree with Mr. Harris’s statements and nor do I with all of his post. I think it’s a worthy contribution to this discussion for sure and for the most part well reasoned and argued. But I do think it’s worth pointing out that these absolutes are not as absolute as he makes them out to be.
“The statist is an enemy of the individual trying to peaceably relax in his own home, and has indirectly initiated force – using the strong arm of the state – against them. On the other hand, if the statist’s views are not currently enforced by the state, the statist will lobby the state to do so in some manner.”
“Within the context of living beings, however, we add actions to the mix; actions driven by ideologies. Thus in the context of statists, it is important to understand that they are, in fact, our enemies by their actions.”
For myself, I think the first quote largely depends on whether people care enough about you smoking weed or what have you. I think it’s also worth mentioning that a vast number of people in the US do not vote. Also, for example, many parents know their kids smoke weed (as well as their friends) or suspect as much but they either don’t do much about it or just know what most people know: that it’s mostly, if note completely harmless. Again, they reach such conclusions independent of their political opinions and regardless that they may be a “statist” or not. People who live near you probably won’t care to notice you lighting up in your house if you’re minding your own business and being discreet about it. But on the other hand if you get drunk and knock on their door and such they might call the police. So again I think it’s a heavily contextual and just accruing the faults of people to just on the basis of believing in statism seems thin and lackluster to me.
Lastly, even if people do act against our intended goals or means and if you regard them as an enemy or obstacle in your way…what does this accomplish? What does it matter that they are statists? They’re human beings as much as you or I in their blood and ideas. Yes, their ideas hold less legitimacy and are potentially dangerous perhaps moreso than others. And Mr. Harris and I both agree this should be addressed through education, etc. But Mr. Harris doesn’t seem to extrapolate where we go from treating people as our enemies. This is a part I’d be especially interested in hearing from Mr. Harris and those who support his thinking. Where does treating people like our enemies take us exactly?
George pretty much sums up my problem with Mr. Harris’s arguments and since this is a short post this is all I’ll put for this response:
“By the way, all this talk of statists do this and statists do that, be careful you don’t engage in collectivization of them. If you group billions of people together and talk about them as if there were all the same, is that logically sound? Be careful you don’t dehumanize them by reducing them to a single, nameless profile. “The statist does this,” “The statist does that.” These methods are not consistent with a reasoned approach, tho they may be convenient for fundamentalists.” (Link on fundamentalists was added by me)
I’m quoting this one because it’s relavant to better communication and for me that’s really what this is about. A better means of communicating our ideas to people who may not agree with us. And the bottom line is that calling them our enemy or “statist” or whatever either in our thought process or way we directly interact with them is in the end not beneficial. It’s not beneficial towards reasonable discussion, a healthy mindset or even towards establishing our goals in a better way. I myself have never regarded another person as an “enemy” of mine or someone that somehow completely embodies the antithesis of all of my ideas. Nor have I made some purposeful attempt to regard some of my friends who support government as “statists”. I’ve sometimes jokingly called them that or made references to it but I’ve never really used it as an insult or treated it as a means of effective communication to my knowledge.
“But, instead of understanding people in terms of their needs, we inject a pathology or psycho-analysis into the conversation. That screws it all up. It dehumanizes. It’s not communication. It’s avoidance of communication.
The next time you speak with a state supporter, ask them what they need that they think the government provides them. Take notes and post a comment, email me or write your own blog post about it. If we all do this, we will soon have a small database of new information. We can use this to be better salespeople for liberty.”
And this is yet another great alternative. We can address their ideas instead of trying to demean them directly or in our heads. We can listen to what they’re trying to achieve and we can probably do a lot more too to make better conversation.
Bringing it all together
I’ve already discussed the barriers between anarchists among themselves here and here and so I think some of the discussions that come from there definitely apply to the discussions, questions, assertions and ideas I’ve explored here as well. I think the ideas behind a useful discussion is not to dehumanize people either directly or before you ever meet them but to consider their point of views and realize we’re all human beings. We may consider ourselves anarchists and that’s fine and we may consider other people as thinking the violence of government is ok and that’s ok too but we can’t let that get in the way of reasonable discussion.
Now I’ve said that I want to respond to tactics of dealing with the state itself, what exactly is an enemy to the anarchist and relate this to the recent riots in London. However, I feel I’ve said quite enough for just one article. I shall, since I’m not uploading a Youtube video tomorrow, instead write part two tonight or tomorrow and submit it sometime tomorrow.
I’ve heard people having problems with how we at Gonzo Times do our articles (noticeably a lack of proofreading which I think might be in line with Gonzo journalism anyways…) and I’d like to make it clear that we at GT have no proofreaders. So this is probably why you’re not seeing glamorously well written articles. Instead it’s very much dependent on how skilled the writers are with their writing and self-editing. This is especially true if they don’t ask others to help them.
On that note though I myself would be glad to have people peer edit my articles before I post them. Especially if people find my writing hard to understand, read, etc. As for my own self-editing process: I review my articles now at least once after I read it and not to mention as I write it. I also read it out loud when I’m going back to edit it the second time around.
I hope all of this makes your reading experience better. And if not, please feel free to contact me on my Facebook to give me suggestions on how to improve my writing!