Thursday, June 20, 2013

Anarchy, Activism and Assholes - Finding Common Ground.


Hey, it's been a while. It's been difficult scraping up a reason to write, and a lot of that has had to do with the sense that I'd been repeating myself. A lot. Over and over and over.

And yet, I can't stop. If it's not here, well, I'm off whacking moles on Reddit. Yes, I am an Redditor. It kind of snuck up on me.

Anyhoo, one of those reddit bounce-abouts - from front page to article to comment thread to embedded link - led me to a page where this was in the sidebar. Well, something like that.

 It has been my experience that many rebellious young people labeled with psychiatric disorders and substance abuse don’t reject all authorities, simply those they’ve assessed to be illegitimate ones, which just happens to be a great deal of society’s authorities. Often, these young people are craving a relationship with mutual respect in which they can receive help navigating the authoritarian society around them.

Bruce E. Levine

Alternet has been publishing unusual perspectives on issues that are - well, this one would be familiar to people from various interest groups. The idea that males, particularly are being diagnosed with the mental deficit of having testicles is pretty common over on the right wing, and from the leftist viewpoint, authoritarian structures are oppressing individual self-expression. But both sides view this as being a problem with the structures created by proper authorities - not any deficit in the quality of authority on offer. I think that's an important point - and it's one I haven't run across much even in Libertarian circles.

Those are the sorts of unusual perspectives you wish to seek out. But that one paragraph is the part I wish to hang my article upon - I suggest you read his piece fully in it's own right. There's lots more and it's stated in a sort of leftist / academic cant that tends to put my teeth on edge. But it's still accessible and I'm glad I didn't let that deter me. I've come to realize this is kind of like having to wait for a Southerner to get to the point. It really doesn't mean they are bound to be saying something that will confirm your preconceptions about Southerners - and by the same token, I really don't respect people who learn to hide their regional or intellectual accents in order to more easily appeal to my comfortable preconceptions. Such folks tend to be the ones I have learned to worry about the most. Indeed, that's pretty much the point to this post.

Expertise matters. And we need to be able to evaluate it honestly without it feeling uncomfortable or unusual.

Being who he is - a mental health professional - and an Anarchist; my, what an unusual combination, because it runs counter to what the mental health community does. The ability to conform to social expectations is considered evidence of someone in a state of balanced mental health. It's actually a useful perspective and certainly needs to be part of the counseling given since being able to function within society is pretty much what sanity is all about. But at the same time, society tolerates pockets of unacknowledged batshit crazy. We need people who are capable of and willing to not put up with stupid shit just for the sake of "going along to get along," fitting in or "furthering the larger goals of the Struggle."

I will cop to being an anti-authoritarian, but that is in large part due to being a poster child for the point the author makes above. As I've often said; "Question Authority, wait a reasonable time for a sensible answer." A lack of sensible answers, or answers that you already know to be completely wrong means that that is an untrustworthy authority.

We need, as a culture and as a people to be ok with that idea that having authority - being in a position of power - obligates that person to use that power and that trust wisely and well. We should all be a little reluctant to have power thrust upon us and a little less comfort with donating ours without due diligence. Because that trust is commonly abused and those who donate power tend to be treated with contempt by those who got it with too few strings.

Nor is this a political idea. The source above and the source below think so - but that's because of their own contexts and backgrounds. They think in political terms because they are political activists so that's where they have seen this stuff. But you can find it everywhere. "Lo, where three or more are gathered together, politics will be with thee."

He's casting this as a potential political awakening. Well, I suppose you could look at it that way - but frankly, other than pointing out there are lots of people that do not reflexively tug the forelock to the guy (yes, it's usually a guy, and he's usually white, get over it) in the corner office with the imported rosewood desk, we also need to call horseshit on the idea that requiring an authority to have demonstrable, USEFUL insight is "political." It needs to come up before the vision statement and the call to action.

All too often, people join movements and organizations, assume the cloak of religious belief or espouse certain philosophical viewpoints in order to get what they want - power, wealth, the sort of sexual partners / victims they prefer or less toxically, the company of people they find otherwise agreeable to be around. And everything they say and do is to feed those needs.

Worse yet, it's often completely unconscious. Or as my father told me about the art of salesmanship; "In order to sell a product, you must believe in it. So you have to lie to yourself first."

That was one of the things that caused me to start roundfiling my father's advice even before considering it. And this made me, of course, dangerously un-responsive to proper guidance, bringing me into contact with quite... useless ... mental heath care at an early age.

It wasn't that I was unwilling to listen respectfully to good advice - but I'd learned that taking parental advice about how to deal with social situations tended to get me beat up even more often than simply ignoring it when I already knew the outcome.

It should be ok to call bullshit on your elders when they utter bullshit even if you are at your best within an socially conservative hierarchy. And here's where I part with my libertarian fellows - some people really suck at autonomy. Indeed, most of us suck at it more than we would care to admit. Generally we work around this with a little help from parents, friends and colleagues, while we all cheerfully pretend that it's an exchange of favors and conveniences - not stark necessities. But they are, and those who do not face that in themselves risk being featured on Cops, Hoarders or Intervention.

If you don't believe me, ask my wife.

Bullshit detection needs to be seen as valuable. This is the value of the leftist call: "Check your privilege!" Now, it's all too often used to shut people down - but then, it's a sharp tool. Sharp tools have a tendency to be used for bad things. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have them in your drawer, or fail to use them as intended.

It means to take a look at to what degree your frame of reference is influencing what you are doing and saying - particularly when you are acting or advocating in ways that impact others. It's really a favor because if you are blissfully unaware of privilege, you will make very bad policy which will tend to make whatever you were trying to fix far worse.

If people did that more - checked their own bullshit and checked the bullshit of othes - well, the Republican Party in particular and the Social Conservative and Religious Conservative movements worldwide would not have fallen prey to so many manipulative sociopaths; people skilled at saying the right words at the right time to gain support, or at least, a lack of active opposition.

Does the phrase "Compassionate Conservatism" ring a bell? Or how about the economic promises of Neo Conservatism? It amounted to "trust us, once the rich get much richer, they will inevitably share the wealth."

But it did sound reasonable. It certainly seemed sincere at the time. And nobody - or at least, far to few, questioned these authorities.

And yes, it happens on the Left, too. Here's another really great article - again, from the left; that's where I've been today.

Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements

On Democracy Now! Malik Rahim, former Black Panther and cofounder of Common Ground in New Orleans, spoke about how devastated he was by Darby’s revelation that he was an FBI informant. Several times he stated that his heart had been broken. He especially lamented all of the “young ladies” who left Common Ground as a result of Darby’s domineering, aggressive style of organizing. And when those “young ladies” complained? Well, their concerns likely fell on sympathetic but ultimately unresponsive ears—everything may have been true, and after the fact everyone admits how disruptive Darby was, quick to suggest violent, ill-conceived direct-action schemes that endangered everyone he worked with. There were even claims of Darby sexually assaulting female organizers at Common Ground and in general being dismissive of women working in the organization. [2] Darby created conflict in all of the organizations he worked with, yet people were hesitant to hold him accountable because of his history and reputation as an organizer and his “dedication” to “the work.” People continued to defend him until he outed himself as an FBI informant. Even Rahim, for all of his guilt and angst, chose to leave Darby in charge of Common Ground although every time there was conflict in the organization it seemed to involve Darby.
The piece was originally published in make/shift magazine’s Spring/Summer 2010 issue and written by Courtney Desiree Morris.

The article as a whole speaks of how and why leftist activist movements have gotten sidetracked by drama and have generally failed to realize their ambitions over the last several decades. They are easily distracted, easily infiltrated and perhaps over-tolerant of bad behavior, a little too accepting of 'woundedness' as being the price of oppression.

Goddess knows, it's true enough! Frankly, I find those who don't carry a few scars to be deeply uninteresting - but at the same time, you have to own your own shit and take responsibility for it. And what's the point of life if you don't?

People put up with far too much bullshit in order to further the goals they believe in, not realizing that in doing so, they actually undermine those goals and contribute to the end of the movement.

Time and again heterosexual men in radical movements have been allowed to assert their privilege and subordinate others. Despite all that we say to the contrary, the fact is that radical social movements and organizations in the United States have refused to seriously address gender violence [1] as a threat to the survival of our struggles. We’ve treated misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism as lesser evils—secondary issues—that will eventually take care of themselves or fade into the background once the “real” issues—racism, the police, class inequality, U.S. wars of aggression—are resolved. There are serious consequences for choosing ignorance. Misogyny and homophobia are central to the reproduction of violence in radical activist communities. Scratch a misogynist and you’ll find a homophobe. Scratch a little deeper and you might find the makings of a future informant (or someone who just destabilizes movements like informants do).
Maybe she doesn't see it, maybe she needs to check her own frame of reference or the critical theory she's applying, but it seems to me that Misogyny, homophobia, racism, oppression and abuse are the roots from which the abuses of power, like police, structural inequality and wars of aggression against brown people arise. And it's a hell of a lot easier to redirect a stream when you start at the source.

Now, the thing that struck me about this article was that if you were to rewrite it in politically neutral language, we would all recognize it from personal experience. From the high-school prom committee. From that bruising time in Student Government that blunted your idealism. From the Al-Anon group. From working in IT in a major corporation. From within the Pride movement. From within the Evangelical movement. From within the Tea Party. From within Catholic religious communities. Yes, within the Men's Rights movement. Absolutely within the Second Amendment community.

People commonly put their own agendas and their own neuroses ahead of the interests of the group and you absolutely do see most members of those communities going through all kinds of contortions to explain or excuse that behavior.

Stop that! Call them to account or just walk away. If you don't, it will all end in tears anyway, so why put it off?

Calling people to account actually works, believe it or not. So try it.


Anonymous said...

Haven't seen you for a while. Where be ye, matey? (Where did THAT come from!?!)
Jay & John

Bob King said...

Hey there! First time I've logged into blogger in... I'm not even sure!

But I'm over at Reddit most every day as /u/graphictruth and I'm sure you have my email.


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