January 31, 2012
Terminology has changed. Just think of the terms Protest, Riot, and War. They don't mean the same things they used to- even only 50 years ago. Wars used to be the most serious business. No one went to war until they hated each other and wanted to destroy each other. The greatest war by these standards was perhaps the American Civil War, in which victorious Union General William Tecumseh Sherman said:
"You people of the South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're talking about. War is a terrible thing!"
For Contrast, consider what 'wars' we've been 'fighting' this past decade. In 2001 and 2003 we waged war under the titles of 'liberations' and 'occupations,' & under the premise of making people 'free.' As people became more and more disgusted with the impossibility and absurdity of those wars, we've scaled back; and currently commander-in-chief Obama prefers no-fly-zones, small-scale Navy Seal operations , and other things that have been called 'lily pad' operations. There's less risk in this kind of war, if it can even be called war(and extraordinarily less cost,) but the greatest benefit of all is in Public Relations. To put it simply, If there were cell-phone cameras during the course of World War 2, I think we'd be looking back at what occurred very much differently.
On the other side of conflict- riots and protests have begun to blur together. The 2011 Summer riots in Britain were classified by authorities as simple 'lawlessness,' but that lawlessness had a definitive cause, if not a goal(in addition to being curiously sandwiched between the Arab Spring protests and the Occupy movement.) During the 2011 Spanish indignados protests and continuing with the Occupy movement, one could see expressedly 'peaceful' protesters violating the orders of police, breaching property rights, and pushing back against police. Again, the most important conflicts occur today in the realm of Public Relations. You see this clearly when the mainstream media reports on such events- A group of people may be a characterized as peaceful protesters, rebels, freedom-fighters, or an unruly mob depending on perspective.
The successful non-violent protests for civil rights in the United States could only have happened at that point in time. The black minority was so marginalized that they couldn't use violent means.(for fear of being considered insurrectionary) The international media was television-and-radio only; and so it relied very much on reporters personal sympathy. And finally, the police, military and their means of restoring 'order' was remarkably different from today. Local police forces in those days were detectives and beat cops who possessed no kind of riot equipment besides live rounds(which they normally hesitated to use.) If the police were overpowered, the national guard was called in, who didn't always hesitate to use live rounds.
Today, on the other hand, the National Guard is rarely called in(even when it should be, as was the case during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,) while police are equipped with rubber bullets(simply bullets covered in rubber,) tear gas, shields, helmets, and pepper spray. This has led to many people referring to modern police forces possessing 'paramilitary' capability, and I think those people are right on target, so to speak. This militarization of police didn't occur by accident. It started timely enough after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination when the National guard and even military artillerymen were called into some cities to restore order after riots and what some called 'rebellion' erupted [even in Baltimore]. It continued in the decades that followed, particularly after Rodney King's beating and its aftermath(interestingly, several citizen-surveillance measures were also pioneered during this time). The elevation of 'protest' and 'riot' ambiguity + police militarization was probably best exemplified in the so-called Battle of Seattle in 1999.
Today, we live in a precarious time. War is less war-like and peaceful protest is less peaceful, more planned and more focused on direct-action. The terminology of Protest, Riot, and War is so conflated that it's usually simply referred to by more honest and articulate members of the press as 'civil unrest.' I laughed out loud when I saw a flier for a protest action in Oakland as part of the Occupy Movement sending out a call to 'Decolonize' Oakland. The description was vividly apt- & was a representation of the kind of muddy intellectual and physical struggle that's taking place today
Just 3 days ago #OccupyOakland attempted to possess a vacant building, build a 'community center' that would address local social needs, and was met by an extremely prepared and aggressive police blockade. Later that night, Police attempted to trap and capture protesters, only to have protesters trample a fence and march across a vacant lot to their freedom. Concurrently, a group of protesters overtook the flag from city hall, and burned it.
Of course, the latter happening was not supported by all those involved, and the video of it will probably widely be redistributed by those trying to characterize the Occupy movement as dangerous or violent. The truth is, those people are somewhat right. Personally, I love the spectacle of the (stolen) American flag being burned, and indeed look at it as an act of 'Decolonization.' But that spectacle threatens certain people- and it ought to. This is the new 'war,' by any means available, taking place in the age when everything will show up on youtube.
January 11, 2012
1 year ago today Jared Lee Loughner unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, while successfully killing several members of Arizona's state government and others. When the news broke, old-media was toting the line that the Spree-killer was a 'right-wing extremist' who was targeting the Democrat Giffords. A 'scandal' broke out because some conservative websites had included the congresswoman on a tongue-and-cheek 'hit-list.' That all sounded fairly boring, as political assassinations usually are, so I didn't read up on it.
I was reminded today because of this excellent article, describing Mr. Loughner as quite a trip; or at least referencing how many he had gone on. In the interview Tuscon Arizona locals paint a wild picture of the modern wild west; It almost makes me sort of proud to be an American. Maybe all the genocide and crimes against humanity involved in America's expansion can be considered close to worth it if one person can be truly free. Jared Lee Loughner was arguably free.
His life story is sad, simple, and predictable. He tried to join or be involved in several institutions which did not accept him or he was not qualified for- including public school, the private sector fast food industry, volunteer work, and the United States Army. Usually his dropping out or being booted from these endeavors was owed by those running things to a 'major personality change,' though their allegations all fall on different timelines. I suspect it's more likely that he was simply an eccentric and never fully found a 'healthy outlet' (as corny as it sounds) for himself.
One attempt at Loughner's reaching out is immortalized in this youtube video titled "How To: Mind Controller." There are 4 more videos, much like that one, but that one is my favorite. In the videos(set to electronic music), Loughner animates his essays, which are sometimes long & sometimes short- but always try to make his point clear. Most people who watch his videos are probably searching for some kind of seed of psychopathy and madness; but I see none. His hatred of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was more... simple, actually. He was no right-wing extremist. This account from one of Loughner's closest friends up until his spree-killing highlights the pivotal point pretty clearly. Loughner, dabbling in everything, attended a rally for Giffords campaign in 2007. He asked the question, "What is Government if words have no meaning?"
The question was not satisfactorily answered in Loughner's opinion.
'Of course it wasn't,' you may be thinking, but Loughner was doing something quite spectacular in my opinion. He was confronting an elected official, a person who holds authority, with his own Nihilist and Relativist thinking. He showed real courage; and as people who do usually are- he was snubbed. Since his resentment and hate afterwards took on unusual proportions he will always be called 'crazy.' Towards the end of his last posting on MySpace before the shooting he said "I had a bully at school." Many reporters took this quite seriously, but I suspect it was a joke, as if he knows that people will be trying to explain away his actions and he himself knows his own actions are quite absurd- though not unthinkable.
Reading about spree-killers is intoxicating, particularly when they're allegedly 'crazy,' because they often turn out to not seem that crazy. Their actions were out of the ordinary, yes, but what's so 'sane' about our ordinary actions? We normal people who carry out ordinary actions sweat and save for our entire lives, and 'play by the rules,' only to afford a shallow grave. Murder, or anything else at all, doesn't usually seem at all 'wrong' when you introduce mindset and surroundings into the context. After all: What is murder if words have no meaning?
Jared Lee Loughner is currently awaiting trial having been rightfully found unfit to stand trial as of yet. His strange behavior and outbursts since arrest have caused him to be diagnosed as a schizophrenic and forcibly medicated with anti-psychotic medication in order to stand trial. He is still Alive. I hope he stays that way.
January 06, 2012
Humani nihil a me alienum puto.
"Nothing that is human is alien to me."
That quote, from slave-turned-playwright Terence from the Roman Republic, is reportedly posted in some United States immigration offices(which is even more fitting than it seems right away). Since I read the quote it's been repeating itself to me at strange intervals and it's implications have even made me teary-eyed occasionally.
My country is full of promise and riddled with broken ones. It's like living in 2 countries with conflicting legacies at the same time. The phrase 'the melting pot' was originally used to refer to European immigrant marriage with immigrants from different European countries as well as European immigrant marriage with white Americans who could trace their history to the first white settlers. People spoke excitedly about this 'melting pot' and it's implications of unity and shared identity. This unity and shared identity is now called "white people" in America.
Meanwhile; Asian, South and Central American, and Eastern and Southern European(occasionally carpeted with the blanket-term 'Anarchist') immigration was widely suppressed, criminalized and ostracized. In addition, after both Abolitionists and Racists failed to convince the ex-slaves to leave the United States, Black Americans were treated as second or third-class citizens while Southern Reconstruction was abandoned. Like usual, the stated American ideal deviated from the actual American practices. Even through the great depression and the second world war white America held on to it's conflicting and strange ideals of Racism and Equality. [Or...Seperate but Equal, if you like]
The civil rights battles of the 1950's and 1960's were spectacularly glorious contrasted on that kind of background. Righteous speeches and writing of Equality and American pride were broadcast and published. No one, except an expert, even cares about what the reactionaries had to say in those days today. It was then, and still is to this day, officially and widely considered 'uncool' to be a racist in America. Some radical blog-posters might even consider racism Treason today.
Institutional racism was outlawed(eventually). Discrimination based on color or creed in employment, housing, and public services was outlawed. Immigration restrictions were made to be and still are essentially colorblind(though more strict in general) to this day. What followed this great leap forward was 2 decades of very pitiful and face-palm-worthy hemming and hawing in the 80s & 90s.
Remember the phrase "African-American"? What the fuck was that? It's only one example in the kind of pointless moralist intellectual 'battles' and 'victories' that occurred during this masturbatory dead-ball era. 'Political correctness' was correctly identified(albeit for different reasons) by conservatives as being the biggest evil facing America. 'Liberals,' on the other hand, fought countless meaningless battles to make society post-racial, post-gender, post-disability, post-sexual-preference, post...
Then 9/11 happened & it changed everything. It didn't change everything in the way they told you it did- it changed everything because the response to it reintroduced and exemplified the United States' dual nature when we started our genocide(of mostly Muslims) in the middle east while trying to justify it to the world by our (new found) adherence to upholding human rights and our (new found) "anti-extremism." This repulsive and intoxicating nature of the United States kept Americans arguing in the right direction until the election of Barrack Obama as president.
I know what those Obama voters were thinking. They were thinking that the election of the first black president would symbolically(& even literally!) make a statement for equality and against xenophobic war-mongering. They thought we could repent, they thought they could erase and forget the George W. Bush years, and by symbolic extension the whole of America's ugly history.
I still have some perversely patriotic & selfish hope that the United States can find salvation somewhere in the future. My hope is in the immigrants. This isn't some sort of self-hating white American thing; as I still consider myself an immigrant. My hope is that when the Hispanic, Refugee, Black, White, and Native American population interbreed and share culture in the coming decades that some new kind of real melting pot will breed a more compassionate American. My hope is that members of the perpetual underclass will all find opportunity and asylum in my country because of their shared experiences of injustice, rise up, & demand what's theirs.
Then hopefully, American foreign policy will miraculously follow suit. But I don't think it's going to happen.
January 01, 2012
"I've dabbled in pacifism."
Being against war takes on many forms. A person could feel that war is immoral, because of religious commandments against killing, or an innate feeling. One could be anti-war because they feel a large-scale war can't be justified; though they may not be against killing or violence. One could be against war because of the havoc it reeks on the human population and the human psyche. One could be against current wars or past wars simply because 'they don't work' or 'they don't make sense.' One could simply abhor and be sickened by all violence.
'Pacifist' has a funny ring to it. In both its sound and etymology it sounds more passive than pacifists usually are - in fact, most people who self-identify as against-war are fairly engaged and informed, and many become activists. Someone who is anti-war but is not an activist is just as good for the cause as a dead man. Of course, Activism can take on many forms as well, from simply trying to convince others to take up your position through speaking or writing- to taking up arms for the cause. Waging War on War.
There- some strange empty space exists.
Malcolm X, famous for his oratory and activism and his lifelong refusal of non-violent philosophy, sent this telegram to American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell in 1965 while he was conducting his "Hate Bus" counter-civil-rights protest:
"I promise maximum physical retaliation from those of us who are not hand-cuffed by the disarming philosophy of nonviolence."
That's quite a sentence, and fills in the empty space well. To call the philosophy of nonviolence 'disarming' is quite damning. And it makes me wonder, if those who're against war are serious... shouldn't they be willing to take up arms against the militaries who wage war? Most who might call themselves pacifists would see a contradiction here; taking up arms to take lives(and risk ones own life) for the cause of ending the senseless taking of lives in war would be, in itself- senseless.
I, not disarmed by the philosophy of nonviolence, see some gray area. The Ford Hood shooting is an interesting case. Ignorantly labeled a 'terrorist act' by a couple of pundits and elected officials, though rightfully not being persecuted as one by the military; it actually appears to be an interesting mix of anti-war violence and Jihad(Only in America, am I right?.)
I'm surprised by how deep the line in the sand has been drawn by anti-war groups. Direct Action in the name of anti-war activism is considered righteous... but the moment anyone picks up a gun they're labelled a terrorist. Speaking for myself, I would find the use of violence to be justified to end war, though I'm not going to be the change I want to see in the world, because I'm a coward.
The yet-unseen instance of Anti-war activists taking up arms against the military would certainly help to paint the picture that War is eternal. Which begs the question; is war the perpetual state of humanity? Or is it something that humanity is addicted to?
I'm more inclined to believe that War is something humanity is addicted to, and having less and less of it will make it appear more atrocious and help to ween us off of it. "War is a force that gives us meaning," Living War journalist Chris Hedges writes, "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." In which case, War could best be ended by refusing to indulge in it...
And of course the best method of refusing to indulge in war is housed within the almost entirely murdered labor movement. The Industrial Workers of the World, the only explicitly anti-war Union, suggests a very simply solution- One Big Union. Imagine if the unionized truckers refused to move the weapons, the unionized pilots refused to fly to the country, and the unionized soldiers refused to pick up their arms. Unfortunately, that would only be an option if I could re-write history for the last 101 years, since only 11.9% of workers in the United States are unionized today- and certainly not with such a radical Union.
I would love to believe peace and the end to war is inevitable. But I don't think it is.