Endgame Premises Archives: 13: Those in power rule by force

Those in power rule by force, and the sooner we break
ourselves of illusions to the contrary, the sooner we can at least begin to make
reasonable decisions about whether, when, and how we are going to resist.

Visit the global 13: Those in power rule by force archives for posts from all DGR sites.

The Modern COINTELPRO and How To Fight It

Editor’s Note: this first appeared on Dissident Voice, June 7th, 2014

Crowdsourcing Repression

Let’s Be Honest

Despite the seeming popularity of environmental and social justice work in the modern world, we’re not winning. We’re losing. In fact, we’re losing really badly.1

crowd_DV

Why is that?

One reason is because few popular strategies pose real threats to power. That’s not an accident: the rules of social change have been clearly defined by those in power. Either you play by the rules — rules which don’t allow you to win — or you break free of the rules, and face the consequences.

Play By The Rules, or Raise the Stakes

We all know the rules: you’re allowed to vote for either one capitalist or the other, vote with your dollars,2 write petitions (you really should sign this one), you can shop at local businesses, you can eat organic food (if you can afford it), and you can do all kinds of great things!

But if you step outside the box of acceptable activism, you’re asking for trouble. At best, you’ll face ridicule and scorn. But the real heat is reserved for movements that pose real threats. Whether broad-based people’s movements like Occupy or more focused revolutionary threats like the Black Panthers, threats to power break the most important rule they want us to follow: never fight back.

State Tactic #1: Overt Repression

Fighting back – indeed, any real resistance – is sacrilegious to those in power. Their response is often straightforward: a dozen cops slam you to the ground and cuff you; “less-lethal” weapons cover the advance of a line of riot police; the sharp report of SWAT team’s bullets.

This type of overt repression is brutally effective. When faced with jail, serious injury, or even death, most don’t have the courage and the strategy to go on. As we have seen, state violence can behead a movement.

That was the case with Fred Hampton, an up-and-coming Black Panther Party leader in Chicago, Illinois. A talented organizer, Hampton made significant gains for the Panthers in Chicago, working to end violence between rival (mostly black) gangs and building revolutionary alliances with groups like the Young Lords, Students for A Democratic Society, and the Brown Berets.  He also contributed to community education work and to the Panther’s free breakfast program.

These activities could not be tolerated by those in power: they knew that a charismatic, strategic thinker like Hampton could be the nucleus of revolution. So, they decided to murder him. On December 4, 1969, an FBI snitch slipped Hampton a sedative. Chicago police and FBI agents entered his home, shot and killed the guard, Mark Clark, and entered Hampton’s room. The cops fired two shots directly into his head as he lay unconscious. He was 21 years old.

The Occupy Movement, at its height, posed a threat to power by making the realities of mass anti-capitalism and discontent visible, and by providing physical focal points for the dissent that spawns revolution. While Occupy had some issues (such as the difficulties of consensus decision-making and generally poor responses to abusive behavior inside camps), the movement was dynamic. It claimed physical space for the messy work of revolution to happen, and represented the locus of a true threat.

The response was predictable: the media assaulted relentlessly, businesses led efforts to change local laws and outlaw encampments, and riot police were called in as the knockout punch. It was a devastating flurry of blows, and the movement hasn’t yet recovered. (Although many of the lessons learned at Occupy may serve us well in the coming years).

State Tactic #2: Covert Repression

Violent repression is glaring. It gets covered in the news, and you can see it on the streets. But other times, repression isn’t so obvious. A recent leaked document from the private security and corporate intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (better known as STRATFOR) contained this illustrative statement:

Most authorities will tolerate a certain amount of activism because it is seen as a way to let off steam. They appease the protesters by letting them think that they are making a difference — as long as the protesters do not pose a threat. But as protest movements grow, authorities will act more aggressively to neutralize the organizers.

The key word is neutralize: it represents a more sophisticated strategy on behalf of power, a set of tactics more insidious than brute force.

Most of us have probably heard about COINTELPRO (shorthand for Counter-Intelligence Program), a covert FBI program officially underway between 1956 and 1971. COINTELPRO mainly targeted socialists and communists, black nationalists, Civil Rights groups, the American Indian Movement, and much of the left, from Quakers to Weathermen. The FBI used four main techniques to undermine, discredit, eliminate, and otherwise neutralize these threats:

  1.      Force
  2.      Harassment (subpoenas, false accusations, discriminatory enforcement of taxation, etc.)
  3.      Infiltration
  4.      Psychological warfare

How can we become resilient to these threats? Perhaps the first step is to understand them; to internalize the consequences of the tactics being used against us.

The JTRIG Leaks

On February 24 of this year, Glenn Greenwald released an article detailing a secret National Security Agency (NSA) unit called JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). The article, which sheds new light on the tactics used to suppress social movements and threats to power, is worth quoting at length:

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.

It shouldn’t come as a total surprise that those in power use lies, manipulation, false information, fake identities, and “manipulation [of] online discourse” to further their ends. They always fight dirty; it’s what they do. They never fight fair, they can never allow truth to be shown, because to do so would expose their own weakness.

As shown by COINTELPRO, this type of operation is highly effective at neutralizing threats. Snitchjacketing and divisive movement tactics were used widely during the COINTELPRO era, and encouraged activists to break ties, create rivalries, and vie against one another. In many cases, it even led to violence: prominent, good hearted activists would be labeled “snitches” by agents, and would be isolated, shunned, and even killed.

As a friend put it,

“By encouraging horizontal, crowdsourced repression, activists’ focus is shifted safely away from those in power and towards each other.”

A page from a top-secret document prepared by the JTRIG unit.

Are Activists Targeted?

Some organizations have ideas so revolutionary, so incendiary that they pose a threat all by themselves, simply by existing.

Deep Green Resistance is such a group. If these tactics are being used to neutralize activist groups, then Deep Green Resistance (DGR) seems a prime target. Proudly Luddite in character, DGR believes that the industrial way of life, the soil-destroying process known as agriculture, and the social system called civilization are literally killing the planet – at the rate of 200 species extinctions, 30 million trees, and 100 million tons of CO2 every day. With numbers like that, time is short.

With two key pieces of knowledge, the DGR strategy comes into focus. The first is that global industrial civilization will inevitably collapse under the weight of its own destructiveness. The second is that this collapse isn’t coming soon enough: life on Earth could very well be doomed by the time this collapse stops the accelerating destruction.

With these understandings, DGR advocates for a strategy to pro-actively dismantle industrial civilization. The strategy (which acknowledges that resisters will face fierce opposition from governments, corporations, and those who cling to modern life) calls for direct attacks on critical infrastructure – electric grids, fossil fuel networks, communications, etc. – with one goal: to shut down the global industrial economy. Permanently.

The strategy of direct attacks on infrastructure has been used in countless wars, uprisings, and conflicts because it is extremely effective. The same strategies are taught at military schools and training camps around the planet, and it is for this reason – an effective strategy – that DGR poses a real and serious threat to power. Of course, writing openly about such activities and then taking part in them would be stupid, which is why DGR is an “aboveground” organization. Our work is limited to building a culture of resistance (which is no easy feat: our work spans the range of activities from non-violent resistance to educational campaigns, community organizing, and building alternative systems) and spreading the strategies that we advocate in the hope that clandestine networks can pull off the dirty work in secret.

When I speak to veterans – hard-jawed ex-special forces guys – they say the strategy is good. It’s a real threat.

Threat Met With Backlash

That threat has not gone unanswered. In a somewhat unsurprising twist, given the information we’ve gone over already, DGR’s greatest challenges have not come from the government, at least not overtly. Instead, the biggest challenges have come from radical environmentalists and social justice activists: from those we would expect to be among our supporters and allies. The focal point of the controversy? Gender.

The conflict has a long history and deserves a few hours of discussion and reading, but here is the short version: DGR holds that female-only spaces should be reserved for females.  This offends many who believe that male-born individuals (who later come to identify as female) should be allowed access to these spaces. It’s all part of a broader, ongoing disagreement between gender abolitionists (like DGR and others), who see gender as the cultural lattice of women’s oppression, and those who view gender as an identity that is beyond criticism.

(To learn more about the conflict, view Rachel Ivey’s presentation entitled The End of Gender.)

Due to this position, our organization has been blacklisted from speaking at various venues, our organizers have received threats of violence (often sexualized), and our participation in a number of struggles has been blocked – at the expense of the cause at hand.

A Case Study in JTRIG?

Much of the anti-DGR rhetoric has been extraordinary, not for passionate political disagreement, but for misinformation and what appears to be COINTELPRO-style divisiveness. Are we the victims of a JTRIG-style smear campaign?

On February 23 of this year, the Earth First! Newswire released an anonymous article attacking Deep Green Resistance. The main subject of the article was the ongoing debate over gender issues.

(Although perhaps debate is the wrong word in this case: Earth First! Newswire has published half a dozen vitriolic pieces attacking DGR. They seem to have an obsession. On the other hand, DGR has never used organizational resources or platforms to publish a negative comment about Earth First.)

Here are a few of the fabrications contained in the February 23 article:

  • “Keith and Jensen [DGR co-founders] do not recognize the validity of traditionally marginalized struggles [like] Black Power.” (a wild, false claim, given the long and public history of anti-racist work and solidarity by those two.3 )
  • DGR members have “outed” transgender people by posting naked photos of them. (Completely false not to mention obscene and offensive.4 )
  • DGR is “allied with” gay-to-straight conversion camps. (The lies get ever more absurd. DGR has countless lesbian and gay members, including founding members. Lesbian and gay members are involved at every level of decision making in DGR.)
  • DGR requires “genital checks” for new members. (I can’t believe we even have to address this – it’s a surreal accusation. It is, of course, a lie.)

If these claims weren’t so serious, they would be laughable. But lies like this are no laughing matter.

Here is one illustrative list of tactics from the JTRIG leaks.

Screenshot3

“Crowdsourced Repression”

The timing of these events – the Earth First! Newswire article followed the very next day by Greenwald’s JTRIG article – is ironic. Of course, it made me think: are we the victims of a JTRIG-style character assassination? Or am I drawing conclusions where there are none to be drawn?

The campaigns against DGR do have many of the hallmarks of COINTELPRO-style repression. They are built on a foundation of political differences magnified into divisive hatred through paranoia and the spread of hearsay. In the 1960s and 70s, techniques that seem similar were used to create divisions within groups like the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.

Ultimately, these movements tore themselves apart in violence and suspicion; the powerful were laughing all the way to the bank. In many cases, we don’t even know if the FBI was involved; what is certain is that the FBI-style tactics – snitchjacketing, rumormongering, the sowing of division and hatred – were being adopted by paranoid activists.

In some ways, the truth doesn’t really matter. Whether these activists were working for the state or not, they served to destroy movements, alliances, and friendships that took decades or generations to build.

I’ll be clear: I don’t mean to claim that the “Letter Collective” (as the anonymous authors of the February 23 article named themselves) are agents of the state. To do so would be a violation of security culture.5 Modern activists seem to have largely forgotten the lessons of COINTELPRO, and I am wary of forgetting those lessons myself. Snitchjacketing is a bad behavior, and we should have no tolerance for it unless there is substantive evidence.

But members of the “Letter Collective”, at the very least, have violated security culture by spreading rumors and unsubstantiated claims of serious misconduct. Good security culture practices preclude this behavior. In the face of JTRIG and the modern surveillance and repression state, careful validation of serious claims is the least that activists can do. Didn’t we learn this lesson in the 60s?

Divide and Conquer

By itself, verifying rumors before spreading them is a poor defense against the repression modern activists face. Instead, we must challenge divisiveness itself: one of the biggest threats to our success.

The 2011 STRATFOR leak included information about corporate strategies to neutralize activist and community movements. Essentially, STRATFOR advocates dividing movements into four character types: radicals, idealists, realists, and opportunists. These camps can then be dealt with summarily:

First, isolate the radicals. Second, “cultivate” the idealists and “educate” them into becoming realists. And finally, co-opt the realists into agreeing with industry.6

This is how movements are neutralized: those who should be allies are divided, infighting becomes rampant, and paranoia rules the roost. To combat these strategies, we must understand the danger they represent and how to counter them.

Fight Repression With Solidarity

We all want to win. We want to end capitalism, reverse ecological collapse, and build a culture in which social justice is fundamental. Many of us have different specific goals or strategies, but we must find similarities, overlaps, and areas where we can work together.

As Bob Ages, commenting on STRATFOR’s divide-and-conquer tactics, put it in a recent piece:

“Our response has to be the opposite; bridging divides, foster mutual understanding and solidarity, stand together come hell or high water.”

Many people across the left share 80% or more of their politics, and yet constructive criticism and mature discussion of disagreements is the exception, not the rule. We need more thoughtful behavior. Don’t spread rumors, don’t tear down other activists, and don’t forget who the real enemy is. Don’t waste your time fighting those who should be your allies – even if they are only partial allies. Let’s disagree, and let our disagreements help us learn more from each other and build alliances.

In the end, that’s our only chance of winning: together.

  1. For Example:
    U.S. Inequality is at its highest point since 1928.
    One in three women is beaten, raped, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
    Obama has overseen more deportations — more than 2 million — than any president in history.
    Two hundred species are driven extinct every day. []
  2. The Koch Brothers get 40,600,000,000 votes. []
  3. The authors of the article come to this conclusion due to a statement by Lierre Keith that we should “abolish race” — apparently, they take this established and central theory of anti-racist organizing and theory to be instead a desire to erase culture – an absurd comparison. []
  4. Any DGR member who did such a thing would be removed, as this would be a violation of the Code of Conduct. []
  5. Security culture is a set of practices and attitudes designed to increase the safety of political communities. These guidelines are created based on recent and historic state repression, and help to reduce paranoia and increase effectiveness. Learn more about security culture on the DGR website. []
  6. Opportunists, who are generally involved in organizing for prestige and power, don’t even merit mention in this neutralization strategy. They should be excluded from our political organizing out of hand. []

Max Wilbert lives in the Pacific Northwest, where he works to support indigenous resistance to industrial extraction projects, anti-racist initiatives, and radical feminist struggles as part of Deep Green Resistance. He makes his living as a writer and photographer, and can be contacted at max@maxwilbert.org. Read other articles by Max.

(Not) Making Sense of Ferguson

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

Let’s be clear: The decision not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown Jr. was inevitable.

I do not write this to undermine, in any way, the justifiable rage being expressed around the country. I write this in the hopes that we can accurately diagnose the cancer characterized by the symptoms we have seen – symptoms like the death of another young black man at the hands of a white policeman, the failure of a grand jury to indict that policeman, and a mainstream media determined to paint acts taken in retaliation as somehow too extreme. Once we have accurately diagnosed the cancer, I want us to locate the tumors and remove them.

In the days leading up to the grand jury’s decision, I felt a certain amount of unease in the general message from the left. It seemed to me that the message went like this, “The Ferguson grand jury better indict or else.” This message, while completely justified, suffered from a lack of analysis and was the product of a misguided faith in the so-called criminal justice system to act in the best interest of the people it purports to protect.

I am encouraged by the displays of anger being displayed across the country, but I want us to be clear about what it is we want. The consensus seems to be that we want justice for Brown’s murder. But, what does that look like? Does it simply mean throwing Darren Wilson in prison? Does it mean a public statement from the Ferguson police department that they were wrong? Or, does it mean we convict an entire system for producing the murders of thousands of Michael Browns and sentence that system to the death it so clearly deserves?

BBC News/Getty Images

BBC News/Getty Images

In order to understand why the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson was inevitable, we have to dig to the very roots of our society. The philosopher Neil Evernden, author of the brilliant work The Natural Alien, explained that unquestioned assumptions are the real authorities of any culture. One of the unquestioned assumptions prevailing in our society is that police officers are here to protect and serve us.

It might be true that police officers get kittens out of trees, direct traffic, and sometimes even investigate crime, but is this why they exist? Is this their main function in society or do police officers fill a more sinister role?

One way to answer this is to trace the formation of police departments in American history. Noted police historian and Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska – Omaha Samuel Walker identifies slave patrols, emerging in the early 1700s, as the first publicly funded police forces in the American South. North Dakota State University’s Carol A. Archbold writes in Policing: A Text/Reader that these patrols – or paddy-rollers as they were called – were “created with the specific intent of maintaining control over slave populations.” Archbold describes the three major actions conducted by these slave patrols as searches of slave quarters, keeping slaves off roadways, and disassembling meetings organized by groups of slaves. From the outset, police forces have existed to enforce an unjust order.

Another way to examine the true role of police forces is to ask yourself: What would happen if you were starving, noticed the large quantity of uneaten food piled at Wal-Mart, and decided to eat some of it? The police, of course, would arrive to take you to jail. The police would protect Wal-Mart’s right to stockpile food over your right not to starve. On your way to jail, the police officer will probably tell you that the law is the law, stealing is a crime, and if the officer has a heart, he (I prefer my villains to carry the male pronoun) will apologetically explain that it feels unfair to him, too, but he is after all, just doing his job. In court, the judge will shrug and tell you this is a nation of laws, not of men (never women, of course) and enforce the abstraction of property rights over the reality of hunger.

Before I go any deeper, I know I must address one of the most common objections to my line of reasoning. The objection goes like this: “We understand, Will, that the police often do bad things, but what about enforcing rape laws? If there were no police, who would protect women from sexual assault?”

The problem with assuming that the police are actually protecting women from rape is that they aren’t. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that only 10 out of every 100 rapes will ever lead to an arrest and only 3 of these rapes will lead to a rapist spending even one night in prison. (https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates). Even worse than this is a national epidemic where police officers are being convicted at an alarming rate for on-duty sexual assaults. Rape victims are calling the police for protection only to be raped when the police show up.

***

My shovel has not reached the roots of our society yet.

Derrick Jensen gets to the heart of the matter in his work Endgame. He writes, “Our way of living – industrial civilization – is based on and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.” Civilization, for Jensen, is a culture that leads to and emerges from the growth of cities. And, cities are people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life. Civilization eventually strips a land base of its ability to support life, so the civilized resort to violence when people in the next watershed over will not or cannot provide the civilized with the resources they require. This is easily seen in the atrocities the American government is willing to commit to gain access to a resource it requires: fossil fuels.

Jensen supports his statement that our way of life is based on persistent and widespread violence writing, “Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.” The grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson is an example of how violence done by one higher on the hierarchy – a white police officer – to one lower on the hierarchy – a young black man – is fully rationalized.

Jensen goes on, “The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below…If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.” These words illuminate exactly what happened to Brown. Brown was accused of taking a $48 box of cigarillos from a convenience store and was killed because of it. Brown was lower on the hierarchy than the convenience store, and his life proved to be less valuable than a $48 box of cigarillos.

This is the system we live in. Michelle Alexander writes in her game-changing book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, “The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.” I do not, however, believe that the so-called criminal justice system has changed. Change implies this system was designed for justice. It was not. We do not live in a broken system. We live in a system that was designed this way. The question is not, “How do we fix this?” The question is, “How do we destroy this system that is murdering so many?”

***

Finally, I do not need to prove that any one is intentionally driving the current system to perform the horrors it is to support my claim that this system needs to be destroyed. I do not need to prove that Wilson held hatred in his heart when he released a flurry of shots into Brown’s body.

As a public defender in Kenosha, WI, I saw first hand how terrorization by police officers benefited those in power. On November 9, 2004, Kenosha Police Albert Gonzalez shot 21-year old Michael E. Bell through the temple while two other officers were restraining Bell in the front yard of Bell’s home while his sister and mother watched on. No one knows why the police followed Bell to his home, but Bell was killed and Gonzalez was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Kenosha is not a large county and many of my clients knew Bell or the details of this story. On more than one occasion, I asked clients why they ran from the police when they were doing nothing wrong and were answered with incredulous stares and questions like, “Do you know what they did to Mike Bell?” I do not need to prove any police officer is personally hateful because the police operate to instill fear in the public.

Those of us engaged in resistance often look around, see the mess the world is in, and wonder why more are not joining us. Why are more of us not fighting back? The truth is most people are horrified of the police, of soldiers, of the government, of men – and I can absolutely understand why. The system will not correct the behavior of police officers like Wilson and Gonzalez in any meaningful way because it cannot. The system depends on the fear Wilson has instilled in all of us.

If we are going to achieve justice in the wake of Ferguson’s failure to indict Wilson, we must understand why this failure was inevitable, we must overcome our fear, and we must undermine an inherently hateful system.  I can’t help but feel the tinge of a wish that we would respond with the same cold, icily logical, workmanlike demeanor of the system producing Brown’s. We can see that jury’s eyes glazing over to the truth. Let our eyes glaze over to anything other than effectively stopping this shit. I cannot help but feel some shame that we have not escalated our responses to truly stop this madness.

 

Deep Green Resistance – Liberal vs Radical Part 3 of 3

Don’t miss Liberal vs Radical part one and part two.

(Video captions available in English, Russian, Portuguese.  Contact us if you would like to translate this or other Deep Green Resistance videos to another language.)

Video Transcript:

Once people realize that bad things are happening most of us are called to action. I would say these are the four main categories of response.

Response Categories

The take home point here, if you remember nothing else from this, is that all four of these categories can be either liberal or radical.

None of them are inherently liberal or radical. It depends how we use them. They all have strategic strengths, they all have strategic failings. So it depends what we want to do with them.

This is the realization to which radicalism brings you. My two favorite people again.

Liberal vs Radical quotes

Social change requires force. Why? Because it’s not a mistake out of which the powerful can be educated. Don’t misunderstand me that when I say “force”, that does not have to equal violence. Whether or not to wage your struggle using violence or nonviolence is a decision that comes way later, way down the pike.

Nonviolence is a very elegant political technique if it is understood and used properly. I don’t think that it is being used properly on the left right now but this is not a division between violence and nonviolence. It is only to recognize that power is not a mistake, I mean, not unless you’re a liberal.

Again, if you want to be a liberal, great, if that’s the framework that works for you, it’s your decision. I mean really, some of my best friends, right?

[Lierre Keith and audience laugh]

Back to our categories.

The first one is legal, for obvious reasons. A lot of activist groups really focus on making legal changes to the social power. And, to quote Catharine MacKinnon, “Law organizes power”, so it makes sense that a lot of us will sort of gravitate to that. The trick is we got to do that as radicals and not as liberals.

Basic question: Does this initiative, whatever it is, does it redefine power? Not just who’s at the top of the pyramid, but does it actually redefine power? Does it take power away from the powerful and redistribute it such that we all have some control over the material conditions? That would make it a radical action. But a lot of people, they give up on the legal stuff, or it doesn’t appeal for whatever reason.

Direct action, also tried and true. You can totally bypass the legislative arena and get a lot done. Usually that’s some kind of civil disobedience. It can be letter writing, petitioning, some kind of pressure but it really kicks into gear when you hit them economically.

Great example is the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was not a legal campaign, it was “we’re going to hit them economically”, and they did. They brought the bus company to their knees and made them stop segregating the buses. So it can be very effective.

Your basic insurrection would be another good example of direct action. That covers a lot of ground from very liberal things to very successful movements on up to really profound change.

Number three is withdrawal. Now this is a tricky one. The main difference between withdrawal as a successful strategy and withdrawal as a failed strategy is whether that withdrawal is seen as adequate in itself or whether it’s seen as necessary, connected to a larger political struggle. And that distinction hinges exactly on the difference between liberal and radical. Because issues of identification and loyalty are crucial to resistance movements but they’re not enough because your emotional state is not actually what’s going to create political change.

The withdrawal has to go beyond the intellectual, beyond the emotional, beyond the psychological. It’s got to include a goal, actually winning justice by withdrawing.

Withdrawal may give solace but ultimately it will change nothing. Living in a rarefied bubble-world of the already converted is a very poor substitute for freedom and it will not save our planet.

This is Gene Sharp, who I think is marvelous, and you should go to the library, get every book he’s ever written, keep you busy for a year. He makes a very similar point. The people who he calls “utopians” I would call “withdrawalists”.

Utopians Gene Sharp

They’re often especially sensitive to the evils of the world, they crave certainty and purity, they reject the evil as firmly as possible, they don’t want to have any compromise, and they await this new world, which will come into being by either an act of God, a change in human spirit, autonomous changes in conditions, some kind of spontaneous upheaval… but all of these are beyond deliberate human control.

The most serious weakness of this response to the problem of this world is not the broad vision or the commitment of the people who believe in it. The weakness is that these believers have no effective way to reach the society of their dreams. That about sums up my youth.

[L.K. and audience laugh]

I’ve heard the phrase “secular millennialism” and that’s exactly what he’s getting at.

So the left has these vague notions that our actions will inspire others, that even more vaguely these will accumulate into some kind of meaningful social change, or kick off a spontaneous insurrection.

There’s a nonviolent version which is usually lifestyle stuff like diet. There’s the more militant actions like the Weather Underground. Those are the two poles of secular millenialism. Change will happen because it MUST or because the Great Turning narrative says it will, or because the fires of our righteous rage will make it be so.

Given that revolution is not actually inevitable, I think we would be wise to understand the basic principle of resistance. “Dislodging injustice requires”, in the words of Andrea Dworkin, “organized political resistance”.

This brings us to the next category which is spirituality.

Withdrawalists’ stance is usually based on despair but it’s an answer that relies on faith, not on strategy. Which is to say, it’s an emotional response, an emotional solution, and it’s not a material solution. This merges right into Millenarianism.

Millenarianism is any religious movement that predicts the collapse of the world order as we know it, to be replaced by this wonderful time of justice and whatnot. There are lots of examples across history of desperate people taking this up. I highly recommend reading up on this.

Much of the left has been infected by this kind of thinking. We’re going to meditate to stop global warming, we’re going to orgasm our way to peace…

If all else fails, which it will, December 2012 is coming up, right? How many of these have we lived through? I’m 46, I think I’ve lived through 4? Every 10 years there’s another one, right? It’s not going to happen.

The worst examples in history that we know of: the Xhosa Cattle Killing Cult. The Xhosa are cattle-herding people in eastern South Africa. In the 1700s there’s various colonial invasions, displacement, genocide, war, all these horrors. By 1854 there’s this terrible lung disease and a whole bunch of the cattle die so the people are just incredibly vulnerable at this point, and somebody has a vision.

A teenage girl has a vision, and the vision is, if we kill all the cattle, destroy all our food stocks, even our cooking pots, everything, then this great thing will happen. The dead are going to return, the food supplies will just spring up overnight, there’s going to be gigantic cattle that you’ve never even seen before, they’re so big, and the spirit warriors will drive the British out and we will have our land again.

This vision starts to spread, everybody starts having visions, it’s just like this mass visioning is happening everywhere.

People believe it, more people believe it, they start killing the cattle. At some point so many cattle are killed that the carrion birds can’t even keep up with it. There’s so many corpses rotting in the sun. 400,000 beasts are slaughtered by the end of this.

The first deadline comes, does anything happen? One guess… no.

And of course the unbelievers are blamed. This is always where it ends with this kind of millenialism. It’s YOUR fault ’cause you didn’t believe it. So the very last cattle have to be killed.

A few people are hanging on, “nah, I’m just going to keep this one cow for some milk”. You can’t do it. So every last cattle has to be killed.

So, what happens? Mass starvation ensues. All its attendant atrocities and horrors, people ate corpses, people ate grass, people ate their children. I mean it’s just absolute hell. The population at one point was 105,000 and it collapses to 26,000 people, a lot whom had to escape into cities ’cause they were just starving in the countryside.

150 years of imperialism could not defeat the Xhosa but 2 years of millennial fever almost did.

So, bad example.

The Boxer Rebellion is another one, just as horrible. They called themselves the Righteous Harmony Society. This was a religious society in northern China that was absolutely a response to the Opium Wars and British Imperialism. You get why people are desperate.

They did martial arts, diet and prayer and they believed they’d be given the power to fly if they did this. And absolutely, they had special garments, protection against bullets and swords. You find that theme a lot. You’re going to wear this special garment and they won’t be able to kill you.

There was going to be an army of spirit soldiers that was going to arrive to save the day and drive out the British. They never appeared. The entire thing ends in complete disaster for China. Very evil stuff. How the British responded was just appalling.

Anyway, two examples and it is really worth, I think, knowing more about this because I just see these tendencies all the time and it’s not going to end well for us either.

Divine intervention has never yet stopped a system of unjust power across the entire sweep of human history. As a political strategy it is a complete failure and we really need to get over this one.

This is not in any way to dismiss the role of spirituality in a resistance movement. Spirituality is so often the core of any culture, and it is often the cradle of the resistance movement.

A lot of people talk about the black churches as the beginning of the Civil Right Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement also, the churches play this huge role. All across the world you can find how the Tibetans and the Buddhism, how this all comes together. It gives people incredible dignity and strength, you can get yourself respect through your spiritual practice. It absolutely helps communities stay together under really brutal conditions, helps set community norms.

All that is incredibly important. My point, really, is that faith is not a political strategy.

The only miracle we’re going to get is us.

Don’t miss Liberal vs Radical part two.

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Deep Green Resistance – Liberal vs Radical Part 1 of 3

Watch part two and part three.

Video Transcript:

Two of my favorite people from history. My dad gets upset because they don’t really teach science anymore in the public schools, and this is mostly because the Right Wing can’t bear the thought of evolution. My mom gets sad ’cause they don’t really teach history anymore and my sister fairly weeps because you don’t get art anymore in the school system. But me, I’m like, ‘they just don’t teach revolution anymore in those public schools’.[audience laughs] Am I right? Right?

So this is like the basic political education that really, we all should have gotten, and really most of us didn’t. And I start here with liberals and radicals because I think this is the main division.

I think this is important because a lot of times in our friendships and our activist networks and even in our groups, and across broader movements, there are these tensions that can be really painful and profound and a lot of it really comes down to the difference between liberals and radicals. I, in the end, don’t care which side of this you decide to land on you got to figure out which, you know, which world view actually describes the world as you know it (and that’s up to you really). But it can really help to understand where these different perspectives are coming from because then when you have these conflicts suddenly you go, ‘right, that’s liberal and I’m radical, and that’s why we’re never going to meet in the middle’ because these are profound differences, politically. Doesn’t mean we can’t work together; lots of coalitions need to happen.

I mean, I am not trying to demonize anybody here but these ARE different positions that people can take across the spectrum. I would say the main division between liberals and radicals is individualism.

Liberals believe that society is made up of individuals. That’s the basic social unit. In fact individualism is so sacrosanct that in this view, to be identified as a member of a group is seen as an affront; that’s the insult.

Totally different for radicals over on the other side of the chart. Society is not made up of individual people, it’s made up of groups of people. In Marx’s original version this was class, it was economic class. This is the debt that all radicals owe Karl Marx. It doesn’t matter if you are a Marxist or not, he figured this out. It’s groups of people and some groups have power over other groups. That’s what society is made of.

In the radicals’ understanding being a member of a group is not an insult. In fact it’s the first primary step you have to take coming to a radical consciousness and then ultimately having effective political action, you have to identify as a member of that group. You’ve got to make common cause with the people who share your condition. That’s how political change happens. This is both an active and a critical embrace of that group identity.

We radicals get accused all the time of creating this kind of ‘victim identity’, but that’s not what’s going on. We are more than what they’ve done to us, and we do have agency. But we do have to recognize that there is power in the world and we’re on the receiving end.

The other big division is between the nature of social reality. Liberalism is what’s called idealist. Social reality, for them, is made up of attitudes, of ideas; it’s a mental event. And therefore social change happens through education. Through changing people’s minds.

Materialism, in contrast, over on the radical side: society is organized by concrete systems of power, not by thoughts and ideas. By material institutions. And the solution to oppression is to take those systems apart brick by brick.

The liberals will say, ‘we have to educate, educate, educate’, and the radicals will say, ‘actually we have to stop them’.

Political movements need education, this is an educational event, here we are. And you need active proselytizing, the oppressed need mechanisms to understand political oppression, consciousness raising. This is all really profoundly important.

But for radicals alone that does not change social reality. Because the world is not an internal state. It’s not a mental state. The point of education is to build the movement that can take down those oppressive structures and bring about some kind of justice.

If you remove power from the equation oppression looks either natural or voluntary.

If you’re not going to see that people are formed by these social conditions how else are you going to explain subordination? Well either those people aren’t quite human, so they’re naturally different than us — that’s why they’re subordinate, or they’re somehow volunteering to be subordinate. Those are the options that you’re left with.

For instance race and gender are seen as biological. These are supposed to be physically real. Well they’re not, they’re politically real.

It’s brutal, vicious subordination that creates those things. But it’s ideology, and it is the ideology of the powerful that says this is biological. They make that claim that this is biological because how are you going to fight God or Nature or 4 million years of evolution? Well you’re not.

There are physical differences between people who are from northern Europe and people who live at the equator, just like there are differences between males and females but those differences only matter because power needs them to. It is power that creates the ideology and it’s a corrupt and brutal arrangement of power.

These are unjust systems that we are going to have to dismantle, and these are social categories we are going to have to destroy.

Just like naturalism operates in the service of power, so does volunteerism. If you are not going to go the biological route, all you are left with is volunteerism as a concept.

This is the thing that liberals do not understand. With power removed from the equation, if it looks voluntary you are going to erase the fact that it’s social subordination.

So here is Florynce Kennedy, ‘without the consent of the oppressed.’ 90% of any oppression is consensual. That’s what it does. It does not mean it’s our fault, it does not mean we are responsible, it doesn’t mean it will somehow crumble if we withdraw our consent. All it means is that the powerful — the capitalists, the white supremacists, the masculinists, whoever — they can’t stand over vast numbers of people 24/7 with guns.  Luckily, for them, depressingly for the rest of us, they don’t have to.

Liberals-vs-Radicals

Watch part two and part three.

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Free Will – Derrick Jensen

Derrick Jensen

It is almost impossible to talk about free will without talking about insanity. Most of us are by now, of course, almost completely insane.

Force is an expensive and inefficient way to exploit. This is as true on the grand social level as it is on the familial. From the perspective of those in power, it’s more desirable to get those you exploit to participate in their own victimization.

One way this can happen is through mystification, where an exploiter convinces victims that the violence is their fault. The abusive father, for example, might tell his children he would not have hit them had they sufficiently cleaned the dishes. This serves the function of causing the children to focus on cleaning the dishes instead of attending to the inexcusable violence of their father. Perhaps more importantly, it convinces them that if they can only be good enough at reading and responding to their abuser’s everchanging wants, they might not get beaten. The question as it relates to free will becomes: if they clean the dishes obsessively and perform every other obeisance, all without him beating them anymore, are they then doing these of their own free will?

We can ask similar questions about the actions of black people facing the threat of lynching. If you are a poor black farmer, having seen your neighbor hanging long-necked from a bridge, if you give up your crops or farmland to white farmers, are you doing so of your own free will?

In 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama, four Ku Klux Klan members kidnapped Willie Edwards, Jr., beat him, took him to a bridge, and forced him at gunpoint to jump. Faced with the choice between certainly being shot and possibly surviving the fall, did Willie Edwards, Jr., jump of his own free will?

Note that we’ve slid across some sort of boundary here, from victims convinced of their own culpability to the elimination of choice such that it actually becomes in the best interests of the victims to choose the lesser of two very great evils. They are now not merely convinced they should participate in their own victimization; they are forced to.

There are extreme political ramifications to this reduction in choice. One of the most brilliant things the Nazis did was to coopt rationality, and to coopt hope. They created circumstances such that at every step of the way it was in the Jews’ rational best interests not to resist. Would you rather get an ID card, or resist and possibly get killed? Would you rather take a journey on a cattle car, or resist and possibly get killed? At each step, choices have been reduced such that the victims participate “of their own free will.”

I experienced the process not long ago, with consequences much less severe. An airport security agent ran her fingers beneath the waistband of my pants. I asked what she was doing.

She responded, “This is for your safety and the safety of others.”

“You putting your hand inside my pants doesn’t make anyone safer,” I said.

“Flying is a privilege, not a right. If you don’t like it, stay home.”

I began to disagree, and she motioned to a nearby cop. I had a plane to catch, and so I had a choice: I could make a scene and possibly get arrested, or I could get the hell out of Austin, Texas. I got the hell out of Austin, Texas.

But to choose, to really exercise free will, you must also have the opportunity to not choose. Willie Edwards Jr did not have the opportunity to not choose. Nor, for the most part, do most of us. Would you like to vote Republican or Democrat? (Note that even not voting does not protect you from the outcomes of the vote.) Would you like to work for ibm or Microsoft? Try leaving the wage economy and becoming a hunter-gatherer. Try, as a community, not allowing those in power to have access to – that is, exploit – your landbase, and then the rest of us can take bets on how long before the tanks roll in, and how long until it’s you hanging long-necked from a bridge.

Before we move to the terminal stage of this process there’s one other condition we need to talk about. One of the most common and necessary steps taken by an abuser in order to control a victim is to monopolize the victim’s perception. That is one reason abusers cut off victims from family and friends: so that in time victims will have no standard other than the abusers’ by which to judge the abusers’ worldviews and behavior. Behavior that would otherwise seem extraordinarily bizarre (How crazy is it to rape one’s own child? How crazy is it to toxify the air you breathe?) can then become in the victim’s mind (and even more sadly, heart) normalized. No outside influence must be allowed to break the spell. If the abuser is able to mediate all information that reaches the victim, the victim will no longer be able to conceptualize that there is any other way to be. At this point the abuser will have achieved more or less total control.

This is, of course, the point we have reached as a culture. Civilization has achieved a completely unprecedented and nearly perfect monopolization of our perception, at least for those of us in the industrialized world. Nearly all of our sensory input is mediated by our fellow civilized. I’m typing these words sitting in a manufactured chair staring at a manufactured computer screen, listening to the hum of a manufactured computer fan. To my left are manufactured shelves of manufactured books, written by human beings. Civilized, literate human beings, who write in English (languages, many of them indigenous, are being destroyed as quickly as all other forms of diversity, and to as disastrous an effect). To my right a window leads to the darkened outside and reflects back to me my uncombed dark hair surrounding the blur of my own face. I’m wearing mass-produced clothes, and mass-produced slippers. I do, however, have a cat on my lap. All sensory inputs save the cat originate in civilized humans, and even the cat is domesticated.

Stop. Think about it. Every sensation I have comes from one source: civilization. When you finish this paragraph, put down the magazine for a few moments, and check out your own surroundings. What can you see, hear, smell, feel, taste that does not originate in or is mediated by civilized human beings? Frogs singing on a Sounds of Nature CD don’t count.

This is all very strange. Stranger still – and extraordinarily revealing of the degree to which we’ve not only accepted this artificially imposed isolation, but have actually turned our insanity into a perceived good – is the way we’ve made a fetish and religion (and science, for that matter, and business) of attempting to define ourselves as separate from – even in opposition to – the rest of nature. Civilization isolates all of us, ideologically and physically, from the source of all life. We do not believe trees have anything to say to us, nor stars, nor coyotes, nor even our dreams. We have been convinced that the world is silent save for civilized humans.

Try this: take a moment and attempt to conceptualize nonownership of land. That is, an end, abrupt or otherwise, to the right of a few to force other people to pay for the right to actually exist on the planet (it’s called rent). Having been fully enculturated, perhaps you cannot even imagine nonownership of land, or see how the power to control access to land is maintained through a combination of social convention and force. You may, if you are a member of the police or military, or just a good citizen, kill to protect the right of land ownership, even to your own detriment. This is how it can also begin to make sense that those in power have the right to toxify the planet. If you’ve been sufficiently enculturated, you may refuse to recognize that there has ever been any other way to be, and you may, once again, oppose those who oppose this toxification. This is how we can come to believe that production is more important than human or nonhuman life.

You can list your favorite delusion.

Free will at this point becomes almost meaningless, because by now the victims participate of their own free will – having long-since lost touch with what free will might be. Indeed, they can be said to no longer have any meaningful will at all. Their will has been broken. Of course. That’s the point. Now, they are workers. They are productive members of this great and benevolent structure of civilization that brings good to all it touches. They are happy, even if this happiness requires routine chemical assistance. There is no longer any need for force, because the people have been fully metabolized into the system, have become self-regulating, self-policing.

Welcome to the end of the world.

Fortunately, however, there do still exist people – mainly the poor, people from nonindustrialized nations, and the indigenous – who still have primary connections to the physical world. And fortunately, also, the physical world still exists, and all of us can at the very least reach out to touch trees still standing in steel and concrete cages, we can see plants poking up through sidewalks, breaking cement barriers that don’t quite keep them from feeling the sun. I would hope we can learn from these plants and ourselves break through our barriers. I would hope we can see or feel our way to remembering what it means to be a free human being – we certainly must remember deep deep in our flesh and bones and organs – and to remember the joy that can come from standing on our own hind legs, from saying No! I do not know if free will can be entirely eradicated. I do know that it remains in some of us, as crazy as the system makes us all, as much as we have come to tolerate.

 

Original article by Derrick Jensen, published by Adbusters May 2003