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What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure to Imaginate

December 9, 2010

HERE ARE THE THINGS that have ricocheting around in Ol’ Montag’s head today, starting with an untitled Jack Crow post about the demise of persuasion:

I don’t think I believe in the efficacy of persuasive reasoning anymore, in part because the continent spanning ideological superstructure in which I lived is gone. I “grew up” when there were clearly marked boundaries (the loss of the which I do not lament) between the world which assumed a right to my loyalties and the world against which I had to least nominally express disagreement. Us good, Soviets bad. Political and ideological persuasion tended to work within this superstructure, so that persons who disagreed fundamentally about how to be us still had an anchor in their expected agreement to not be them. The stable adversarial environment provided those within it with a fulcrum for their arguments, whether or not the were aware of it. [Jack Crow]

Which puts me in mind of a notion I’ve toyed with, that small affinity-based groups (families, churches, clubs) might be successful at forming voluntary institutions guided less by tyranny of the majority than by some shared ethic. Capable of a genuine solidarity.

When evaluating power relations as they exist in real life through this lens, where hundreds of millions of people heedlessly submit to massive established coercive institutions, the malcontent, or out-of-bounds thinker, will experience a certain amount of angst. I can almost conceive of an equitable power structure for a self-governing affinity-based commune with a two-digit population, but I got no answer for the United States. Just an overwhelmed sigh of, “It is what it is.”

It may not even be proper to call this view “anarchism.” But, for me, anarchy isn’t a goal to be worked towards anyway, it’s a way of thinking, a lens to peer through. I’m not married to the label. I’m only here to consider and evaluate, to illustrate, to diagnose, to testify.

The concluding paragraph of a recent JR Boyd post suggests an approach to wrapping one’s anarchic tendencies around establishments like the American state:

While some anarchists extrapolate from the preference for less concentrated power a vision of a world where concentrations would not exist, to set this as the standard by which every institution must be judged may in itself deny the democratic preferences of communities amongst which such judgments will naturally vary. These are not simple questions, and it is for this reason that evaluating the legitimacy of social arrangements is best undertaken on a case-by-case basis. [JRB]

Here we are with our perversely extreme views of coercive power, trapped within a state where democratic preferences, if they can honestly be called that, favor a vast criminal justice system. Tell someone you’re an anarchist and the first reaction is most likely some form of, “but we need the police!”

It seems worthwhile to ask, “If we ‘need the police,’ do we necessarily need the police we have?” Because even within statist parameters it’s incredibly easy to illustrate the lack of political imagination. For example: the Russell passage quoted at the end of this post.

This is the same as pointing out that even by statists’ own rules, punishing Bradley Manning for crimes, (not wrongs!) he has yet to stand trial for is perverse. Which is not to say the “objection to the treatment of Bradley Manning is that the government hasn’t gone through the proper channels in punishing him,” mushr00m!

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