Skip to content

On Power As We Know It, In It’s Natural Habitat: The Western World

March 24, 2011

[No, this isn’t the post promised about democracy. That will come… eventually.]

THIS PROBABLY ISN’T a proper Anarchist critique, but I don’t care. I’m my own person and come by these views honestly. The following was conceived in the comment section on this JRB post On Intervention.

I don’t think of Western power as something that we can solicit. It’s something to cope with, an element in the ecosystem in which we survive. Like the wind. Sometimes a nice cool breeze is all you need on a hot Summer day to take the edge off. But wind is unpredictable! Most of the time it’s out there being a pain in the ass, trollin’, blowing your paper plate off the picnic table, messing with your hair, slowing you down on your bike ride. And with alarming frequency, if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’ll tear through and suck the roof off every house in the neighborhood.

Just as Western power isn’t something we solicit, it’s also not something we can really foreclose to anyone else. My criticism of the Libyan situation is its violence. I don’t believe that any of the three violent actors (i.e. the Colonel, the rebel leaders, nor Western power,) are honestly acting with the interests of everyday Libyan people at heart.

Reflecting on my own principles, the largest part of my idea of ethics is simply: persevere! By that measure I should be happy for the nonviolent Libyan who has been bought some time by a US cruise missile strike against Gadhafi’s troops. Sure there is dissonance here, but is it inconsistent or hypocritical to both feel sympathetic to that person while abhorring the violence of the situation?

Western power says, “Look! An incredibly violent and regrettable situation!” And “BOMB ‘EM!!!!” is the first and best answer? Really? Is that as far as your imagination will carry you? I mean, there are literally (literally, Joe Biden!) an infinite number of things, short of launching missiles, the powerful could do to help if only they were concerned with the interests of people.

That’s not how Western power operates. No matter how good a cool ocean breeze can sometimes feel, the wind don’t know how to do anything but blow.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Jack Crow permalink
    March 24, 2011 8:32 AM

    I fail to identify a single person discussing that power in honest and even stark terms who actually has the ability to foreclose upon it to anyone else.

    And that IS the thing.

    • March 24, 2011 8:44 AM

      yes. Kucinich’s plane ride tells us everything there is to know about that. a parable for our time.

  2. March 24, 2011 8:56 AM

    When I read that comment over at JRB’s, my first thought was that it should be a post of its own. This pretty much nails the problem of advocating for the use of western power on behalf of someone else, or even more absurdly, advocating for the use of western force while acting as if it somehow represents the will of “the Libyan people.” I tried to make a similar point over at Sartwell’s, in the post you linked to in your previous post on this topic, when somebody quoted Orwell to the effect that sometimes, in order to survive, you have to fight to defend yourself. What does the French/British/US raining missiles down on Libya have to do with the Libyan people defending themselves against Qadaffi? I’d say, pretty obviously nothing.

    • March 24, 2011 9:46 AM

      thanks Joe.

      Sartwell’s line of argument has been really disappointing. almost reminiscent of Albright’s famous question of Powell, “What’s the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can’t use it?” [sigh]

  3. March 24, 2011 11:53 AM

    I don’t believe that any of the three violent actors (i.e. the Colonel, the rebel leaders, nor Western power,) are honestly acting with the interests of everyday Libyan people at heart.

    Generically I agree. Specifically I say “maybe.” I don’t know enough about Libya or Libyans to know whether there aren’t some among “rebel” factions who don’t honestly believe they need to defend themselves with violence.

    In any case: it’s their struggle, not ours. I don’t want Libyans coming to the USA to help me with my struggles against Obama/Biden — and especially not if they intend to “help” me by telling me what I need/want, or by doing whatever they want regardless of my needs or wants.

    I think the latter case is exemplified by Obama’s “intervention” in Libya. And I think that the “humanitarian” apologists are failing to see that exemplar… for whatever reason. Maybe they’re so empathetic they can’t be logically consistent. Maybe they’re just unclear on how logical consistency works. Or maybe they’re dilettantes who write well but think less well.

    Perhaps finally some of them, they’re frauds, through and through. It’s not like the Toobz lacks astroturfers. Tony Podesta swings moneybags like JP Morgan.

    • March 24, 2011 12:50 PM

      i agree with the quibble about my phrasing. i was characterizing the factions, to borrow a phrase from an anonymous commenter on another page, “in a brainless and uninformed way,” admittedly. i really don’t know. maybe there IS a force for good in this scenario.

      nope. still can square that with US lobbing missiles into the mix. :-(

  4. March 24, 2011 2:36 PM

    The Medium Lobster has some thoughts on the Humanitarians of the Year at Fafblog!

  5. March 27, 2011 7:27 PM

    re-posting a comment of my own over at ladypoverty, where JRB has been clarifying his position. the two quotes are excerpts from his responses:

    Let me give you the most likely example of something which animates my concern in this regard: Someone with family in Libya reads this blog, and takes away from it some conclusion about what anarchism is all about as it relates to the people they love most.

    What I have argued is that no one should be eager to announce a position either way without at least trying to evaluate the relevant evidence. Naturally, anarchism requires a lot if the determination is going to be in the affirmative; but this does not obviate a process of evaluation which accepts all evidence — certainly not if you presume to hold a firm position.

    these two quotes satisfy the qualms i had. thanks, JRB, for sticking with this.

    i think the approach is useful for evaluating the effects of an exercise of Western military power. though my standard for looking favorably on its violence is still, i’m afraid, impossibly high.

    • Jack Crow permalink
      March 27, 2011 11:41 PM

      Personally, it’s a suspect argument. That was a whole lot of trouble to eventually come out and type, “I don’t want to offend one person so I’m going to pretend that my anarchism means its opposite.”

      He spent a whole lot of time investing in cruise missile justifications, coyly at that – for what? To round out with this?

      Stinks to high hell.

      • March 28, 2011 7:00 AM

        yeah, not sure why he played his cards so close to the chest for all of those days. he’s always seemed well meaning in the past so i’m inclined to give JRB the benefit of the doubt. and i’ve never thought of him as a strict anarchist. more of someone who takes a serious interest in, and is open to what anarchism offers/explains. that said, i do feel where you’re coming from, Jack, on the advancement of humanitarian cruise missile tropes. stinks.

  6. Jack Crow permalink
    March 28, 2011 7:58 AM


    JRB belongs to the IWW. I’m pretty sure the Wobblies are as American anarchist as you can get without actually being Emma Goldman.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: