The Tyranny of the Majority:
If you ever found yourself in a vastly outnumbered minority, and the majority voted that you had to give up something as necessary to your life as water and air, would you comply? When it comes down to it, does anyone really believe it makes sense to accept the authority of a group simply on the grounds that they outnumber everyone else? We accept majority rule because we do not believe it will threaten us – and those it does threaten are already silenced before anyone can hear their misgivings.
Three wolves and six goats are discussing what to have for dinner. One courageous goat makes an impassioned case: “We should put it to a vote!” The other goats fear for his life, but surprisingly, the wolves acquiesce. But when everyone is preparing to vote, the wolves take three of the goats aside.
“Vote with us to make the other three goats dinner,” they threaten. “Otherwise, vote or no vote, we’ll eat you.”
The other three goats are shocked by the outcome of the election: a majority, including their comrades, has voted for them to be killed and eaten. They protest in outrage and terror, but the goat who first suggested the vote rebukes them: “Be thankful you live in a democracy! At least we got to have a say in this!”
–From THE PARTY’S OVER: BEYOND POLITICS, BEYOND DEMOCRACY
So, I’ve discovered this Web site: CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective (http://www.crimethinc.com). They have some blog posts on the G-20 protests…and most interestingly, a non-protest that was treated as a violent protest by the police and resulted in more than a hundred arrests (including a great many who weren’t doing any protesting) and many injured. (State Repression at the G20 Protests) From this I started looking over the site. It’s an anarchists’ site, filled with info and publications geared toward helping people find the anarchist within and fight the system.
This is what’s struck me as interesting: Their reason for existing, their criticism of the system, their complaints of capitalism and democracy, I completely agree with–and I’ll explain why in a moment. But their explanation of their remedy, their idea of anarchy, I’m having trouble with. (Note, that anarchy does not mean violence or chaos in the sense of abuse of others, harming people. It simply means no government, no rule of imposed law, no masters.)
Ironically, these anarchists have, from what I can see, I great disdain for socialism, communism, any -ism apparently derived from Marxism. I say “ironic” because their entire criticism of the current state of capitalism and authoritarian democracy comes straight from Marxist criticism, 101. Take for example this page from the book Days of War, Night of Love:
(page image link: “How Does Capitalism Work“)
This is capitalist criticism straight from Marx’s Kapital (not verbatim, of course). Everything this anarchist site decries about the current state of capitalist economy, culture, and the police state used to protect the hegemony and the owners of capital, is Marxism stripped of the Marxist lingo (like “hegemony”). There’s nothing about their critique of capitalism I don’t agree with (my being a Marxist). However, and this is where things get uncomfortable, their ideas of overcoming the system I don’t know if I can support. Well, let me clarify…
At the core, I consider myself an anarcho-socialist. I too believe that the best path for humanity, for human advancement, equality, justice, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the complete lack of government and forced adherence to someone else’s majority rule. However, I also believe that married to that must be a social contract of mutual cooperation, shared resources, publicly owned and operated resources, manufacture, distribution…capital. This is different from anarcho-libertarianism, or Objectivism (vis-à-vis Ayn Rand) which believes that in addition to lack of any forced rules or regulations, private ownership is valued above all. That humans are selfish and greedy by nature, and that we should live to acquire as much for ourselves as we can and help others only so much as we can gain from it ourselves. Pretty much ethically and morally bankrupt, in my opinion.
As I read through the CrimethInc site, most of what they believe (and what they purport anarchists believe) matches up with my anarcho-socialism. They support cooperation, mutually beneficial action, gift economy. Hey, great! But they also support a sort of worship of anti-social behavior, crime, vandalism, activities that make me cringe (e.g.: shoplifting). Although, all the anti-social behavior they support, is all geared toward the state, corporate America, the power structure, and not against other individuals and their personal rights. OK…that sounds good… I guess.
So, I’m left to question: Is my cringing because I’ve lived my entire life controlled by the hegemony, brainwashed into subservience to conformity with passivity, being a good little worker bee who keeps his head down and continues to make profit for his capitalist lords without making any trouble for them? Well, yes I have. We all have. That’s the entire goal of hegemony, be it capitalist or feudal or slave economy. Those in control use whatever sociological means available to control the other 99% of the people for their own benefit. This requires blind obedience to their laws. It requires complete acquiescence to state-supporting meek mildness.
When I remember these things, which I’ve been studying and contemplating for some years now, it reinforces my belief in the anarcho-half of my anarcho-socialism. So, why does the action of subversiveness bug me?
Since President Dubbya started taking away civil liberties after 9/11, I started studying libertarianism and even anarchy–but always from a level of personal rights and liberties. It wasn’t until I started grad school and my first professor, Dr. Burling, introduced me to Marxism that I learned that Bush, civil liberty removal, the corporate ownership of the government, wars, all of it, are a result of the economic foundation: capitalism. It is essentially the base on which everything is a superstructure built extending from it. Everything is about the material question: Who uses it and what is it for? With that in mind it’s easy (easier) to understand power, wealth, who benefits from it most, and how they exploit those without it. Dr. Burling helped change my entire outlook on culture, laws, economy, politics, etc.
But when asked why doesn’t he live outside the corruption and control of capitalism, his response was, in essence: you can’t escape it, it affects everyone, might as well not make your own life unnecessarily difficult fighting it. And this is a guy who, in addition to being an unashamed Marxist, was also a musician with a focus on rock (meaning nothing exactly, except an implication that he has a rebellious spirit).
And it also makes me think of vaunted Marxist cultural critic and major figure of the Frankfurt School, Theodor Adorno, who it is said that during the Paris riots of 1968 when asked by his students why he didn’t participate or support the student protests, he replied “How can you actively fight for something before you fully understand it?”
There is “theory,” and there is “praxis.” Praxis is putting theory into action. Is it that these Marxist critics and theorists I look up to, who happen to be intellectuals and educators, don’t know how to put their words into action? Do they not have the courage of their convictions? Or are all they are about is understanding and criticizing the current system, but not about doing anything about it? When asked what good is knowing how culture develops, knowing how the hegemony controls and influences our decisions and our wants? They have replied that it helps you understand why you make the decisions that you do, why you choose what products or how you sell your labor. But is that enough?
Frederic Jameson (Marxist cultural critic) has developed a concept of applying “cognitive mapping” to cultural criticism, which is a theory of mapping the contradictions in capitalism, where it affects our lives, and finding and exploiting the holes in it. And it’s a step toward praxis, which gives people like me hope of doing something to make a difference. To help turn the tables on capitalist exploitation and help the “seeds of rebellion” grow. But…what is that rebellion? What are we Marxist intellectuals waiting for? We who study culture, and politics, and socio-economics? Dr. Burling had cryptically referred to the biopic about Che Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries, in which a young, pre-revolutionary Guevara is asked about how to spark the South American peoples into revolution against their oppressors, he responds that you can’t have a revolution without guns.
But then, Dr. Burling often referred to other ways to create such drastic upheaval as to eliminate capitalism, without revolution and war, and used as examples Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and 40, 50, 60 trilogy. Stories in which the only way to evolve from capitalism to egalitarian socialism is either to colonize another planet, or deal with Earth-shaking environmental disaster. So, do we just wait for change?
Back to my point: Are these anarchists doing what we intellectuals fear to do, but are a natural and proper result of the same Marxist-rooted criticism of capitalism we both share? Am I a hypocrite for complaining about and railing about capitalism and its ills and evils, but I continue to lust after home ownership and getting a better job and obeying all the laws of the land so I don’t draw the attention of the state’s police apparatus?
Is it because I have a family to care for? I don’t risk rocking the boat, and so I participate, if grudgingly, in my own commodification and the orgy of consumerism? Of course, this is exactly what the hegemony counts on, this conservativism that we’re all supposed to grow into. We’re allowed to rebel a little as a youth, test the bounds of social acceptance, and then “settle down.” Grow a family, buy a home, get a job you can’t leave because you can’t live without the insurance benefits. You become a productive worker bee who has too much to lose by questioning authority, bucking the system, making waves. Be a quiet little worker bee, and you get to go (somewhat) unnoticed by the system that exploits you and uses you and extorts you, giving little in return except an addiction to mass consumption.
Are anarchists heroes I fear to admire? Or are they the hemp clothing wearing, organic food growing, dumpster diving neo-hippies that I can easily dismiss and marginalize, exactly as I’ve just done, because they threaten the social stability and conditioning I’ve internalized because I grew up brainwashed to become a quiet and non-trouble-making worker bee? Is that why when asked, I say I’m an anarcho-socialist “in theory” but “in practice” I’m a democratic-socialist? Isn’t that just a way for me to marginalize myself?
I don’t know. But this Fighting For Our Lives: An Anarchist Primer is at the very least thought-provoking reading.