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via PSA. May 3:
The Question of Violence
Some of the questions seem to be: Was it violent? Was it moral? Why aren’t the people victimizing those windows explaining themselves?
i. There is more than one way to communicate.
ii. Listen; investigate.
iii. It is and may always be a matter of who has the most material resources: a potential burden.
iv. This is why I do not want to repeat an entire litany of enclosure, slavery, betrayal, murder/suicide, rape, colonization, incarceration, et al., under the premise of explanation.
It’s true that many people understand violence under certain conditions: economic, domestic, systematic; it doesn’t have to be a moment of acting on someone. What is vandalism? What is violence?
vandalism: n. deliberately mischievous or malicious destruction or damage of property.
Okay then, what next?
“First, violence is the name of the general principle by which objects are transformed through their relationship to other objects. Second, (and as a result of the first) violence is both the precondition to politics and the premise upon which it rests.
Why? In the representational field, ‘identity’ is the name given to the absolute correspondence between an object and the concept by which it is denoted. In contrast, violence is the name of the process by which objects are transformed so that they no longer correspond to the concepts to which they had previously been tied (as when ‘architecture’ is magically rematerialized as ‘property’ the minute you set it on fire). Or, in another variation, violence marks the moment when an object maintains its conceptual integrity–it’s self-sameness, it’s identity, at the expense of another object seeking to do the same. By reducing violence to it’s basic ontological premise, it becomes clear that neither being nor becoming is possible without it. The pressing question, therefore, is not whether or not to engage in violence. Instead, it is to decide what we ought to become.“
–Black Bloc, White Riot, AK Thompson
I’m fond of both. Let’s keep them.
So, by this tiny working praxis, let’s say that the Seattle May Day protestors in black were violent through the method of vandalism. By common insurrectionary logic, not only did people acting in the mele change the conceptual integrity of the windows, they engaged in a kind of public philosophical discourse that is continually revisited: Who owns the right to enact violence?
Let us consider the set up of the joke: Sgt. Gracey is given the mic to discuss some of the items that were confiscated on May 1st as well as some of the things he saw. He then holds up a red piece of cloth attached to a black piece of wood that looks like a stake. The delivery: “It could be used to poke somebody in the eye.” He must remember that bit of comedic advice about redundancy, because he tells the same joke over and over again; he’s sweating, grasping at straws to insist on a threat level that is laughable. By comparison this is a man wearing a gun, a taser, pepperspray, and a nightstick. The pack of riot officers that were in the streets had ample body armor and the ol’ Sarge is making a big deal out of one shield made from a traffic barrel.
The headlines yell, “Violence arrives, dressed in black,” and in another picture I see a cop in a black uniform pressing a huge stick against someone’s head, naked to concrete, who allegedly pushed back against the police when they started punching people.
Why are the police working with the media so hard to “other” the anarchist, whom they cannot distinguish from a black bloc? Why is it so hard to believe that the very people who want to tear down the infrastructures of capital live in the city they detest? That the people willing to put their safety on the line only act while shrouded in black in order to delegitimize their anger? “The anarchist” becomes: young, privileged, white, male, straight, naive, tethered to a moment they are the most visible as a force.
Right, yes, another redundant joke that’s quite serious: to criminalize dissent. But how do you make a criminal or a terrorist? Is it just by policing notions of “good ideology” and freedom? The task is to make the average citizen contemptuous at the notion that not everyone is giving up or living in quiet desperation, to pit this liberal abstract against another abstract. What they fail to place is that there is no such thing as the average citizen. Most people seem scared to look at the world around them critically because the amount of work that would be required when confronted with such a monstrosity is overwhelming, or they earnestly believe in the lie of the American Dream because life without it ends in a kind of abject poverty they do not have the skills or social resources to tackle.
Common themes emerge: demonize bloc’ers “hypocrisy,” call them stupid, spread intentional, fabricated assumptions about their intent and their background. By doing so lends a hand to the justification of the State’s monopoly on violence. The police are brave heroes. People in bloc are cowardly scum.
“The oppressed are always in a state of legitimate defence and are fully justified in rising without waiting to be actually fired on; and we are fully aware of the fact that attack is often the best means of defence.”
– Errico Malatesta
There is this thing called the cycle of violence, and it presents itself in a non-linear version of the following:
1) Tension Building
- Abuser shows anger/may destroy physical objects in front of survivor
- Will test survivors boundaries in order to make them feel panicked
- “Breakdown” of communication
- Survivor may describe a feeling of “constantly walking on eggshells” or “feeling crazy”
2) An Incident
3) Making-Up OR the “Flowers and Candy Phase”
- Abuser will apologize and promise “incidents” will never happen again
- Abuser will shower survivor with gifts and favors they did not ask for
- Abuser will minimize their own behavior and blame the survivor, or lead them to believe that if the survivor changes their behavior it would stop happening
- In which everything feels normal and the survivor second guesses their own perception of the abuse
Sometimes in these cycles there is retaliation: the survivor will escalate or physically harm the abuser because they can’t take the tension, because they’re tired of feeling crazy, because of nuanced reasons I cannot fully express on behalf of each individual who chooses to do so. You could call it violence, and I would also call it recompense. In a snapshot of the situation in which the abuser is most often charming and charismatic, the survivor tends to look pathological. The psychological effects of the psychic and bodily violence enacted on them can change how they interact with the world, and it is easy to pick apart their survival and defensive mechanisms in order to blame them. Often they are intentionally isolated in these relationships and made dependent on their abuser for emotional and financial well being.
The failure of this analogy is that sometimes people can escape domestic violence. The terror enacted upon the rest of the world by the West ensures that this is not a possibility for us.
Let’s pit a few slashed tires and broken windows against the economic, environmental, and psychic devastation being wrought by the State and Corporate apparatuses, just for fun. The 1%ers, or the top 10%ers, or the top 20%ers, are never going to see the kind of blood shed that people getting their cities and villages bombed will, or, even on U.S. soil, their land stolen: this, so their mountains will be mined and their water poisoned. This, for the continual pillaging of resources and the systematic death of an infinite number of people.
I do not want to minimize anyone’s terror that a group of people in bloc decided that their luxury SUV would make a good target, or that the media was physically attacked by people in the bloc because they notoriously hand over evidence used to incarcerate people, but I will say: I don’t care about it taken out of this larger context.
The joke that is still not funny is: you and I are not going to continue to be able to live this way without intense resource wars, and the State wants to convince you that your anger is illegitimate. That people have it worse elsewhere. That’s not to be denied, but that’s besides the point. I don’t want those kinds of flowers and candy.
Do you feel it? The desperate need to be excited constantly, to put on a customer service approved personality not just on the job, but on the street, with your family (chosen or not), to never reveal the depth of your despair when trying to envision the future because you’re not sure you have one. To forcefully remove yourself from the pathologized personality they’ve created for people who know there are an infinite number of other ways to live but don’t have the language for it yet.
It is a survival mechanism: this manic denial, constantly trying to find what is Good. When that becomes a shallow image, when there is nothing underneath it, what then?
They will say that property destruction “fundamentally changes nothing.” Most people understand that politics as we know it has never fundamentally changed in it’s thirst for domination: power is dynamic and complex; we can’t pin it down to a board to identify it’s scientific composition. This is why you will not find a short, comprehensive list of grievances. The same threats and name calling against people fighting for their total freedom have been used for the last 100 years. Fortunately our memories are not as short as their tempers.
To be complicit in this white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchal, system is violent, regardless of whether it’s in front of your face, on your street, or across an ocean. To go through the same tired channels of change that never comes is nothing short of the delusional optimism so constantly forced down our throats.
So, then, perhaps the question to be considered is not whether breaking windows is violent or not. Perhaps the question is, how do we use our violence to choose what we can become?
“Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde
We were born in a poor time
each other’s hunger
sharing our crusts
the bread became enemy.
Now we raise our children
to respect themselves
as well as each other.
Now you have made loneliness
holy and useful
and no longer needed
your light shines very brightly
but I want you
your darkness also
and beyond fear.”