Open Letter to David Graeber and Chris Hedges…

After watching the video interview of Chris Hedges, and reading the follow up letter by David Graeber (both below) concerning the Black Bloc occupy tactics, I wrote my own open letter.  Please share.

 Open Letter to David Graeber and Chris Hedges

Dear Distinguished Dudes,

As a member of this ‘struggle’ I cannot help but see in the debate you both articulate something fallacious from the outset, something I am going to speculate comes from being too informed by history, the result of over-education.  This is not meant to be disrespectful.  I have a deep admiration for both of you, but that admiration must be put aside in order to speak to my own vision of what is occurring.

First of all, the whole notion of ‘what works’ is not grounded in any finalized notion of the object or goal that makes efficacy of any sort possible to measure.  The diversity of tactics cannot be confused with diversity of aims, and I think that is exactly what is occurring.

But deeper than this, what we are experiencing, as the result of breaking through the veil of suppression, as we have all come out of our platonic caves to gather together in the streets…what we have found is that the problems we see on the top also face us on the bottom.  In other words, we cannot make the 1% the scapegoats for the existential issues that we have yet to find solutions for.

What made the struggle of Martin Luther King Jr. powerful was less the effect he had on power, but his insistence upon the education of the ‘victims’.  In other words, he did not so much confront power, as he gave power to the people, by giving them a moral foundation upon which all social contracts can be built.  This is a bit overstated.  We must of course confront power, but we must not forget to be empowered first by the solidarity that comes from truly noble aims, not unconscious ones.

The diversity of tactics has turned into yet another form of rampant relativistic inability to speak to aggression and domination.  And even though I agree with many of the points you make Mr. Graeber, about the technique, I think you are failing to move into the 21st century.  This new time demands something less guerilla, less nostalgic, something that arises out of an actual philosophical solidarity.

Why?  Why would I say this?  Isn’t it obvious that the 1% are engaged in a campaign of active aggression against the people, and isn’t it obvious that we need to act now, even if our actions are clumsy?

Yes.  Yes and Yes.

But, it is also time for us to assume our victory, to imagine what we will do when we shut the system down.  Do we have answers?  Do we know how to create sustainability and peace without coercion and force?  Or are we vulnerable to making heroic those people who have shown the capacity to engage in militancy?  In other words, is there something in this debate that might carry over into all future political paradigms that is directly related to the idea of force, and the relationship between moral force and physical force?

Let me speak plainly.  I don’t want to dress up like cowboys and Indians.  I don’t want to make the police my enemy.  I know who my enemy is, my enemy is further up the ideological chain, and I want to beat my enemy on the high ground, on the ground of being.  And I am afraid I have not seen us doing the work to create the superior weapon there.  Only when we articulate our vision will we have a symbol that will give our ‘diversity of tactics’ its appropriate frame.

Violence and destruction.  This is what drags us back to a state of nature.  And we cannot be afraid to state this case too strongly.  Some arguments must be made forcefully, because there are many types of destruction.  There is destruction of others.  There is destruction of self.  There is destruction through violence.  There is destruction through consumption.  There is destruction through ignorance.  And frankly, we are all guilty of most of these forms of destruction, and it is this guilt that the 1% represent when they lead.  Let’s really confront the problem.  The problem is us.  Our inability to speak to civility, to speak to our fear of intimacy, our fears of having less so that others can have more, our fears of security and past traumas, our fears of letting go of crutches and illusions.

During my times at Occupy what impressed me most was the absence of militancy.  And I am not alone.  Militancy is not a cancer.  It is a parasite.  It invades the body and creates dependency upon the rush of adrenaline, the rush of immediate power.  And perhaps this rush will sweep over our nation as we surrender to throwing rocks and tearing down the plastic storefronts…but what then?  What have we gained by this chaos?  After the dust settles, we will still have to face the question…what do we do with our violence?

The Occupy movement has to dig deep and find the courage to ask moral questions.  I grew up in a world that is terrified of that word.  It brings all polite parties to a halt.  The strength of great non-violent movements comes only out of moral roots, when somebody is able to speak to what everybody both fears, and sub-consciously desires, a new way of behaving, that eases the anxiety of being out of control.

I am not a side-lines commentator.  I have been very active in this movement.  I was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge.  I have watched my local movement alienate the intelligent and passionate members of our community because of our inability to speak to addiction issues, to inappropriate and uncivilized behavior.

I am a pacifist.  I was born this way, and I have a right to live in a world without monkeys throwing rocks at me, tear gas, predator drones, and all manner of fear-based activity.  Pacifism is the highest expression of anarchism.  And to speak to ‘what works’, if the Occupy Movement continues to dress up like terrorists, it really will alienate all those people out there who want to join, who want to unveil themselves and courageously stand on the moral high-ground.  That ground is currently being used as a staging ground for macho politics, and a chess game for intellectuals.  I have things I want to do, and I don’t want this struggle to take up my whole life, so I urge the both of you put down your history books and talk about a basic Code of Conduct that we can all agree upon, so peace loving tree-huggers like myself can proudly call themselves occupiers.

I have heard Mr. Hedges say a few times that he ‘is not a pacifist.’  I have now heard Mr. Graeber defend the rights of occupiers to choose militancy.  Implicit in all of this talk is the notion of righteousness, in the innate goodness of our struggle, and I am sympathetic to this, as I’ve shown through my participation.  However, I dare say we have become proud as a movement, and I am urging humility and introspection, instead of panic and blind acceleration.

I think the entire movement is acting against its own success.  Sublimating the awareness we’ve gained.  All over the world we are meeting locally and discovering that it is very hard to create consensus with our fellow human beings.  That is the new state of things.  We are frustrated and frightened by just how precarious a position we are in.  We have created a machine that can consume and destroy our planet, and yet we haven’t the foggiest idea of how to fucking turn it off or modulate it without causing immediate and horrifying chaos.

I propose our only answer is a moral one, the development of primary values that can be used and committed to when the inevitable collapse comes.  Only by subscribing to basic notions of self-care, compassion, moderation, honesty, transparency, generosity and kindness will we have the tools to organize, while at the same time maintaining the calm that we need as a species to remain focused.  If we believe the environmental theses we have been defending, if we believe the economic forecasts we have been looking at, then we cannot let this moral question be set aside while we passionately debate the value, or danger, of destroying a chain coffee restaurant.  We must remain attractive to peoples’ highest ideals, if we are to grow.

In the entropy of the present new leaders will emerge, and these leaders will show us a way to live in harmony with a new technological reality, and these ways will have at their center an emotional character.  Let us use the Occupy movement to begin work on this new world culture.

Many blessings,

Ken Vallario

David Graeber’s response to interview click link below:  http://nplusonemag.com/concerning-the-violent-peace-police

13 Responses to “Open Letter to David Graeber and Chris Hedges…”

  1. eric duffy says:

    1. Great letter… I’m tired of people thinking anarchism is a bunch of misguided kids wearing a black mask and throwing a brick through a window… So cheers on the anarchism-pacifism connection…

    2. The paragraph copied below, what did you mean by the second sentence? Are you pointing to a particular word or is something missing from the piece accidentally? Holla brotha…

    “The Occupy movement has to dig deep and find the courage to ask moral questions. I grew up in a world that is terrified that word. It brings all polite parties to a halt. The strength of great non-violent movements comes only out of moral roots, when somebody is able to speak to what everybody both fears, and sub-consciously desires, a new way of behaving, that eases the anxiety of being out of control…”

  2. kenvallario says:

    yeah, should have italicized that word…moral…we have to ask ‘moral’ questions…more specifically we have to propose some ‘moral’ answers…

  3. eric duffy says:

    Thanks… I think it was the lack of ‘of’ in that sentence, not the lack of italics, that threw me off… Just a thought for your letter, as it’s a great letter that should be read…

    Do you feel that the Occupy movements are being ‘led’ by reluctant leaders Ken?

  4. kenvallario says:

    Eric, i made the correction, good spot..

    could you expand on your question E.D.? i’m not quite sure what you are asking…and i want to respond well…

  5. Byron King says:

    Beautiful Ken. Just wow. I’m with you man all the way.

    This line is power:
    Pacifism is the highest expression of anarchism.

    And just damn, I feel you on this one too:
    We have created a machine that can consume and destroy our planet, and yet we haven’t the foggiest idea of how to fucking turn it off or modulate it without causing immediate and horrifying chaos.

    And this:
    I propose our only answer is a moral one, the development of primary values that can be used and committed to when the inevitable collapse comes. Only by subscribing to basic notions of self-care, compassion, moderation, honesty, transparency, generosity and kindness will we have the tools to organize, while at the same time maintaining the calm that we need as a species to remain focused.

    Let’s get to work. What do you suggest? How can the movement speak to everyone. The occupiers, the cops and the 1percent? I’m all for trying to hash out the moral argument that needs to be made.

    I think the problem is many believe that the collapse is not coming and if they do they are of the age that they believe they will be dead soon or that they will be chosen to live eternally when it does.

    We have so many reasons that we should be working towards the survival of our species but it seems that wedge social issues will keep us from realizing our potential.

    I want to learn how to survive.

    Here’s a question for you. I am scared about big pharma crashing and me not being able to get my seizure medication. I also see that as a way out because when the collapse happens it’s going to be hard for a few years or a couple of decades. Mountain or a mole hill? How many people will die with the crash of big pharma?

  6. Debra Vidali says:

    Wow! Thanks for this beautiful, courageous, deep, and clear open letter. I am sharing it with my students and networks here. I’m thinking about the different kinds of courage and clarity that are required. Different people have different kinds of courage: physical- endurance; verbal– speaking out; courage to give- compassion; courage to listen; courage to change.
    thank you!

  7. kenvallario says:

    Byron and Debra, thanks so much for the encouraging feedback.

    Thank you Debra for sharing this…and I agree there are diverse manifestations of courage, and I think once we have a shared vision, those diverse tactics will become powerful…

    to Byron, moving on with what I was saying to Debra. we have to have the courage to make this movement spiritual, about something transcendent like LOVE and/or NON-VIOLENCE…

    We cannot legislate ourselves out of this one…we must reawaken the spiritual nature of humankind, only that way can we unite to do the tedious work of organizing sustainable communities. hard work is not possible without inspiration. this is a fact, and while many in the movement use their rage as fuel, millions of people have lost their rage, and now face acute resignation. we must find a way to keep this movement fun, and that comes with a fixation on safety and softness…the macho spirit cannot take over…

    so those are my ideas, starting from the foundation…

  8. eric duffy says:

    As far as mass movements that have taken place in my lifetime, nothing has moved my soul more than the OWS movement. I’ve been brought to joyful tears by videos I’ve seen, all the raw footage I’ve consumed, Nicole’s posts from LA, my friend Sean’s posts from Chicago, your Brooklyn Bridge piece, the other reporting from your trips down to NYC OWS, and so many other D.I.Y journalists. While many in the movement were initially concerned about the mainstream media’s lack of coverage, I was excited… I thought, finally, finally people are turning away from the old sources, the old outlets, the old stories, the ‘experts’ drawing to heavily from the history books…

    Though the OWS movement’s physical tents were destroyed by a bunch of stormtroopers, a much larger psychological tent hangs overhead and remains for people of many disciplines/ideologies to stand under.

    I have wondered for too long time if I was the only one with concerns of the bigger picture, if I was the only one who believed that humanity could rise up and become co-creating participants in the evolutionary process, that their could be a group comprised of open, honest INDIVIDUALS, a group large enough to be that ‘tipping point’ that could widen the lens of mankind’s budding consciousness, finally getting it off that UNconscious autopilot loop. I am beyond happy to say that OWS crushed that feeling of political atomization I once had. The clicktivists went afk, amassed and stood up to say “fuck you” to a machine with no regard for the emotional intelligence of human beings everywhere, not just in one nation state… So many more showed up just to stand in solidarity. They may have not necessarily known all the reasons why things are the way they are, but they knew enough to understand, things do not have to be this way. They knew enough to take off the social masks that once held them back, to reveal themselves, to commune, to laugh, to cry, to fight the good fight by not fighting with one another… The OWS movement’s brilliant tactic was to camp out and not move… That’s one of the hardest things to do these days for any human being in the west as the innocence of childhood is smashed quickly by conditioning coming from so many fronts that trains us to be human goings and human doings, anything but human beings sitting down sans glowbox to become one with an involutionary and evolutionary process… And it was beautiful to see, it’s beautiful to still see as it is my hope the movement is just getting started.

    But there was still that misunderstanding, not one that I had, but one that our fellow human beings had. The ones that still tuned into the Olberman/Maher/Beck/Hannity ‘voices’ to receive filtered information on something those ‘news’ casters couldn’t possibly understand because they either believe in, or feel too invested in, the very spells they cast… It’s easy for me to say people should just turn off their televisions, take a cold hard look at reality and that alone will help them to understand the grievance being aired by OWS… But it took me eight years of a Siddharthic retreat from culture to have a profound moment of clarity, to finally get that much of what we’re experiencing in the negative sense is a crisis of consciousness more than anything else. Before the parties, the politricks, ‘the man,’ the machine, the institutions, there is us struggling to find a way to relate to reality, to find meaning. And finding meaning is made even harder when going through dogmatic motions, partaking in outdated mythological or cultural rituals that no longer resonate, when occupying worthless occupations that provide little to no purpose for one’s life and that often pits us all against one another other…

    And I feel that many of the people in the OWS movement are on the same page with me… Willing to forgive ourselves and each other, willing to let go of our follies of the past, willing to let go of the social contracts politricksters signed behind closed doors and finally make our own….

    A collective “my bad yo…” A dismissal of history, letting go of broken promises and imaginary lines of time… Transcending the notion of lines in the sand, nation states, turning away from banners on a flag pole, opting to instead pledge allegiance to love, to the rise of the creative human spirit, truly being tolerant of peaceful worshipers, of other’s world views, of fostering more locally driven forms of organization that arise from an organic free association… It’s a ‘radical’ page to be on, though it doesn’t feel ‘radical’ to me… In fact, it feels rational, which is funny as the self proclaimed stewards of rationality/reason/pragmatism often scoff at the ideas put forth by myself and other dreamers.

    What I meant by reluctant leaders: I wonder if they’re reluctant in the sense that if they’re on that same ‘radical’ page I’m on, they quite possibly would have absolutely no desire to ‘lead,’ they probably wouldn’t ever even consider themselves a leader. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. My favorite leaders have been more like sages I suppose, that have helped me to understand that it is I who must take responsibility and bare the burdens of life, of ‘the struggle…’ So if I feel that way, I wonder what that means for the various people leading Occupy groups throughout the world… I wonder if they feel like ‘reluctant leaders’…

    And now here I stand, a dude who once looked to leaders for help/hope/the answer… And after having his heart broken too many times by the politricksters, I became a dude who once swore them all off, who grew tired and weary of anyone stepping up to lead a crowd….. Now a dude, wishing more would step up to communicate with clarity the concerns expressed by the ‘radical’ wing of the OWS movement, to make sure a small group of brick tossers, arming themselves for a ‘coming insurrection’ because they’ve romanticized a steam punk apocalypse do not became the black masked faceless face of such a wonderful movement… Hoping that this movement doesn’t turn into the classic divide and conquer, ego driven, us vs them mentality, that 1% scapegoat that you mention… Hoping this movement engages all fronts on that higher plane of which you speak, a plane that we can only point to hoping they’ll come along for the ride… a plane that is so hard to ‘lead’ people to… And I hope this movement can be led by those with the skillful means to communicate with clarity the ‘radical’ ideas fostered by a group of individuals with imaginations that imagine no nations–in peace… holla…

  9. kenvallario says:

    bravo E.D. – a wonderful song of hope…

    yes, reluctance is in action…but not just reluctance. i do think that many of those in organizational roles in this movement are genuinely over-educated, they get swept up in their roles, and see everything through the lens of history as distinct from the lenses of their own eyes in the present.

    this is why i am critical when Graeber accuses Hedges of making comments that ‘can get people killed’, because i don’t think activists should start blaming one another for the crimes committed by the cops, even though at the same time I think we ought to talk critically about our actions…it is a fine line, i know…but i sense in Graeber’s letter something unconscious, something emotional…sublimated…and i relate to it, i do…i am not saying this to be smarmy or dominating…more a desire to speak respectfully to him, to say ‘hold up bro, don’t get too excited by these confrontations, even though they represent years of frustration, remember to stay sober and think deeply, and be open to the education this offers for you’…

    and by all this, i mean, that we need a miracle…the Zucottie ‘Event’ was a kind of crystalizing miracle of sorts…and now we need another one, but one that takes place as an insight…an insight that will give us all something to mobilize around.

    if we surrender to the efficacy of tossing bottles and street battles, then we also surrender to minor political results. Occupy Wallstreet has already become aged…as the time cycles get crunched faster and faster…we must become ultra-dynamic, and be capable of throwing away the very thing that brought us to tears just a few months ago…it is horrible, i admit it…but something else is needed now, and it has to do with emotion…i don’t know the exact answer, but i know that much.

    love and respect to my fellow human beings who have the courage to face this constant barrage of change…i’m barely holding on myself…HOLLA

  10. eric duffy says:

    Thanks K, when it comes to social change, I’m a hopeFUL romantic…

    “love and respect to my fellow human beings who have the courage to face this constant barrage of change…i’m barely holding on myself…”

    “So say we all…”

  11. Debra Vidali says:

    Yes, to courage, emotion, compassion, clarity, listening — and mentoring
    and to new wordsmiths . .

    thanks Eric and Ken

    if you want – jump over to Re-Generation Initiative on FB, and see what may be there for this conversation to continue. And props to David G, my former grad schl colleague at UChicago. These are trying and testy times. (with traps) Hang in there!

  12. S. Ferguson says:

    Ken, you might want to check out Global Nonviolent Action Database on FB and Quakers Occupy also on FB. Friends operate by consensus and are also pacifists. Nothing less has been my truth since grade school. Dealing with your (my) own violence is the hardest! I still have trouble commiting to a life led by my ideals because 1. my father is a physicist for the military machine and he was our family’s bread and butter 2. I am female and my ideals do not matter 3. Everything around me seems to tells me I’m wrong – hell, just today my son is screaming and crying in the car because I won’t buy him a toy gun and I feel myself about to give in. (As an aside I don’t restrict his engagement in violent play, it seems necessary somehow for him to work through, although they have done so at his school which I find curious)
    But – we live in an area that is starting to embrace fundamental values..producing the food we eat, many small and independently owned businesses
    This is very good.
    What is clear to me, especially as I age is I can’t do it alone and I may just be heading back to Quaker Meeting soon as I’ve yet to experience it ‘right’ anywhere else.

  13. kenvallario says:

    hey, S. Ferguson,

    thanks for the suggestions…i will check those out.

    the challenges you mention are interesting precisely because they coincide with my growing beliefs about how violence and gender are deeply related, but not in the usual sense.

    what i mean, speaking to point #2…i believe that we are experiencing a long process of female liberation. i am a male feminist. i believe genders are tendencies that are often body-bound, but not always. many many male artists are gifted with strong female energy, as I have been my whole life, working mostly in the last 10 years to come into a more balanced understanding of my masculinity.

    my reasons for saying all of this is that I believe the female energy has been oppressed for thousands of years, since we abandoned tribal life…and this feminine spirit has not only been repressed in women’s bodies, it has also been repressed in men, leading to over-masculinated cultures, where men have been kept from engaging in the nurturing and intimacy that small communities depend upon. the ‘male’ type has caused a great deal of suffering to young men too.

    so, this imbalance leads to the kind of internal rage, that makes violence more likely. so, there’s this aspect of your comment that i want to support. i believe the next transformative moral leader will be a woman.

    but, i also want to point to something that has been difficult for pacifists. pacifism has often suffered from trying to be more than a ban on murder, on killing…and this leads to a pacifist world view, where pacifists try to keep themselves from engaging in conflict of any kind. i am not that kind of pacifist. in fact, i believe the ban on violence allows us to have the kind of passionate conflicts out of which real learning and understanding can take place. as long as we limit ourselves, and have an absolute boundary on physical force, we are then free to engage in the kind of passion and emotion that can be both therapeutic and transformative…but, as it is, we are frightened of emotion, because of the lack of boundary…does that make sense?

    i sometimes play violent video games, i sometimes watch movies with violence in them…i certainly wish there were more non-violent items of culture out there, but i have come to terms with keeping pacifism simple, so that i can stand strong in my beliefs against the creation of weapons and their use. outside of that, i think non-violence as relational theory is suspect, and i have seen it used to manipulate.

    all my best, and thanks for participating…
    ken