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.
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