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Should Anarchists Vote?

Should anarchists vote?

It’s a perennial issue, and this year with a man who seems to be a fascist strongman advocating for war crimes and repeatedly demonstrating contempt for freedom running for office it seems especially crucial to decide on. While this year has demonstrated that we can be handed the two candidates with the lowest approval ratings in Presidential history even in a contentious primary, it also has demonstrated how much electoral politics can scare up the ugliest parts of society when they are done badly.

I’m surprised at how poorly my position on the issue is represented. It’s astonishing to see people like Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, and others so rarely acknowledged in many of those screeds against voting.

The fact is that anarchists have a duty to vote.

Why?

There’s lots of ways of approaching the issue, but the fact is that the other side is essentially bankrupt, based on an absurd ethical metaphysics that they don’t believe.

Participating In A Process With No Legitimacy Is Morally Benign

An anarchist who says that we shouldn’t vote might say, “The system is fundamentally corrupt. Why participate in it?”

The counter-argument is, “The system is fundamentally corrupt. Use everything you can to stop it”.

What we have is not just. The state isn’t just. Corporations aren’t just. Free markets in a specific context might be just (though I believe participatory planning would be more just), but that specific context has never once existed. Racism isn’t just. Sexism and patriarchy isn’t just. Homophobia and heteronormativity isn’t just. Human history has never once been just.

 Because I view the system as having no legitimacy, participating in it says nothing. I do not concede that the system has any legitimacy. I’m simply attempting to minimize harm and maximize positive outcomes within the context of an illegitimate system I did not create and refuse to acknowledge.

If someone forces you into a crooked game of poker, it’s not sensible to refuse to raise. One could make an argument for leaving the game, except doing so doesn’t end the game that others are still being forced to play, even if you can somehow avoid the punishment for failing to play.

Similarly, not voting isn’t not engaging with the system. It’s simply refusing to use one tactic to engage with the system, and in fact it’s refusing to use one of the best tactics and the most noble outlets the system provides. Think of how many people who might booze it up, attend rock concerts, and work in crappy wage slave jobs who will insist that they shouldn’t vote. Even a lot of anarcho-capitalists, who believe in the free market, are perfectly willing to make a business even in an environment they admit is destructive crony capitalism, and yet won’t vote.

Someone who committed to being a complete hermit and tried to disengage from our society would have some argument to be made. Of course, the realities of global warming, nuclear war, terrorism, and other issues ultimately are not going to discriminate or accommodate someone who wants to “check out”. More importantly, not everyone has the ability to “check out” of society. It is moral cowardice to flee while others are being oppressed.

Once we’ve accepted that we will be living in society, voting is one of the absolute lowest-cost mechanisms to create social change that is positive. It’s the height of hypocrisy to insist that the system is corrupt, pay one’s condo fees or one’s taxes or set up a business or drive one’s car on highways and public roads, and not vote.

The only two arguments left for the anti-voting crowd is “It confers apparent legitimacy to the system, no matter your intent” and “It’s an endorsement of the system”. Both of these arguments are fatally flawed.

As for the first: It is the case that any politician or pundit who wants to defend the system will say, “Hey, these people voted! They participated! They consented to what they got!” If, say, Hillary Rodham Clinton is far worse of a nightmare as President than we anticipated, propagandists will say that anarchists in swing states voted for her and therefore have no right to complain.

But this argument is stupid on its face. No one ever said that democracy ends after election day. If your candidate does something you don’t like, you have every right to complain, and call them, and write them letters, and protest against them, and ultimately deprive them of a vote.

More importantly, propagandists will take any choice you make to reinforce the system, because that is their job. Anarchists break windows in Seattle? They are thugs and vandals! Anarchists protest peacefully? Well, things can’t be that bad if you’re not breaking windows! Trying to anticipate how your political opponents will spin what you do is madness.

And in fact a lack of participation is extremely conducive to anti-anarchist arguments. When people refuse to vote, those who are against greater freedom, justice and participation can say, “You’re giving people who don’t care and don’t take the freedoms they have seriously more freedoms. They already can vote and they’re not doing it. They’re apathetic and poorly informed”. If 100% of Americans voted, and publicly expressed progressive positions, and yet standard center-right policies were made, no one would have an excuse: the system would be exposed as not working.

Is it possible that refusing to vote sends a stronger message and signal than voting? Yes. Is it possible that refusing to vote sends a weaker signal than voting? Yes. No one has any compelling data either way. It certainly seems ludicrous on its face that saying nothing communicates more information than saying something. Even though voting as we currently have it is a very muted and distorted way of communicating preferences, since people routinely are voting for candidates who don’t agree with them on most issues in order to fight for a few, it’s at least some statement. Refusing to vote at all says nothing. And it’s possible to read anything into nothing. Someone who refuses to vote is like the victim of the old “silent treatment” gag where you say, “Say nothing if you want me to borrow your car!”, only the consequences are far from a joke.

And even if you could decisively demonstrate that not voting was harder for the system’s defenders to spin than voting for a flawed candidate, it’s a false dilemma, because neither scenario is palatable. Unless anarchists are powerful, vocal and have their own media enough that they can describe what they want and what they are doing, it’s actually totally moot whether or not some particular scenario is harder for the media to spin. Voting is absolutely not harmful to the cause of building leftist and progressive media; in fact, voting is an important mechanism to insure such media survive!

So the only remaining argument would be that participation in an unjust system, no matter the actual consequences of that specific participation, somehow taints you. It’s a metaphysical argument that there’s just something intangible and ineffable that comes from being involved with the system.

This idea is ludicrous on its face. It pretends that you can be neutral on a moving train, as Howard Zinn famously taught generations. It pretends that if you just don’t actively participate in the system that somehow you’re not part of it and its outcomes don’t trace back to your inaction. That’s the opposite of reality. And where does this metaphysical contamination end? Does someone who seeks to work at a wage slave job to feed his family get contaminated by the system? Does someone who uses the Internet or any technology created by the government (or by racists or sexists or bigots of any kind) give some kind of ex post facto justification to these systems? Why does this arbitrary invisible ghost spirit that you might catch by pressing a button or filling out a piece of paper trump the very real consequences of not voting?

Of course there are lines in the sand we should refuse to compromise on. Of course there are times that trying to work within a system to improve it can instead maintain its logic and its existence. Voting is not one of those. If every single person didn’t vote besides the candidates themselves and their cohorts, someone would still be elected into office. Not voting doesn’t do anything to the system. Making it the line in the sand that someone refuses to cross is petty, unnecessary and morally cowardly.

In fact, it seems to me that, if there is some moral contamination from voting, taking on that contamination would be a worthwhile sacrifice to take such a pollution on in order to minimize the chances of war and death.

The Republicans Want It

How can anyone who refuses to vote be comfortable with the fact that the worst reactionaries in our society actively want to suppress voter registration and turnout? It’s not a hard and fast rule, but generally speaking, when you’re on the same side of the issue as the Republicans, you’ve done fucked up.

The most reactionary sectors of society will always vote. The people who don’t want anything to change, or want things to get far worse, will vote. Corporations will make damn sure that their core supporters vote. If voting did nothing and posed no threat to the system, there would be no efforts to suppress the turnout. The fact that a large portion of the elite, the part that is less conducive to progressive causes and agendas, wish to suppress the vote should be a reason to vote in and of itself, if only out of spite and to tell them that their efforts won’t work. But it’s also a clue that the elite are in fact terrified of this democratic system that they use to give an imprimatur of legitimacy to their decisions being turned against them.

Solidarity With Those Whose Concerns Can Be Won Electorally (A Nickel’s Worth of Difference Counts When You’re Broke)

Not voting risks being racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and risks supporting Christian hegemony and supremacy.

This is a tough pill to swallow. I suspect it’s part of why many of the people who push the hardcore “disengage from society” argument end up being so retrograde on any issues that don’t have to do with the state or the economy. But it’s true.

The fact is that women, people of color, gay folks, atheists, Muslims, non-Christians of all stripes, and dozens of other groups can accomplish huge improvements within the electoral system, and the electoral system actively threatens them. Maybe people don’t much care as workers if Tweedleedeedee or Tweedledeedum are in office, but gay folks certainly care if the Supreme Court will continue to defend gay marriage and push against anti-gay discrimination, blacks certainly care about the stupidity of letting the Voting Rights Act cease, atheists certainly care about the constant efforts to constrain their rights, Muslims certainly care about the risk that they may be put onto a registry or deported or prevented from traveling out of or into the country, and so forth. (Oh, and not to put too fine a point on it, but you can ask a lot of Iraqis if they think that Al Gore really would have been identical to George W. Bush).

Even if you don’t care at all about the needs of a huge majority of the population, the fact is that any anarchist social change will require solidarity across race, class, gender, sexual orientation and religious lines. Out of all of the things you could do to show solidarity with dozens of groups, what are less

And I’ve always found it hilarious when any white radical dares to tell black folks that they’re being naive about oppression or are misunderstanding the system. It’s not altogether impossible, of course, but does anyone really think that you need to inform the African-American community that the state and corporations can suck really hard? They got that memo, thanks. They’ve lived that for hundreds of years. Native Americans can tell you plenty about the brutality and hypocrisy of the state. So the fact that African-Americans as a group loudly support the Democratic Party should tell any radical something: the Republicans are a real threat to them.

Howard Zinn used to say that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties. But the fact is that, when you’re broke, you don’t spit at a nickel. Any gain that can be gained from voting is worth the several hours at most that it takes to do it.

It’s Basically Risk-Free

What is the harm of voting?

Imagine that you vote for the Green candidate (or, if you lean more anarcho-capitalist, the Libertarian Party). These parties aren’t going to win a major election any time soon.

Heck, imagine that you vote for the Democrat. What’s the real likelihood that one vote will change the entire dynamic? Oh, sure, it’s happened: In 2016, it happened to Sanders several times that a vote in a particular district was literally tied.

Voting does not in and of itself pollute, or drop bombs, or give tax revenue to unjust institutions. It expresses an opinion between choices that by and large you did not pick. Even those who oppose it offer harms that are intangible and arbitrary.

It’s The Society We Want to Build

You can’t build a better society without acting in a way that makes it come about and acts within that society’s better norms.

Would a just society have voting?

Yes. A just society would have more voting. People would be able to choose to create communities with complex democratic norms and with direct democracy.

How can we indicate that our values include civic participation and self-management without actually doing either?

And this is actually where the real disagreement tends to be among anarchists. There’s actually two types of anarchists: those who care about liberty and justice for all, and those that care about liberty and justice for themselves. I know that that sounds harsh, but after fifteen years of being an anarchist, it is a reality that I think is inescapable.

The kind of anarchists who hold their nose

Trump Is A Dumpster Fire

Trump is of course more of a symbol for the reality of white supremacy, homophobia, Christian supremacy, and generally ugly reactionary politics. But he is an object lesson and a good example as to why it’s moral cowardice not to vote.

If Trump wins, it sends a very clear, unambiguous signal to Americans and to the world: “This kind of politics is tolerated here. We accept when someone intentionally stokes white supremacist resentment. We accept the politics of fascism”.

Sometimes, a vote is about more than some abstract principle of a future society. Sometimes. it’s about the very real circumstances of the country you live in. Trump is that circumstance. He must be beaten, indeed crushed, in every state, in order to loudly indicate that we will not tolerate a society where the state and private actors collude in order to propagate racism, crush the living and working opportunities of the poor, and where we tolerate the murder of civilians.

It Promotes Paying Attention to Politics

How many of those who refuse to vote are wonks who are aware of what their Senator, their Congresspeople, and their local politicians are doing?

You can’t be aware of the impact of a decision that you’re refusing to make. Anarchists may not like it, but in an unjust system, you must be more aware of the politics than under a system we would prefer.

It’s Part of a Strategy

Voting, letters to Congressmen, protests, demands for improvements within the system, boycotts… none of these are revolutionary in and of themselves. Even an individual battle isn’t a revolution.

If you just vote, yes, you will not accomplish real social change. But the same is absolutely true of any other tactic. No tactic on its own is going to win a better society.

Movements must come together to create a coherent strategy for change. We have to consider the full trajectory of how we will come from the unjust society we live in to the society we want to be in.

If an anarchist doesn’t want to do that work, they have no business calling themselves an anarchist.

Choosing the politicians that are least likely to do harm and most likely to promote policies that will promote liberty, happiness, equity, solidarity and justice is worth the time and debate. It’s worth the challenge and the disagreements.

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politics

Steve King, You’re Incompatible with Western Civilization

This is the only election I’ve heard neo-Nazi and white supremacist arguments being side by public officials.

Steve King, a Representative from Iowa, repeated the idea that non-white people haven’t contributed to history. Not writing, not agriculture, not corn and tomatoes and chickens.

If Trump wins, white supremacists will think that this rhetoric is acceptable. These ideas have a long pedigree and they don’t become that much less dangerous with time. I never thought that I’d see the kind of things I used to only see on message boards offered by anonymous people in the mainstream, and yet here it is. People like King feel emboldened.

Too many people in this country think that you get a freebie on issues like this. That, whenever you please, you can trot out the idea that this is your country and civilization, and you’ll take back the nice things you gave. Steve has the right to say these things. And in a civilized society, he would be voted out of office and his ideas would see universal censure.

We’re nowhere near that. Our moves toward basic decency and courtesy (what dishonest people called “political correctness”) mean nothing if these ideas aren’t extinguished. Not by censorship, but by being roundly defeated in the intellectual arena and rejected as immoral statements.

And while many conservatives may get scared by that kind of rhetoric, and I understand to a point, these are the same people saying that radical Islam is not compatible with Western civilization. Neither is what Steve King said. It’s not compatible with any kind of civilization, anywhere.

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politics

Boo, Hillary. Boo.

So Sarah Silverman and Al Franken got booed by Bernie supporters at the DNC, chanting “Bernie!” in response to her effort to get us to be proud of voting Hillary.
 
I appreciate the effort Sarah is making to try to defeat Trump. I do. I was never a diehard #BernieOrBust guy. 
Just today, I had someone point out to me how Hillary’s record as a feminist, in pushing education, in It Takes A Village, and elsewhere are impressive. And the RNC had made me sympathize with her massively.
 
But as I listened, I realized that the DNC doesn’t have a leg to stand on. 
 
Hillary didn’t make Bernie the VP. She didn’t do that despite the fact that she clearly knew about the collusion between her and the campaign. She gambled on us not finding out.
 
The Democratic Party wants us to vote for them when they loudly indicated that they didn’t want our vote. Sure, perhaps Bernie might have lost either way. But in this world, we didn’t get to find that out, because the Democratic Party didn’t want to let their members decide. They want us to be happy to be in a rigged game.
 
And they want us to vote for them to avert Trump, but they don’t want to earn our vote. They don’t want to actually apologize for what happened in any systemic way or rectify it. Nor do they want to actually do the work to get progressives.
 
Want my vote, Hillary? Earn it. Energize me like Bernie. Because you intentionally stole my opportunity to see him try for it. #jillstein2016
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Uncategorized

Minimum Wage and Social Mobility

AlterNet has a great article today in line with my Dusk Magazine piece on the minimum wage and how the minimum wage to be minimally just would have to be set high enough for people to be able to climb out of the rut in a meaningful and realistic way.

Of course, the reason why it isn’t is because conservatives (and a lot of people further on the left) really do want an underclass in our society of people who pick up crap and can’t ever leave that job. They want a permanent underclass.

So, surprise surprise, that’s what has happened. Of course, it’s not just the minimum wage that has led to this social stratification with very little opportunity to escape the low-wage cycle: it’s also an inefficient private health care system, failing infrastructure, an unregulated financial sector that causes cascading problems in the rest of the economy, etc. But it is government and private actors in collusion that insure that, unlike in the golden age of state capitalism, people stay trapped in low-paying jobs with no job security.

Image credit: Sorbis/Shutterstock

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politics, Uncategorized

Trump Will Be The Golf President

Trump wants to be the CEO President. What that means is the golf President.

It’s not just that electing Trump would be electing a shadow President, with the VP doing all the “foreign and domestic policy” duty. It’s not just that, contrary to those who want to vote the guy in to burn the country down, we would ultimately just get a pretty standard far right-wing Presidency because his advisors will all be far-right.

It’s that we’ve already seen that Trump can’t delegate worth a damn. Put aside his failing businesses. His campaign, right now, is a traffic pileup. He couldn’t manage a shoe store. From Lewandowski’s ignoble ejection to the fact that they’re struggling to pay people to the infamous Iowa debacle where he didn’t realize you need to actually get your supporters to talk to actual human beings to get out the vote, he’s proven that he isn’t a good delegater. Trump creates vacuums of leadership that lead to confusion in the ranks rather than exemplary development.

He’s a terrible boss. Whatever would make him a good President?

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activism, race, racism, social justice, Uncategorized

Why I Support Black Lives Matter

After the Dallas shootings of officers by an unhinged individual (not associated with BLM), I feel that it is important to reiterate support for Black Lives Matter and discuss why so many of the arguments raised against them are fraudulent. Below is an adaptation of an OpiWiki response that I made at http://opi.wiki/discuss/190010/What-is-your-attitude-towards-the-Black-Lives-Matter-movement

Black Lives Matter, by and large, has been a peaceful movement that has raised serious issues that just weren’t being acknowledged prior to their work.

Dave Chappelle had a bit about police brutality in his comedy special, “Killing Them Softly”, focusing on how much white blindness there was on the issue. That was back in 2000. The Rodney King beating was in March 3, 1991. The Wire was discussing police brutality issues in the context of Baltimore back in 2002. When I was in high school and college, police brutality issues got raised by politically-minded people on the left wing.

The black community has dealt with a toxic and moronic war on drugs, the devastation to black communities as a result of neo-liberal investor’s rights globalization, and too many police departments having a siege mentality for decades.

None of it broke into the mainstream or got conservative networks like FOX to even talk about the issue until #BlackLivesMatter.

Even if the only legacy of the movement is that a discussion about the proper role of the police enters the mainstream and remains there, that will be a colossal victory, and one that anyone that is part of that movement can be proud of.

But, of course, there is no reason to believe that #BlackLivesMatter won’t accomplish major objectives beyond that already-titanic success. We’ve already been moving toward legalization of marijuana and a scaling back of the war on drugs, and #BLM arrived at just the right time to push that forward even further. And many police departments are stepping up and recognizing that they need to do something about bias in policing. While Michelle Alexander’s recent AlterNet analysis is an appropriate bit of perspective, I disagree strongly with her that we won’t see huge improvements if law enforcement at a national level takes the challenge of community policing, bias training, sensitivity to the diverse communities they serve, and a real ethos of community improvement to heart. While it’s true that such institutional measures can only go so far, such institutional measures also themselves push forward the deeper structural and cultural changes that need to happen.

There are a few arguments made against Black Lives Matter that need to be addressed, because they are themselves monstrous obstacles to progress and reconciliation.

The notion that Black Lives Matter has to say that every life matters is just imbecilic. It’s a trite statement that no one disagrees with conceptually. There’s simply no need to say that white lives matter, because there is no institutional threat to white lives as white lives. But there is such a threat to people of color, and almost every major social institution, from the media to the criminal justice system, routinely reiterates the notion that black lives in fact are problems to be contained or controlled.

Chainsaw Suit's fantastic strip.

A lack of specificity is the goblin of trite minds and of those who want to cheat you. “All lives matter” is a non-threatening slogan that suggests precisely no course of action. Worse, as Kris Straub points out humorously here, it’s actually misleading and counter-productive to talk about everyone’s problems as if they are all of equal magnitude at all times. We deal with specific problems at specific moments. The reason why all too many people say that #AllLivesMatter is because the status quo is generally fine for them, so dealing with the specific problems that produce the issues BLM is protesting is costly. That’s fine: We’re all stakeholders and we all have legitimate concerns about the consequences and direction of social change. But the notion of #AllLivesMatter is a disingenuous way to shut down conversation instead of starting it.

Even the fact that “All Lives Matter” emerged as a counter to #BlackLivesMatter is, when one thinks about it, so grotesque that it’d be hysterical if the consequences weren’t so real. As Arthur Chu’s fantastic tweet points out, “Do you crash strangers’ funerals shouting I TOO HAVE FELT LOSS”? It’s a funny notion to imagine someone doing that precisely because it’s so absurd, cruel and stupid. A person doing that would have a psychopathic sense of entitlement and a deep, unabiding narcissism. Yet collectively, all too many people of all stripes feel that it’s appropriate to respond to people expressing grief, heartache, rage and, yes, hope for improvement with the idea, “Well, we all have problems”.

And those who offer this tripe are usually being colossal hypocrites as well. Imagine how the right wing would scream if those of us who want to regulate guns responded to gun rights advocates by saying, “Hey, it could be worse, you could live in North Korea” or “Hey, buddy, all rights matter”.

Some have said that they’d rather have the statement be “Black Lives Matter Too”. While I’m sympathetic, once again it’s easy to see why it’s such a toxic suggestion. No one should have to append “too” to a statement that they matter. Rhetorically, the notion that people have to say “black lives matter too” is a statement indicating, “White folks, and cops, matter by definition, first and foremost. You have to append your mattering afterwards. You do matter, sure, but you’re the last people we mention. You’re an afterthought”. The fact that it is so difficult for so many people to just say, without any proviso, that black lives do in fact matter is precisely why BLM chose that slogan.

Similarly, the black-on-black crime argument isn’t just an evasion, it’s actually a colossal act of racism in and of itself.

Again: Imagine if this were used against any common conservative bugaboo. Imagine if the liberal response to the “War on Christmas” allegations weren’t, “You have no special right to have your holiday dominate public spaces” but was instead “Hey, guys, as long as Christians are bombing people and torturing captives, you should expect that you get shut out of public spaces”. Imagine if anyone complaining about affirmative action costing them their job was told, “You know, as long as white collar crime is disproportionately white, you should be glad you have a job”.

It’d be monstrous to say those things. It’s monstrous here.

A whole community cannot be judged by their criminals. The fact that some black individuals are guilty of crime is in fact no justification for naked black teenagers to be shot. There is no collective racial responsibility unless one is in fact not just a racist but the kind of venal racist that assumes that there’s some kind of mystic connection between people who share some genes. Bringing up black-on-black crime in response to complaints of police brutality to the face of grieving mothers and tormented communities tells them, “Until you fix every problem in your neighborhood, I won’t even listen to you”.

Of course, the argument is stupid on many more levels, but just the colossal racism involved in asserting that argument alone should give any reasonable person pause. In reality, police brutality helps cause black-on-black crime. Criminals in minority communities are more able to get away with violence because their victims are much less likely to trust the police or want to cooperate with them. Moreover, when justice is arbitrary and random, actual criminals are able to plausibly claim that they’re just being set up or facing the same injustices that other people have. An “us-versus-them” dynamic is why gangs tend to emerge. Organized crime overwhelmingly tends to come about when people can’t rely on the ostensibly legitimate authorities to protect their turf, honor and respect them, and give them real opportunities. Organized crime acts as a de facto militia, government and underground economy all in one, as destructive as it is. Again, one only need to watch The Wire to see how poor police behavior helps push communities away into the kind of isolation, fear and desperation that breeds crime.

And, of course, men like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama have all harshly criticized gang violence and criminality in black communities and have made many major efforts to try to resolve them. I have not met a single person anywhere in BLM or in groups that sympathize with and ally with BLM who don’t say loudly that black-on-black crime is a serious problem.

Oh, and another niggling little point: We don’t pay the salaries of gang members. There’s no collective social responsibility for the actions of criminals. There is for anyone who we employ as our civil servants. The fact that this tiny distinction has to be repeatedly pointed out shows just how deep the well of denial of racial animosity goes in this country.

But, of course, black-on-black crime is supposed to be something that the black community fixes. The very same people who claim that we’re all in this together as Americans then want to cut their fellow Americans out to dry and not help. The causes of crime everywhere are complex, but we have decades of sociology about those causes, and poverty and community structure are the leading suspects. Crime isn’t a black, white, Hispanic or Asian issue: it’s an American issue. Resolving long-standing issues like failing infrastructure, poor employment prospects, a low minimum wage, segregated and failing schools, etc. is part of the picture of solving crime.

The black community and the white community aren’t monoliths. There are specific neighborhoods, specific people and specific groups. Yes, we are all in this together, and yes, there are shared responsibilities that we all have. I’ve talked extensively about how white communities need to take some responsibility for the poison of racism. A huge part of that is that “With great power comes great responsibility”, of course, but ultimately what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

But no movement toward justice should ever be forestalled because of another tangentially related problem. That’s not how responsibility works.

Let’s conclude by thinking again about Rodney King. Did the man lead police on a drunken car chase? Yes. That was a colossal mistake and a serious crime, and he deserved to be brought to justice and punished to the fullest extent of the law. But he didn’t deserve to be beaten by hotheads. We don’t want police officers cracking the skulls of unarmed men like, say, Henry Davis, a man in Ferguson who got put into jail because of a confusion about his identity.

In a democracy, we should never be afraid of our police. We are paying their paychecks. We should expect that they can execute justice calmly, compassionately and intelligently. If they can’t, they don’t deserve their job. If police are to (reasonably) expect that their sacrifices are honored, then they have to earn our respect with exemplary behavior. If the job matters, it has to be done right.

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activism, changemaking, politics, social justice, Uncategorized

Bill Gates and Technocratic Solutions to Social Problems

Patrick Bond, a really insightful thinker, offers a really good analysis of the limitations of charitable approaches like the ones Bill Gates proposes.

I’ve actually been impressed by how erudite and compassionate Bill can be on issues, recognizing risks ranging from the serious threat of a pandemic to the still-salient specter of nuclear war. But Gates is at his heart an engineer, and he embodies a problem I’ve often discussed before and been disappointed to see in otherwise-decent people: the idea that problems can always be solved by a technical or engineering or technological approach, and indeed that such an approach is always the best. But human beings aren’t machines and societies aren’t computers, and you can’t just hack problems away. It’s always worth it to try for clever solutions and to try to leverage technology and creativity to go for unorthodox approaches, but the problem is that those ways of thinking are usually efforts to try to be apolitical. A political problem doesn’t become less political when you try to pretend it’s just a debugging exercise. Smart technological and scientific solutions to social problems need to occur alongside political, social, economic and cultural change, in conjunction with artists, activists, attorneys, civil servants, social workers, psychologists, and others. Instead, folks like Bill tend to try to skip that part.

We should always try to look for win-win solutions, and we should have optimism in the power of the brain. But we should also have optimism in the power of the heart too, and when we use exclusively technical approaches, we’re actually expressing severe pessimism in human potential.

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