Sunday, May 11, 2014

“Anarchist Conference Devolves Into Chaos”

Who could have predicted?

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More here. In fairness to the cause, I have been to plenty of anarchist events that did not devolve into chaos; that this one did and that that was notable says something.

In this particular case, I think the culprit is not anarchism per se as much as it is the culture of aggressive victimhood that seems to be taking hold among college-age youth. People seem to feel they have a right to not have their feelings hurt that trumps everything else. This is very broken and I hope it fixes itself, and I say this from a leftist position. This preoccupation with internal feelingns and symbolic action is the enemy of real political action.

It is completely unclear from the video and any associated links what the speaker, Kristian Williams, had done to merit being shouted down. As best as I can figure out it is stems from an article he wrote called The Politics of Denunciation where he dives into this exact issue. So of course the fact that he was shouted down is excellent evidence for his own thesis. He notes that attempts to police the movement for purity are counterproductive:
At issue here are strikingly different visions of what a political movement ought to be.

In one vision, a movement and the people who make it up should be in every respect beyond reproach, standing as an example, a shining city on a hill, apart from all the faults of our existing society. To achieve this perfection, we have to separate the sheep from the goats, the good people from the bad, the true feminists from everyone else. This outlook produces, almost automatically, a tendency to defer to the dogma of one's in-group. It is not enough simply to do the right things; one must also think the right thoughts and find favor with the right people.

In contrast, in the other vision, a movement should attract people to it, including damaged people, people who have done bad things, and those who are still in the process of figuring out their politics. It will require us, therefore, to address sexual assault and other abuse by actually engaging with the people who do such things. We have to struggle with them as much as we struggle against oppression.
Seems about right to me. Of course both Mr. Williams and I have (at least some subset of) white male straight cis privilege, so wtf do we know?

One more note: this whole fracas may seem ridiculous to anyone who is not involved in alternative politics or is over the age of 25. I don՚t think so, because: the world desperately needs some well-organized opposition to entrenched power. Episodes like this just means that the alternative cultures are just as fucked as the mainstream; both are fiddling to amuse themselves while the planet burns.


fiddlemath said...

> People seem to feel they have a right to not have their feelings hurt that trumps everything else. This is very broken and I hope it fixes itself[.]

I agree! I suspect any achievement impossible, if no one is willing to pay an emotional price for it.

On the other hand, how might such a disfunction fix itself? I imagine this being a stable problem if and only if these hurt feelings feel like the most important things that anyone in a movement is experiencing. In that case ... I'd hope something like dramatically improved empathy, and hearing far wider perspectives, and managing to focus on the problems a group has actually assembled to deal with, might help? Don't know how to accomplish that, though.

Perhaps the internet has made it clear to activists that they are organizing themselves against ideas, rather than particular people or organizations. When ideas become enemies, squelching those ideas sounds awfully sensible.

mtraven said...

Well, politics is all about the conflation of ideas and groups of people. I don՚t think the internet has changed things much in that regard. The problem here is bad ideas.

The general tendency of the left to stick up for the rights of the powerless (a good thing imo) has somehow morphed into the idea that victimhood is the most important thing ever, and that people should organize around their particular brand of victimization rather than what changes they want to implement. And the liberal idea that speech is rigidly decoupled from action and should enjoy complete protection, which is always a bit of a tough sell, has been trampled in the process.

My 5-cent diagnosis: it is too hard to be oppositional relative to the actual powers of the world these days, for a bunch of reasons (they are too amorphous, there is no real excluded class (workers, minorities) to organize around). But there is still the oppositional impulse, for better or worse, and in the absence of a real cause it thrashes around in displays like this.