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29 June 2010

Resistance is Not Futile

This post is in response to Michael's post, which was in response to my comment on another of his posts. I should mention, too, that I have a great deal of respect for Michael, and I don't intend for this to be a condemnation of him, but a thoughtful discussion of the issue of violence in the search for environmental and social justice.

I think we agree more than you realize, and I've only come to my current position recently and through a great deal of consideration and self-searching. I've taken hard line stances, and advocated a violent approach in the past - look through the archives of this blog and you'll see what I mean. I haven't completely abandoned my position, just tempered it a bit. I'm still willing to consider violence as an option (I'm not a dogmatic pacifist, as Jensen would have it), but I've realized that violence is simplistic and most of these problems are very complex. Let me add to your pseudo-dialog, and see if we can work this out.

Michael: As for destruction – or might we say ‘deconstruction’ – I think there is definitely a time and place for it. Some buildings need to go (but without harm to others), and some dams need to be destroyed, and some technic-material systems need to be dismantled. Murder is never justifiable - but the deconstruction of “property” I have no problem with (who really owns the earth anyway?).

Jeremy: Yes, I like the term deconstruction, I've used it myself many times in the past. And I agree that buildings need to come down, dams need to come down, and certain systems need to be dismantled. However, there are ways of doing that without harming the people who live, work, and play on or near the sites. I'm not talking about the protection of property, but the protection of lives, and the environment. I'm concerned about the random (or even strategic) use of explosives advocated by many, because it may harm or kill people unintentionally or collaterally, and may spread toxins in a way that is worse for the environment than the facilities themselves. Also, we need to be effective in our deconstruction. Random smashing of windows, burning of cars, etc. does little to stop the corporate machine. Hell, terrorists took down the whole damn world trade center, killed 3000 "little Eichmans," and business went on as usual. There has to be something else, something more effective, and I don't think that something is violence.

Michael: Would we be justified in jumping the fence of said factory and sabotaging or blowing-up their facilities – halting production and the subsequent generation of toxic waste? If even once child was prevented from developing cancer as a result would such ‘violence’ be justified? Or should that community continue to drink the water while non-violently holding up signs and protesting outside corporate headquarters?

Jeremy: First of all, this scenario is not at all comparable to the kinds of random violence staged at the G20 protest, or that you advocate later in your post (i.e. smashing windows, vandalizing property, etc.). Second, would blowing up or sabotaging the facility really do anything to effectively stop the activities? What happens when they fix the machinery or build a new facility? You may give them a headache, but if you think it's going to stop anything, I think you seriously underestimate the resolve of the capitalist system. The company will just get a huge insurance payment and go right on with what they were doing before. You've done nothing to help the community, or to prevent the deaths of those children. Meanwhile, you've been labeled an eco-terrorist, and lost any credibility with the local community, mainstream environmentalists, and the public as a whole - if you're lucky you'll just end up in jail for a few years.

Michael: I think many people in the so-called West have been pacified into thinking that there actually is a “civil society” out there somewhere.

Jeremy: I'm not talking about civil society, or using the system to fight the system. I think we have to work outside of the system to bring it down. But that doesn't necessarily mean violence. MLK fought the system, using tactics external to the system, without resorting to violence. We can be confrontational without blowing things up or smashing things (and I do think that anger can be useful, but, again, anger doesn't have to be violent).

Michael:why do they still flock to the shopping malls and drive SUVs? Why do more people watch American Idol than vote during an election? Why do they “grudgingly accept” or rationalize their role in this maladaptive ‘game’? Why are they NOT rising up for a better more human world?
Could they not choose otherwise?

Jeremy:You can't expect everyone to be radical - people have to live day-to-day - like it or not, radicalism is a privileged position (Who made up the majority of people marching in Toronto, breaking windows and destroying property? Were they indigenous people from Africa and South America or poor African Americans from New York or Washington D.C.? I doubt it). And you can't simply reduce all of those who are not radical to mindless servants of the system. By doing so you deny their agency, you risk alienating them from your cause, and you ignore potential points of agreement that can but built upon to create a broader movement.
People can and do make choices everyday - sometimes their choices coincide with the corporate system, and sometimes they don't - but you can't expect all of their choices to be in line with your philosophy (I would venture to bet that even your choices are not 100% in line with your philosophy). However, despite these problems, and despite outward appearances, people do make choices that subvert the corporate system. A person may choose to buy food from a farmers market or grow some of their own food instead of a going to a corporate chain grocery story, they may protest the destruction of a piece of land, they may give money to an environmental group, or a thousand other things. Small? Yes, but these small things add up, and, with a little work on our part, they can be built upon to generate a larger movement. But if you simply degrade them as "sheeple" then you've lost them already.

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