Concrete web-magazine

7Jan/130

Someone’s got to be guilty

Society desires a certain kind of evil: the stranger, the outsider, coming in the dark from somewhere far beyond our cozy, clean and suburban neighbourhoods. The fact that said society itself is tainted to the core by all the things it perceives as moral vice - greed is necessary to survive against competition on the market; violence is an everyday occurence to enforce the compliance of the poor, the women, the socially deviant or those who happen to live on top of the ressources we consume - it doesn't mean that bourgeoise society may accept the sinner as children of their own. To the contrary, it creates a pressing psychological need to perform an excorcism on those who have drawn public attention for their crimes, to find something that excludes these people from the sacred church of suburbia and makes them different from us.

The gunman of Newton, who killed his mother, then drove to the school where she was a teacher and proceeded to kill another 26 people, including 20 elementary school children before finally committing suicide - he's a perfect example. His murders will probably maintain a shred of mystery for us. All puzzle pieces taken together may paint the picture of a man who felt the need to take revenge on his parents and the community he grew up in, but it remains a distant crime, even more so than other school shootings, because many of the victims were so young. I don't believe myself able to explain these events. However, the list of explanations given by others, by journalists and politicians, philosophers and priests, is potentially endless. They all have in common that they tell us more about the people trying to explain the massacres, than those committing them.

An almost automatized explanation of the past, however, has seemingly vanished: "The video games did it." There is a subtle, psychological fear in that explanation, stemming from the technological revolution the introduction of modern computing brought to the economy. Many workplaces became obsolete as computers could do the same job faster and more efficient than humans. It may sound like a long shot from the fear of being "rationalized" to blaming video games for massacres, but there is a subconscious connection: the fear that computers take over our life, that, even where they don't replace us, they at least take control of our lifes. Movies like Terminator or later Matrix where symptomatic for that era. And if computers can take our jobs, surely they can as well command our children to kill?

That era is over and with it vanished the popularity of that explanation. Computers are part of our lives now, part of our daily lifes. The basement dwelling nerds of the 90s have grown up to become parents of their own and they wouldn't dare to blame something they grew up with and which caused seemingly no harm to themselves. Moreso, the rationalization of our own lifes has proceeded to a point where we have begun to accept and internalize all the new hardships which mobile phones and home computers have made possible. We are available to our bosses 24 hours a day, we share all our steps through social networking, we optimize our bodies and minds for capital accumulation - and we download the apps that structure our life for capitalism voluntarily.

The occasional, irrational killing spree remained and so did the need to explain it - somehow. If the shooter is black or brown or yellow - or in some other way a foreigner, the explanation is easy. We won't speak it out openly, western society believes itself above racism, after all. But the ethnicity of the shooter will be hinted on, with a varying degree of subtlety. And society will be content with the assurance: he was different, he wasn't one of us. The Virginia Tech massacre was one such case. Cho Seung-hui didn't just sound foreign, he wasn't even an US-citizen. However, the recent Newton shooter, Adam Lanza, he was white, he was one of us, the child of one of the teachers and a child from the community he committed the massacre in. This has caused some truly spectacular explanations to emerge, of which the insistence that he had Aspergers syndrome is the most glaringly unjustified.

It doesn't matter of that was true or not: Aspergers does not make you any more likely to take your mothers gun and shoot her and her pupils. Children with Aspergers syndrome aren't ticking time bombs with a tendency to violence. They are different, however, and that is the key to understanding this explanation: it makes Adam Lanza "not one of us". We don't have to face our society's very own demons, we don't have to deal with the fact that it was his mother who taught him how to shoot and whose guns Adam Lanza used. We don't have to deal with the question whether or not, perhaps, something caused his anger which we could understand or that maybe we find that he had issues the people around him consistently ignored, just the same way we ignore the wrongs that occur around us still. No, "Aspergers did it" sounds so much easier, even though people with Aspergers tend to follow the law more strictly than others because they tend to view issues in simpler schematics, more "black and white". We don't have Aspergers, that's what counts.

The victims of this public scare, of course, are the children who actually do have Aspergers syndrome and who are now stigmatized wrongfully as "potential massmurderers".

If, however, you don't want to blame Aspergers for the shooting, the world offers you a vide array of scapegoats to choose from instead. How about the German journalist Walter Hollstein, who blames feminism for school shootings? According to him, schools drown young men in "feminine morals" without allowing room for their masculinity and this "broken masculinity", Hollstein claims, provokes those excessive killings. I don't feel the need to dig any deeper into this pile of anti-feminine gibberish. It should be glaring obvious that this neither makes any sense, nor is applicable to any of the school massacres the world had to witness. What makes this explanation more perfidious -and worth noting at this point - is that this goes beyond the need to exorcise the culprit from our communities. He is taken back in, instead, only to redefine the boundries and limits of what's "normal and accepted" in favour of a traditional (you may say: reactionary) image of masculinity and femininity.

There is little room below that in terms of depravity, but someones got to fill that remaining gap: Iranian journalist Ali Haj Mohammadi gets straight to the point on the state-run website qodsna.com and blames the jews. In fact, he claims, Adam Lanza was a jew, suffering from a mental disease common amongst western jews. Aspergers Syndrom drives jews to not only kill children of an elementary school, but also to oppress the people of Palestine.  This is worse than Hollstein, because "normal and acceptable" is no longer associated with behaviour and morals, but with ethnicity.

5Oct/120

Christian-Muslim Friendship Society

Someone in "the west" publishes something regarded as insulting to the islamic religion and "the muslims" burst into a flurry of violent riots - it seems like an eternal law of modern society.

And it is one big fraud.

Both sides in this game are political minority groups with a well defined chauvinist agenda that can be described at least as fascistoid in its components and they are more than willing to play this game of transcontinental ping pong. It is no mere coincidence that it was a fundamentalist christian group which caused the latest controversy with its production of a movie intentionally designed to insult the core-figure of the islamic faith as a child-molesting lunatic. Nor was it a coincidence that the reaction on the other end of the globe was marked by complete inaction for a suspiciously long time and violence struck only on the symbolic date of the eleventh of september.

But let's sort out this riddle one issue at a time. Seemingly on the start of this controversy we have a group on the fringe of the American political life, radical evangelists who desire a country whose laws don't just adhere to the bible, but rather whose laws >are< the bible. That these people assault the muslim faith as a whole seems blatantly obvious, given their fanatical insistence on the purity of their own faith. It is obvious that their politics are nothing more than leftovers of the medieval era. Or does it?

In fact, their brand of fundamentalism is a surprisingly modern ideology, although their agenda seems direct at all things modern in itself. They are rooted not in the medieval thought world, which is remote and emotionally incomprehensible to us after generations of capitalist "tender loving care". Their ideology is ironically the reaffirmation of the values of early modernity against the developements of later modernity, the defense of the ideals of christian protestantism against the complete dismantling of the social fabric as a result of the very same developement they had helped to birth into the world. They defend the values of "honest labor" against a world that is increasingly ridding itself of the need for such labor, even though it was the practice of rooting the economic developement and the source of value in this very labor that provided the need, not just the desire out of sheer coziness, but the very need to reduce the amount of labor needed to produce in order to survive. They defend the traditional family structure that has lost its usefulness to capitalism with the invention of the dishwasher, television and the instant-food.

And they also defend the system of national economics against a globalized production process. Their social romanticism, however, reaffirms the very categories that have led investors to consider expanding their business beyond the boundaries of their statehood. They believe in the "american ideals", they believe in the market economy and in the cunning and laborous individual who succeeds as a reward of his merit. Many evangelists have their Ayn Rand standing right next to the bible. Firmly rooted in the ideological base of capitalism themselves, they are unable to perceive the transnational upheavals, the decay of the national economies and the desastrous powers that they believe to have wrecked their lifes as those apersonal forces of market competition and all its unholy children - instead, the search for an outside source, a danger from beyond.

The muslim community was never the only target for such fears, but it has grown rapidly in popularity. Fears of an "islamic takeover", of muslim immigrants "outbreeding" other faiths, of a transnational campaign to make the western world part of a new caliphate are very symptomatic for such an irrational paranoia that borders mass hysteria. It is so succesful because it can tap into very real feelings of "life getting worse" in the wake of a rapidly advancing globalization of capitalism and because it does not call into question the internalized values of a capitalist society, which even the downtrodden and impoverished have blindly accepted as transhistorical "essentials" of human life in itself: labor, property, the state and nations. Instead, it attributes recent changes to an outside attack and in the process creates an almost mythical past it seeks to revive. A lost paradise that for the broad majority may "only" date back to the era of Fordism, which was never as joyous as modern nationalists make it sounds - while for the christian fundamentalists its the very distant past of messianic enlightement. Both popular and fringe version of this ideological developement are rebirthist, promising their followers that one day in the future their long lost days of glory and prosperity and salvation will return. Not unlike Mussolini promised the Italians the rebirth of the Roman Empire or Hitler promised the Germans a new Germanic civilization which, by all standards of historical science, never really existed.

Only on the first glance it is ironic that the closest analogy to this developement is, amongst the muslims, found in the shape of the radical islamists - the muslim brotherhood, the salafists and the theocracy in Iran. On a closer look, these developements are, if not mutually dependant upon each other, so at the very least symbiotic in their existence. The ideologies of these islamist groups and the evangelist christians in the euro-american sphere are almost completely exchangable, whereas the only difference is found where direct references to objects of their faith are concerned. Whereas most evangelists await the second coming of christ, the Islamists desire the return of the muslim caliphate and, in the case of the Shia fundamentalists which for example have shaped Iranian state doctrine, the return of the 12th Imam as Mahdi.

Much like their christian counterparts, the Islamists believe their countries under permanent attack by a foreign threat they need to resist with all available means. The "riots" in the islamic world are not responses to insults to their faith, nor do they represent a majority opinion. They are, for the most parts, well organized publicity stunts and designed to intimidate internal opposition as much as convey a message to the outside world from which the perceived threat to their existence and traditional society stems from. When the US ambassador to Libya was killed, it wasn't a spontaneous outburst of anger, it was a well-planned and properly executed attack by an organized militia force utilizing heavy weaponry such as rocket-propelled grenades and mortars and conducted with precise knowledge of the compound, to make sure their target was actually killed.

Days later, the people of Libya showed the world what was actually a spontaneous outburst of anger, but not in a protest against any "Mohammed-video" or caricature: they stormed several outposts of militia units, dismantling the bases and dispersing the militias, followed by a government ban on the armed militia forces. They did so at the risk of their own lifes, not just to readjust the message that had been sent from Libya to the west, but also because these islamist militias were a very real power factor within the political landscape and far from acting in the best interest of large stratas of the Libyan society.

But the global echo towards these events was embarassing. Few people took notice of this event and the focus was still very clearly on the violent "protests" in the muslim world - which were never perceived as what they really are, the mass gatherings of an organized political movement with a clear-cut agenda. Perhaps too easily this image of the "angry muslim" fits into the epidemic fear of an islamic invasion of Euro-America. A portrayal of the image that is easily exploited by anti-muslim racists in the western sphere, fueling their sentiments with further productions such as the infamous "Mohammed-video". Which in turn the Islamists in the arabic sphere gladly take to further their own agenda. Both movements mirror each other and their activities always strengthen not only their own positions, but especially those of their supposed enemies - rather their ideological brethren - at the opposite of the globe.

21Feb/120

Kill Occupy

Chris Hedges fears that Black Block Anarchists may seek to destroy the Occupy movement, as he elaborates in a column he wrote for truthdig. Now, my readers may forgive me if my perspective is decidedly European in nature, but I nevertheless believe that such transcontinental exchange can benefit a debate. I'll begin by asking a rather heretical question:

What would be so bad about that?

As a movement, Occupy has achieved decidedly little compared to the excessive praise and attention that was given to it by media, authorities and the organized left. Especially the latter flocked to it in a vague hope for importance and the longing to be part of a mass movement, while college kids and businesspeople were united under a motto that was a naive as it was wrong: "We are the 99%" We are the amorphous mass, the many versus the few. Our will is the will of so many that there can not possibly be any argument against it. - Occupy is thoroughly populist in the worst meaning of the word. If Chris Hedges wants to look for mob mentality, he is ill advised to seek it amongst the Black Block.

Indeed, there have been rather disgusting pictures provided to us by the Occupy movement, including the repeated call to google "jewish billionaires". Implications of these placards were left to the reader, but it was clear that it was meant to express a supposed link between judaism and wealth and that, consequentially, the 1% that was to be opposed was the jews. It's too much of a reflex to discard these antisemitic stereotypes as mere "infiltration" by outsiders from the right. The very premise upon which Occupy began was not one of progressive anti-capitalism, but of a personalization of economic and power relationships, an analysis that implies that we merely need to remove part of society to change its ills: the ominous 1 percent who supposedly control the banks and ruin an otherwise productive economy out of moral vice.

Given this premise, that leans towards the reactionary, it was perhaps more of a surprise how much progressive politics nevertheless condensed within the broad Occupy movement. Oakland always stood out as a place of inspiration within a movement, that hoovered somewhere between a joke and a nightmarish vision of things to come wherever left to its own, or was marginalized by stronger, established movements wherever they existed and decided to operate under the label of Occupy.

To give an example for each of these developements: the German cities of Hamburg and Berlin had attempts at Occupy camps of their own, which attracted a lukewarm response by the deeply rooted autonomist movement in these cities. Organized groups of the left quickly turned away their attention towards their usual fields of activity - currently mainly fights against gentrification and a general lack of housing - while Occupy crumbled in these cities to the point that there was no camp in Hamburg and the one in Berlin consisted of a whooping ten (!) people upon its eviction. Who nevertheless weren't too ashamed of using the 99% slogan nonetheless.

Occupy in Rome coincided with a time of protests against Berlusconi in general and the social cuts of his government in specific. The international events around Occupy arguably gave the demonstration additional momentum, but the actors remained the ones that had been in the center of social protests for not merely the past months, but years, the continuity of their work giving them credibility and a powerbase. Consequentially, the protests were big, but short and overshadowed by the usual arguments and differences between the participating groups. The different goals of parliamentary groups, orthodox marxists, single-goal movements and autonomist radicals could not be brought in accordance. Occupy was washed away by the usual debates and could not provide any insight or unifying factor.

I have not heard, read or seen anything about Occupy in Greece, the hotbed of revolutionary activity in Europe. It's not surprising either, since the disenfranchised as well as the frightened middle class are already organized within their individual political leanings. The situation in the country is so thoroughly heated that no one could ignore it at that point and not make a decision as to where he or she stands.

In the US, meanwhile, it was Oakland where Occupy met an established and locally rooted radical left movement and the fruits of years of political labor quickly found their way into the local offspring of the global movement. It made Oakland the most sympathetic of all Occupy sections. When Chris Hedges claims that the Anarchists of Oakland loathe organization, he is confusing organization with institutionalization. Yes, these Anarchists loathe the rigid structures of parties or Leninist cadre-groups and political sects. But it is naive to assume they could rally people, influence debates or initiate direct action without some form of organization. However, since it is an informal, sporadic organization, often overlapping with personal relationships and built upon strong bonds of trust, it is hard to detect the connections amongst the groups and individuals that appear as a Black Bloc during the protests. In this, we may forgive Chris Hedges. Even national intelligence agencies purposefully directing their work towards infiltrating and uncovering these structures have often found it impossible to do so. For a militant and radically anti-state movement, the rejection of formal institutions has proven to be a rather effective protection from repression.

The involvement of the local Anarchists in Oakland had benefits that are quick to evade the eye, yet become all the clearer if we compare Oakland to New York in selected occurences. Whereas Occupy in New York rallied its activists to the banking district - expressing the fundamentally flawed seperation between a good, productive industrial capital and a bad, greedy banker capital supposedly destroying an otherwise flawless society - Oakland rallied to the port, a vital nexus of capitalist distribution and a place far removed from the false dichotomy that was established when the call was made to occupy Wall Street. Whereas in New York, evictions and foreclosures of homes were mere cause to stand by idle and give yourself the good feeling of having at least done "something" - when in reality, nothing has changed and the brutal violence of business as usual proceeded uninterrupted - Oakland rallies to actually prevent these. Whereas, following the eviction of camps, New Yorks goal was to occupy a building for a party, Oakland sought to occupy it for permanent use as social center.

Not that there were no uplifting or progressive elements in other american cities, such as the commendable work of the Anarchist Black Cross in NY, nor that Oakland did not have its own flaws. But the spirit of Oakland has been taken into another direction. It is Chris Hedges most fundamental error that he is unable to see these fine details and his seemingly only desire is to be as many as possible with as white a coat as possible. Occupy is turned into a laundry for the bad conscience of the middle class or, perhaps a speculation that's a lot darker, the place where the middle class can go to demand back the status quo and mourn the material losses they've had to endure in the crisis. A giant tribunal on the profiteers of a specific phase of capitalism by those who were nowhere as lucky, but not a trial on capitalism itself.

After all, the petit-bourgeoise staunchly believes: if I worked hard and nonetheless the American Dream did not come true for me, then SOMEONE must be responsible. That crisis and expropration and poverty are intrinsic elements of capitalism is unthinkable to these characters. Conversely, Occupy had little to offer to those who had been poor to begin with, those who had been disenfranchised by society, evicted from their homes, pushed to the end of the welfare lines long before the stock markets collapsed. This movement can repeat its mantra of being 99% all they want - a tent-town full of people more concerned with the media reception rather than their actual achievements will do little to convince them of their goals.

Speaking of goals - what goals? Occupy has evaded this question time and time again and even a Slavoj Žižek can not honor this stance by attributing a revolutionary purpose of non-conformity to it. Occupies silence is a mere expression of its inability to formulate any form of common stance in between its broad membership that includes the strangest of Trotzkyte sects full of themselves and their delusions of being able to steer the movement, or the freaks from Zeitgeist and their visions of an authoritarian technocracy, not to forget the antisemites and the tourists, who merely want a good story to brag about during college. Trying to formulate a common stance would, indeed, blow Occupy apart - and Occupy has long lost its purpose and become one on itself. The movement is everything, the movement is holy, whoever voices criticism is shut down. The so called "People's Mic" does an excellent job at this. Initially a way to bypass a ban on megaphones, this little tool has been blown so out of proportions by Occupy-activists seemingly proud to finally have made a genuinely independent invention (the idea to occupy public spaces was, after all, taken from the Spanish "Indignados") that it had to be applied to uses it was not fit for. Debates with a Peoples Mic are impossible to follow, critical voices are often not carried on by the crowd and the experience of a peoples' mic has been described as "indoctrinating" more than once. Repeat the words, don't think about them.

As I mentioned, Occupy has little to offer to the working poor and the declassed. It is a movement of the middle class and their fear of no longer having the place they were once promised in the social contract of America. Perhaps that's why Chris Hedges decries, with honest indignation, that the Black Bloc "smashed the windows of a locally owned coffee shop in November in Oakland and looted it." One can only wonder why it was important to mention this shop was "locally owned". Hedges already draws a line between different enterpreneurs, dividing their business into good (because "local") and bad (because "foreign") to which my only reply can be to shake my head in disbelief as to this notion that apparently, capitalism gets better if it is done by people from the same town.

Gold, however, Chris Hedges struck in this utterly hilarious notion that the Black Block was "criminal".

Good gracious!

The holy law, meanwhile, is always upheld by the good people of Occupy and all it takes for a revolution, at least according to Hedges, is to nevertheless get beaten up by cops. Who are also part of the 99%. But do so because Occupy threatens the injust system. By not being criminals. Not only does this show an understanding of state and society that the progressive left, one would expect, had left behind in the 19th century - one where the state rules solely by authority of force and something like cultural hegemony is non-existant. (to which I merely would like to point Chris Hedges to comments on police brutality that cheer on the pepperspraying of the explicitely non-violent "smelly hippies".) It is also a pretty hilarious thought that the bankers and government officials would have sat in their office upon hearing of the arrest of some protestors in a minor march, then call them to order the pepperspraying of the detained "because they are such a threat." Finally, Chris Hedges also expresses his own fundamentally petit-bourgeoise thinking when he implies that the Black Block is somehow consisting of outsiders, people not actually part of the Occupy movement and, most notably, Agent Provocateurs. It is the same sentiment that people in the suburbs express whenever a crime occurs within their midst. Someone from outside must have done it! Some alien, some stranger.

Indeed, the looting of a store, this spontaneous seizing of opportunity for the sake of direct gain from an act that defies law and property, has more revolutionary pontential than most of what Occupy has achieved elsewhere. It has actual, positive effects for the actors involved. It is an act of redistribution and empowerment that bypasses the need for years of tiresome campaigning and reforming within a fundamentally flawed system and against the rising tide of objective necessities immanent to capitalism itself. It is the implosion of structural violence that chains people to their place in society and releases them into a spontaneous moment of opportunity.

Chris Hedges is not all wrong, though. Militarist and sexist tendencies and implications are an important point of critique that ought to be debated - not just once, but permanently - within the Anarchist, no, within the general left movement. A debate on militance should be the permanent standard of a radical left. Militance can not justify itself and I'm not particularily fond of an insurrectionism that puts the insurrection itself into the focus of attention, rather than concrete political goals. But they aren't the core of militance, not the fundamental truth behind the acts of self-defense against a violence that sometimes appears direct, in the shape of a police baton, and sometimes indirect, in the silent threat of poverty, unemployment, disenfranchisement. What Chris Hedges is asking of these people is not to defend themselves, to bear the stroke of the baton, the burn of the pepperspray, the sting of the taser and the impact of the rubberbullet for a vague promise that sometime then, people will realize that Occupy was right all along! (but about what, exactly?) That even the police will come down, reach them their hands and say "yes, non-violence is the way". A thought that is even more absurd when considering that the police has to utilize violence every day, has internalized the logic of violence and has put aside their conscience to enforce a law that's necessarily impersonal and demanding strict adherence regardless of personal opinion. Even more absurd to think a greater amount of officers would break with this logic, with their jobs, in a time where having a job in the first place is a blessing in itself.

This debate, I think, is far from over. There are many points that still need to be raised, many of which need to be discussed in more detail. However, Occupy, that much is clear, needs to transcend its own beginnings, its own premise and own established institutions if it wants to progress. Refusal to do so out of sentimentality for a project that granted a shortlived time of optimism will lead to the death of Occupy as a project, whether wanted or not.