January 17, 2011

One Big Birmingham Jail

Filed under: American Revolution, Civil Disobedience, Freedom, Neo-feudalism — Tags: — Russ @ 4:57 am


In April 1963, Martin Luther King and many of his fellow Birmingham direct actionists sat in jail. They had expected such a response from the segregationist power structure. Unfortunately, it was also predictable that they’d be hearing criticism and condemnation from most of the people who in theory should have been on their side. King seems to have anticipated this, as he was able to respond immediately with a long, eloquent refutation and exposee of this collaborationist position. This was the great Letter From Birmingham Jail.
Here MLK faces those who object to demonstrations, to boycotts, to sit-ins, to civil disobedience in general, indeed to anything but the most tepid (and “civil”) criticism which is guaranteed to remain impotent. He opens up with their immortal objection to any real resistance, that it’s “unwise and untimely”. Today this could be the signature of every media hack, Democrat partisan, and Obama cultist. All of these felt emboldened by the recent shootings to step up these calls, although as we saw with hacks like Jon Stewart, the plan to try to pre-emptively stomp the green shoots of newly-sprouting protest was already in the air.
But the unfortunate truth, as MLK knew, is that true protest is always timely and wise in the broadest sense. As for the specific timing, a human being who believes in the future of humanity must recognize when the time has come, and when today is the day. Our task today isn’t exactly the same as that of the Civil Rights Movement. They sought a specific set of reforms. They were up against an obsolete set of attitudes and practices which were mostly an embarrassment to power, and which weren’t germane to power’s propagation. (Indeed, as we’ve seen, the end of segregation was put to good political use by corporatism; it has helped render racially astroturfed divide-and-conquer even more insidious and harder to counteract. This is of course the crime of the corporations and the rich, and the fault of malingering racists themselves, not of desegregation. But we should still be aware of this history of corporatism.)
Today we need nothing less than to build a whole new way of life. Alternative to the corporate- dominated system, counter to it where possible, in resistance to it where necessary. This is a permanent necessity, whose goal is the eventual complete replacement of this world of crime and malice by a world of democracy and universal prosperity. I have no doubt that if MLK were here today he’d see the need for this movement. Before his death he was already seeing the need to expand the civil rights movement to encompass labor issues in general and the war. I doubt it’s a coincidence that after all those years of death threats, they actually killed him only when he wanted to make the movement more comprehensive, more of a fundamental criticism of the basic structures themselves.
Along the way we’ll probably encounter many opportunities for the kind of direct action campaigns King so masterfully led. Two examples are food relocalization against the will of the corporate government flunkey, and resistance to the health Stamp mandate. Up against these, we’ll no doubt also often encounter the same sort of opposition, including the liberal opposition he specifically addresses in this Letter.

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.

That could be the response to every apologist for the crimes of every system, including the extra crimes it commits trying to preserve its ill-gotten wealth and power. It goes for everyone who thinks a paper cut suffered by an elite criminal is worse than the robbery and murder of thousands of innocents.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham.

1. There can be no doubt at all about the injustice. For decades the criminals have systematically undermined the real economy, subverted civil society, looted public property, eroded civil liberties, and have sought to destroy all real jobs and any basis for the life of the people as anything other than atomized corporate slaves. The goal is the complete destruction of democracy and citizenship, the spiritual destruction of humanity itself. We’re to be reduced to dumb, numb, inert, undifferentiated hominid cogs.
Since the start of the Bailout all this has been escalated and accelerated. There’s no longer any doubt about the totalitarian intent of the corporations and their corrupt government.
I’ve written about all of this in great detail, many, many times.
2. Not that we the people owe it to those who are in principle our public servants to negotiate with them, but nevertheless we have done so ad nauseum. What more profound negotiation can there be than the 2008 election where the people definitively voted for “change”, wrongly thinking there was a candidate who stood for change, because he systematically lied to that effect. That the voters were conned by a criminal doesn’t change the fact of what they wanted, what they were voting for.
And what about the negotiation over the TARP? The people raged against it. In some congressional offices the calls and messages were over a thousand to one against. Nowhere was there anything but a huge majority against the Bailout. (That McCain didn’t roll the dice and oppose the TARP, run against the TARP, try to turn his fortunes around by turning the election into a referendum on the TARP, proves not only his political incompetence, but also the fact that we have nothing but sham “elections” which offer no meaningful choice at all.) We can multiply the examples – the health racket bailout, the war, Big Ag subsidies, almost any instance of corporate welfare.
No, we’ve done all we can to negotiate. The fact is, representative democracy itself, the periodic elections, were supposed to constitute such negotiations. But we see that this was always a sham. The opposite party never did anything but lie to the people, and never felt the slightest obligation to live up to his promises after the election. Indeed, many ideologues of pseudo-democracy (if not the practicing liar politicians themselves) have explicitly argued that the “representative” has no obligation to his constituents at all after the election is over, but is free to “vote his conscience”, conscience here being a euphemism for corrupt personal interest.
Reasonable people have to concede that the “negotiation” failed. We can never have a responsible, responsive, legitimate government in the form of representative democracy. It’s a structural fraud. If there’s to be an elected assembly at all, the delegates have to be explicitly obligated to vote the will of their constituents, and they have to be instantly recallable at all times. This is the absolute minimum requirement for anything deserving the name democracy going forward. Those who dispute this simply propose to continue negotiating with proven treacherous liars.
In his own context, MLK came to a similar conclusion.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community.

All that was left was self-purification, and then you go out there and do it.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

This reads like a direct rejoinder to the Orwellian “civility” astroturfing of recent days.
King goes on to discuss the change of governmental administrations which never constitutes a structural change. He agrees with the anarchists: Only direct action ever accomplished anything, and it did it with nonviolent force.

My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have not only the right, but the obligation, to disobey unjust laws:

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

All this is morally and intellectually clear. It just as clearly applies to our relationship to corporations as well. King discusses it further:

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.

Disenfranchisement of a minority by a majority renders the system illegitimate. How much more must this be the case where it’s a tiny minority compelling a vast majority, and where it’s that vast majority who, between the two-gang stranglehold and Citizens United, has been disenfranchised.
We’re all too familiar with this type today:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I wrote about some of them the other day. Except that today the “moderate” isn’t an outsider with a shallow understanding, but either a predatory collaborator or else part of the prey herd himself. His moderation and lukewarm state are suicidal. Yet he sides with the oppressor against those who would fight.
King describes how the inertial mass deplores those who fight as “extremists”, as instigators of violence, and as being too impatient. But these charges are false. It’s the enemy who’s extreme, it’s the enemy who’s violent, and we’ve been far too patient for far too long.
But in all the things we do, we aren’t the ones generating the “tension” so unpleasant to conformists. Where it comes to that, we’re merely symptomatic:

Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

This is the only path forward.
King describes how the early Christians were sustained by their faith and their relentless will against long odds.

Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

That’s the hardest thing, to have to sometimes overcome the feeling of astronomical intimidation. The mission is daunting, and existing institutions are unlikely to offer any support:

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.

This will also ring true for us today wherever we transpose it to representative government.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands…

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

In this piece King discussed the controversy over “patience”, which is also a controversy over the nature of time itself.

I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

Time itself is neutral, and the flow of time itself has no characteristic independent of what we choose to do with it. Democratic activism, AKA anarchism, is a way of life. It’s not just labor toward a goal, let alone the ideas contained in the goal itself. Most of all it’s a way of life. The goal is most realized in the here and now, every day. This way of life means not only exercising democracy in any way we can but also fighting for it everywhere we must. This adds to the challenge and striving, but this challenge is the challenge of being human at all. The essence of humanity is to take responsibility for oneself, to achieve power over oneself, and then to exercise one’s responsibility, combining one’s personal strength in free cooperation with others to build a free and prosperous human community. Only in such a community can we then create the space for the essence of humanity, positive freedom. This is spiritual freedom, creative freedom, political freedom, participatory freedom. All can exist only on the basis of the cooperative prosperity which affords the time and opportunity for this freedom. Only this deserves the name democracy, and only this can be called in the most profound sense civilization.
Today corporatist barbarians seek to destroy democracy, civilization, and humanity itself. These barbarians are the opposite of the original tribes raging out of Central Asia. Those were the vigorous barbarians of ascent toward a richer civilization. Today’s barbarians of decadence are rotted and malevolent, ugly and stupid, but infinitely wicked. Their technology and wealth renders them the most powerful ruling class in history, at the same time that their utter lack of any redeeming quality whatsoever renders them history’s nadir, history’s most degraded, nihilistic, parasitic, and worthless ruling class. They represent not a stage of Western Civilization but its final self-cannibalization. This is the end of this pseudo-civilization, for better or worse. The corporate barbarians certainly intend the worst – the full reinstatement of a slave economy, through the vehicles of debt indenture and corporate domination of food.
But we can defeat this satanic plan if we redeem from the wreckage of the Oil Age the greatest treasure we’ve won: The consciousness that we the people can rule ourselves. That we can maximize our happiness and prosperity through full political and economic democracy. That we don’t need “elites” for anything, and that elites are never anything but parasites and criminals.
All we need to do is accept this fact, believe in it, and take responsibility for it. The true Human Renaissance beckons. This is the same human evolution and salvation for which Martin Luther King fought, for which he sat in jail, for which he wrote a letter from that jail.
I hope we’ll live up to the standard he and so many other great fighters for humanity have set for us. It’s a very high standard, and the forces ranged against it are formidable. But as I said, I think we can do it. Democracy is ours wherever and whenever we want it. The time is ours whenever we choose it. Our freedom will assert itself as soon as we freely choose to fight for it.


  1. What a wonderful post, Russ. It read, to me, like a poetic cry for understanding of why we seek justice. Excellent us of the MLK letter too!

    I note in this morning’s news how the Repubs and Dems are prepping us for the eventual rubber-stamping of the debt limit being raised. Is there any doubt they’ll do it?

    Comment by Johnny D. — January 17, 2011 @ 7:43 am

    • That’s “use,” Russ. Sigh. Sheesh.

      Comment by Johnny D. — January 17, 2011 @ 7:44 am

    • Thanks JD.

      Any doubt they’ll do it? I don’t see how they can refrain. The whole thing’s a joke – they’re committed to an infinite Ponzi scheme for as long as they can keep it propped up.

      Of course they’ll also try to move more and more of the exploding debt off the books completely.

      Comment by Russ — January 17, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    • note in this morning’s news how the Repubs and Dems are prepping us for the eventual rubber-stamping of the debt limit being raised. Is there any doubt they’ll do it?

      There is no doubt. The debt limit is a lie anyway. The federal government creates its own currency and has no real reason to issue debt. The whole point of the kabuki dance is scare Americans into accepting greater austerity for themselves. Meanwhile elite looting continues unabated.

      Comment by reslez — January 18, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

  2. It is now almost 50 years since the famous MLK speech was delivered. What are the results:

    “Dixiecrats” are now called “Republicans”.

    We have cities, like Detroit, that are almost all black and are under black rule. Detroit has a 47% illiteracy rate, a real life 46% unemployment rate, a 24% high school graduation rate, one of the country’s highest crime rates, one of the country’s highest unwed mother rates and zero supermarkets serving a city of 800,000 residents. We can see this same pattern in places like Camden, NJ, Watts, NOLA, etc.

    A black male is far more likely to find himself incarcerated than he is to find himself in a college or university. If MLK were alive today, he would still be dreaming. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

    Comment by black swan — January 17, 2011 @ 10:46 am

    • He’d have confirmation of what he suspected, that legal civil rights (including the Bill of Rights itself) is necessary but not sufficient for a prosperous, democratic, free society.

      Comment by Russ — January 17, 2011 @ 11:51 am

    • Blacks moved to northern cities for the factory jobs available in urban centers. It was also a way to escape the sharecropper, Jim Crow South. The factories have all been closed but the people are still there.

      I find it a little strange that you single out Detroit as a majority black/black-ruled city when it’s an egregious example of the effects of globalization and the decline of the U.S. auto industry.

      Comment by reslez — January 18, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

  3. Here’s a start of JUSTICE for ya. Bush and Cheney are sentenced to cleaning every square inch of Iraq with their tongues. Maybe then we will stop deploying depleted uranium on our beloved home. And Obama and Michelle can provide us all with communituy gardens and the same health plan the have. The time for King’s reasonableness has sadly become ‘quaint’. If we can’t get to the killers, then we will get to their salesman. Current events show that we have and we will.

    Comment by tawal — January 17, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

    • tawal: you need to be a bit careful here. Justice is fairness and freedom. Justice and retribution are not even related except in the minds of those who hunger to wound. That is one of the many things wrong with our missnamed Justice system. The governments Justice Department validates itself by punishing lawbreakers rather than by preventing crime. After all it is so very difficult to quantify the reduction or abscence of crime???

      Comment by Paul Repstock — January 17, 2011 @ 9:41 pm

    • I don’t think there’s anything quaint about reason or reasonableness. Both are on our side.

      Being reasonable certainly doesn’t have to mean being passive, being timid, not being assertive, even aggressive. That’s just cowardice masquerading as “being reasonable”. It’s the attitude King was objecting to in this letter.

      Comment by Russ — January 18, 2011 @ 6:05 am

  4. Ahhh..So wonderfully articulate, with your permission I will pass it on.

    We do however require elites. We require moral and intelectual elites so that our people have role models and goals to strive for. There is no reason to assume that all people were created equal, only that we all have worth and something to contribute. These moral and intelectual stratafications are so subtle that they pose no threat to freedom.

    Comment by Paul Repstock — January 17, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

    • “How is this elite to be prevented from exploiting its intellectual superiority to usurp the role of the masses, paralyze their initiative, and even impose a new domination upon them?”


      Comment by Neil — January 18, 2011 @ 12:31 am

    • Hi Paul. My attitude towards this is that the kinds of scales that democracies operate properly on don’t really allow for the creation of “deep” hierarchies anyway. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with acknowledging that some people are going to have more or less to contribute to a particular endeavour than others. I think the main thing to strive for is to have all members of a democratic community relatively equally invested in it, regardless of what kind of work they’re doing, or how well they’re regarded. Not too many ideas on the best ways to go about that yet, though.

      Comment by paper mac — January 18, 2011 @ 1:38 am

      • Yep, I think you have it right. If we can reach a point where the plumber’s voice/vote is equal in importance to that of the Ceo’s, then it will be pretty difficult to lead the world into chaos. We just have to get past the point where the Ceo’s money can buy a ‘super vote’ which cancels all the ordinary votes.

        I’ve scarcly had a Socialist thought since I as 15. I don’t believe in stealing from anyone, even in retribution. I don’t require more than I have, though I’ll continue to strive. I believe talent and effort should be rewarded. But, I will fight the idea of multi tiered privilge and rights, to my last breath.

        Making money requires focus and talent, it does not suggest a greater moral fiber.

        Comment by Paul Repstock — January 18, 2011 @ 2:06 am

      • That’s a great way of putting it, paper mac.

        There’s tons of ideas on how that would work


        and indeed it has worked, most famously in Spain.

        There’s also lots of ideas on how to get there from here. But as you say, it remains extremely difficult to actually do it and get there.

        Comment by Russ — January 18, 2011 @ 6:19 am

    • Thanks, Paul. You’re always welcome to pass stuff on.

      We require moral and intelectual elites so that our people have role models and goals to strive for.

      Recognition of moral and intellectual authority is good as long as it doesn’t involve any coercive hierarchy.

      When I use the term “elites” I’m always referring to political and economic elites unless otherwise noted.

      Comment by Russ — January 18, 2011 @ 6:12 am

      • “moral and intellectual elites”

        This sounds good In Theory but, even as a poor student of history, I think I can state that a perilously large percentage of “moralities” actually lack the feature of being moral towards most ‘subjects’ (for lack of a better word), but are extractive enterprises on the level of banks, if not worse. (Banks at least admit to being for-profit enterprises).

        Likewise, “intellect” can be just as misused as to do worse harm, practically, than ignorance (see not only Monsanto, but the Nazis, who had many brilliant scientists, architects and so forth, among their ranks).

        Having had extended up-close experience of the privileged ranks, in intellect (of which a natural offshoot was assumed to be morality… the cauldrons which forge the “Larry Summers” of the world), I can tell you that I would rather place the world’s future in the hands of a farmer or a taxi driver. The intellectual elite are not to be trusted one whit, until they prove themselves to be on the side of the earth and the sustainable existence of mankind, should that be possible. All else is foolery, self-delusion, theft and distraction.

        Comment by Lidia — January 18, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

      • I agree completely, Lidia. The examples you cite involve the corruption of intellect and the perversion of morality in the service of coercive hierarchy.

        Comment by Russ — January 18, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

      • Lidia said: “I can tell you that I would rather place the world’s future in the hands of a farmer or a taxi driver.”

        I couldn’t agree more.

        For some reason this reminded me of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein….after World War I, Wittgenstein, who came from a very wealthy Austrian family, decided to unconditionally rid himself of his entire fortune (which he said was the result of war profiteering) and to become a country schoolteacher instead.

        And later when he was a professor of philosophy at Cambridge, he famously advised his students that they should give up philosophy and instead go to work in Woolworths department store, or become shoemakers or carpenters.

        Contrast this with someone like Larry Summers, who is more or less typical of all American elites today. All they care about is money, power and status, they couldn’t care less about American citizens they supposedly represent. And this is why we should return the favor, and have nothing but contempt for every one of them. We don’t need the elites, if only we could get enough people to understand this, then maybe we could finally overthrow them.

        And thanks Russ, for this wonderful tribute to Martin Luther King.

        Comment by Frank Lavarre — January 18, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

      • You’re welcome, Frank. And thanks for those instructive examples.

        (Not that it’s directly political, but Wittgenstein’s brother Paul was a concert pianist who lost an arm in the war. Rather than let that defeat him, he learned to effectively play with one hand, and commissioned pieces which would maximize that way of playing.

        So there’s an example of the indomitable human spirit, something we’re all going to need going forward.)

        Comment by Russ — January 19, 2011 @ 2:47 am

    • We do however require elites. We require moral and intelectual elites so that our people have role models and goals to strive for.

      Certainly elites will justify their rule by claiming to be morally and intellectually superior. They’ll even hire people to prove it for them.

      We require nothing.

      These moral and intelectual stratafications are so subtle that they pose no threat to freedom.

      If the stratifications are so subtle, what is the point of having an elite? We see already that elites are a threat to freedom. They use their authority to coerce and control.

      Comment by reslez — January 18, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

      • LOL. Yes, the moral and intellectual superiority of our current political and economic elites must be subtle indeed.

        Comment by Russ — January 19, 2011 @ 2:48 am

  5. Paul, we need no role models to know that it is wrong to take more than we need. Oh, and All People Are Equal.

    Comment by tawal — January 17, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

    • I misstated. I meant that we are not homogenous. sry

      Comment by Paul Repstock — January 17, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

    • We need no role models to know that it is wrong to take more than we need.

      Great aphorism.

      Comment by Russ — January 18, 2011 @ 6:14 am

  6. Ok ok, I surrender! The people have spoken! No intellectual or moral elites.

    Now who is going to inspire and motivate the people to greater heights once we have dismantled government. Who among you mental midgets is actually a disguised Martin Luther King, or a Mahatma Gandhi, or a Nelson Mandela, or even a John F. Kennedy; who will step to the fore and lead the people in selfless devotion to a better world? I know that I’m not qualified to shine these peoples’ shoes. Who will step up to make new discoveries in medicine , and energy physics, and the biological sciences? Unless they can be rewarded with accolades and wealth.

    You see ‘Pure Anarchism’ is all fine for the first 90 days. Till folks realize the we don’t have a program that is going to get us anywhere. That we don’t have leaders to browbeat, motivate, and sometimes inspire us. Growing potatoes and learning to make shoes by hand was quite exciting for the hippies, for a few months.

    And, if there is not some hierarchic structure to reward these leaders with at least recognition and prestige, why should they step forward to do the work, to take the risks of retribution, to deal with the complaints of all their millions of constituents?

    Perhaps you each have some fixed point in time and space where you would like to perch for the remainder of your lives, merely wishing to be left alone in your own space allowing reality to flow serenely past you. Needing nothing from the world except the granting of this conservative tranquility. It cannot be. Since each of us has and always will have different characteristics, there must be conflict. Even the innocent snowflakes break each other apart as they build layer on layer.

    Perhaps you believe that there is some hidden fountain of individual ambition and motivation which will suddenly appear when released from the government yoke. In some people there may be. In most there is probably not.

    An Anarchist disposal of current governing structures without an alternative as a replacement is like a teenage tantrum about family restrictions and responsibilities. Except for the tiny fact that there is no friendly social services safety net to catch the pieces.

    So! Where do we start? By disposing of 90% of the population so that we don’t need intense structural controls to feed and cloth everyone?? I think that plan is already patented. Do we just kick out the government and rely on the industry and innovation of one quarter of the people to sustain the remainder? I really don’t see that working, besides that is really quite similar to today with small proportional differences. And without government compulsion, few would be excited about doing all that work.

    In case any were skeptical, I was not about to nominate myself for membership of the moral and intellectual elite. I am made of very common cloth, with little leadership ability. I would do just fine in the rugged individual with 10 acres and a cow. However, I see no advantage to the human species in pursuing that course. That has been done and rejected. Lets move forward, somehow. Please.

    Comment by Paul Repstock — January 18, 2011 @ 11:04 pm

    • LOL..I can already see the smoke belching from comrade Rus’s ears..

      Joking..but sincere on the post.

      Comment by Paul Repstock — January 18, 2011 @ 11:23 pm

    • Re: burden of proof. What if anarchist ideas and values were intrinsically good? Here’s a link to an interview Chomsky gave, and the first question was “What is it that attracts you to anarchism?”


      Comment by RT — January 19, 2011 @ 1:16 am

    • Paul – a few comments.

      “Who will step up to make new discoveries in medicine , and energy physics, and the biological sciences? Unless they can be rewarded with accolades and wealth.”

      To someone in the biological sciences, this is drop dead hilarious. Important new discoveries are made every week, mostly by graduate students paid less than minimum wage. The handful of scientists who are actually recognized in any meaningful way for their work by society at large are often relentless self-promoters. Most of the best scientists I know, and I am proud to say that I have worked with some of the finest in the world, are mostly happy if they’re given enough to eat and drink and left alone. The idea that individuals are motivated primarily by monetary compensation or a place in a deep hierarchy is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      “You see ‘Pure Anarchism’ is all fine for the first 90 days. Till folks realize the we don’t have a program that is going to get us anywhere. That we don’t have leaders to browbeat, motivate, and sometimes inspire us. Growing potatoes and learning to make shoes by hand was quite exciting for the hippies, for a few months.”

      This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of anarchist thought. Leadership exists in anarchist groups as it does elsewhere, with the exception that it emerges dynamically, in response to conditions, and is not a permanent privilege of anyone. The type and style of leadership that a group is prepared to accept will vary depending on its needs and goals. A comparison of your example of “hippies” with the anarchists of the Spanish Civil War might be revealing.

      “And, if there is not some hierarchic structure to reward these leaders with at least recognition and prestige, why should they step forward to do the work, to take the risks of retribution, to deal with the complaints of all their millions of constituents?”

      Firstly, they should not have millions of constituents. No democracy can exist in such a case. Leaders emerge in genuine democracies in the same way as in any egalitarian human society: spontaneously, in order to lead the group to achieve a particular task. This happens all the time. It need not be permanently institutionalised or privileged. With no permanent position, there is nothing to maintain with exploitation or force. People should lead because they want to, because they feel compelled to, because they’re the best people to organize the group at the moment for a particular task. We’ve had enough leadership-for-power and leadership-for-money. It doesn’t work very well. We need leadership for the common good, leadership for it’s own sake. To the extent that is rewarded by a democracy, it should be done carefully, modestly, and without means that will materially distort the balance of investment in a democracy.

      Comment by paper mac — January 19, 2011 @ 1:57 am

      • I see exactly where my thinking has gone wrong, probably corrupted by too much exposure to modern markets and politics.
        Mac said, “It need not be permanently institutionalised or privileged. With no permanent position, there is nothing to maintain with exploitation or force.”
        Also, while I instinctivly understood the realities of rewards for scientific work I was quite unaware of the motivations. I do not personally know any scientistsand I arrogantly thought that scientists were all ‘market driven’.

        I am honored to have met you Paper Mac and others on this blog as well. And that you take the time to politely point out my errors and ignorance. (I don’t shrink from admitting ignorance, as I hope it is curable).

        Comment by Paul Repstock — January 19, 2011 @ 2:22 am

    • Thanks, paper mac, for that excellent answer.

      Paul, why do you think people can’t work together to get things done? The dirty little secret is, most work that’s done even as things are can be called “anarchistic” in the sense that anyone does anything more than the absolute bare minimum necessary to survive, and is the slightest bit more decent than a psychopath. Why does anyone exceed any of these standards? It sure ain’t because they’re being sufficiently paid to do so.

      Anarchism points out that if people retain so much of the cooperative spirit even under such extremely hostile conditions, imagine how that spirit would flourish under more favorable conditions, where society was organized to maximize that spirit.

      Part of the problem is the example you give of how you feel small compared to people like Gandhi or King. The reason people are prone to feel that way is the brainwashing of the elitist system.

      But once people start to take action for themselves, they quickly build political and social self-respect.

      You throw in the straw man word “selfless”. But anarchism never expects people to be selfless. That’s implicitly what statism and capitalism expect, since those expect us to continue to obey even as they plunder and tyrannize. Now that’s what I call demanding a saintly level of selflessness.

      By contrast, anarchism takes it for granted that there’s no pure altruism. On the contrary, it always argues that we should be anarchists not only because it’s the only morally valid system, but because it achieves the best practical results. It’s the most productive system and distributes the fruits of this productivity the most fairly for all.

      What’s selfless about wanting a system where every able-bodied person willing to work is guaranteed sufficient material well-being and whatever level of economic and political freedom (other than the bogus “freedom” to coerce others) he desires? And of course those truly unable to work would be better taken care of than under the capitalist dispensation.

      Is it being selfless to want this, and is one expecting a lot of selflessness from others? It sounds to me like there’s plenty of room for people to see how it’s the best thing for them as well.

      And why do you think that individuals who stand out would fail to achieve recognition and prestige? You’re only thinking that way because you find it hard to conceive recognition outside the capitalist framework.

      Anarchist society would honor people. It just wouldn’t turn such honor into a prerogative to coerce others.

      Finally, the idea that relocalization wants to revert to the “rugged individualism” (which hardly ever really existed anyway, at least not in North American history) is another straw man. While anarchism would leave people free to do that if they wanted, its own cooperative, federated practice would achieve a society just as well developed as that of capitalism, and with a far richer social quality. Capitalism itself, of course, wants to destroy civil society completely. It’s capitalism which wants to reduce each of us to being a “rugged individual with 10 acres and a cow”, except without the 10 acres or the cow.

      Comment by Russ — January 19, 2011 @ 3:15 am

      • “..except without the 10 acres or the cow”…I read you 5 X 5 good buddy.
        Intellectually, I understand the possibilities of this. Perhaps my fears are based on paranoia and brainwashing. But, you cannot deny the real world evidence of the frailty of the human spirit. When that is considered in conjunction with the morals and the aims of the power elite, we will only get one play with these dice. We had better be certain that we choose or timing well.

        The facts show That the earth can support 10 billion people, that only a small percentage of these need to be working in agriculture, that technology can afford us a relatively wealthy life style without labouring 20 hrs per day, and that distributing these benefits to all will have yet greater benefits in material and physical security. But, how do you propose to enlighten the masses who are made fearful and defensive because the are told the opposite every day. That vast majority of people who are convinced that without our present institutions in their “pure” form, we would be living in a starving, stone age hell within 24 hrs?

        When I witness the lack of response to the trampling of human rights and dignities, as in the countless examples of the airline security atrocity. Eg: An 85 year old grandmother was forced to remove her prosthetic bra ‘’’in public’’’ at the Calgary airport. If the common run of humanity had a shred of courage or decency there would have been a riot on the spot. Nobody did anything for fear of being implicated!

        When I see how readily people ditch their principals and shop at huge corporate retail outlets which source their goods from Asian sweatshops, to save a few cents, buying goods they do not really ‘need’ for survival.

        When I see how easily people relinquish basic rights and freedoms in the interest of protecting their mortgaged McMansions, their second suv’s, and this tenuous “security” the government has convinced them is theirs.

        Then I think I’m right to doubt the people’s commitment to Freedom, and even their understanding of what Freedom is.

        There may be a global stirring of consciousness. It is very fragile and the enemy knows that.

        Comment by Paul Repstock — January 19, 2011 @ 4:35 am

      • I know it’s hard to convince people of this. It’ll take hard work, probably for a long time, to bring this to a mass consciousness.

        In the meantime, those of us who do think this way have to live these principles to the fullest extent possible under these conditions, and do all we can to spread the idea.

        (The criminals themselves, through their actions and the devastating effects of these actions, will also be doing all they can to demonstrate the validity of these ideas.)

        The facts show That the earth can support 10 billion people, that only a small percentage of these need to be working in agriculture, that technology can afford us a relatively wealthy life style without labouring 20 hrs per day, and that distributing these benefits to all will have yet greater benefits in material and physical security.

        The facts actually show that cooperative and smallholder agriculture is more productive than industrial agriculture, and that this productivity premium will increase as Peak Oil increasingly constrains fossil fueled, globalized agriculture.

        But this will actually require far greater numbers of people to become farmers and growers. But if we work cooperatively, then we can indeed do it while working fewer hours. And for the first time we’d all be our own bosses, our own managers, fully sharing in the produce of our own work.

        Comment by Russ — January 19, 2011 @ 5:53 am

      • Well the least important thing we need to quibble over is productive efficiencies..lol

        another thought:

        It is commonly held and I think relatively accurate that people with full bellies do not participate in revolutions. Also, I think traditional revolutions have yielded poor results in that most commonly the situation reverts to the same old abusive mean after a relatively short period of barbarous reprisals.

        At this time in the western world, we who would change the system are counting on empty hearts and souls to function in place of the empty bellies of other times. This may be valid and sufficient. Certainly it would appear to lend itself to a more peaceful transition. Not that I would expect a less barbarous response from those in power, but the atrocities are more apt to be even more one sided.

        I feel that the best assurance for sustained success would come from removing or reinventing the existing institutions one at a time. If this can be accomplished piecemeal the task of reestablishing the old system will face the same hurdles as formalizing our new system, therefore giving people a better chance of learning and accepting the new system.

        Comment by Paul Repstock — January 19, 2011 @ 6:09 am

      • Reinventing one at a time, and especially different movements working on different reinventions simultaneously, is one good way things could happen.

        Comment by Russ — January 19, 2011 @ 9:29 am

  7. Rus, I thank you for the use of your blog. I’m not just being abrasive or annoying, I’m not even trying to play devil’s advocate. The internet is a huge learning resource for me. And sometimes I find myself in the deep end without my water wings..:)

    Comment by Paul Repstock — January 19, 2011 @ 2:40 am

    • You’re welcome, Paul.

      Comment by Russ — January 19, 2011 @ 3:22 am

  8. Interesting, perhaps technology enable a path for decentralization to occur on a grand scale and allow a society without any coercion to occur.

    I do wonder how you would determine who is fit to do work and how much would be demanded from them. Would this system that you envision be similar to Communism? How are the distribution of goods determined? How would you motivate social loafers?

    I agree with the premise that we have a problem with our leadership (or lack thereof) in our current society. However, it seems to me it is just that these people as individuals are rotten and could use some humbling.

    Are you also of the opinion that it is the system itself that makes these individuals so hollow?

    It seems capitalism is a system that could work if people held themselves to a higher moral fiber. But this has always been the problem in any civilization; people caring enough to perpetuate the good actively and not succumbing to the impotence of evil (and indecision).

    Comment by Transcent — January 19, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

    • Hi, transcent. I do think any system works to bring out the better or the worse qualities in people. Capitalism certainly does all it can to bring out the worst – greed, instrumental reason, selfishness, commodification, callousness, shallowness, sociopathy, tribalism, hate, contempt for all non-monetized values, the most nihilistic elements of individualism.

      There’s many different ways work and its produce could be distributed under economic democracy. People would be free to work as sole proprietors or as members of a cooperative, syndicate, etc. The produce could be collectively distributed, or distributed on the basis of agreements among groups, etc. But in a nutshell, it would be a version of from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.

      No system is perfect, of course, and it’s possible there might still be those who try to freeload. If the community judged that someone was willfully taking more from the community than he was able and willing to put in, and he refused to mend his ways, he’d be kicked out.

      I think the problem with the “elites” is far more systemic and structural than some bad apples. Power corrupts, and wealth corrupts. These things have an existential inertia. It was all good and well to think representative government could work indefinitely in the 1700s, when the industrial age was barely recognizable on the horizon to most observers. But since then we’ve seen the concentrations which inevitably accrue to the top wherever a top exists. This is endemic to the structure. It’s an indelible trait of hierachical states and economic dispensations. So that’s the negative argument.

      On the other hand, we know by now that we the people can fully control and manage as well as own our own polities and economies. We the productive people can keep the entirety of what we produce, instead of allowing elites to extract any of it on the spurious grounds that they add some unique Leadership “value” (Fuhrerprinzip). So since we don’t need them and would be far better off without them politically, economically, and spiritually, why should we consent to still have them, even if they were merely parasites and not also vicious aggressors? So there’s the affirmative argument.

      Comment by Russ — January 19, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

      • Rus Rus..” But in a nutshell, it would be a version of from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

        I know this is not exactly what you mean. But in the end, that is the socailist meme it always boils down to..:(

        How do we ever establish “needs”?? Needs invariably get perverted to wants (which are boundless for some people), and wants get perverted to entitlments..and there you go off the edge of the cliff.

        I know I’m extrapolating a long way down the road. But, it is better to be honest and try to address these structural problems now, rather than to intuatively know that our efforts are doomed.

        Some European countries have had a limited sucess with a guaranteed minimum wage. I don’t know enough about those to judge.

        Comment by Paul Repstock — January 19, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

      • 1. What’s so hard to understand about the idea that if someone’s clearly a taker, he’d be kicked out? As for the community as a whole turning wants into needs (if that’s what you meant), if they have enough production to support it, then what would be the problem? And if they don’t, then they wouldn’t be able to do it anyway.

        2. As for having to work out every last detail ahead of time, why is every alternative expected to live up to this impossible standard even though we know the status quo has failed in every detail? We know we’re doomed now, so we couldn’t possibly become “more doomed” on any other path.

        While any new idea needs to make a plausible argument for itself as a better replacement for a status quo which is proven to be immmoral, irrational, and impractical, that’s all it should have to do.

        But it’s your assumption of every idea’s total corruption which is just an unsupported assertion. You’re right back in the mode of assuming capitalist conditioning equals indelible human nature. That’s exactly the Big Lie they want us to believe. Human nature in itself is very different, and human nature cultivated by a cooperative society would be even more different.

        Finally, it’s invalid to compare anarchism to elitist, hierarchical socialism. (I think that’s what you were getting at.) As anarchists like Bakunin said from the start, long before any Marxist-type society existed, if you replace the capitalist state with a socialist state, you end up where you started, with economic domination and exploitation. Only the nominal forms and some of the details change.

        But anarchism wants to get rid of coercive hierarchies completely.

        Comment by Russ — January 20, 2011 @ 3:13 am

  9. Rus: I managed to restrain myself from making an unecessary response to Transcent’s post. Instead I reread some of the posts here. I came to the funny conclusion that perhaps Anarchists should take the time to reread Atlas Shrugged with a less jaundiced eye. I know the book is hardly perfect. But, given a bit of leaway for style, it is relevant.

    Comment by Paul Repstock — January 20, 2011 @ 2:01 am

    • Might makes right is far more coherently and entertainingly argued in Plato’s Gorgias and Republic.

      But just for the heck of it I’ll again ask the question no one’s ever willing to answer.

      The nominal Rand message is: “Elite supermen are the truly productive people and shouldn’t be constrained by parasites.”

      It’s clear to me that the book’s written in totalitarian code, the code being: “We parasites should steal all we can from the productive people, and try to cover up for it by fraudulently calling ourselves supermen.”

      So here’s my question. If this reading is false, then why is Rand’s hero an architect, who necessarily needs to use a vast amount of other people’s wealth and labor for his dream to come true, instead of being a humble poet who’s subject to censorship or something?

      If the Rand “philosophy” is on the level, wouldn’t her heroes be impoverished poets who want nothing but the freedom to create? And since her heroes are on the contrary technocrats who require vast surpluses, extracted at gunpoint by large-scale state violence, in order to function at all, doesn’t that prove that her books are really a scam meant to provide self-justification for these absolutely worthless criminal parasites?

      To quote from a bad “Star Trek” movie: “Why would God need a starship?”

      Why indeed? Why would a spiritual creator need to actually have a skyscraper built with other people’s money and labor? We know the scam.

      Comment by Russ — January 20, 2011 @ 3:25 am

      • Like shooting fish in a barrel, but let me chime in with the Randian übermenschs’ complete detachment from the natural world, it being an infinite and inanimate supply of raw materials for them to build their grotesque memorials to themselves.

        :“All property and all forms of wealth are produced by man’s mind and labor.”

        Bzzzzt (game show buzzer).

        Comment by Lidia — January 20, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

      • Yeah. And even if nature’s provision weren’t prior to human labor, the labor is still that of the workers, with some intellectual supplement. In no case would there ever be any justification for the existence of a concentrated-wealth elite.

        Comment by Russ — January 21, 2011 @ 4:56 am

  10. […] regular posting, but since it’s MLK Day I thought I’d link my post from a year ago, One Big Birmingham Jail, for anyone who didn’t see it or has forgotten it.   Rereading it a year later, I think it […]

    Pingback by MLK Day: Vote For The 99% « Volatility — January 16, 2012 @ 5:16 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: