First, my condolences to Arthur for the loss of his Wendy.
It is always with a bit of trepidation that I approach an Arthur Silber essay. I aspire to be an independent thinker, insofar as that is possible, and I find Silber to be a considerable threat to the fulfillment of this attempt. Therefore, I try to gather the gist of what he is to be writing about from the title and the lede - hopefully just a few sentences will do - and perform a preemptive inventory of my own feelings on the subject. This so that I may retain some pretense of originality before his sincere and diligent logic enchants and directs my thoughts.
Thankfully, his latest essay is incomplete, or "preliminary." I will take advantage of this and indulge in an opportunity to have a sense of dialogue with his observations, rather than the more customary and familiar condition of being struck mute by his inimitable analysis. And, of course, I look forward to his next essay, presumably to be dedicated to furthering this dialogue.
Arthur's essay, entitled So, What Exactly Are We Talking About? Some Preliminary Observations, begins to deconstruct the nature of non-violence - or rather how the concept of non-violence is understood generally, and by the more sophisticated - the "non-violent smuggers," as he comes to call them. He discusses the question within the frame of the #Occupy movements, which is obviously appropriate as this nascent push towards the next revolution has made this a very relevant and important topic, being debated across the blogosphere even as it is being assiduously ignored by our paid opinion-setters in the MSM, except perhaps as fodder in constructing a narrative of anarchic chaos. (I also find it serendipitous, as I have all but turned this blog over to the movement for the time being, and this allows me to remain "on topic.")
He posits the discussion around the fate of the prototypical business being "hurt" by the #OccupyWallstreet melee:
...[Marc] Epstein is the owner of the Milk Street Cafe. Because of the decrease in his business, Epstein has laid off more than 20 employees and may go out of business altogether.Epstein's complaint is specifically directed at the police barricades that are obstructing easy traffic to his new business, and Arthur anticipates the causal connection to the actions of the protesters impelling the police to place those barricades, and moves to the OWS buck-passing, quoting a reporter from The Gothamist:
Have Epstein, his business and his laid-off employees been damaged? Certainly. Has violence been committed against them? And if so, by whom precisely?...
Asked about his plight, Occupy Wall Street issued a statement saying, "The NYPD makes the decisions on the part of police barricades. This is not our choice and we would never want businesses to have to deal with inconveniences that may reduce their business traffic."This of course does not address why OWS is making this trouble in the first place, and at this point I pause in the reading to make a mental note - surely Silber will note that the OWS's ready answer will be that they are in turn impelled by the actions of the elites just as the police are so impelled to inadvertently block Marc Epstein's attempts to make a go of it with his cafe. Well, after disposing of a few loose ends of logic on the way that a lesser thinker might ignore, he indeed makes the point.
The overriding point, I think, is the general hypocrisy of most proponents of non-violence, especially within the context of the #Occupy movements. Arthur makes the very excellent point that there isn't a whole lot of difference between closing a national port and smashing a window. Both acts are quite violent. To some of us this is obvious, but there are too many who will need to have that elaborated upon in order to even consider the truth of it (and even then they will object, oh yes.) I will not bother to do so here - I leave that to Arthur.
(I will note with some satisfaction here, in the name of retaining my credibility as an independent thinker - boy am I defensive about this or what? - that I have, in past posts and even recently, touched on this subject myself:
I am a great admirer of Gandhi, but it is actually quite silly to call him non-violent. I even find some of his own writings at time to be somewhat unself-aware on this point... my own definitions of violence are more expansive - in fact, in the Krishnamurtian world-view "non-violence" is an impossibility. All actions are violent, insofar as they always provoke a reaction. Whether or not the reaction is a desirable "good" or not is, in this view, hair-splitting - often the criteria for such a judgment is determined by where a person is "standing." Now, one may reasonably argue that provoking a blush from a lover is a "good" indeed - but when it is brought into the arena of political, social action such arguments are transparently disingenuous.Silber, in his essay, goes further and points out the rather important reason as to just why violence, even of the variety typically and erroneously labeled "non-violent," provokes a reaction in the first place. It is because, as he says, it's purpose is to "compel obedience." I agree - it is also true for the blushing lover, which I perversely note with no little pleasure.)
The gist of the essay (without making all of the points here - go read it, for g-d's sake) is that a) violence is often hypocritically couched in the language of "non-violent action" (an oxymoron if there ever was one), b) the type of retributive or corrective action as perpetrated by movements like OWS are unfailingly portrayed as reactions to other violence ("actual" violence, in the minds of the protesters, c) that all actions, even non-cooperation, can be signaled as violent by the simple observation that they are made to "compel obedience," even if this obedience is being asked of our oppressors, and d) the oft-overlooked point that violence is ultimately non-directional (he quotes Arendt: "No doubt, 'violence pays,' but the trouble is that it pays indiscriminately..."), which of course in combination with point b), above, is a recipe for the condition of the world today (“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”, attributed to Gandhi).
Arthur, I expect of course, will have more to say on this subject soon. As he says, without a trace of sarcasm:
As my title has it, these are only preliminary thoughts...I would like to make a final observation, however.
For the moment, I am condemned to exclusion from the state of grace which appears to be remarkably easy of attainment for so many others, where "we all know what we're talking about" and questions of grave import have luminously clear and satisfactory answers. I have sinned greatly in my life, and I continue to pay the price.
"Non-violence," and its elevated sister "non-violent non-cooperation," is often spoken of with a certain other-worldly reverence. I myself am a "non-violent smugger" on occasion. There are salutory reasons for this - not the least being that it would be all too easy for people without the capacity or respect for nuance to take the fact that "non-violence" is indeed an illusory concept and use it to justify acts of truly intentional violence. So to those I would say that the cleavage may be made between "intentional" and "unintentional" - specious as that notion actually is if we wrestle it to the ground.
In defense of the "unintentional" violence borne in the effort to "compel obedience" from those who have been clearly been "compelling obedience" with impunity for quite some time, as I've written:
As to provocation in general - I am aware that the very essence, the need, of the revolutionary goals of non-violent non-cooperation is to provoke...And so I am saying that, in spite of the high-mindedness with which I and others invoke the non-violence idea, many of us recognize that we are indeed advocating violence (often masked with the somewhat ridiculous invocation of "non-violence, not pacifism!"). And so I am saying that there are times when violence is indeed justifiable... but! - and I fucking mean this, there are lines that can be drawn that need not bring on accusations of hypocrisy. Like it or not, this psychological world in which we most certainly reside is as real as the birds and the trees in the context of what is essentially limited to the construct of the virtual world of our social interactions. I continue:
In light of this, my point is that we should be especially careful that the reactions we so ardently desire are limited to defensible exposure of the oppressor's pre-existing violent position against us, and not have the message muddled by ostensibly "justifiable" (albeit small-minded) defense of property... or shirt.
This is admittedly in the dirty sphere of psy-ops, but it is a milieu that cannot, realistically, be ignored in this world of we, the reactive, social animals that we are.
Welcome back, Arthur. Oh, and...