Mutual Destruction

Posted: October 30, 2010 in Free / Open Software
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Capitalist dogma teaches us if everyone looks after their own self interests, then we’ll all be better off. But, of course, the proponents of this edict don’t actually believe that individuals will truly excel on their own, by themselves.

Suppose you decide to start your own business, and you go to the bank for a loan. The probability that you will receive credit is quite closely related to who you know. And here I don’t mean it’s best if you know the bank manager. I mean, if your business plan lists a catalogue of successful business people among your friends, acquaintances, or family, and lists them as people who will aid you, then hold out your hands for the bags of money you will receive. Further, should you happen to be the son or niece of a dominant political person, then your hands won’t be large enough. You’ll need a wheel barrow. So, we don’t need to listen to social critics to understand nepotism, cronyism, the way the world spins. Just look at the practices of banks.

The “self-made man” is a myth. When did he ever exist? The business man/woman needs allies, partners, customers, employees, relationships with government representatives, regulators, suppliers, etc. Even capitalism cannot deny our social nature. The mantra of small business advisers is “network, network, network.”

The sentiment in us all to engage in mutual assistance is so intuitive that it’s amazing that a book, Mutual Aid, was required to remind us of it. The greatest contribution that the internet makes to our well-being is as a vehicle for mutual assistance. People will give total strangers advice on how to tile a bathroom floor, how to make a raspberry soufflé, or how to trim Fido’s nails. And this is all natural.

But the unnatural thing about the capitalist order, is that we are meant to rally our troops for the purpose of committing combat with the opposition. Ultimately we are not meant to foster kindly relations out of mere chumminess. The relations are solely for the purpose of using our “friends” in order to annihilate the opposition. When will we move beyond this?

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A quick post to follow on my last. It might have nothing to do with anarchism, but it’s on the real important topic of beer!

Michael Pollan in his book In Defense of Food referred to “edible foodlike substances.” These are substances that are globbed together from chemically reduced components. These are substances like non-dairy creamer, Fruit Loops, Nogurt.

The Germans passed the Beer Purity Law about 500 years ago to dictate that beer should be brewed from only water, yeast, hops and barley. It is a rather stringent rule; I’ve had a pretty mean pumpkin ale or two in the past. But before this 4-ingredient recipe is abandoned, careful consideration should be given to how “adjuncts” can improve quality. Unfortunately big commercial breweries are not concerned with producing a quality product, and so they substitute cheaper rice or corn for the barley. Part of the savings they then funnel into marketing this rice/corn water, and we are bombarded with the gleeful message that beer should be refreshingly “ice cold.” The industry needs us to drink their horrendous products ice cold because our taste buds virtually cease to work at that temperature. Quality beer is, in fact, drunk at 4C to 15C (40F to 60F).

I, therefore, want to assert that that many big breweries do not craft beers at all but instead manufacture “drinkable beerlike substances.” As this phrase catches on, remember you heard it here first!

Anarchy is order. Yes, anarchists have been making this argument forever. But is the reverse true? Is the opposite of anarchism—centralization, authority and hierarchy—disorder? Or is centralization just a different type of order, an order that is undemocratic and unnatural according to anarchists? I’ve tended to this latter explanation. That is centralization, hierarchy, and planning work to mechanically order pieces into a greater machine that never thrives organically but, nonetheless, functions in predictable ways acceptable to the managers and engineers of the world. But, of late, I’ve broadened my view, and I see that centralization actually is disorder. I’ll consider the story of agriculture as an example, a story which is worth considering in it’s own right.

People have worked the land for millennia. Not to romanticize the activity, but communities thrived, and people had a place in the world and a connection to nature even as they worked hard. Each generation inherited a formidable set of skills and knowledge that they then passed on to succeeding generations. But eventually this mode of living was put to an end for most of the people of the world as land was conglomerated into very large holdings, and the factory farming system took over with its chemical fertilizers, pesticides, genetic modifications, and oil-fed machinery.

Farmers (peasants) were thrown off the land to become wage earners (or wage slaves). Without the means to grow their own food, without access to water and wood, they migrated to cities seeking employment. (Or some don’t make it that far as the current statistics on farmer suicides in India tell us.) Millions of words of been penned on this topic. This process has been simultaneous with the rise of capitalism which always needs their cheap labour in the factories and sweatshops of the world. But all the injustices of capitalism that have been voiced from Marx to today won’t be revisited here. Instead, I’ll stick with the story of agriculture itself.

The industrial model of farming depends on monocultures. Vast tracts of land planted with the same crop become “efficient” to harvest. Specially designed machines and processes can be adopted for the task. But monocultures come with their own problems. When large holdings are dedicated to growing just one crop, the pests that thrive on that crop balloon in numbers. These infestations are made worse because their natural predators may not be suited to life among that one plant species. Consequently, pesticides must be used in large quantities. Furthermore, a single crop planting is an ideal host for disease. In much the same way that bird flu or mad cow disease can spread like wildfire among spaces cramped with poultry and herd stock, plant diseases race through vast tracts of monocultures. One solution to this is to genetically modify the plants to be more resilient. Lastly, a single crop planting is typically very productive for a year or two, but as the soil gets depleted truckloads of fertilizers must be used to keep the yield up. More genetic modification may also be done.

Problems solved? Perhaps. But other problems are now introduced. Fertilizers and pesticides run off into the ground water and into the streams. Other plant and animal species are affected. Where I live, a ban on harvesting clams and mussels has been in effect for forty years due to their toxicity caused, in part, by pesticides and fertilizers running off crop land. Furthermore, chemical fertilizers can cause eutrophication of lakes which steals the oxygen that fish and other animal populations require. And, of course, the residual insecticides and herbicides on our produce poison us too.

Fertilizers affect our health in additional ways that are quite intriguing, as well as scary. Most chemical fertilizers are primarily compounds of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). There may be other trace elements too, but organic the soil is not. The plants are fed a sort of Kraft macaroni diet of the flora world; sure they can live on NPK, but they won’t be healthy. More selective breeding or genetic modification is done, and we get food on our dinner plate that was optimized to grow in a chemically artificial environment, and not food that was grown for taste or for nutrient value (since the soil was short in the nutrients that feed into the plant). And so our health suffers. The problem of poor diet is exacerbated further. Certain crops lend themselves to the modern factory system and are therefore grown extensively. Author and activist, Vandana Shiva, makes the point in her book, Soil not Oil, that “Humanity has eaten over 80,000 edible plants over the course of its evolution. More than 3000 have been used consistently. However, we now rely on just eight crops to provide 75 percent of the world’s food.”

Remarkably, however, our economic system gives the mirage that we actually have choice. The U.S food industry introduces 17,000 new (highly processed) products into the market every year. And yet about two-thirds of the average American’s calories come from just four crops: soybeans, wheat, rice and corn. High fructose corn syrup is ubiquitous. This is not food at all but what Michael Pollan called in his book In Defense of Food “edible foodlike substances.”

But perhaps the most catastrophic effects of this farming system come from its contributions to climate change. The great amount of machinery in use in modern farming adds exhaust to the atmosphere (several calories of oil are burned for every calorie of food produced.) Nitrogen oxides and methane gases are emitted from the fertilizers and cattle on the land. Food is shipped and trucked great distances to the supermarkets.

What we see is a grand chain of cause and effect where solutions to problems cause other problems forever and ever. The way we grow food results in sick soil that produces little variety in our nutritionally empty foods that then affect our health which results in us taking supplements or drugs to combat diabetes and heart disease. The way we grow food damages the environment to the extent that bodies of water become polluted and eutrophic; whereupon, “sealing lake bottoms with polyethylene sheeting, selectively discharging hypolimnetic water in water supply reservoirs, or diluting with water from an oligotrophic source” (google it) are presented as “water treatment solutions” which will surely have environmental problems of their own. The way we grow food produces weak plants that need fertilizers and pesticides that are derived from pertro-chemicals that cause climate change. And now there is talk of geo-engineering and other scientific solutions to climate change such as throwing iron filings into the ocean, or seeding the clouds, or putting giant reflectors in the sky—all of which completely miss the point that we need sunlight. But the solutions always miss the point because capitalism creates business opportunities out of the problems it creates and does not tackle the root causes—especially after those who benefit from the root problems are able to create a political lobby.

We have put agriculture into the hands of a small clique of “experts”—scientists, genetic tinkerers, nutritionists, politicians, and business magnates. They, in turn, strive to shatter the complexity of nature itself. The scientist only understands the reductionist approach of isolating one variable at a time. The genetic Frankensteins, as a sect of science, never truly understand how their modifications affect the whole plant (or us, the consumer). The nutritionist tells us about fats and carbs (which are bad one moment and good another) and really doesn’t seem to have a clue about food. The politician thinks in terms of imbecilic sounds bites. And the business leaders have a horizon of a business quarter or two.

Shiva, again in her book Soil Not Oil reminds us of the “unexpected creativity of natural processes.” This is a remarkable insight, for we normally associate creativity with people as a sort of conscious action. But, of course, nothing is more creative than nature as it builds complexity on top of complexity from single celled organisms up to immense ecological systems and all the while invents orderly patterns for the entire existence. Shiva is especially concerned with decentralized, diverse farming practices. Her great experience in this area allows her to claim that “Biodiverse fields always perform better than monocultures. They survive frost and drought, early rain and late rain, too much rain and too little rain.” Why this may be so, we cannot explain. Perhaps it is due to the complex chemistry of the soil, its water retention abilities, the organisms that live in it, the conditions of micro-climate that are produced, or most probably all of the above and more all simultaneously. That’s the beauty of emergence.

As biologist Brian Goodwin points out:

It is now recognized that emergent properties are very wide-spread in nature, particularly in living systems. Many of the most intriguing characteristics of life, such as the way a complex organism emerges from the interaction of many cells during embryonic development, or the patterns of species extinctions during evolution, are unexpected results of particular patterns of interaction between components in complex systems. [Brian Goodwin, Nature’s Due: Healing Our Fragmented Culture. (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2007), 36.]

As humankind breaks down nature into simple forms and discrete pieces, we destroy those beneficial emergent properties and at the same time produce harmful unintended consequences. Quite incredibly, we dissolve complex order into simple disorder.

I’ve used agriculture as an example of our folly, but the misguided mindset is general. Most notably, there is society itself—the only human creation that comes close to the complexity of, say, a patch of organic soil or the life system found in a river delta. Here too we see forces at play that aim to simplify, understand, and control. Schools systems; party politics; laws; church doctrines; corporate advertising; public relations (propaganda); national institutions, symbolism, and myth (more propaganda) all aim to minimize diversity in the human experience by colonizing our thoughts and homogenizing our behaviour. Anarchists have understood this for a very long time and have been consistent voices in opposition. The energy of a vibrant society unencumbered by systems of control will produce emergent properties beyond our imagination, will create marvels in art, science, culture and social organization. And this energy may be our only hope for avoiding ecological ruin.

The great revolutionary anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin wrote, “I am properly free when all the men and women about me are equally free…”1 I thought for a good period that Bakunin must be a severe sentimentalist. Clearly, this is not correct; lock up the criminals and I’ll be safe. However, of late, through consideration of the Jewish occupation of Palestine, I’ve grasped in this phrase a great depth and wisdom. Although the dreadful predicament of the Palestinians is rightfully discussed in progressive writings, there exists a curious self-enthrallment in Israeli society. But first, reflect that George Orwell once shot an elephant.

As a young policeman in 1920’s Burma, Orwell was called out one afternoon deal with an aggressive bull elephant that had pulled free of its restraints, was destroying property, and had trampled an unfortunate Indian coolie. With elephant gun in hand, he trotted off to find the beast with thousands of Burmese villagers scurrying in tow eagerly awaiting the inevitable showdown. At last, Orwell discovered the animal among some muddy rice patches peaceably munching grasses with a touching “grandmotherly air.” At this point, Orwell writes that he had no desire to “murder” it knowing that its owner was just some hours away. Yet he was fixed on an unalterable course:

And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.

Israel’s crimes trample through our conscious these days while the corporate press, through momentum of habit, attempt to cast the state of Israel as an unfortunate victim acting from the position of mere defence. Like children who hide their faces under blankets and trust the scary world does not exist, our media agents wrap their heads in newsprint and wish the internet into oblivion, that nasty virtual world where anyone interested in facts can read human right reports like the one that B’Tselem recently issued.

Ruins of Gaza

One and a half million Gazans live in “severe poverty.” Ninety-five percent of their factories are shut down. Ninety eight percent of the residents suffer from regular electrical blackouts while the other two percent have no electricity to lose. Ninety three percent of their water wells are polluted. Approximately 20,000 were left homeless, 5300 wounded, and 1390 killed by the Israeli military attack on them 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 while just twelve Israelis were killed in that assault (4 of them from friendly fire.)

Meanwhile in the much larger West Bank, Israel has confiscated tens of thousands of acres of Palestinian land which has been subsequently settled by some 310,000 Jews transferred from Israel proper. The infamous security/apartheid fence/wall snakes around many of these settlements to make the land grab more permanent. Palestinians suffer restricted movement due to more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks where soldiers have committed hundreds of incidents of abuse while the State gives a little wink of its blind eye. Tyranny it is. And yet, when the Jewish man turns tyrant, he too destroys his own freedom.

Amira Hass, Israeli journalist and winner of journalism and human rights awards, writes that most Israelis, “have given up on real information” as they refuse to understand the shocked response of some people in the world to the treatment of the Palestinians. And, to be sure, Hass knows what she is talking about having recently lived in Gaza for some months –only to be arrested on her return to Israel on charges of criminally residing in an enemy state. Can a nation call itself free when it breeds such a disdain for information that it will persecute its journalists in this manner?

Writer Ilan Pappe likens Israel, with its colonist policies, to a settler Prusian state, and provides first-hand knowledge of the “socialisation and education” that someone born in Israel receives. Israeli Jews are subjected to a “militarisation of the mind” and a domination by the army over political, cultural and economic life. Ex-military man and Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery, refers to the “addiction of our leaders to the use of force.”

Such views of Israel depict this nation as a military state, indoctrinating its citizens with its military propaganda, slamming journalists, and abusing human rights. This cannot be right; surely Israel is a democracy, a singularly free nation in that region!

Zoabi Accosted

Anthropologist, author, and activist Jeff Halper puts a big question mark on this categorization. He frankly says, that Israel is, in fact, an ethnocracy, not a democracy, where the 70% of the Israelis who are Jewish own the country. And then there is the apartheid wall which further erodes any democratic credentials because “You can’t have a democracy here and an occupation there.” This ethnocracy was certainly on display quite recently when Members of the Knesset (MK) accosted MK Haneen Zoabi, tossed her out of the parliamentary chamber, and revoked various of her parliamentary privileges. Zoabi is, of course, an Arab Israeli. “I thought, this couldn’t be a parliament, these are just gangsters,” she remarked later.

Israeli Soldiers

But these parliamentary members are a product of the country and an unhealthy society. Halper says that “The occupation permeates ever single aspect of their lives.” And the result is a rise in alcoholism and domestic violence, and of a high suicide rate among soldiers and police. Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, calls this permeation “The Shadow.” The Shadow, or “the situation” as it is more commonly called, is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians; it makes its appearance two minutes into any conversation and “haunts everything.” As Avnery writes: “Violence is a symptom; the occupation is the disease – a mortal disease for everybody concerned, [both] the occupied and for the occupiers.”

Orwell ends his exposition on shooting an elephant with the phrase, “I often wondered whether any of the [other English police personnel] grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.” But the whole English empire was eventually made to look the fool when Gandhi sent it packing. The Americans looked the fool when they were forced out of Vietnam, as the Russians looked the fool when pushed from Afghanistan. The sooner Israel looks the fool, the sooner it ends the occupation, the better for all concerned, Palestinians and Jews alike.

1 A. Lehning, 1973, “Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings” page 146

Capitalism and dance do not mix. No matter who you are on Earth, look around you, and you’ll see that you live in a culture of dancing, or you exist within the influence of capitalism. Never do both thrive simultaneously.

Culture is our immune system. It keeps us strong and vibrant. It connects us to a community with the healthful consequences that come with that bond. Dance is one of the indicators of this system’s strength; it is the rosy hue of our complexion, the fire in our eyes, the strength of our stride. If you need a quick summation of a culture’s vitality, you only require the answer to one question: do the people dance? Capitalism aims to penetrate the social body. It is a pathogen that sees only one role for the organism it invades: a host for itself. The virus has no respect for the welfare of the being that it usurps; it desires only infection of that body and contagion to the next. It feeds off the host, sapping it of vigour, exhausting the muscles, straining the being in unseemly ways. Now, fever overtakes us, the sickly. We rush to work, speed to the next mall sale. Sirens blare in the night. Prisons are filled. Pink slips are issued. Now, delirium accosts us. Political campaigners, advertisers and agents of public relations garble delusional messages into our ears. Finally tiredness overcomes us. Television, alcohol, drugs, and fluffy internet apps send us into our stupor.

The immune system activates to counter this onslaught. But it struggles. Native peoples of European settler countries suffer the inevitable, dire poverty of modern capitalist “development” while they dance for their very cultural lives. On the Iberian peninsula, birthplace of the flamenco, the fandango, the paso doble, the bolero and the sardana, the capitalist bug completed its infection after taking advantage of a crippled immune system. The cultures of the Basques, Catalans, Andalusians and others were squashed by the goose-stepping Spanish fascists in the 1930’s, dance shoes being no match for jackboots. This pattern repeats globally. Governments the world over—“democratic,” or totalitarian—use State toxins to weaken the immunity of the social body for the benefit of the capitalist contagion.

Revival of the Sardana

The State-assisted capitalist epidemic broke out first in the British Isles with its industrialization and merchant trading. And now almost no one in those ancient lands know the steps to the jig, the reel, the fling, the strathspey, or the Morris dance any more. Dances of central Europe and Germany—the schuhplattler, the ländler, the waltz, the polka—suffered a loss of vitality soon afterwards. And similarly, we see the virus sweeping across 21st century China as the mechanical Han Chinese produce coal mines and factories, condominiums and brand-name apparel, with nary a bounce in their step. In all of these countries dance primarily exists in two forms. It becomes a theatre show for viewing, a spectacle to watch but not for doing. Put in a petri dish and swirled around. Or young party-goers flail about desperately in nightclubs, alcohol sloshing within their bellies, in decidedly un-cultural ways.

To be sure, on occasion new dance styles are invented such as hip hop and jumpstyle on the streets and in the clubs. But they struggle to revive the culture and often fade out after some time. Or the contagion immerses them, and they become assimilated by capitalist forces. One of the greatest dancers in modern times, Michael Jackson, rose up from meagre origins, realized great financial success, and promptly forgot how to create new steps. A rose emerged from the dirt, swayed and fluttered attractively to the rhythm of the wind, and was plucked crudely for the businessman’s lapel.

But maybe there is hope yet. The Greeks, perhaps the only Western Europeans to maintain dear feelings for dance, those people of hundreds of styles, muster some resistance to the International Monetary Fund and other bullying financial organizations–while commentators laughably write, “The Greeks’ innate anti-authoritarianism… is at the heart of the problem.” The capitalist pathogen surrounds Cuba seeking a vector into that lively organism while the defenders conjure up the cha-cha, summon the spirit of the salsa, and invoke the magic of the mambo for protection. The samba-loving Brazilians and tango-strutting Argentines resist international capitalist pressures. The Bolivians with their caporales, morenada, kullwada, diablada, and countless other dances gyrate, bounce, and skip an anti-globalization president into office. How wonderful that some refuse to march in step.

Anarchist Emma Goldman once said: If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming. I can tap my foot to that tune.

Such nonsense: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Countries exist only because man creates them as he builds furniture, civil structures and computing machines. They are built in order to serve some purpose in the manner that tables, bridges and iPads are constructed for utility too. There is no point in having any of them around otherwise. Let me announce, “Ask not what your garden shovel can do for you, but what you can do for your garden shovel,” and the ridiculous nature of this presidential proclamation becomes evident. How can someone slobber such patriotic sludge, and why do people suck it up through straws as narrow as their limited reasoning?

The Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch

As recently as two hundred years ago it is doubtful that very many residents of the British Isles considered themselves to be British. A painting by David Wilkie caused a stir in 1822, for it aimed to manufacture a British identity through a patriotism that transcended age, gender, class, race, or occupation. “We” had just defeated Napoleon. And if you could see yourself in this painting, if you happened to be someone from Irish, Welsh, Scottish or English origin, rich or poor, man or woman, white or black, then you were one of the “we” who had just vanquished the enemy. It was of no consequence that many “French” men and women, in an age before railways and national schools, had no idea who Napoleon was.

Influential men in the British Isles were expanding their trade internationally and needed “Britain”, a political fabrication, for their protection. They needed laws favourable to their dealings, laws that would protect their property. They needed a navy and army to escort them on their expeditions. And they needed the people across the land to sign on to the whole arrangement. The common person in Yorkshire or Cornwall never had designs to become even English let alone British.

Similarly, ninety-seven percent of the inhabitants of the newly formed Italy did not speak Italian and had never clamoured in their multitudinous dialects for a change of language. What good was Italy and Italian to them? And let’s not forget the United States. Historian Howard Zinn reminds us that the Revolutionary War was unpopular: “It was not all the common people getting together to fight against England. They had a very hard time assembling an army. They took poor guys and promised them land. They browbeat people…” And when the soldiers discovered they were part of a racket, a good many mutinied. Yes, countries were created by wealthy people in order to fulfil their ambitions of power. Zinn tells us that “the farmers were rather poor; the Founding Fathers were rather rich.”

We are often told that socialism (when the State owns the means of production) is evil. We are also told that its opposite, capitalism (when the means of production own the State) is good. Good for who? Rich property owners? International traders and financiers? Business elites and industrialists? The phrasing more correctly should be, “Ask not what the owners of the country can do for you, but what you can do for the owners of the country.” But, of course, these words cannot be used. We’re supposed to imagine one big national family. We’re all part of it. We are all American, or British, or whatever. Let’s not think of class, or of class war. The very ideas sound much too Marxist; surely they belong in the pages of a dusty, Victorian library.

But a class war is being fought, and being fought unevenly. The elites know what they are doing when they step into society’s ring. They throw the punches and land the blows with hands that are unfairly clad with the concrete wrappings of The Law. Their opponents–the rest of us–mostly take it on the chin. When we succeed in picking ourselves up off the mat for another round or when we temporarily stem the blood-flow, we rejoice in our small victories. Never mind that the State referees the match to our purposeful disadvantage; the fix is most certainly in. And we’re losing badly.

Would you believe that all countries on earth will execute anyone within its borders who commits even the most trifling act of disobedience? You may think, “Surely, this is not the case. Very few countries submit to death any but the worse criminals.” Yes, this is certainly true; officially most Western countries have abandoned capital punishment. However, in practice, the State will kill—and without trial—any who push their dissenting positions hard enough. Take the following hypothetical trivial incident to its inevitable conclusion.

Suppose the city thinks it best to adorn your car with a wee bit of coloured paper, a mere four grams of thinly sliced, dyed cellulose pulp. And suppose the city then devises the sloth-brained notion that you now owe it a sum of money equal to a few hours of your labour. Well, you never asked for pretty cellulose pulp, and you reckon the price is too steep, anyway, if you had. So, being as sane as the next guy, you toss it aside and forget about the matter.

But, alas, the city persists in sending you yet more pulp, this time by mail and this time cellulose of a much less amusing nature: thicker, coarser, pure white except some threatening lettering. And, the city charges still more for this—added to the sum you already “owe” it. By now, you may be at the point of ignoring this nonsense out of pure principle. Do grown adults really send strangers unsigned slips of paper in the mail with demands of money for no discernible reason?

Remarkably, the city figures its authority derives from something called the State, from laws that you’ve never read and would never write, from the imaginations of people who have been long dead. And so, some other sliver of fibre arrives at your abode demanding your appearance in a courtroom. Well, you reckon, quite sensibly, that lawyer-types are the last people you’d like to spend an afternoon talking to, so you do not go. You are subsequently found in contempt of court. Or, maybe you decide differently. You do choose to attend (you need an excuse to duck the dentist anyway); whereupon, you inform the man sat in the tall chair that you’ve been very amused with the whole dance, thank you very much, and could we now knock it off? The consequences will be similar in either scenario.

A point will be reached where you come face-to-face with a police officer. Perhaps the judge orders him to restrain you right then and there. Maybe he comes menacingly round to your home. Or perhaps as you drive, he produces—like an adolescent who has just discovered fireworks—flashing lights and a hellish scream. Apparently something called a driver’s licence is revoked, even though it sits right there in your wallet. Well, now you are really up against it, for this is someone unreceptive to reasoned conversation. He means to physically disrupt you. You recoil; maybe you resist. He draws a gun. Quick, what do you have in your pockets to help you? Too late: you’re dead.

Can you now see that the most likely price for stubbornly refusing to pay a trifling parking ticket is your eventual extermination? Yes, it is true, you might get lucky and only be incapacitated by the officer, perhaps by a taser shot or a blow from a truncheon. But do you really want to rely on good fortune and an insufficiently cracked skull for your survival?

Taking this reasoning to its conclusion, can you imagine any scenario, whatsoever, where a regular individual without the power of money or a vast organization could violate any law, get identified for it, and still succeed in resisting the penalty (cash or jail time), that wouldn’t put him in eventual conflict with a cop? And are there any means to physically defeat the police force? Your expiration is the most likely outcome if you try hard enough. And remarkably, most people accept this as normal and correct.

Take the case of Robert Dziekanski killed by Canada’s national police force a few miles from where I now sit; killed for mildly resisting police attempts to detain him (he may have been armed against four cops with an office stapler); killed after causing some disturbance in an airport brought on by travel fatigue, lack of sleep, and frustrations with ten hours of airport bureaucracy. The consequences of this poor man’s death were public outrage, a coroner’s inquest, investigations, independent reviews, and various reports and recommendations.

The stream of events roughly followed a course that questioned whether the victim was much of a threat, whether the police were too forceful, or whether the taser is an appropriate weapon. The only question was whether the degree of police violence was appropriate to the circumstance—not whether representatives of the State should have been on location acting violently to begin with. In other words, had Dziekanski resisted the policemen’s advances more robustly, his death would have been palatable to society. The State is expected to kill. As Alexander Berkman wrote, “We are so steeped in the spirit of violence that we never stop to ask whether violence is right or wrong. We only ask if it is legal, whether the law permits it.”

It must be clear now that the State does not merely have a monopoly on violence, but it is inherently violent. We do not take our opposition to the State too far because we know it controls the police. We submit to the police because we know damned well what we are in for if we do not. Once you have defied the State, even to the smallest degree, you have set in motion an apparatus that cannot be reasoned with, one that will force your compliance on penalty of death.

At that frightening moment Dziekanski realized he would be shot, he exclaimed to those State officers, “Have you gone insane?” There is nothing sane about any of this.

Would you believe that all countries on earth have the death penalty and will execute anyone within its borders who commits even the most trifling act of disobedience? You may think, “Surely, this is not the case. Very few countries submit to death any but the worse criminals.” Yes, this is certainly true; officially most Western countries have abandoned penalty of death. However, in practice, the State will kill—and without trial—any who push their dissenting positions hard enough. Take the following trivial incident to its necessary conclusion.

Suppose the city thinks it best to adorn your car with a wee bit of coloured paper, a mere four grams of thinly sliced, dyed cellulose pulp. And suppose the city then devises the sloth-brained notion that you now owe it a sum of money equal to a few hours of your labour. Well, you never ask for pretty cellulose pulp, and you reckon the price is too steep, anyway, if you had. So, being as sane as the next guy, you toss it aside and forget about the matter.

But, alas, the city persists in sending you yet more pulp, this time by mail and this time cellulose of a much less amusing nature: thicker, coarser, pure white except some threatening lettering. And, the city charges still more for this—added to the sum you already “owe” it. By now, you may be at the point of ignoring all this nonsense out of pure principle. Do grown adults really send strangers unsigned slips of paper in the mail with demands of money for no discernable reason?

Remarkably, the city figures its authority derives from something called the State, from laws that you’ve never read and would never write, from the imaginations of people who have been long dead. And so, some other sliver of fiber arrives at your abode demanding your appearance in a courtroom. Well, you reckon, quite sensibly, that lawyer-types are the last people you’d like to spend an afternoon talking to, so you do not go. You are subsequently found in contempt of court. Or, maybe you decide differently. You do choose to attend (you need an excuse to duck the dentist anyway); whereupon, you inform the man sat in the tall chair that you’ve been very amused with the whole dance, thank you very much, and could we now knock it off? The consequences will be similar in either scenario.

A point will be reached where you come face-to-face with a police officer. Perhaps the court orders him to restrain you right then and there. Maybe he comes menacingly round to your home. Or perhaps as you drive, he produces—like an adolescent who has just discovered fireworks—flashing lights and an Almighty scream. Apparently something called a driver’s licence is revoked, even though it sits right there in your wallet. Well, now you are really up against it, for this is someone unreceptive to reasoned conversation. He means to physically disrupt you. You recoil; maybe you resist. He draws a weapon. Quick, what do you have in your pockets to help you? Too late: you’re dead.

Can you now see that the most likely price for stubbornly refusing to pay a trifling parking ticket is your imminent termination? Yes, it is true, you might get lucky and only be incapacitated by the officer, perhaps by a taser shot or a blow from a truncheon. But do you really want to rely on good fortune and an insufficiently cracked skull for your survival?

Taking this reasoning to its conclusion, can you imagine any scenario, whatsoever, where a regular individual without the power of money or a vast organization could violate any law, get identified for it, and still succeed in resisting the penalty (cash or jail time), that wouldn’t put him in eventual conflict with a cop? And are there any means to physically defeat the police force? Your expiration is the most likely outcome if you try. And most remarkably, most people accept this as normal and correct.

Take the case of Robert Dziekanski killed by Canada’s national police force a few miles from where I now sit, killed for mildly resisting police attempts to detain him (he may have been armed against four cops with an office stapler), killed after causing some disturbance in an airport brought on by his travel fatigue, his lack of sleep and his frustrations with ten hours of airport bureaucracy. The consequences of this poor man’s death were public outrage, a coroner’s inquest, investigations, independent reviews, and various reports and recommendations.

The stream of events roughly followed a course that questioned whether the victim was much of a threat, whether the police were too forceful, or whether the taser is an appropriate weapon. The only question was whether the police violence was appropriate to the circumstance—not whether representatives of the State should have been on location acting violently to begin with. In other words, had Dziekanski resisted the police’s advances more robustly, his death would have been palateable to society. The State is expected to kill.

It must be clear now that the State does not merely have a monopoly on violence, but it is inherently violent. We do not take our opposition to the State too far because we know it controls the police. We submit to the police because we know damned well what we are in for if we do not. Once you have defied the State, even to the smallest degree, you have set into motion an apparatus that cannot be reasoned with, one that will force your compliance on penalty of death.


At that frightening moment Dziekanski realized he would be shot, he exclaimed to those representatives of the State, “Have you gone insane?” There is nothing sane about any of this.