Good peasant, bad peasant: some ideas for interacting with tyranny
(The following was originally written as a letter to respond to a reader of Anarchy, A Journal of Desire Armed #43.
I’d like to respond to the view that seems to be quite uncritically prevalent in left and Anarchist circles these days: The idea that there can only be a limited view of what “militancy” means in order to be “successfully” “revolutionary”. And, along with that, the idea of what kind of thinking and action constitutes “realistic” responses to official injustice.
“Imagine not stepping into the traps of group hatred and arbitrary persecution. Imagine finding serious ways to “build bridges” to the individual instinct of the spectrum of human beings.”
To give some background, i’ve had a somewhat diverse set of direct and indirect experiences with official power. i typically do not enjoy interacting with representatives of such power in any capacity, having learned to realize that probably everything they do falls in with their training to “control” society’s “deviants”. However, tho i am “paranoid” of their power and do despise it, i am still drawn by a desire to understand exactly how their mind-set manifests itself and can continue virtually unchallenged.
This kind of thinking seems to be alien to most people who have similar experiences. It seems that few let themselves squirm free of the rationale that *we* are “forced” to promote or provoke the killing of “enemies” (be they servants of the state or other despised groups). This, i think, is just as bad as the authoritarians we are purported to be against. The worst thing is that it only feeds the long-blind flames of human stupidity and remains far from solving the problem at its roots.
“If ‘revolutionary’ visionaries and warriors really want to solve the problem at its root, we’ve got to wake up not only to our own hypocrisy about authoritarian destructiveness, but to the tactics power uses to play us right into their various traps.”
Laure Akai (whose letter in Anarchy #43 I was principly responding to) and others who espouse this “traditional” view certainly must be coming directly from heavy duty direct experience; and it may be true that in some circumstances equitable retaliation of official violence may be the only option; but most of the time it seems to me to be way too politically expedient, as well as awfully suspicious in the way it too often plays right into the hands of provacateurs and a much better prepared officialdom.
If “revolutionary” visionaries and warriors really want to solve the problem at its root, we’ve got to wake up not only to our own hypocrisy about authoritarian destructiveness, but to the tactics power uses to play us right into their various traps. That’s why i say we must learn to realize that police, soldiers, and others serving coercive authority are not our real enemies; they are but duped and exploited pawns who are to serve as decoys, while powerful bigots continue their usual games, pretty much unscathed. Note that i said “powerful bigots”.
So, what i think we need to do is to figure out how to undermine this perpetual program of bigotry (from both sides), on the one hand, and then how to solve the root of the problem, on the other.
It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize that most people who form the ranks of both the servants and even the managers of the coercive authority model are really only people like so many others who happened to be born into their particular norm, conditioned to conform to it, and take a role based on their trust in those they’ve been conditioned, from day one, to look up to and believe in. Nor does it take too much imagination to see that every echelon of the coercive authority model deals with consequences for its arbitrary formulation of “what is certain” and “what must be done.” For police, that means being used as a diversion–or middleman–on which social “deviants” can be allowed to vent their frustration to varying degrees. For managers and owners that means backing oneself up into a corner whereupon the “stupid masses” (as they call us) “must” be dealt with in certain ways–thereby crystalyzing an inability to empathize or understand. And with such systematic non-understanding dealt by the rulers comes the inivetable–having such horror meted upon them when they lose power (as in a “coupe” or “revolution” or simply when they become elderly).
The catch word is non-understanding (or bigotry) and the “mind-set” that leads people to come up with such rationales as those man-made constructions above.
So, i think it is high time we try to go beyond such bigotry. Thus, instead of forever allowing ourselves to contribute to the insanity of smashing such human beings whose bigoted mindsets create havoc for their weaker contemporaries, we need to learn to go beyond it.
If we continue coercing any group against their will–via measures that destroy our common humanity, we’ll continue to see that each replacement mind-set has changed little from previous ones. That makes sense since no one really learned how to sanely deal with the hardest issues in the first place. It’s like getting rid of a physically abusive parent, but still not understanding why a toddler is acting the way she/he is. Incapable of understanding the phenomenon ourselves, we’re apt to institute yet another oppression.
Let’s fast-forward from here a bit. Say we’re already in the midst of forming anarchist communities in a formal sense. How do we go from point A –smashing and crushing “enemies” (as anarchist rhetoric now promotes)–to point B –genuinely forming “cooperative society” oriented to “mutual aid”, “genuine community” and “egalitarian ethos”?
We cannot! We find, that without dealing with our misunderstanding right now, without living up to our rhetoric–without systematically practicing our “propaganda” (so it seems to me) in the worst of times–we end up being just as “strategically challenged” as the oppressors we took power from. The only way to create our visionary society is to practice it now, and to realize the stupidity and destructiveness of our “traditional” non-understanding past orientations.
Laure realizes that mass segments of society are dying to see something happen. Whether they’ll get involved or only largely spectate is anyone’s guess; what is probable is that fear will get the best of most of these segments of society when “traditional” anarchist methods are promoted; most would rather survive than struggle violently as we can see in every police state in the world ( i.e. 200,000 dead–since 1975–in E.Timor, i suspect, is only a minority of the entire population). Most would rather graze acceptable pastures since the risk of the other given alternative–violence–is just too heavy.
So, we need to find a way that will not only interest and inspire the masses, but undermine the efforts of the ever-fearful powerful. In my view it will have to be something that can include all of the diversity of the masses. Something that they can easily see themselves doing and is “inside” their experience. Something that operates around joy instead of non-understanding, fear, and the perpetuation of human stupidity. i think it will have to also include a deep commitment to non-ideolgical-oriented demystification.
Now, let’s fast-forward again. Imagine a time where system challengers (or “subversives”) have not only played in their heads with these issues, but have been trained to work such out in actual confrontations with strategically challenged opponents.
i can easily imagine anarchist “knitting” and “bowling” leagues who’ve been taught the Crucial Arts of , say, Chomskydo “intellectual self-defense” or Saul Alynsky “Mass Ju-Jitsu” (along with any number of sub-“moves” (i.e. the Grace Llewellyn Unschool-Two-Step Throw). A time where direct actionists work or play out their individual imaginations without “moral” boundaries in order first to tire the strategically challenged violent opponent, then to seek a communication style that allows them to respond genuinely, and finally, as in classic nonviolent strategy, to make friends with the “enemy”.
Sound interesting? Well, i think that the seeds for such a future potential are all around us now, if only we have the intelligence to see their importance!
For example, in the few books that were published by and about Saul Alynsky, you can get a sense of an approach that really, it turns out, is still pretty much in its infancy. “Going outside the experience of our viewed opponents but inside our allies’ experience” is the gist of Saul’s theories of creative nonviolent confrontation. The actual kinds of tactics that he promoted for use by oppressed minorities and strikers are pretty amazing in their joy-orientation–yet were still big on results.
One of them used ordinary beans as the main ingredient for attack. A large group of direct actionists ate lots of beans and then descended upon their quarry while they sat at an enclosed public concert hall. Farting through-out the show, and certainly utilizing some kind of technique to communicate their intent, they succeeded in forcing their helpless opponents to the negotiating table, via peer pressure! (“John, you’ve got to do something about those people! It ruined our evening!”)
Imagine the joy of fighting with a tool that the oppressor could not legally respond to! Imagine the chance to progress activism beyond our centuries of the utter waste of the diversity of human potential.
If those promoting the ideals of anarchist belief really want to concretely formulate its sketchy visages of a sane society AND get the serious attention of these vast segments of society which are becoming more and more frustrated in their powerlessness, it must go beyond its traditional limitations of defense and reaction; it must go proactive within the strength of its visions!
Now let’s go back to that human group that i despise and fear so much: those representing and running coercive authority, such as cops. What if we were to engage them in the methodology of classic Eskimo punshiment? The Inuit and Aleut people are supposed to have engaged in a community punishment where the punished would be totally ignored for a duration of time. So what if, for example, a ghetto community, largely angered and frustrated by police brutality, endeavored to use such a tactic on all the police, including street cops, desk jockeys, and those of the higher ranks?
What if gas attendants, waitresses, postal employees, and everyone who came into contact with them acted (within the limits of their profession) to deny a friendly, interested, or otherwise human interaction, until a time when, quite informally, people decided to change their action or nonaction based on a conscious decision that they might share with the particular cops.
John Trudell (past American Indian Movement activist) spoke about this basic idea. He called it “resistance consciousness”. He said that people should develop some kind of a resistance that cannot easily by subverted and that can be passed on.
i think these ideas have merit; but they need a strong and going-to-the-root way of being utilized in order to really make a difference. My idea is to use these ideas towards a ‘positive reinforcement’ conditioning tool where the humanity(ability to empathize, etc.) of irresponsible persons is promoted.
Deeply police-brutalized communities would deny police, en masse, any bastion of normal human interaction as part of a mode “resistance consciousness” for irresponsible and nonempathetic behavior, while endeavoring to express large amounts of humanity and interest (which all enjoy receiving themselves) when officers exhibit any form of constructiveness individually or as an independent group. Methods to promote humanity might include boquets of flowers (perhaps gotten free in dumpsters, or from the coutryside) or home-made foods being annonymously delivered to police. Or, imagine holding joy-centered demonstrations for cops who have made serious “attitude adjustments”. People could be dancing, singing, and having an all-around party for the cops…a tool that would blow the cops’ “superiors” right out of the water, especially if it was coupled with creative attempts to educate.
Thus, imagine that some usually isolated and deeply feared cop has made somewhat of an adjustment of his attitude. He may receive some kind of an award from a number of individuals; an award that commends his more positive activity, but which also comes with some information that gives him knowledge that he probably has not seen before–information unrelated to the topic, but normally hard to come by within mainstream culture; something that he and his family could use (i.e. something about describing the myth of “learning disabilities”). An analysis of cops used as decoys and grunts of power might come later, when a more open communication has been pioneered.
The idea is to promote human interaction with individual “civil servants”, to melt the mystical barriers that separate us, and to promote the common humanity we all have, however beaten down by “pragmatism” and cynicism.
In this way, there is the greatly heightened potential of creating bridges to a police officer’s human qualities. The brutally oppressed community does not kiss ass, nor does it attack the group (made up of individuals–all of whom would feel wronged if attacked violently– no matter what the context). In fact, the brutally oppressed community’s original “resistance consciousness” remains quite intact. Police will be rewarded for behaving decently and responsibly, and psychologically challenged for bigoted, brutal or illegal acts.
The beauty of this “good peasant, bad peasant” approach (as opposed to “good cop, bad cop”) is that it gives ample room for creative exploration and expression of diverse individualistic interest to communicate reality. And, as the tactic becomes more and more successful, the more a brutalized people become capable of seeing themselves leading change–instead of remaining passive while “leaders” do everything.
Dealing with cops’ destructive behavior, of course, wouldn’t be the end of it all. We’d have to seek the root of the problem, such as the mind-set that trains cops to interact inhumanly (While it is true that cops are directly affected by their “superiors”, we’d also have to deeply scrutinize the society that molded them). Brutalized communities would have to learn to go out of their way to insist on the cops’ superiors gaining more humane understandings. They might have to start all over again with each section of psychologically armored servants of the inhuman state, but the chance of increased understanding and attitude adjustment would be well worth it.
So, you’ve got a basic picture of this crucial art form of tactics. What might an actual creative direct action manifest itself as? Say you want to organize a demonstration at the headquarters of an area precinct. What if legions of people, educated in varying degrees of “intellectual self- defense” did “pot-luck-ins” weekly (or more, depending on the severity of the problem).
Flooding the immediate vicinity of the station in a kind of civil disobedience, the direct actionists would not only share their food (and friendly sports or games), but their serious, yet spontaneous desire to openly discuss, in a human-oriented way, some of the officers’/bosses’ problems and how they may have come to be. The mood would not be oriented to talking at or down to cops and their bosses, but with them, towards a better understanding.
Okay, maybe such a tactic doesn’t adequately identify the root of these officials’ mindset. So, what does? Is there anything that can touch them? Are they “untouchable” as human beings? Are they so pathological that there is not way that their humanity can be reached? (the idealistic psychiatric critics, R.D. Laing and Peter Breggin would disagree; they knew that love and empathy could break through to even the hardest “schizophrenic” cases).
At first glance all this must sound foolish to the seasoned activists amongst you. I’m sorry for those who cannot allow themselves to rise beyond such a mind-set. I’m sorry that they are so beaten down already that they cannot access their own humanity–and the emotions and hopes for “getting along” that drove them to anarchist ideals in the first place. If enough people could overcome such “pragmatism” and pursue some kind of more mutually beneficial outcome, it might be possible to instill a new way of looking at the challenges we face.
Imagine promoting creative brainstorming as a serious alternative to “traditional” forms of “normal” anarchist direct and indirect action. Imagine challenging power in ways that leap beyond everything that it is used to and fully prepared for. Imagine not stepping into the traps of group hatred and arbitrary persecution. Imagine finding serious ways to “build bridges” to the individual instinct of human beings. To not allow oneself to imagine and create anarchist ideals for all–including one’s “enemies”–is to allow “traditional” modes of bigotry (on all sides) to continue unchallenged, and in my view, to continue making the same mistakes over and over again.