Violence, anyone?

“Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Mat 7:16)

Corporate-controlled media, including the PBS News Hour, has made much of the “violence” committed by persons supposedly associated with the Occupy and 99% movements. PBS joined practically every commercial media outlet in linking the alleged May 1 Ohio bridge bombing attempt to Occupy Wall Street (OWS) via an absurdly sketchy association between OWS and “anarchy“.

Entrapping Occupy?

Apparently this intimidated Occupy Cleavland to abandon their May 1 rally. They made this statement:


OccupyClevelandLogo-White-Full (Photo credit: crazy-jake)

May 1, 2012 – Cleveland – While the persons arrested Monday evening by the FBI have participated in Occupy Cleveland events, they were in no way representing or acting on behalf of Occupy Cleveland. Occupy Cleveland has affirmed the principles of non-violence since its inception on October 6, 2011.

Occupy Cleveland has spoken out and worked against violence in all its forms, including:

  • Wars and occupations
  • Economic violence of financial inequality, unemployment, debt, and foreclosure
  • Social violence of racism, sexism and homophobia
  • Environmental violence of global warming and fracking

 Occupy Cleveland believes the only way to respond to a violent federal and corporate state is through active non-violence.

Main$tream media routinely downplay the size and peacefulness of OWS turnouts and their many non-violence declarations and instead they highlight vandalism and try to tar whole protest movements with the actions of a few.  And some are quick to label vandalism as terrorism. The issues of justice and proportionality, and the distinctions between violence against property and violence against persons, usually get lost if not intentionally discarded. Though I’m strongly committed to non-violence, I’m not a pacifist and I tend to side with Occupiers who maintain a high tolerance for “diversity of tactics”. However, should high tolerance be UNLIMITED tolerance for all the flies, infiltrators, provocateurs, self-serving spokespeople, etc. attracted to the movement?

An Occupy blogger writes:

I was having a conversation with someone about what MLK and Malcolm X might have talked about… If MLK might have understood Malcolm’s approach . . . even if he could not publicly admit it. When posed the question, “Did Malcolm ‘help’ the civil rights struggle?” . . . the quick retort was, “Not near as much as Bull Connor.”

I think OWS, the 1%, and the security forces each want the other side to be violent enough to make their opponents look bad. The corporate security state also wants OWS to be both violent and non-violent (and they secretly promote both sides within OWS) so as to increase the division inside OWS. IMO neither the corporate state nor the bankers and other  plutocons are at all afraid of OWS violence. They welcome it so they can appear to be justified when they unleash their wildly disproportionate violence on the 99%. To an extent we also welcome the excessive police violence because it helps us recruit sympathy and support.

And let’s be perfectly clear–the OWS news I am most compulsively attracted to is news of vandalism, violence, etc. The human brain is wired this way and both the for-profit infotainment industry and the independent activist media exploit this in every way possible.

How non-violent can we be?

99% bus ride agreement:

“As you prepare to Occupy and join the 99% Movement in Chicago for the People’s Summit and other actions and activities beginning on May 18, 2012 , please open yourself to the needs of others. Consider how your actions affect those around you who are also struggling for a new world.

I will refrain from violence of fist, tongue, and heart.

I will Remember that nonviolence seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory. We must overcome our desires to control and conquer, as this will only replicate the oppression we oppose.

I will Take care of myself and one another, Stay positive, practice self-care, and acknowledge the good work of those around me.

Safety + Solidarity = Success

By participating in the bus trips that are being provided to and from Chicago, I agree to participate in the People’s Summit March and Rally on May 18, 2012. I further agree that if I violate any part of this action agreement, I will not be allowed on the bus from that point forward or be provided with any other support for the remainder of the action and trip.”

I like the sentiment of this bus ride agreement and would not hesitate to assent to it in full good faith. However, it goes without saying that I reserve the right to act according to my conscience and best judgement from moment to moment, accepting responsibility for my actions, no matter what I have affirmed or promised in the past. That is the highest form of honor. We cannot eradicate complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity from real life. We all use rules and promises to help us live, but every moment that occurs has never happened before. Rules and commitments are good when they help us compensate for information we can’t get. They are bad when they encourage us to ignore new information as it arrives.

In some cases what passes for ethics can actually be a kind of corruption or irrationality. Instead of Primum non nocere (first, do no harm), we may sometimes need to settle for Vitare superfluum nocere (avoid unnecessary harm) to avoid falling into a Reductio ad absurdum (reduction to the absurd).

[Primum non nocere], is one of the principal precepts of medical ethics that all medical students are taught in medical school and is a fundamental principle for emergency medical services around the world. Another way to state it is that “given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.” It reminds the physician and other health care providers that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do. It is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit.”(Wikipedia)

Disclamer: the views expressed in the following video do not represent me or PRA 2010.

I’m trying to be agnostic about the “black blocks” at this point, but this video raises a few questions. 1) Why characterize other groups (implying OWS?) as “just standing around with signs” ? That seems like a cheap (and false) shot. 2) Why step on the actions of other groups like OWS and union protests? 3) Are bb’s hostile to OWS? Is OWS a target of bb’s in some way?

State Violence, for and against

To some extent, the blame for state violence can be laid at everyone’s feet. We all ultimately foot the bill for it, we drive the demand for it with our consumerism, and most of us awkwardly tolerate or ignore it. The main reason I try to minimize my energy usage is that most fuel is paid for in part with violence. The way I think of it, every gallon of gasoline sold in the USA (and in many other places) contains a pint of blood and misery. A few drops of domestic blood, and whole lot of foreign blood.

In conflicts over resources, who are the attackers and who are the defenders? Who are the freedom-fighters and who the terrorists? As Fox News says, YOU decide.


Solidarity Now: workers + cops + soldiers + anti-war activists + anarchists + poor + et alia  = 99%

The debates around war, Imperialism, reactions to Imperialism, and terrorism have been with us always and fill thousands of volumes. I include the topic here for perspective, because they go to the motives and the passions of those on all sides of the argument (and there are many sides). These issues can be sources of conflict within Occupy and the 99%, as well as between the 1% and the 99%.

War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today–JFK

The “systematic use of violence and intimidation” is common to many states (including the US and the UK) and non-state actors, whether the target is a foreign enemy, a domestic  riot, or non-violent dissent.  But those who SIGN UP for conflicts might do it because of brainwashing, or thinking they are fighting for God and country, freedom, justice, good social order, etc.  Some people try to weigh the motives of combatants; others think that personal intentions or delusions are, once they sign up to kill, oppress, or exploit people for cash, religion, patriotism, or for just about any other motive, irrelevant. They are terrorists whether they wear bluejeans or a uniform.  By another definition a “terrorist” is anyone standing between the USA and “our” oil.

Scott Olsen
(credit: Jay Finneburgh / AP)

What about those who sign up for law enforcement or military service, not to oppress people for money,  but for honorable motives, including a desire to improve their institutions from within? I think there are far more service people than some peace activists or Occupiers may think who bring their consciences with them to work in many ways, including dissenting up the chain.

What about Bradley Manning and other military whistle-blowers? Did their military service make them terrorists or facists? Did their acts of conscience make them traitors? Or are they working class heroes?

What about Scott Olsen, the 24-year-old Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, then stood up for the Oakland and SF Occupiers and took some brain damage for it? Was he a terrorist, a military fascist, a traitor, or a hero?

What about 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, the US citizen killed by an unmanned US “Peace Drone?”

Terrorist or terror victim?

What about retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis,  arrested in full uniform at an Occupy Wall Street demo after branding fellow officers ‘obnoxious, arrogant and ignorant’?

Was he a terrorist, a traitor, a pig, or a hero of the 99%?

An Occupier comments:

“Personally, I am heartened by the participation of Veterans for Peace and Occupy Marines. But this national neurosis of “you are never allowed to criticize the military or question the virtue of soldiers” has got to stop.”

Many within the 99% take different sides on these questions. Like Fox News says, YOU decide. But consider this: some popular uprisings have succeeded only because large portions of the police or military forces sided with the people.

Occupy Violence

“I’m really frustrated that asking questions and wanting to discuss hypotheticals is construed by some as support for violent tactics. I have never seen a black bloc in action. I’m going on theory and hearsay. So far I refrain from condemnation because I have little information. I’m not going to call that support, and I can see both sides of the issue. But I am reasonably certain that a true commitment to strategic non-violence means having considered and understood the alternatives.” (an Occupy blogger)

Fair enough.

So is this violence?

credit: Citizen Kane (click image for source)

It is an act of vandalism of state property and an act of strong provocation towards the officer. Both may be acts of violence by some definitions. Is it justified?

Wikipedia says “Vandalism per se is sometimes considered one of the less serious common crimes, but it can become quite serious and distressing when committed extensively, violently or as an expression of hatred and intimidation.”

So vandalism is or isn’t ( more or less)  violent and/or intimidating by degrees depending on the circumstances.

By some definitions, something that creates intimidation and fear is violence. By that definition, the massive police presence in full riot gear at a gathering of unarmed protestors including seniors, children, etc. is itself an act of violence.

One Oakland Occupier said:

“I was a liberal reformist believing in the 99 meme until I went through the two destructions of the Oakland Commune and all the state repression brought to bear on us since, and, well, the 99 meme is over. Dead. Kerput. In fact we don’t even chant that anymore; we chant “We are the Proletariat!”

Trauma changes people on both sides of a conflict. It can bring people together in solidarity and it can break them up into factions, or both at the same time. Consider the Stanford prison experiment.

My thesis is that violence is a very complex issue that ALL of us oversimplify in various ways according to our biases and context. I consider mowing my own lawn an act of violence against nature, but I do it anyway because of a particular cost-benefit analysis.

We each must follow the laws of the land and the dictates of our consciences as best we can — or not — and live with the results. Hopefully when shit happens, when there is blow-back, when there is collateral damage to others, , etc., we learn from the consequences of our actions.

My dad was a career military man and I was a part of the 60’s counter-culture. That drove a deep wedge between us. That was all my doing, because I felt passionately that I had to stand up against US Imperialism. Looking back from the vantage point I have now, I know that he wasn’t an Imperialist. He was a brilliant, kind, sensitive, and funny man who made some difficult and brave choices and maybe some blind ones. He didn’t invent radar technologies and electronics countermeasures in order to harm others, but to protect us. How those technologies were used can be laid at all our feet.

It turns out my Dad was a decent guy that I never got to really know. That’s one reason I now embrace a 99% that is full of people I have disagreements with (including a lot of punks 🙂 ).  We shouldn’t  make the same mistake about our 99% brothers and sisters that I made with my Dad.

But one thing on which I differ with some proponents of vandalism and “revolutionary violence”  within the 99% is this: The 1% is not in any way afraid of nor intimidated by our violence. They welcome it. They want it. They deliberately encourage and provoke it. It works almost entirely in their favor and seldom gains us anything but negative press.

No doubt for some of the 99% it is a right of passage like “counting coup“. The analogy applies well because the 1% aren’t truly harmed. (Some property or pawns of the 1% might suffer some damage or intimidation, but the 1% themselves are never scathed.)

It may also be a bonding experience for groups like the black blocks. But at the same time it alienates others in the 99% (perhaps some of the “reformist liberal bourgeoisie”–i.e. anyone who disagrees with certain anarchists or Marxists 🙂 ) who are strangely more annoyed or embarrassed than impressed. . . .

This kind of violence (and far worse) is often used by a small resistance group against a superior opponent. But rebels and anarchists aren’t the only ones who try to “wag the dog“. Its a tactic favored by many fleas and underdogs. But the 99% is not a pack of fleas or underdogs. Acting together we are the Big Dog.

The tail wagging the dog is a concept used by an inferior side in asymmetrical conflict. The 99% includes many who see themselves as inferior in strength to the 1% and so act as inferiors and employ the tactics of asymmetrical conflict. That’s rational as far as it goes. On the other hand, the 99% is actually the biggest dog in the fight if it acts that way. In order to act that way it has to first think that way. As noted by Étienne de La Boétie (a 14th century anarchist) in Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, power has never originated from the inherent strength of tyrants. Great power may reside in the tyrant temporarily, but it has always derived, at its root, from the beliefs and behavior of the masses. If the masses (The Big Dog) awaken, they do not need to employ any asymmetrical, underdog methods.

credit: Wikileaks (Facebook)

A typical anarchist might say something like: “The specter of potential violence is the ONLY thing the oligarchy understands.”

Oh? The anarchist knows this how? I think the oligarchy also understands our franchise to vote, it understands non-violent civil disobedience (especially in large numbers), it understands an efficient competitor, it understands the power of the consumer purse, it understands a general strike, etc. Of all these things the “specter” of violence is probably the least of its worries. The biggest favor you could do the real oligarchs might be to blow up Wall Street or something big like that. The real oligarchs aren’t in NYC, and wouldn’t be touched. But thousands of dissenters-turned-“terrorists” would be in concentration camps within a month, and most of the 99% would have turned against them.

There is no final answer. There is no perfect solution. There is only practice.

Poor Richard

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves” (Matt 21:12)

click image for credits/source

Vandalism at the Boston Tea Party (Wikimedia)

Acknowledgement/disclaimer: I have included some publicly posted quotes, links and an image borrowed from Facebook friends without permission in the spirit of fair use. Opinions expressed herein or in linked-to blogs are those of the respective authors only.

Occupy Whatever: Mic Check + Reality Check

Flowchart of consensus based decision-making

Generic consensus process

A trade-mark phrase all across the Occupy Stuff universe is “Mic Check!”.

Shouting “Mic check” means “everybody in earshot listen up and repeat after me…”

Many items of an OWS/99% reform agenda have been hammered out in countless hours of consensus-based “General Assembly” meetings around the US and around the world. “Mic Check” is about as good a phrase as any to represent the entire, evolving OWS consensus process or practice.

This consensus process as a whole, including all its rules and variations, represents the idealistic side of OWS. It has produced many fine ideas for social, political, and economic reforms. But to balance this “mic check” consensus idealism, OWS needs a complementary, pragmatic process that we might call a “Reality Check”.

What should an OWS “reality check” process consist of?

The academic side of my nature would say that a “reality check” is about using a modern systems science approach: empirical evidence, quantitative measurement, quality control, continuous self-correction, etc. From that perspective the “reality check” process is about how OWS studies and corrects itself– how the movement observes, measures, interprets, documents, and improves itself inch by inch, day by day.

On the other hand, a more intuitive or poetic side of my nature would say that a “reality check” is all about ones instincts or “gut feelings”.

But gut feelings and scientific methods might seem at first glance to have little in common. How could both represent a coherent interpretation of “reality”?

They represent two different ways of empirically checking or verifying a particular interpretation of data.  The “gut feelings” approach (gut feelings about “truth” are sometimes referred to as a “bullshit meter”) is instinctive and fast, whereas the “scientific” approach is generally more formal, standardized, and tedious.

Although a gut feeling and a scientific measurement are both empirical, the former is more subjective and less rational, while the latter is both more objective and rational. We are equally “conscious” of  gut feelings and rational proofs, but we tend to feel more conscious of how we arrive at our scientific measurements and rational proofs–whereas we are often far less conscious of how we arrive at our gut feelings. Our gut feelings just arrive on the threshold of our awareness spontaneously. They are generated by various specialized parts of our brain that have evolved to rapidly respond to danger or opportunity. They do not depend on language or even on our conscious rules of logic or rational thought.

Each in its own way, both rational thought and gut feeling are subject to complex combinations of biases.

Because rational thought is represented in language, problems of language spill over into problems of thought. A given set of facts can often be woven into very different, sometimes diametrically opposed, narratives. Said another way, a given set of dots can often be connected in multiple ways that suggest different interpretations.

The biases involved in gut feelings are programmed into our nervous systems by eons of evolution and are not generally open to our casual self-examination. Science (as in evolutionary psychology) is gradually teasing out some of the common biases in our gut feelings, but what little is yet known is not yet known very widely.

Ultimately, rational analysis and gut feelings must serve as mutual cross-checks (reality checks) on one other.

But how does a reality check process relate to OWS specifically?

For example, there are numerous historical and cultural variations of the consensus process. The appropriate reality check has to do with making sure that the OWS version of consensus process actually works out well in practice. It means measuring actual facts or results (typically before and after activities, projects, or actions) and adjusting  actual practices over time and across local conditions. It means continuous observation, adjustment and improvement– that is, continuously revising theory, ideology, and methods to fit the facts on the ground, not the other way around. (Note: That does not in any way mean “the ends justify the means”. )


Image by ArtistJ via Flickr


Reality Check: what does the latest phase of the “Arab Spring”, the “Arab Autumn”, especially the Egyptian “Second Revolution” against their military  establishment, mean for the OWS movement?

Gut feeling: don’t go home (leave the streets) before the revolution is really over. As soon as occupiers leave the streets the old rats start sneaking back into the halls and the seats of power.

Rational analysis: Moderate, mainstream, middle-class-leaning people are not really comfortable in the street for long. They aren’t all that comfortable with open social (class) conflict, much less civil disobedience. So the tendency may be for Occupy coalitions to weaken and unravel around effects of prolonged physical occupation and the status-quo backlash which may include police or military violence and other reprisals. The evidence seems to show that it is easier to mobilize an oppositional coalition against a corrupt and unjust status quo than to maintain a proactive coalition in support of a specific set of reforms or prescriptions.

Therefore, to maintain the broadest coalition for the longest time, OWS should limit the specific reform proposals to the lowest common denominators across 99% coalition communities.  Adopt narrower ideological agenda items only if and when those opposed to them have already left the coalition, not before.

I think we should reconsider and perhaps pare down the OWS reform agenda in this light.

In my opinion, the lowest possible common denominator for OWS is opposition to political corruption. No other specific reform of social or economic injustice is possible until the general level of corruption is drastically reduced. But getting money out of politics is fairly complicated and controversial in its own right, and that may already be a bigger reform bite than a 99% coalition can chew.

GOP, Tea Party (TP), and Libertarian Party (LP) objections to campaign financing reforms, election reforms, lobbying reforms, and ethics reforms center on conflating money and speech and on an excessive and indiscriminate objection to “regulations” of any kind on any thing. That extreme ideology is unrealistic and incompatible with a 99% coalition.

Its time to concentrate on populist narratives that  justify regulating political corruption as a lesser evil to rampant, unfettered corruption in and out of government. Every single law ever established, including each of the Ten Commandments, is a regulation. The GOP/TP/LP ideal of a tiny government and an unregulated free market economy is based on a premise that all market failures are caused by government regulation or interference. The reality is that unregulated markets also fail for a variety of reasons including information asymmetry (as in the principal-agent problem), game theory dilemmas, externalities, economic irrationality and behavioral idiosyncrasies; and they produce excessive concentrations of wealth and power in weak or failed states as well as in strongly regulated ones. The fact is that corruption, concentration, and abuse of power are problems that cross all public/private sector lines and all ideological lines. Limiting the corruption, concentration, and abuse of power to tolerable levels cannot be implemented simply by reducing the size of government. It requires a fair, balanced, and organic body of law, an impartial judiciary, and a strong but restrained arm of  enforcement.

Furthermore, the issue of systemic political and judicial corruption is one that fully justifies the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience.

The question is not whether we should have laws/regulations or not (that was generally settled several thousand years ago despite the persistence of a cranky minority), but what those laws should be.

Ultimately I agree with FDR:  economic security is just as much a basic a requirement for liberty as is the security of our property and our persons.

But for the present, it will be a miracle if we can all just agree that:

it’s time to GET MONEY OUT of politics.



Poor Richard

How to wage war on war

Hawaiian shirts, digital cameras and cell phones…

I think there are only two ways to really make war on war:

1. Keep your own nation from entering a war. Lay down in front of a tank if possible.

2. Send about 200,000 people trained in non-violent action, preferably little old ladies and guys in wheel chairs, into the middle of a war zone with Hawaiian shirts, digital cameras and cell phones.

Some people do a version of this as “peace hostages” in many conflicts but the numbers are usually very small. The wider progressive community doesn’t have the nerve.

Unless you are willing to risk your life, you can’t declare any real kind of war on war. Anything else is 99% wishful thinking.

Poor Richard


The Moral Equivalent of War

(William James, 1906)

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