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Why radical politics is scary

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I'm not sure I should post this, but this forum seems to be full of highly educated political radicals... So here goes.

 

We know the stability of day to day life for middle class people, particularly middle class white male people like me, is heavily dependent on being white, male, and middle class.

 

And we want to do something about that, right? I mean, I want to. Or so I'm inclined to think. But then the question becomes "How much are you willing to give up?" and I'm afraid to lose my privilege, or at least that's what everyone says, and I'm pretty sure it's true to some extent. But.

 

Let me post a sample of someone else's post here:

 

If, however, you are informed about Israel's brutalistic inhumane military and political polices and despite this awareness you go buy a SodaStream machine than yeah you are a dirt bag because you know where your money is going.

 

But wait! By the same token, my tax money funded the mass murder of civilians in Iraq. Every time I buy from a US based company that pays taxes (and some do, believe it or not) I'm supporting war crimes. And yes, I know this. A lot of people know this. But you try not paying taxes. You'll wind up in prison, and you know what US prisons are like.

 

The point there, though, are those two words: "dirt bag." By that logic, probably over 50% of American citizens qualify as some variety of "dirt bag."

 

You know what happens when you declare large swaths of people to be fair game? Go on, guess. It's happened plenty before.

 

But, you might say, human lives in Iraq and Palestine also matter. And of course you'd be right. Does that justify considering 50+% of Americans complicit in war crimes and therefore deserving of punishment?

 

Iraq under Saddam Hussein committed war crimes. Can Iraqis who lived through that be considered complicit, and therefore effectively evil?

 

If you completely throw out the concept of mens rea while maintaining that punishment is necessary, you need to be aware of what that entails.

 

To be candid: there are people who I love who are not very privileged, and there are people who I love who are quite privileged. I don't want to see any of them die. Not by revolution, not by the jackboots and billy-clubs of reactionaries, not by anything.

 

I know politics-as-usual is already killing people - lots of people. People who might also be someone Iove, but for the luck of the draw. I do care. But I'm not going to put my faith in a revolution.

 

And if you tell me that that makes me a reactionary, and therefore a bad person... Then you are entirely missing the point.

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Pretty sure thinking someone is immoral is not equivalent to declaring open season on that person's life.

 

If your only point is that violent revolution in the United States or other similar countries is at least seriously dangerous (and probably not a good idea) because lots of people will die, I would like to inform you that the sky is blue.

 

Radical politics can be devastating and destructive. Communist purges were pretty awful. But sometimes radical politics can be the only way to fix an enormous political and social and economic problem. Remember that the only people arguing for the total abolition of slavery in the United States in the middle of the 19th century were wild-eyed radicals. And heck, it even took a war to bring it about!

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America was formed through "radical political" actions.

 

Over issues more trivial than a number we are sucking up today.

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Change is always disruptive and causes new problems. I was watching Last Chance to See a BBC series looking at wildlife on the verge of extinction. In Madagascar the forest was 80% gone and being replaced by a plant used to make easily recyclable paper. In Indonesia the forest was totally gone on some islands and palm oil trees used for biofuel had replaced them. So there were two places making for the West environmentally friendly products at the cost of their environments with wildlife dying out without their habitats.

 

Should we boycott Greens because they are hurting the environment? Which one is more important?

 

It's similar to the original post, do we have to tear someone down to raise the others up? Ideally the answer is no, but to do it quickly the answer seems to be yes.

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I don't think very much radical politics is centered around a bloody reckoning against everyone complicit in current immoral systems. Mostly, it's about not doing those immoral systems anymore and doing something else instead. Not vengeance.

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I would be willing to take a cut in my quality of life if it would promote worldwide egalitarianism and deter our government from its aggressive foreign policy. I suspect, however, that I would be fairly unhappy living at the global economic average.

 

As for whether some sort of violent revolution would be justified to improve things, I think it's a moot point. The majority of people who are being really screwed over by the US aren't here and don't have the means to get here. We have a fairly content populous, and those protests that do take place seem to lack focus. The government's military machine is far too powerful for a revolutionary force to handle, even if most of the armed forces refused to take on their countrymen.

 

That's not to say we won't go the way of Rome. I just think it will take a perfect storm of internal discord, outside pressure, and likely an economic collapse. I don't think we're there yet. Perhaps we could even avert it by working within the system. Admittedly, the deck has been stacked against us, but we still owe it to ourselves to play the hand we have.

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I mean, when people say that an average citizen is complicit in the actions of the state they're living under, they're not usually saying that that person needs to be punished because they're bad. They're saying that they should try to make things better as best they can, because they are in a small way responsible.

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Radical politics can be devastating and destructive. Communist purges were pretty awful. But sometimes radical politics can be the only way to fix an enormous political and social and economic problem. Remember that the only people arguing for the total abolition of slavery in the United States in the middle of the 19th century were wild-eyed radicals. And heck, it even took a war to bring it about!

 

I rather expected that analogy...

 

I guess what bugs me about this stuff, is the combination of

a) "If you're not wholly with us, you're against us"

and

B) "Violence is sometimes necessary to get things done"

which both have their points, but in combination read to me as

"If you're not wholly with us, we might consider you an appropriate target for violence."

 

In the US at least, radical politics has killed far fewer people than reactionary politics, so I guess I might be being a little alarmist here... I don't know. I guess I want to see some acknowledgement that even people with messed up opinions are not irrideemable. Whatever.

 

OTOH, half the times I come home from work, I see homeless people sleeping just outside Bank of America's gilded marble doors. I don't know, I probably shouldn't have opened this discussion...

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Everything is everyone's fault.

Sometimes we choose to ignore the problem.

Sometimes we do not know the problem. But just because we did not know about it does not mean we are not at fault.

There needs to be more transparency on how the products we buy are made. But who's to say the supplier won't lie/"spice up" their product's production with flavourful words?

Just as how "organic" and "recyclable" has these negative consequences for the rest of the world.

 

But this doesn't mean we need to punish every one for taking part in these horrible crimes. That wouldn't solve anything.

Every one just needs to be educated on everything they do. But who has the time for that? Oh wait, we do if we take our faces off our phones and tablets for one bloody minute. But no one is going to do that.

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Why radical politics is scary

...this forum seems to be full of highly educated political radicals...

 

Ergo SW is scary?

I'm not entirely sure why you've posted this topic here under that premise. Is it because you feel SWers are classic examples of people who would be willing to support unconventional violent action? Or is it because all members live in a country that has, at one time or currently, been at war and is guilty of murder by association (if involuntary) and might disagree with the condemnation? I'm pretty perplexed.

 

half the times I come home from work, I see homeless people sleeping just outside Bank of America's gilded marble doors.

Is there a responsibility of charity with wealth? To look after those who have not been as successful? There probably is in most moralities. What if that bank had already been intensely participating in housing and job charities, what if, hypothetically, that bank made it its life mission to, with the wealth they had acquired to date, help curve homelessness. Would you still blame them for that homeless person?

 

The bank is a business and, for the purposes of argument, the homeless person is a businessperson. One is successful and one is not. They're not in competition, but coexistence. Let's think about what caused that homeless person's situation for a moment, what might it be? Could be anything. They could have been a returning soldier that found no work because no one wants to hire someone from a war they don't condone. Could have been kicked out of their parent's house with no education or job experience. Could have been laid off from their previous job and couldn't afford their mortgage. That very bank that individual is leaning up against might have even foreclosed on them, is the bank guilty for that? For executing the section of the contract that the individual signed as leverage for getting years worth of income all at once to buy the house in the first place? Are they both guilty for the fallout? There's a social structure that has brought people to where they are. If you encounter a bank that has gilded marble doors with a homeless person leaning up against them, it is indeed a great irony, but it's hardly the fault of low bank employees who work there. By and large, if you make the argument to say that the bank's leadership is at fault for having wealth when the homeless person does not, you are basically saying that anyone who is successful should be ashamed of it and blamed for all of life's problems. Let's be reasonable, if there's an individual with a net worth of $50,000 who made the decision to lay the homeless person off, they are far more at fault for the situation of the homeless person, versus the bank that it is merely ironic that they are residing next to.

 

Playing devil's advocate is something I like to do, especially in situations like this, but I'm still not all that clear on your complaint. What's the big picture here, did you just wake up today and realize you were lied to as a kid and that the world is actually a horrible place? In a world where humans were no more than animals is it any surprise that in 2014, survival isn't guaranteed because we still are? The world's population increased by 4.5 billion in the 20th century, it's absolutely a miracle that infrastructure and economics have developed rapidly enough, in that time, to support that population without even more cruelty and casualties of exposure, starvation, and war.

 

I'm all for blaming large-scale institutions such as the US government, big banks, etc, etc, and I know that's the popular thing to do. But bad situations have causes. And if you want to attack a bad situation, you need to address the cause and correct it rather than taking out your rage on something else (which may be bad in its own right) that has nothing to do with the current problem. That's like organizing a march against Russia's same-sex law, expecting it to result in a freed Crimea.

Edited by Neb

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Hello Tevildo,

 

I do consider you "an appropriate target for violence".

As do many millions of foreigners. As did millions of people in the USSR which was a rather more serious issue seeing that they had a thermonuclear arsenal specifically designed to murder millions among the civilian population of the USA. Remember that? Welcome to the wonderful world that imperialism made!

My point? What you're concernerned about is nothing unusual and certainly not particular to radical politics.

 

Now there are some specific issues with the lines of reasoning you've laid out:

-punishment: as was pointed out earlier, the punishment thing is not a feature of radical politics and is anyhow irrelevant to the issue seeing that violence is usually a reaction to a perceived threat (even when the perpetrators talk about punishment, it's often transparent enough that they're actually only interested in "punishing" those who they perceive as threatening)

-"If you're not wholly with us, you're against us" is again largely irrelevant to the issue seeing that the calculus that typically underpins political violence is about consequences (will it work? can we get away with it? and so on) rather than about determining who is or isn't "against us" (that is ususally obvious enough!)

What you may be missing is the fact that governments enclined to engage in wars of aggression or who have developed a military geared for such are objectively a threat to the lives of a great many foreigners. There is no place for considerations about "punishment" or being "against us". If one is able to destroy or deter that threat, that's simply the reasonable thing to do. It works the same way inside the borders of a nation if a government has a history of using military or paramilitary forces (that would include a militarized police force) against civilians.

 

Maybe your lines of reasoning might relevant to hypothetical bloody-mindeed priviledged radicals in your country. But do these people even exist? As suggested above, excluding nutcases, you might have to go back to the Civil War to find good examples. And the Civil War itself was obviously not started to abolish slavery but by escalating reactions to perceived threats.

 

edit: missing a key"not"

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I don't have much to add that hasn't been neatly and succinctly said by Slarty, Nalyd, and Kel. I will say this, though.

 

The "Starbucks and Slavery" thread, from which you pulled your quote and which I believe is responsible in large part for this discussion, started from a different locus than you seem to understand. The problem I was seeking input on can be easily summed up, "Our money from consumer behavior and taxes is going to do Bad Things. What do we do about that? The issue here is one of reconciling the dissonance between political ideals and pragmatic consumer behavior, not a call to violence against anyone who has ever bought hummus.

 

If I were to be blunt about it and really apply a radical political lens, I'd start with a more foundational understanding: "There is no outside to global capitalism." Everyone that we know, aside from isolated natives in the Amazon rain forest, is enmeshed in the capitalist system through production and consumption. Therefore, we are all complicit in the machinery. If anyone who "supports" immoral behavior with their money is an enemy, then there are literally no allies, only enemies.

 

It's from this logic that the principle I posed earlier arose, that, "There is no ethical consumption under late capitalism." I'm still confused as to the adjective "late" in that maxim, but the analysis still stands. The most we can do is try to choose the lesser of (millions) of evils, which isn't much at all.

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I would argue that people who passively benefit from the system are complicit in an uglier way than people who are passively part of the system, but don't benefit as directly from it (or are actively harmed by it).

 

That's probably easier to see in a different context, looking at, say, men who are positive towards women, but don't actively oppose sexism in others, and still benefit passively from external misogyny without even realizing it, compared to women with the same attitudes. Both groups participate passively in perpetuating the system but one benefits while one suffers. I think the same thing applies to questions about consumption and distribution.

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@msazad: and that is why I wish nation-states would just go away already. "The ends justify the means" will be the end of humanity some day. I don't care which government it is, I honestly don't care, blowing people to smithereens because they're stuck in the wrong place is wrong.

 

@Slartibus: agreed. The problem is that figuring out what to do can be really hard, when every action you take may damage someone. Even people who try very hard to do the right thing will not necessarily be effectual about it.

 

@Goldengirl: ironically I think you're basically saying what I was trying to say, but more coherently (and with less white-boy rage).

 

And @everyone - I'm done here. I can't move in these circles. I try hard, but at the end of the day I'm just another selfish human being, and my pretentions of being "progressive" or "an ally" are just that - pretentions.

 

I wish I could be like you guys, but right now I need to focus on functioning day-to-day and not getting suicidal again. For now, so long.

 

P.S.

 

@Goldengirl

You're awesome for asking all the hard questions. I hope you succeed at... everything, really.

 

@Lilith

I know I don't know you, like, at all, but I have a lot of respect for you. Seriously, best of luck. I wish I had your integrity.

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And @everyone - I'm done here. I can't move in these circles. I try hard, but at the end of the day I'm just another selfish human being, and my pretentions of being "progressive" or "an ally" are just that - pretentions.

 

I wish I could be like you guys, but right now I need to focus on functioning day-to-day and not getting suicidal again. For now, so long.

 

sorry to hear that. take care. see you

 

@Lilith

I know I don't know you, like, at all, but I have a lot of respect for you. Seriously, best of luck. I wish I had your integrity.

 

if i had integrity i'd have joined doctors without borders or something instead of spending my time posting on an internet forum

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