Last night I went to a speaking event organized by a few people who are linked to the upcoming G8/G20 protests in Toronto. I went anticipating a nice, fun time listening to some awesome radical thoughts. I…sort-of got what I wished.
The first speaker was excellent. He gave quite a comprehensive historical overview of patterns of colonization and resistance on Native land in the Americas. He traced empire-building right back to Greece and Rome and the cultural things they borrowed from Egypt, actually. His presentation was both engaging and informative, and I enjoyed it a lot.
But then the second speaker. Oh my goodness, the second speaker. He was, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, a Privileged White Male Anarchist [PWMA]. And, as the title also subtly implies, his views were somewhat eyebrow-raising! His speech was all about how democracy is inherently terrible, which, whatever. I don’t entirely agree, but he’s an anarchist. The idea that government is terrible is something of a defining belief for the movement, so I can go along with that. It’s when we got into specifics that the trouble began. For our PWMA, you see, does not believe in equality. Nor does he believe in rights or freedom of speech. His reasoning, roughly speaking (sadly I did not take notes—had I realized what a WEALTH of bizarre rationalization awaited me, I would have brought paper), centred around the following tenets:
The idea of ‘equality’ means that EVERYONE IS EXACTLY THE SAME! But, truly, people are not!
The clamour for ‘rights’ was instigated by upper-class people! Therefore, the entire concept is flawed!
Freedom of speech is to prevent us from having freedom of action! TERRIBLE.
Now, I want to give him his due: each of these ‘points’ does have an embedded truth in it. People often interpret equality to mean “everyone is the same”, which is indeed problematic. An upper-class person’s idea of “rights” often leaves out things that someone less privileged does, in fact, need. And freedom of action is also important, though only to the extent where your actions impinge on others’ freedoms. (No, Mr. PWMA, I do not feel that people’s freedom to retaliate as they choose is enough of a check on unregulated freedom of action, thanks. An eye for an eye continues to be a lacklustre mode of governance, in my opinion).But he’s missing something crucial. Well, several things, but one really important one. Flawed though the execution may be when it comes to conceptions of “equality” and “rights”, these notions have been fucking crucial for, I don’t know, every civil rights movement ever. Without the rhetoric of ‘rights’, we wouldn’t fucking have any. Women wouldn’t be able to vote. Racial segregation would be thriving, not just de facto as, still, sadly is going on, but probably in law as well. The limited gains the queer movement has made wouldn’t even be that. All of these groups have a long way to go—but if it weren’t for some of the concepts our PWMA is so quick to abolish, we’d have a hell of a lot further.
But the fail doesn’t stop there! He also put up some stellar straw arguments. Did you know, for example, that democracy is directly responsible for the banning of ethnic studies programs in Arizona? It’s true! He said so! His reasoning is thus: democratic plurality divides people into groups. It is in a democracy’s best interest that these groups do not have conflict with each other. Therefore, if anything crops up that challenges the status quo, democracy will INSTANTLY SNUFF IT OUT, to make sure everyone lives in happy happy harmony.
Again, there’s a grain of truth in here. Conflict isn’t great for democracy, but, as he pointed out, it is sometimes necessary, even if it runs counter to the government’s interests. I don’t disagree with that. What I disagree with is his assertion that democracy inevitably leads to oppression of all dissent. I mean, certainly this can happen. Certainly it has happened. But it needn’t always. Also, the banning of ethnic studies programs, specifically, was the product of a very specific political ideology within a democracy, not of democracy itself. By rights, that is what we should be attacking, and believe me, I’d be happy to lead the charge!
He also implied that talk is worthless if you don’t go out and do stuff (hi, ableism!). And that non-anarchists aren’t worth talking to, because of how thoroughly they’ve Internalized the Lies of Democracy or whatever. Which is a really great way of dodging legitimate criticism, if you ask me (but he wouldn’t, obviously). And he did a whole lot of equating of democracy with capitalism, which…not quite. I myself, for example, lean pretty hard toward democratic socialism as an ideology! He did all of these things, and all of these things could easily be picked apart in much more detail than the cursory treatment I am giving them here. But this post is already really long, and I really don’t want to spend much more time thinking about his arguments, because they’re gross and unsavoury and smacking hugely of unexamined privilege. So with that, I leave you!
(Though, I encourage you to engage with his other arguments in comments, if you feel like it! Or, to quibble with points I make, as always. TELL ME I’M WRONG, if you think it is so! I, unlike PWMA, will not dismiss outright the views of those with a different ideology than myself!