"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Aug 19, 2011

And with corruscative splendor, we arrogate an illumination

My wife, who works in medicine, received an email back in June which spells out, in a singular example, how hard won gains are easily lost, and maybe a bit about why.

My wife, who is not an anarchist like her husband, perhaps because she is a sensible and pragmatic woman, took away a different lesson than the idealistic, angry radical to whom she is married.

Where she sees this as a struggle to shore up the existing system, to create new safeguards, to fight on the ground for control of the infrastructure at the point of contact with austerity (not a word she would use, natch), her angry anarchist husband (heh, married anarchists...) sees this as one more sign and signifier of the uselessness of the government, and the state, as a guarantor of liberty, mutuality and a strong and durable Commons.

The Commons are not sacrosanct; nor are they immune to capture. Rather obviously, common and shared resources, including land and infrastructure, but also custom, culture and language, are routinely stolen, grafted, wheedled away, and taken by force. In our own modernity, right now, the idea of the Commons as separate from the State is so foreign to normative assumptions that an anarchist or anti-statist has to spend considerable time and argumentation to establish their difference, and the distinctions between commonality and government, long before she can make a case against the State, precisely because the various States have for so long controlled commonholds created by the people.

There are plenty of decent women and men who feel as my wife does - that if only good people could win a few battles, the bad would retreat.

It's just that history, that faithless lover Clio, does not seem possessed of a propensity to offer a record in support of this belief -

The email, to drive the point to staked heart:

"Dear Colleague

The Manchester Health Department has been recently notified by NH DHHS that due to a lack of funding, contracts for STD/HIV services will be discontinued as of June 30, 2011 (see attached letter).

As a result, the Manchester Health Department will no be offering HIV testing and counseling and STD clinical services.

Over the next three weeks we will be working on a transition plan and communication plan, but I wanted to provide you with as much notice as possible so that your agency may prepare.

If anything changes over the coming weeks, I will certainly keep you updated.

Please feel free to pass this information along to other providers in the community that may be impacted..."

This was shortly after the State of NH decided to withdraw contributions to the Planned Parenthood, which, in spite of deceitful and ill-informed Christer rhetoric to the contrary, mostly just provides routine care and testing to poor women.

The State as it exists belongs to the ruling class, and its factions. We could dress out some vulgar Marxism and argue that the state of the proletariat (as a new and revolutionary ruling class) would be functionally different from the state as owned by the capitalist ruling class, because its constitution would recognize a more horizontal reorganization of social and economic relations. Perhaps this is generally true, but I see no evidence for the claim, and no immediate, short term or long term probability of testing it in real life.

The needful thing to remember is that the State is common property. It is the shared property of the ruling class. This property is composed not only of land, but also of armed servants, institutions, currencies and laws. Properly understood, laws are intellectual property owned in receivership by the ruling class which controls their enforcement, used according to the needs and devices of whatever faction(s) of that class currently manages the application of power. The armed staffers of the state ought to be seen in the same light. They are used as property because they are property. They are, in degrees depending upon loyalty, indoctrination, temperament and self-preservation, instruments for the enforcement of the state's policy. That policy (enumerated not only in laws, but also in factional contest) is itself intellectual property. We encounter it, often enough, presented as a boon to the ruled (see, law and order; see, keeping brown people from improperly exploiting their resources) but is applied for the benefit of those who rule them.

When people argue for direct, electoral or popular control of the State which actually exists, they are arguing that property which belongs to the ruling class ought to be transferred, by law and custom, to the ruled peoples.

Let's sum this up as neatly as possible: our well meaning friends who argue for the peaceful, legal, bureaucratic or electoral capture of the state(s) are expressly arguing that the ruling class ought to use its intellectual property, its armed agents, its factional disputes, its electoral system, its funding mechanisms and its stolen wealth to undermine itself in order to provide the people it rules with the means to abolish the ruling class.

They are politely asking those who own the State to commit economic and political suicide.

We should not be surprised that them as rule are not inclined to agree. Self-preservation is not only a human characteristic, it is the hallmark of those who own and control hierarchies. A hierarchy is a means of using others in order to gain benefit.

It is beyond naive - in fact, it approaches the despairingly stupid - to believe that those who arm and rank up in order to live easier, safer, more powerful lives will simply hand it all over, on account of remonstrations to do good.

A lot of time, labor and life was given over, often freely and without recompense, to forcing the ruling classes, their several factions and their capitalist state into a stalemate, with minor concessions. Those concessions included a limited social safety net, the public provision of services to the destitute and the needy, regulation and the promise of occasional prosecution of cartoonishly nefarious wealthy offenders.

In a matter of a mere two generations (from my grandmother to me), that "social safety net"** has been signed away where it has not otherwise been outright sold off to private contractors*, the public provision of services can be withdrawn as a line item in a budget, the regulatory agencies are now enforcement arms for the industries they purport to regulate, and cartoonishly nefarious offenders (see, Madoff) provide bread and circus distractions from ongoing systemic pillaging and piracy.

The gains of five generations of bloody struggle, signed away and re-appropriated through the budget process.

Because the State is the property of the ruling class.

The state belongs to the wealthy.

Government is for the rich, because it is wealth which creates it in the first.

And whenever the rest of us forget that, even for a historical moment, our earthly lords and masters are more than willing remind us. Today, it's STD testing for poor people. Tomorrow (well, also today*) it's State highways and bicycle paths for white people.

So perhaps, just maybe, the next time we gird up long enough to force them back a step or two, we'll do the reminding ourselves, and remember first not to take our hard won gains and hand the right back to those who would rule us, by encoding them as functions of government...

* - See: Kasich, Ohio...

** - short term revolution prevention system...


Jack Crow said...

Good sir Shetterly has a response. Please check it out:


Randal Graves said...

Guess them poor folks better stop with all that fuckin' if they know what's good for 'em.

In my brain's vacuum, I agree with you. In Pragmatism Land where I try not to reside too long 'cause yuck, I agree with Will, but I always seem to come back to, no matter what "system" we have, long to have, will have, someone is going to exploit the fuck out of someone else simply because there are enough trusting souls to let a Richie Rich (or power or insert synonym of choice here) take root in the name of some good.

Jeez, what an unwieldy paragraph.

Thus, nothing will ever work, which is, of course duh, entirely separate from the notion of whether we should or shouldn't strive for that anyway.

Word verification: sodyne, can't help but think of dystopian Terminator futures. Heh.

Jack Crow said...


The argument has its merits. If we're going to have Sharks and Jets into the foreseeable future, perhaps it makes sense to team up with the Snakes.

Randal Graves said...

As long as there's no dancing, I've got stone feet.

Will Shetterly said...

Jack, I put that on my blog 'cause I wanted to try to clarify my position, but I didn't want to seem like I was arguing with you. There are differences that I'm completely comfortable with, and this is one of them.

Jack Crow said...


I thought it was a solid reply. Just wanted to advertise it for you.

Will Shetterly said...

I figured the "Good sir Shetterly"* meant you were cool with it, but I just wanted to be sure. Folks have different ideas of internet etiquette.

* which totally makes me grin

Jack Crow said...

Argh, Will. I just re-read that. I see now it could be read as sarcasm.

Sorry for that. I just like the the way Good and Sir flow into Shetterly.

Shetterly is a shiny surname. I envy it. The name I use in RL is two monosyllabic slabs of careless whispering which invariably sound like a drunken snake sniveling.

Jad said...

Randal: 'no matter what "system" we have, long to have, will have, someone is going to exploit the fuck out of someone else simply because there are enough trusting souls to let a Richie Rich (or power or insert synonym of choice here) take root in the name of some good.'

It must be remembered that in addition to the existence of "trusting souls" that let power "take root," power over others is gained and maintained with armies, police and prisons--usually with a pile of the dead to show for it as well.

As for the trusting, if our society didn't consistently reinforce the position that violence can be used to solve social problems and bring about good outcomes, they may more easily see the mailed fist for what it is.

Jack Crow said...

I think it's worth point out that, for better or worse, violence works.

[I don't know if it solves anything, but I'm personally wary of the idea of "social solutions."]

Will Shetterly said...

Jack, I didn't think that was sarcastic because we don't have a history of sniping at each other; there are folks who could say the same thing and I definitely would not grin. I was just feeling a bit guilty for not leaving you a comment saying I'd made the post--looking back, I think I should've given you a heads-up before you came across it. Anyway, all's good.

And, yeah, usually for worse, violence works.