Is there some serious projection being done by anarchists? Are folks considering their own habits, desires, values, etc.; and the roles that government does and does not play in their own lives; and concluding from this that we’d all be better off without government—but failing to adequately consider the full diversity of people being governed? Are violent criminals and street thugs, for example, out of sight and out of mind?
A couple qualifications are immediately necessary. I readily grant that there is a ton of unreasonable fear of violent crime, and that such fear can be easily exploited by people in power. I also readily grant, more parenthetically, that anarchism can draw on very important considerations of what government does to directly serve corporate interests, to wage war, etc.—and I have no intention of contesting or minimizing such things.
I’m just thinking about how violent crime is, in fact, a reality. And some violent criminals can only be stopped by force. And I’m glad that I don’t have to try to marshal that force myself.
I’m very grateful for the armed security guard at my school. And given the hell that the inner city can be, I’m very grateful for the armed police, and perhaps even the armed prison guards, who help to at least keep it contained in the inner city. (Not that letting it rage there is a good thing, obviously…)
I have seen up close and personal, and for a sustained period of time, a ghetto subculture that places a premium on toughness, violence, and taking what you want; and seldom seems to be given any pause by considerations like empathy, pity, or remorse. I’ve seen a steady stream of theft, robbery, and intimidation. I’ve heard and seen students’ readiness to fight at the slightest provocation, and to mercilessly beat a fallen opponent if given the chance. I’ve heard excited and admiring talk about countless shootings.
Near the beginning of this school year, two college students were walking in a park in my city when two young men robbed them, made them kneel down, and shot them both in the head. The next day three of my students were talking about this—bragging and comparing notes about how they would have done the same.
Can anarchism deal with such realities?
Or might anarchism be under some charitable illusion that cold-blooded violence doesn’t really exist? That the injustices and oppressions and privations of the current social order are wholly responsible for inner city violence, perhaps?
Such systemic issues play an enormous role, no doubt. There is an unbroken chain of oppression and discrimination stretching back to kidnapping and chattel slavery. And those born into urban poverty today have the deck stacked against them—all the more if they are also born into brown skin.
But even seeing these realities clearly, and even assigning most or all fault or blame to those in power rather than those in poverty—present realities still are what they are. And part of the present reality is cold-blooded violence. There are hardened killers in the world, and especially on the streets of the ghetto. These folks didn’t create the war zones they were raised in, and in that sense they are clearly not to blame. But they have nonetheless become what they have become.
And they’re not prepared to tend your community garden. They are prepared to shoot you and take your stereo.