The ever-expanding definition of chaos

Adding to the “articles that reveal more about the author than the subject” pile this round is Matt Continetti of the Weekly Standard, making a lame “analysis” of the OWS movement that contradicts itself multiple times.  He starts off with observations like this:

[A]s many a liberal journalist left the park, they lamented the fact that Occupy Wall Street wasn’t more tightly organized. They worried that the demonstration would dissipate without a proper list of demands or a specific policy agenda. They suspected that the thefts, sexual assaults, vandalism, and filth in the camps would limit the occupiers’ appeal. The conservative reaction has been similar. A great many conservatives stress the conditions among the tents. They crow that Americans will never fall in line behind a bunch of scraggly hippies. They dismiss the movement as a fringe collection of left tendencies, along with assorted homeless, mental cases, and petty criminals. They argue that the Democrats made a huge mistake embracing Occupy Wall Street as an expression of economic and social frustration.

The “liberal” journalists he refers to are Dem partisans, who obviously aren’t going to acknowledge any order to anything that doesn’t funnel itself to Donkey Crip allegiance and the state.  That he follows this by outright stating the similarity between their view of the protests and that of conservatives — while simultaneously acting as if the Democratic Party embraced the entire thing — shows his real intention doesn’t go far beyond the basic political.  Note the claim that “mental cases” are a significant category to the protests; the insinuation is that agitation against the status quo is an inherent mark of insanity — the sane citizen simply does what they are told regardless.

A smaller group of conservatives, however, believes the occupiers are onto something. The banks do have too much power. Wages have been stagnant. The problem, these conservatives say, is that Occupy Wall Street doesn’t really know what to do about any of the problems it laments. So this smaller group of conservatives, along with the majority of liberals, is more than happy to supply the occupiers with an economic agenda.

I’d like to hear from some of these folks he describes, because other than the types that embrace Ron Paul — who are permanently on the verge of being evicted from the party — I haven’t witnessed that animal.

Matt then brings up the specter of revolutionary anarchism…and traces it to a speech before the U.S. congress.  Really.  Don’t believe me?  Look:

It was February 25, 1825, and the U.S. Capitol was under occupation​—​sort of. Robert Owen, a successful Welsh businessman and socialist, wasn’t standing in the Rotunda holding up a placard. He was addressing a joint session of Congress from the dais of the House of Representatives. President James Monroe and president-elect John Quincy Adams were present for at least a portion of the speech. As Joshua Muravchik explains in Heaven on Earth, a history of socialism, the elected officials were mesmerized by Owen’s plans.

This would be like claiming that the technique of barbecuing meat was invented by vegans.  Of what use is the government to an anarchist?

Describing the kind of society Robert Owen desired, the “anarchism” root hits a major snag since it’s clearly regimented up the wazoo, based on the idea that utopia is possible if things are designed carefully enough.  The obsession with planning cited in Owens’ example takes the view of anarchy Matt has in mind and throws it against a wall, looking more like the end result of the elites-will-figure-it-out logic behind the modern state as we know it.  Even leaving aside the contradiction inherent in pointing at pseudo-scientific rigorous design of a society and yelling “anarchy!” like how a child may claim that anything with four legs is a dog, there’s a question available for Matt about how he can define as more idealistic a view that no man can be trusted to rule another in comparison with “so’n’so can hold the gun because…shut up”.

Further into the utopianism swamp, the following comes out:

When he looks at the world, the utopian is repelled by two things in particular. One is private property. “The civilized order,” Fourier wrote, “is incapable of making a just distribution except in the case of capital,” where your return on investment is a function of what you put in. Other than that, the market system is unjust. Economics is a zero-sum game. One man holds possessions at the expense of another. For another nineteenth-century French utopian, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, property was theft. (emphasis mine)

Nice job leaving out what else Proudhon said: “property is liberty” and “property is impossible”.  He was making rhetorical distinctions between different forms of property, based on how they are obtained.  But to someone holding a philosophy that theft is A-OK as long as it either took place long enough back or had some form of elite sanction as being for the common good, finishing the statement is out of the question.  Better to make it seem as if the point being made was something obviously implausible like “no one can own anything!!”.  Show me someone honestly embracing such a strawman, and I will join you in laughing at them — until then, it’s you I’m holding up for ridicule.

From anarchy-as-strict-utopianism we go to anarchy-as-regression-to-infancy:

The utopian’s other great hatred is for middle-class or “bourgeois” culture. Monogamy, monotheism, self-control, prudence, cleanliness, fortitude, self-interested labor​—​these are the utopian’s enemies. “Morality teaches man to be at war with himself,” [Charles] Fourier wrote, “to resist his passions, to repress them, to believe that God was incapable of organizing our souls, our passions wisely.” What were called the bourgeois virtues had been designed to maintain unjust social relations and stop man from being true to himself. Thus, to recover one’s natural state, one “must undertake a vast operation of ‘desanctification,’ beginning with the so-called morality of the bourgeoisie,” wrote the twentieth-century utopian Daniel Guérin. “The moral prejudices inculcated by Christianity have an especially strong hold on the masses of the people.”  (emphasis mine)

In other words: “Not enough Jesus? You’ll eat each other, defecate in your pants after digestion, and jump off a bridge Because F*ck It. Now prove me wrong.”  Yet, subtract the use of force from the equation, and who cares what anyone chooses to follow as a faith?  As for self-interest, since Matt is deliberately assuming that anarchy is inherently utopian — again, completely ignoring significant foundation on a rational cynicism — I suppose it’s no shock that he claims any questioning of work structure amounts to Commie Crap.  Never mind that a part of such questioning has been for the longest that laborers have interests too.

At Brook Farm in Massachusetts, which lasted from 1841 to 1847, men and women were encouraged to interact as complete social, political, and sexual equals. Residents of the Oneida Community (1848-1880) in upstate New York engaged in “complex marriage,” in which older members of the commune “introduced” younger members to sex. The Oneidans engaged in selective breeding. These practices, radical at the time, have been characteristic of left-wing movements ever since. The free love associated with the New Left and student rebellion in the 1960s, for instance, is today so deeply embedded in American culture that only social conservatives pay it any mind.

You know what?  The contradiction here is so blatantly obvious I don’t feel like pointing it out.  Take a guess.

Throw in a couple Chomsky quotes, leaving out completely his fair-weather anarchism and the fact that views differ, then stir in an unacknowledged return to the same they-don’t-organize-how-I-define-organization critique that was supposed to have been flushed at the beginning:

This permanent rebellion leads to some predictable outcomes. By denying the legitimacy of democratic politics, the anarchists undermine their ability to affect people’s lives. No living wage movement for them. No debate over the Bush tax rates. Anarchists don’t believe in wages, and they certainly don’t believe in taxes. David Graeber, an anthropologist and a leading figure in Occupy Wall Street, puts it this way: “By participating in policy debates the very best one can achieve is to limit the damage, since the very premise is inimical to the idea of people managing their own affairs.” The reason that Occupy Wall Street has
no agenda is that anarchism allows for no agenda. All the anarchist can do is set an example​—​or tear down the existing order through violence. (emphasis mine)

If “legitimacy of democratic politics” (implied meaning: “there was a vote, dammit! Now shut up!”) were really Matt Continetti’s hangup, then he’d take one look at the makeup of the White House and the Congress, say “eh…wait until next November”, and take his ball & go home.  In a way, we both question the legitimacy, he just questions it on the grounds that he thinks people like himself don’t have enough power over others, while I question it on the basis that a few having power of others regardless of their stated views is itself walking into a trap.

It gets worse…:

Just as hostility to property is inextricably linked to utopian socialism, violence is tightly bound to anarchism. “Anarchists reject states and all those systematic forms of inequality states make possible,” writes Graeber. “They do not seek to pressure the government to institute reforms. Neither do they seek to seize state power for themselves. Rather, they wish to destroy that power, using means that are​—​so far as possible​—​consistent with their ends, that embody them.” What seems aimless and chaotic is in fact purposeful. By means of “direct action”​—​marches, occupations, blockades, sit-ins​—​the anarchist “proceeds as if the state does not exist.” But one who behaves as if the government has no reality and the laws do not apply is an outlaw, not to say a criminal. (emphasis mine)

Well no duh!  Though, when you look at the extent of law as it now exists, who isn’t to some degree in violation of it?  And what about when the lawmakers  and law enforcers break them?  I hear crickets…

When you see occupiers clash with the NYPD on the Brooklyn Bridge, or masked teenagers destroying shop windows and lighting fires in downtown Oakland, you are seeing anarchism in action. Apologists for Occupy Wall Street may say that these “black bloc” tactics are deployed solely by fringe elements. But the apologists miss the point. The young men in black wearing keffiyehs and causing mayhem are simply following the logic of revolutionary anarchism to its violent conclusion. The fringe isn’t the exception, it’s the rule. The exception would be “direct action” that took care to respect the law. (emphasis mine)

…I thought you said the logical conclusion was tightly structured utopia?  Make up your mind.

BTW: the distinction between the “black bloc” morons and others isn’t “respect [for] the law”.  Those that write and apply the law don’t even respect it themselves anyway.  Rather, the gulf is between people that think indiscriminate smashing of everything constitutes a coherent point and those that realize such actions are no different than what is being railed against in the first place.  Hell, if you think violence is valid, why stop at property?  The “black bloc” might as well just start taking shots at people at random — or even more convenient for them, just join the police.

I’m not saying in the least that what OWS represents is somehow ideal.  Nothing is, and I never expected it to be.  There are elements I think make sense, and elements I think do not.  Still, when you consider their opposition…



About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
This entry was posted in fevered barking, philosophy/life. Bookmark the permalink.

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