The Religion of Civility

(For Subversion News)

Two weeks after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the geniuses of sacred non-action are still at it.

Between “an-tee-fuh”, the “alt-left” and “violence on both sides“, we’re back to J20 and Pikeville as everyone crawls out of the woodwork to talk about the “violence on the left” and circulate their ready-made expertise on anti-fascism, all while dodging what lit a fire under them, or fighting the actual philosophical meat of it and broader anarchism with condescending outrage.

I’ve been focused on this since I got back, since this was my first major action since being physically involved in such things. Not only that, but the discussion has been going on for longer than expected. Charlottesville was the tamest anti-fascist demonstration I’ve ever seen. We came into a small town and ruined a white nationalist rally before it can even start, without many arrests and without much trouble from the cops, and yet this might be the one event of this decade’s anti-fascist activity that garners the most commentary from the right and center.

Those in the combination of their sheltered media chambers and traditional social litanies, instead of being on the ground in front of struggles, always get the loudest mic to speak into. Not like this is surprising: They get to be pampered by the social byproducts of others’ subordination, and simultaneously defend their legitimacy in all corners of life. Nonetheless, it peeves me when we continue encountering the same angry questions under a different name, and someone is expecting a new answer.

I think, along with someone being killed, the legalistics of permits and free speech coming into this really set the popular stage, allowing the white panic of preserving the current structures to coming into conflict with the larger goals of anti-fascism. Beyond that playing out as usual, I certainly think we’re on track toward a civil conflict for better or worse. Thats precisely why anti-fascists are going all out, we intend to win.

And with the “why” absolutely cleared just now, the heavier baggage of attacking assembly and working outside the perimeters of the law remains. Particularly, the use of violence.

We are always denying ourselves the reality of violence when talking about disrupting social systems. For Industrial Society 101, violence has been monopolized for generations through the state. This is the crux of the issue when looking at how smashing a corporation’s window stacks up to letting thousands of people go uninsured each year, and so on. People have an instinctive way of judging those scenarios with a set of obfuscated, reproduced norms that totally demonize one act while not paying a second glance to another.

Getting to where people see that and understand why its like this involves rediscovering history through a different lens, one that demonstrates how people then and now are affected and repressed. Even trickier is explaining why civility in these conditions is instantly surrender, and how developing our own strategies and coming together on our own terms is the best way to win a better world.

Civility, in how society is presently arranged, is the effect of the privileged accumulating the complacency of the ruled. Alternative social patterns are simply unthinkable or collectively hammered into our skulls as impractical and dangerous, so generations typically reproduce an atmosphere of things being stable the way they are, or disseminating spirituality as a coping mechanism for life being unbearable. Coupled with familial castes and popular media, we have the central nervous system of capitalist state society: a populous that is comfortable and obedient in the limits they were told are the infinite expanses of life.

Resistance happens when the requirements for capital and privilege (subordination, stratification) build up into distinct social groups. With what freedom of thought the ruled have to themselves, there is capacity to design alternatives and nourish its growth while in bondage. Cultures that solidify around exploitation always secure their dreams with a rich and resonating community. Slavery in North America and a class of African descendants carried on a particular consciousness that lives in the changing face of racism and white supremacy. From Nat Turner in 1830s Virginia plantations, to the Black Panthers in 1960s Harlem, to Black Lives Matter in contemporary liberal America, the consciousness that intersects with other struggles (workers’ and queer struggle, etc.) finds the very channels that mediate or propagate oppression and grow beneath them.

Over time, however, incremental reformism has proven to be the most hypnotizing buffer between the dissolving of bondage and the securing of privilege. After trade unionism was legalized, participation in social movements became increasingly perfunctory and symbolic, crystallizing the aversion to direct action in favor of seeking legitimacy from higher authorities. People’s self-confidence in their own actions were, and have increasingly become, disarmed and filtered into a singular, designated political sphere that was reinforced by the doctrines of civility.

Those who cling to this model do so for varying reasons. Commonly in the United States, its liberals whose political identity was forged solely out of this model and know nothing beyond it, or its conservative-right people who find this model to always be a stepping stone toward a real instance of their ideals. The sanctity of what they’re familiar with, the desperation in avoiding what requires fundamental restructuring and demonizing the interests of the exploited always play a synchronized part in propping up a confused warning of danger to further influence civility.

What makes for an obvious double-standard but a opportune entryway is how people who declare that life is savage and that things like markets and speculation are rooted in a human instinct toward savagery can’t at least reconcile this with anti-fascists acting in such a way. The doctrine of “tough shit” is always hammered into those with social grievances, but suddenly the lecturers are shaking in their boots when the act of brutality expands inward on the whole framework.

Undoing this ritual requires understanding violence and the relationships around it: whats is considered violent, how it is regulated, how it is ultimately relative and where to go with that understanding.

Violence is a character of life, a means of dispensing power. But more deeply, violence as a social phenomena isn’t a defined, tangible thing as we might envision it. The underpinnings of force are typically applied to an inherently political situation and manipulated depending on the actor. This covers everything from breaking the windows of a bank that evicts people from their houses, the police arresting protesters, to any form of speech that resonates in society.

Expression has long been painted in the light of reducing the consequences of what people say. On one hand, people today seem to allow racists as well as far-left radicals to say what they please in equal measure. But on the other, they reserve their rights to “disagree” with whomever. These reactions are the modifications to consequences in the light of mediation. They acknowledge an idea of consequences of speech, but only in the form of their own reaction and its relationship to discourse. The possibility of any consequences outside of this are left up to pacifying or quelling forces, like the police. So long as an authority rests on top of these transactions, and as long as they are imbued with trust in stopping anything that deviates from civility, there can only be popular displacement from the genuine consequences outside of upper middle class communities. So while a racist spreading lies about marginalized communities means little to a well-off liberal, it means a hell of a lot to those who will see and live through the consequences of that speech right in front of them.

This is probably the summary for why free speech isn’t so much “opposed” by anti-fascists and anarchists as much as its just a terrible reduction of what language is. Language is a tool as powerful as cutting individuals off from your life or starting rumors. Such things have intention and weight, they accomplish things whether explicit or not. If we can imagine what such things mean for tight-knit social groups of single-digit amounts of people, think of its impact on anything from towns, to cities, to whole continent populations. But again, as long as quelling authorities rest on top of these intimately human transactions, they will always be reduced down to the ins and outs of politics while the genuine consequences play out unaccounted for. Disconnected from any social importance.

So in this framing, the features and levels of violence are anything but unanimously agreed on. Political actions are commonly measured by the weight they carry and how forceful or affective they are, but the affiliation the action is bound to is always the deciding factor for whether its violent.

But the relativity of violence doesn’t imply a disregard for what it accomplishes. For anti-fascists, it isn’t unitary violence that is examined as much as whats behind the violence, who is doing it and to what ends. Violence is expected from the opposition as much as it is from the bindings of today’s society, and so which violence we oppose is made clear because it enforces what we want destroyed. Regardless of seeing the word violence and knowing that people will imagine vastly different examples, it describes an emotional reality underneath the vagueness, and it can be used to align our intentions properly.

Denouncing violence is like denouncing the force required in tackling anything that works against you, but we cannot take this to just mean “in self-defense.” Reducing all of self-defense down to immediate physical protection neglects what violence and preserving oneself entails, especially in a setting where the lifeblood of society is constant threat. The end goal is to eliminate structures of violence: coercion, domination and the like, which comprise forces decidedly not relative, and perform concrete functions such as capitalism, state repression and social bigotry that build a reality of suffering.

The instinctual disregard for criticism from the right and center comes from their dependence on what social emancipation requires destroying. By relying on “its not that bad”, “haven’t you learned anything from Stalin?” or “you hate free speech”, we meet at the same starting point over and over. All that time wasted trying to explain our case just for it to be thrown out could be spent organizing and arming around worthwhile goals.

Obedience to currently acceptable ideals has driven the left away from debate, because the requirement to be taken seriously is to lie down and submit or risk being named “alt”. And every time a glimpse of our case is made, the reaction is simply angry defense of political essentialism or flipping the narrative.

So speaking calmly and acting how we’re told has been proven fruitless, a spectacle for the media facade and self-service repression. We’re over playing pretend. As spontaneous action finds its way in the streets and communities, as the structures of privilege and coercion are discredited, we’re reaching a trying time of discovering our strength and wielding it together, or once again rebranding the game of domination.

Non-violence can only persuade authority to take a new shape or expand appeasement, but it can never mend the relations of exploitation and violence that anarchists will always oppose. Autonomy and dignity in our lives will always be sacrificed so long as we act obediently in the shadow of power.

We might have landed on a particularly stubborn generational spot for the next social transition to happen, as most people still don’t see how we went from Kings and Surfs to Bosses and Employees. Its always difficult to attack the conscience of the population without seemingly devaluing the whole of their character. In doing the latter, we become just as bad as our enemies in allowing material mechanisms to segment us from the whole of humanity. It takes reminding oneself of the values they inherited and the vessel that expresses them, seeking only to revise one of them for everyone’s wellness.

We don’t desire or get anything out of talking down to everyday people, but the frustration and outrage that is perpetuated through popular channels creates the only audible tone. As much as we would prefer diverse and colorful images of anarchy and vanquished white supremacy as a gift to all, a rich connection between the individual, the world, and what fills the space between them, those would be dismissed as utopian in a heartbeat.

The monotone black [and red] of militant negation appears to set the stage well enough for what we have to deal with presently. We appear to be assholes because we’re backed into such a corner where we only have so much to work with. And with what is available to us, we consistently build up our conclusion.

Nazis are for shutting down and putting down, not assimilating and regulating as you would anyone else. Free speech is a political right afforded to you by the same class of elites who arrange the wages of starvation, mandate ritualistic appeals to higher-ups and draw out who suffers and who dispenses. When people aren’t separated from consequences, it isn’t a social axiom that anybody abides by even in their most intimate setting.

We’ll soon be forced out of our screen-lit rooms and into the world we’ve abandoned, reeling at what we left to fester. Popular conscience will experience a thermal shock of reality when people understand that mediating fascism, whether by trademarked Rational Centrism over twitter or the holiness of legislation, is a joke when the bodies start piling up.

So, whats the solution? Social revolution.

The Religion of Civility