CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
What part of the “leaders” of the twenty most democratic nations getting together and kicking the crap out of the locals did we fail to understand? Were they unclear on some point?
This is not a failure of democracy. This is democracy doing exactly what it is supposed to do, which is to take power from the people and send it elsewhere. Democracy makes people think they are most authentic precisely at the moment when they are the least: when they are conferring their power on a proxy.
Because we are raised from the womb to believe in democracy and leaders, in some daddy person who can tell us what to do if we “elect” him, we have obscured the essential fact of our life together: there is nothing worth doing for which we need leaders.
Tell me this: how can we be free if we have leaders? That’s not even a paradox. It’s just a simple contradiction.
To vote is to pass the buck
Everywhere we look in the world, there are leaders doing what leaders do: packaging up anarchy and sending it off to destroy. We little people like to call ourselves anarchists if we throw an egg at the thugs hired by the leaders, who can calmly and efficiently go about the true anarchy of systematic, systemic mayhem and murder. In fact it is the lawfully elected democratic leaders, together with their Chinese-style business partners, who are the anarchists. If police pretend to be peace people, then offer rituals of anarchy for public consumption, let us call them anarchists squared: anarchists of anarchists. [See for example this short by filmmaker Scott Noble] Bunch of squares!
When I mention to people that I am writing a book on anarchy since 1637 and that it is about America, they want to tell me about colorful people in upstate New York and such because anarchy has come to rest in its niche as a bit of local color inside Anarchy itself. They know I’m rambunctious and tend to enjoy being called various things to secure my rowdy position in the street, and revolutionist and anarchist and radical and extremist sound kind of cool. As Martin Luther King mentions in an aside from a Birmingham jail, “I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist.” Yet in the larger context of the letter, he is demonstrating precisely how he is not in any substantive way an extremist, unless by that you mean nonviolent in a violent age.
This is semantics, but not merely so. It is vital. American-style world-wide capitalist and democratist violence is anarchistic, revolutionary, crisis-drenched, violent, and unstable. Compared to the pan-destructive centrifugal instincts of corporacy, for example, the New York/New Jersey mafia is stable, conservative, and centripetal. Practically homebodies.
And people who like to go for walks in their neighborhoods or who throw stuff at the hired thugs of assassins are not anarchists. CP reader and astrophysicist Matt S. is in a long court battle now for alleged conspiracy to throw water balloons at street level during the G20. He is clearly not an anarchist, and the judge who doesn’t laugh this charge out of court is clearly what he is, and frankly I’m a little afraid to say in the free press what he is. But the wise will know.
How easily fooled we are into believing that because the forty-thousand children dying every day from hunger and related complications are not dying along the Ottawa or in the Chesapeake, that therefore they are not dying at the hands of our proxies, nor at the hands of our twin world systems for proxying horror: democracy and capitalism.
Loving the boot
Is there some part of American-style democracy about which we remain unclear? Were the truncheons last week vague in some way? Democracies always begin in slave nations like ancient Greece and eighteenth-century America because the principle illusion of democracy never varies: our belief that we need leaders. We love the boot.
But the fact is that we do not need to improve democracy, unless what we have in mind is a more skillful bureaucrat to manage the wars and oversee and implement environmental havoc. What we need is to get rid of the idea of daddiness that has so long plagued our life in common.
As if we needed any more confirmation, we knew we were in a democracy last week when our children were hunted on horseback in the streets, just like Negroes were in the American democracy for which we perversely remain so nostalgic. The founding fathers were Negro fuckers without themselves being Negroes—let the wise marvel at this mystery. Is there something unclear about the Three-Fifths Compromise, you who worship early American documents as if they were an expression of freedom?
Name one thing worth doing that a leader can do that we can’t do better for ourselves.
Food, shelter, curiosity
For our part, we have named our own world. Food, shelter, and curiosity. What else do we need? Is it a leader I need to grow better turnips on my roof? I have a PhD in early American literature from Princeton, but the real question is, are you impressed with my turnips? Good turnips emerge from good communities that are here, now, for food, shelter, and curiosity. Children growing up in such communities will have seen a thousand turnips and have come to their own conclusions without some dull-witted leader telling them how to do it. And such communities have always known how to live with external aggressors, to disappear into cracks and emerge again to find and create food. We do it every day here in the Humber watershed, with the vicious aggressor state called Canada sitting squat upon us.
The belief that it is naïve to think we don’t need leaders is itself naïve. Precisely to the extent that we crave democracy and the daddy stick we are all abused children, likely to replicate the daddy stick in the next generation. Democracy now!—ga ga, goo goo.
People getting beat up by democracy and then saying we need more and better democracy—it boggles the mind. Why would you consent to relinquish your power to your neighbor, let alone send it away to distant, belligerent watersheds known for their long, long histories of destruction?
People who vote for lesser evil quickly forget that, in doing so, they have voted for evil. Didn’t even Hannah Arendt say something like that?
Beyond Naomi Klein
Take one step ahead of the consumers of American cultural production, and you have Naomi Klein, an excellent critic of the system and herself an instance of American cultural production. With her critique of the doctrines of American ideological religion and its foolish leaders, we who have never voted remain sympathetic. I, for example, consider myself a fellow traveler.
But now it is time for two steps ahead. Even, perhaps, to learn to walk on our own, to throw our arms with a will into our own power chairs.
We don’t need leaders.
If it’s a strong Canada you want, or a good transportation infrastructure, or—as my readers have been telling me—car ads mixed with news on the oil spill, go back to your democracy, the original instinct of exporting, of distancing.
Lessons from the battle for Queen’s Park
I haven’t looked at any YouTube material on the recent battle unless readers have directed it to me. Today I finally looked at the Queen’s Park sneak attack that my ten-year-old almost didn’t survive a fortnight ago, and you could get a real sense of how dull it all was for hours, right up to the moment the police attacked both of my children inside the free-speech zone. The troops’ careful lulling strategy now seems all too obvious. Silly us, foolishly thinking there was the slightest shred of decency in democracy. I promise you it is not a mistake I will ever make again. We were, frankly, absolutely unprepared for the split-second change in tone, followed hard by the truncheons sinking into the pearly harbors of our flesh. In the video, a woman chants “charter of rights and freedoms” during a cavalry charge, and as I played the video just now, Liam, who refuses to talk about the attack, took up the chant in the other room. At ten, he knows enough to give it a slightly ironic lilt.
Lucky Liam’s a fast runner. You’re not going to catch him with any more charters or rights or freedoms.
In an earlier version of this, I had the following line: “Give us the names of the men who tried to kill our son, then disband your fucking nation and start paying reparations to your victims worldwide,” but I deleted it for what are euphemistically called legal reasons.
We already have everything we need.
Here in nowtopia we already have everything we need. We’re doing what we have to do even while Canada sits on our head, as if we were all jugglers. We would do even better without Canada on our head, but we’re still doing it, even with the unequal terms of the struggle.
In democracyland, you have a choice between scumbags electable or unelectable non-scumbags. If my teaching and writing are anything they are this—get rid of the teacher, turn a skeptical eye upon the writer. And the leaderfool only thinks he’s the leader because you do. Stop, now. And if you stop reading this now and your inclination is to worship, don’t go to the Times; get to the water, the light, the mountains. Good-bye and peace.
People get fooled over and over into voting because they fail to see the corrupt form (democracy, the self as a “cast”) lurking behind the perfectly good content (some lessening of evil promised by this or that candidate). This is not a glitch in democracy. Democracy—the art of the cast—has never worked any other way. Democracy is in this sense absolute apathy. It is the inability to even want to break out of the infinite recursion of instincts carrying us forever away from ourselves.
Though my training, when it isn’t in early American lit, is in the hard texts of French political theory since Foucault (the last time a broadly educated reader could hope to read literary theory), I have generally—with a few poetic lapses because I cannot resist a lyrical turn of phrase—been at pains to digest this mass of material and present it simply. If I asked the many kind readers who have written to me in this hectic fortnight, urging me to more and better democracy, if they wouldn’t like to consult my careful, simple (though a bit dull) “Beyond Democracy,” would it get read? The blandishments of corporate democracy, including the niche place always already demarcated nicely for resistance, calls from afar to some new excitement. “The leaders! The leaders! Pay attention to their latest outrage! Tell them they’re important!”
The politics of playing with my balls
Just for the record, in our recent troubles, I wasn’t waving signs at leaders as if I thought they’d notice or as if I’d care if they did, though I was glad enough for the company of fellow travelers who did have signs. I was walking. I was attacked. I was walking down the streets of my neighborhood with a flower, on one occasion, and juggling balls, on most other occasions, and there were the wallmen, the hench, the moat of the bailie, the dickheads, in short, who sell their souls for a bit of overtime, and they presented themselves like cartoon figures for the purpose of illustrating what Foucault meant by “docile bodies.” They presented themselves, arrayed themselves, to stop me. On Friday, they stopped me. On Saturday, they attacked my children in a safe zone. As I walked, I had no advice for their leaders on how to manage the wars better, nor any belief that the leaders would go away. Everything my people—my real people, the three billion of us who do not vote—everything my people do is already being done: eating, sheltering, poking, and getting in the way. Unless a reader sends me something, I do not listen or observe media (like many, my practice is the disciplined inattention outlined here) but as a streetster I could feel the dark energy overshadowing the light, see the blueshirts accumulating like shit on a field of geese. So I had complicated plans for juggling with my gleaned Saturn car bumper on the Second Monthly Donate-Your-Bumper Day that was so successful last month (done in conjunction with—for straight men—a plump MacDonald’s voucher distributor lady and with—carefully calibrating my sarcasm to avoid tasering—the oddly ambulatory police officer working the corner of Spadina and Queen for the hour). For the record, I also used the surprising light bumper as a phone for my call-in program for chicks in minis, who are more confessional than you’d think if your equipment is big enough. But before I could get to a reprise of all that, or to handing out any Money-Free tracts for my pal Michael Dickinson who plans to end money around the world at the lighting of the Olympic torch in 2012, shit, you know, happened. So what’s new in leaderville, right? I’d just like to take another moment, by the way, to tell all my child-hating friends who voted for that American leader that if you think getting your children attacked is so great, why don’t you go do yourselves, you jerks. With such peremptory language we have indicated a serious departure from contemporary French political theory, sacre blue, though the lack of paragraph breaks suggests that a certain sort of reader is still with me.
Let me be frank, or French
Therefore, let me be frank, or French, as the wordroot has it. We are the disenfranchised and the happily unfranchised, the people who have nothing to do with your tidy little rituals of ratification. Frankly, we do not take your anglosaxon ensnarements seriously, your magnificent charters which on closer inspection prove to be the walls of a boys’ club. Your enfranchisement is, in short, merdre. Are we being clear here? As for you Americans, your earliest declarations of independence were for the French in any case.
We will not participate in any system of “choices” where the principal offerings are murderers, as if by participating in such a system we would be doing anything other than encouraging the system. “Oh, hi, uh, I see that your top billings are for, hmm, let’s see, murderer, murderer, half-murderer, and, oh yeah, way down here at the bottom, I think that guy’s not a murderer. This is such a great system. I get to ‘change’ things by voting for the guy who’s never murdered. Oh, and look, here’s that really good guy who believes what I do. But who does he think he is? What an idiot—running for president and messing up my good murderer’s chances.”
Democracy is a child’s question, badly answered:
“Mommy, at Rape Club in school we’re voting to have fewer rapes. What should I do?”
Would you urge your daughter to vote for the lesser evil, or would you do everything in your power to get rid of Rape Club?
Beyond the franchise
Word on the street has it that male police are finger-fucking our women here in the Humber watershed in order to protect the black leader you voted for in the Chesepeake, you scumbags who are probably no longer my friends.
You think it’s a coincidence that the word franchise can be used for a MacDonald’s or a voting arrangement? These aren’t opposites. This is the symbiosis that clusterfracks our world. Democracy and corporatism arise together. Freedom fries. Let fleedom fly. Doesn’t franchise means to frenchify or, from the point of view of an upperclass Frenchman, to be free—free to order your inferiors around?
Go away with your ideas for improving democracy. The point of our lives is not to diddle the leaders, but to change the world.
Join us in nowtopia. We’re always here at street level.
DAVID Ker THOMSON’s canoe trip from Kanada to Manahatta later this month is still on, if he can get his house roof fixed first. He is a once and maybe future prof at U of T. He is an outspoken skeptic of all deans and presidents and of the idea of the “leader” in the university. firstname.lastname@example.org