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A style to the discourse

Frerico's picture

So on Tuesday Lambert linked to a post on OccupyChicago and the Adbusters editorial that was brewing up more violence versus non-violence debate that we are all heavily invested in. In the comments, Lambert wanted suggestions for the style of discourse that violence advocates used, so that we could have a better understanding of what we were dealing with when that style of discourse appeared.

Below is my very poor and basic attempt to start that discussion, based on the Adbusters editorial and some of my own readings from violence advocates in the past. It's by no means complete, and I would put each and every term I cite here up for debate to make sure that it is what I (and maybe others) think it is, so that we can be sure of what we're saying and how we should deal with it.

The list of stylistic ticks and use of language includes:

Questionable legality: One of the common things I see in lots of discussions with violence advocates is this muddying of the waters of what is legal versus illegal. This was on display very early on in the Adbusters argument, when Michah White commented on the "ostensibly illegal" acts of blocking traffic and "occupying space," as he put it in his article. What is ostensibly illegal about blocking traffic? I'm pretty sure that's just flat out illegal. It's illegal in my town, and I'm sure it's illegal in your town too. And I love his weasel words here, "occupying space." What kind of space are we talking about? Public space, which we have a constitutional guarantee to assemble in? Or private space? He never specifies and I don't think it's very safe to assume he's talking only about public space there. One of the recurring themes I see in non-violent protesters is that they NEVER shy away from the illegality of their actions (when they perform them). Most non-violent protesters know when they're breaking the law and do it willingly, with the understanding that they will likely be arrested for it.

Police are always the enemy: I've never heard a violence advocate talk about the police as part of the 99%. It is always an us versus them mentality, setting up good guys and bad guys and wonderful other plain as day moral certitudes.

Heroes versus thugs: Similar to the one above, and producing the same moral certitudes, this one is about the actual violence advocates themselves. Heroes of the movement get into a battle against jackbooted thugs, taking it to them and winning the day. Of course you never hear about tomorrow, or the consequences of their actions which often involve the arrest of non-violent protesters caught up in the fight, as well as collateral damage and loss of reputation/local support.

Changing the paradigm: This was another trope that was laden heavy at the end of the Adbusters editorial. The notion that these black bloc (where did the k in block go?) or whatever violence advocates were suddenly going to cause a shift that would lead to a swelling of their ranks and a takeover of the movement. I tend to see this crop up the most when it's usually one or two tiny isolated incidents of violence that break out. As though these small tiny acts will suddenly cause a rising up of people in the streets, magically overwhelming the war machine deployed specifically and especially to put down such an event. As if this magic shift in opinion will be all that's needed to overcome that machine and we're just on the edge of an entirely new world order. Where have I heard this before?

So these are the things I hear a lot of when I'm reading about people in favor of using violence (I also agree that any other weasel words i.e. "diversity of tactics" are just that). I hope this will contribute to the conversation a bit, and look forward to anything anyone else can add to the list.

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Submitted by lambert on

Another rich source is here at NC on Chenoweth's thread. The slides have some tropes, and the comments have many more.

What I notice is how conventional the idea that violence is always rational is; many, many people are deeply committed to it and experience tremendous cognitive dissonance when asked to let go of it. In this way, Black Bloc thoroughly mirrors the thought process of the 1%.

So, again, thanks for doing this. I kept thinking that I would have to do this myself, but somebody else stepped up. That's just great. Readers, more?

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

this ideas that were floating around in my mind when I read that adbusters tripe. Weasel words captures it. And the lack of clarity. Advocates of non-violence are invariably clear; because they are proud of what they are doing.

reslez's picture
Submitted by reslez on

Do not be part of the problem.

The point is not to defend "violence advocates". (Talk about loaded terms, did you learn those propaganda techniques from Fox?) The point is to stay on message.

Occupy faces serious and continual provocation from the authorities. Violence against the elderly, pregnant women and children, mass reprisals, cruel and unusual punishment with zero due process. Some violence on the part of a few protesters is natural and human, and that is exactly what we've seen. Occupy does not mean martyrdom. Occupy does not mean sainthood. You are not there to expiate your sins by enduring whatever Dr Evil-style techno torture gadget the police inflict on you for giggles. Sure, some people are really pissed off and lash out by breaking the window of a conglomerate-owned shop. Or stupid young people think violence is exciting and do something stupid and young. Or whatever. The point is, it will happen no matter what you do.

You were the ones who said we were the 99%. You thought there wouldn't be a few hooligans along for the ride? Seriously, what was the plan? Now you move into an intellectual faux-debate about "tactics" where even if you win your point you lose.

The point is to not destroy your own narrative by fighting stuff you can't do anything about. Authoritarian America will always yawn over the protester with the cracked skull and focus with laser like intensity on the guy who chucked a rock at Starbucks. That's because violence against little people is OK. It's part of the 'natural order'. But violence against elite symbols is not tolerated.

And what are you stressing right now? Violence against elite symbols. Violence you can do nothing to prevent. You're just spreading their narrative. The louder you shout the bigger you'll magnify all the inevitable minor incidents guaranteed to come. (Guaranteed. Seriously. What is your plan?) I thought the point was injustice and inequality. But people would rather tear each other apart.

You need to stay on message. The media will use anything and nothing to justify police violence. You can't change their narrative, you can only write your own. Right now you're parroting theirs. Seriously, they love this. Thanks for nothing.

reslez's picture
Submitted by reslez on

please feel free to use this post to add to your list of "stylistic ticks" and "use of language". Helpful, that's me.

Submitted by lambert on

I've been dithering all day on this, and I really don't want to get down in the mud on the point-by-point, but do a little more high level reframing. Better take the Chenoweth route, I think, and strengthen all the Occupations by making good data available.

This didn't blow up overnight, though. It's been simmering since November, at least, and only now burst out. Hedges isn't really even the messenger, shot though he is.

As far as violence advocates, yes, people who advocate violence get really ticked off when I use the term. That's how I know it works. (Graeber's "Violent Peace Police" is even better!) Seriously, "violence is inevitable" is one of those talking points. And if it really is some random kid, so what, I agree. But that's not what we're talking about.

And on a blog it all varies anyhow. Some people are just "me tooers," others deep analysts, some are shills, some are plants, others are just random. Some I've known for years. That's why the discourse matters. One of the horrible, horrible things about 2008 was the way talking points invaded the conversation.....

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

I would like to quote what reslez is pointing out: "That's because violence against little people is OK. It's part of the 'natural order'. But violence against elite symbols is not tolerated." It's as if money can buy anything including the respect from the authorities. We should always bear in mind that no matter what status of a person is, they should treat all people equally.

Don't you agree?

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Heather's picture
Submitted by Heather on

could actually serve mainly to help the elites to tap into the fears of the general public and use these fears as smoke and mirrors to funnel yet more resources upward or whatever their agenda of choice is. I could note theoretic reasons for this, but there are plenty of actual examples like 9/11.