Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Ethics of Revolution

Why is a revolution against the illegitimate structures that control quite a bit of our lives possibly ethical?

I assume that self-defense is ethical for this discussion. Some pacifists do not. I have every possible reserve of respect for the Gandhis, Dellingers, Kings and the movements that they embodied and created them. Nor was their pacifism due to any lacking of radicalism on their part; especially King, who the mainstream has made a secular saint mostly by ignoring the content of what he was saying.

If self-defense is ethical, then the only thing I need to prove is that there is a war going on, that there is violence being inflicted. But I think an honest look at history says this fact more clearly than almost any other thesis.

Simply remember the assassination of Fred Hampton, or the crucifixion of Vietnam, or the slaughter at Wounded Knee, or the mistreatment of the ethno-national enemy at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, or the starvation of millions in a country with a $10 trillion GDP (split among its 300 or so million members evenly, that's $33,333 for every man, woman and child, whether immigrant or homeless or rich), or the usage of Pinkertons against strikers, or every other US imperial action openly acknowledged in the security and declassified literature, or the stagnation of growth and the minimum wage, or the illegal monitoring of organizations opposed to any aspect of the imperial agenda (continuing today with Greenpeace and the ACLU, not exactly radical outfits), or the quashing of Shay's Rebellion in the birth pangs of the new nation, or the slavery of both the black woman as chattel and the white woman as wage slave...

Whether the rich and powerful believe what they do is justified or not isn't relevant. If a man bursts into your house late at night with a knife claiming God told him to kill you, you are justified to defend yourself, potentially with lethal force.

The above even applies to whether they think a class war is even going on. Yet I think a more honest look will reveal that at some level they do know. After all, what else is the rhetoric of "special interests" stemming from the right of corrupt corporations lumped in with blacks, the disabled, unions and workers, immigrants, Latinos, women (in short, the vast majority of the population)? Especially when taking into account that that "special interest" rhetoric, while most of the time including corporations in its list, is espoused by people who advocate deregulation and corporate rule fairly openly, so they in fact represent those special interests (just ostensibly with an eye towards fairness among the corporations, and even that is rarely actually espoused). A few are exceptions, though fairly tepid: McCain, for example, made an honest (yet highly limited) attempt to deal with campaign finance. But the more general system remains beyond his grasp or even attempt to critique; in any respect, the direction of the conservative movement is rapidly making somewhat admirable men like McCain dinosaurs.

Whether overt violence occurs every day is also irrelevant.

A) Starvation and economic weaponry can be a weapon of war; if I lock you into a cold dark room with no food or water, is that not murder? The business community openly makes veiled threats of "business confidence" if their prerogatives are not enshrined and of using their control of the means of production to smash policies they dislike. This is becoming especially true as the neo-liberal regimes do their most vital task: "lock in" even the advanced countries by sovereign treaty and economic fact into the new mold.

B) Many wars continue with on-and-off fighting. Were the Revolutionary or Civil Wars any less bloody because no battles occured on some days?

Would I prefer the revolution to be bloodless? Of course. Just like I would prefer not to even have to be in a fight for my life, let alone have to kill in such a fight. Would I sacrifice some of my own energy, possibly my own life, if doing so would reduce the casualties? Of course. That is a very fair limit on just war. But they will not observe such niceties. Will I call those on the other side "pigs" or similar? No; at least I hope not, and certainly not to dehumanize them and make them monsters that must be destroyed.

Do I believe it is possible to get what I wish through reform alone? No, almost by definition. Notice the despair among liberals that their party turns increasingly right as well as the Republican Party. The implication seems to be that if they would just turn left everything would be fine. But our salvation will not come from the Dems or the Repubs. In fact, the right turn among the Repubs seem to be precisely an attempt to stem revolutionary sentiment by smuggling in as such reactionary policy as possible before being booted and to take the disenfranchisement most folks in this country feel as the society breaks down and subvert the revolution by making it fascist rather than anarchist (for make no mistake, despite every pretense the capitalists and the state choose the former rather than the latter 99% of the time; the myth is that we supported the Spanish Revolution, but in fact that was the Abraham Lincoln brigade, mostly leftist volunteers, international in scope, who were considered subversive by the United States).

But does the revolution have to be violent? Can it be incremental, stemming from reforms? Can we surpass the majority or even all of the fighting by convincing the military and the police that they're just workers in camo and blue suits? I like to think so. And such would be superior not only for obvious ethical reasons, but also because violence has a real risk (though I am not as sanguine as Chomsky) to make an increasingly authoritarian revolution.

The Democrats have never cared about the massive group of folks to their left who would vote for them in a jiffy (as political science study after study has shown) if true progressive values, not even very radical ones, were being proposed. Because to do so would be to hurt their true interests.

And of the cycle of violence? Ah, but I precisely allege that a revolution taken properly could disarm both the potential and the need for more violence. In any respect, self-defense done properly with compassion can be as effective as anything else.

Is all this not in contrast with my outlook as a Buddhist? I humbly remind readers to remember the proud tradition of Buddhist martial arts. In any respect, compassion for human beings does not obviate my responsibility to insure their freedom and prevent their violence. It will alter tactics chosen, rhetoric used, and so on, but I do not feel that I am entirely blocked from participating in a violent revolution. For one of the things I feel that true enlightenment is built upon is freedom. I invite folks to read Bakunin's comments on Rousseau as follows (highlighted for your enjoyment and elucidation) and remember the Buddha's comments about the ego (quote taken from Noam Chomsky's perennial Notes on Anarchism, http://pbahq.smartcampaigns.com/node/222):

"I am a fanatic lover of liberty, considering it as the unique condition under which intelligence, dignity and human happiness can develop and grow; not the purely formal liberty conceded, measured out and regulated by the State, an eternal lie which in reality represents nothing more than the privilege of some founded on the slavery of the rest; not the individualistic, egoistic, shabby, and fictitious liberty extolled by the School of J.-J. Rousseau and other schools of bourgeois liberalism, which considers the would-be rights of all men, represented by the State which limits the rights of each---an idea that leads inevitably to the reduction of the rights of each to zero. No, I mean the only kind of liberty that is worthy of the name, liberty that consists in the full development of all the material, intellectual and moral powers that are latent in each person; liberty that recognizes no restrictions other than those determined by the laws of our own individual nature, which cannot properly be regarded as restrictions since these laws are not imposed by any outside legislator beside or above us, but are immanent and inherent, forming the very basis of our material, intellectual and moral being---they do not limit us but are the real and immediate conditions of our freedom."

Nothing to me indicates the fundamental spiritual and ethical need to revolt more than the above: the development of each human being into their full creative potential. Yes, this cannot be simply accomplished by anarchism, or parecon, or multiculturalism, or feminism, or Buddhism. Each to me is a parcel that will establish each person's proper relationship with the universe in which we live: with other people, with the resources of life, with our comon heritage. Are other parcels out there? Yes; as an upcoming post will discuss, I enshrine diversity not as something to begrudge but something to eagerly seek out and inculcate, the final missing piece in my ideal universe. Violence has been done to that matrix of all things, and if violence must be undone by being done, then I have no compunction against it.


Anonymous Cody Eutsey said...

Thank you, I just wanted to give a greeting and tell you I like your blog.

10:23 AM  

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