Tag Archives: Black Bloc

The 2017 Women’s March: A Q&A Guide for Dummies

What rights have been taken away during Trump’s first 24 hours in office?

The ACA is presently being dismantled, meaning millions of Americans will be deprived of health insurance. Of this number, women are uniquely affected. As explained in The New York Times:

Until now, it has been perfectly legal in most states for companies selling individual health policies — for people who do not have group coverage through employers — to engage in “gender rating,” that is, charging women more than men for the same coverage, even for policies that do not include maternity care.

As deeply flawed a system as the ACA is, outright elimination will result in a sudden and fundamentally arbitrary penalization of women on the basis of their sex. The added cost will be especially detrimental to women in or near poverty (besides sucking for everyone in general).

So this is about Obamacare?

Not necessarily. The dismantling of the ACA is merely one of the many issues being protested by the millions of women marching in the US and around the world. Points include (but are not limited to):

  • Gay Rights – As the vice president has openly stated that gay marriage signal “societal collapse“, and has actively legislated the exclusion of gays from the military and a number of other civil rights issues.
  • Public Services – Which have been threatened with reduced funding, if not complete elimination, by high ranking members of the administration.
  • Defense of Racial and Religious Minorities – particularly people of color and Muslims, who have received ample disparagement and hostility from almost everyone within the administration.
  • Environmental Issues – The very existence of which Trump has denied, claiming global warming to be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
  • And easily a dozen more…

Bah! These protesters should be grateful for how easy they have it. Now women living in the third world, they experience real oppression. Why isn’t anyone speaking up for them?

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Where’s the Counter-Culture?

In my last post, I grossly oversimplified a Marxist concept called “Alienation”. Today, I’ll be grossly oversimplifying the Marxist concept of dialectics.

Don’t give me any of that “Hegel said it first!” crap.

Boiled down to its basic components, it functions more or less as Newton’s third law of motion. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and that applies to society as well. Every spirit of the times is accompanied by a little inverted version of itself- or at least, its key values. Now according to dialectics, the conflict between these two opposites ultimately resolves in an evolved combination of the two, but in this post, we’re only addressing the first part.

Or at least, we would be if I could figure out what today’s counterculture is…

Think about it…

Look at the 1950s. For all the white-picket fences; sagely, pipe-smoking fathers; dutiful housewives/mothers, general patriotism and decency, and terror at the prospect of infiltration by degenerate Commies, there were greasers and bikers.

Despite the 1950s conjuring up images of idealized suburbia, this decade was the one that gave birth to rock and Hells Angels. Trafficking and dumping excrement and urine on their initiates doesn’t quite mesh with the general ideals of the time.

The same can be said for the sixties, which produced the hippies and the civil rights movement in the face of an otherwise conservative culture desperately trying to maintain the status quot.

Or the 70s, whose militancy and pessimism were a rejection of the peace, love, and hope values that arose during the previous decade.

Or the wildly egotistically and self-centered 80s producing (or at least, nurturing) anti-establishment and anti-corporate punks culture.

Even the 90s saw rise to goths, opposing the (comparatively) cheery and consumerist zeitgeist of the time.

So why not our era?

The Occupy Movement? I did consider them, but they don’t really fit the profile.

Despite being viciously cracked down on by the powers-that-be, the OWS protestors never really presented anything shockingly antithetical to the values we hold today. At least, not entirely.

Violence is (almost) universally decried as a means of protest and social change by all but those doing it. While America hasn’t seen much of it, continued rioting in Europe could very well mean not so much a brief outburst of rage as a entirely new perspective on what is and isn’t acceptable in society in general.

That’s one way of calling for social change…

Hipsters? I did briefly consider the whole Indy/Hipster movement as a possible subculture, and generally despised, the hordes of lost lumberjacks wandering the streets really don’t stand for anything that mainstream society is opposed to.

You are NOT a lumberjack and this is NOT Ok…

Annoying? Absolutely. Opposed to the spirit of the time? Not really. At most the hipster culture is guilty of desperately trying to cling to childhood nostalgia in the face of creative bankruptcy (see Evan’s post) and espousing thriftiness in the middle of a major economic depression (see my old post).

Bros. Everyone hates ’em, from their obnoxious machismo to their flaming skull t-shirts and spray-on tans.

Problem with this group is that it’s not a new group- just the latest reincarnation of the same kind of people. The same basic mentality can be found clear on back in Shakespeare’sRomeo and Juliet, which essentially starts with a bunch of bros crashing a party to pick up girls.

the 1890s, when “Bros” were called “Chums”…

Ok, so what if we look at what we have in society today and just invert it? What’s the major defining element of our generation? Technology. Internet and smartphones. Social media and memes. Anonymous and scams. The opposite of all this would be the primitivist subculture, right? The people who don’t wash or shave and live in compounds in the middle of nowhere.

And while it makes sense theoretically, we’re just not seeing a vibrant primitivist counterculture or even subculture. Even when you add in the survivalist subculture (in case you don’t know, those are they guys who think the gum’mint out ta git ’em), there’s still not exactly a rising trend in people learning how to skin squirrels or live in total harmony with the earth-mother.

What about these guys?

This site (which I’ll be delving more deeply into next week) really does seem to have an actually beef with contemporary culture- specifically in regards to men. Offering instructions on how to polish your shoes, store your fedora (you’re expected to have one, and if you don’t, to go out and get one), shave (or trim your beard, if that’s your thing), throw a punch, or patch a hole in your drywall (holes may be caused by punching it). In a lot of ways, the reverence this site has for the “traditional” concept of what a man ought to be like is reflective of a more general reaction against skinny jeans and YouTube comment section debates. While the site itself has a devoted cult following (and not a ton else), I have seen this general sentiment expressed, and I’m seeing it expressed more and more. Granted, I might be too close to the issue to be seeing it clearly- I myself think guys wearing skinning jeans should be put in stocks for all the village children to throw dead animals at- but perhaps you’ve run into this too. Just last night I heard a comedian complaining that the current generation were (in short) wimps. Gone, he said, were the days when you could chuck a television set out of a hotel window after some drug-fueled rock band had just given human decency the finger via a seven minute guitar solo. Another comedian remarked that “Our fathers would never take the crap we’re taking… the founders revolted because of a 3% tax increase- we won’t even riot when we’re being forced to strip down at an airport!”.

There is doubtlessly a certain mystique and appeal to the figure of powerful, well-dressed men, sitting around roaring fires, puffing on cigars and sipping aged scotch to celebrate that they were in complete control of their lives. Plenty of guys today would give their right arms to be Don Draper.

Though ideally minus the aggressive lung cancer and liver failure…

And interestingly enough, this general “Manly” reaction against emotionalism, appearance (over functionality), pacifism/nonviolence, and interdependence has elements from each of the cultures I described above. There’s the primitive concept of being free from dependence on technology that bears a similarity to the DIY slogans espoused by the “Manly”. There’s the “if you gotta punch a guy, you gotta punch a guy” mentality that seems related to the Black Bloc protest tactics. The simplicity of the Hipsters is here, and even the general “I am Man, here me roar” vibe seems to be a more sane version of Bro machismo.

But that’s all just a theory. Might be true- might be just a passing fad, though if it is just a fad, then we’re back at square one with a rather uncomfortable question.

If there is no counter-culture- what does that say about our culture today? Have we reached a point where we’re so pluralistic and tolerant and multicultural that everything’s acceptable- or is there just nothing substantial to rebel against? If there’s no antithesis, is there even a thesis?

The Problem With Protest

I thought today I might address the subject of protest.

At the tail end of last year, I came across this picture posted on Reddit:

Despite an overall positive response to the message, one of the highest ranked comments was a person arguing that the Klansmen, unlike the protestors, had permits to march, while the OWS movements across the nation were illegally squatting. Because they are on private property, it is only right that the police should respond in the ways they do.

I wonder if that person would’ve reacted the same way fifty years ago, when these young men and women were illegally occupying private property.

That’s the Greensboro Four, occupying private property in 1960 in protest of racial segregation. Ought the police to have pepper sprayed them for refusing to leave? The problem with attempting to make out the OWS protestors as criminals who are attacking social order is that this same reasoning has to be applied to criticize the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, the abolitionist movement, and so on. Even the men and women of the American revolution would, under this blind obedience to the law, be considered criminals and rioters- even traitors. Trying to pretend that the OWS protestors are nothing but vagrants and lawbreakers simply doesn’t work.

However, even if you can’t call them criminals, you can at least call them crazy.

I’m not going to lie, I’m not always a big fan of the crazy outfits some people will wear to protests to make a point. I don’t think dressing up as the Monopoly guy is really all that effective at communicating the messages you want to make.

You’re already protesting en-masse, the satire might be a little overkill…

I’m not saying that I’m right, maybe a couple zombie-protestors is just what you need to drive home a point of mindless consumerism. And I’m not against people wearing what they want to wear- I think the Guy Fawkes masks a la V for Vendetta are actually pretty effective at empowering people and creating a sense of unity. Nevertheless, you still hear people trying to discredit the movement because they don’t like the way the protestors look.

Is this what we’ve really come to? Because the OWS protestors aren’t clean shaven or wearing suits and ties (zombie bankers excluded), they’re just a bunch of moochers? Since when does nonconformity to a social “norm” suddenly create grounds for disproving someone’s views? You could take Jesus, drop him the middle of Times Sqaure, and if he’s dressed in the same clothes he would’ve worn two thousand years ago, then he’d be written off as some hobo or crazy ex-hippie.

But of course, not all the protestors are dressed like something you’d encounter in a post-apocalyptic carnival. You will find protestors cleanly shaven and dressed in suits and ties (who aren’t zombie bankers). What do we call these people?

Hypocrites- or at the very best, spoiled and privileged college kids. That’s right, dress shabbily, and you’re a bum, dress sharply, and you’re a naive idealist completely detached from reality. That’s not to say that such people don’t exist- I have a tough time accepting “revolutionaries” wearing Nike or buying from Starbucks, but to attempt to label the occupy movement as a bunch of hypocrites because they aren’t living in poverty is crazy. No matter what you do, you’re either an outcast of society or from the cream of society- either way, you’re message isn’t worth hearing. Perhaps the best mockery of this line of thought is this picture here:

This seems to be part of a greater issue with protest that people have- a vicious antipathy towards protest regardless of the content or the method. Let me explain.

A criticism a friend of mine once hurled at the OWS movement was that they “Just don’t do anything. They came, they complained, and now they should go home.” Now you might point out that many of the protestors are at the Occupy camps because they have no homes anymore, or even that one of the actions of OWS protestors is helping evicted families reclaim their homes, but let’s just focus on the protest itself. To some degree he- he and others like him- have a point; there’s only so much marching, chanting, and picketing can do. Take this guy for example:

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Knesset isn’t going to rip down the barrier-walls in the West Bank or put a moratorium on new settlements because this guy demands it. There are very definite limitations to what this kind of protest can do, and as much as it is decried as pointless, do these critics really want to see the alternatives?

 

Let’s talk about civil disobedience hear- still (typically) non-violent, but certainly a step up from rallying. We’re talking about sit-ins, human walls, trespassing, and a host of other activities typically leading to charges of disturbing the peace and disrupting productivity. The kind of actions generally associated with MLK Jr., and his inspiration, Gandhi.

Seductive Gandhi is Seductive…

Of course, there are limits on this as well. For all the disruption a group may cause, there’s always the authorities to contend with- you might recall this particular photo:

There’s a case to be made for civil disobedience, but this does really lead back to the original problem of legality. Even if you want to argue for nonviolent actions against the law, one might point out that this is only effective in a situation where there’s a limit on how much you’ll be beaten, imprisoned, or in cases, even killed. I’m guessing that most people wouldn’t have told Jews, Gypsies, Gays, Socialists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses that civil disobedience would have been the best tactic against the Nazis. Considering that the OWS movement is a form of civil disobedience, one might also simply comment that no effective action is being taken by the protesters.

So what about “direct action”, as certain protestors affectionately call it? Black Bloc tactics. The smashing of windows, the overturning of cars, the setting fire to of public decorations (see the Greek anti-austerity protests), and so forth?

While without a doubt the most confrontational of all the protest methods available to the angry and the frustrated, this is nevertheless the single most universally condemned tactic, even by those who are supportive of the goals in question. “The Black Bloc protestors discredit the movement!” you hear over and over. From the latest NATO or G20 conference clear back to the so-called “Battle in Seattle”, you can hear the authorities railing against these “hooligans” and “rioters” and even the major figures of the protest pleading for non-violence.

 

And while the destructive methods employed by the more extreme elements of any protest are attacked, ranking in a close second in ridicule is on-line petitioning, Facebook sharing, and a host of other activities shoved under the umbrella pejorative of “Slacktivism”. The past “Kony 2012” campaign, while certainly questionable in its content, seemed to receive the majority of criticism by those who viewed the young people involved as arm-chair activists; at best, misled college kids caught up in the latest cause célèbre; at worst, lazy and entitled brats on a tier lower than the Occupy hipsters.

Now let’s take a step back and look at all of this. Marching- doesn’t work. Civil disobedience- either illegal or still ineffective. Violence- something to be avoided at all cost. Petitions- worse than marching. Added all together, the only acceptable option for people who believe that the system no longer works seems to be abandoning that belief. At this point, we really have to consider the idea that the issue isn’t with how people protest, but with protest itself. That these criticisms are all just rooted in the deeper reaction against public disturbance. There is an element of society who, when asked what action we should take, simply respond “don’t take action!”. Regardless of how you present yourself, or what you do, or to what extremes you do or do not go to- they will always be opposed.

And as disheartening as that might seem- there is positive flip-side to this.

If you just can’t please these people, why bother trying? With the fact in mind that there’s always going to be someone scowling from the sidelines, you’re free to do whatever you want to convince those who are actually willing to listen. If that’s not comforting, I don’t know what is.