Monday, November 21, 2011

The Shamelessness of the Powerful

From Lenin's Tomb:
We understand the sheepishness about speaking of violence in social movements. It is not a comforting or politically sympathetic thought that popular violence has been productive; that without it, unjust systems would not have been overturned. Yet, aside from the fact that the automatic assumption against violence is actually an assumption against popular violence, the intriguing thing is how easily it shades into an assumption against disruption as such. For example, following a recent direct action at UC Berkeley, the Chancellor complained: "It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience." In fact, linking arms and obstructing police is precisely an example of non-violent civil disobedience. If there was a textbook, this would be in it. The elite arbiters of protest ethics, who are always assuring us of our right to peaceful protest, conveniently forget what "civil disobedience" actually is. At the same time, what is often truly regrettable about what is called violence (usually small scale property damage) is its tactical implications. Sure, there is a moral case against anticapitalist protesters spraypainting graffiti or breaking windows. One could certainly apply similar standards retrospectively to striking miners and steelworkers who made US history in frequently violent struggles that went well beyond property damage. However, as someone once said, every morality presupposes a sociology, and in this case the moral argument implies the point of view of the ruling class. The point of the exercise of disruptive power is not to empathise with the ruling class, but to gain leverage over the ruling class.
Another point that confirms Richard Seymour's analysis here is the way that the corporate media and those who quote them always speak of police violence as if it were the protesters' doing: "protesters clashed with police" is a soundbyte that could be applied (and probably has been) to the pepper-spraying of the students at UC Davis: what it means is that protesters' heads "clashed" with police batons, or protesters' faces "clashed" with police pepper spray.

For more doublespeak, see UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi's response to calls for her resignation. Glenn Greenwald wrote today that Katehi
went on Good Morning America and explained why she should not resign or otherwise be held accountable: “we really need to start the healing process and move forward.” On a radio program in the afternoon, she expanded on this view by saying: “We need to move on.” So apparently — yet again — the only way everyone can begin to “heal” and “move forward” is if everyone agrees that those in power with the greatest responsibility be fully shielded from any consequences and that their bad acts be simply forgotten. I wonder where she learned that justifying rationale?

As an added bonus, Greenwald also quoted Dick Cheney's endorsement of Obama's foreign policy, with this "gracious" expression of Cheney's "gratitude for being fully shielded for his crimes."
I was very upset when we had talk by the Justice Department about prosecuting the intelligence professionals who’d carried out our policies in the enhanced-interrogation area. They’ve backed off that since. That’s good.