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Archive for the ‘Bureaucratic Violence’ Category

As an anarchist, I have no illusions that my voting will actually do anything at all to enact positive change in society. It is only ever, at best, an imperfect means by which to hinder the ruling classes in being even more rapacious than they might otherwise be. But that’s not nothing. I’ve never voted for a politician in my life, but I’ve sure as hell voted against some others … in a way that happens to be indistinguishable from voting “for” their opponents, because that is the only means the system allows. Yet, if it’s there, why not use it? Use it cynically, use it with open eyes, but what exactly is the point of eschewing the one tiny scrap of power given to citizens of representative “democracies”, even while working to overturn the whole system?

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal!”
Sure. But doesn’t that well-worn slogan actually prove the opposite point to the one it’s generally deployed in favour of? It’s hard to see the history and current realities of deliberate disenfranchisement and voter suppression and  not see the ruling classes as actually running scared at the power of the electorate. They may be largely over-worried about that (see: most actual communist governments), but the aggregate power of the populace — shrunken and circumscribed though it most certainly is — is a genuine check on their power.

Voting legitimises the state (and/or whomever you vote for)
This is ultimately a philosophical point, and one where I tend to disagree with most anarchists. My disagreement, interestingly enough, stems from the very process that led me to anarchism in the first place: the academic study of the philosophical arguments by which governments claim legitimacy. See, they’re all bullshit, every last one. Social Contract Theory probably comes closest to actually being justifiable, in that it at least tries to involve the consent of the governed in being ruled by the state, but even it ultimately rests on the bullshit idea of “tacit consent”, whereby by simply existing under the rule of the state, the people have somehow agreed to be ruled by it.
All of which is to say: your consent is not required. It is simply assumed — even among electorates with voter turnout percentages regularly in the low 30s, it is assumed — and you are merely asked to choose among your oppressors. But some oppressors genuinely are worse than others, and given that the option of ‘no oppressors’ isn’t even on the table, I see no contradiction in using what little power you are afforded to try to ensure the less evil option (that is, to improve or sustain the actual material wellbeing of people in your society), and at the same time trying to flip that table altogether.
The more general point here is that participating in a system does not legitimise it. At least not where one is not given a genuine choice in whether or not to participate — and as we see from the general interpretation of low voter turnouts, simply not voting is not sufficient to be counted as “not participating” in the system. As far as I see it, voting doesn’t legitimise government any more than, say, having a bank account legitimises money, or having a job legitimises wage slavery.

Voting is alienating
Yep. Sure is. No argument there. I want to be clear that I’m not writing this as any sort of active encouragement for anyone to vote, merely as a counter-argument against some specific arguments against voting. Voting is quite literally alienating yourself from your real political power, and I would never shame someone for choosing not to do that.

Electioneering drains the energy of the radical working class!
Woah, woah, woah, now. Slow your roll, anxious anarchist abstentionists. I said voting. I didn’t say anything about campaigning. I absolutely think that it’s a waste of time for anyone seeking revolution[ary change of any kind] to bother spending any significant time working to get So-and-So, the Left’s new Great White Hope, elected into office. There are plenty of people who haven’t yet come around to genuinely radical politics; let them do the electioneering. You and me, we can keep working on the same shit we’ve been working on. But given the minimal effort required to actually cast a ballot, when elections do come around, why not vote?

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When news was announced last week that the government was introducing a new NHS surcharge for incoming migrants, I saw several friends posting about it with the usual tutting “isn’t this terrible” comments, as though the main problem was the further plight of the poor beleaguered immigrants, the least of these in our society, etc. Which is a point, sure — having an extra layer of bureaucracy and a further £150 or £200 tacked on to an already expensive and time-consuming visa application process is a hardship. However, it misses the much more fundamental problem, which is that this policy is the thin end of the wedge that would end free-at-point-of-use NHS healthcare altogether.

This move is blatantly ideological. If the worry were truly budgetary, the government could simply have raised the fees on visa applications. This would actually bring more money in for the NHS, since it would remove the bureaucracy costs of processing an entire separate fee, on another website, with all of the attendant costs of having human beings explain the inevitable confusion, rewrite and reformat all of their forms, and so on — compared to which, the work that would go into changing the digits of a single number, even across all of their forms, is trifling. The government could even make exactly the same claims to garner popular support: “We’ve raised visa fees by £150 to £200, so that immigrants are making a fair contribution to their NHS care!” That they have instead chosen to go with the more expensive option of making the new fee explicitly about paying for said care, they show that what they really care about is changing the culture and perception of the NHS, from a service that is and should be free for all users, to one that people should have to pay to use, directly rather than only through taxation.

After all, to an American, at least, £150 or £200 for two to five years of health insurance looks like an absolute bargain. And that is the point, the ultimate goal of this sort of policy change.

With all the background-privatisation, budgetary neglect, and general financial dickery the Tories have perpetrated over the last five years — continuing, let’s not forget, on the same trajectory started by Labour, who were themselves merely carrying on the Thatcher/Reagan neoliberal “consensus” that absolutely every service ought to be operated by or like a private, profit-making company — the head of the BMA has already stated worries that the next government will introduce charges for the NHS even without reference to the new charges being made to immigrants.

This does not seem quite politically feasible just yet. On Thursday night’s leaders debate, even old-fashioned novelty racist Nigel Farage felt the need to emphasise that it ought remain free at point of use (although you could point out that the fact that that question even appears to be on the table is itself evidence of the degree of slippage that has already occurred). But in a few years’ time, after what we can only assume will be a few more years of neoliberal austerity, with privatisation driving up costs and UKIP’s constant scaremongering about immigrants having been answered by explicitly charging immigrants to use the NHS, and everybody having got used to the idea of some people being explicitly charged for it — how will it look then?

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Well. So. I have an interview tomorrow for a course I will almost certainly not be able to afford to actually take, due to the insane ‘home student’ category regulations set out by the Scottish government (see previous post).

Now, Theresa May has proposed adding a “British partner must have annual income of >£20k” clause to spouse and partner visas. It’s not clear, from any news reports, whether this proposal would apply to new spouse/partner visas, or also to settlement applications for those currently on them. If the former, it’s still a big issue that I care about quite a bit on behalf of others; if the latter, however, unnecessarily delaying my education may soon be the least of my worries.

This blog post is the best summary I’ve seen yet of the problems with such a proposal.* It’s well worth reading, though I would note that its first shock-bolded point, “The government is endorsing a policy that actively discriminates against the families of British people.” is, y’know, already happening, codified in law an aw, with regards to Further and Higher Education fees.

*Alyson over on Bright Green Scotland notes some more problems from a particularly feminist angle.

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Those who know me will remember how, well before finishing my degree, I was already regretting not pursuing my childhood passion of Zoology instead of following my nose into Philosophy — but by that point it was already too late to switch degrees, since I couldn’t afford another two years of undergrad, which is the minimum it would’ve taken to switch, assuming they’d even have let me do so. After finishing my degree, I started looking around for ways to somehow shoe-horn it into some sort of scientific discipline, mostly unsuccessfully. Besides which, I’d found that I pretty much couldn’t afford any kind of further study, since I would still be classed as an “overseas” student until I had been resident for three years “not primarily for the purpose of education”.
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There’s this old parable I heard once. I don’t know how old, actually (and it might have come from one of those Chicken Soup for the Soul books my mother used to be so fond of), but it goes like this:

A storm out at sea has washed thousands of starfish onto a beach, and a man is walking along the beach, picking them up one by one, and flinging them back into the sea.”What are you doing?” asks an incredulous passer-by, “You’ll never save them all! There are thousands of starfish on the beach, and you’re only one man; you’ll save maybe a hundred, tops. You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The man doesn’t stop, doesn’t even look up. He just picks up another starfish and tosses it into the sea. “I sure made a difference to that one,” he says. Boo-yah!

But … what if storms like that are totally uncharacteristic for the area, but are becoming more frequent (and thus likely to kill many, many more starfish) due to global warming, which is contributed to, in part, by, say, offshore oil wells near these folk’s seaside town? And all of this is allowed (and even encouraged) by their government? Wouldn’t it be more productive for citizens to spend their time lobbying their government and campaigning against the oil drilling, rather than throwing starfish into the sea? Or at least for that man to say “Hey, I’m gonna handle these starfish right here, why don’t you go fight the oil companies?”
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By actively discouraging people from flying!

Yes, you read that right. Apparently acknowledging that the only truly ‘green’ solution for the airline industry is dissolution, several major airlines have been heaping on the fees and surcharges for their passengers — a move which, on top of all the increased and ever-increasing hassle of security checks over the last 7 years can only be interpreted as deliberate attempts to scare away their own business. A selfless, climate-saving gesture.

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1. Public Services

Last spring, the Post Office announced that it would be closing our local branch, as part of its new policy of closing and consolidating those branches that were not making a profit. There was an immediate public uproar. The petition against this collected over 15,000 signatures between March and May of last year, in a town with a resident population of only around 21,000, including students. Hundreds, maybe thousands of individuals wrote personal letters of protest, only to be blown off. “Public consultation” (see previous link) ended last August. The post office officially shut earlier this month.

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