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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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Hello Rapists,

“Who, me?” I hear you saying, “Why, I’m not a rapist! I never even lurk in bushes, let alone burst forth from them to attack lady passers-by!”

Ok, let me stop you right there. While stranger-attack rapes do happen, stranger-rape actually falls outside the scope of this letter. (Sorry, not sorry, stranger-rapists.) So, too, for different reasons, does the much more common occurrence of partner-rape. No, I want to talk about what’s often referred to as “date rape”. That’s when you go on a date with someone, and then rather than going through the normal routines of consensual making out and maybe sex or whatever, you just go ahead and sexually assault them.

Now, obviously, this is reprehensible. I’m sure you know this, and if you’re not sure whether or not this is something you have done or make a habit of, there are plenty of resources out there that will explain sexual consent to you. However, much as it pains me to do so, I want to just lay aside morality for a moment here. Various psych- and sociological studies have shown that there are several people among you who most certainly do make a habit of this — that you’ll even generally admit to doing it, so long as the words ‘rape’ and ‘sexual assault’ are avoided in asking you about it. So, as a purely pragmatic intervention, I want to talk to you on (what I assume are) your own terms: sex. Sexy, sexy, sex, and how to get more of it. So, let’s all acknowledge this, loud and clear:

EVEN IF YOUR ONLY GOAL IN LIFE IS TO INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF SEX YOU HAVE, RAPE IS STILL A BAD STRATEGY.

See, every time you interact with someone, that interaction happens at a particular time. That time will be succeeded by future instances of time, in which your rape victim, if you have created one, will remember what you have done (or remember the suspicious blank in their memory following other things you have done). This memory will then colour their future interactions with you. That is, people treat you differently based on how you have treated them in the past. This shit is really not that difficult.

It’s a reasonable assumption that, if someone finds you sexy and charming enough to want to put themselves in a sexual situation with you, they’re going to want to do that again in the future, if you treat them well in this one. If you are attentive and caring and interested in their pleasure as well as your own, then odds are (NB: not necessarily, but it’s pretty likely) that they’ll want to have sexytimes with you again. Great! Net gain of sex for you! But if you just go ahead and ignore their wants and needs and boundaries — if you pressure them, if you plead and wheedle at them, if you just ignore their hesitations or demurrals or outright refusals — then HELL NO are they going to want to have sex with you again! Not only that, they may even tell other people about what you’ve done, and then none of those people are going to want to sleep with you either. NET LOSS OF SEX FOR YOU. EPIC FAIL.

So please, for the love of sex, just stop fucking raping people. Ever. 

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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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Or: I weigh in on another irritating twitter argument

Yesterday, in the midst of RMT strikes in London, Strike Magazine retweeted this six-month-old article by David Graeber, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs,” in which he speculates (among much else) that tube workers have little support from the general public because everyone else is totes jelly that their jobs are actually meaningful rather than bullshit.

@muzrobertson replied to question the idea of “bullshit jobs” in the first place, noting that tube workers assist capitalism as much as corporate lawyers. I’m not sure if this was a genuine or a willful misunderstanding of the ideas in Graeber’s (admittedly somewhat turbid) article, but I rather suspect the latter given his later tweet: “On which tube stop do I get off at to see the staff existing outwith of capitalist relations?” In any case there didn’t seem to be any kind of genuine engagement from either side in the ensuing discussion, because there is fertile theoretical ground underneath all this… well, bullshit.

On the one hand, yes, it’s obvious that there are very few jobs that don’t help to facilitate capitalism. On the other hand, it’s also clear that there is some work that is simply more meaningful than other work. The criterion for calling something a ‘bullshit job’ can’t just be that it facilitates capitalism, because that encompasses nearly the entire set of ‘jobs’, and the term is therefore useless. One could of course, say that ‘jobs are bullshit’, and I’d probably agree, but I think that the useful point here is to distinguish alienation from meaninglessness. Graeber appears to be using ‘bullshit’ to apply exclusively to ‘meaningless’, whereas @muzrobertson seems to be arguing from the position that alienation from one’s labour, in and of itself, makes work bullshit – and I think he’s right in that, except in that he is arguing against a strawman constructed from Graeber’s somewhat bombastic terminology, rather than (apparently) anything in his actual arguments.

Still, there’s a really, really easy rule of thumb here: Would your job exist in a non-capitalist society? If so, it is probably meaningful. And in the case of the tube workers, it is evident that drivers and certain station staff would be necessary, while the issuing and checking of tickets likely would not. However, given that the strikes are happening within the capitalist system, and that the meaningful nature of a job bears no relation to the workers’ actual struggles, the whole question seems fairly academic – and certainly not a reason to draw support away from the striking workers. Which, I hasten to add none of the participants in this argument seemed to have any intention of doing. The whole thing reads rather depressingly like yet another “Your theoretical position provides insufficient support for the workers!” “No, your theoretical position provides insufficient support for the workers!”

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It’s been a week of twitterstorms for me. Or, to paraphrase some dude on Twitter, a fantastic week for the aggrieved white male Leninist academic – and by extension, for those who argue for the need for intersectional critiques within leftist political movements, as these two essays make our point quite (in)admirably.

First, Mark Fisher posted this interminably long and rambling essay bemoaning the practice of leftists calling out other leftists for their bigotry on social media, via the strained and incoherent quasi-Engelian metaphor of a “vampire’s castle“, which is apparently where all the intersectionalists live and practice our evil, movement-draining bourgeois liberalism. A few days later, Ross Wolfe posted up this essay by James Heartfield as a sort of continuation/response, more explicitly addressing the concept of ‘intersectionality’ and why it is oh-so-wrong and divisive.

The thing is, both Fisher and Heartfield are committing a (deeply ironic) category error when they attack intersectionality and its expressions as being “draining” or “divisive”. Intersectionality, like the discourses of privilege that gave rise to its articulation, can actually be summarised in a few very basic principles:

1. The dominant society, while it privileges a very small group of people, oppresses the rest of us in several different ways – e.g. race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

2. People who are oppressed along one axis can still be privileged in others. I say ‘can still be’, but it seems likely that in actuality every single person has some areas of privilege in their lives, and that almost every person (barring only a subsection of the set of straight white rich cis-male able-bodied Westerners) also has some areas of oppression.

3. Even people who are active in the fight against one or more axes of oppression (including, for instance, all self-proclaimed lefties) can still have blind spots from their own areas of privilege, can still be bigots.

That last point includes even those who are within the relevant oppressed groups themselves. Internalised misogyny is A Thing. Internalised racism is A Thing. This shit is structural, y’know? You can’t grow up in a culture steeped in white supremacy, patriarchy, neoliberalism, etc., without that colouring the way you view the world. None of us can. So the point is to work with each other to root out those toxic patterns and build something better in their place.

We can’t do that, though, if every time someone calls out a comrade for their racism, their misogyny, their tranphobia, their ablism (etc.), they get told to shut up because pointing out bigotry “divides the movement”. That silencing tactic is so old, and I was really starting to think that we – the broad left – were finally starting to get over it. Probably because I live in an insular liberal vampire castle on twitter, sucking the living labour out of the righteous working class movement.

*sigh*

Okay. About liberalism. I think it’s important to acknowledge a thing, which is that, well, individualist liberal identity politics is a thing. Of course it is. This is because capitalism, like the Borg, tries to assimilate every threat to itself, and make it its own. Capitalist individualist identity politics is the thing that says “Oh, forget about all these superficial biological differences! The only thing that matters is money! Equal money-making opportunities for everyone!” It is Democrats, Liberal Democrats, and “Libertarians”. It is Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Sheryl Sandberg. Neoliberalism celebrates “diversity” as a sort of aesthetic ideal, and abhors “discrimination” in as much as to discriminate based on race, gender, etc. fails to uphold each individual as a perfect economic actor. It is, ironically enough, the only ideology besides certain strains of Marxism that tries to reduce all sociological differences to economics only – although for the opposite reasons.

Of course, they don’t say this outright. Much of so-called progressivism in the US and UK is just this same neoliberalism with the focus all on identity politics, with the economic assumptions hidden in the background, the Reagan-Thatcher “consensus” obviating the need to even talk about them. (Less so since the financial crash, but far less less so than I for one had hoped.) There’s plenty of bigoted conservatism for these folks to fight with, so they seldom realise just how right-wing they are themselves, but it’s just silly to dismiss left-wing criticisms of bigotry because some on the (economic) right make the same criticisms.

You see – and honestly, I can’t believe I even have to say this – there is a difference between pointing out bigotry and subsuming all of your politics under a neoliberal representationalism. Within the feminist movement, for instance, both neoliberal mainstream feminists and left-wing intersectional feminists are concerned with misogyny. Any of them, if shown an example of misogyny, would likely criticise it. Their politics are not therefore equivalent, and to dismiss the latter for making a similar point to the former is a bit like accusing someone of being a Stalinist for criticising capitalism. It’s a silencing tactic, used to dismiss the arguments of your would-be interlocutors so that you don’t have to actually engage with their criticisms. It is diversionary, inaccurate, and divisive.

This is the most galling thing of all: The very act of dismissing intersectional analyses as ‘divisive’ is itself divisive. Implicit in every tirade against “intersectionality” or “privilege theory” or “identity politics” as a diversion or a distraction from the “real” movement or issues is the idea that the oppression of people along any other axis than class, or exploitation in any areas than wage labour, just does not matter very much. If you happen to be in one or more oppressed social group, or fight alongside comrades who are, then hearing your straight white cis-male supposed comrades dismiss your concerns is not only deeply dispiriting, it further reifies the problems you are fighting against.

It is true that there are people who twist ideas of privilege and oppression to try to silence those who disagree with them on any given issue, based solely on the perceived privilege of their interlocutor. An ugly, crabs-in-a-barrel mentality can arise, where rather than acknowledging that we are differently advantaged in ways that  we never asked for, and should all work together to change society so that all may be similarly advantaged, those in privileged groups are castigated for the mere fact of having privilege, whether they are using it to oppress or ignore their comrades or not. As though if people in your oppressed group can’t be listened to or get adequate housing or live a life free from repressive physical violence, no one should. It’s the same bullshit mentality that tells working class kids they’re getting uppity if they go to university; or tells workers they should be happy just to have a job, no matter how shitty it is; or tells men they shouldn’t complain about rape or domestic violence because it happens more often to women. In the midst of the twittersqualls over Heartfield’s piece, I came across David Graeber plaintively tweeting a complaint about people harassing him as “privileged” for tweeting about his anger and sadness over the forced sale of his childhood home in a (supposedly) socialist housing coop – as though growing up with a stable home were not something that every person should have, even though many people don’t.

Ironically enough, given all the male Marxist whining about all of us shrill man-hating feminists,* this seems to happen most often in far-left circles on issues of class privilege: the easiest way for a leftist to dismiss an opponent without actually engaging with their arguments is to accuse them of  being “bourgeois”. This almost always seems to divert the conversation into some sort of more-working-class-than-thou status war, thus handily avoiding tackling whatever point the supposedly bourgeois comrade was trying to make. And yes, I have seen this tactic deployed in other areas as well, of totally refusing to engage with someone’s point purely because they are white, male, straight, whatever. I’ve seen that, yes. Like, maybe four or five individual times, in the decade or so since I first started engaging with the discourse of ‘privilege’ – versus uncountably many instances of the former.

The thing is, it is also true that one of the hallmarks of social privilege is that you are unable to see how you are affected by it, or how the corresponding disprivileged group or groups lack the advantages you take for granted. Very often, I have seen, for instance, a white person arguing with a person of colour, or a man arguing with a woman, where the latter tells the former that they are failing to comprehend the issue and suggests that this might be because their privilege blinds them to the problem, and then the former gets upset and accuses the latter of trying to “silence” them with their shibboleth of “privilege”. The two recent essays which sparked this piece are yet another example of this, of this silencing with accusations of silencing.

I appreciate that, when one is in the midst of some argument or another, it can be difficult to see the difference between someone telling you that you that you are failing to see their point because of your privilege, and someone telling you that you are not a valuable person, or generally not worth listening to at all, because of your privilege. But there IS a difference, and dismissing the entire concept of privilege because you’re fearful you might be dismissed on crabs-in-a-barrel terms (or, especially, if you understand the difference and are simply resentful) is deeply divisive, because – since to speak from a place of privilege is to speak from a place of power – to do so is to thereby dismiss the perspectives of those challenging your viewpoints. THAT is divisive, THAT is what is destroying solidarity, and THAT needs to stop RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

* Presumably there are similar experiences from white comrades about POC issues, etc., but I’m speaking from my own perspective here.

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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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Spamtivism

Checking my email this morning sent me into a bit of a rage. See, I’d opened up the latest in the unending stream of clicktivist emails I get as punishment for signing their petitions elsewhere on the internet. I often get upset when I open them, although to be fair, my rage is usually directed mostly at the content. This one, however, contained good news. It was even subject-lined “Finally, some good news” (though I could swear they’ve used that exact phrasing before, for previous victories on the LGBT front). From AllOut.org, this is the actual opening paragraph — bolding and hyperlink theirs:

“Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered an incredibly powerful speech at the U.N. in Geneva. It’s not every day that a major world figure speaks out forcefully in defense of equality. But most people didn’t even hear about it.

Why? Because a handful of delegates stormed out of the meeting in protest and their story – that gay people should be denied human rights – dominated the day’s news.

But we are about to change that. Our friends at the U.N. just let us REMIX Ban-Ki Moon (complete with a dance beat chosen by the team at All Out). Will you take just 2 minutes to listen to this incredibly inspiring speech and share with your friends and family? When someone like Ban Ki-Moon speaks out, it makes a difference – but only if people hear what he has to say: (youtube screengrab, also a hyperlink)”

Do you see the problem here? This is news I actually appreciate — and even that I might not have gotten through other sources. Ban Ki-moon made a pro-LGBT speech on the floor of the UN. That’s pretty great (even if the actual speech turned out to be cursory and talking-pointy). BUT, the email makes such a point of trying to make me feel all ~*~*active*~*~ and ~*~*virtuous*~*~ for the mere act of watching a video on the internet that I feel disinclined to even watch it at all.

Granted, All Out’s whole platform is awareness-raising. But I recently found myself [finally getting around to] unsubscribing from Amnesty International’s similar clicktivist emails because they were all written in that same content-thin, patronizing register. AMNESTY FUCKING INTERNATIONAL, whose work I respect, whose projects I support, and whose news I would actually like to hear about, if only they would write to me like a literate, thinking adult. Friend @[redacted] over on Twitter used to work for clicktivist petition generator 38 Degrees, and writes “I helped draft/proof 38 Degrees emails… I was crap at it. Just couldn’t let myself write like that. They’re always so thin on information and full of supposedly emotive blah. They run emails through a sentence complexity checker.” I do not even know if that last sentence is a joke or not. And they ALL FUCKING DO THIS. It’s like every organization that gets big enough has the same marketing hacks come ’round to tell them how.

Finally, once I’d finished bashing my half-formed rage onto Twitter, I decided I might as well go ahead and watch the video. Only I was so distracted by the distracting bolding in their email that I’d missed the fact that this wasn’t just a link to the speech, it was a “REMIX … complete with a dance beat[!]” This would have been a terrible thing to do to Ban Ki-moon, if it actually were what it implied. Instead it was taste-offensive in another way: an over-slick intersplicing of Ban’s speech with emotive images of homophobic violence and soundbite-capture text quotations (complete with powerpoint word-swoosh sound effects), overlaid with music I guess you might dance to if you went to clubs that played documentary soundtracks.

No wonder God hates fags.

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