when the status quo frustrates.

Political Power, the Barrel of the Gun and All That

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

I believe that the only human future, that is, a future with humans in it, is one in which violence as an acceptable mode of human interaction is renounced. This renunciation will make the state, as we know it, impossible. Every power of the state rests, ultimately, on its power to “legitimately” kill its citizens. I realize that I’m repeating myself, but there seemed to be some disagreement over my claim and I thought it worth while to clarify my position and attempt to come to some understanding before I go on and make yet more outrageous claims.

I am not claiming that the only action that state agents can take against a citizen is to kill him or her. I have been fined and put in jail. I hear they have over two million people in prison, so yes, I understand that alternatives to execution exist for the government. However, I can’t imagine very many of those 2 million would have gone willingly to prison or would be easy to keep there if the death of an inmate at the hands of a policemen or guard were considered murder (which, by any objective standard, it is).

People submit to state agents specifically because those agents are authorized to kill people who resist. Nobody surrenders to mall security*.

Without the ability to drag people to jail, authorized to kill resisters and escapees, how does the state level fines? Unless they can take houses, killing those who defend themselves as they would against any other home invader, how can they levy property taxes? Without threatening employers, how do they collect income taxes?

This stands separately from the claim that they shouldn’t do these things. It’s not a novel position that they should, but it cannot be claimed that these powers ultimately rest on anything other than the power to kill people.

Everyone likes to call out state violence–well almost everyone–that they don’t agree with while justifying or redefining the state violence that they support. This argument is as old as time and has gotten humanity nowhere**.

While we may disagree about the necessity for violence to maintain social order, provide for the sick and the old, or educate the young–it is disingenuous to deny that, ultimately, agents of the state require the monopoly on violence and the “authority” to kill citizens to enforce the preferences of the ruling class.

*Actually, I take that back: there are people, broken people, who will submit to any authority figure. I submit, without evidence, that those people were likely broken by violence at some point in the past. Broken by aggressors who, explicitly or implicitly, threatened death for continued resistance. That’s a topic for the future.

**In reference to the undeniable increase in the standard of living and the no-longer-being-as-frequently-killed-to-death of huge swaths of humanity under state control: These victories resulted from a multitude of individuals sacrificing their lives and wealth to drag the state kicking and screaming out of some aspect of barbarity. In reference to the idea that, for example, not arresting homosexuals who marry (or those that marry them) is a good use of state violence: it is a good renunciation of state violence–yet another subject to revisit.

Non-Violence vs. Political Solutions

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

A position of non-violence is incompatible with the idea of political solutions to social problems. The state, as we know it, ultimately has only one tool for controlling behavior, it can legitimately kill individual people. All other punishments are premised on this power. Until this is understood, the mass of humanity will remain the the impoverished slaves and servants of a tiny parasitic ruling class and will, perversely, thank them for the “safety” they provide.

If you oppose the non-violent position, then you will only ever contribute to problems stemming from violence. While you may point to a temporary victory–a political solution that “solved” a social problem–growing from the “solution” like bamboo shoots will be dozens, hundreds, thousands of resulting problems, each begging for a new political solution.

I’ve encountered alot of anger around this argument. Almost nobody, especially on the left, wants to be in a position of preferring violent solutions to non-violent. Yet how can one logically argue that support of state solutions is anything but the preference for violent solutions (answer: you can’t).

This puts the angry person in the position of having to create an imaginary world in which violence and only violence can stave off apocalyptic disaster. In this fiction, attempting, or even beginning to attempt to organize voluntarily to address social problems leads immediately to a fate worse than death–a world of chaos and violence in which everyone good dies at the hands of the evil, mad and powerful.

These arguments, lunatic as they are, can be persuasive because a) no matter how horrifying real-life state atrocities are, the apocalypse is worse and b) they rely on fear, a historically reliable way of overriding rational thought and bringing debate to an end.

A novel position came up in a conversation recently that simultaneously surprised and delighted me. It is worth addressing because it is the only alternative to the fear based response. The position is that the state doesn’t need to use violence but could be reconstituted in such a way that it is a voluntary organization. In principle, how can I have any problem with that? If the state renounces violence in favor of voluntary cooperation, it will cease to be a remnant of stone-age barbarism and become a part of the future of humanity. By my definition, it would no longer be a state at that point, but I would be happy concede to calling it a state if it is ever brought into being.

Common Ground with the Violent

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

As Amanda reminds us here and here, the notion of a reasoned debate, of consensus morality, of civilized human interaction vanishes and is impossible to recover when the “conversation” takes place with a gun in the room.  There are no proponents of state-mandated birth, no matter how deep their armchairs, that can claim a non-violent stand.  Besides whispering a prayer when an honorable and compassionate human being is murdered, they also dedicate their time, money, and social clout to electing anti-choice “conservatives.”

This act is both cowardly and aggressive.  Pro-forced birth proponents may not be willing to kick in a door, interrupt a medical procedure and incarcerate a woman until she gives birth against her will.  They would, however, clap with psychotic glee as the police point guns at women to ‘save unborn lives.’

How can anybody imagine that “common ground” can be found between people seeking the most basic recognition of their humanity and a throng of mystics begging and pleading for the state to enforce their preference that women bear children at all costs and against their will?  Can anyone expect a reasoned debate about the moral nature of anything when one side is willing to detain, imprison or kill the other and those that aid them?

Anti-choice’ers take cover behind the illusion of civil discourse in an attempt to hide the barbaric means that they employ.  They are given a pass because they do not pull the trigger themselves but “vote” for others to point the guns.

The spokespeople for the anti-choice movement cannot condemn outright the actions of a lunatic who murders a doctor.  That is exactly the penalty they want imposed if a doctor refuses to obey their preferences.

This does not really bother me.

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Saudi Arabia’s judicial practices are often abhorrent to me–sentencing a gang rape victim to hundreds of lashes, for instance, or refusing to allow an eight-year-old to divorce the 47-year-old man her father sold her to, or even beating and jailing a 75 year old woman for being alone in a house with two young men (both of whom were also beaten and jailed).

However, I’m mostly fine with beheading this guy for kidnapping and murdering an 11-year-old boy and then doing the same to the boy’s father. I’m also confused as to the additional upset about the fact that they displayed the guy’s (re-headed) body afterwards–so?

Paid Killers

Friday, April 10th, 2009

Hugo has a post up about pacifism, which apparently is not a concept I’ve understood very well all these years. I thought pacifism was defined as the philosophical opposition to war or perhaps to the idea of initiating violence–after all, there are religious pacifists who have served in the armed forces–but in any case, I clearly missed the point. This is the paragraph that Hugo quotes to define what he means when he refers to himself as a pacifist:

I mentioned in my post on Monday that I hoped that if it came to it, I would be willing to take a bullet for “my kids.” But I would not be willing to fire a bullet, even to protect the lives of my students or youth groupers.*

I would be willing to fire that bullet; I’m not a pacifist, though I do despise nations going to war for any reason other than self-defense or after being entreated by another nation that was attacked to aid that nation in its self-defense. But it did get me thinking about the actual act of killing another human being.

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An eye for an eye.

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

An Iranian woman who was blinded in an acid attack is choosing to exercise her right to demand her assailant suffer the same way she has, and the courts agree. In what is called an “eye for an eye” punishment (totally cool under Islamic law, says CNN) her attacker, Majid Movahedi, will be blinded in both eyes using sulphuric acid.

Late last year, an Iranian court gave Bahrami what she asked for. It sentenced Movahedi to be blinded with drops of acid in each eye. This month, the courts rejected Movahedi’s appeal.

Bahrami’s lawyer, Sarrafi, said the sentencing might be carried out in a matter of weeks. He said he doesn’t think Bahrami will change her mind. Neither does Bahrami.

“If I don’t do this and there is another acid attack, I will never forgive myself for as long as I live,” she said.

My first thought, when I saw this on CNN this afternoon, was “holy fuck!” It was also my second, third and fourth thoughts. Bahrami came off as a very sympathetic character in the news segment, which I can imagine is hard to do when you’re demanding a man be blinded by acid. Of course, it’s easy to feel bad for a woman whose face looks like it’s still melting off. Movahedi fucked her up, and doesn’t appear to know that maybe he crossed a line:

He told the court he still loved Ms. Bahrami, but if she asked for his eyes to be taken out, he would seek the same punishment for her.

“They must also completely empty out her eyes, since I’m not sure that she cannot secretly see,” he said, according to a report in The Washington Post.

“The newspapers have made this a huge case, but I haven’t done anything bad.”

I’m not sure what part of Islamic law lets a criminal who was blinded by sulphuric acid for throwing a whole hell of a lot more acid in a woman’s face allows him to go back and take the rest of her eyes, so let’s assume Movahedi is fucking psycho. (Seriously, because of him we live in a world where a woman can ask for acid to be dripped in a guy’s face and still be taking the high road: “Asked by the judge if she wanted Mohavedi’s face to be splashed with acid, she replied, ‘That is impossible and horrific. Just drip 20 drops of acid in his eyes so he can realize what pain I am undergoing.’ “)

So on the one hand, the part of me that is against cruel and unusual punishment has an automatic gag reflex about this particular punishment. On the other hand, I live in a place where even the creepiest stalkers rarely resort to acid attacks when you decline to marry them, and unfortunately there are many women in other parts of the world who can’t say the same. And the same book that’s used to justify the laws and culture that allow honor killings and acid attacks explicitly gives Bahrami this option, so another part of me wants to say these guys made their bed and can fucking sleep in it. I guess I can’t decide what wins here – the revulsion against an exotic punishment meted out in an area of the world famous for harsh punishments versus the feeling that nothing short of making a few dramatic examples out of men like Movahedi would convince men to think twice before disfiguring women for pissing them off. I don’t like that idea one bit, but I just can’t bring myself to condemn Bahrami. I really don’t know.

It would be nice to think that we actually had respect for the dead.

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

It’s not exactly like we gave her much in life, is it?

I haven’t written about Angie Zapata, which is particularly unforgivable since she was killed in my city. I find myself having trouble articulating anything that hasn’t already been said.

It might be that it’s too close, that those things made clear by her murder seem to large and too obvious. Trans women—like most women, as it happens—are acutely aware of how much our status makes us targets; how much random men on the streets want to either fuck us or do violence to us, or maybe some exciting new combination of both.

It looks like the prosecutor is going to prosecute her murder as a hate crime, which means the defense is probably going to advance the idea that it’s an all-American hate crime. The kind of hate crime that’s fun for the whole family; the kind that any red-blooded American boy would be practically forced to commit (or not commit—such a nasty, criminalizing word—but maybe enjoy) after a nasty, dirty, brown (of course she’s an illegal immigrant, even if her family has lived in Weld county since the invention of, say, dirt) tranny coerces and deceives him into getting a blowjob and then sexually assaulting her.

It could have happened to any of you (straight, white men), and then what would you have to do?

So the trial’s going to be hilarious, in that way that leaves you in shock, shaking and sobbing on the floor and perhaps I have not quite selected the appropriate adjective.

The D.A. is prosecuting her murder, at least, and while I don’t exactly put a tonne of stock in our criminal justice system, I have to feel a little better about that. Little steps, I guess.

Speaking of the D.A.

“It doesn’t matter who the victim is,” Buck said, “. . . a crime like this cannot be tolerated at any level.”

That’s nice to hear, Buck. It would have been nicer without the implication that trans women are, somehow, almost tolerable victims. That we ought to prosecute this man not because of his demonstrated vicious hatred for transgender people, or women, or Latinas, per se, but because of a philosophical commitment to discouraging people from bashing heads in with fire extinguishers.

Little steps.

The papers are reporting it as a hate crime, which it is, and the stories are written an unfortunately-shocking sympathy for the victim. It’s nice that the Denver Post, at least, refers to Zapata as “she,” and “her.” It would be nicer if they didn’t use her birth name in half their ledes (when someone changes their name, legally or not, the paper generally uses their chosen name—unless they’re trans, of course). It would also be nice if they extended trans people this courtesy while we’re still alive.

And while I’m wishing for horses, it would be nice if after her murderer is convicted, we maybe started asking how he felt like what he was doing was sanctioned by society, and how he could mount such a grotesque defense with the expectation that people would, y’know, buy it.

It would also be nice if I didn’t wince in my stomach whenever I wrote “I,” or “we” in this post.

Little steps, little steps…

The anti-gun gun-nut

Monday, July 28th, 2008


Not bad for a gun-hater.

So. A homophobic terrorist shoots up a Unitarian Universalist church, which is pretty much the mass murdering equivalent of kicking puppies. The usual suspects on both sides come out of the woodwork to claim that more guns or fewer guns, respectively, would have prevented this tragedy from occurring.

On the NRA side, SaysUncle is on the case!

The Mrs. often asks why I carry to church. It’s because shootings keep happening at churches.

Kynn points out that politicizing tragedy and victim-blaming is kind of a shitty thing to do. Posters from SaysUncle immediately jump all over her blog. She bans them. Her blog, her prerogative, and she wasn’t looking for a debate.

SaysUncle & Co. get butthurt about it and bring up Kynn’s appearance and gender presentation, as if either are relevant.

I can’t resist an opportunity to troll, so I went over there and attempted to reason with them. After all, I’m not anti-gun; I just think that guns wouldn’t have prevented the tragedy. But they flip out, arguing that of course, they totally could have taken down the shooter without hurting anyone else.

There are a lot of arguments that one can make here, but my final one, as I was starting to get caught up in their spam filters, was that yes, certainly, I respect their right to own guns. Among the many problems with their victim-blaming line, however, is the idea that the only way to prevent gun violence is by carrying concealed firearms. To which I asked: what about kids who are too young to shoot, people with physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from safely operating guns, and especially in this case, what about pacifists who don’t want to carry guns? Should they, like the original poster, carry guns to church? And if they don’t, do they deserve to get shot?

The, er, ludicrous response:

Each and every single person on Earth has the implicit right to kneel, bend their head and take a bullet in the back of the head. Each person has the right to lie supine with knees spread. Each and every person has the right to stand in abject terror with hands raised and the sure and certain knowledge that personal death is very near.

Where do these people live—Baghdad? I have a hard time imagining that violence is so rampant in the U.S. that one’s only option if one wants to be safe is to pack heat. Earlier, we were arguing about whether it’s responsible to have guns around children—I firmly believe that it is not. Their argument hinged on the infrequency of accidental child deaths caused by guns.

But random shootings, well-publicized as they are, are also quite rare. You’re more likely to die in a car accident. So I wonder at the psychology of people convinced that they need to be armed when they attend children’s plays at churches—you know, just in case. I suspect there’s some other motive at work, such as complete and utter paranoia or, possibly, tiny penises.

These guys don’t believe me that I’m not part of some sinister left-wing conspiracy to take their guns away (I’m really not, and I’m not sure why they’re so scared when the far-right has been in power in their country, content to erode all of their civil liberties besides the right to bear arms). But to be honest, it’s really hard to take the pro-gun argument seriously when the people making these arguments are so batshit that the solution to any problem becomes a testosterone-laced violent fantasy.

Anyway, apparently they’re looking for Rational DebateTM, which I guess is an invitation to wander over there and disagree with them. Just a warning: If you disagree too effectively, they start to froth at the mouth and suddenly every comment you make mysteriously gets caught in their spam filter.

Somehow, I’m sure the patriarchy is to blame.

Monday, July 28th, 2008

My computer stopped turning on over the weekend. (* cue sound of sobbing children *)

I push the power button. Nothing! I unplug her, wait a minute, plug her back in and push the power button. Nothing! I pray whilst pushing the power button. I am struck by lightning*, but my computer does not turn on.

So, until I can get a new** power supply***, posts might be a bit erratic. A bit, um, more erratic.

You have been warned.

* – The lightning had a funny, dismissive “you don’t even even mean it,” flavor.

** – I actually have two spare power supplies, but neither has the right power cord layout. Arr.

*** – At least, I hope it’s the power supply.

Another taser horror story

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Mounties use tasers to sexually assault an aboriginal child. And get away with it.

Predictably, the article doesn’t call it sexual assault. But what does this sound like to you?

The girl, who was 16 at the time of the incident, said she was held down by four officers, one for each limb, while a taser was used on her legs and groin area. She said the third shock lasted between five and eight seconds and left her screaming in pain.

This is after they stripped her naked and threw her in a cell. It gets worse:

The girl, who is a high-school student, said her wounds were painful for days. The taser broke the skin, leaving red and bloody circular marks on her thighs. The police didn’t tell the girl’s mother about the incident when she picked her up the next morning, and the girl was too ashamed to tell. As a result, the wounds became infected.

Anyway, as is usually the case with these sorts of gross human rights violations—particularly in cases that involve racialized youth—the cops investigated themselves and found themselves innocent of any wrongdoing.

The Globe and Mail‘s pathetic excuse? She was “behaving badly.” Sickening.

On the Death Penalty, Partisanship and the Rape of Children: Part Three

Friday, June 27th, 2008

I think I may have mentioned in a few previous posts, in passing, that my childhood and adolescence were perhaps unfortunate from both a socioeconomic perspective and from a family dysfunctionality perspective. I tend to not go into much more detail than that and when I do, it is usually both very sparsely presented and moved on from as quickly as possible, for various reasons. However, for the purposes of this post, I will choke out a little more information than usual, because it’s relevant.

Warning: Somewhat graphic descriptions of child abuse below the fold.

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On the Death Penalty, Partisanship and the Rape of Children: Part One

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

I am leery of the death penalty for two reasons, one philosophical, one brutally concrete.

The philosophical reason is that I object to the State, that amorphous and unaccountable collection of legislation, having the absolute power of life and death over any individual. The State already has a fair amount of control over our daily lives, sometimes with our explicit consent, sometimes only with the implied consent of I’m still choosing to live here so I guess I have to..? And I swallow a lot of things that fall short of taking an individual’s life, as non-mortal injuries carry with them the chance (in varying degrees of course) of recovery and restoration–however, your life is the one thing you can’t ever recover from losing. There is no recompense for that. When one individual takes another’s life, he or she has a set of consequences to face for having done so, and I am not just referring to legal ones–it is right that there should be a price exacted from anyone who does the ultimate, unrecoverable injury to another. In the case of the State, no recompense can ever be exacted; no one can be held guilty; no price can ever be paid–society did it! Whatever that means, and it can mean anything and everything and boils down every time to mean precisely whatever the person using the word wants it to mean. (Other words that have become so soggy and fluid are “government” and “culture” and “values.” It amazes me sometimes that those words are still in the dictionary. The way they are most commonly used robs them of any objective meaning at all.)

The brutally concrete reason is the complete imbalance in whom it is applied to in terms of race and gender. Even if it were something we were all philosophically prepared to accept, obviously that it is used disproportionately against a specific flavor of citizen is completely unacceptable.

However, you may have noticed, I do not object to the death penalty on any moral grounds–I don’t claim I think it’s wrong always, for any reason whatsoever, for one individual to kill another. There are instances of individuals killing other individuals that do not deeply disturb me, though I’m always saddened that any situation ever deteriorates to the point where that’s a viable or even the most viable solution. It IS sad.

Is it because I am consumed with “bloodlust?” Is it because I don’t “respect human life equally?”

Um, definitely not the first one. As a matter of fact, I am far more immune to bloodlust than most Americans I know. I do not watch reality TV, nor do I watch any sport that is centered around one person pounding on another while froth-spitting crowds roar them on–in short, watching real people inflict pain and humiliation of any degree upon each other not only does not attract me, it actively repulses me. That is “bloodlust,” my friends. I agree that it may be a significant part of our society, but it isn’t any part of me.

As for the second–that’s both true and not true. I do not respect all human life equally, but it has nothing to do with my feelings on the death penalty. I do not hold every speck of life that happens to have Homo sapiens DNA in its cell nucleus as being of equal worth, which is why I support reproductive choice, living wills, physician-assisted suicide and the concept of “brain-dead.” My philosophy here holds, though, that what I personally value the lives of others at is completely meaningless; my “valuing” of them should have no impact upon their continued existence whatsoever. The only “valuation” that should have that impact is their own. The only individual who gets to set a value on any individual’s human life is that individual. Period. In the cases where the human life in question is not capable of setting value upon its own life because it lacks the cognitive ability to do so, such as pre-viable fetuses and anyone at any stage of development who does not have a functioning brain, the person who is most affected by the continued existence or lack thereof of that individual gets to set the value on that life. Period.

In terms of a child rapist and his eight-year-old victim, say, I would consider both of them able to set their own value on their own lives and those values are the only ones that should ever count.

So, I am unhappy enough about the death penalty to consistently oppose it, regardless of the “worth” I feel any other individual has. However, if someone I personally find to have little to no value drops dead, I don’t even pretend to be upset about it or attempt to work up any feelings of “oh but we’re all EQUALLY valuable as human lives!” It’d be a lie. Even there, I make an automatic distinction between the method of death and the fact that the death results in the absence of that person from Earth–I am always repelled by and opposed to any deliberate and avoidable infliction of pain upon one human being by another and do not ever find any moral excuse for that. (Back to why I don’t watch all that sadistic crap on TV and how deeply horrible I find the practice of torture.) However, in regards to the bare fact of the sudden absence of certain human lives? I don’t care and in some cases, I think the world is an improved environment from when that person was alive. No doubt cold, but quite true.

Next: The Joys (or lack thereof) of Partisanship