New Year’s Eve Waffling
I realized I didn’t mention the end-date for the Boxing Day sale on ebooks. That’s January 2nd, so you’ve got two more days if you’re interested in picking up any of our books for cheap.
I posted something to this effect on Twitter a few weeks ago, but didn’t get that many responses, so figured I’d make it a New Year’s Eve waffling topic, as I’m genuinely interested in how people respond to it. My suggestion was answering these two questions in lieu of New Year’s resolutions. Certainly I think they’re important questions to have answers to right now.
1) What would your government have to do to lose its legitimacy in your eyes? (Define roughly as “you would consider its overthrow outside the normal democratic procceses to be a good thing.”)
2) At what point does violence become an acceptable tactic for resistance? (Please note that unless you are an outright pacifist the answer “never” is cowardice.)
Happy New Year, everybody. This isn’t going to be easy, but we’re all in it together.
December 31, 2016 @ 11:35 am
The trouble with violence as a tactic is that the other side has got the guns.
John G. Wood
December 31, 2016 @ 11:48 am
I am very wary of violence as a political tactic, as it doesn’t have a great history of going well. However, I am also aware that violence or the threat of violence has been an important element in achieving gains I consider good – even in the UK, where, in particular, I believe the creation of the Welfare State depended in part on the large contingent of working class heroes who were now trained in the use of guns, often had access to them, and who expected that part of what they had been fighting for was a decent life for their friends and families.
This is an easier one, at least in principle: violence becomes an acceptable tactic for resistance when there is no effective alternative and you simply have to resist. I think using violence damages you, too, so it’s never a good choice – just sometimes the best available. On one occasion as a child I was being held down so that I couldn’t move any of my limbs. I was terrified, and I took the only way out I could see – I bit one of my assailants in the groin as hard as I could. It actually worked – they not only let me go, they were wary of me after that. I think it was the right thing to do, but it has disturbed me since. Another time some people were slapping me about the head, and I refused to fight back (partly because of memories of that previous incident). Despite me trying to block the blows it eventually reached the point where I could no longer control my legs to stand. I believe I should have fought back then.
For both these questions the trick comes in judging when you reach the tipping point, and I don’t have a good answer for that. The other thing I’d add is that you only ever get to judge for yourself what that tipping point is – I have never been in the position of someone deciding whether to join (say) the 1970s IRA or PLO, thankfully, so I don’t have the right. I might look at a conflict and say “that doesn’t look like a liberation struggle to me”, or “those tactics are not acceptable in my book” – but before arrogantly condemning the perpetrators I should take a proper look into the situation. What are they fighting against? What alternatives are there to their tactics? It’s not quite “I don’t get to judge”, but more “I don’t get to stand on my high horse from my position of comfort and judge things I don’t really understand”. It might still be fairly wishy-washy liberal niceness, but it’s the best I’ve got.
December 31, 2016 @ 1:54 pm
On the other hand, to the degree that individual government executive agencies are able to resist their temporary leadership and retain normal function, they remain legitimate. I’m not turning against the EPA or the CDC or the OSHA until/ unless all the seriously devoted career employees are driven out, and that’s likely to take awhile.
Also, the media is owned by the capitalist far-right, and will always portray left-wing violence in a damaging light. It’s no friend to peaceful resistance either, granted, but that’s what we’re left to work with. Hostile nonviolent takeover of the Democratic Party, and the forceful surgical insertion of backbone into it, is still the least impossible-looking path I see.
December 31, 2016 @ 2:18 pm
1- I’m Brazilian, so… Is overthrowing the democratically elect president for questionable reasons, putting the unpopular vice-president way to her right in charge, than implementing a ridiculous economic plan that freezes the amount of money spent on education for 20 years, makes people have to work until they’re 80 for full retirement and somehow still has money to raise the salaries of politicians and giving billions away for private companies enough? (Yes, it definitly is)
2- The government has shown it thinks that violence is an acceptabe tactic for it’s resistence. Voting has equally been shown to be fruitless, and even in a best case cenario there is always the chance that a left-wing president would just be impeached again in a couple of years. (Even since it got out of it’s first dictatorship, Brazil has had only 4 democratically elect presidents that served their full terms. Wow. Democracy ftw!) My hope for 2017 is that there will be enough protests to make something change. And the kind of protest that could bring change has no chance of being pacific.
December 31, 2016 @ 2:39 pm
[Reprinted from the linked post at my Tumblr.]
I can’t come up with a better answer to either of those questions than the one Mr. Tom Jefferson, Gent., of Charlottesville, Virginia (1743-1826), came up with a double-dozen decades ago:
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
When the people running the government make it clear that you personally are in their crosshairs, even when they don’t mean it personally because they don’t see you as a person, I cannot fault anyone for taking it personally, and I conceive you can, may, and should use any tactic you choose to indulge in, without impropriety.
oh sorry if we are being unfair unfortunately u guys murdered all the nice gays & now there’s just us: the assholes.
the queers who were nice/patient/gentle all got shot or bullied to death all that’s left r me & the other pissed-off cockroach motherfuckers
It was a gay dude that said it, but it could just as easily have been a POC, or somebody Jewish, or disabled, or (raises hand) neurodivergent. Wypipo killed off the nice ones, and white people stood aside and let them do it. We can say #notallwhites until we go from white to blue in the face, but the people who’ve had the kyriarchy’s boot on their necks have no reason to listen.
I personally eschew violence for that, as I could’ve sworn I’d said elsewhere (but can’t currently find), I’m no fucking good at it. I hope 2017 isn’t the year I have to git gud.
I’m also fond of the answer Froborr gave at his blog, but it’s his, not mine, so I’m just going to boost the signal.
January 11, 2017 @ 1:56 am
One thousand points for the “Iolanthe” reference.
December 31, 2016 @ 5:37 pm
1) It’s good for a government to be overthrown outside the normal democratic processes if the majority want to overthrow it but are unable to do so in practice through the normal democratic processes. I’m not sure I define a concept of legitimacy of government, but if I do, it will be at a very high bar which no government clears in practice, for instance, I’m certainly not calling a government legitimate if it interferes using threat of force in the private consensual activities of its citizens (where this means things like sex or drugs, not anything economic).
2) Violence for resistance is legitimate if it’s in response to illegitimate violence (or threat of such, for instance, if there’s enough food for everyone but property laws backed up by threat of arrest mean some still can’t eat, that may be an example of illegitimate violence), and in accordance with the views of the majority of targets of that violence. (Government violence is legitimate if it’s done according to the democratically expressed will of the majority, and done to prevent activities which are harmful to non-consenting parties (where consent can sometimes be invalidated by things like deceit, pressure, not being an adult yet etc.))
December 31, 2016 @ 8:13 pm
I don’t know if I think governments ever have legitimacy exactly. They exist, and the primary benefit of them is that they safeguard stability. They exist to discourage intra-state violence, between individuals and between larger factions, which allows the necessary functions of society to continue smoothly and safely. Overthrowing a government basically always increases instability, at least in the short term. In light of this, I would say that…
Overthrow of a government outside of democratic processes becomes a good thing when the rule of law mostly makes people’s lives worse as opposed to better, when it enacts or enables exploitation, brutality, and violence on some part of the population without providing any real benefit of stability to them. When there is an urgent and pressing human cost that is beyond the ability of democratic processes to resolve. Maybe this happens due to outright hatred, or it could happen due to callousness, or incompetence, or some fundamental change of circumstances that leaves the existing structures inadequate. Or some combination.
When laws against violence are stacked against you, when the law does not protect you against the violence of others, when the law enables violence against you, when the law mandates violence against you, violence is an inevitable form of resistance. Acceptability no longer enters into it. I mean that categorically. Tell someone that it is acceptable for them to be killed, but its not acceptable to defend their life with violence, and the human mind revolts, and the body with it. Acceptability can mean nothing to you if you mean nothing to acceptability.
December 31, 2016 @ 10:51 pm
(I think this answer basically says things people above have already said better, but it’s my answer.)
It’s a fairly simple measure, but I’d say I’d probably consider a government deserved to be overthrown by non-democratic processes if it had taken steps to ensure it couldn’t be overthrown (or checked and balanced) by those processes. I’m not sure when I’d consider that to have happened though – our unelected Prime Minister’s “I can do whatever the hell I like because Brexit, and any attempt by the judiciary or Parliament to check this is subverting democracy” has me seriously concerned, but as long as there’s a General Election on the horizon, however distant, I’m tempted to wait and see what happens then.
Violence I’m less sure about – I am a committed pacifist, but I don’t require others to be, so I don’t think the answer is “never”. I’d say it’s maybe when – if you were facing someone who wasn’t representing the government – you could fairly claim self-defence, but I’d need to think about it some more.
January 1, 2017 @ 3:51 am
When a government deploys armed forces to violently suppress unarmed people – civilians of its own or another nation’s – it both loses its legitimacy and invites violence as an acceptable and necessary counter-measure.
January 1, 2017 @ 10:06 am
To the second question: I’m going to see if I can apply the just war tradition.
There are seven criteria that must be met before going to war. (Note: despite the habit of people declaring wars just wars, very few wars in the last century have met them all. Even the Second World War didn’t meet all of them.)
1) Just cause. A government that interferes with people’s rights or that by overthrowing protections for those rights gives reasonable cause to believe that it intends to do so gives just cause.
2) Last resort. There must be no reasonable prospect of overthrowing the government by democratic means.
3) Better outcome. The expected suffering caused by violence must be less than the expected suffering otherwise. This is always going to be a high bar to clear.
4) Just means. No direct or purposeful attacks on civilians going about their legitimate business.
5) Just intention. Obviously you mean well. But also that you have some clear goals in mind, such that you’ll ceasefire if they’re met.
6) Reasonable prospect of success. Straightforward.
7) Legitimate authority. By the nature of things a tricky one if you’re trying to overthrow an authority. You need to be acting on behalf of the people you’re representing, and with their consent, with all the trouble that the concept of ‘the people’ brings with it. I think moral luck comes into it here: if the people retrospectively decide that you represented them, then good. If they retrospectively decide that you didn’t, then you’re morally out of luck.
January 1, 2017 @ 10:24 pm
These criteria are good guidelines, but I think 7. is somewhat problematic. Can a foreign government allow such moral legitimacy to “the people”? If the United States of America is considering invading (in an entirely fictional example) Nigeria because the government has decided to kill all people descending from foreign countries (their ancestors having immigrated in, let’s say, the last two generations) and the general population of Nigeria supports these measures, can the US be expected to passively allow these atrocities to come to pass? When does the morality of an outside government become defunct?
January 2, 2017 @ 9:11 pm
I took Mr. Anderson’s glosses to be directed at the specific situation. That is, “Legitimate authority” can mean different things in different causes, and the moral legitimacy of “the people” is specifically relevant to, y’know, popular revolutions. In the case of hypothetical Nigerian xenocide, you might look for legitimate authority in the UN, or in regional authorities, or what have you.
That said, “legitimate authority” is definitely the most problematic of the old Just War tenets. The original formulations are pretty bound up in post-Carolingian ideas of Church-State legitimacy, and while more recent versions have tried to broaden it, it’s still kinda… “just wars are waged by, you know, the right kind of states or maybe also the Continental Congress, but definitely not like Che or the Viet Cong.”
January 1, 2017 @ 10:11 am
1). I’m Northern Irish, the government here has next to no legitimacy as is. The only way it could sink lower was if the DUP were more openly advocating violence towards Catholics, LGBT people, and the disabled (which I am all three, fortunately).
2). Whenever every viable peaceful option has been explored, or, when the threat of violence from the state is sufficiently great. I’m not sure what I can say is sufficient, it’s a bit like pornography in that you know it when you see it. And also like porn, someone gets fucked.
January 1, 2017 @ 6:00 pm
I have difficulty thinking of this in a personalized way, i.e. “when will YOU disavow your government’s legitimacy and when will YOU commit violence to resist it” because the simple answers are “most of the time” and “probably never,” but these aren’t overriding principles or tactics, I’m just a snarky coward.
I think the question of overthrow has to be organized around how much worse quality of life will be for those who already suffer most under the regime during the period of overthrow and civil war. This I think is what positions somewhere obviously monstrous but demonstrably stable like Saudi Arabia, where I think overthrow is probably pretty plausible as an ethically arguable act, and the US as she is currently constituted. When the gulags and the public executions and the roving gangs of state-sanctioned (or at least state-ignored) murderers start to come out, life under civil war and life under “legitimate government” stops having much of a difference for the people who are the targets of the repression. Everyone else in society’s quality of life bottoming out to something like their level doesn’t rankle so much at that point.
Violence, I suppose, should be a tactical consideration. Is violence genuinely going to be a vehicle for change, or will you just get steamrolled. This is the trouble facing anti-state resistance today, as basically any state that has an arms deal with the US or Russia or whoever can just pulverize a grassroots military force, lacking as they do the massive infrastructure necessary to implement modern tools of warfare. The various Syrian rebel groups seemed to be doing a decent job for a while of keeping things diffuse and confused enough that bringing overwhelming force onto a particular target wasn’t effective, but then Aleppo happened. So until we figure out a genuine tactic of violent resistance that isn’t countered so easily by “but cruise missiles” I can’t help but feel like non-violent resistance is, tactically, the better play.
January 1, 2017 @ 10:18 pm
January 1, 2017 @ 10:41 pm
For me the answer to both questions is down to the outcome. The better outcome is the one that exacts less harm. When using violence to overthrow the state and combat oppression, proper organisation is key.
January 1, 2017 @ 11:59 pm
1) This one I feel I don’t have any good answers two, effectively being alright with eras of history when I was a child, such that it at times feels normal to have an imperialistic government who opts to exterminate people because of their race en mass with fire bombs run my country. Wrong, but normal. The best I can come up with is when it exceeds the cruelty of the 1800s American South, but by those standards, the government should have been overthrown in the 80’s for the way it dealt with the AIDS Plague alone, much less the other terrible things it did. Even with that though, there’s still the matter of “so you only give a shit if it’s happening in your backyard” that view has, and so I probably need to think more on this before I can create a good answer.
2) Either when it becomes evident that it’s the only thing that will work or when not being violent will cause more harm and cruelty than being violent.
January 2, 2017 @ 3:10 am
“The best I can come up with is when it exceeds the cruelty of the 1800s American South, but by those standards, the government should have been overthrown in the 80’s for the way it dealt with the AIDS Plague alone, much less the other terrible things it did.”
Just because it wasn’t, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been. Particularly when the Democrats missed their chance to remove Reagan’s empty shell from power legally (after Iran-Contra), a failure which Charles Pierce, the politics editor at Esquire, considers that we as a nation are still paying for in emboldened criminality.
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