From chapter "It’s Time to Get Out"
I need to be clear: to blame members of the resistance for the backlash by those in power when resistors do not follow the agreed-upon rules is yet more acceptance of the abusers’ logic: If I hit you, it is only because you made me do it.
When Nazis killed a hundred Jews for every Jew who escaped from a death camp, it was not the Jews’ fault the Nazis chose to do this. When Nazis chose to kill a hundred innocent bystanders for every Nazi killed by partisans, it was not the partisans’ fault. The choice to kill was the Nazis’. The responsibility was their own. Remember, from the perspective of the exploiters it is always best if you can get your victims to “choose” to participate. Proper limiting of their options will save you from having to use quite so much force. If you can get them to internalize responsibility for the violence you do use, so much the better.
If those in power choose to build a dam, that is their choice. I am not responsible for their decision. If I choose to take out this dam, that is my choice. Those in power are not responsible for my decision. If after that dam is gone, those in power decide to arrest everyone with brown hair, that is their choice. I would not be responsible for their decision.
We all have choices. I have choices. Those in power have choices. You have choices. Even if we choose to not act, we are still making choices.
* * *
The next to last characteristic on Abby’s list was that the abuser may break or strike objects. There are two variants of this behavior: one is the destruction of beloved objects as punishment. The other is for him to violently strike or throw things to scare you.
To translate the first variant to the larger cultural level we need only consider the logic routinely used by mainstream environmental activists to keep more radical activists in line: “We must be reasonable, or the feds and corporations will cut all the forests.” The punishment for not being “reasonable” is the destruction of ever more of what we love. Even more to the point, we know what happens as punishment to traditional indigenous people who do not give up their landbase: they will be killed, their landbase destroyed. And extirpation of species can be seen as a form of punishment, too: if the plant or animal (or culture) cannot adapt (conform) to the requirements of civilization, it will—it must—be destroyed.
Who among us has not witnessed the destruction of wild places or creatures we have loved? That this destruction is not always explicitly labeled as punishment seems secondary—exploiters lie as well as exploit—especially when the threat of further damage hangs always over our heads.
To translate the second variant into larger social terms, all we need to do is invoke a phrase used often these days by the U.S. military and politicians: Shock and Awe. This phrase is a euphemism for bombing the hell out of a people in order to terrorize them into doing what you want. Shock and Awe is merely the most recent name for this. George Washington earned the nickname Town Destroyer among the Indians by doing what the name suggests. He did this to punish those who resisted. A bit further back we find Catholic priests and missionaries cutting down the sacred groves of pagans as punishment for their recalcitrance and to preempt any return to the worship of their nonhuman neighbors. Before that, the Israelites clearcut the groves of all who did not bow before their god. They also clearcut the people.
Dear Abby’s last characteristic of abusive relationships is the use of any force during an argument: holding you down, physically restraining you from leaving the room, pushing you, shoving you, forcing you to listen. Should we talk about Christianity or death? Should we talk about prisons? How about compulsory attendance at schools? Maybe we should talk about the fact that at protests cops are armed while protesters are not (I wonder who will win arguments between those two groups?). Why don’t we cut to the chase and simply remark on the “social contract” imposed upon us by those in power, that those in power grant themselves a monopoly on force (then force us to attend schools where we are taught that the state—a primary instrument of those in power—has, you guessed it, a monopoly on force).
Within this culture there really is one central rule: Might makes right. I can think of no more abusive way to live.
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A truism of political science seems to be that part of the deal we sign as civilized human beings is that we allow the state to have a monopoly on violence. About a hundred years ago the German sociologist Max Weber defined the modern state as maintaining the monopoly on violence, with the exercise of force being authorized or permitted by the state, which means by law. The monopoly on violence is what a state is. Maintaining the monopoly on violence is what a state does. Weber states that “the use of force is regarded as legitimate only so far as it is either permitted by the state or prescribed by it. Thus the right of a father to discipline his children is recognized—a survival of the former independent authority of the head of a household, which in the right to use force has sometimes extended to a power of life and death over children and slaves. The claim of the modern state to monopolize the use of force is as essential to it as its character of compulsory jurisdiction and of continuous organization.”
Chibli Mallat made the implications clear: “Judicial power wields, through the rule of law, the most sophisticated manifestation of state coercion. There is no rule of law without the state’s monopoly of violence.”
My friend George Draffan brings it all home: “The modern state rests on the monopoly of legitimate violence and, consequently, on the monopoly of taxation. Moreover, the group that effectively controls means of organized violence also acquires the monopoly over the enforcement of rules of economic and civic life. A weak state, then, is one which has lost the ability to effectively maintain these key monopolies. In late- and post-communist Russia, a constellation of factors led, after 1987, to a progressive privatization of the state. The privatization of the state is understood here as the process whereby the function of protecting juridical and economic subjects was taken over by criminal groups, private protection companies, or units of the state police force acting as private entrepreneurs. The consequence of that can also be defined as the covert fragmentation of the state: the emergence, on the territory under the formal jurisdiction of the state, of competing and uncontrolled sources of organized violence and alternative taxation networks.”
It’s quite a scam, if you can get people to buy into it. Those in power make the rules, and those in power enforce the rules. If those in power decide to toxify the landscape, toxify they will, and part of the bargain we evidently agree to on being part of this society is that they can use violence to enforce their edicts, and we cannot use violence to resist them. When they are killing the planet this quickly becomes absurd.
Recently in Bolivia a group of Aymara Indians kidnapped and killed an extraordinarily corrupt mayor, after legal means of redress failed. Legal means of redress had never stood a chance: the mayor represents the state, and the legal system supports the state and its representatives. As one of the Indians said, “We would have been satisfied if Altamirano [the mayor] admitted he had made mistakes, or if he had proposed a punishment for himself, or if the authorities had fined him. But none of this happened. What else could we do?” Representatives of the state used this killing—which was definitely a fair execution according to Aymara justice, as well as their only real option for stopping the mayor’s thuggery—as an excuse to arrest the leader of a land ownership reform movement, although not even the prosecution claimed he was anywhere near the scene of the kidnapping or execution. The prosecution really had no choice but to pursue this case. Far more is at stake than the murder of one corrupt politician. The prosecution stated, “There is only one justice, the justice of the state, of the law, there cannot be another justice.”
Of course a representative of the state would say that.
I disagree. There must be another justice, in fact many other justices. What is justice to the state, to the powerful, is not justice to the poor, to the land. What is justice to the CEO of ExxonMobil is not justice to the polar bears being driven to extinction by global warming. So long as we only believe in the justice of the state, of the law—made by those in power, to serve those in power—so long will we continue to be exploited by those in power. The rule of the state is always, hearkening back to the competing laws of Greek tragedies, in conflict with the rule of the people. And in a culture driven mad, the justice of the state will always be in conflict with the justice of the land.
* * *
Dear Abby’s advice to her readers was, in glorious all caps: “IF YOUR PARTNER SHOWS THESE SIGNS, IT’S TIME TO GET OUT.” We can say the same about the culture, and if all caps are good enough for Abby, then by all means they’re good enough for me: IF YOUR CULTURE SHOWS THESE SIGNS, IT’S TIME TO GET OUT.
It’s time to get out.