Submitted by hamjam5 at October 17, 2017 at 12:10 PM in Anarchism
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This is idpol bullshit. It involves a contentious ontology which it is unreasonable to impose on other anarchists. It is not “liberal” to believe that free expression is more important than etiquette policing. Idpol is a bigger threat to freedom within anarchist spaces today than fascism, racism or sexism are.
The idea that “language can be oppressive, and tangibly so” rests on an ontological view (i.e. philosophy of the nature of reality) that 1) the social world is an effect of language and 2) everyday language (on a micro level) has a significant effect on this linguistically-constructed social world. No historical anarchists and very few feminists, black radicals, or socialists have believed both 1 and 2. It rests on an anti-anarchist view that society is necessarily a hierarchical structure in which everyone is inevitably and irreducibly included. So if John decides Pete is an asshole, John is assumed not only to be engaged in a personal antipathy to Pete, but to be actually putting Pete in an objective asshole-box in the social system – and thus engaging in a hierarchical act in the same way as if John put Pete in a prison cell. And if John decides Ahmed or Beth is an asshole, John is not only attacking them personally but enacting a society-wide racist or sexist imprisonment. This is absurd, particularly since this belief that people have a duty not to linguistically “oppress” others goes hand-in-hand with endorsement of directly oppressive, material practices such as banning, physically excluding, shouting down, and even committing physical violence.
Interpellation does not always succeed (lrn2 Lacan and Althusser). The fact that someone attaches a label to someone else does not mean that the other person becomes what they're labelled as. It has this effect only when 1) the label is socially powerful and 2) the labelled person introjects it. So, the fact that Ahmed says “all police are scum” does not make all police identify as scum, and does not mean that police are treated as scum by anyone other than Ahmed. If Ahmed or Beth or Pete says “police are criminals”, the police don't develop criminal identities, they don't go to jail, they don't become furtive so as to avoid their “crimes” being seen. On the other hand, a judge declaring “Ahmed is a criminal” has effects because of the judge's power. The problem, therefore, is not that people attach negative labels to other people, it's the fact that certain people have the power to make their labels stick. The problem is also that the oppressed internalise interpellations too easily – hence, it's a problem with the oppressed, as much as with the oppressors.
The idea that people have a right to “create their own identity” - to the point of having others accept their self-defined identity – is itself a liberal idea. It requires that identities be purely subjective, with no objective or descriptive components. And it leads to authoritarian speech-relations where each person's definition of their identity – and most often, also of their “narrative” and their “experience” - becomes an authoritative discourse which is binding on others. In fact, not even idpols actually act on this requirement, because they also stick labels on others which restrict their right to create their own identity – by calling them racist or sexist, or just calling them assholes.
It's also a distraction from the real struggle against the people who actually hate us and the people who hold the power to label.
Speech doesn't directly cause any material harm. At most it causes offence and distress. It makes no sense to ban offence and distress. Offence and distress are relative to beliefs and experiences (e.g. a Christian fundamentalist is offended by gay men kissing in the street). Note, by the way, that causing offence is already a crime in a number of countries (Britain, France, Germany...) and that in reality, idpol discourses bandwagoned on this existing discourse which criminalises offence. In Britain, the harassment and anti-social behaviour laws were brought in to persecute black and working-class communities, unpopular minorities such as beggars and sex workers, people who are psychologically different, and later also protesters and political dissidents (e.g. animal rights activists). Only after these draconian laws became widely accepted did they start being used by feminists and anti-racists to target bigots and/or petty everyday stuff. It's me-too neocon zero tolerance.
Speech can INDIRECTLY cause harm because it encourages another person to act, or because it contributes to a culture where someone might be more inclined to act in a certain way (this is mostly what idpols are latching onto). It's true that someone can hear a Nazi arguing that all black people should be killed, be persuaded by the argument, and go out and kill black people. However, if someone's saying that the words therefore cause the second person to go out and kill black people, then the person who kills black people is innocent, because the words made them do it! It's not possible to believe that words cause actions and also to believe that people are responsible for actions.
The theoretical model behind these ideas is the idea that deviance is a result of an enabling or tolerant context. People are basically assumed to be evil, or to be blank slates, and having bad words programmed into them is taken to turn them into puppets of whatever oppressive system is operating (but without the logical correlate that this means they're not responsible for their actions). Historically, this doctrine of “enabling context” was connected to moral panics about the effects of the 60s revolutions and the supposed breakdown of social norms and moral order, which bigots believed were leading to the collapse of society. In policing, it's called “Order Maintenance Policing” or “Broken Windows Policing” - the idea that cracking down on petty crime reduces the facilitating environment for major crime. In COIN, it's called “conveyor belt theory”. It's New Right and neocon in origin, there's very little evidence for it, and it leads to effects such as mass incarceration, the “war on terror”, and widespread attacks on civil rights. There is also evidence that banning low-level offences of a certain type causes more serious offences of the same type (see: Labelling Theory, Deviance Amplification Theory, Reactance Theory). This can happen because a person feels their freedom is threatened by the ban, or because harassment/censorship for a minor offence causes someone to identify with the negative label attached to them. The general implication that people should avoid enabling, tolerant contexts and operate zero tolerance approaches – and by extension, that people are responsible for avoiding indirect and unintended harm by proactively inhibiting themselves and policing others – is an anti-anarchist doctrine. It runs directly contrary to the anarchist psychology found in authors such as Reich, Vaneigem and Guattari.
The ontology here is again anti-anarchist. If all discourse/language is power-laden, and all power is domination, and discourse/language is irreducible (i.e. we can't abolish language a la Zerzan), then this means that anarchism is an impossible dream. There will always be power-hierarchies caused by whatever distribution of language and discourse happens to be prevalent. Disrupting the “dominant discourse” simply means creating a new dominant discourse with a different hierarchy (which in fact is what idpol does). Remember, too, that on a poststructuralist model properly applied, the dominant discourse is not only or mainly “racist” or “sexist”, it also consists of such deep aspects of everyday life as money and commodities, the sale of labour, the police, law, everyday social norms, everyday common sense, the structure of education, healthcare, social work, bureaucracy, retail, advertising, all the various institutions people take for granted. Smashing all the bank machines in a city during a riot interrupts the dominant discourse far more radically than banning a couple of borderline-sexists from anarchist spaces.
In fact, the idpol project carries over into anarchism most of the naïve assumptions of everyday neoliberalism. Many of the assumptions of idpol-pomo censorship – such as behaviorist psychology, language as competitive scarcity context, and conveyor belt/broken windows model – are actually carriers of dominant, neoliberal discourse. The fact that they adopt a New Right model of deviance, rather than a radical labelling-theory model of deviance, is proof of this. The idea that words/acts should be judged on their significance in a singular, overarching power-structure – rather than recognising that micro-power has at least relative autonomy and its own dynamics – reinforces the neoliberal “no outside, no alternative” dogma, and undermines struggles to create outsides in practice. The focus on prohibiting and excluding people for minor etiquette violations deemed to be indirectly “oppressive” reinforces the neoliberal tendency to render everyone disposable, precarious, and rightsless (which, by the way, people like Butler and Spivak misconstrue as simply a fact of human life, rather than an effect of capitalism).
Repressing speech also has indirect cultural effects. For example, it strengthens the power of governments, police, unaccountable internet companies (Facebook Twitter etc), and hive-minds enforcing herd moralities. What we need to realise is, as anarchists (or socialists, feminists, “black identity extremists”, deep ecologists, gay liberationists...) we're also promoting ideas which might indirectly undermine capitalism and harm people. What can be done to Nazis can be done to any of us. Someone could read an anarchist argument that police are oppressive, and go out and kill a cop, even if the person who made the argument didn't intend that effect. The spread of anarchist (socialist, feminist, black radical, deep ecologist...) ideas creates an environment where violence against cops (bosses, men, racists, technicians...) can be said to be more normalised or tolerated. We have already seen with Black Lives Matter that a few people who embrace the discourse, go on to kill cops. We've seen people like the Unabomber kill technicians in the name of deep ecology. So by the same argument used against Nazis, anarchist theory and deep ecology Black Lives Matter can be banned because they might create an environment which leads to people killing cops. The idea of free speech provides a barrier against this kind of repression, thus creating more space for radicals of all kinds. Undercutting it to score a few points against the most extreme racists and sexists is counterproductive for black people and for feminists, who will be major victims of the mission-creep implied in the conveyor-belt model. There will also necessarily be hypocrisy in the enforcement of such rules, because defending the government or taking part in normal capitalist economics necessarily lead to indirect harm. Logically, if they're going to ban speech which creates an environment conducive to harming others, they should ban warmongering, police apologia, patriotism, anti-crime ideas, and so on.
Alternative formulation of free speech which is against identity imposition: this is already there in Stirner. Reject spooks, fight spooks, discourage spooks. Encourage idiosyncratic beliefs, not hive-mind conformity. Don't ban, rebut. Fuck this ridiculous focus on who has the power to produce discourse in a space. The point is to break down all power to dominate discourse - not just the power of the existing dominant discourse. Idpol substitutes another power to dominate discourse by suppressing anything deemed inconvenient for oppressed groups to "speak" as powerfully as possible. It's reverse hierarchy, not abolition of hierarchy. There should be no social norms in an anarchist space - just personal ethics grounded in ethos, in values. This is far more empowering - even for people from marginalised groups - than the puritanical, stultifying, inhibitory, status-obsessed, crybullying bureaucracy of conduct codes and safe spaces which is being imported into anarchism from neoliberal universities - and which, in fact, is an absolutely mainstream and liberal approach to interpersonal relations.
You should make this all a self post if you want anyone to see it. This thread is old.