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People fleeing slavery: Fording the Rappahannock River. Rappahannock, Virginia, August 1862. Thank you, AmericanCivilWar.com.

Drapetomania was a supposed mental illness described by American physician Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851 that caused black slaves to flee captivity. Today, drapetomania is considered an example of pseudoscience, and part of the edifice of scientific racism.The term derives from the Greek δραπετης (drapetes, “a runaway [slave]”) + μανια (mania, “madness, frenzy”).

– Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drapetomania

 

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“The one thing that everybody wants is to be free…not to be managed, threatened, directed, restrained, obliged, fearful, administered, they want none of these things they all want to feel free, the word discipline, and forbidden and investigated and imprisoned brings horror and fear into all hearts, they do not want to be afraid not more than is necessary in the ordinary business of living where one has to earn one’s living and has to fear want and disease and death….The only thing that any one wants now is to be free, to be let alone, to live their life as they can, but not to be watched, controlled and scared, no no, not.”

― Gertrude Stein, in September, 1943, on Vichy France

quoted in James R. Mellow, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company

“The one thing that everybody wants is to be free.” But this seems to be true only in conditions of the most egregious oppression, the most heinous un-freedom. What does ‘everybody’ in the United States want now, today? What is ‘everybody’ doing for the sake of freedom? Even if only their own freedom, even if freedom in some restricted and unimaginative sense, even if only part-time? What does ‘everybody’ want before it’s too late?

Photograph: Petain’s Vichy cabinet. Reasonable-looking men.

Thanks to the Asia-Pacific Journal and Timothy Brooks for access to this photograph: http://www.japanfocus.org/-Timothy-Brook/2802

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http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/08/this-was-always-going-to-happen.html

Please click through the above photo or link, and read Andrew’s blog post on the London riots. And then come back here for a rebuttal:

Criminal opportunism? That’s called capitalism, dear. You can’t inculcate a whole (global) culture with the religion of the market, and then expect the poorest members to wait patiently outside the carnival, observing the spectacle of wealth without any prospect of partaking themselves.

Mr. Sullivan sounds confused – why would you need to draw a distinction between a race riot and a ‘social inequity’ riot? Racism is a form of social inequity, and social inequity is often a form of racism. And besides, just because Tottenham itself is relatively integrated does not mean that the pernicious effects of past and extant racism are somehow magically dissolved. That suggestion is laughable.

And if Andrew’d done three minutes of historical research (or listened to a bit of punk rock or hip hop as a youth) he would have discovered that many, many “looting” riots occur within the neighborhoods where the rioters themselves live. This isn’t because of “soft” police response, it’s because the police (or, more to the point, their bosses) are very calculating in their policies of ‘containment.’ Riots are allowed to rage on, and to burn poor neighborhoods, as long as they do not encroach too much on richer neighborhoods. Blaming the violence on unredeemable “criminals” and “sheer thugs” from “elsewhere” is a way of ignoring the fundamental problems that create BOTH ‘legitimate’ riots AND ‘sheer thugs,’ as well as the overbearing police state that strategically manipulates the threat of underclass violence.

Believe: Unless the ‘harder’ police response Andrew romanticizes would be swift and sure investigation, trial, and PUNISHMENT of cops who wrongly shoot civilians, his prescription will not help the malady. More cops with more guns and more water cannons and more rights to harrass more civilians and break up more demonstrations will not mystically mean more security, just less freedom. The Sikhs have had the right idea during the riots: if you want to protect your home and family, depend on yourself and your community, not the state.

Until and unless the police actually start behaving as trustworthy guardians of the public good, people will keep having reasons to form their own clans, gangs, neighborhood patrols, superhero squads, civil liberties unions, block watches, revolutionary cells, and other forms of what the legal profession likes to call “self help.”

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2018237/Ive-left-altar-couple-times-O…

Please click through and read this article in the Daily Mail about the proposed formation of a “Super-Congress.” This may seem like a wonky and obscure little action. After all, we have to preserve that credit rating by any means necessary, right? And before the opening of the Asian markets!

But any student of 20th-century history knows that this kind of thing has often signaled the beginning of the end of any semblance of democratic government. Many otherwise noble Constitutions have been circumvented or shredded because they included a built-in ‘state of exception’ clause that authorized special powers in ’emergency’ circumstances. (See the infamous Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, e.g.) When a state of exception clause includes a ‘streamlined’ decision-making process, democracy itself is in jeopardy.

Once special powers are in place, those who get to exercise them never volunteer to dismantle them. Our Constitution does NOT provide for a state of exception – ONLY habeas corpus can be suspended during “rebellion or invasion.” Allowing individuals to be held without charge, while quite serious, is not the same as establishing a mechanism for unaccountable lawmaking. When new laws can be made without public and judicial scrutiny, by people who aren’t worried about re-election, behind closed committee doors, expect the abrogation of fundamental rights.

Imagine – jut a short time ago, it would have caused an earth-shaking scandal to reveal that the President was ordering the extra-judicial assassination of American citizens. Or that lettered agencies were damning them to indefinite exile without due process of law. Our government, especially the executive branch, is already operating as though in a state of exception. It will get much worse, much faster, if this so-called “Super-Congress” is formed.

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For more on the state of exception, here’s a brief historical overview: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/009254.html  (Agamben is a little late to the party, but a good short read for the blog context. Anyone interested in the topic should read Carl Schmitt at length. He was talking about this in 1932. Agamben has the advantage of hindsight on the 20th century, but doesn’t really go far enough towards recognizing how unexceptional the state of exception has become.)

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http://www.theonion.com/content/news/u_s_economy_grinds_to_halt_as

Figgin’ hi-larious (and poignant) bit in the Onion. Go read it. Then let’s talk about the concluding sentiment. After Capitalism crumbles because everyone simultaneously realizes that money is worthless, a man-on-the-street is quoted:

“‘It’s back to basics for me,’ Bernard Polk of Waverly, OH said. ‘I’m going to till the soil for my own sustenance and get anything else I need by bartering. If I want milk, I’ll pay for it in tomatoes. If need a new hoe, I’ll pay for it in lettuce.’ When asked, hypothetically, how he would pay for complicated life-saving surgery for a loved one, Polk seemed uncertain.
‘That’s a lot of vegetables, isn’t it?’ he said.”

I have two immediate responses to that. One is rather utopian: Why exactly would a complicated surgery have to be expensive in a non-currency-based economy? The surgeon wouldn’t get an enormous fee; there would be no insurance company to leech resources out of the procedure; the hospital and the equipment manufacturers would be collectively operated for the benefit of the populace…so what would make surgery so out-of-reach for vegetable farmer?

The other response, perhaps a more reasonable one, goes something like this: Guess what? Many, many people ALREADY go without ‘complicated, lifesaving’ surgery, because we don’t value human lives equally, nor is it our priority to maintain them. Poor and working folk forgo such things regularly, or they purchase them with the sum total of their resources, leaving them and the future generations of their families in treacherous financial waters and subject to disastrous currents. It’s called CAPITALISM, right? So if the radical transformation of our exchange system were to magically occur during a moment of blinding-light revelation, those in need of surgery wouldn’t necessarily be any worse off.

And these are the issues everyone born after 1965 is going to have to wrestle with in a very concrete way, very soon. 30% of Medicare dollars are spent on people who die within two months. ‘End of life care,’ especially those “complicated, life-saving” surgeries, will be an enormous burden on the small generations who will be required to pay for millions of retired Baby Boomers. Life-saving surgery never really saves anyone’s life – it should properly be referred to as ‘life-extending’ surgery. Often, the extension of life is bought at enormous expense to an individual’s family. More importantly, the ‘saved’ time may be filled with pain and suffering. And it’s very often brief.

If we are ethical creatures, we should be carefully probing our attachment to this form of healthcare. I have told my closest friends and family that I don’t wish my life to be extended past my ability to enjoy it, or to contribute meaningfully to my relations with others. I hope to die suddenly. If my death becomes a prolonged affair that is causing suffering for those I love, I want the process to be hastened. I hope that, by the time I’m dying, there are legal and humane methods to do that.

I don’t want $100,000 worth of surgery or tube-feeding or ‘life-support machines’ to tack on an extra month or year at the end of a long life. I would rather that money fund someone’s education, or the staging of a play, or the publication of a book, or a series of grand and intricate feasts. And that is what my living will expresses. I know it’s not anyone’s right to make that decision for another person (well, unless ‘anyone’ works for an insurance company!) but I do urge you to consider your own dying days, and carefully decide how much you want to take from your family and your society on your way out.

 

(If you’re interested in listening to the radio series mentioned in this post, you can visit the following link, or click the slideshow above.:

I’ve never commented publicly on the WTO shutdown in 1999. Late-night nostalgizing with trusted, drunken comrades does not count, and neither do broad assessments of political and tactical implications. I mean to say that I have never spoken in a public forum about my participation in the events, that is, about my personal experiences or analyses thereof. And I’m not starting now.

This year, November 30th will mark the 10 – year anniversary of another Novermber 30th, the one affectionately known as N30, or the Battle in Seattle. People are talking about that distant day, and about what it was like way-back-when-we-were, and about what has changed in the intervening years. Local, and even national, media outlets are offering competing commemorations, 3-part-series, re-interviews, 20/20-hindsight reckonings. Most of them are re-broadcasting the old archived recordings they made at the time. We knew then that the mainstream coverage sucked, and guess what? It hasn’t gotten better with age. They’re still trotting out the same tired tropes: property damage = violence, police “gone wild” (as though the behaviors they exhibited were somehow exceoptional in quality rather than just scale.) And now these reporters have that extra sheen of smugness provided by retrospection: ‘where are all those radicals NOW?’ they sneer, ‘guess you’ve all settled down and accepted How Things Are.’

Earlier this week, I was asked by a radio reporter to provide an interview for her segment of the series ‘WTO: Ten Years Later.’ Her piece, airing tomorrow, means to probe the changes in protesting and policing that have occurred since, and because of, the Battle in Seattle. When I initially spoke with Ms. Reporter on the phone, I got the impression that she was looking for commentary and analysis on police and activist tactics. She seemed (don’t they all?) to be well-informed and reasonable. She told me that she would be interviewing the “leader” of the Ruckus Society, as well as former police chief Norm Stamper, and possibly former mayor Paul Schell. We talked about meeting in a coffee shop or in my office, but she suggested it would be easiest if I came to her studio. (She suggested this without mentioning that she wanted me on mic, in the studio, being recorded. Not that it would have been surprising to learn, just that the omission later came to seem like an evasion.) I went to see her the following morning.

That night, I studied. I wanted to refresh my thinking on the subject, and to respond to the most recent analyses available. I read more than 200 pages of documents: academic papers, a RAND Corporation report, a few book chapters on netwars and the spread of non-hierarchical organizations, and a number of essays on the philosophical problems of defining terrorism and the state of exception. I wanted to be ready. I treated the occasion as I would a conference presentation or a debate.

I should have saved my time. We were barely sitting down for two minutes before it became painfully clear that the interview would be a farce. I came as an analyst, fancying myself an expert. The reporter was looking for human interest. She had no notes, no prepared questions, no provocative assertions to debate. She was pleased to learn that I had been a wee lass of 21 years when I started organizing for the WTO ministerial, and her narrative quickly emerged: young (read: naive) woman (read: naive) gets swept up in the romance of revolt, rides the whirlwind of events surrounding the WTO shutdown, tastes teargas, resolves to Do Good Things ForEVER, and promptly settles down to a work-within-the-system variety of comfortable bourgeois liberalism, thereby continuing her ‘activism’ in a sensible, constructive, adult way. She sometimes shakes her head in a twee and rueful way at her radical youth, but is firmly untroubled by her decision to be a respectable ‘public interest’ attorney.

Gag, right? A sampling of questions:

1. “So, are all your friends grown up and working for major corporations now?”

2. “I understand [from a third party] that you’re attending law school. Do you consider your legal work to be an extension of your activism?”

3. “Would you consider yourself a protester today?”

My (unspoken, outraged) answers:

1: “No, bitch, they’re imprisoned as terrorists, getting their doors kicked in by the FBI, hiding in exile outside of their homelands, living in fear of grand juries, impoverished, crippled, divided, AND STILL FUCKING FIGHTING.”

2. “I’m going to law school for one reason: to increase my power. I’ve never been an ‘activist.’ “

3. “I also never considered myself a protester. You don’t get it, do you? If the WTO shutdown was a PROTEST, you wouldn’t even have mentioned it on your radio station, and you certainly wouldn’t be thinking about it ten years after the fact. Protests are also known as ‘rallies’ for a reason: they are essentially pep rallies. They provide people within a movement with the temporary euphoria of apparent camaraderie, some slight increase of visibility, and a consolidation of symbolism. A protest, in the contemporary arena of spectacle, is a theatrical event that serves to increase momentum and fortify group identification. It does not change the enemy. The WTO shutdown was not a protest, it was a mass action with a particular goal: to SHUT DOWN the ministerial. And it worked. So, no, thanks for asking, I don’t consider myself a protester, now or then.”

Under this barrage of banality, my rage simmering unexpressed, I had the acute awareness that anything I said could be snipped apart and stitched back together in completely distorted form. I stonewalled the reporter, telling her repeatedly that I was not interested in discussing my personal history. It became very clear, during the 30 minutes or so I spent at the radio station, that I had failed to evaluate my own motivations for granting an interview in the first place. As I sat there, I realized that my participation was sheer ego gratification. I had been flattered by the attentions of the reporter, by her insinuation that I was a credible witness, or even an unsung expert. The problem is, I don’t actually have any authority from which to make statements about the WTO, policing, the militarized state, any of it. In her eyes, I have no authority at all. If I had wanted to establish credibility, I would have had to reveal facts and stories that I don’t wish to reveal. It was a stalemate. As the reporter became angrier and angrier at my refusal to divulge any “personal anecdotes” from N30, or to frame my political engagement in the context of a come-to-Jesus redemption story, or to reveal anything at all about my “emotions,” “life lessons,” or “inspiring thoughts,” she got nastier. Eventually, I was shown the door, and it was locked behind me with a resounding click.

Walking away, I was angry with myself for giving in to the temptation. I shouldn’t have answered her call; I shouldn’t have appeared in the studio; I shouldn’t have consented to the manipulation that followed. As I walked further and faster, I became angry with the reporter, as well, for misrepresenting her purpose, for underestimating my clan, for belittling our efforts. But, as always, walking helped to clear my head. And I remembered some basic principles that were very clearly articulated during the heady days of 1999.

We don’t talk to the media. We don’t give interviews; we don’t appear on television. When reporters call, we hang up. When reporters attend our public meetings, we take our business into private session. When reporters attend our private meetings, we eject them. It was simple then, and it’s simple now: reporters are not your friends. Whatever mild sympathies they may feel for your ethical standpoint, they will never put those sympathies above the demands of their medium, their jobs, their purportedly ‘neutral’ position. If you are being interviewed, you are being manipulated.

That’s why we made our own media. That’s why there are Indymedia centers, even today, ten years later, all across the globe. That’s why we broadcast pirate radio, and letterpressed broadsheets, and photocopied our own books, and hijacked newspaper boxes to distribute satirical editions of the local rags. That’s why we communicated through graffiti and shortwave and hand signals and face-to-face whispers.

I understand that there are tactically legitimate moments to engage with, and use, the mainstream media. But let’s not forget: those engagements must be rigorously proscribed and carefully managed. And they must be viewed instrumentally, as means to an end, and embarked upon only when the potential return outweighs the inherent risk. Don’t talk to reporters because you want to Tell Your Story or Be Heard. Save your stories and your authentic voices for your comrades and allies – your enemies don’t deserve them. They’re only listening so they can hurt you later.

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Thinking about the accidental confluence of genes that renders a particular phenotype, a particular face. In the process of a recent Security Screening at JFK, an airport officer told me, comfortingly, that  I was “easy to read.” I hope he’s wrong, but I know what he means: I have a lucky face. It’s one of my superpowers: the appearance of openness. Simple face, complex intentions. My open face helps to make my existence easier. Chance encounters are often cordial; bargaining often goes in my favor; strangers often exhibit small kindnesses when I need them. I know that this is a privilege – not everyone is treated so gently, so consistently, by their fellow humans.

I know a few stunningly beautiful women, people with overwhelming sexual magnetism. I’m glad to have been spared their burden: I see how they are hounded and pestered every place they go. A face is obligatory, an unremitting responsibility. I can imagine having a different face, a face-to-launch-a-thousand-ships – I think I would shrink from the expectations borne of such an appearance. I imagine ways to deprive the world, to subtract opportunities for presumption. I would like the option of unlearning arts learned in girlhood: I would like to discard the intention to control my face, regulate my expression, hold my mouth properly, reveal little, restrain the exposure of teeth. I imagine facelessness, not needing to practice lying with a false smile, deriding with an arched eyebrow, producing moues of feigned disappointment. A truly open face: the face concealed.

I imagine wearing niqab, gliding facelessly through grocery stores, security checkpoints, crowds boarding the train, a panel of dark mesh obscuring even (especially!) the eyes. I imagine being indescribable, appearing on surveillance videos and in police reports as a black-cloaked mass of indeterminate composition. An unreadable sigil. I imagine the complexity and grace of a highly refined gestural vocabulary. Veiling as the discipline of blindness: a blindness which constricts, certainly, but which also re-concentrates, sharpens, opens. I imagine the motions of the hands, the carriage of the spine and shoulders, becoming specific and intense. As intense as the way a blind man listens, as intense as his concentration when he touches with his preternaturally sensitive fingerpads. Would our faces, veiled, grow innocent and unfettered? Would they unlearn deception, while our hands took over the duty? I imagine the moments of unveiling, beholding the unpracticed face, the unmediated, naked face, the face unaccustomed to being observed. Would that innocence be a form of freedom?

 

(Thanks to Al’Izzatullilah for the photograph.)

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