Saturday, 10 January 2015

On Rights Activism & Its Reactionary Nature

'Rights' are a fiction in a state of nature. If a 'right' appears on the scene, it should really be interpreted as a demand for something that someone has not got. It is a creation of the social. An appeal to some moral high ground on the basis of 'rights' is generally a rallying call for those who have not got something that others have (freedom, decent healthcare or whatever) to get together and force those with more power to concede to their demands. So far, so good.

But, at a certain point in history, people who see that others have not got something that they have and, for whatever psychological reason, think that these others should have what they have, will become 'rights activists'. They will try to grab yet higher moral ground for 'rights' as an abstract concept not apparently directly related to their own interest. This, of course, masks the interest they come to have in activism as an identity and as a racket for getting funds, ultimately from the wider population as taxpayers and consumers, redirected into their own pockets. This secondary development of rights ideology is dubious intellectually. A struggle for power cloaked in the language of rights (a healthy business psychologically and politically) becomes displaced by a more disturbing infantilisation of others using that same language. This secondary form of activism denies the opportunity for those without rights, through struggle in their own interest, to learn self-reliance and pride in their own liberatory achievements.

The final decadent phase of rights activism is when the activists have completely displaced the 'have-nots', denying them the right to engage in struggle at all, claiming that the 'have-nots' are not educated or resourced enough to represent themselves and so must be represented absolutely by NGOs or international organisations. 'Have-nots' become no more than passive subjects of well-meaning charity. The agenda is conservative. Much of human history has involved dynamic acts of resistance by the 'have-nots', often violent and self-interested - the myth of Spartacus tends to hide the fact that his probable intention was not to liberate all slaves but to liberate his community of slaves and enslave the enslavers. This politics of struggle became troublesome when a later theoretical equality based on the next world was organised by socialists and anarchists into an ideology of struggle and equality in this world. This had two major elements.

The first and most important element was the pragmatic emergence of effective resistance organisations amongst the politically and economically weak on their own account just before and in the wake of trade and industrialisation - in dissident churches, in pirates and autonomists as described by Hakim Bey, in trades unions and co-operatives and in political parties embedded in a community of relative have-nots and designed not to help people into the fairy-land of heaven but to build Jerusalem on earth.

The second element was a troubled and sympathetic bourgeoisie, increasingly added to by the sons and daughters of 'have-nots' who could hybridise the culture of the middle classes and the struggle for power within the community into political leaderships of transformative power. By the early twentieth century we had roughly five major types of well-organised liberatory struggle competing to transform the condition of the masses alongside the actual winner of that struggle, the free consumer market - i) the organised labour movement with its political party links, ii) the hybridised worker-intellectual party of European social democracy, iii) communism where a cadre of intellectuals act as bridge to our post-modern Leftism, iv) anarcho-syndicalism which subordinated the intellectual to the worker (at least in principle) and v) anti-imperialist liberatory movements which further hybridised what was going on in Europe.

The first type is now decadent - a hollowed out shell with only attenuated tribal community links run by cadres of professional politicians who have shifted from the politics of community to that of identity, from economic redistribution to cultural politics. The second type is taking much the same trajectory but placing its trust in bureaucratic and corporate top-down relations with the masses that mimic that of communism. Communism is almost defunct. Anarchism is now merely a ludic form of performance art for deracinated urban types. And the anti-imperialist movements have nearly all degenerated into statist rule from above, little empires in themselves, or murky and increasingly nasty traditionalisms. In short, the liberatory Left has virtually collapsed to the point where the best it can do now is emote in useless demonstrations, vigils and petitions or raise money and undertake volunteer work to save increasingly non-human idealistic visions such as that of the environment or those of grand abstract projects for poverty alleviation that do far less in a year than a wealthy capitalist can do in a day through a philanthropic foundation. Indeed, if anything, it is the super-rich that seem to be saving the world and not Leftists or the Progressive State.

The organised mass of the population is no longer organised because it no longer needs to be organised in the so-called free world and is not permitted to be organised outside it. Most people are broadly free in the free world with the only daily threat to them (as opposed to the manufactured ones that are convenient for the 'deep state') being the incompetence or malice of the very State that their ancestors had sought to capture in order to create Jerusalem. This leaves the other second element without a purpose - a huge minority of educated (to graduate level) middle class people who are virtually unemployable in the productive sector (or only in its more 'creative' services side) and who are desperate for meaning in their lives. It is this class that has decided for the last thirty years or so to take up the 'white man's burden' and fight for the rights of others - and all very conveniently for the conservative forces that still have all the rights that matter such as access to power and resources. So long as liberal bourgeois intellectuals are running around speaking for the 'voiceless', and so long as any meaningful struggle by the 'voiceless' can immediately be labelled as terrorism once it crosses all those boundaries that were crossed in the past to build the modern world, then the 'voiceless' can be neutered and contained as threats. By speaking for such people, the post-modern intellectual has given those masses no opportunity to speak for themselves or to learn by doing - through struggle.

But what if we stopped demanding specific 'rights' and simply asked to be respected as equal persons who are subject to no one. If we did this, the struggle for 'rights' ends when we have organised ourselves. We do not need activists and we do not need experts. We can return cynically and appropriately to rights as cover for our interests as persons and learn to understand that other persons have equal rights insofar as they are persons and not identity fictions. We do not then need liberators because we liberate ourselves. Those who appear beyond the hope of liberty grow, as we did two hundred or so years ago, into their own liberators from within in a struggle that gives a community dignity and respect. Better this than being infantilised by a bunch of outside neurotics wanting to express themselves narcissistically through their ownership of others' claims and aspirations.

Let us give a very contemporary example of the villainous call and response effects of liberal rights activism in the world. The aggressive drive for liberal rights has made the rights activists and their young middle class heroes and heroines in the field feel good but what has it actually achieved. It has put obscurantist, authoritarian and traditionalist regimes on their guard and allowed them to present universal values as imperialist and colonialist. The drive to impose such values by force fifteen years ago self-evidently strengthened traditionalism and resulted in its winning over of indigenous masses or a good proportion of them to conservative values. In many parts of the Middle East, dynastic rulers are now actually more progressive than the general population. Compare thissituation with the liberatory Marxist discourse in the Middle East of the 1970s or even the secularist discourse of Arab nationalism with the dominant discourse nearly fifty years later. These are the same people in the same culture but they have gone backwards in time as a defensive move against incursions that undermined local core values and identity. Self respect came to demand obscurantism over decency. Now the anti-imperialist struggle is directed as bloody terrorism against those same liberal intellectuals who most promoted those apparently universal values. In short, it is the blundering of liberals that has created the current terrorist threat.

Another example comes from Russia and is not so different from the provocations of Charlie Hebdo. Femen did not act to persuade through rational argument but purported to represent freedom without the consent or understanding of those desperate to be sexually free. They performed filthy mannered 'artistic' events that gave good local cultural cause for repression to the Right. By all means say that you think religion is oppressive or nonsene (I do all the time) but do not be so narcissistic as to go into a church, a sacred place to others, and behave in an offensive manner - it is like a drunk insulting a man's portly partner in a pub and calling her obese. It would just be bad manners and the drunk is lucky if the man whose partner they insult is the sort of man who will quietly get up and leave - the likelihood of the drunk being punched on the nose is equally high and the drunk should take responsibility for his behaviour. In Russia itself, the lives of gay people are now infintely more unpleasant and potential liberatory progress has been reversed because of the narcissism of a bunch of 'artists' and 'intellectuals'. Im this case, I stand with the ordinary gay guy in Novosibirsk and the ordinary Muslim in Homs against the egoism of the abstract thinker. So, "non, je ne suis Charlie parceque Charlie est un utter prat."

What we have in these cases is an anomic bourgeois liberal intellectual class that has no functional role in our society other than one based on 'performing' in order to be noticed like a court jester or ducking and diving to find ways to pay for their lifestyle by becoming a circus seal before the media and the sources of funds. It may be a narcissistic artistic performance with allegedly political ends or it may be the performance of the institutional network that gets funds because it really does no more than entertain or meet the agenda of our own type of fanatic or it may be the NGO that has turned itself into a mini-enterprise seeking funds from states and philanthropists to ensure its activists can live the lifestyle it craves. Whatever it is all must 'feel' that they are 'doing the right thing' (even though their blunderings are often doing the wrong thing and worsening the total situation). Occupy is the sad epitome of this mentality. I find it heartening that, though naive in this matter, Russell Brand is at least trying to think through what is going on on his own account - if only more did.

These people are, quite literally, decadent - neither courageous enough to enjoy the fruits of their class status nor honourable enough to donate their skills effectively to help the masses self-organise and transform society on their own terms in a political act of will. They are deracinated third rate minds who mistake their own abstract concepts and theory for considered evidence-based thought and who evade the reality of their situation - as parasites on a surprisingly effective and well run free consumer society that could be better. If we could break free of these bourgeois liberals, all of us, we certainly would not then need them to rule in our interest. We would become persons.