Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dialectical Challenges to Progress [to Overcoming Inequality and Domination]

[A final section of the chapter on Inequality & Anarchism... looking forward!]

These strategies struggle with a number of dialectical challenges, which are not easily resolved by change agents. First, the strategic issue of reform versus revolution. Should one apply considerable effort in a local matter of social injustice that may have only a limited scope of impact (even if a successful campaign), or channel energy into building for long-term and more radical change? While the latter is ultimately more desirable, to ignore the former conflicts risks the possibility of losing ground in an already imbalanced playing field of injustice, as well as missing the opportunity to engage with folks in day-to-day struggle on big-picture, revolutionary ideas. Put another way, this dialectic involves the contradictions between reactive politics and prefigurative politics. Anarchists warn that people ignore immediate struggles to their own detriment, but also caution against the trappings of reformism and the exhaustion induced by treading water. While always cognizant of the need to stop on-going domination (the so-called “social problems” emphasized by sociologists), anarchist-sociologists argue for the importance of also focusing upon how such forms of domination could be avoided in the future.[1]

A second dialectic challenge is posed by the reactions to past domination and atrocity: consolation versus reconciliation. It is important for dominated peoples to be comfortable in the present, to have apologies for past wrongs, and to have the sympathies of others for their plight. For instance, the consolation extended by the US government for its genocidal actions (which was not put in such strong—or accurate—language, of course) against indigenous peoples is good and meaningful. But is it “enough”? Does it constitute justice? Does it help indigenous peoples in any substantial way? As the saying goes, “talk is cheap”. Sometimes an “apology” is a rather bad outcome, since it gives the illusion that an unjust situation has been rectified; i.e. “What is their problem? We already apologized for all that stuff from the past!”. Barring the outcome of dramatic separation—which is unlikely for most disadvantaged groups, particularly for women from men—dominated peoples should be able to live with or alongside their [hopefully, former] dominators. If the crimes of past atrocity (e.g. slavery, relocation, or forced sterilization) or the hopefully soon-to-be-ended crimes (e.g. class exploitation, sexual violence, or discrimination) can put an end to the disadvantaged position of the dominated, does that truly solve their problems? Domination tends to have a residue, which creates a multi-generational disadvantage that needs to be intervened upon. Consider the example of South Africa's formal efforts in the aftermath of Apartheid: a “truth and reconciliation” committee investigated past crimes and sought ways to bring victim and perpetrator together, not unlike restorative justice aims to do.

Lastly, there is a strategic, dialectical conundrum posed by the complex sources of hierarchy's power. Hierarchies are premised upon legal rules, social tradition, and unreflective practice. Yet, the easiest way to “attack” a hierarchy is on moral grounds: it is unethical, wrong, and unjust. In fact, such a moral argument is often not difficult to make and even get quick agreement from others (even people who may benefit from such hierarchies). The immoral basis of hierarchy is likely the easiest claim to make, and, consequently, the least effective. Surely it is necessary to eliminate support for the values that undergird hierarchy, but this alone does not undue hierarchy's power. Removing the legal structures to hierarchy is a formidable challenge and even more difficult if no ethical claim has been made against these structures. Tradition can be changed, but it takes dedicated efforts to shift cultural priorities and to reconfigure socialization. And, it is very possible—especially in the midst of great bureaucracies—for a scary inertia the take hold and for immoral acts to continue even in the absence of moral argument for them. Although hierarchy is often depicted as a ladder or a pyramid, it is not as easily undone as pushing over a ladder or detonating a pyramid with dynamite (especially via mere moralizing). Hierarchy's complexity aids its staying-power, and provides great challenge to anarchists and others who aim to ultimately up-end it.


[1] Or, as one activist puts it: “Let's take time to sit-down together with our colored-pens and crayons to draw-out our vision!”.

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