The Folly of Christopher Hedges
Often, when describing the inevitable scenes of major protests in the United States, I evoke the image of a person who has lost a brother in Iraq, a person who has also lost a sister to the trumped up drug war, whose father had his job outsourced, whose mother had her pension gambled away by speculators, whose grandmother lost her home of 50 years because she missed a mortgage payment, and whose grandfather died of industrial poisoning and couldn't afford health care. And make no mistake... variants of such individuals readily exist. So when such a person understandably shows up to protest the corporate oligarchy at a G8 meeting (or the national conventions of the corporate parties), they aren't there to sing kumbaya, march along a permitted path, or have their head cracked by the brutal police. And if they get so angry that they throw a brick through a bank window... I will be the last person to condemn them.
I'm not giving the condescending approval of a social worker who understands some flawed psychology behind such actions... I'm suggesting that such rowdiness is perfectly human, rational, and even inspiring. I'm not suggesting that any particular individual at any particular event engage in such actions, but I fully understand some of the motivation behind such actions and wouldn't condemn an individual engaging in them. And I don't feel that condemnation or further punishment of such individuals is beneficial to society. On the contrary, such individuals may likely prove to be on the cutting edge of actual change in this country.
Enter Chris Hedges and the privileged leftist elite trying to pacify and reign in the righteous indignation of many abused Americans. As in his latest article, they primarily prescribe as a method for social change... accepting more punishment and self-sacrifice. But that's easier to suggest for some than others. And why must they so often be quick to condemn those who aren't willing to take anymore punishment? I'd suggest this reflects a shallow understanding of the true pain already administered to so many people and the sacrifices they've already made.
Such a stance also often belies a hypocritical stance in regard to revolutionary self-defense and aggression when it occurs in their own backyards. For example... Chris Hedges in an earlier article about Greece wrote:
"Here's to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it."
But what has changed now that radicals in Oakland California have called a general strike, incited to riot, attempted to shut down city centers, and talked the language of class warfare? Why now condemn them as "the cancer of the occupy movement," as Hedges has done? Why are such actions in the U.S. "a gift from heaven to the security and surveillance state," according to Hedges? To me, such conflicting sentiments smack of the hypocrisy that comes about when one changes their opinions with the shifting of political winds. Hedges is not sticking to his proverbial guns, he is merely going with the flow to appease the leftist sycophants who comprise his cult of personality. It's sad, disgusting, and shameful.
In his recent article, "The Cancer in Occupy," Hedges proceeds to pigeonhole all Black Bloc anarchists in a most inaccurate manner. He claims, for instance, that Black Bloc adherents do not see corporate capitalists as the real enemy. This would be laughable if it weren't for the fact that he has such a wide readership that hangs on his every word. Further... he claims that Black Bloc anarchists see radical intellectuals and environmental activists as the real enemy. I only wish I could more clearly articulate how absurd this is. It's reminiscent of the way Trotsky used to slander the Makhnovists in the Russian Revolution. Seriously... this is Bolshevik level misinformation that he's offering.
As supposed proof of his misinformed statements he cites a single article in the defunct Green Anarchy magazine which was somewhat critical of the Zapatistas. That might be fair if that one article from Green Anarchy surmised the whole of the anarchist position, but it doesn't. Nevermind the fact that the Zapatistas should not be beyond criticism, it was one article in a publication that presented an incredible amount of content on a wide range of subjects. To use this one particular article to discredit the entire movement of anarchist militancy is, plain and simple, an intellectually dishonest straw man.
Hedges then proceeds with his article to over-associate the anarchist Black Bloc movement with John Zerzan, the editor of Green Anarchy. He begins his attempt to discredit Zerzan by bringing up the red herring of Zerzan's defense in regard to "Industrial Society and Its Future" by the imprisoned Theodore Kaczynski. He makes no mention of any real nuance in that defense, he doesn't have to, except to say that Zerzan did not endorse Kaczynski's bombings. But again, I reiterate, this a red herring. It really has little to do with Zerzan's overall position and doesn't really speak to the issue at hand -- namely John Zerzan's supposed influence in supporting the Black Bloc. He also brings up Zerzan's criticism of Noam Chomsky, another red herring. All of these things amount to an intellectually dishonest sidetrack in Hedges' attempt to undermine and condemn militant anarchism in the United States. Zerzan may be an overly-stoic curmudgeon, but he does not deserve to have his ideas so poorly represented by Hedges as this latter individual attempts to demonize something which he obviously does not understand. If Hedges wants to have an intellectually honest debate with Zerzan in an open public forum, I'd bet Zerzan would be willing to oblige him -- but Hedges also knows that his wishy-washy blend of bland leftist populism has garnered him a much broader platform from which to spread his condemnation of those with a truly deep-seated radical perspective.
Hedges concludes from a faulty interpretation of one single article in Green Anarchy that, "solidarity becomes the hijacking or destruction of competing movements, which is exactly what the Black Bloc contingents are attempting to do with the Occupy movement." And yet... what exactly is Hedges doing with the very article from which this quote is taken?! As he maligns and slanders strong radical elements within the Occupy movement he is doing the very thing which he accuses them of! The absurdity of his blatant hypocrisy is profound.
When Hedges then presents quotes from a conversation between himself and Derrick Jensen... I frankly have to question his level of journalistic integrity. Maybe Jensen said some of the things Hedges mentions, and maybe even in their full context they express the same things, but it's not like Jensen is beyond questioning any more than Hedges himself, Chomsky, the Zapatistas, Zerzan, or even myself. Without a deeper and more clear understanding of where these statements are coming from... they don't have much weight.
Then Hedges raises the spectre of a "locally owned coffe shop" that had it's windows smashed and contents looted. I have no details on the veracity of this claim. Maybe it happened, and maybe it was even done by Black Bloc protesters, but even then it hardly tells me much about the circumstances. As far as I know this coffee shop may have been operated by the KKK or maybe the owners generally mistreated the locals. I really don't know the details of this particular incident beyond hearsay. But I do know, from a number of Black Bloc communiques, that mom & pop shops are never their primary targets. And only an infinitesimally small number of black Bloc protesters would ever make such dubious claims along the lines of, "Whoever gets hurt gets hurt. Whatever gets destroyed gets destroyed." Even in the most militant insurrectionary anarchist tracts of Bonanno or Durruti you will not find such sentiments. Perhaps some infiltrating provocateurs mights suggest otherwise, but it is intellectually dishonest to paint insurrectionary anarchists as holding these positions, or acting upon them, beyond the most uncommon outliers.
In an attempt to divide by means of identity politics, Hedges proceeds with his drivel to equate the Black Bloc with some ill-defined "hypermasculinity" that is also found in the police forces or those who engage in imperialistic wars. While simultaneously dismissing the need for anonymity and the solidarity found in many Black Blocs, Hedges seems to ignore the involvement of women with the Black Bloc who organize to resist the brutality of police forces and imperialistic wars. To associate the Black Bloc with inchoate masculine rage is largely inaccurate and, therefore, intellectually dishonest.
Next, Hedges presents some logical fallacies which should be transparent to anyone who takes more than a passing moment to consider them. For example... he mentions, earlier in his article, various Occupy camps which were shut down because they were non-violent. Well, this in itself should not be seen as a positive in my opinion, but the point I want to make is that the police violently attacked and shut down those camps. They did not need the pretense of a real excuse to brutally attack people. To blame any escalation on those who would defend themselves (or counter-attack) ignores the point that the state will escalate its violence regardless of whether those people are there or not -- and if it encounters no real physical resistance the state will succeed by such means in shutting down the movement. This can be seen again and again, throughout history, as labor movements and civil rights activists did often defend themselves and the movement with violence. To marginalize the role of those who fought back in so many protest movements is ahistorical.
In a completely out-of-touch manner, Hedges suggests that chants like "Fuck the police" and "Racist, sexist, anti-gay / NYPD go away" will alienate people and lose hearts and minds. As if such sentiments are unpopular to anyone beyond privileged academics and the petit bourgeois. By marginalizing those who have uttered such chants, he weakens the movement and the millions of people across the country who strongly agree with such sentiments. Even to the extent that people might burn the American flag... well guess what, that flag is a symbol of incredible violence and oppression to a great many people -- both in the United States and around the world. Hedges may not like it, and it may offend his sensibilities, but any movement that would marginalize that latter point is a weak one. The Occupy movement should not be nationalistic and it should not apologize for, or overlook, the brutality of the state's police forces. As for hearts, minds, and popular opinion... NWA wrote one of the most popular songs in the history of American music, and it wasn't apologetic or dismissive of police brutality.
And then comes what amounts to a confession from Hedges... "Nonviolent movements, on some level, embrace police brutality." Indeed. Well, he should feel free to embrace that brutality until he ends up in the same place that it's put so many other people. I mean... I'm sure that's pretty easy for him to say. He's probably the first person the police harass and brutalize on any occasion, and I'm sure that police brutality has wrecked his life and destroyed his community. As if. And like so many other idealistic leftists he talks about state brutality delegitimizing it's own power and forcing a passive population to respond. But he fails to note that, historically, the effective response from the masses has often been violent -- as with the U.S. civil rights movement, and in Indian nationalist movement -- and that violence is what actually prompted the state to change its ways. I don't mean to totally marginalize militant non-violence, it is ideal and effective to a degree, but it's not intellectually honest to overstate its historical role and remove it from the context of broader violent militancy. And, in fact, the state loves non-violent militants! That's why people such as MLK, Gandhi, and even characters like Jesus, are effectively deified by the state. The state would rather people forget the details about the likes of John Brown, Emma Goldman, or Malcom (Shabazz) X.
At this point in Hedges' article, just when I thought it couldn't possibly top itself in producing more guffaws, bursts of laughter, or eye-rolls... Hedges criticizes the Black Bloc's supposedly "thought-terminating cliché of diversity of tactics." My first thought when reading this section was that he must not be very aware of how that term has often been used in recent American protests. "Diversity of tactics" is not something solely promoted by Black Bloc protesters and I am actually more familiar with it being used by other types of protesters, militantly non-violent protesters, who engage in activities like lock-downs to block an intersection or to close down a particular corporate business. Therefore, his criticism of this doctrine is potentially more impacting to them than anyone else. But this characterization of "diversity of tactics" as being "thought-terminating" is laughable in itself. What is the alternative? Only one single accepted tactic? And, mind you, this critique of diversity of tactics comes only a couple paragraphs before he describes the Black Bloc as bearing "the rigidity and dogmatism of all absolutism sects." Talk about the leftist pot calling the anarchist kettle black! Are you kidding me?! Is Hedges being satirical when writing all this?! Let me get this straight... according to Hedges no one in the Occupy movement is to engage in any violence, even self-defence. Provocative public critiques of the police state are taboo. Destruction of even corporate property is a no-no. Blocking streets with garbage or debris is out. Flag burning is unacceptable. And yet... Hedges is the one supposedly condemning dogmatism and absolutism. Hedges is the one who describes Black Bloc anarchists as believing that "they alone understand. They alone arrogate the right, because they are enlightened and we are not, to dismiss and ignore competing points of view as infantile and irrelevant. They hear only their own voices. They heed only their own thoughts. They believe only their own clichés. And this makes them not only deeply intolerant but stupid." Really? Who are you describing now, Mr. Hedges? Everyone may not have went to Ivy League schools and didn't always cut their teeth in the corporate press corps, but I feel your analysis of Black Bloc anarchists is hollow and petty. And if you, Christopher Hedges, want to march peacefully in to a charging phalanx of riot cops, I won't condemn you, demonize you, or try to stop you. You'll have to excuse me if I laugh up my sleeve a bit though.
Hedges closes his ridiculous article with another quote from Jensen, perhaps to draw attention away from his own inane sentiments. And if the following really was the gist of Jensen's comments to Hedges then he, too, should be ashamed. In closing, he quotes Jensen as saying the following: "If you live on Ogoni land and you see that Ken Saro-Wiwa is murdered for acts of nonviolent resistance, if you see that the land is still being trashed, then you might think about escalating. I don't have a problem with that. But we have to go through the process of trying to work with the system and getting screwed. It is only then that we get to move beyond it. We can't short-circuit the process. There is a maturation process we have to go through, as individuals and as a movement. We can't say, 'Hey, I'm going to throw a flowerpot at a cop because it is fun.'" Is Jensen really suggesting that we simply haven't worked with the system enough?! Really? Is this the radical Derrick Jensen that so many have come to know and love? Really?! And we haven't observed the land continuing to be trashed after working with the system? Really? Come on. We still must continue to go through the process of trying to to work with the system and getting screwed?! This is a joke, right? I know of no one throwing flower pots at cops simply because it's fun. And if DJ is spouting such nonsense at the behest of Chris Hedges... then he has lost his edge and is almost as worthless. Go join the Sierra Club DJ, and Chris... you should stop trying to stir up infighting amidst the Occupy movement -- you're not helping.
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