Some questions concerning violence

I’d been planning to write a post about violence – political, personal and virtual – when I’d finished working through the copyedit of my book, and as I emerge blinking into the light I see that it’s suddenly rather topical. There’s little I can say about George Floyd’s killing and the events arising from it that somebody somewhere hasn’t already said better than I could, but I tried to write a post that started with those events and steered its way to the more specific concerns of this blog with agrarian and social futures. Somehow, though, I don’t think what I wrote hit the right notes. Instead, I’m just going to offer a few questions that recent events have prompted for me. If anyone would care to essay an answer to any of them, I’d appreciate it. Perhaps I can then circle around to this again with a more considered post at some point in the future.

Death Zones

The philosopher Étienne Balibar has written that the human world increasingly divides into “life zones” and “death zones”. As climate change, resource crisis and growing economic inequality begin to bite, it seems likely that the death zones will grow, along with border tensions between the zones of life and death. I’d argue that, for numerous reasons, affirming the wellbeing of people in the death zones is critical for bequeathing a planet that’s habitable for humanity in the long term. Black Lives Matter has illuminated the fact that there are death zones right in the heart of wealthy, democratic countries like the US and Britain that many white people like me who live right alongside them scarcely notice. Yet already this has prompted widespread pushback of the #AllLivesMatter variety. The outcome of this tussle seems to me of the utmost importance.

Questions: Can our politics embrace and defuse the systemic violence of racism in our midst right now? If not, what chances for embracing and defusing the systemic violence involved in the growing death zones of the future?

The State and the People

Around the time of his 2016 election, a lot of people – me included – spilled ink worrying about whether Donald Trump was a fascist. Plenty on the right dismissed this as left-wing hyperventilating, while certain historians of the left got to work itemizing all the ways in which Trump 2016 was different from Mussolini 1922. In certain respects, all that now seems by the by to me, because I’ve now seen enough of Trump’s administration to be able to characterize it sui generis – a systemically racist, authoritarian, state-capitalist form of big government that’s anxious to use paramilitary or even straightforwardly military force against its own citizenry.

But since it’s hard to fathom the politics of another country (indeed, I can barely fathom the politics of my local town council) my question to those more grounded in US politics is this –

Question: how is the government and police response to Black Lives Matter playing out among the various factions of the US right in light of the fact that the Trumpling of states’ rights and freedom of citizen assembly surely offends some of its most sacred causes?

Social Distancing

Let me anticipate an answer. My guess is that some people will oppose state authoritarianism in general terms or as it applies to their own freedom of manoeuvre, but not when it’s applied to ‘terrorists’, ‘looters’, ‘Marxists’, ‘anarchists’ or ‘antifa’.

Now seems a good time for all of us to consider the distancing and objectifying language of this kind we often use to characterize political antagonists. I was once taken to task on this site by one commenter, no longer active here, for likening Trump’s politics to fascism. Fair enough, probably. Yet this commenter’s own unreflective use of ‘antifa’ as a way of diminishing political actions they disliked was surely just as wayward. My feeling is that, while social distancing might be a good way to minimize the misery of COVID-19, the social distancing of political labelling probably isn’t a good way to minimize the misery of human conflict escalation.

Question: Is it possible to operate without the use of distancing political labels?

Unmet needs

Marshall Rosenberg wrote that that “Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need”. Having immersed myself recently in some of his writings while doing a non-violent communication course, I’ve become more inclined to try to attune myself to such unmet needs in myself and others. Here at Small Farm Future I serve up plenty of criticism, judgment and diagnosis – and, regrettably, even the odd flash of anger sometimes. I don’t think Rosenberg was opposing the kind of political criticism and diagnosis that’s normal service on this site so much as the kind that’s moralistically directed at individuals or groups as a way of creating distance rather than empathy. But the one can easily run into the other, and I know I’m guilty of that.

Rosenberg spent a lot of time seeking to transform conflicts into more positive interactions, even in intractable political situations such as Israel/Palestine. I think such work is going to be vital in the future if we’re to bequeath a habitable world to our descendants.

Questions: Does Rosenberg’s framework resonate with others who read this blog? If so, what can I do at Small Farm Future to be better at meeting needs and transforming conflict?


Here in Britain, a prominent aspect of the Black Lives Matter protests has involved the toppling or defacement of various statues of historical figures associated with slavery or racism, and far right mobilization to, er, defend them – including Prime Minister Boris Johnson fulminating against those who would “rewrite the past”. Leaving Johnson’s own rewritings aside, I can’t really see statues as anything other than acts of political performance art that always incite a performative response – whether it’s hushed reverence or daubed graffiti. Edward Colston’s bronze has excited rather fewer defenders than Winston Churchill’s – perhaps because while Britain’s status as a major slave-trading power isn’t part of its present national self-consciousness, its status as an allied power that defeated Hitler’s Germany certainly is (OK, ‘helped to defeat’, but there seem to be curiously few memorials to Roosevelt, Stalin and other allied notables in Britain).

Statue-toppling and statue-defending too easily distract from the deeper political engagements that are necessary, and the politics of the crowd can get scary, but the battle of the statues does very palpably raise a historical question.

Question: What kind of past does our political community wish to cultivate and project into the political present in order to meet present challenges, such as trying to keep the planet habitable for humanity?

My answer would be not the one represented by Colston, nor the one represented by Churchill. But I’m interested in other answers to this question, and all the others.

60 thoughts on “Some questions concerning violence

  1. I’m a big fan of Marshal Rosenberg and compassionate communication†. It is unique in that it doesn’t require training of both parties, unlike other conflict resolution techniques like Dialectic Behaviour Therapy.

    In fact, the one time I’ve seen it backfire is with someone who was trained in it. When I launched into the four-part formula (“When you [take an action], I feel [a feeling]. I need to [fulfil a need]. Would you be willing to [fulfil a request]?”), she said, “Don’t you go using that psycho-babble bullshit on me!”

    †Rosenberg originally coined his technique “compassionate communication,” but his publisher didn’t think that would sell books, and changed the title to “non-violent communication.” Poor choice, that.

    • Yes indeed – the ideas that lie behind NVC to me seem profoundly important, but the language they’re expressed in can easily be a turn-off.

      I can see the advantages of ‘compassionate’ over ‘non-violent’, though the latter does foreground the wounds of thoughts and words, which can sometimes prefigure physical violence.

  2. My current thoughts about those questions:

    Death zones — BLM vs All Lives Matter – Conflicts between factions can be “divide and conquer” distractions from underlying issues, such as police brutality in general (regardless of race).

    The State and the People — Violent protesters, property destruction and looting can result in greater public acceptance of police state authoritarian tactics to maintain “law and order”, “the rule of law”, property rights and property values.

    Social Distancing — “Othering” can be a divide and conquer strategy, providing sides or “teams” for an individual to either identify with and support, or oppose and potentially hate. Meanwhile, global extractive capitalism continues taking its toll.

    Unmet needs — Regarding blogs like this one, I think that people read and comment for various reasons (needs), whether it’s to learn, and/or to contribute to a dialogue by sharing information, or to debate and defend one’s POV (because of other underlying needs). So those wanting to learn through dialogue can encounter those who want to debate. The blogger’s post can be a flexible POV that invites dialogue (potentially resulting in an evolving position), or it can be a firm POV that results in debate (for the readers to decide for themselves who “won”). The motivation and purpose behind Rosenberg’s NVC is not to win an argument, but to understand the reasons beneath the opposing viewpoints, and to connect at a human level, such that both parties are enriched somehow by the interaction.

    History —
    “Statue-toppling and statue-defending too easily distract from the deeper political engagements that are necessary”– Bingo.
    Public art installations can be used to remind us of problems of the past which were overcome, and present-day problems that still need to be addressed. I’ve seen a life-size sculpture of Rosa Parks sitting on a bus seat, where passersby can sit on the seat beside her. Murals can be used to convey a message and provide inspiration. I’ve seen a big mural which addresses issues such as deforestation and nuclear power (with the resulting cancer), while depicting a simpler, more primitive (future?) way of living.,

  3. A friend of mine who was a plumber at the time reckoned that every city should have a statue of a plumber to remind them of the unsung hero’s who had removed the threat of typhoid and cholera.

    Possibly add a dustman as well

  4. Chris asked:

    Question: how is the government and police response to Black Lives Matter playing out among the various factions of the US right in light of the fact that the Trumpling of states’ rights and freedom of citizen assembly surely offends some of its most sacred causes?

    And like Chris’ admonition that understanding even one’s own closest political milieu is fraught – so also mine. First I should seek some specificity to which ‘states rights’ he considers to be Trumpled (this word coining is fun 🙂 ). If I suggest there have been some inconsistencies in how Trump has treated governors of some states and not others for similar behaviors… my impression is he merely plays to his constituency in geographies where he himself is most threatened politically. I don’t imagine the Donald is clever enough to weigh a concept such as state’s rights in populist, fascist, socialist, or democratic terms. He just wants to be POTUS. Like Humpty Dumpty, he just wants to sit on the wall and pester the poor Alice by making up things to suit himself. [though Carroll’s Humpty does appear to have a better command of English than DT]

    Whose ox is being gored? What recourse do offended parties have? How carefully has the rhetoric been parsed? How dangerous are crowd mentalities? More questions than answers, I know. Even on the ground here in the heartland it’s hard to know how matters will unfold. But in my opinion, Trump has little to offer in the way of leadership.

    Police responses have also been all over the board, but I’ve much more faith that matters related to policing will improve. Governors, mayors, police chiefs, and state pols have widely condemned the worst atrocities. Some serious remedies are on the table. The coming changes may not go as far as some might wish, but there will be change.

    • I’m jealous of my five-year-old grandson in the word-coining department. He kept hearing his parents talk about the many things they had to do to keep from getting the coronavirus and he opined that they were necessary because there was a high level of “virisk”.

      I wonder if that word should be trademarked before we see ads for companies that specialize in Virisk Reduction.

    • The fun will start when the state and kocal taxes are added up , closing everythi g down for covid crippled the economy , local revenues are down 40% ,last time they raised local taxes they lost six companies that employed fifty or so prople and the county population dropped by two hundred , raise taxes and there wil be just a couple of hundred farmers in the county that have no option but stay, we have 27% empty housing now , older houses are being demolished to save paying taxes in them , as the county only has seven cops theres no room to cut there , schools are going to have to take the brunt of the cuts and most parents threw away common core learning while they home schooled their kids , 20% or so will never go back to school , parents have found out why their kids are strugling .
      Most flyover counties will be in the same boat , no money to run anything but bare minimum .

  5. Can our politics embrace and defuse the systemic violence of racism in our midst right now? If not, what chances for embracing and defusing the systemic violence involved in the growing death zones of the future?

    I doubt it. While the concept of ‘race’ is relatively recent, tribalism and ethnic strife, regardless of skin color, have a long and sordid history worldwide. As resource constraints from depletion and climate change bite harder and harder, it will be more and more difficult to supply people with food, water and other essential resources. Due to the prevalence of human conflict throughout history and all over the world, I suspect that systemic violence will become more common as living conditions deteriorate. My greatest fear is that nuclear weapons will eventually be used, even if only by accident during internationally tense times.

    How is the government and police response to Black Lives Matter playing out among the various factions of the US right in light of the fact that the Trumpling of states’ rights and freedom of citizen assembly surely offends some of its most sacred causes?

    I have little connection with any faction on the right. Hawai‘i is one of the ‘bluest’ states in the US. For example, I have a neighbor that painted “Black Lives Matter” in yellow ten-foot letters along 150 feet of county road as an homage to the first road painting in DC.

    That said, I see states’ rights as a convenient rallying cry for both the right and left, but only when those rights benefit their faction. The problem is the same one that started the Civil War: are we going to allow states their own visions of an ideal future and give them the right to pursue that vision separately from other states? If both the left and right agree that the answer is “Yes”, then 750,000 people died in vain.

    Is it possible to operate without the use of distancing political labels?

    Surely you jest! Pejorative labels for political opponents have been integral to politics in the US for centuries. If we are an anomaly in this, I would be very surprised.

    I think that the problem has increased in recent decades, mostly because of the virulence of right-wing talk radio and continuing on to internet platforms. I suspect that political labels are useful in rallying support for a faction that sees itself as being dangerously short of political power. Dominant factions can take a more relaxed approach to name calling since they are confident they can’t be ignored.

    Does Rosenberg’s framework resonate with others who read this blog? If so, what can I do at Small Farm Future to be better at meeting needs and transforming conflict?

    If everyone were secure in their status, with few or no unmet needs, I’m sure interpersonal conflict would be much reduced. “Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need” therefore has a large kernel of truth. It would make a good place to start in any kind of conflict resolution, especially when small numbers of individuals are involved.

    But there are circumstances where conflict and oppression occurs not because of any particular unmet need affecting the psyche of the oppressor, but just because the oppression is seen as perfectly natural. Slavery is an example. I doubt that the slave owners of history decided to enslave other people and use the lash because it was “the tragic expression of an unmet need”. Judgments and diagnoses about the deficiencies of slave workers would be similar to frustration about the weather. It was just the way the world worked.

    What kind of past does our political community wish to cultivate and project into the political present in order to meet present challenges, such as trying to keep the planet habitable for humanity?

    Any kind of pre-fossil-fuel past with a much lower population level would keep the planet habitable. Some visions of the past are more palatable to modern tastes than others. I like the concept of civic republicanism in small communities of yeoman farmers better than that of the feudal lord overseeing thousands of serfs, but either one is far better than modern industrial civilization in preserving the health of the planet and the survival of not only our own species but many others.

    There are numerous examples of a Small Farm Past that would work very well as a Small Farm Future. Pick one with some romantic attraction and plug away.

  6. Thanks for these comments.

    My inclination is to stay in learning/reflective mode, and therefore not to weigh in with my own responses right now … unless anyone has an unmet need to hear my opinion…

    Suffice to say that various comments above have homed in on some very similar tensions and doubts to my own on a number of these matters.

    Back to normal service soon.

  7. Chris
    A few disorganized thoughts:
    *What most people want as a future for themselves and their children resembles Star Trek. We all sit in spotless cabins manipulating instruments and machines which effortlessly transform our wishes into reality. Dealing with waste is not a problem at all.
    *Despite the fact that we would be idle and not exercising very much of our brain, we would be healthy and live to a ripe old age.

    IF our future is, instead, one of Degrowth, reliance on solar energy to grow crops and do most of our space heating, meticulous attention to growing or finding food, partnering with animals, and dealing with the detritus of the past few hundred years, then the Star Trek version of the future will simply never come to pass. So our first order of business is leaving our delusions behind.

    IF we can leave the delusions behind, then we can see our way clear to develop the Peasant’s Republic you have talked about. I think the way forward AFTER we have left the delusions behind is pretty straight-forward. History and statues become issues of remembering those who forged a physically and psychologically and spiritually rewarding Peasant’s Republic…and not at all about feudal leaders who fought among themselves for supremacy. A farm would have a small space devoted to a cemetery for the final resting place of those who built the farm.

    I will note that at a historical farm in the pre-Civil War southeastern US, a white family and a free black family traded work. The white family kept a logbook of the work that was traded. So it wasn’t just ‘being nice’…it was being nice to them so they will be nice to us. This is not rocket science, nor is it charity.

    Don Stewart

  8. Steve L mentioned utilizing these problems as “divide and conquer” tactic. I second that.

    Several of your questions regard “our politics” and “our political community.” In my opinion, in the contemporary US this will only work at a local or small regional level. I do not believe that in principle national politics are impossible. But our national politics have become irredeemably fraught. I suspect they they will have to fail harder and more completely before things start to get better.

    I’m not sure what label to give my personal politics…old-school left? My main principles are (1) pro-working class (job/livelihood security, affordable housing, affordable or govt-provided health care), (2) hard-core pro-environment (proponent of ecological/biophysical economics, aggressive pursuit of sustainability, anti-neoliberal globalization), (3) anti-war (staunchly opposed to belligerent imperialist US foreign policy). As far as I can tell, my interests are opposed by both the Democrat and Republican national parties to a similar degree.

    Probably because I think of myself as on the left and prefer to pick on my own team, I lay a lot of the blame for our present turbulence at the foot of the Democrat party.

    They used to be the party of the working class. They threw the working class under the bus in the 1990s, and have since mainly pandered to identity groups and done the bidding of Wall St. They have utterly failed to take meaningful action on environmental/climate issues. And their foreign policy is indistinguishable from the war hawk Republicans.

    The reason, I think, is that both parties have been co-opted by and now exclusively serve the donor class. When a banking crisis or disease pandemic hits our country, they bail out the moneyed interests and leave the working class citizenry twisting in the wind.

    For all their caterwauling about Trump, the Establishment Democrats have failed spectacularly to mount a credible opposition. For those with an analysis more sophisticated than “Orange Man Bad,” the Democrats’ hypocrisy is astonishing.

    The Dems tried to impeach Trump for collusion with a foreign power to dig up dirt on political opponents, and abuse of power using the US national security state for similar purposes. The Democrats under Hillary and Obama are guilty of these very things, arguably to a greater degree than Trump.

    In our current inebriated state it didn’t take long for the COVID epidemic to become one more battle front in the culture war. The Dems took to shaming anyone who didn’t practice social distancing and wear a mask in public. Then, when the chance to make political hay came from the George Floyd killing they urged people into the streets in protest, masks and social distancing be damned.

    Our national political parties have come to lack all credibility in my view.

    You asked about distancing political labels. I think they are being used cynically and divisively, in ways that mainly serve the elite.

    Over the past decade or so I have worked with communities of the Karen hill tribe in eastern Burma. For generations they have been between a rock and a hard place. The global economy has no use for them other than to exploit their land and natural resources and their labor in slave-like or slave-actual conditions in factories, fishing, and construction. The central Burman government is prosecuting a decades-long campaign of genocide against them. The point is – if the Karen are going to better their situation, help ain’t coming from the government or the invisible hand of the market. They’re all they got and have to help themselves.

    While far, far less extreme than the Karen, I see the working class citizenry of the US increasingly in similar circumstances. Neoliberal globalization exported most of our jobs and gutted our towns and rural communities in “flyover states.” The government has been bought off by moneyed interests and serves them, not us. So if we’re counting on the global economy or national politics for help, we’re up shit creek without a paddle.

    We’re all we’ve got, and we have to help each other. I can see that philosophy working at local and small regional levels, but our continent-sized country is too massive for it to work at the huge scale.

    My opinion is that an effective strategy to restore connections and heal divisions in our society is to rebuild local, bioregional economies. If we can produce a significant portion of what we consume using local resources in sustainably managed ways, we’ll be better insulated from the diseases of dysfunctional national politics and amoral globalization. Doing this is going to require creativity and resourcefulness, and will have to be done without reliance on large sums of capital. It will require teamwork, cooperation, and diversity of skills and backgrounds. We can heal the toxic divisions in our society when we realize how our common interests are bound up together, and how true success is shared success.

    • Sorry Josh, I thought I replied to your comment, but my reply is a separate comment down-thread.

      Joe Clarkson

    • I agree with and share your personal politics. I think of myself as an independent moderate. If I had to claim a label it might be conservative democrat or liberal republican. What you are pointing out about politics today is that money and political power have become the goals of both parties. In this sense it is understandable when politicians from both major parties favor their benefactors. We tend to look to our own when the shit hits the fan. If our own is Wall Street bankers…so be it. If we are giant technology companies we support global neo-liberalism because most of our products are made outside the US. Changing these attitudes seems beyond my imagination to envision!

      So, what is the answer? Perhaps change will come about at the local and regional scale, at the very least perhaps we will be able to weather the barrage of storms. The current global pandemic is a good example of the precariousness of our industrial food distribution system. When distribution companies can’t move product to restaurants and schools they stop buying more. When a monopoly of dairy and meat processing companies can’t sell their products they stop buying from farmers. Farmers have no choice but to plow under crops, dump milk, and break poultry eggs because they can’t afford to store, harvest, or maintain production.
      In the end food prices in America are rising, farmers are failing in business, and families are lining up to get food from food pantries.

      I am happy to report that in my small community of Lafayette, Indiana an organization of people called GrowLocal recognized that food would be an issue and began planting more in sharing gardens across the city. A new business was created to help families install backyard raised bed gardens. And my business (non contact delivery only) distributed more soil, compost and mulch than ever this spring. All the families staying at home this spring worked outside in their gardens. Already customers are telling me that their gardens are already producing a bounty of food, which they are distributing to their neighbors.

      I rarely feel much hope that I can do anything to change politics or even to change other people’s minds. But somehow making and selling soil, encouraging people to grow food in a garden, I feel as though there might be hope after all.

  9. What every one misses out is that the ” racism ” and violence is in democrat controled states and cities , Chicago has not had a republican mayor for over fifty years and turned from a thriving industrial boom town into a desert , near every mayor has been prosicuted for graft / fraud and served jail time , no one blames the govenor or mayor they even protest the prosicution of a criminal thief that stole their money , they blame trump that has no powers to alter things its govenors and mayors that have the power to call in the national guard or let their cities burn , they would rather let them burn driving out buisness grocery stores then complain about the food desert , they are the ones that employ racist cops do not investigate their background and do not prosicute untill someone dies , 19 investigations against the cop that strangled george floyd , no action taken by a black DA ,
    check this out , even with cops its out of control , without ? you get sarajevo .

    • Diogenese:
      You are correct to note that Chicago has not had a Republican mayor in over fifty years. The last Republican mayor in Chicago left office in 1931. You are not correct when you assert that
      near every mayor has been prosicuted for graft / fraud and served jail time In fact I would like to see any evidence you have that a Chicago mayor has been prosecuted for graft or fraud. The Governors office in Illinois is a different story (and there the prosecutions have fallen to both parties). Noting that Chicago mayors haven’t been prosecuted does not imply it is a city above reproach. There is indeed a long list of criminals having served in Chicago politics. But even at this level the distribution of blame crosses party lines… Republicans just as guilty of crimes as Democrats. To start your own look into the matter I’ll offer:

    • “documented in Sept. 7, 2006 by the Chicago Sun-Times, which reported that at least 79 current or former Illinois, Chicago or Cook County elected officials had been found guilty of a crime by judges, juries or their own pleas since 1972. The paper provided this tally of the tarnished: three governors, two other state officials, 15 state legislators, two congressmen, one mayor, three other city officials, 27 aldermen, 19 Cook County judges and seven other Cook County officials. ”
      here in TX we have the old boy network , but it has never been as bad as Illinois , no comunity can thrive then their elected officals are so corrupt and IMHO the sentance for public coruption should be a capital offence , world wide .
      as a side check this out
      i feel sorry for the law abiding peoole living in that city , when the cops step back all hell is let loose .

  10. Generally agree, though I say that “Orange Man Bad” is a sufficiently sophisticated political policy for me. If the Democrats run the leathery carcass of a road-killed cat, I’d vote for their candidate over Trump.

    And although I wholeheartedly agree that if we “produce a significant portion of what we consume using local resources in sustainably managed ways, we’ll be better insulated from the diseases of dysfunctional national politics and amoral globalization”, the insulation will still leave some gaping holes that will let in some mighty cold drafts.

    Humans are facing some big problems that can only be solved at the national level. Nuclear weapons, nuclear waste, climate change remediation, avoiding resource wars during energy descent, and keeping people fed and warm while they are moved out of cities and into localized communities will all require national and international solutions.

    If those big problems aren’t solved, localized communities will have a tough time no matter how resilient and sustainable their economies. Just imagine your perfect little eco-village with a heavy dusting of radioactive fallout, trying to keep crops out from under massed columns of tanks headed to the front or dealing with thousands of starving refugees looking for any scraps that will keep them alive.

    We’ve got to keep plugging away at national politics even while we attempt to build sustainable local communities. We have to hope we can elect people who can solve those Big Problems before things fall apart completely. Democrats may dither and fret and never get around to solving them, but Republicans will never even try.

  11. It’s true that violence is the crux of the matter, but hatred is its close cousin. Hatred of another race (racism) is what leads to violence as long as it is tolerated. It is sometimes difficult to understand racism. We probably all think “I’m not racist!” yet how many white people truly understand what it means to be black in America. Think about what this black man is telling us when he wrote….”As I turn 40, I had the realization that I have been stopped by police more times than my age. I have been stopped while driving cars, sitting in parked cars, riding on buses and trains, walking, running, studying, eating, and clubbing. I have been cussed out, thrown up against concrete walls, and arrested by police. I have a PhD, am a professor at a major university, and do not have a criminal record.”

    The realization is becoming clearer to me that there is something very wrong with policing in America and it isn’t just “a few bad apples”. There is something deeply wrong in our society when a police officer kneels on the neck of a man not to subdue him but to diminish him. What does it say about our society when the policeman continued doing this even as that man is pleading he can’t breathe, and not one other police officer tried to stop him. He did this flagrantly in front of people watching, asking him to stop. He did this with no worry about repercussions. He had to see that people were taking phone videos. It is clear to me that in the mind of this police officer black lives do not matter. He can treat them with callous disregard.

    America (and any other country that tolerates racism) needs to change this. Americans need to hold police officers accountable. We need to speak up and speak out. We can’t close our eyes and un-see the death of George Floyd. And until every person is treated equally by the law and by the police…we need to keep telling them that Black Lives Matter. Stop treating them as if they don’t.

    • Very intresting piece in brookings and i agree with every word , cops that are racist / bigots should be fired , they also should have their police liscence pulled so they cant just move to another city and get a job ,, that is what is happening , , when it gets to hot for them they end up out here in the boonies making life dificult for everyone , as there are few , i shall say it , blacks ,so they set on the hispanics , farmers sited for unregistered farm equipme t on the roads , ruthless enforcement of speed limits , their bigotry has to come out somewhere , !. everyone every where pays for bad cops .

  12. Turns out I do have an unmet need to make a couple of comments after all…

    First, hello Don and Jody – nice to see you here again. Don, I think it was you who drew my attention to Steven Stoll’s book ‘Ramp Hollow’ a while back. Thanks for that – it’s a superb book, which I drew on quite a lot in my own forthcoming book, and it has some interesting resonances with the issue of this post. And thanks also Jody – it does seem to me that white folks too easily miss the numerous ways in which the world we inhabit is more benevolently functional for us than for others.

    Second, re the discussion on local vs national politics initiated by Josh, I agree that national politics has become almost theatrical (theocratic?) in its divorce from meaningful life. But I think Black Lives Matter raises important and awkward issues for those of us inclined to champion the local. I suspect the idea of ‘local politics’ has bitter resonances for many African Americans, who had some success organizing at the national level against the excesses of the local. And even for those of us who’ve never had to fear being lynched by the police or the citizenry, the power-mongering machinations of local politics surely presents an uninspiring alternative to the national often enough.

    Fortunately, this is all resolved in my forthcoming book where I breathe the fresh air of a new local politics – civic republican agrarian populist left libertarianism, or CRAPLL for short. As Joe mentioned in an earlier comment, it’s likely that in the future crapll happen. We just need to make sure it’s the right kind.

  13. An interesting set of questions!

    ‘Can our politics embrace and defuse the systemic violence of racism in our midst right now? If not, what chances for embracing and defusing the systemic violence involved in the growing death zones of the future?’

    For me, one of the inspiring elements of the BLM protests has been the sense that politics really can draw a lot of people in to engage with issues of belonging across large distances. Politics, though, has to be conceived in a much broader sense than the power games of our elected representatives, and should certainly include the odd bit of statue-toppling performance art. These protests are distinct to the causes that have brought large crowds on to the streets in the past (the anti-war protests, XR) because they’re about how we as a body politic relate to one another, and attempting to liberate all of us from the kinds of hierarchies and oppressions that often act against any broader solidarities. Other protests are often have impeccable causes, and can act to radicalise new constituencies, but I think they also leave many of the more troublesome social faultlines intact.

    I think that this politics, of reforging ourselves as an inclusive political community, needs to be ‘our politics’ right now. And I agree with comments above that supra-local politics must not be abandoned in our quests to revitalise the local and the regional. Supra-local politics is currently not what we need it to be, but it is still essential, and must be wrested from the nationalisms that currently threaten it.

    ‘How is the government and police response to Black Lives Matter playing out among the various factions of the US right in light of the fact that the Trumpling of states’ rights and freedom of citizen assembly surely offends some of its most sacred causes?’

    I don’t have the right citizenship for this one, but the hypocrisy of the radical right struck me as it did you. I thought all those gun-toting white folks were just itching for a chance to strike back against an authoritarian police state!

    ‘Is it possible to operate without the use of distancing political labels?’

    This surely is a question avoiding extremes. It is profoundly dangerous for a label to become fossilised or to be made into a shibboleth, forming an immovable object that sucks in political effort and obscures the humanity of the people it is meant to describe, shuttling down any possibility of productive engagement. But in these modern times of unparalleled connectivity and viral ‘fake news’ the need for shared definitions is obvious – and I think Joe makes the point above that such definitions can act as nodes around which political mobilisation might occur. The key is ‘critical distancing’ I suppose.

    ‘Does Rosenberg’s framework resonate with others who read this blog? If so, what can I do at Small Farm Future to be better at meeting needs and transforming conflict?’

    Again, I’m not familiar with this framework, so thanks for introducing it. I need to study, but here’s a couple of initial thoughts, for what they’re worth. Any kind of liveable future will always need us to sit down and talk rather than fight, I mean that’s just obvious. But any conflict resolution worth its salt will have to involve some degree of soul-searching, and will be felt by many as an ‘attack’ on beliefs dearly if often unconsciously held.

    ‘What kind of past does our political community wish to cultivate and project into the political present in order to meet present challenges, such as trying to keep the planet habitable for humanity?’

    I’m not sure I’ve caught the gist of this question, so apologies if my answer does violence to it. It seems to me that BLM highlights the fact that history is not just an intellectual exercise, an enquiry that excavates a story from the past and ‘projects’ it into the present as some kind of contained educational experience (and please note I’m not necessarily imputing this view to you, just setting up a straw man to contrast with my own view!). Instead, history can be an active and malign force in the present to the extent that contemporary forms of oppression represent the conscious recreation and unconscious habituation of past forms. This is more than just some kind of legacy – it is often the very real consequence of structures of feeling that are often misleadingly describes benignly as ‘heritage’ or similar.

    ‘Doing history’ then becomes more than just an intellectual exercise. It is a necessary confrontation with the power structures of the present, and a practical form of soul-searching that enables real change. Of course, this prioritises the history of the past two centuries or so, and at the moment is effectively foregrounding racism as an inalienable part of modernity and capitalism. But there are other arenas. For example, I’m interested in confronting the history of absolute private property and seeking to relax its grip on so many of us.

    As an early medieval historian I’m also aware that the more distant past can have an important role, even if it is not so significant in informing present oppressions. As I’ve said before on this site, any engagement with the past has the potential to change the present by demonstrating that things have been different and could be again. This is not about trying to reconstruct any particular romantic vision of some specific past so much as cultivating a liberating sense of possibility. For example, medieval history offers many examples of self-policing societies that would usefully inform current conversations about the role and future of the police, without necessarily offering a model alternative.

    Of course, some would prefer to turn the past into shibboleths, or statues as they’re better known, and we all know the best place for them…

    • ‘Can our politics embrace and defuse the systemic violence of racism in our midst right now?
      Honestly no even out here we have gangs opperating , cartell members selling drugs , fighting eachother for ” turf ” , they ars allways heavily armed . The only way to get rid of them is take the money out of drugs ,legalise them and sell them in every pharmacy then hammer them for people traficing / sex slavery they control .
      As for racism cops round never know wether a simple trafic stop will turn into a gun battle , what is certain the drug dealers / transporters are hispanic our local jail has four carriers in it now , cops are extremely carefull when stopping hispanics , those that are clean shout racism , those that are not shoot first , or fight , razor sharp macheties are their prefered weapon , , in the last five years only one anglo has been caught carying drugs , the cops cant win in this situation . Hispanics are the majour drug carriers but its politicaly inncorect / racist to stop them even though five out of seven deputies are hispanic .

  14. A quick couple of responses. Simon, the UK publication date for the book is slated for 15 October, and US publication a week or so later I think. I’ll post some more about it soon, when the publication programme is settled.

    Andrew, yes agreed. My view of history is much as yours. I’d be interested to hear more about your examples of self-policing medieval societies.

    Interesting that in the mainstream newspaper op-eds few people are defending Colston, whereas Churchill’s sacredenss remains fossilised…

    I agree with you and Joe about the positives of the centralised state, though in all honesty I can’t see them as likely sources of renewal. Managing the nuclear legacy is certainly a useful job they can do, for which I’d personally be willing to stump up a little tax. I discuss such tensions between local and non-local politics in Part IV of my book.

    • Can’t wait for the book Chris.

      A reckoning with Churchill would really shake things up – it even seems possible now, albeit perhaps still unlikely.

      I was trying to put together some thoughts about medieval self-policing societies when I came across the following, which says much that I can get behind, so I hope you don’t mind if I post the link instead!

      • Thanks Andrew. Well, this is an interesting post from Going Medieval. The mention of the Posse Comitatus brings to mind the Posse Comitatus Movement in the modern US, with its links to far right patriot militias and its view that there’s no higher juridical power than the county sheriff – who, should he fail to carry out the will of local people, “shall be removed by the Posse to the most populated intersection of streets in the township and at high noon be hung by the neck, the body remaining until sundown as an example to those who would subvert the law”.

        Also of interest is the Oath Keepers’ ‘Declaration of Orders We Will Not Obey’ A good few of them I can largely endorse myself, but they were seemingly articulated in the context of supposed constitutional threats from ‘Marxists’ like Obama, while to my mind being more relevant to constitutaional threats from the likes of Donald Trump.

        I guess the wider issue is whether the centralized state can act reliably as a bulwark against local tyranny. Not necessarily, in my view, but I think it retains a residual pluralism that’s worth defending.

        I touch on some of this in the book, though unfortunately I had to cut quite a lot for brevity. Perhaps we can come back to it here…

        • This is fascinating. So the oath keepers prize above all their right to individual security – to property, to bear arms, to act as they wish without interference from the state or anyone else.

          But they also need the state – they need that moment when a group of people came together to make laws collectively that apply to everyone – and therefore a moment when nobody had the right to an impenetrable individuality. And the resulting state still has the right to intervene to a limited extent to discipline its citizens within the bounds of the constitution.

          The interesting thing is that if the state should overstep these limits, then the oath keepers take upon themselves the right once again to organise collectively, potentially as a paramilitary force, and to impose their own will on agents of the state.

          The whole thing relies on the fact that people once came together to make their own rules, and yet the rules they most insisted upon are laws that stop people coming together to make their own rules (excepting only the situation in which the disciplinary force created to protect those rules acts collectively to impose its own rules).

          I suppose this comes from the fear of ‘local tyranny’. The fear that people will act collectively to gain factional advantage over others.

          One thing that interests me about medieval law is the importance of reputation. Oath-swearing, tithings, etc., rely on the notion that people care sufficiently about their own law-abiding reputation in the eyes of others (or of God) not to break the law. The law thus relies on self-discipline rather than the use of state-sanctioned disciplinary forces, and the payment of compensation for a crime committed (or rather a wrong done to someone’s reputation) was a form of ritual submission to restore the reputations of all concerned. Of course in a hierarchical society this was open to all sorts of abuse.

          It’s a very different approach to law and governance to the one we’re familiar with. When the disciplinary urge comes from outside, from the state, there is less investment in the social cultivation of self-discipline as a virtue.

          Perhaps we would want to aim for a situation in which people are able to assemble freely and make their own rules flexibly through inclusive democratic process, without central oversight; but also a situation in which the importance of self-discipline to social reputation discourages people from seeking to use collectively created powers to gain factional advantage.

          Simple as that.

          • Andrew wrote: “The [medieval] law thus relies on self-discipline rather than the use of state-sanctioned disciplinary forces…”

            I think it also relies on the populace being not as mobile as we are today. Otherwise the “bad cops” (in Diogenes’ example) and other miscreants can just move elsewhere and continue their misdeeds.

          • True Steve. Many people had their mobility circumscribed by their unfree status, and of course the population was much smaller. The dense concentration of today’s population in cities, and the mobility that characterises many lives today crates a very different social landscape. A modern reputation-based system would be very different.

  15. Thanks for the further comments.

    Nice framing, Andrew. Indeed, many political positions try to make some part of history and political tradition sacred and defensible by force against those who would make new history and new tradition, thereby getting wrapped up in impossible contradictions. Hard to avoid, but worth trying to avoid… Your final paragraph works for me as a path out of the labyrinth … sounds very civic republican!

    Locality, reputation and Steve’s low mobility indeed are all relevant here. This is also a problem for modern commons, where local reputation lacks sufficient self-policing and self-disciplining force.

    And thanks Clem for your reports from the constitutional front line. I was also struck by the communication below from the US army in the light of BLM. I’m not exactly sure what messaging was intended, but might part of it be “Mr President, please don’t use us unconstitutionally to enforce against US citizens who are exercising their constitutional rights”? All the political mobilisation around the constitution in the US is somewhat alien to UK politics – often, I think, to our detriment, but perhaps sometimes to our advantage.

    “Every Soldier and Department of the Army Civilian swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution. That includes the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. We will continue to support and defend those rights, and we will continue to protect Americans, whether from enemies of the United States overseas, from COVID-19 at home, or from violence in our communities that threatens to drown out the voices begging us to listen.”

    • All the political mobilisation around the constitution in the US is somewhat alien to UK politics – often, I think, to our detriment, but perhaps sometimes to our advantage.

      Not exactly sure where you’re going here. Likely because of my lack of appreciation for how politics work in the UK. Monarchism baffles me, and though I do imagine Parliamentary representation has many things going for it, I’m not sufficiently aware of the strengths vs. weaknesses.

      Separation of powers is a fundamental tenet in our Constitution. And in the years following the rebellion against the Crown there was serious foment against a monarch and the potential for tyrannical oppression. Where to draw lines between personal liberty and public good have been and will likely continue to be hotly contested. And for a republic formed in a crucible of violent conflict there will also likely remain some sentiment toward hashing things out at the tip of a spear.

      I don’t imagine it too difficult to walk back through US history and point to persons who did yeoman work to help preserve the peace, and promote the vision of a society where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is available to everyone – regardless of race, religion, etc. We like to call them statesmen… though statesperson might fit better if the PC folk want to foment over the suffix.
      But one person’s happiness will differ from another’s (which I suspect is also true in your world)… so there will always need to be some mechanism to adjudicate the differences when they raise their heads.

      • Monarchism baffles me too, which doesn’t always make for an easy life here in England.

        But where I was going was simply that people have a tendency to sacralize the parts of politics that they like, no doubt for various reasons – but one of them certainly seems to be as a means of silencing alternative narratives or new ideas.

        Discussions in the US about the Constitution certainly seem prey to this, one example being gun control.

        On balance, I prefer a constitutional republic to a monarchy. But maybe the silver lining in the cloud of Britain’s anachronistic politics is that it’s plain enough to anyone who cares to look that what we have has only ever been prised laboriously out of the unwilling hands of the ruling class. Still, every country, and every political system, has its cross to bear.

  16. Just a thought on monarchism V republicanism
    Monarch are there for the long game , they work to have their decendants in power ( though the Queen has verry little ) for centuries , republican governments make getting rich quick their goal , their decendants live on the ill gotten gains their parents/ grand parents provide , you see that in the USA by the way companies lobby / get their way over the wishes if the people ( corporatism ) and the seats on boards of companies that get the special treatment .

  17. Thank you for the conceptual framework of life and death zones from Balibar. It is nice to have ideas that one has been vaguely circling packaged up nicely in a couple of phrases. The phrases raise their own questions but still helpful. Do we have the politics to tackle proliferating death zones? On the level of political discourse (and power/money politics) I often succumb to despair, but on the level of local communities and regular folks there would seem to be an instinct towards life zones. Can that rise to the level of a Politics? I don’t know but I do know, as I’ve mentioned before, that U.S. agriculture has a huge problem with systemic racism, much of which is historic but some of which is contemporary and which systematically shuts out small farms from the kinds of subsidies and aid that go to large farms. Thereby perpetuating inequities and making for an incredibly brittle, inflexible and death zone-y food system.

    • Thanks Michelle. I’d be interested to hear more from you about the systemic racism in US agriculture. Your point about an instinct towards life zones at the level of communities is also interesting, and I think connects with the case for civic republicanism.

  18. Clem said: ‘Where to draw lines between personal liberty and public good have been and will likely continue to be hotly contested.’

    I have no doubt that this is correct, but I think it’s also important to recognise the line that connects them as well. A particular notion of personal liberty relates to a particular kind of public good. If personal liberty is individualistic and property-holding, then public good has to be protection against the infringement of such liberty. The interesting question then becomes: what if we start to change those definitions?

    I was struck by the piece in The Atlantic that Clem linked to. According to that, freedom to assemble (and thus to organise collectively outside and potentially against the government) was once opposed by the claim that public space was government property, and thus such assembly was an offence against the government’s liberty to enjoy its property. That approach appears to have been quashed, but if I understood correctly the first amendment permits assembly to discuss grievances as long as they result only in petitions to the government. The scope of collective activity is therefore limited in order to protect the governing hierarchy.

    I’m not sure comparisons between monarchy and constitutional republic are particularly useful here, as we all seem to be constrained by systems that sacralise our individuality and therefore largely criminalise our capacity to organise collectively outside of our subordinate relationships with our respective governments.

    Imagine, though, if we took seriously the idea that public space really was fundamentally empty of any claims to ownership. If we cannot rely on pre-existing notions of who owns what, and therefore who gets to decide, then public assembly really does become self-government, because competing claims have to be worked out in the public forum, not presupposed by property rights. Such a forum encompasses Clem’s ‘mechanism to adjudicate the differences when they raise their heads.’ I think we’re so used to the idea of petitioning an external authority to judge on the basis of pre-established rights, often property-based, that our notions of ‘personal liberty’ and ‘public good’ are often impoverished.

    We need a kind of politics that involves regular participation in the renewing and remaking of the political community, involving decisions about collective aims and management of resources, and confrontation with issues of inclusivity as the membership of that community evolves. Maybe that kind of political effort is how we start making life zones out of death zones.

    • Thanks Andrew, very interesting. A good deal of what you say above sounds very much like civic republicanism, which – as I’ve said here before – seems to me the most promising of political traditions for the future.

      I think it IS worth distinguishing between monarchies and constitutional republics, because I can’t see much scope for creating a republican politics within a monarchy, however ‘modernised’ or constitutional. However, it’s true that even post-revolutionary republics tend to revert to more sacralized, quasi-monarchical forms – kind of my point about US politics above that Clem picked up on. Of course, this was a hot issue in the early years of the independent USA (and of post-revolutionary France) but capitalist modernization eventually generated similar corporate-statist-consumer societies in the rich countries.

      Unfortunately, the people who’ve most publicly pressed the case against the quasi-monarchical republic in the US seem to be elements of the far right with, to my mind, a pathological sense of personal liberty, a strong vein of racism, and their own ideology of violent repression, which you succinctly anatomized in your earlier comment. But perhaps I’m missing other currents. In any case, we badly need an alternative left republicanism, focused non-pathologically on personal liberty and autonomy, the signature for which is a greater interest in gardens than in guns. And this brings us back to my case for CRAPLL.

      Your comments about public space are really interesting. Hopefully I can come back to them another time.

      • I’m all for opening out new fields of enquiry. Perhaps we should get a journal going – Studies in CRAPLL. I feel there should be an extra A in the acronym somewhere…

    • We need a kind of politics that involves regular participation in the renewing and remaking of the political community

      While having a politics like that would be refreshing and provide a great deal of empowerment to the participants, it would be a hell of a lot of work!

      There is a good reason why custom and tradition often segue into “established rights” – people can get on with their lives without having to decide the same issues over and over again. And when an “external authority”, albeit one chosen by the public, is the final word on settling conflicts in civic affairs, it prevents argument from devolving into violence.

      Governance is vitally important at every scale. It allows people to concentrate on gathering and transforming the resources necessary for life without endless bickering and the risk of interpersonal violence. Nobody wants to spend their time in meetings (or shooting at each other) when they could be out in the fields growing food in peace and quiet.

      The tricky part is to create a system of governance that has enough flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances, whether natural or man-made. Governance that is too rigid will prevent adaptation; governance that is too loose will waste a lot of time and energy on decision making. We do need a Goldilocks government, but whose thermometer to use?

  19. Re participatory politics: true, it might take up too many evenings – as Oscar Wilde put it – though I think citizenries do need to step up a bit from the current political-participation-as-reality-show-audience if we’re to avoid disaster. The advantage of a small farm future in which most people are focused on producing a local livelihood from the land is that it declutters a lot of political decision-making. It does raise some other problems though, which I discuss in my book…

    Re US food production: the real ‘can’t win’ victims IMO aren’t people in the USA but farmers and the poor in poor countries who are undercut by rich country agricultures that are directly and indirectly subsidised in numerous ways, while their own countries are hypocritically disciplined by global free trade ideologies emanating from the rich countries. Perhaps there’s a case for a new global homestead act, where exporting territories are required in Year X to welcome in a new international migrant and set them up on a smallholding for each per capita quantum of food nutrition they export in Year X-1. I think I might write to my MP…

  20. Unmet needs- well, NVC sounds like a good strategy for interactions in certain settings, (BTW- I think you already do a good job of reacting in positive or and constructive ways when commenters here occasionally come out of left field or get a bit heated ) but there are significant aspects of human interaction that seem to need other tools.

    Capitalism as practiced here shows an inclination to encourage sociopaths and wealth addicts to climb in corporate halls of power, and I don’t think the techniques in NVC will work with them. Also, it seems like we have created a system that is beyond human control, call it Orlov’s technosphere or capital’s chase for best return unleashed. Structural violence can be more subtle, and hard to find the leverage points to reduce.

    I’m not sure what the answer is. The “Goldilocks Government” may be a forever effort to strive for, and I also agree that many of us first worlders have it easy enough that we’ve disengaged from the hard work of self governance. Fabius Maximus has been beating this drum for years, with no apparent effect. As the decline proceeds, the discomfort and change will precipitate more engagement, but I fear it will be more of mindless violence ( as seen recently) rather than sitting down around a table to share needs. We already know there is inequity/unmet need, and have done poorly at ameliorating it.

    • Thanks for that Steve, appreciated. I agree that NVC isn’t in itself a strategy for political change, though I think it can be usefully deployed within strategies for political change – perhaps most importantly within activist movements rather than against the objects of their activism.

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