Love Bombs

cocktail

A message of universal kinship from Infoshop.org

Out of their love for humanity, anarchist vigilantes have been assaulting private citizens. Back in 2012, they smashed up cars and storefronts in San Francisco’s Mission District. More recently, they have hounded Google employees in the Bay Area with blockades, acts of vandalism, and demands to get out of town:

If you want a Bay Area where the ultra-rich are pitted against hundreds of thousands of poor people, keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll have a nice revolution outside your door. But if you want out then you should quit your jobs, cash out, and go live a life that doesn’t completely fuck up someone else’s.

GET THE FUCK OUT OF OAKLAND!

In January, vigilantes accosted Google engineer Anthony Levandowski outside of his house. They passed out flyers that charged Levandowski with “gentrifying neighborhoods, flooding the market with noxious commodities, and creating the infrastructure for an unimaginable totalitarianism.” After the confrontation, a statement posted by The Counterforce said:

All of Google’s employees should be prevented from getting to work. All surveillance infrastructure should be destroyed. No luxury condos should be built. No one should be displaced. [....]

Our problem is with Google, its pervasive surveillance capabilities utilized by the NSA, the technologies it is developing, and the gentrification its employees are causing in every city they inhabit. But our problem does not stop with Google. All of you other tech companies, all of you other developers and everyone else building the new surveillance state—We’re coming for you next.

This month, The Counterforce condemned Google Ventures partner Kevin Rose as a “parasite” and told him via banner: “I’MA SNIP SNIP YR BALLZ ☺” They chose to “bring the class war to his doorstep,” because they viewed Rose as “part of a larger structure that keeps people enslaved to this single economic system that is literally killing the planet and decreasing the chances of continued life.” They chastised him for investing in startups, because these “perpetuate the process of alienation under the guise of social technology.” The close of their statement said:

We now make our first clear demand of Google. We demand that Google give three billion dollars to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. In these communities, whether in San Francisco or in the woods, no one will ever have to pay rent and housing will be free. With this three billion from Google, we will solve the housing crisis in the Bay Area and prove to the world that an anarchist world is not only possible but in fact irrepressible. If given the chance, most humans will pursue a course towards increased freedom and greater liberty. As it stands, only people like Kevin Rose are given the opportunity to reshape their world, and look at what they do with those opportunities.

We know that your security advisors are taking our analysis seriously, so if you are confident that your system is the best, it would be wise to give us three billion to see if we fail. Our wager is that you are scared of the viable alternative we would create. If you are not scared, contact us at our WordPress website. Send us a message and we can go from there. Otherwise, get ready for a revolution neither you nor we can control, a revolution that will spread to all of the poor, exploited, and degraded members of this new tech-society and be directed towards you for your bad decisions and irresponsible activities. We advise you to take us seriously.

For a world without bosses, rulers, or cops! Down with the Empire, up with the Spring!

Many who speak of redemptive violence lack the nerve to act, but that is no excuse for liberal acquiescence. These threats are the left equivalent of “Second Amendment remedies.” And yet, these acts of intimidation have been indulged. Back in January, Salon published a defense of house calls by vigilantes. Natasha Lennard said:

Intimidation tactics targeting the employees of major corporations are nothing new and have a history of success: Indeed, animal rights activists achieved some major victories in securing the closure of animal testing facilities in the ’90s and early 2000s through the intimidation of key investors. This intimidation was deemed terrorism, but, hey, it worked. The Google protesters appear to be paying homage to this model. Their manifesto ends, “We’re coming for you next,” and echo the Animal Liberation Front’s haunting slogan, “We are everywhere.” [....]

Whether targeting individual Google employees is an effective tactic is not really my interest here. Certainly, I concede that it will hardly uproot Google’s hegemonic position, nor will the surveillance state be dismantled. Andrew Leonard cited one Bay Area resident describing the latest militant anti-Google protest as “a group of people violently broaching civic norms.” I say: precisely. Civic norms in our current epoch entail the forgoing of privacy, the enabling of a totalized surveillance state, the steady displacement of poor residents by wealthier implants in all major metropolises. The world’s richest 85 people have as much wealth as half the world’s population put together. These are our current civic norms; they deserve some violent broaching.

It seems Lennard, who has elsewhere written appeals for insurrectionary anarchism, was referring to the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences. That campaign included several bombings by the Animal Liberation Front. This “leaderless resistance” described itself as “non-violent,” albeit by redefining rather than renouncing the use of political violence.

Anarchists who turn to violence are not grievance bots. Their criminal actions are not an automatic response to injustice. Anarchists have agency, and their choice of redress depends in part on their political imagination—on their pursuit of the millennium.

Peace, love, and absolute liberty is the promise of anarchism. After the social revolution, everyone shall live in harmony without coercion or hierarchy. We shall not have to give up any portion of our liberty to preserve the rest. The underlying conceit is that human beings are innately anarchists, but most of us have betrayed or failed to understand our true humanity. Anarchism is our re-education.

According to this creed, we should cleanse our minds of statist pollution and clear our lives of statist distortion. We would then know our essential natures, rise up, and smash the State. This would bring about, in the words of Mikhail Bakunin, “a qualitative transformation, a new living, life-giving revelation, a new heaven and a new earth, a young and mighty world in which all our present dissonances will be resolved into a harmonious whole.” This belief in a just and spontaneous order cannot be refuted by any fratricidal chaos, because anarchists can always blame the persistence of statist corruption.

But for some reason, states endure, hierarchies are pervasive, and some degree of coercion can be found almost everywhere. So while anarchists may come in dozens of hyphenated varieties, they all face the same dilemma. As John Gray said:

If they are to pose a challenge to the prevailing order, they need to protect themselves against repression and subversion by the state. When they organise to defend themselves, they soon come to resemble the state in secrecy and ruthlessness. The revolutionaries’ dilemma is clear: either they remain high-mindedly pure and impotent, or they end up as repressive as the regime they are fighting, if not more so.

Some anarchists prefer to work by peaceful example, by creating alternative communities or fashioning new lifestyles. They build to replace the existing order, and their practice may even be ennobling. But others conspire and take arms against a fallen world. They place their trust in what Mikhail Bakunin called the “eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life.” For them, as for Bakunin’s notorious “tiger cub,” destruction of the existing order is inherently creative.

America’s experience with the latter included the adherents of Luigi Galleani. At the site of some of their bombings in 1919, they left behind these plain words:

We are not many, perhaps more than you dream of, though but are all determined to fight to the last, till a man remains buried in your Bastilles, till a hostage of the working class is left to the tortures of your police system, and will never rest until your fall is complete, and the laboring masses have taken possession of all that rightly belongs to them.

There will be bloodshed; we will not dodge; there will have to be murder: we will kill, because it is necessary; there will have to be destruction; we will destroy to rid the world of your tyrannical institutions. [....]

Long live social revolution! Down with tyranny!

Granted, they had an inflated sense of their ability to incite a revolution. But so did Timothy McVeigh. The similarities may be greater than many realize. The primary suspect behind the 1920 bombing of Wall Street was a Galleanist named Mario Buda. That explosion killed over three dozen people and maimed hundreds more.

WallStreetBombing

But regardless of what anarchists have done with explosives, many on the left dismiss the bomb-throwing anarchist as a statist caricature. They are quick to cite the Haymarket Square bombing of 1886, for which several anarchists were tried and convicted. The analogy is less than exculpatory. Despite fashionable claims to the contrary, there was evidence of a conspiracy.

In a time of civil peace, the presumption should be against the use of political violence. The burden of justification is on those who play at civil war. But insurrectionary anarchists turn this presumption upside down. They refuse to justify their actions to any depraved statist. They accept no accountability to non-anarchists. Instead, they expect everyone else to atone for the sins of the world. In the words of failed assassin Alexander Berkman, every mortal should just “grow the wings” of an angel.

It may be true, as Leszek Kolakowski once said, that “the human race cannot survive without the idea of universal brotherhood, no matter how impracticable it might be.” But, as Kolakowski also warned, this dream “becomes pernicious and malignant if its adherents convince themselves that they have a technical prescription for implementing it.” Their pursuit of utopia becomes a self-contradiction. Hence, insurrectionary anarchists “promise us brotherhood by decree” and proceed to coerce us into freedom:

Destruction is the only thing they are capable of thinking about and they are not really much interested in what will come next; sometimes they even raise this lack of interest and their intellectual helplessness to the dignity of a superior wisdom (“one cannot predict the future forms of society, the point is to smash the existing one.”) They share with most ideologically committed Marxists an anti-historical mentality, not in the sense of being necessarily uninterested in history but in the sense of believing that at a certain date people can shed the burden of their past and start “true history” afresh, so that a truly new man [and woman], immune to the past, will emerge.

Insurrectionary anarchists judge their criminal actions, not by some statist morality, but by a millenarian promise to being the world anew. They are never the aggressors, because they are always aggrieved by the absence of heaven on earth. This was the logic behind Emma Goldman’s defense of Leon Czolgosz, after he shot and killed President McKinley:

Anarchism and violence are as far apart from each other as liberty and tyranny. I care not what the rabble says; but to those who are still capable of understanding I would say that Anarchism, being, a philosophy of life, aims to establish a state of society in which man’s inner make-up and the conditions around him, can blend harmoniously, so that he will be able to utilize all the forces to enlarge and beautify the life about him. To those I would also say that I do not advocate violence; government does this, and force begets force. [....]

Violence will die a natural death when man will learn to understand that each unit has its place in the universe, and while being closely linked together, it must remain free to grow and expand.

Goldman would not answer whether Czolgosz was a random lunatic or a genuine anarchist. Nor could she offer anyway to distinguish between cynical criminals and sincere revolutionary. Instead, she bowed “in reverent silence before the power of such a soul, that has broken the narrow walls of its prison, and has taken a daring leap into the unknown.” Elsewhere, Goldman said the assassination was “an act of self-defence,” about which there was “nothing unanarchistic.” Because Czolgosz “belonged to the Oppressed, the Exploited and Disinherited Millions,” he could claim special privileges and immunities.

According to Goldman, this insurrectionary elite derives their authority from their “sensitive nature,” which is unknown to the benighted “rabble.” Members of this enlightened vanguard “feel a wrong more keenly and with greater intensity than others.” They are superior to any acquiescent statist, because they possess “an abundance of love and an overflow of sympathy with the pain and sorrow around us, a love which seeks refuge in the embrace of mankind, a love so strong that it shrinks before no consequence, a love so broad that it can never be wrapped up in one object, as long as thousands perish, a love so all-absorbing that it can neither calculate, reason, investigate, but only dare at all costs.”

Their love does not discriminate; it may be claimed by any vigilante who deems themselves to be one of “the Oppressed, the Exploited and Disinherited Millions.” Their love embraces a higher humanity, as opposed to the lesser human beings who must endure its consequences. But our lives and liberties are an earthly concern, and theirs is an otherworldly passion.

Berlin

Isaiah Berlin crafted one of the darker versions of modern liberalism, but many Americans seem more interested in a cute (and often false) dichotomy between foxes and hedgehogs. They cast aside the former but earnestly invoke the latter, which is completely backwards. Berlin himself said of the contrasting critters, “I never meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously. Every classification throws light on something.” He deserves better.



Those who care for more should read Berlin’s essays on liberty (“Historical Inevitability” in particular), one of his many books that are still in print. I am also partial to John Gray’s new introduction to his book Isaiah Berlin: An Interpretation of His Thought.

Wow! So Data! Such Voice!

Numbers, like ventriloquist dummies, never really speak for themselves. An analyst gives a set of data its voice. As Paul Krugman said:

You use data to inform your analysis, you let it tell you that your pet hypothesis is wrong, but data are never a substitute for hard thinking. If you think the data are speaking for themselves, what you’re really doing is implicit theorizing, which is a really bad idea (because you can’t test your assumptions if you don’t even know what you’re assuming.)

Before data can be brought to bear on anything, the analyst must make some assumptions. They must accept some measurements as reasonably accurate and relevant to the question being asked—what is a signal for one question may be noise for another. They must deem some factors important and assert some relationship between them. And few, if any, hypotheses are tested in isolation—when a set of observations do not seem to fit a hypothesis, the analyst must decide which assumptions to accept and which ones to reject.

Of course, it would be impossible for any analyst to get any work done if they never took anything for granted. Background assumptions are inevitable. Yet, as Krugman said, honest analysts have an obligation to tell us why they think the data matter. When underlying ideas are not clear, they should be made so. When assumptions are bitterly contested, they should be defended.

All of these concerns, I should be clear, are about how to find reliable answers to empirical questions. But while those answers are crucial to debates over public policy, not every dispute about policy can be reduced to a technical problem.

Breaking the Monkey Wrench Left

The FBI is searching in Hawaii for Daniel Andreas San Diego. San Diego has been charged with setting off three bombs at two companies involved in animal testing. No one was killed, but San Diego may have intended otherwise:

Two pipe bomb explosions struck an hour apart at biotechnology company Chiron Corp. on Aug. 28, 2003, and investigators said the second bomb was set to injure first responders. A bomb strapped with nails exploded at cosmetic maker Shaklee Corp. on Sept. 26, 2003.

San Diego was allegedly associated with Revolutionary Cells–Animal Liberation Brigade, which claimed responsibility for the bombings. The Animal Liberation Brigade organized as a “leaderless resistance” of small, clandestine cells that work independently. This method avoids clear hierarchies, which is a defense against spies and traitors. The Animal Liberation Brigade also issued the following guidelines for activists in the magazine Bite Back:

The revolutionary cells exists as a front group for militants across the liberationary movement spectrum. We are anarchists, communists, anti-racists, animal liberationists, earth liberationists, luddites, feminists, queer liberationists, and many more things across various other fronts. Where ever there is oppression there are those unwilling to idly stand by and let it occur, and those people make up the nucleus of the revolutionary cells.

Who are the revolutionary cells? It is an anti-gmo activist destroying a gmo crop, it is a basque youth driving a car packed with explosives destined for a spanish politician, it is a queer bashing back, a rape victim putting a bullet in the rapist, a corsican nationalist planting a bomb at a french bank, it is a cincinatti riot in response to police brutality, an animal liberationist shooting a vivisector dead on his doorstep. In short it is the spirit of resistance realized. It is moving from politics to praxis.

Anyone who takes part in the war against the oppressive heirarchies in this world can consider themselves a member of the Revolutionary Cells.

Revolutionary Cells Guidelines:

1. To take strategic direct action (be it non-violent or not) against the oppressive institutions that permeate the world.

2. Make every effort to minimize non-target casualties, be they human or non-human.

3. Respect a diversity of tactics, whether they be non-violent or not.

4. Any underground activist fighting for the liberation of the humyn, earth or animal nations may consider themselves a Revolutionary Cells volunteer.”

The phrase “diversity of tactics” may be familiar to any who followed Occupy Wall Street. It was a common excuse for political violence, as in the popular CrimethInc. essay “The Illegitimacy of Violence, the Violence of Legitimacy.” What struck me about the essay was the acute sense of dread. What the author feared was a division of the movement “into legitimate and illegitimate” factions, where the former could be convinced to disown the latter. This anarchist described “delegitimization and division” as “the most powerful of the master’s tools”—more powerful than any police force. There is a lesson here for liberals on how to undermine violent fanatics. (Apart, of course, from basic policing.)

J. M. Berger, who studies political fanatics (jihadists, sovereign citizens, the militia movement, etc.) for a living, wrote a smart post on “how extremist ideologies can decay and even collapse.” Berger is not a fan of many policies that try to counter extremist beliefs, because they often pursue the wrong goals (making better citizens, instilling better values, re-engineering worldviews, etc.). It is, he rightly said, “devilishly difficult to tell people how to think, especially when those people are already suspicious of you.” Instead, the policy goals should be “more realistic” and “reflect what actually happens” when believers lose faith. The best counters to fanaticism are corrosive.

One counter is demoralization. Most fanatics, like more conventional activists, are prone to burnout. Endless runs in a hamster wheel take a psychic toll. A second counter is disillusionment. However negative their motives may seem to outsiders, they are sustained by positive illusions. Few things are more threatening to a community of believers than a former comrade who has been disabused of their faith. A third counter is division. As Berger said, “the more disagreement and paranoia fester within a group of people, the less capable that group is of collective action.” The vital element to all three is doubt, which undermines the will to fight and haunts the narrow borders of every fanatical community. The best measure of corrosion is a loss of direction, when fanatics are paralyzed by bitter disputes over strategy.

But to apply this lesson, liberals must recognize our enemies on the left. Freedom of expression ends where violence, sabotage, or conspiracy begin.

Martyr, Interrupted

If this story is not true, it should be. The following is an excerpt from The Paradoxes of Freedom by Sidney Hook:

During the war against Hitler, a group of conscientious objectors all crowding the age of sixty-five, led by Reverend A. J. Muste, publicly proclaimed their intention to defy the Registration Act. They gave up their valuable apartments, put their furniture in storage, made their farewells to their families, notified the newspapers—and awaited the federal marshal. But someone in Washington with a sense of humor or proportion completely ignored them. The expectant martyrs were furious, and spoke about the deception of the government in shockingly un-Christian terms.

The book was Hook’s defense of his version of civil liberties. Hook was arguing against both the McCarthyite right and the “ritualistic” left. I still find more value in Hook’s work than much of what is written about civil liberties today.

Economics with a Capital S

With each passing year, I have less and less enthusiasm for debating whether economics is or is not Science with a capital S. The best demarcation between Science and Not Science may well place economics on the latter side of the line. But it would not follow that the study of economics must be worthless or completely devoid of rigor. So, I feel no compelling need to settle the debate.

Basically, I agree with John Kay. There is no such a thing as “the economic approach.”

Economics is not a method but a subject—one defined by the problems it sets out to tackle not the techniques it uses. To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail: but the person useful about the house has a toolbox, and selects the implement appropriate to the task. As John Maynard Keynes observed, economics properly conducted is closer to plumbing or dentistry than physics.

Dani Rodrik views it somewhat differently. He acknowledges a “key difference” between economics and the natural sciences:

Economics deals with human behavior, which depends on social and institutional context. That context in turn is the creation of human behavior, purposeful or not. This implies that propositions in economic science are typically context-specific, rather than universal. The best, and most useful, economic theories are those that draw clear causal links from a specific set of contextual assumptions to predicted outcomes.

The trouble with economists, in Rodrik’s view, is that they fail to communicate “the full panoply of perspectives that their discipline offers.” Instead, they “became over-confident in their preferred models of the moment” and oversell “particular remedies—often those that best accord with their own personal ideologies.”

Nevertheless, Rodrik is confident the study of economics can progress in spite of political conflict. He even cites the Reinhart and Rogoff debate as an example. To achieve this, economists need “a common language about what constitutes evidence” and “a common approach to resolving differences.” Here are Rodrik’s terms and practices:

Economics, unlike the natural sciences, rarely yields cut-and-dried results. Economics is really a toolkit with multiple models—each a different, stylized representation of some aspect of reality. The contextual nature of its reasoning means that there are as many conclusions as potential real-world circumstances. All economic propositions are “if-then” statements. One’s skill as an economic analyst depends on the ability to pick and choose the right model for the situation. Accordingly, figuring out which remedy works best in a particular setting is a craft rather than a science.

One reaction I get when I say this is the following: “how can economics be useful if you have a model for every possible outcome?” Well, the world is complicated, and we understand it by simplifying it. A market behaves differently when there are many sellers than when there are a few. Even when there are a few sellers, the outcomes differ depending on the nature of strategic interactions among them. When we add imperfect information, we get even more possibilities. The best we can do is to understand the structure of behavior in each one of these cases, and then have an empirical method that helps us apply the right model to the particular context we are interested in. So we have “one economics, many recipes,” as the title of one of my books puts it [...] Unlike the natural sciences, economics advances not by newer models superseding old ones, but through a richer set of models that sheds ever-brighter light at the variety of social experience.

Even if Rodrik has more hope for the profession than I do, his advice is immensely valuable. It applies to anyone who studies economics, regardless of whether they identify as orthodox or heterodox. It may not raise economics to the level of Science with a capital S, but it might prevent its devolution into a cargo cult.

Hippies for Handguns

David Frum had a pitch-perfect response to the latest round of murders with firearms. Frum understands the purpose of gun control is to preserve social order. It is conservative in the basic sense of the word:

There was at least one adult who carried a gun in the theater in which [Chad] Oulson was shot to death. Perhaps [Curtis] Reeves imagined that he might use his weapon to prevent some terrible crime. Instead, he committed one.

One statistic often tossed about in the gun debate is the claim that guns are used for self-defense some 2.5 million times a year, once every 13 seconds. That statistic is based on a set of surveys conducted before 1995 in which gun owners were asked whether they could remember using a gun to meet any kind of threat over periods that varied from one year to as many as five years. The phrasing of the questions could include anything from confronting an armed intruder to picking up a shotgun before investigating a squawk in the chicken coop. This kind of hazy self-reporting, conducted almost a generation ago, is not likely to generate any kind of reliable information.

But there’s a deeper problem with arguments about “defensive gun use”—a problem forced home by the fatality in Wesley Chapel. When a gun owner self-reports that he or she brandished or used a weapon in self-defense, the gun owner stakes a claim that the person on the muzzle side of the gun was acting improperly and that the gun owner was acting appropriately and responsibly. Yet that is not always true. It is probably not even often true. Curtis Reeves was a man highly trained in the use of firearms: not just a police officer, but a police officer who had founded a tactical response unit. Yet the best-case interpretation of Reeves’ actions is that in a crisis, he panicked.

And the worst case? The worst case is that many people who carry guns for what they call self-defense are really engaged in intimidation and aggression.

The goodness or badness of any given stranger is not always self-evident. Granted, some people can be clearly identified as villains… after the fact. As aggressors, they may choose the time and the place of their killings. With easy access to powerful weapons, their advantage increases. But when a vigilante misreads the situation and kills an unarmed stranger, the vigilante becomes the deranged murderer. Just like Curtis Reeves.

Our self-appointed protectors are surrounded by potentially armed strangers. They are inclined to see themselves as the “good guys” and anyone who resists them as suspect. And the broader the legal definition of self-defense, the greater their freedom to kill with impunity.

Liberty requires peace. It is threatened no less by a hostile government than by anarchy, which is decentralized tyranny. The latter emerges from too much vigilantism, not too little. Those who advocate more guns for less crime may wish to be seen as gritty realists, but with their apparent belief in peace through spontaneous order, they strike me as silly hippies. They act as if liberty were not the daughter but the mother of order.