‘I’d like to think I’m past the age, of consciousness and righteous rage,
I found out just surviving is a noble fight.
I once believed in causes too, I had my pointless point of view
but life went on no matter who, was wrong or right.
- Billy Joel (1976).
Anarchism in Hamilton of all places? How, well, unCanadian. I’m old enough, sadly, to recall our own coastal version, the so-called Squamish Five – though by Red Army Faction standards we could have called them the ‘Squeamish Five’ – who plotted and planned to no avail regarding the state of society as they saw it. Now who am I to castigate activists of any kind? They’re putting it on the line, whatever one they have drawn in the shifting sands of culture and history, and at least they know they’re in the right, unlike we thinkers, who, though tempted, can never imagine such a thing is so clear and exposed.
This newer cabal refers to themselves as ‘The Tower’. Not made of ivory, no doubt, but perhaps rather the butter made famous in Henry V. Even so, what the group’s Facebook post does say that is difficult to argue with is that we continue to live in a society filled with both inequity and iniquity. Very often the two go hand in hand. The fact that it isn’t illegal to make someone homeless is a scandal to be sure. Not that we should exchange iniquities, however unequal as the case may be, and make it legal to vandalize property in its various forms. We might rather consider acting within the frameworks available to civil persons to alter the egregious forms of our culture that promote incivilities such as evictions based on poverty alone as well as wanton mayhem in the streets.
It is also reasonable sociologically to suggest that all of us are in on the general ‘conspiracy’ to thwart efforts at social reform of seemingly radical tenor and timbre. Shopping at high-end boutiques isn’t my thing – I’ll never be able to afford it and I’m too old to worry about fashion in any case – but we need to remember that of all of us who work in capitalism (i.e. all of us), a scant few work for it. That is, more than uncritically accept it or tolerate it while wishing we could do better and perhaps even be better, but rather in fact those who are zealous acolytes of technological capital to the expense of any other sense of selfhood and society. Even the vast wealth of a Gates or a Buffet is equivocal, and I can guarantee it has done more good in the world than any band of anarchic brothers that has ever existed. Now of course no dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary would think much of someone like myself, a phenomenologist and hermeneuticist, two threads of thought known (unfairly) for their ‘conservative’ stances. Conserving, yes, for there is still much to be gained from reading Plato, Aristotle, and the rest of those ancient fellows in spite of the fact that much of it is also certainly misogynist, xenophobic, and simply factually incorrect. The art of interpretation is precisely doing the work necessary to sort such things out. This kind of work is what Marx and Engels did, for instance.
But to raise the call to arms by making a public nuisance of oneself, by aggravating hard-working fellow citizens, by contributing to costly affairs of restitution, the courts, and rehabilitation is to cheat yourself and your human brethren of the dignity and freedom necessary to engage in the conversation that we are. There are no laws preventing the formation of political parties, NGOs and NPOs that espouse tax reform, rent controls, affordable or even free housing, free education and better funded health care, the banning of violence in the homes or in media, and education in the history of ethical ideas. Not in Canada at least. If ‘The Tower’ operated in Syria we would be less judgemental of them or any other such group. People in such places really lay it on the line, simply because they have to. If any Canadian wants to make our society into a place where we are forced to behave uncivilly to get what we need as human beings then I for one would stringently, perhaps even illicitly, oppose them. And I’m betting that 999 out of 1000 of my fellow citizens would as well. Maybe more.
At the same time it is also reasonable to suggest that we do little enough to care for our own margins. The fire always starts at home. I’ve had a privileged career and soapbox and I rationalize my own efforts at culture critique as doing ‘what I can’ or what I am suited to. But there is an element of comfort involved, and perhaps what we can take away from the actions in Hamilton is that there also is an Aufklarung to be both rung and heard. It is not merely the responsibility of governments or social movements, anarchist or otherwise, to engage in this call and response. It is rather both our collective and our individual responsibility at once. There are far more of those who work hard and honestly to survive than those who can be cast as shameless profiteers or even sleazy jerks. In a democracy these latter have, theoretically, little power. Perhaps we can try using the laws we do have to make the course corrections we need before abandoning each other at best to the churlish and childish rants of political extremities – the Facebook post mentioned above is actually quite guarded and relatively inoffensive compared to say, much of Fox et al – or at worst to civil war.
It does need be said that violence of any kind in a democratically based civil social organization cannot be sanctioned. The lens that violence casts always doubles back on itself without exposing to the critical light the structures and habitus of the violences, symbolic or otherwise, that organize the thoughts we have, the institutions we work in, the places to which we send our children. This is not an ‘all you need is love’ petition. But the nature of love is such that it can be made to dispute its own self-criterion by the sudden turning away of the other. It takes some time, no doubt, but reason, argument, dialogue and dialectic remain superior in all forms to the abrupt decision of violence and what follows therefrom. To engage in the frustrating, painstaking, and seemingly endless effort of the examined life is part of both the human condition and the condition for humanity to remain a part of the very world it has so wrought.