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MichaelAlbert? argues in the ZNet article "Who Owns the Movement?" [1] that winning immediate victories depends on raising unendurable social costs to elites (costs embodied in the threat that the conditions of their privilege will unravel if their policies don't succumb to pressure) He then goes on to say that just as the trashers have no right to transform the events, the large majority has no right to own "all demo space", essentially arguing for a right to trash. Trashing, he argues, is a legitimate form of protest.


If you believe that the government has the monopoly on violence, then obviously anybody has the right to disagree with property damage and violence. The government has a duty to prevent property damage and violence. Michael Albert's argument does not justify breaking the law. This only makes sense if he wants to abolish the violence monopoly. In that case, who would stop the big shots from using violence? The only way to solve this peacefully is by democratic means, and that forbids violence. Raising social costs (for the elite) is an euphemism for using violence against dissenters. If we don't like the WTO, big business or rich people, we should find other ways to express this and formulate a plan. Find supporters, convince others, run for elections, change the law. In an OpenSociety we have the privilege of changing the world we live in by peaceful means. Why return to barbarism? -- AlexSchroeder

There are many problems with this argument. To begin with is the implication that there is any connection between government's monopoly of violence and the law. There is not. In particular, Civil Disobedience is a non-violent means of breaking the law. The necessity of civil disobedience for any remotely serious protest also points to another problem. We do not currently live in free or democratic societies.

Additionally, raising social costs for the elite is exactly that, raising social costs for the elite. Even if a mob executed every single member of the elite (say, using guillotines), they would not be using violence against dissenters. Confusing the minority that rules society with other, helpless, minorities is deranged. Now, if what were meant was "Raising social costs (for the elite) is a euphemism for using violence by dissenters" then this would make more sense, although it would still be wrong. One cannot do violence against inanimate objects so PropertyDamage is not violence. Further, the destruction of a tool of oppression is not a form of violence against oppressors. If it were then whenever slaves break their chains, it would have to be considered a form of violence. That too is deranged. Incidentally, I'm certain that many a slave owner proposed exactly that argument; that slaves breaking their chains is a form of violence against owners' property.

On a pragmatic level, history shows that running for elections and "changing the law" (how exactly?) are miserable failures. Such thinking is a sign of Reformism, the belief that the fundamentals of our social system cannot be changed and only minor ameliorative reforms can be won ... if the elites are feeling particularly generous. Reformism is a form of despair; 'abandon all hope, ye who enter here'. People should get this straight; inanimate objects do not have feelings, duties or rights and it is impossible to do violence against an inanimate object. So when the FoundingFathers? of the United States talked about the "rights of property", they meant their own rights as property owners. Surprise surprise but those in power write the laws to benefit themselves (paraphrasing Adam Smith). The answer cannot be that we replace those in power with more BenevolentDictators.

Finally, anarchists reject the government's monopoly on violence and, statements to the contrary, there is nothing barbaric or backwards about it anymore than a victim of spousal abuse finally shooting her husband. Recognizing this fact requires seeing the different levels of violence involved. The United States government, WTO, World Bank, IMF, et cetera engage in far more violence every day than a mob who executed a few thousand members of the elite would be doing. And they do so on a continuing basis, day in and day out, for years on end.

You claim that raising the social costs does not constitute an act of violence. This is discussed by SunirShah below, so I won't go into that. I agree with him. In order to convince me otherwise, you would have to explain to me, why allowing property damage in my neighborhood will not increase the level general level of destruction in my neighborhood. For all I know, this will lead to the rule of organized crime. It seems that such is the situation in many countries with a weak government. My quality of life would decrease because either people arm themselves and resort to lynching, or organized crime would terrorize the neighborhood, being better armed and better trained than the average citizen. I claim, together with DavidBrin in the TransparentSociety, that the libertarian vision of guns'r'us fails in the real world.

You claim that "the destruction of a tool of oppression is not a form of violence." That depends. If there is a non-violent means to resolve the problem, then the destruction of said tool is needless violence, and I don't condone it. If such violence is necessary, so be it. But it needs a good argument. Battling the police, smashing windows and burning cars makes no sense to me because I am not oppressed by the police, by the shops, or by the car.

In your side note on the founding fathers you say that the laws are written by those in power to benefit themselves. How true. I claim, however, that for most elected representatives in a democracy, it makes sense to make fair laws, because that will benefit them in the next elections. I don't claim that there are no bad guys in the government -- but what form of government would be better suited to prevent this? KarlPopper makes a strong point in the OpenSociety (and in later essays) that democracy and free speech are our best bets. If you want to convince me otherwise, you need to present proof, and you need to present an alternative.

The same is true for assertion that some big organizations are doing more violence than killing them would do. You need to present an alternative that is both plausible and achievable. At the moment there is nothing to assures me that the world with a more dead elites will actually be a better world.

-- AlexSchroeder


Changing the law is meant to be incredibly difficult. Consider that it works both ways. If it is easy for you to change the law in your favour, it is equally easy to change the law in your opponent's favour. Democracy moves slowly, probably too slowly. Republics move faster, sometimes too fast. At some level of checks and balances there is the right speed.


You can do violence against inanimate objects. Consider that if your particular bogeyman, the United States Government, destroyed your house in an attempt to harass you, they are doing violence. In fact, this is a common tactic of theirs. They routinely bomb installations instead of communities as violent retaliation.

The reality is that physical property is a resource. Destroying someone's resources is an attack on them because it leaves them worse off. Hurting someone means leaving them worse off; violence is hurting someone.

Ultimately, you are wandering into abstract virtuality when you equate thrashing a storefront to breaking the slave master's chains. That analogy is so tenuous it's unconvincing. Certainly that storefront isn't constricting your freedom (it's actually enhancing it by providing access to material). Certainly that store isn't running the WTO. Certainly the people running and working in that store will be gravely hurt by destroying it.

Violent disobedients should naturally expect police action against them. This is the agreed contract in our society. When you make the choice to break the window, you are consciously and as a free citizen making the choice to incite police action against you. This is the right order. Otherwise, in an anarchy, the store owners would just shoot you. The theory is that the PoliceForce is accountable. (Whether it is or not is another question.)

Furthermore, it is a mistake to assume that a ridiculously rich individual cares deeply about a cigar store on Main Street. Indirect violence against peers, or inferiors, doesn't cut as deeply as violence directly against those who you wish to target. It's also a mistake to think that by attacking one bank on Main Street, you are attacking the individuals in the WTO. Corporations aren't a singular HiveMind, and their executives less so. You have to address them individually and directly.

I also think it is a mistake to engage in a destructive relationship as your first strategy. I don't see many constructive attempts to engage these people at a human level. I suspect they can be convinced of the reality of their actions if you could bring that reality to them. -- SunirShah

Yipes! Who came up with the constricting notion that 'violence cannot be done to inanimate objects'?. Framing the argument and using alternate definitions of well known words is hyper-marketing...and guess what...we ain't buying it. -- anon


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