Tag Archives | The Thin Blue Line

What’s So Bad About Flag Burning?

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

President-elect Donald Trump’s recent call for a year’s prison term or loss of citizenship for those who burn the American flag – incidentally a reversal of Trump’s previous support for flag-burners on the Letterman show two years ago – leaves me with some questions. Four questions, specifically: two for Trump’s conservative supporters, and two for his liberal critics.

My first question for pro-Trump conservatives is this: In the past I seem to recall hearing quite a few of you (though admittedly not Trump himself) speaking pretty loudly in favor of free expression when the issue was laws in Muslim countries criminalizing speech or writings that “disrespect” Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. How exactly do the arguments you gave then, not apply to Trump’s proposal now?

Second, I also recall that you conservatives used to talk a lot about government’s duty to protect people’s private property rights (although admittedly eminent domain poster boy Donald Trump was never really in your camp on that issue either). Well, if I buy an American flag with my own honestly earned money, or make one with my own cloth and thread, it seems like it’s then my property, the product of my labor; and I don’t see why I shouldn’t have the right to burn my own property, if I do it without endangering anyone else. If the government claims that it, rather than myself, is the one who gets to decide what I do with my flag – that it is, in effect, the real owner of the flag I bought or made – doesn’t that sound more like communism than like a free market?

Next, I have a couple of questions for the liberals who’ve been criticizing Trump’s proposal for its excessive harshness toward flag burners. First: It’s great that you’re calling Trump out on his contempt for freedom of expression; but how many of you were offering similar howls of outrage just over a decade ago when Hillary Clinton was supporting the Flag Protection Act of 2005, which likewise called for one-year prison terms for flag burners?

Finally, a question especially for those liberal critics who say that they support the right to burn the flag but disagree with the flag burner’s message. What exactly is supposed to be wrong with the flag burner’s message?

Even if the flag were legitimately a symbol of freedom, a ban on flag burning would be an odd way to honor the flag – sacrificing the reality of freedom to the mere symbol. But is freedom what the flag really stands for?

It’s now becoming more widely accepted that the Confederate flag, however much its supporters may revere it as an icon of freedom, is inextricably associated with the cause of slavery and white supremacy. But how is the American flag – the symbol of the Federal government – any more defensible?

The Confederate flag flew over slavery for five years. The American flag flew over slavery for nearly a century, and then flew over Jim Crow and similar slavery-like restrictions for another century after that. (And the Federal government didn’t move against Jim Crow until the grassroots civil-rights movement had grown strong enough to be worth co-opting rather than ignoring.) And even today, the American flag flies over a country where blacks are disproportionately likely to be killed or imprisoned by agents of the state.

The same flag flew over the slaughtering of American Indians, the kidnapping of their children, and the theft of their land; and that theft still continues today, as for example in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline. That flag also flies right now over a land where the state records our phone calls, tells us how we can and cannot medicate ourselves, and maintains a regime of privilege that props up the crony corporate elite at the expense of everyone else.

To be sure, American citizens enjoy a higher degree of freedom than do citizens in many other countries, and it is this fact that leads so many to view the American flag as a symbol of freedom. But such liberty as Americans enjoy was hard-won, in the main, by grassroots efforts that eventually prevailed against government resistance. Honoring the flag, the symbol of the Federal government, doesn’t celebrate our freedoms; it celebrates the central authority from whom those freedoms were heroically wrested.

Around the world, too, troops bearing the Americsn flag have too often propped up dictators and bombed civilian populations, from Asia to Central America to the Middle East. American bombs have killed dozens of civilians in the past several months just in Yemen alone. Is it any wonder that millions of people around the world view the American flag with fear, seeing it not as a symbol of freedom but rather as a harbinger of terror and death? In the face of that reality, defensive insistence that the flag “really” means something else rings as hollow as the neo-Confederate’s claim of “Heritage, Not Hate.”

We’ve begun, as a nation, to relinquish our blinkered reverence for the Confederate flag. It’s high time that reverence for the American flag followed it into equally well deserved oblivion.


They Love Us When We’re Dead

[cross-posted at C4SS]

I made this comment on Facebook a few weeks back, but I thought it was worth repeating here:

One thing that (many) social anarchists and (many) ancaps have in common is that they recognise anticapitalist individualist market anarchists as valuable comrades (albeit erring ones) as long as they’re dead 19th-century figures like Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, and Voltairine de Cleyre, and even include them in their favourite anthologies, but as soon as they encounter actual living 21st-century examples of anticapitalist individualist market anarchists, they cringe in horror and shriek either “capitalist!” or “commie!” depending on the direction of deviation.


If You Love Freedom, Thank an Anarchist

[cross-posted at BHL]

It’s often said – particularly on holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day – that Americans owe their freedom (such as it is) to u.s. military veterans.

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This claim has always puzzled me. In what war in living memory was the freedom of Americans at stake? Without u.s. military action, were Japanese or German troops – let alone Italian, Vietnamese, Korean, Panamanian, Afghani, or Iraqi ones – really going to be marching though Times Square? If anything, given the notorious ratchet effect whereby wars tend to produce permanent increases in government power, it seems more probable that u.s. military action has contributed to a diminution of our freedom.

Yet Americans do enjoy a greater degree of liberty, however inadequate, than citizens of many other countries around the world. To whom do we owe that fact?

Many people wear shirts that say, “If you love freedom, thank a veteran.” I wear a shirt that says “If you love freedom, thank an anarchist.”

So what have anarchists (and other fractious dissidents) done for the cause of freedom? In answer, I quote from two recent articles:

Anarchists have never taken power. We have resisted authoritarianism and oppression in every arena. From calling out Marxism long before its draconian aspirations became public record, to fighting and dying to resist Fascism, fighting Franco until he couldn’t afford to join Hitler and Mussolini and leading the resistance against the Nazis across Europe. We’ve fought the robber barons, the czars, the oligarchs, and the soviet bureaucrats.

And we’ve been extraordinarily popular in different regions at different points in history, although we have not yet had sufficient critical mass to completely transform the world. In every instance where anarchism surged to localized popularity with a few million adherents, as in Spain but also Ukraine and Manchuria, every surrounding power immediately put their wars on hold to collaborate in snuffing out the examples we provided of a better world, of better ways of interacting and settling disputes with one another, that do not turn to control but build a tolerable consensus for all parties when agreement is needed.

We’ve been at the forefront not just of technology like cryptocurrencies and the tor project, but we’ve also been at the forefront of struggles against patriarchy, racism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, etc., etc. Since long before there were popular coalitions like “feminism.” We smuggled guns to slaves and ran abolitionist journals. We’ve coursed through the veins of our existing society, pioneering myriad social technologies like credit unions and cooperatives. We’ve consistently served as the radical edge of the world’s conscience, and played a critical role in expanding what is possible while developing and field testing new insights and tools.

Anarchism – as many commentators have noted – has served as the laboratory of the left, of social justice and resistance movements around the world. Even where we remain marginal, the tools we invent eventually become mainstream.

— William Gillis, “Transhumanism Implies Anarchism

 

 

[The] claim that our rights are something “given to” us, handed down from above by the government and its soldiers, is a pernicious, authoritarian, damned lie.

Who has given us our rights? Nobody. We have taken them. Every right we have, we have because we fought for it from below. We have these rights because we resisted violations of them, because we fought those who violated them &#150 sometimes fighting “the Soldier” – and compelled the state to recognize them. And the state recognizes them because it’s afraid that if it violates them we’ll damn well fight it – and its soldiers – again.

Rights have never been granted by authority. They have always been asserted against authority, and won from it. We don’t have our rights because the government and its soldiers are nice – but because we’re not. It’s not the Soldier – it’s the dissidents, the hell-raisers, the dirty flag-burning hippies, the folks with bad attitudes towards authority in general, who have given us our rights throughout history, by fighting for them.

— Kevin A. Carson, “No, It’s Not ‘The Soldier’

 

 


Call for Abstracts on Police and Anarchism

[cross-posted at C4SS, BHL, and Public Reason]

Call for Abstracts

for the Molinari Society’s next Eastern Symposium, to be held in conjunction with the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division meeting, January 6-9, 2016, in Washington DC. (Note that this meeting is the week after New Year’s, rather than, as in past years, just before New Year’s. This later time is expected to be the new normal for the Eastern APA henceforth.)

Symposium Topic:
Police Abuse: Solutions Beyond the State

Submission Deadline:
18 May 2015

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Abuses of power by police officers, especially abuses motivated by racial bias, are at last beginning to receive increased public scrutiny. Anarchists have long regarded police misconduct as a deep-rooted and systemic problem, one requiring radical rather than reformist solutions, but have not always agreed about what a radical solution should look like. Some anarchists have advocated a system of private security firms held in check by market competition; others have looked to volunteer and mutual-aid watch groups responsible to the communities they patrol; still others have rejected both models as insufficiently different from the government police system they’re supposed to replace.

Would/should there be police, or something like police, in an anarchist society? If so, how might they be restrained from abuses? If not, what institutions or practices might secure protection from invasive behaviour instead?

Abstracts should be submitted for the 2016 Eastern Symposium by 18 May, 2015. Submissions from any point of view (anarchist or otherwise) are welcome. Please submit an abstract only if you expect to be able to present the paper in person at the Symposium. (Final papers should be of appropriate scope and length to be presented within 15-30 minutes.) Submitting authors will be notified of the acceptance or rejection of their papers by 31 May, 2015.

Submit abstracts as e-mail attachments, in Word .doc or .docx format, PDF, or ODT, to longrob@auburn.edu.

For any questions or information, contact Roderick T. Long at the above email address.


(In other news, the Molinari Symposium originally scheduled for this year’s Pacific APA in Vancouver has been postponed to next year in San Francisco; details to follow in due course.)


Secret Service Incident Highlights Double Standard

[cross-posted at C4SS]

Imagine the following scenario: You’re driving along one fine evening, pretty thoroughly drunk, and ram your car through police tape and into a barricade. Suppose further that the barricade you’ve smashed into is in front of the White House. For good measure, let’s add that the police tape you broke was marking off an active crime scene — an ongoing bomb investigation, which you’ve now dangerously disrupted.

The cops quickly approach your car. What are your chances of avoiding arrest, or worse?

Oh wait, I forgot to mention that you’re a Secret Service agent. So it turns out you don’t get shot, or tased, or roughed up, or slapped in jail, or even detained. You just go home.

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Precisely this scenario unfolded on March 4, with two seemingly intoxicated Secret Service agents crashing into a barricade at the east entrance to the White House grounds, nearly running over a suspicious object that agents on the scene were in the course of investigating as a possible bomb.

Officers on duty wanted to arrest the two or give them sobriety tests, but were instructed by a supervisor to let them go. They’ve been placed in “non-supervisory, non-operational” (but presumably paid) positions pending further investigation. What are the odds that this would have happened to you or me?

Predictably, the incident has led to renewed calls for major reforms of the Secret Service. But the double standard — leniency for the elite in-group, severity for the rest of us — is inherent in the system and cannot be corrected by mere reforms.

Implicit in the idea of a governmental police force, from the Secret Service down to your local beat cop, is inequality of rights. Police by definition are supposed to have rights that other people don’t have: Rights to stop, search, or incarcerate peaceful people, and to use deadly force against those who resist.

But as long as this double standard is inherent in the police system as such, all attempts to reform the system are destined to fail, whether in Staten Island, in Ferguson, or in the Secret Service. So long as power corrupts, and attracts the corruptible, any system characterized by inequality of rights renders abuse inevitable. Reforms that target only the symptoms (abuses) and not their root cause (unequal rights) will achieve, at best, only limited success.

The right to use force in defense of oneself or others is a basic and universal human right. But the rights that police claim for themselves go beyond this. Tossing someone in jail for smoking a joint, or shooting them when they resist being thus kidnapped, cannot plausibly be construed as defense.

ABOLISH THE POLICE

And anything a cop is allowed to do that an ordinary citizen is not — carry a gun, perform arrests, and so on — violates the basic equality of rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) and the Constitution (“equal protection of the laws”).

If we do not wish to perpetuate a two-tiered system of justice, any purported right must either be extended to all or denied to all.

There’s nothing wrong with a group of people choosing careers specializing in rights-protection. But it makes no more sense to give such people special rights, rights denied the rest of us, than it does to give professional bakers the right to prevent you from baking bread in your kitchen. A free society cannot recognize special rights enjoyed by some and denied to others.

So long as we permit the double standard inherent in a system of government police, abuses will continue, and reforms will founder.


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