There is a long saga that led from hippies from being anarchists to being institutionalists. From there being a general resentment of authority to a general embrace of it. I have been to many protests for many years and one thing that I noticed was, after Occupy Wall Street, the idea of civil disobedience became ever more taboo. Going to protests and speaking with other activists, there seemed to be an increase of respect for the law and the state which I generally didn’t like. I tend to the more libertarian vibe of the left where I disdain state intervention as much as possible, largely drawing from my pacifistic inclinations and therefore my disinclination toward any form of force or extortion and the state uses the extortion of internment camps (the penal system) to induce obedience and compliance. Given my fairly strict personal morality, using extortion and violence to dominate people is gravely ill if it can be avoided. My admirations laid and lay heavily with Leo Tolstoy, Emma Goldman, Henry Thoreau, and the like.
My guess is there were two factors in the transition of the left into being less averse to authority and more willing to use it. The first has to do with the result of the last widespread use of civil disobedience: Occupy Wall Street. While Occupy Wall Street was a resounding success by all measures and, next to Black Lives Matter, was the most successful protest of the last decade. After it, the Democratic Party shifted permanently to the economic left and never went back and many of its major points became staples of the mainstream left’s platform. Regardless, despite its subtle but significant long-term effects on the mainstream left, it was derided as a failure even before it ended. Along with other difficult-to-explain complaints such as the complaint that the protesters didn’t know what they were protesting or they were only vaguely disdaining the rich, both of which were soundly untrue.
The inaccurate emotional lesson from Occupy Wall Street was that working outside the system is futile. I don’t believe in completely abstaining from the system but I don’t believe in narrowing activism to trying to get it to change itself. At the college where I go to, there have barely been any protests over the massive amounts of student homelessness, hunger and malnutrition, inadequate health services, and so forth. The bureaucracy has no incentive except abstract morality to cause them to help the students since the bureaucracy is paralyzed by an inability to get past their fear of enacting any new program or significant change since there are no consequences for passive failure, only active failure. I don’t have any faith in them to find moral courage in themselves so making them respond to a potential PR disaster with people shouting about the deep flaws in the school is a requisite pressure to induce them to act.
The only protests that have occurred at my school have been brief, relatively small, and focused on zeitgeist identity issues like racially offensive YouTube videos. Why the students are more offended by superficial racism than systemic and completely ignore the worst issues on campus is an issue with the irrational nature of neurotypicals that I cannot account for. Generally, though, there has been a complete civic silence from the general population about issues affecting campus. A part of the reason is the culture of Charleston is naturally submissive owing to a history of feudal aristocracy and slavery but a part of it is the overwhelming reliance of the population on authority out of a belief in authority possessing most civic duty in some pathetic dream of Plato’s “Noble Lie”. Authority has subtly encouraged this since it is ever more afraid of liability, legal and with regards to public relations, and they are ever more afraid of grassroots autonomy.
The second reason is that the left won the cultural issues that had pit them against the mainstream for decades. In a previous article, I said this was a factor in the increase of postmodernism. Cultural relativism is easier to ascribe to when you agree with your own culture rather than not. Similarly, when the values of the mainstream culture aligned with the left then the left no longer saw the moral majority as their opponents and authority came to be the enforcers of their values rather than the opposite. While the bulk of the previous century and the early years of this century had the left’s primary call to loosen restrictions and lessen punitive measures on the individual level, once the left had won most of its cultural battles the message switched to increasing punitive interventions.
The primary question in this regard is not whether we do or don’t support something’s existence. The question is the means by which we achieve it. I have written previous articles about being bullied for being autistic and in my enduring of it, I would never have used authority. Yet, many times when I talk about it the first question I get is why I didn’t call the police on the adolescents who urinated on me and threw rocks at me. First, because there was little evidence, it would devolve into he-said-she-said, and they would counter-tattle using misleading inuendo, hyperbole, and lying. But secondly, because it would, best case scenario, keep them away from me when I wasn’t in real danger and my primary desire was to make-up with them and coexist amicably. And thirdly, I don’t want to induce niceness with fear but with love.
I faced my bullies with satire and civil defiance where I returned their malice with kindness or I trolled them comically. Yet, most other bullying victims want and wanted to implement and expand punitive measures against bullying. I viscerally disliked this because I didn’t like having people be nice to me because they’re afraid of a metaphorical whip. My ideas of a Satyagraha against my bullies were rare but the tactics would be effective if implemented although it would take them longer and it would require more pain. In the end, the victory would be without the nasty precedents about reducing civil liberties, the long-term grudges arising from overpowering people, and without the fear instilled in the boys and girls guilty who I would much rather not have that regardless of what they did to me.
While in the early paragraphs, I included anarchist philosophers. It isn’t about anarchism or whether or not I share the same views I did as an early adolescent marching with the many far-leftists of Occupy Wall Street. I totally still jibe with the idea of a network of communes based on syndicalist ideas but I’m not fighting for it nor do I have any pretensions that it will come about. Certainly the ideas from those philosophers have influenced my beliefs in TND and New Urbanist theories of community design and organization. It is about whether or not we strive to use force as a last resort and to be adult enough to live with each other and face and manage our minor problems with love and the sacrifices of comfort that love requires. To seek scientific solutions to social problems and not just use punitive measures. Psychologically and sociologically, there are many non-punitive measures that can be taken to address most of our problems and when used, the mental health of all parties improves.
I don’t advocate for entering some adolescent antagonism toward authority so much as a shift away from punitive approaches and toward other psychological and sociological means of maintaining society. That and the working outside of the system that the left used to be famous for because the system is plagued with the corporate immune system that is inherent to bureaucracy and unless there is significant pressure from the outside in the other direction then that corporate immune system will prevent progress.