(or: “Armchairs GTFO”)
Columnist Chris Hedges has an article titled The Cancer of Occupy in which he makes some rather interesting claims.
The ostensible premise of the article is that the black bloc and its attendant anarchists are the cancer that is destroying Occupy from the inside. Now, while I would disagree with this point, I could see a case being made for it. But this is not actually Hedge’s point. Instead, he throws together an astounding amount of misinformation.
Like the idea that the black bloc hates the Zapatistas. That primitivist author John Zerzan (who has not been in vogue among anarchists for a decade) is the primary ideologue of the black bloc. That the black bloc is made up of people who oppose all organization. Or that those who are in the black bloc cease to become human beings but instead become beasts.
I don’t know whether Chris Hedges is doing it on purpose or not, but this is basically a hit piece written by Derrick Jensen against John Zerzan and the anarchists who have spurned him. It is a transparent attempt to sway people over to Derrick Jensen’s cult of personality revolutionary movement “Deep Green Resistance.” (which has as one its other public leaders Lierre Keith, someone who makes public statements that are rabidly and blindly transphobic)
The actual premise of the article is that anarchists, who have rejected Derrick Jensen for being authoritarian, are bad. If this article were genuinely about the black bloc and Occupy, there is no reason to talk to Jensen at all. There is probably no shortage of public intellectuals who hate the black bloc who actually have anything at all to do with Occupy with whom he could have spoken. Using Zerzan as the purported ideologue of the black bloc though is where this subtext becomes completely transparent: Zerzan and Jensen are the two most important “anti-civilization” theorists and they are at odds with one another. Zerzan argues for an anarchist, non-authoritarian way of dismantling civilization. Derrick Jensen has open and widely-published aspirations of being the figurehead of a hierarchical anti-civilization group. Green Maoists, as it were.
Also, for some “not-in-my-backyard” fun, why not compare this new “don’t break any windows” rhetoric to Hedges’s article happily endorsing the greek riots? That’s always a laugh.
I want to go ahead and publicly apologize for including Derrick Jensen in my book Mythmakers & Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction. I realize now that Derrick Jensen chose to be included in that because, at the time, the anarchists were the ones buying and promoting his books.
I do not blindly support the black bloc or any other tactic. All tactics (within ethical bounds) have their time and place. But I’m not on the ground at Occupy Oakland and therefore it is not my place to sit around tell people what tactics are and are not strategic in their struggles. I’m not going to tell the Greeks not to burn things and I’m not going to tell the Zapatistas not to carry (or shoot) guns. I’m also not going to tell local farmers not to organize call-in days against natural gas pipeline developers.
25 thoughts on “I am the cancer. I am not a human being, I am the beast.”
Great response. I will be dismantling that load of turds by hedges and dj tomorrow on anarchy radio, as jz is in india and I am filling in. 7 pm pacific. Kwva radio. Find it live online if you can.
For another (similar) view of Hedges article from a post-colonial viewpoint:
@ OccupyLA great piece, thanks!
I am not defending any factual/theoretical misrepresentations that Hedges may have made, but I do agree with him strictly in the sense that I find the actions of the black bloc objectively unhelpful to the movement (one can argue the use of this word “movement” because who knows how cohesive or unified this movement really is). But not to argue in the favor of overwhelming arm chairing – to me the black bloc has been f*cking in the dark. It’s Lifestylism, elitist masculine elitist bullshit, that isolates the very population occupy is attempting to empower. Who really believes that the actions of the Black Bloc are creating an environment of fear for the ruling class? It just is an outlet for white middle class kids to play radical while accomplishing nothing. It also ignores an massive spectrum of direct political action that is neither waving signs nor smashing windows of a starbucks which some guy has to pay for because he bought the franchise. The are many things wrong with the black bloc – not to say it can’t be turned into something progressive, but currently it just feeds into the circulation of violence where it can be portrayed in the media as criminal giving an excuse for the state to use excessive force with public support.
Here’s the thing for me, as an anarchist: how other people choose to resist isn’t really my business. Do I get grumpy when people do things that are really poor strategy? Of course. I even try to talk to them about it and see why it is they think that it’s a good idea and maybe try to talk to them out of it.
But I respect people’s right to resist oppression by whatever means more than I respect the right of Bank of America to save on its heating bills by having its windows intact. And so I won’t do my grumping in public. Unlike some other authors, I have no aspirations of controlling or ruling the counterculture/revolution.
Which I guess I don’t mean to say that the tactic (or any tactic) is uncritiquable. But what I despise is that people in the process of critiquing a tactic often end up actually just talking shit on people themselves and their choice to resist.
Also, again… the black bloc is not above critique. But to say that it is white, middle-class, male, cis-gendered, etc. is factually incorrect and also quite rude to the many, many black bloc anarchists I know who are very few (or none) of those above characteristics.
The black bloc as a tactic of anonymity is actually a way for people with privilege (white, cis, male, middle-class) to join in solidarity with those without. Because a young black male in a black bloc isn’t the cop magnet he is were he unmasked. Smaller people and women aren’t the targets for police violence they otherwise might be (this is based on my observation over the years of whom police choose to attack in demonstrations… primarily female-bodied and/or small people). Etc.
Again… I’m not saying the bloc is the most useful tactic in all situations. So when I don’t think it’s useful, I don’t do it. And I greatly prefer when bloc participants choose to center themselves away from folks who aren’t prepared to deal with police.
But my enemy is the State. My enemy is capitalism. My enemy is the institution of policing. I don’t want to lose sight of that. Black bloc anarchists aren’t my enemy. Neither are you. But professional journalists using their platform to promote infighting as Hedges has done here are doing the work of my enemies.
And above all, my point is that this article isn’t about the black bloc. If someone wants to make a reasoned critique of the bloc, that’s fine. This article just isn’t it.
It really gets my vegan goat when folks make claims that the Black Bloc is macho or masculine, especially considering that the majority of people I know going to jail or who have been arrested are womyn. My friend Kelly Pflug-Back is one example, and Mandy Hisocks was also just sentenced to 16months. Anyone who takes time to review footage of the Black Bloc at the Vancouver 2010 for example will also notice a huge amount of clearly female bodied people amongst the Bloc.
As well with the specious claims of the Black Bloc being a white group of privileged middle class people, this simply isn’t true. Many of the biggest open supporters I know of of the Black Bloc have been members of no one Is Illegal such as Harsha Wallia, Harjap Grewal, Jagi Singh, and indigenous radicals like Gord Hill.
This reminds me of a talk I attended by Sandra Jeppesen, where she set out a series of axioms such as “Axiom X. Anarchism is not a white movement.” and went on to point out that when we frame anarchism or the black bloc or so on as ‘a white movement’ or a ‘heterosexual movement’ that we in turn invisiblize the presence and work being done by racialized people or queers, or so on. During her talk in Victoria she also specifically stated her distaste for the book Black Bloc White Riot as being a perfect example on revising racialized people out of the reality of the work they do.
“Derrick Jensen has open and widely-published aspirations of being the figurehead of a hierarchical anti-civilization group. Green Maoists, as it were.”
Can you please point me to these “widely-published aspirations”? Thanks.
Feral Kimchi: I would direct you to the book “Deep Green Resistance” which expounds upon the need for a hierarchical anti-civilization movement and bears Derrick Jensen’s mugshot right there as well as his repeated attacks on the internet against anti-authoritarian environmentalism. There are also a number of pieces written by anarchists who were ousted from DGR for critiquing the cult of personality that was developing around Jensen and Keith.
Derrick Jensen surrounds himself with syncophants, a sign of an authoritarian ruler. Go to his forum, if you can get on, you will see that NO criticism of Jensen is permitted nor of his ideas. Jensen on the forum reminds me of Jim Jones [Jonestown – kool-ade] with his paranoia and his absolute rule.
Hooray you did it! Despite all the hoopla I had so-far avoided reading the Chris Hedges article. But you made it sound so totally bizarre I had to check it out, and although cliché-ridden it did not disappoint.
Here is my response to Hedges:
Black Bloc Is Not The Cancer in Occupy, Miscommunication Is!
Since the WTO i felt DOT (diversity of tactics) was double speak for “hit and running” leaving others to bear the brunt of poorly thought out and unprincipled property destruction. I saw many seasoned activists dance around the term in an effort to be inclusive. As is the case with drug addicts in occupy, the presence of DOT was not clarified in clear terms from the beginning, just as a clear “no drug use in camp” policy was not established at Decolonize Occupy Seattle’s 2 encampments. When clarity fails, once trouble rises, then real problems develop that become almost impossible to address.
I agree with some of what Chris Hedges is saying, but it also displays his relative newness to activism which i have seen in other articles lacking in depth of experienced history. His glaring lack of knowledge and the roots of current activism is something he will be embarassed by someday.
Many of those in the black bloc are young and some are quite expertly manipulated. One of the most disturbing problems i have had with some DOT people is the dogmatism that refuses to dialog with others. One must pass thru some kind of convoluted system of approval in order to even talk to the holier than thous who are the in crowd of self described “authentic revolutionaries “. In public they wear masks and behave like paramilitaries. In the camp they did not talk to anyone even when spreading their dogmatic literature in camp. On their website, which i subscribed to after my experience watching them take over a march for murdered Indigenous wood carver John T Williams almost a year ago, i posted what i saw happen. I was called a “significant pathological pacifist agitator” which displays the influence of War Churchill, a person i have had issue with since the first draft i read of his book “Pacifism as Pathology”. I dare say it is his smallest, most poorly researched book, yet the impact on those anarchists involved in the WTO was significant. I saw how Zerzan and Churchill shaped a nastiness among young anarchists, some of whom i had been working with for many years, that continues to this day. The mean spiritedness displayed towards those they consider “pacifist whimps” is superficially arrived at divide and conquer denouncement. It slams the door on meaningful communication.
Then you have anarchists who participate in the black bloc who have contributed in major ways to the humanity of how the Decolonize Occupy camp was maintained. To describe the black bloc as cancer is extreme. I would say the phenomenon is more like bronchitis that with the right care can be possibly cured. It is a huge problem, but i suppose if we are taking on this system that kills more people on the planet right now than any other force, we must find humane ways of addressing the conflict that now is deep and embedded. The domineering, unapproachable style reeks of another jack boot pushing for it’s chance to stomp.
No matter what the self described “authentic revolutionaries” say, many people have been driven away from occupy due to the hostile mistreatment of others whose ways may differ. I have heard the stories. Writing people off who do not fit into dogma displays dangerous, cultivated cultishness. That will relegate the black bloc to the same irrelevance that has saddled the RCP and other cultist “revolutionary” groups who to this day, annoy the crap out of most activists. No matter how many time people say “black bloc is a tactic, not a group” does not change the fact that those involved work together and have established an identifiable way of moving in the strata of resistance.
Sadly all too many DOT actions serve the purpose of infiltrators. So why is there no in depth analysis or openness to critique about the true long term impacts of property destruction? Why are any and all unhappy reactions from residents of Oakland who are very upset by the black bloc not heeded, but rather silenced? I am talking about several women of color who have expressed their deep dismay at these behaviors instigated by primarily white male anarchists that leave their community in shambles and push them completely away from occupy. Many men and women of color living in Oakland have told me themselves how upset they are by these developments and that the young people of color who join the black bloc do NOT represent the community or all participants of color in Occupy Oakland. One Black father told me he is sick of cleaning up the mess the black bloc leaves behind and he is part of OO as well. There is a whole level of voices that are NOT heard on Democracy Now! or anywhere else for that matter.
Another aspect of DOT that has always bothered me is hiding not only who you are, but the whole truth of what happens. In Seattle, there is an effort to silence those who see people throwing rocks, bricks, rebar or paint bombs. Veiled threats have been made if occupiers dare take photos of such actions and too many people are being called snitches behind their backs. If integrity matters at all, it is crucial to confront people rather than spread possible misinformation. Someone could be killed because of stupidity. Not worth it. Believe me, i have had my share of death threats, tho i never called cops because of that. But when i see how the “revolutionaries” behave, i know they aren’t gonna be watching my back.
The worst nastiness i have seen are online discussion groups. People who claim to be nonviolent are as vicious as those who ardently defend property destruction or fighting the cops. It is very ugly.
Then there are those who are somewhat taken in by the romanticism of the black bloc who also ostracize those perceived as being nonviolent whimps. The whole structure of how so many people are behaving reminds me of popular, good looking high school bullies who deem who is expendable and all their buddies and gals go along with the program.
In my experience, most anarchists, including those into DOT, have great respect for the Zapatistas. There are many facets to all groupings of people. It is not possible to completely peg anyone, but sadly, there is a blanket image of the black bloc that fits into much of what Chris Hedges is saying. This really needs to be examined by all who care about Decolonizing Occupy.
My biggest concern is how some activists can self elevate themselves to escape critique which is very danterous on numerous levels. It skirts around honesty, accountability and participatory solutions. No one person carries all the info. No one person can grab THE handle of what will and won’t work. We all deserve to have input and be included, but respect is essential that is all too often missing in the way those who engage in DOT behave and treat others. Disrespect has become a hallmark of DOT as well as secrecy. It is ultimately self defeating.
I am a Frontline Grandmother who has been on the streets and deeply involved in struggles for human rights, justice and authentic peace for over 30 years. My life as a silenced activist has given me a longterm outlook on what is happening now. I continue to be silenced. My long years of deep experience has no value to most cause i lack fame and the privilege to publish my extensive writings and documentation. I must say, it really bugs me how relatively new activist like Chris Hedges have such wide voice, but women like me do not and most likely never will.
The situation with the black bloc is indeed very serious. How we deal with it will decide the course of our current international struggle. We are all so deeply interconnected now. We cannot afford to throw all those involved with the misguided DOT away as cancerous. Rather, we must proceed with deep love, care and intelligence in shaping something that more precisely represents the goals and dreams we all can share in. This is not just the vision of people engaging in more domineering bully behaviors, but the joint efforts of each one of us. Please reconsider what you deem cancerous Chris Hedges, for it may rise out of this current turmoil as key to solution for us all. It is our challenge and our sacred duty to face this with all we know with all our hearts and all the voices still excluded.
Magpie, This is the most sensible and useful response I’ve read to this shitstorm so far. Nice take on it.
you spelled Zapatistas wrong.
excellent post. Hedges was Jensen’s tool in this article. I wonder if he even realizes it. Is seems hard to imagine that he doesn’t which makes it seem very strange to me. Maybe he is a secret convert to the cult..
Seems like many here are still in the Cult of Progress (technology, science, will save us). The bottom line is that all this in-fighting and intellectualism is getting us no where, and fast. We are more and more divided every day, just like the inept Congress with both parties working against each other, and ultimately taxpayers. Jensen and Hedges, like Cornel West, question the status quo. This Cult of Progress is killing our planet: oceans choked with plastics, pesticides, and poisons; mountains being removed for coal; skies polluted and asthma on the rise … Two-hundred species die nearly every day, yet we are mostly numb to this. As a humanist and an environmentalist, I know we could learn from indigenous people, their balance and respect for nature, its resources. A culture that exploits its weak and poor, and its environment, with little to no regard for long term consequences, as long as profits are made, is a sick, demented culture. You can spin it with words and edited images, but it doesn’t erase the truth. Ask the people of Camden, NJ, and West Virginia, New Orleans, and others how this progress is working for them. Yes, in a patriarchal society, women will be sidelined, outcast, or must embody the qualities of the system to succeed: following, or asking others to follow, unquestioningly and managing through top-down tactics, not encouraging and inspiring creativity, innovation, or compromise. What people can achieve, when working together, not out of fear or anxiety, is amazing. The powers that be will use fear to keep us divided, encourage in-fighting, and distract us from the real issues. They fear our numbers. Keep thinking, reading, and discussing. Are there only two ways to run a country, a government, a world?
Black bloc tactics were predictably misrepresented in the media. They always have been, and while there is a corporate media, always will be. Everybody here knows this. That’s not to say they’re wrong, although I don’t think many are saying that either. I do think Black Bloc should organize more direct action away from protests, in different parts of cities or even on different dates. It might be more effective. The anonymous nature of the Bloc coupled with all the agent-provocateurs makes this virtually impossible.
What I’d personally like to see would be entire protests in Black Bloc gear. But the leftist reformists would never show such solidarity for people who are willing to do more than hold up some cliche sign.