Last week acting Prime Minster Errol McLeod warned Winston Duke, the PSA and wider society that “violating the Industrial Court’s injunction is violating the rule of law and could lead to anarchy.” COP leader Prakash Ramadhar did not use the word anarchy but agreed the strike was an attack on law and order.
“Anarchy” is one of those apparently straightforward words. Most persons understand it as a descent into chaos and disaster. And politicians deploy it because it sparks a dark image of the rule of law giving way to a primordial battle of all against all. Not to mention it’s a popular word many citizens use to lament everyday life.
One of the ironies of this descent into anarchy meme is it never applies to all citizens equally. For example when elites ignore the rule of law, say in corruption or fraud cases, politicians never evoke the moral panic of a society-wide descent into lawlessness.
To cut a long story short, to the acting PM and probably most other incumbent political figures in any government, anywhere in the world, the anarchic are people who threaten the status quo as defined by the powerful and elite.
Now many persons do not agree with Winston Duke and his tactics. It is impossible to deny the backlog and frustrations many citizens have endured. While the failure of the state to provide travel documents to its citizens is clearly a serious breakdown in the social contract.
Yet let us not fool ourselves. As Walter Rodney pointed out in 1972, “the state arose as an instrument to be used by a particular class to control the rest of society in its own interests.” As much as most citizens think it is there to look after their own needs as citizens, the state’s central function is to protect wealth and private property. So if and when the not-so-rich fight and denigrate amongst themselves, as they often do over worker rights, and as they are doing now, the state and its status quo is safest.
This is where the definition of anarchism gets interesting. In the political sociology literature anarchism has a different definition from that generally understood or suggested by the acting PM.
Anarchism most accurately means “without rulers”. It as an umbrella term for a variety of different political ideologies concerned with organising life from a bottom-up perspective, distinct from the top-down system of bourgeoisie democracy and the post-colonial state bureaucracy we currently endure.
What does this mean? How does a society without rulers even work? Actually, the foundations of anarchism aren’t that unfamiliar to what many people intuitively feel are solutions to many social problems. Anarchist ideas and principles include mutual aid, voluntary association, decentralisation, direct democracy, egalitarian decision-making, participatory management, and dismantling the machinery of state rule.
Anarchism is a faith and practice in fundamental human values. Yet such simple ideas are dangerous to the status quo and this is why the real meaning of anarchism is replaced with fear and stigma in popular culture, politics and academia.
The anthropologist David Graeber offers a useful description of anarchy: “On one level it is a kind of faith: a belief that most forms of irresponsibility that seem to make power necessary are in fact the effects of power itself. In practice though it is a constant questioning, an effort to identify every compulsory or hierarchical relation in human life, and challenge them to justify themselves, and if they cannot – which usually turns out to be the case – an effort to limit their power and thus widen the scope of human liberty.”
Which brings us back to the acting PM’s statement. Yes, we all want public service workers to be there for our needs. And yes we all understand for this to happen they must be treated fairly and have a healthy working environment. So why is jail being threatened for persons asking such things? And why is it suggested the whole of society will descent into lawlessness for such demands to be resolved?
In this sense right and left politics become the repressive vs. the anarchic. The former is our post-colonial road that favours wealth and private property, the latter is an alternative way to think about solving problems and politics in the interests of all, especially those with little wealth and private property.
The irony is the acting PM, a once revered trade unionist, now describes solving workers’ rights as a nightmare descent into lawlessness, in need of repression. When anarchy more accurately, as the acting PM probably knows himself, would be an on-going conversation about rebuilding the entire system and providing workers with input into their working conditions.
Britain faces unprecedented challenges: a financial system still too big to fail or jail; austerity causing unnecessary hardship to those already at the bottom of a massively unequal society; climate change flooding people’s homes; and a democratic system that seems pretty irrelevant to any of these problems. To begin to tackle these challenges the country needs not just a change of government but a transformative change in direction.
That demands a Labour or Labour-led administration. But if Labour plays the next election safe, hoping to win on the basis of Tory unpopularity, it will not have earned a mandate for such change. It must take into the election a vision of a much more equal and sustainable society and the support of a wider movement if these formidable challenges are to be met.
As members of the progressive community that recognise the need for Labour to play a leading role after 2015 we would urge the party to adopt an approach to its manifesto that is based on the following principles:
Accountability of all powerful institutions, whether the state or market, to all stakeholders.
Devolution of state institutions, by giving away power and resources to our nations, regions, cities, localities and, where possible, directly to the people.
Prevention of the causes of our social, environmental, physical and mental health problems, which requires a holistic and long-term approach to governance.
Co-production of public services by workers, users and citizens, to make them more responsive and efficient.
Empowerment of everybody, so they are equipped with the resources (time, money, support) to enable them to play a full role as active citizens.
National government has a continuing strategic role to play but the days of politicians doing things “to people” are over. The era of building the capacity and platforms for people to “do things for themselves, together” is now upon us.
Working in this way, with others, Labour can help act to fundamentally disrupt power relations and reframe the debate to make a good society both feasible and desirable. It is time people had the power.
Neal Lawson Compass, Rob Philpot Progress, Patrick Diamond Policy Network, Anna Coote Nef, Andrew Harrop Fabian Society, David ClarkShifting Grounds, Mark Ferguson Labour List, Tim Roache Class, Maurice Glassman, Ruth Lister Compass, Robin Murray LSE, Anthony Barnett Opendemocracy, David Marquand Mansfield College, Oxford, Charles Secrett ACT! Alliance, Marcus Roberts Fabian Society, Cat Hobbs Director, We Own It, David Robinson Changing London, Colin Hines Convenor, Green New Deal Group, Professor Victor AndersonGlobal Sustainability Institute
The meaning of the word “culture” seems obvious. In anthropology culture is process. It is the roots and routes of our lives. In practical terms culture is the cumulative instructions humans pass down, learn and apply to survive the various environments they encounter in their daily lives.
These physical, social and economic environments are in flux. To successfully endure them requires an adaptable and shared instruction booklet. This is as true today as it was for the first peoples who crossed from South America to T&T 7-12,000 years ago. In ideological terms culture is the goggles through which we view the world. The logic and myths that give our worldviews cohesiveness and structure through cultural institutions like religion and common sense.
Culture, then, is a phenomenon that functions on multiple levels. It can be read like a textual manual. It is nomadic, like the places our wandering minds must travel to and from each day. And it is fluid, like the multiple identities we switch between, depending on the behavioural roles we need to perform.
This varied anthropological description is different from the mainstream definition used in popular culture and by many politicians and business people. For those who put culture to work, culture is a bounded entity, with a checklist of features, a phenomenon enduring and timeless. It is authentic, stable, and ready to be consumed.
This old idea of culture as fixed and enduring, is a colonial idea. It is logic of hierarchal thinking. And with hindsight it is easy to see how such an idea was used to classify and subjugate different peoples into a racist taxonomy. Nonetheless, this idea of culture is still an attractive description for many. The most obvious example of this is when people talk about culture as tradition in need of protection.
Yes, we all need a foundation in our cultural history and it is a reasonable assumption that these traditions should be recorded and documented. Yet to think that traditions remain the same goes against a mountain of anthropological evidence. For example, our religions, our languages, our customs—none are the same as they were in their original place of creation and departure.
Obviously the point is not to dismiss the cultural lessons from the past and who we once were. There is much solidarity and community to be gained from sharing in the lives and ways that have gone before us. Not to mention the lessons needed to live successfully in the world come from those generations before our own. Yet, to hold on to the past, as the way to live in the future is not only difficult in a world of changing environments, it isn’t sensible.
A clear example of this problem can be made when we look at the shortfalls of our political culture. We may have inherited a new set of tools and knowledge in the transition from colony to nation; however, we also inherited old political institutions, class relations and political traditions that have not changed greatly in 50 years.
As every government has come and gone the masses are left disappointed with the many problems we have always had. A set of rules for some and another set of rules for the rest; accusations and investigations of corruption and nepotism too numerous to recount; a blame game that never ends. And a political class that looks everywhere but at itself and its culture for the root causes of our broken system.
When in power a government blames the policies of the previous administration. When in opposition they blame the current government. Neither is ever willing to accept that the political culture itself is to blame. This political tradition could go on forever if we let it. The problem then isn’t the PNM or the PP or any other local political acronym. The problem is our culture of politics itself and its resistance to change.
According to Marx, social revolution depends on the resolution of contradictions between the fundamental class groups. While we are waiting to see if he is right there are simple steps that could be taken to get us out of our political paralysis. It would be nice to think the PM’s firing of Volney is a step toward this new political culture. Yet the distinct feeling expressed by Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci remains. Our “crisis lies in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.”
Unlike Winston, she had grasped the inner meaning of the Party’s sexual puritanism. It was not merely that the sex instinct created a world of its own which was outside the Party’s control and which therefore had to be destroyed if possible. What was more important was that sexual privation induced hysteria, which was desirable because it could be transformed into war-fever and leader-worship. The way she put it was: “When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?
That was very true, he thought. There was a direct intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy. For how could the fear, the hatred, and the lunatic credulity which the Party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch, except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force? The sex impulse was dangerous to the Party, and the Party had turned it to account. They had played a similar trick with the instinct of parenthood. The family could not actually be abolished, and, indeed, people were encouraged to be fond of their children, in almost the old-fashioned way. The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. The family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately.
When you consider the latest Snowden revelations about Yahoo and NSA/GCHQ recording people’s sexy webcam moments its crazy how spot on Orwell was
1. Misuse the concept of a Top Secret government document (say, the date of D-Day) and extend classification to trillions of mundane documents a year.
2. Classify all government crimes and violations of the Constitution as secret
3. Create a class of 4.5 million privileged individuals, many of them corporate employees, with access to classified documents but allege it is illegal for public to see leaked classified documents
4. Spy on the public in violation of the Constitution
5. Classify environmental activists as terrorists while allowing Big Coal and Big Oil to pollute and destroy the planet
6. Share info gained from NSA spying on public with DEA, FBI, local law enforcement to protect pharmaceuticals & liquor industry from competition from pot, or to protect polluters from activists
7. Falsify to judges and defense attorneys how allegedly incriminating info was discovered
8. Lie and deny to Congress you are spying on the public.
9. Criminalize the revelation of government crimes and spying as Espionage
10. Further criminalize whistleblowing as “Terrorism”, have compradors arrest innocent people, detain them, and confiscate personal effects with no cause or warrant (i.e. David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald)
Presto, what looks like a democracy is really an authoritarian state ruling on its own behalf and that of 2000 corporations, databasing the activities of 312 million innocent citizens and actively helping destroy the planet while forestalling climate activism
Revelations about the breathtaking scope of government spying are coming so fast that it’s time for an updated roundup:
While the government initially claimed that mass surveillance on Americans prevented more than 50 terror attacks, the NSA’s deputy director John Inglis walked that position back all the way to saying that – at the most – one (1) plot might have been disrupted by the bulk phone records collection alone. In other words, the NSA can’t prove that stopped any terror attacks. The government greatly exaggerated an alleged recent terror plot for political purposes (and promoted the fearmongering of serial liars). The argument that recent terror warnings show that NSA spying is necessary is so weak that American counter-terrorism experts have slammed it as “crazy pants”
Degradation rituals are a suggested socio-cultural universal found in tribal to modern societies. In the 1950s and 60s North American sociologists Erving Goffman and Harold Garfinkel illustrated what they called degradation rituals and ceremonies in modern institutions like prisons, mental hospitals, and courts.
They described these ceremonies and rituals as public acts, designed to transform the public identities of people to bring them down a peg or two, shame them and ultimately—if the denunciation were successful enough—to expel them from their status position in the group.
To be most effective, the accusers in a degradation ceremony need to demonstrate, among other things, that the accused has done damage to the community and that the accuser has the righteous weight of the community behind them. As Garfinkel described it: a degradation ritual is a communicative production, “whereby the public identity of an actor is transformed into something looked on as lower in the local scheme of social types.”
In anthropology, a ritual is understood as central to the creation and maintenance of social integration. By publicly identifying a person as negative—not just in their behaviour but also in the motivations behind that behaviour—degradation rituals provoke moral indignation that can enhance wider social cohesion and group solidarity.
In a similar way to rites of passage designed to mark positive personal changes—like a graduation, or two individuals becoming a married couple—degradation rituals can bestow negativity onto a person’s identity that brings people together too. For example, in prisons a strip search is a degradation ritual because it is designed to humiliate the prisoner and socially integrate the prison guards as superior.
And in a court of law a criminal prosecution is designed to not simply punish criminal activity but also to publicly shame the criminal and restore social order.
Another field where degradation rituals are common is politics. In fact there are days when one might assume politics has nothing to do with negotiation and service to the public but rather is all about who can discredit and degrade their opponent best. In politics one available degradation ritual is a motion of no confidence.
It is an opportunity to redefine the moral character of the accused. It is a chance to do this where all can see. And to publicly chastise a government and its members for not acting in the best interest of the social good or maintaining appropriate professional conduct. Now one of the things about degradation rituals is they are not always successful. Alongside the performance of accusation and denunciation, the ritual often provides a space for the accused to face up to their denouncers.
So when Dr Rowley went after the Government with “e-mailgate,” his job was only half done. Yes, he made his denunciation in the name of the public, which, in a ritual of public accountability, is what drives the power of the degradation ceremony. And yes, this sense of righteousness and proper conduct in office also worked to create social cohesion and solidarity among many members of the public.
We might even dare to say that on the Monday his accusation seemed to transform the character of the Government. Because for an afternoon, the Government wasn’t just accused of unacceptable behaviour; in the public court of moral opinion it seemed to stick as moral indignation swept social media and everyday conversations. It was almost as though many people all at once were nodding, “I told you so.”
Yet the accusation and speaking in the public’s name is only a part of the ritual performance. For the moral indignation to stick and for the public identity of the people accused to be transformed and discredited, the accused cannot be allowed to repair the perceived breach. In this sense Dr Rowley failed in making the degradation ritual effective.
By Tuesday morning he seemed to be losing the cohesiveness of public opinion which, like him and some of his colleagues who were now absent from Parliament, didn’t look like returning (although maybe he has more evidence). And by Wednesday afternoon, when he walked out of Parliament with his party in tow, Dr Rowley was no longer speaking righteously for the public as things had fallen back into partisan politics.
As a study in the culture of politics he had lost the moral high ground and with it the degradation ritual fell apart. The public was no longer whole in its moral offence and it might even be said that the Government fought effectively to turn the degradation ceremony back on its author. We wait to see.
• Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
Moments ago, the U.S. Senate decided to do the unthinkable about gun violence —- nothing at all.
Over two years ago, when I was shot point-blank in the head, the U.S. Senate chose to do nothing. Four months ago, 20 first-graders lost their lives in a brutal attack on their school, and the U.S. Senate chose to do nothing.
It’s clear to me that if members of the U.S. Senate refuse to change the laws to reduce gun violence, then we need to change the members of the U.S. Senate.