Bullets Sing The Militiaman’s Hymns, Jamming, 05/01/2016

So while I was publishing my thoughts on the lies at the heart of the concept of nationhood and the oppressive power of the modern state, something happened that most of us would call troubling.

Ammon Bundy and about 150 other militiamen occupied the administrative office of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. Ostensibly, it's over two ranchers who were unjustly imprisoned. But there are implications that these two purposely set fire to about 150 acres of the wildlife refuge to destroy evidence that they'd been poaching deer on the territory.

A scene from Ammon Bundy's militia's occupation of
the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
Reading my posts in the context of this standoff – which I couldn’t help but do, as it’s the most disturbing news about America’s reactionary movement without the name Trump in it – I realized I could sound pretty disturbing.

So I want to explain explicitly precisely where I differ from radical libertarianism. These are the principles that make my left-wing freedom thinking different from (and superior to) the right-wing version called modern libertarianism that dominates most popular discussions of what freedom is today.

I’ve always sort of courted this weirdness smoking from rifle barrels in eastern Oregon, and I think all dissident thought courts it. Some elements of what I’ll call “post-liberal leftism,” “network politics,” or “the globalized people’s movement”* share conceptual territory with the basic philosophies of anti-government militias and radical libertarianism more broadly.

* Because I don’t really know what else to call it right now. If anyone has a better suggestion, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

1) Individual freedom and dignity

This is the foundation of the philosophy underlying both radical libertarian and network politics. People need the freedom to think and say what they wish, and the material supports to make a decent living, to live with dignity.

The libertarian model is sadly deficient about how to achieve all this, though. Libertarians understand the right to free speech, expression, and thought as the right to bully others and demand that the people they scream at pay attention to them. 

The intelligent, nuanced discourse of the modern
online libertarian activist.
Their right to speech is their right to use verbal violence to silence people they disagree with. Like a rabid Gamergater who bullies a woman who talks about her nerdly loves on social media.

“Fake geek girl wannabe trash whore!” “You don’t even own a console do you?” “I’ll rape your mouth until your brains get all over my cock!” Then he complains that he’s being silenced when the girl blocks him.

I understand free expression rights as requiring a basic ethical principle to function properly: you must listen first. It’s the key condition for reasonable conversation.

The modern libertarian also has a very limited view of what causes the material constraints through which working people suffer and fall into poverty. Basically, they blame it all on government control of the economy, and believe that a totally uncontrolled capitalist free market will bring prosperity for all. Or at least that the only ones in poverty will deserve it because of their laziness.

But there’s never been a market totally free of government intervention – even through such hands-off methods as tort and contract law – that could function, aside from a village market square. 

The libertarian idea of the free market also ignores the basic economic fact that, despite ultimately signing the paychecks and occasionally financing a new venture, business owners and the very wealthy aren’t job creators. 

Job creation is driven through the aggregate of all people spending their money, which encourages business owners to hire more people to deal with the extra business. The people, not the rulers or oligarchs, are always at the root of the people’s prosperity or poverty.

The most authentic face of the French
Revolution, Toussaint L'Ouverture,
played by Jimmy Jean-Louis in a
2012 television biopic.
2) Suspicion of government surveillance, security, military, and police

This is another place where I can seem suspiciously similar to Mr Bundy. My last four posts were commentaries on Antonio Negri’s philosophical history of the creation of the modern state and the concepts of nationhood, sovereignty, and the racist conception of the Other.

That philosophical history is a narrative of consolidating police and administrative power in reaction to popular revolutions against Europe’s absolute dictatorships. These tyrants had names like Charles I, William V, and Louis XVI. These revolutions’ heroes had names like George Washington, Joan van der Capellen, and Toussaint L’Ouverture.

The revolutions were successful in the short term, but the state apparatus that arose from the later consolidations of power were equally oppressive in all the ways that, for example, Michel Foucault described throughout his work. It’s the apparatus of biopolitics, the administration and control of every aspect of people’s lives. 

Libertarian politics says they’re against this government control, and that’s good. But they ignore the forms of social control that aren’t blatantly enforced through the weapons of federal agents. 

Like the racism that makes a libertarian, who is normally so skeptical of the police and armed forces that they’re willing to kill their countrymen to defend their own liberties, cheer the violent police suppression of black communities or ruthless bombing and hate crimes against religiously-defined Others.

This is really only a brief sketch of how our ideas differ. There are plenty more ways I can get into, but I don’t have the time right now. 

But there are plenty of social movements around the world that my own ideas plug into, and that I participate in, as far as I can. I have a growing real-life presence in the anti-austerity movement here in Canada, and I use my social media to support #BlackLivesMatter, Idle No More, the Syrian Refugees’ movement, and democratic revolution around the world. 

That's true whether I'm talking about the Arab Spring to overthrow the Middle East's autocratic governments, or building new institutions in democratic states that decentralize government power and involve people in their government's decision processes.

This is the real nature of freedom. People like Ammon Bundy are too blinkered to understand that. They’ve blinded themselves. 

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