Monday, 8 February 2016

Come The Revolution? Good Luck With That!

NeoreactionaryStupidity lives online, I tell you. For the last few years I've noticed a growing trend towards extremism in our political discourse. The sharp lurch to the right has pretty much abolished the kind of buttoned-up respectable conservatism I grew up with and replaced it with a dog-eat-dog mentality I increasingly despise. For want of a better descriptor I've been using the word "Neoreactionary" to describe the attitudes I find so disturbing and I'm going to discuss a favourite trope of theirs tonight: the prospect of an armed revolution or social meltdown.

The gun gambit

I've mostly found this in the comments sections of the media; the idea that gun ownership guarantees freedom and civilisation itself. Many of them argue that gun ownership in and of itself reduces crime. I've got a tiger-repelling rock if they're interested. Well if that's true, countries awash with guns ought to have correspondingly low crime rates, shouldn't they? Per the Guardian, this is not true. The fact is, in countries with unstable political systems, weak law enforcement and little in the way of effective governance the guy with the gun can do what he wants and get away with it until someone more hostile comes along. Guns might make the bad guys think twice about attacking you but they won't do away with the perceived necessity of living in a heavily guarded gated community if you have any level of affluence. Travelling from one safe zone to another, having to watch out for carjackers and opportunists at traffic lights and being vigilant at all times does little to alleviate the growing divisions in our society that alienation and paranoia bring. Basically, unless you want to live in a permanent version of The Purge you can't rely on guns to keep you safe.

Preppers and the apocalypse to come

Among the religious members of the gun cult is a subset called Preppers.

PREPPING IS THE BIG SHORT: a bet not just against a city, or a country or a government, but against the whole idea of sustainable civilization. For that reason, it chafes against one of polite society’s last remaining taboos — that the way we live is not simply plagued by certain problems, but is itself insolubly problematic.- Alan Feuer, The Preppers Next Door, New York Times

Every right wing gun nut I've ever interacted with subscribes to some if not all of the philosophy that society itself is terminally ill but how long it's got left to live is anybody's guess so it's best not to take chances. How they plan (if they do so at all) to address this varies from person to person but at no point are they willing to engage with or even discuss the structural causes of societal malaise. Their "me and mine" mentality won't allow it. This self-centredness is also a hallmark of the armchair revolutionaries.

White male Libertarian alone outside his isolated house
A Libertarian with his guns

Prevention of tyranny

The funniest pro-gun argument I've ever heard is that gun ownership protects against tyranny. This is usually followed by the assertion that "the important rights remain."

Our freedoms are safe, not like in these foreign places. You know why? Because of the Second Amendment. The Government knows, if it ever tried to trample on any of our IMPORTANT rights, our guns would be out and trained on them like a ton of bricks.

So don't sweat the small stuff. We can sleep safe at night, with that ultimate guarantor of our rights close at hand, under that pillow. - Commenter "Mr. Big Content," State Dept Launches 'Free the Press' Campaign Same Day DOJ Asks Supreme Court To Jail Reporter, Techdirt

Later on, commenter Pragmatic goes off on one, apparently having missed the sarcasm.

Ah, the IMPORTANT rights. That's why the alleged 8 million are nowhere to be seen. The right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure isn't important. Okay, fine. Freedom of speech and expression? Hell, no. Doesn't matter a damn. Right.

Which rights ARE important?

More recently on Techdirt where Mike Masnick was discussing the US government's efforts to scapegoat Silicon Valley for not being proactive enough at thwarting terrorism by stopping terrorists from using the internet, or something, commenter AJ had a bit of a quasi-religious meltdown in which he praised the gun almighty and accused commenter Richard of penis gun envy. The trail starts here:

Some people willingly give up their freedom for security. ...In the U.S., the job of the police is to arrest people that break the law, not protect it's citizens. ...So it is up to me to protect myself and my family, and as France has shown us, simply having strict gun laws is not enough to keep the guns out of the hands of the bad guys, so giving up mine is out of the question.

Perhaps it's different in the U.K. Their geography, (Island) combined with their Orwellian style of government, allows them to protect the people while simultaneously removing their freedoms. ...We on the other hand, had forefathers that had the forethought to write it into our constitution so those freedoms will never be taken away from the people. -
AJ, Dec 8th, 2015 @ 4:09am

Notice that he doesn't question the lack of service and protection from law enforcement agencies. He is firmly in the "You're on your own" camp and actually likes it there. He doesn't trust the government or the authorities; he believes that he and his guns are the only governor and authority when it come to the service and protection of his family. This outlook is common among Libertarians.

Richard's response is pretty much "No, u."

AJ replies:

Matter of opinion. You have the government you deserve, as do we. I have the freedom to go buy a gun, you do not. You can't stand that, I really do understand why you can't stand that, I just don't agree with you. - AJ, Dec 9th, 2015 @ 4:52am

He repeats his earlier screed of security V freedom in a somewhat patronising tone, to which Richard replies,

Whereas you sacrificed security for freedom - and then gave up on the freedom anyway!

Plus - the freedom to shoot (or be shot by) my neighbour is not one I'm very keen on! - Richard, Dec 9th, 2015 @ 4:22am

AJ's cultish nutbucketry reaches its nadir at this point:

I can run down to a gun shop right down the road and buy a gun right now, can you? I would say I still have that freedom! - AJ, Dec 9th, 2015 @ 5:06am

After which he accuses Richard of being a coward who fears the freedom allegedly conferred via ownership of a boomstick, or something. I'd had enough.

Hoo boy! If guns = freedom please explain mass surveillance, asset forfeiture, and constitution-free zones. The answer I usually get is that the important rights yet remain.
Which means that as long as you've got guns, you don't give a rat's about anything else.

I'd like to see what you and your gun could do about TSA molestation at the airport.

Guns are a fetish, a charm like a lucky rabbit's foot. They're not doing much to secure your rights at all. -
Wendy Cockcroft, Dec 10th, 2015 @ 2:48am

It's funny how I never got an answer to that. I'm not going to. And why? Because AJ either woke up and stopped daydreaming about the apocalypse to come and the glorious adventures he would have with his guns or he stopped reading the comments after that day, believing he'd had the last word. The focus on this comment thread is not about bashing an individual. AJ's comments are typical of right wing Libertarian gun nuts. That's how they all tend to think. And before I get accused of resorting to the Association logical fallacy, I must insist I have yet to meet a right wing gun nut who believes that maintaining the social infrastructure required to uphold the rule of law is the most effective way to promote an orderly society.

What gun nuts don't understand is that we in the UK would rather live in an orderly society than in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It's not about being cowardly, it's about doing what's best for me and mine. To create the social environment we desire we've got to consider the other people in it. And that means demanding that our elected representatives and public servants uphold the rule of law: the actual guarantor of our freedom and protector from tyranny. This  means holding them to account. However, it simply doesn't seem to occur to pathologically selfish Walter Mittys with guns to even consider engaging with the democratic process. I love what Techdirt commenter OldMugwump has to say about it:

Democracy is part of a larger system that includes inviolate rights (rights that can't be overridden by a majority), limits on the power of governments, and mechanisms (like representative government) meant to cool passions and allow time for reason and debate.

I'm a big believer in the democratic process and am saddened by the sure and certain knowledge that most people seem to have given up on it as a tool for effecting social and political change. In America, it seems they'd rather have a violent revolution than talk to each other, arrive at a consensus, and implement policies that work for as many as possible while taking the needs of minorities into account.

Revolution or revelation?

Okay, let's go there. Let's say it. Suppose one day someone finally has had enough and that's it baby, this means war. What then? Okay, let's look at some would-be revolutionaries and see where they ended up.

There are several militia movements and rebel organisations in America. They're almost all right wing, prone to paranoid conspiracy theorising, and bitterly anti-government. If anyone was going to make any attempt to overthrow the government it would be one of them. They are also prone to factionalism, which prevents them from gaining much in the way of popular support.

Many of them subscribe to the "insurrection theory" which describes the right of the body politic to rebel against the established government in the face of tyranny. (In the 1951 case Dennis v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the insurrection theory, stating that as long as the government provides for free elections and trials by jury, "political self-defense" cannot be undertaken.) - Wikipedia

The Bundy Standoff

The Bundy standoff was an armed confrontation between protesters and law enforcement that developed from a 20-year legal dispute between the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, over unpaid grazing fees on federally owned land in southeastern Nevada. - Wikipedia

Bundy is part of the Sovereign Citizen movement, a reactionary attempt to distance people from government, which they perceive as evil in and of itself. The standoff ended in April 2014 when the Bureau of Land Management officials backed down, fearing a Waco-style bloodbath. So far he has avoided arrest and continues to spout anti-government rhetoric. A controversial figure, his appeal hasn't reached any further than the reactionary fringe he inhabits.

Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

On January 2, 2016, the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon was occupied by an armed group affiliated with the U.S. militia movement following an earlier peaceful march in protest of the prison sentences for ranchers Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven Hammond. The Hammonds were convicted of arson on federal land, sentenced to five years imprisonment, and are now seeking clemency from the U.S. president. - Wikipedia

Well to cut a long story short Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, got involved and tried to take over. Result: five militants (including Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan) were arrested and one was killed.

As David A. Graham wrote in The Atlantic,

It turns out, however, that it’s as illegal to take up arms, seize federal property, and demanding [sic] the government relinquish it in 2016 as it was in 1861.

Other rebellions

Researching this post has brought up the fact that Americans have a history of rebelling against their government. You know that song "John Brown's Body (Glory, glory hallelujah)?" Mr. Brown led a failed insurrection in which he hoped to form an army with angry slaves who would join him in the hope of securing their freedom. He was thwarted by the arrival of Colonel (later General) Robert E. Lee, who took the Southern side in the Civil War that followed some time later.

Vice has details of other rebellions and all of them have this in common:

  • Idealist becomes convinced that tyranny is afoot and violent revolution is the only way to end it
  • Idealist begins promoting his ideals, gathers a group of committed (and armed) members
  • Idealist has no immediate plans beyond taking and holding a particular area
  • Idealist hopes that others will be inspired to join him; is surprised and disappointed when they don't
  • Idealist either wins a limited victory in that his own immediate situation either improves or stays the same, or
  • Idealist loses badly, ends up imprisoned or dead
  • Idealist has little interest in the public at large, their interests or needs, is typically ego-centric and fixed on his personal ideology
  • Idealist believes that his ideology is sacred, beyond question, and above the law

Even when the idealist wins, it's typically a victory that only affects him and his local group; without popular support he can't effect further changes than in his own back yard.

The revelation

In case I haven't made it abundantly clear, the vast majority of us don't want to live in a war zone or have to rush between gated communities dodging marauding raiders on the way to work, etc. We want to live in an orderly society in which the trains run (more or less) on time, the streets are kept clean and the rule of law is upheld. We take a very dim view of wild-eyed revolutionaries eager to shoot the place up because they don't agree with government policy, and few of us would shed any tears for those right-wing nutbuckets who might get themselves killed in the process of trying to force their world view on the rest of us.

Well I often disagree with government policy, that's why I'm with 38 Degrees and am a member of the Pirate Party. There's no need to resort to violence if you're not happy with the status quo, you can leverage the democratic process to agitate for what you want and if you get enough popular support, you'll win. It might not be as exciting as running around shooting, etc., but believe me, pressure works. After all I've learned about violent revolutions, I'll not be persuaded otherwise.

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