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Is action always preferable to inaction?

+2 votes

I have a definite reason for posing this question that I am hoping will become clear in the ensuing discussing: when faced with all of the messed-up things going on in the world today, is acton always preferable to inaction? While action-for-its-own-sake has always been a defining feature of radical social movements, the perceived sense of urgency to "just do something" seems to have become even more pronounced in the United States since the election of Donald Trump. I don't want this to turn into a discussion of whether the election of Trump signals the rising tide of fascism in America but whether, in their haste to respond to the changing political climate in the U.S., a large number of anarchists have been allowing the need to develop a systemic critique of the global socioeconomic order fall by the wayside. Thoughts?

asked Sep 21 by Matt Dionysus (420 points)
"...becoming third-world-ized"

This is what I've been saying to people I know, is that the USA is going to become a third world country one day, because I don't see any trends whatsoever in politics that may keep the rich from stealing increasing amounts of money from the poor (or the not-rich however you look at it...)
I don't think I'd go so far as to call it "normal," but I do agree that this lack of normality is not an indictment in itself. What anarchists want certainly isn't "normal" either, but for entirely different reasons than the Trump admin isn't normal. What interests me, I guess, is the collective post-election trauma that seems to have enveloped a large segment of the American Left, and I don't think that this dynamic can be fully understood by viewing the broader political situation as entirely banal.

Based on what I'm seeing, it appears that even the superficial veneer of "civil liberties" that existed under Obama is being thrown out the window by Trump. It goes without saying that the mass media is just a propaganda machine designed to maintain some version of the present social order, but the antagonistic relationship between Trump and the media is still worth looking at insofar as it illustrates an internal rift within the liberal-democratic process itself. Not only is it a case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing, it's like each hand of a two-headed monster is repeatedly slapping the other in the face.

Couple that with the recent news about the Department of Justice requesting the personal information of Facebook users that are critical of the president and it seems apparent that, while there may be no categorical difference between Obama and Trump, the latter has less qualms about more overt and heavy-handed displays of authoritarianism. None of this is to suggest that there's cause for alarm but that, if you want to understand the context in which you as a post-left person in the US are operating, it's worth examining how the shifting dynamic might be causing people on the Left to react in the ways that they are.

Anyway, none of this is intended as a criticism or to build up the electoral dog-an-pony show into something that it isn't, but to offer an outsider's perspective on how, in the words of Bob Dylan, "the times, they are a-changin'." ;)
"...I don't think that this dynamic can be fully understood by viewing the broader political situation as entirely banal."

Yes, the general political situation of nation states has a LOT of relevance to anarchists. I just choose to ignore a lot of it because I get pretty overwhelmed by digesting and processing large amounts of information. I want to live in a world where I'm free to feel like an animal, but that's some pretty fucking utopian thinking....

One thing I want to add to my previous thoughts is this: my critique of anti-fa is that they're methods aren't actually an attack on the state or worker exploitation. While they are very militantly attacking racism, I don't think that the state needs racism to carry out its tyranny, if everyone in the US stopped thinking black and latin american people were more likely to be criminals, then it would just start punishing a broader array of people, or make more laws. Hence, anti-fa attacks the means of the state that it has been conveniently using for hundreds of years, but does absolutely nothing to cripple the state itself.
antifa doesn't even act against all racism, just one particular kind. there're a million more relevant and brutal and endemic racist (state) actors that antifa doesn't pay attention to and in fact distracts from. part of the "lowest common denominator" problem, that in less trumpian times was apparent in people's anti-cop struggles.
Matt Dionysus -

You are absolutely correct that there are differences in how the state functions under Trump who (without falling into alarmist rhetoric) seems far more capricious in his day-to-day decisions, as well as being openly racist (his response to Hurricane Maria vs. Irma and Harvey are the low hanging fruit. I could go on, but why?). This is causing multiple reactions on the left (and even among folks who are post-left). Some are galvanized into action at every single opportunity (I think about liberals and progressives marching against _________, but also my various friends who have been fully swept up in the antifa moment), some are paralyzed and withdrawing or dropping out.

It looks eerily similar to the galvanization that happened in the wake of 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan (and later, Iraq), while also having some very distinct differences. In that case, a bunch of people went really hard (hard in terms of the amount of energy expended on fruitless protests and organizing) and then burned out, withdrew. Other people got so overwhelmed that they stopped engaging at all. Still others jumped on the voting train and rode that boxcar all the way to liberaltown. Hopefully it is obvious that none of these is desirable, rather I would argue for a strategic and measured response.

Like dot and Nihilist, I am critical of antifa as being the overarching focus of anarchist activity. I am not anti-antifa however. I am willing to be connected to antifa when it feels appropriate (the area I live in has been a place where it has been somewhat appropriate recently), but I also know that it is sucking all the energy from that building of infrastructure into projects like confronting a particular racism which (as dot points out) isn't even the primary form racism takes in out society.  This is reactionary. Sometimes totally necessary, but reactionary. For the most part, we are acting from a defensive posture, as opposed to an offensive posture, and I would prefer to save my energy for attack, while not dropping out entirely.

2 Answers

+5 votes

In a word, no. As dot, Nihilist and human alluded to, there are times where the urge to "just do something" (do anything?), is counterproductive. There are times where our enemies are baiting us to act and knowing they have the upper hand, in those cases to choose to act is to play in to their hands. Specific examples from my lifetime, if not necessarily my own lived experience, include protests against various wars (Gulf 1 & 2, bombing Kosovo, Afghanistan, etc.), the anti-globalization summit-hopping era, Occupy, and the current antifa tide.

This is not to be mistaken for doing nothing, but sometimes the best choice is to bide our time, to grow connections and affinity, and to build infrastructure. All of these are ways of doing something, but they are not likely to be the things that appeal to someone incensed by whatever the latest social atrocity happens to be. They aren't geared at necessarily dealing with specific temporal conflicts, but at looking at the long game.

Anarchy as chess.

At the same time, I don't think that looking at the long game means not showing up and acting in the moment as is appropriate (what is appropriate for each of us is a conversation for a different question, or, probably more appropriately, for you and your friends). Sometimes bodies need to be in the street. Sometimes the best propaganda is the sound of a plate glass window dropping. Sometimes "attack" actually means attack. I love those times. What I don't do is delude myself that those times are somehow more valuable than other more slow and deliberate work. 

Sure, I can read some old communiques and feel a sense of how great certain moments of open rebellion were. That is not a false memory or a reinterpretation of the past, they were fun,exhilarating, character-building, and, sometimes, even politically effective experiences. What I don't do (or try not to do) is chase replication of the particular aesthetic those moments as spectacle.

By all means, wreck some shit and burn a thing or three, but don't think that because it felt good to wild out on the prole stroll with your comrades this time, that next time you should do it the same, or that you should even necessarily respond to provocations.

Our enemies aren't as stupid as we think, they have more people dedicated to thinking through strategy of the chess game than we do. Sometimes the best action is waiting.

answered Sep 30 by ingrate (20,130 points)
edited Sep 30 by ingrate
0 votes
Action is so often simply reaction; a limited action within the constraints of the perceived problem. Stepping beyond the problem is the way beyond the problem. So, a new action is called for, an actual action.

Every problem is merely a need for clarity, for understanding. If we eat a food which makes us sick, we never eat it again. The only action called for is no action.

We cannot do anything about the state of the world, and it is a world wide problem not just America. All the protests simply fall on deaf ears. Oh sure the governments may promise change, but where is the change? Governments have always followed the dictates of those with the real power, the big businessmen.

The only thing we can do is create the life we live. So it is a case of dropping out, of being a non-participant, of being the alternative. That is the only way we can change things. So the real change must begin with ourself.

We all have to eat, to have shelter, etc, so we have to begin a new way of doing so, one which will contribute to actual change. One which is not a reaction to capitalism but one which is the natural way of this planet... co-operation.

* Edit was to correct a few minor spelling errors!
answered Oct 7 by edclear (380 points)
edited Oct 10 by edclear
Hi edclear, welcome to @101.

I appreciate what (to me) seems like a degree of Buddhist influence in your answer. Granted, I'm not a Buddhist, so I might be misreading, but I appreciate parts of that general worldview quite a bit.

Here are a couple places where I have a harder time with ideas of acceptance/letting go and with your answer that I am hoping you can speak more to (because, well, dialogue is actually part of the point of this site):

What do we do when we can't just step away from a problem? You write about dropping out and non-participation, but given the global reach of capitalism, industry, civilization, et. al. how do we effectively drop out? Is our dropping out complete or partial? Can we even realistically do so at this point (an aside, I used to have a short list of places I knew I could go to escape civilization when the time came, they are all now compromised)?

Sometimes problems are complicated, and clarity is not so simple. In anarchyland, I have situations where multiple people are doing (and not doing) things because of reasoning that is entirely understandable and yet find myself in positions where I am in the middle of conflicts. Not against cops, or big business, or the state, but between my comrades. How do you see the search for clarity & understanding work in those cases?

In a lot of ways i like this answer, but I have a big problem with this section:

"The only thing we can do is create the life we live. So it is a case of dropping out, of being a non-participant, of being the alternative. That is the only way we can change things. So the real change must begin with ourself."

There isn't a way to simply "create the life that we live", and as ingrate pointed out dropping out of techno-idustrial-authoritarian civilization is extremely difficult. Total independence isn't even desirable by most people.

Never studied Buddhism, just impartial life as it is.

What could possibly stop us from stepping away?

By stepping aside we put a bit of distance which gives a greater perspective.

I've yet to encounter a problem which is actually a Problem. All depends on our perception of whatever situation/circumstance. That's where no action comes into play. If we are busy with whatever we consider to be a problem, we are the problem aren't we?

Stop being the problem, then it's... what problem?

But we may say, "it's not me, it's other people, it's society, it's capitalism, etc,etc, etc". However, that is simply a lack of clarity.

Clarity of what really is rather than what we think is, or wish things were, etc. Are problems anything other than the reaction of memory; thoughts churning away, emotions getting entangled?
When we say "there isn't", there never will be.

We are all inter-related, inter-dependent... no one is an island as someone once said. It's not about breaking away from others nor rejecting technology, etc. Everything in life about about the why and the how, isn't it? The why and the how is the way.

Take money for example. Money is a nothing... a no thing... a notion. Money is an approach to create a form of order, but what that approach has become is something more than ever intended. Unnecessary complexity, and even more so, unnecessary adulation. Money can be anything, just as people used to use beads, cows, whatever. So money can be anything. In itself it is not a problem nor problematic, it's all how it is used, and more importantly the why behind the how.

So we can still use money, we can still make money, all without being a contradiction or hypocrite. That is why the why is all essential. It is also why groups of non-participants have to get together and live for one another not just with one another.

We can't completely isolate ourselves, nor do we need to, but we have to show working solutions. I can see a world beyond money, beyond power, beyond ignorance.

Just imagine a world without money, where we all lived together, for one another. Technology would have absolutely no limits, as financial restriction is just that. So inventors/experimentalists would have everything within their reach.

All it takes is complete co-operation.
"Stop being the problem, then it's... what problem?

But we may say, "it's not me, it's other people, it's society, it's capitalism, etc,etc, etc". However, that is simply a lack of clarity."

Like you, i reject the notion of blaming other phenomenon/people for "the problems of the world", I never implied in this whole question that I wanted to just blame other people for techno-industrial-civilization and abdicate myself, but I also reject the notion that there is some clear set of problems that can just be fixed through lifestyle changes. It's definitely possible to become a wood hermit who uses little to no technology, but that won't do anything to get rid of the rampant destruction of the modern society we live in, and it would imply cutting yourself off from all possible resources! But by all means, i would support anyones desire to cut themselves off from society.

"All it takes is complete co-operation"

I think you are on the wrong forum! To an anarchist complete co-operation is a completely ridiculous idea, and sounds extremely ideological and imposing.

I also think that the idea to "eliminate problems" is also rediculous, this is not the goal of anarchists, the idea behind anarchy is accepting the fact that there will be conflict and not trying to suppress it as current nation states do.
Hello Nihilist, there seems to be a bit of a mix up somewhere along the line. My reply from where you took the quote was addressed to Ingrate, and within the context of his/her reply. I never accused you or anyone of blaming others. Nor do I suggest that we take off to the woods, or encourage any form of isolation from humanity.

Above you spoke of getting "rid of the rampant destruction". How on can this be achieved without co-operation?

Co-operation is in no way a form of co-ercion, far from it. Co-operation is a natural outcome of living together, of community. That is not ideological, that is simple basic fact of daily life.

What happens when there is a disaster of some sort? Everyone springs into action to help one another, that is direct co-operation without any motive for gain. Simple humanity.

To transform this world from one of complete self interest with all its offshoots of inherent destruction and idiocy to one reflecting our true humanity will simply take a shift from conformist compliance to co-operation.

Problems are simply misunderstanding, lack of understanding, are they not? Therefore problems can cease with ease.

Anarchy is present, not some distant dream. As for anarchists, any ist, ism, etc, is the exact same as we have with the "problem" capitalist, capitalism, etc. Isms, ists, these are attempts at a fixed state, anarchy is fluid as anarchy is life itself. Needs no definition for the definition is corruption, is it not?
I find what you are saying now to be better than what I read before, before I thought you were just presenting some sort of simple solution to all the worlds problems. I also admit I didn't try all that hard to read into what you were writing, even though I still find some of it unclear.

Also, what you say about -isms resonates with me, the desire to have an -ism is a desire for some continuous state.
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