Thursday, June 23, 2005

EZLN on Red Alert / Americans "generally in a funk"

Scattered thoughts today. . .

Things are happening in Chiapas again. The Zapatistas have announced a General Red Alert and are withdrawing the active bases from the communities, suspending some operations, including the Good Government Committees, asking international members of civil society to leave the region of revolt, etc. The context appears to be some showy drug war maneuvers by Fox's government, including large scale troop movements in Chiapas. Al Giordano has a summary, Mexico: The False Narco-Smear Against the Zapatistas, up at Narconews. Breaking news there indicates that there were marijuana fields siezed in the southern Mexico state, and that perhaps the government had indicated they were "inside the Zapatista zone of influence," since a representative for Fox came out to clarify that this was not the case. This will all be worth watching. Good news, irlandesa now has a blog with her translated EZLN communiques, which will make the watching that much easier.

Closer to home, a headline in USA Today yesterday caught my eye: "Poll shows Americans 'generally in a funk'." The story covers recent Gallup Polls that show support for the Iraq War down, with 59% opposed to it, and concern about imminent terrorist attacks at its lowest since 9/11. Apparently, Americans are not terribly certain that the War on Terror is going well, but neither are they too concerned about the consequences. They're not overwhelmingly behind the administration when it comes to Gitmo. Indeed, almost 40% seem to be in favor of closing the base.

Generally, the results of the "for or against" polls seem to be pretty even splits, though the war-support numbers are getting surprisingly low. But where more nuanced responses are possible, Americans seem to be all over the place. When one commentator described us as "generally in a funk" that rings fairly true for me. Nervous depression seems to be the mood of the nation.

There's been a lot of over-coffee conversation lately among my friends, lamenting the sort of political torpor that seems to dominate affairs. If 60% of Americans are against the war, why is the anti-war movement more or less invisible? And how can folks get away with claiming, for example, that the Democrats are out to get "Christians"?

If you're reading this, you probably already know the questions. And, like me, you probably only have glimmers of answers. But maybe a few things are clear. . . .

Let me return to this question of mutualism, and what it might be in the current context. And let me turn the sort of analysis i attempted in yesterday's posting to a different, somewhat parochial and not entirely (or at least solely) anarchistic concern. Situated as i am within American society, subject to the US political system, i have to pay some attention to what it means to be political actor in America, to "be an American" in at least some sense. If nothing else, this concern is something i share (or can share) with my neighbors - and any attempt to move in the political realm that only takes other committed libertarians into account is doomed to minimal impact. This isn't a capitulation to realpolitik, in part because "being an American" and positioning oneself within the national tradition has never excluded being a radical. We have to keep in mind the partial nature of these identifications. Nothing good comes of elevating one aspect of what we are above all the rest - and sometimes what comes of that sort of fetishization is quite accurately described as fascism. But the sorts of complexities we're talking about shouldn't be that big a deal. We have to get over thinking of ourselves, or our neighbors, as unsophisticated. We wouldn't survive a 5-minute block of TV commercials, let alone an episode of South Park, if we weren't pretty sharp. Back when i was doing academic scholarship on popular genre literature, it came to me just how much expertise was required to read, for example, romance novels - something i should have known from my days as a bookseller. But my digressions are now digressing.

The mutualist tradition within which i place myself can be traced back through a few hops, skips and jumps directly to the Owenite experiment at New Harmony, where Josiah Warren was, after all, the leader of the band (and printer, and gadfly. . .). But that thread is tangled at various points with other threads, including some in the land reform movement, which we can trace right back to folks like Paine and Jefferson. Untangling it all is the work of other days, though folks like Mark Lause have already done a lot of important work. Let's just say that it seems possible to imagine oneself an American Political Actor in a tradition that includes Daniel Shays, Thomas Skidmore, George Henry Evans, etc among its early figures.

OK. If i don't talk myself out of a common "American" project with my neighbors, it doesn't mean that the "commonness" of that project is much more than a promise or a leap of faith. On the other hand, it does give us something to talk about. And i'm becoming convinced that the only way political discourse can have degenerated so far is that we simply don't talk to the neighbors enough so that it hits us when people say stupid, obviously incorrect, divisive things. There's a difficult gambit here. If we don't talk about our commitments, and turn these promised projects into joint endeavors of a more concrete sort, then the labels tend to take the place of the discussion. Everyone hears what they want to hear. You can talk about love or America for days and avoid saying a damned thing. We know this. The question is: why would you want to?

One of the legacies of mutualism - particularly in its individualist anarchist form - had been a tendency to believe that freedom will pretty much take care of itself, assuming we remove certain obstacles. But this particular faith seems to have only characterized the movement for a fairly brief span of time. Even Tucker came to see that his plum-line anarchism wasn't just going to happen if a few privileges were taken away from the accumulating classes. Structures had changed and if there had ever been a self-levelling playing field, it had been bulldozed into another form. I think it's likely that the invisible hand was never as puissant as we imagined, and, even if it was, it could hardly work its magic in a context where human actors did not, finally, want to be free and to exchange freely.

I'm sitting here, "generally in a funk," trying to think of myself in a way that makes some political sense, and will possibly make some sense to those around me. In the mountains of southern Mexico, something is happening with regard to one of the more interesting experiments in locally automonous rule, and there are hints it might be a drastic something. . . .

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