Introducing “Fear of a Brown Planet”

2 06 2011

I was just going to post an excerpt and then link to this article by a queer person of cover Lian Low at Peril Magazine it is too good and says something too important to simply cut out half.  It needs to be read in full.

Fear of a Brown Planet: fight the power with laughter

The first time I met Fear of a Brown Planet comic duo Aamer Rahman and Nazeem Hussain, it was not at a post-show groupie hangout; it was at the very edge of the performance stage of an overcrowded Espy where we were all moshed in together to watch one of the legends of hip-hop – Public Enemy.

Fear of a Brown Planet’s moniker is a play on the critically acclaimed third album of Public Enemy called ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ released twenty years ago.  Like Public Enemy, Melbourne-based Fear of a Brown Planet use art as a means of resisting prejudice and oppression. In an article first published in The Advertiser, and now published on their blog, Nazeem writes:

“Stand-up comedy is one medium which is, fundamentally, an art of protest. Historically, it has been used as a tool by communities and people with ideas that challenge and provoke the status quo with a spirit of counterculture.”

As a queer of colour, I know how difficult it is to talk about racism with white friends, let alone raise it in public. Watching their shows helps heal a raw nerve and reflect my anger and frustration with an Australia that fails its culturally diverse population.  And when I look around to see enraptured audiences’ faces, I revel in not being alone in this shared political consciousness.  One of my favourite jokes is when Aamer inverses the stereotypes about alcoholism and throws it back on the shoulders of its progenitors:

“The whole time I’ve grown up in Australia I’ve only heard white people complain about other people’s cultures; Muslims beat their wives, Africans are in violent gangs, Aborigines have a drinking problem… that’s my favourite number one complaint from white people… you saw the Cronulla riots..  I’m sure we can all comfortably agree that no one in this country has a scarier drinking problem than white people.  That’s why there’s no alcohol allowed in the room.  Not for religious reasons.  We just don’t trust white people with alcohol anymore.   You saw the Cronulla riots on TV – when white people have a party, one minute it’s a party and the next minute it’s the Nazi party.  When you and your friends have a BBQ, and within a half hour of that it manages to mutate into a 5000 strong Hitler youth rally, maybe there’s something wrong with your culture… just putting it out there.”

I stole a half hour from Fear of a Brown Planet’s busy schedule earlier this year just after the final show of their sold-out season at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April. “Why do you always do political comedy, Aamer?”, asked one of his friends,  “watching you is like watching the news”.  Despite the gibes about being “too political”, Aamer believes that it’s “possible to be angry and funny at the same time”.  “For us it’s always gone hand in hand.  [This has] always been the type of comedy that we really enjoy.  We’ve grown up on a lot of comedians like Chris Rock or Richard Pryor or Bill Hicks. Those artists have always used comedy as a political vehicle not as a gimmick or anything like that”.

Aamer and Nazeem are in a rare breed of comedians who are fiercely proactive when it comes to social justice and community.  They are often at rallies and support community gigs that are engaged with social justice. “We have an idea of what the world should be like or what society should be like.  You know like racism shouldn’t exist, or racist violence shouldn’t exist,” states Aamer matter-of-factly.  “A lot of what we talk about is just a lot of what other communities are talking about.  These are issues that aren’t joked about, but I guess to see from our perspective it’s really about phrasing it and unpacking it in a way that is easy to understand,” Nazeem explains.

Both university law graduates, Aamer and Nazeem didn’t aspire to be comedians but somehow found themselves in comedy. According to Nazeem, they met whilst working on a youth project together.  In fact, it was working with young people which got their comedy juices flowing. “To engage young people you have to be always interesting and funny, otherwise they switch off,” reflects Nazeem.  A significant turning point in their initiation to stand-up was meeting a trio of US based Muslim comics called Allah Made Me Funny, one of the first Muslim stand-up troupe to tour about being Muslim in a non-Muslim society. Nazeem’s response was akin to love at first sight.  “I actually memorised all the lines.  I memorised word for word the entire show before they came here.  I was that obsessed with them,” he gushes.  Allah Made Me Funny took the duo under their wings and from there they decided to enter Triple J’s Raw Comedy competition, where both reached the Victorian finals.  Aamer trumped the finals and scored the runner-up position Australia-wide.  Now with mass critical acclaim, sold-out seasons and awards under their belts (including Melbourne International Comedy Festival Best Newcomer Award 2008), the duo shared the spotlight with Allah Made Me Funny in October 2010.

Interspersed in Fear of a Brown Planet’s nascent life were their feature appearances in a television series called Salam Café – the first and only Muslim TV panel series to be aired on national television in a Western country. Salam Café started off with Melbourne-based community network Channel 31 before moving on to SBS.  According to Nazeem, Salam Café’s agenda was an exercise in diplomacy, “we were there to humanise the Muslim community.  It allowed people to see us firstly as human beings which …people still don’t seem to be able to appreciate.  It’s a completely different show.  We didn’t want to push too many buttons. With Fear of a Brown Planet we can be a bit more us.”

Arguably the most radical element of Salam Café was Nazeem’s character called Uncle Sam (aka Uncle Sameer Iqbal Muhammad Salahhudeen) who plays on media-driven fears about Muslims “taking over”. As Uncle Sam, Nazeem tackled issues such as the dispute surrounding the building of a private Islamic school in Camden, in Sydney’s West. Uncle Sam also managed to gain airtime with Andrew Denton on Enough Rope in which he outwits an unusually stymied Denton in banter about Australian identity and racism.  Perhaps the most outrageous skit for Uncle Sam was a visit to Frankston, where during the filming of the scene, Nazeem and his camera man, a Lebanese man named Jihad, were surrounded by forty screaming and swearing people who threw bottles whilst attempting to grab the camera and rip Nazeem’s beard.  “It got to the point where I had to say, “Listen, everyone, just shut up – we’re here to make fun of Muslims too!”  And everyone went “Yeah!!!”  And then we ran.  Seriously, we would have been killed.  It was ridiculous.”  For the Salam Café episode of this series (which you can see on Youtube), the more confronting incidences were left on the editing room floor.

Not surprisingly, Aamer and Nazeem’s experiences on Salam Café help fuel their critique about the absence of people of colour on Australian television.  “Australian TV is very white,”says Nazeem exasperatedly.  “To the point where it’s been criticised overseas.  In the UK there was a poll; Home and Away and Neighbours were criticised for being too offensively white,” Aamer recounts.  “It’s just ridiculous!  In the UK, they understand Australia more than we seem to.  How could a suburb be that white?  They don’t even have the token brown cleaners!” exclaims Nazeem.

When they are not working on their comedy, Aamer and Nazeem can be found at Footscray Community Arts Centre producing events as part of their three year artists-in-residency contract.  The duo were headhunted to produce a joint VicHealth and Footscray Community Arts Centre funded program about discrimination in the western suburbs.  One of the events of the program was a series of free hip-hop workshops called Hip-Hop Academy.  Young people in the Academy can take on breakdancing, mixing, rapping and grafitti.  I swung by a couple of workshops and tried out the breakdancing with B-boy Lamaroc and rhyme-writing with musican and producer Pataphysics.  The kids at the Saturday workshops ranged from aged five upwards.  It was touching to see so many young people of colour in one space giving everything a go. I remember seeing two 14 year-old Polynesian girls hovering outside the rhyme-writing workshop.  When I left, through a little coaxing, Pataphysics had them sitting down penning their first raps about culture and identity.

The other part of Fear of a Brown Planet’s residency included a series of online vox-pops and critical montages of current political events.  One of their videos was about the controversy surrounding the black-face skit on Hey, Hey It’s Saturday.  Unlike mainstream commentators, Fear of a Brown Planet interviewed people of colour on the street to hear their opinions about the issue.

“Because The Chaser did it [black-face] and because no one said anything, it just went on air and it just wasn’t an issue,” says a disgusted Nazeem. “It was equally as offensive as the Hey, Hey sketch.  Just because The Chaser are political and they appeal to white liberals no-one took them up on it,” adds Aamer.  “It doesn’t discount the fact that it’s highly offensive just because it’s five privileged white guys doing black-face.  And just because the song was political – it was about the ALP and the Liberal party – somehow it gave them a pass; but it was just as offensive.  Even when it was an issue on Hey, Hey, the only people that seemed to discuss the issue were panels of white people discussing whether or not this was offensive to other people.  Some of them would say ‘yes, it was absolutely offensive’.  You just never get to see from black or brown people about the issue,” Aamer says disgruntled.

Fear of a Brown Planet are artists who have cleverly used comedy as a means of education and empowerment.  In the same blog that I mentioned earlier, Nazeem sums up the use of comedy as an educative tool:

“When someone laughs at a joke, a connection has been made. That person laughs because they appreciate the point whether or not they accept what was said as valid isn’t important. What matters is, they’ve understood.”

In a country where debates about racism have been watered down or silenced, it’s exciting to see two young brown men fighting for social change in a creative and powerful way.






“Filled with college students in suits, turtle necks and bowties”

1 05 2011

There are a lot of responses to Anarcho-Capitalism around the place, but very few hit all the right notes.

While the ideology itself is generally considered a footnote in wider Anarchist theory, it is not going to go away just because it has been ignored or marginalised.  Even where critical analysis exists, it is often sensationalist and doesn’t strike a death blow.  But with increasing numbers of former Anarcho-Capitalists reflecting on the theory and drifting Leftward over time, the critical response has become far more precise and far more threatening.

Though this is not intended to stand as a comprehensive, or even substantial, critical analysis of the ideology, it is hoped that providing more information will lead to better attempts.  For the record, Brainpolice, who blogs at Polycentric Order, has offered a scathing critical analysis of the behaviour and culture among Anarcho-Capitalists.  It is an experience that I share.

I don’t see a problem with going on a polemical, personally motivated critique and psychologizing[sic] of the culture that surrounds ancap. When obvious aristocrats are at the helm of its major institutions and when its major intellectuals all have ties to wishy washy neo-liberal public policy organizations, I think this is worth pointing out. Sure, one can bringing up the youth who subscribe to it that represent its more populist face, but it really seems like the most charitable thing to say is that such people are being manipulated by aristocrats – when they aren’t the children of aristocrats or virtual aristocrats themselves. I also have too much personal experience to avoid noting the degree to which ancap is a magnet for near-sociopathic personalities, but [I] don’t want to go on that tangent.

I’ve recently gotten familiar with the Australian libertarian and ancap scene, and it provides lots of fodder for the thesis about the younger generation of ancaps really are dominantly spoiled, rich college students who can’t see past their own privilege and pretty much are pawns for generally neo-liberal organizations. That pretty much defines the Melbourne libertarian scene, and the ancaps are virtually indistinguishable from the minarchists in practise. It’s alarmingly filled with college students in suits, turtle necks and bowties[sic] giving lectures at university and going to expensive cocktail parties to gossip, with numerous inheritors of legacy wealth with connections to actual governmental organizations being popular figures. Some of these people are virtually conservative career politicians in training (see David Nolan and Tim Andrews).

I don’t think stuff like this is irrelevant at all. Ideologies do have a connection to the social context surrounding the people who invent and subscribe to them. Libertarian ideology all to often does function as a justification for people’s already existing social positions and personalities. Ancap debate with other groups all too often does devolve into what is blatantly a highly personal defensive lashing out by an individual in which they feel that what they own (or their power in general) is threatened, and in which their idiosyncratic immoralities can be justified ideologically. This is all too telling to ignore. The truth of an ideology really can’t be completely disconnected from its use when we are dealing with rationalizations. We aren’t always dealing with an innocent truth claim, we’re dealing with positions handpicked[sic] to rationalize[sic] deeper, unanalyzed beliefs and behavioral[sic] patterns.

The “arguments” too often are underpinned by implicit premises that can’t be justified and are connected to the person’s desires. This includes the (often unargued for) belief in their own legitimacy and oppression in a certain social context. The ideology can’t be properly addressed without this being looked at. That legitmacy[sic] and claim to oppression can end up falling apart when seriously analyzed[sic]. There are too many false victimhood mentalities and dubious feelings of entitlement going around to ignore. It’s a little too convenient to present your personal prejudices in the form of an argument construeing[sic] it as a law of nature or economics or the one true ethical code or whatever. If one really wants to talk about appeals to emotion, you’ll find one underlying many ancap arguments.

Understanding the ideology is not entirely difficult.  It begins by asserting that the Self is property and then asserts property as an extension of this fact.  As a result, all actions against property are a direct action against the Self.  From this, a series of axiomatic principles are extrapolated, such as the Non-Aggression Principle, Property as a Natural Right, Property as an Absolute.

The next step is to appeal to policy, where that policy is usually a particular strain of economics or, in the case of the so-labelled “social issues”, usually all the standard conservative talking points that reaffirm the prejudice and privilege of the adherent.  Mention that property, as constructed under Anarcho-Capitalism, works to legitimise and protect a racist in their discriminatory action against a particular minority, and the response is usually an accusation of “Marxism”, “political correctness” and a statement that, “who cares!?!” because “the market will sort it out”.  The fact that issues such as racism or, say, discrimination based on sexuality threaten the lives and well-being of millions of people around the planet, daily, is ignored entirely.  But if the government declares a tax hike on the rich, well the shit has really hit the fan.

Analysis of an issue or problem, from an Anarcho-Capitalist perspective, becomes little more than a repetitive, almost robotic, application of the Non-Aggression Principle and Absolute property rights to a set of facts in order to derive a conclusion on what makes for good economic efficiency.  It is a tried and true formula.

But then the biggest challenge to the wider Anarcho-Capitalist framework comes in that it relies, almost entirely, on appeals to the universalism of Natural Law on account of the basis assertion that the Self is something which can be considered property.  Something that can be owned and with ownership comes the right of use and abuse — and anyone that knows anything about property is generally well aware that property can be traded, transferred or given away.  This is called ‘alienation‘ — the right to give something away or sell it.

So if the idea of a person selling themselves into slavery does not appeal to you, then the idea of “Self-Ownership” is nothing more than an abstract metaphor for some basic sense of Individual Autonomy or the Self as independent, free and un-governed.

However.

“Self-Ownership” is phrased in terms of property for a reason.  Entirely decoupled from property, the axiomatic principles extrapolated from this concept fall down.  They simply become assertions and are not connected to some greater, higher, universal Natural Law.  They are constructed by of the various thinkers associated with Anarcho-Capitalism.

While the “Non-Aggression Principle” may be a great principle and can find its theoretical and practical support elsewhere, others which derive their existence directly from Self-Ownership, do not.  Property then, is not a Natural Right, but a social construct and the rights, obligations and basis on which property operates, can be questioned, reformulated and reapplied or rejected where problems arise.  At this point, the point of application, Brainpolice’s critical analysis applies and we are forced to deal with people who’s only response to a serious attack on their system is blind faith.  “The market will take care of it!” and if this doesn’t work, you can always look to the linguistic lingo and peculiar use of language to confuse the situation a little more.

Anarcho-Capitalism is simplistic in theory and application.  With time, there is a notable tendency of Anarcho-Capitalists to drift Left.  If nothing else can be taken from this, the biggest question will still remain:

Why?





Kicked out of a demonstration in Torronto for highlighting women’s issues

4 02 2011

While Egyptians have been defying their government by taking to the streets for over a week now, a demonstrators gathering in solidarity held in Toronto, Canada has shown their commitment to progress by reportedly kicking out a woman raising awareness of women’s issues in Egypt.

Reddit user eatenplacenta posted the following,

I made a sign about female genital mutilation and violence against women and people started getting in my face and yelling at me about how my message had no connection to the protest (although it was a protest about oppression in Egypt and the need for better human rights) and that FGM doesn’t exist anymore in Egypt. Men and women were trying to push me away and someone broke my sign. Then someone else complained about me to the director of the protest and he told me that if I didn’t take down my sign, he would kick me out of the protest and I asked him why and his response was “today isn’t about women.” There was an area for the fucking Iraqi Communist Party but to bring up a women’s rights issue was bad enough to piss off a lot of people and get kicked out. Women have been completely marginalized in this revolution. It was disheartening and only proved that the fact that I needed to be there because it was so controversial.

This was the sign.

The Egyptian uprising, by most accounts I’ve read at least, has united people from all corners of Egypt to stand opposed to Mubarak and the thugs which have spent the last few nights attacking pro-democracy supporters.

Gatherings of people within Tahrir Square have enabled people to interact who would never have had the opportunity to do so only months before while allowing political messages to be discussed.

A woman calling who called into the @Jan25 Voices twitter feed described the protests in Tahrir square as classless and genderless.

Before this, a video began circulating on the internet of a young woman leading protesters in a chant against security forces as they stood only a metre away behind a fence.

A feature by Al Jazeera tells details of a night spent skirmishing with pro-government supporters in and around Tahrir square.

The closer I got, the more frenetic the activity among the anti-government protesters.

Men and women hustled up huge bags of rocks. Another group dragged a metal barricade into a new backup position.

The source of the cacophony that had been echoing off Cairo’s streets and through our window was revealed: protesters behind the lines were rhythmically banging on the metal pavement fences in a primal drumbeat to keep the crowd’s spirits up.

All accounts point to women being involved on the front lines in the uprising.

Not being Egyptian and not being in Egypt, I cannot give any detailed description about what is being discussed by protesters on the street, or whether they will be discussed over the next weeks.

However, from the reports coming out of Egypt out over the last few days, protesters have clearly been dealing with the very immediate threats posed by the Egyptian police, and that posed by violent thugs supporting the regime.

Given the circumstances, it is unlikely that those on the streets have given much thought to anything other the immediate future, food, sleep and how to respond to the antagonists of the regime.

The men and women of Egypt have shown exceptional courage in standing up to Egyptian authority’s and their supporters, after all, there is a lot at stake.

If Mubarak wins, and some are suggesting that he already has, there will be a crack down.  Not only will the people in the street face repression, but, no doubt, their family’s will suffer a similar fate.

That fate will not be pleasant as the Egyptian police and prosecutors are known to torture those they have arrested.

Already organisers of the protests have been arrested as well as a notable Egyptian blogger who reportedly has managed to escape custody to go “on the run”.

It may be possible that those in Toronto misinterpreted eatenplacenta’s motives for appearing at the demonstration with the sign, given the propensity for those inciting Islamophobia to cite Female Genital Mutilation as a key reason why “all Arabs are evil”.

But ignorance is no defence.

Ejecting eatenplacenta for attempting to highlight a serious issue relating to women in Egypt betrays the spirit of the uprising itself given the role women  have played so far and the relatively egalitarian environment it has created.

Repeatedly, protesters have stated that they are fighting to create the potential for dialogue to take place without fear of reprisals.

Given that the people of liberal Toronto, Canada are not facing an immediate, day-to-day threat to their safety either from the regime or the regime’s supporters for speaking out, it is a place where discussion of issues such as Female Genital Mutilation can, should and must take place.

So long as one girl suffers, the discussion and action on the issue must take place and raising these issues, where ever possible is necessary to ensure the discussion continues.

Any act which silences that discussion runs contrary to the stated goals and aspirations which the Egyptian people are fighting and dying for.

To what extent the Egyptians engage with these issues when they are not fighting for their lives will define what is currently taking place within Egypt.

Perhaps it will be a distinguishing feature between a mere uprising and the beginnings of a real revolution.





What is truly tragic

20 01 2011

I’m happy to let Keith have the final word regarding my post here.  I think most people can make a reasonably good judgement on their own. But what I find infinitely amusing is a comment left by Jeremy Weiland:

Royce is here asserting that a mere fair hearing for all sides to an argument, in a spirit of civility, with recognition that one’s own point of view could be flawed and that conclusions reached ought to be tentative in nature, by itself constitutes “privilege.

What is truly tragic about this from a leftist point of view is that it is clearly an elitist approach. As if the ability to realize potential truth is not a matter of demonstration but of identity. It is not egalitarian; it is reactionary. It distrusts the ability of humans to recognize truth and falsity, and I shudder to think where that leads. Of course it’s important to recognize privilege (I think privilege is at the heart of classical anarchism, to be frank with you, not necessarily the state) but we can’t recognize ANYTHING unless we’re attempting to look at this stuff honestly and squarely.

This is in response to me calling out Keith Preston for suggesting that marginalised persons must present their case to the privilege who will then adjudicate as to whether or not they are oppressed.  I’m apparently the elitist one for recognising the fact that I cannot share the experiences of many marginalised people across the planet.  Yup.  Way to interpret logic Jeremy.

But then I didn’t have an exchange with a transgender sex worker, where I wrote such tidbits as:

Aster: And what is this delusion that you’re somehow combatting racism by [giving] racists a more prominent platform and voice, because maybe if they talk to the world they’ll get warmfuzzies and see the light.

Jeremy: That’s a fair criticism. But here’s another criticism: that somehow you’re combatting racism by bitching on an internet message board. I don’t know if my approach will work, but it’s where I feel I can do the most good right now.

and

Aster: I’d got another idea: how about we combat bigotry by NOT EMPOWERING BIGOTS.

Jeremy: It seems to me like your idea of “empowering” is “letting them anywhere within a 1000 mile radius of me”. I host attackthesystem.com – for free, I might add – because I think the larger conversation there is productive. If you feel differently, then fine. But if you think I’m committing some sort of heinous crime, well, I think you need to demonstrate that and not just breathlessly assert it over and over and over again. Not once over the past two and a half years have you ever tried to change my mind. Instead, you just bloviate at me. I wouldn’t respect any argument, no matter what it is, expressed thusly.

In the interest of providing context, prior to that exchange:

Aster: All I wish to say is that in hosting Preston’s website I think you have done a very harmful and hurtful thing, and that I wish at least that you had called out the transphobic and other explicit bigotry occasionally expressed at that site.

Jeremy: Here’s my thing, though. I’m interested in actions that actually benefit oppressed minorities, not symbolic actions. If I thought that what I was doing actually hurt anybody, I would cease it. I don’t doubt that you *feel* hurt by the existence of ATS, but hurt feelings is not the same thing as broken bones. What I don’t understand, sincerely, is why you continue to monitor ATS when it seems like continually dipping a wound in vinegar. Who’s at fault there, the wounded person torturing herself so, or the person with the open vat of vinegar?

Offensive?  Yup.  And when the shit hits the fan:

Aster: Gosh, I think I’ll give my time and money to people who would like to see your skull broken open with a steel-toed boot. Do you have any idea what kind of disrespect that is to my life- and to how many others’ lives?? You are fucking aiding and abetting Nazis, and you have the gall to claim the relevant problem is my psychology?!?

Jeremy: I just cannot see anything in that passage that makes any sense to me whatsoever. I’m sorry – part of the reason I don’t trust you is because of statements like that. It is so disconnected from the reality I occupy.

and then…

Aster: Do you honestly think that people who openly promote race-IQ theories and talk about “natural heirachies” of sex and gender are mostly on the right track?

Jeremy: For Christ’s sake, of course not. Don’t be silly. But I also don’t feel as threatened by them as you do.

Aster: Gee, that’s really what I need, a straight white guy telling me how he doesn’t feel threatened by white nationalists and “anarcho-“nazis- so unthreatened, in fact, that he decides to MATERIALLY HELP THEM SPREAD IDEAS which hurt people who aren’t him.

Honestly and squarely, who’s the reactionary elitist in all this?  If you need some help, here’s some reading material.





Fistycuffs with a petty demagogue in a black satin dress

16 01 2011

I was on the verge of deleting this blog as I have no time or patience in maintaining it no more.  And then I got into a prolonged scuffle on the LeftLibertarian forums with Jeremy Weiland who identifies as a “Left Libertarian” and hosts AttackTheSystem.com(ATS), for free, mind you.  Naturally, fate intervened when Keith Preston, who was the subject of much debate in that thread, picks up my post, publishes on ATS (without accrediting me at all mind you) and then tries to haul me over the coals in front of his Third Positionist buddies.  All I have to say is that if Preston felt threatened enough by a forum post to rebut it to a post published on ATS, and in such a condescending manner, then I must be doing something right.

Plans change.

It is necessary to elaborate a little on the context of my original post, to which Preston responds.  After a prolonged back and forth between Jeremy, myself and some others, the post itself was directed at ctmummy and summarised my overall arguments.  Material, such as the quote from Staceyann Chin, was included in the context of elaborating on certain principles to a fellow LeftLibertarian using the words of a radical LGBT activist rather than my own and was not, in itself, an argument against Preston and his ideology.

You can read my original post and Preston’s full response here.

So let’s get down to brass tacks.

The Label

As per usual, Preston begins his response by defining Anarchism on his terms, citing dictionary definitions of “Anarchism” and “rulership”.

Preston said:

‘From Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: Anarchism /’an-er-,kiz-em/ noun (1642) 1. a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups. 2. the advocacy or practice of anarchism.

From the Oxford Dictionary: ruler 1. a person or agent exercising government or control

The critic offers no explanation of how “rulership” is to be differentiated from “the state” or “government.”’

So “critic” (i.e. me)(I mean honestly, I don’t even get a proper noun?) apparently provides no explanation for how my conceptualisation differs.

I wrote,

“…as has been said more than once here, Anarchism has never been reducible to “anti-statism” and is much broader, having declared it’s opposition to all forms of rulership.”

But interpretation is a tricky thing and you can hardly blame someone for not taking the time to really come to grips of another’s reasoning.  So, at the risk of being drawn into a “my Anarchism is bigger than yours”, let’s clear some things up: Anarchism is the rejection of the right to rule over others and the rejection of the right for others to rule over you.  And to make it abundantly clear, ‘rulership’ is given a broad definition to encompass all forms of rulership.  This includes all specific forms of rulership including government and state, but also, importantly, those behaviours which reduce one individual to a position inferior to another on the basis of some abstract marker of identity. In short, it is opposition to all forms of authority. Another contributor to the LeftLibertarian forums writes in this regard:

There is a difference. Michel Foucault articulated the main idea here better than I can in An Archaeology of Knowledge, but essentially the right is only anti-establishment if we rework what the establishment has been throughout history. Any concept of the libertarian right requires knowledge and situations that did not exist during the inception of the Right/Left dichotomy. The Libertarian Right is a term that is retroactive in its historical placement. It takes the anti-government (meaning this government, the one that empowers minorities and poor people more than most have in the past) feelings of the right today and then tries to place them in-line with the anti-government (meaning all governments) ideas of the past.

Declaring oneself to be ‘anti-establishment’ does not an Anarchist make and yet Preston ties his “Anarchism” specifically to the exercise of the institutionalised power of the state.  He constructs his “Anarchism” with a narrow interpretation of ‘rulership’.  His “Anarchism” ends at this point and goes not much further.

In my original post I wrote that Preston’s whole approach to discrimination and oppression is pragmatic; he aims to convince the Left to join his alliance by saying that oppression such as racism can be dealt with after the revolution (FYI, when there are 1000 governments operating instead of 1).  Elsewhere in his response, Preston responded by dismissing this and making irrelevant claims about how he has read widely the works of writers belonging to Indigenous rights activists, marginalised minorities and anti-globalist’s aiming their pens at the “American Empire”.  In answer, I point out that just because Preston has read widely and cherry-picked ideas from marginalised peoples which reinforce his ideological stance is of no consequence to the argument itself. The point still remains; for  Preston there is nothing else, all that should be opposed is tied to the state, if it is not, it is valid and legitimate and “natural”.

This is evident where Preston writes:

Instead, it means that all issues and matters of controversy must be evaluated on their own terms, with an attitude of civility towards all but the incivil, and a fair hearing for all contending points of view, on which no one is to have the last word…

…sexual minorities who claim they are oppressed by sodomy laws, legal repression of gay-oriented businesses, or violent crimes by private individuals who target them on the basis of their gender or sexual identity are legitimate within the anarchist paradigm. Neo-Nazis who claim they are oppressed by the mere existence of Jews are not legitimate. Racial separatist whites (or of any other race/ethnicity) who claim their rights of property and association are being violated by discrimination prohibition are legitimate. Feminists who would legally require churches to accept women into the ranks of the clergy are not as this violates the associational and religious liberties of others. At the same time, there would be nothing inherently un-libertarian about feminists within a church organization agitating for altering church policy regarding gender exclusivity in the clergy if they so desired.

Under this construction, racism, sexism, gender discrimination and bias only become relevant issues to be targeted and challenged when they are institutionalised as acts of state power.  His first sentence asserts that it is necessary for marginalised people to allow those with privilege to adjudicate over whether those who are marginalised are oppressed in the first place.  After all Preston does not recognise the existence of privilege, for that would be “Marxist” and “Leftoid” and if he does, he does not see any need to challenge it, demonstrated in the following  quote:

I share most of the political and philosophical presumptions Paul enunciates: natural inequality of persons at both the individual and collective levels, the inevitability and legitimacy of otherness, the superiority of organic forms of human organization over social engineering, rejection of vulgar economism, and a tragic view of life.

Despite repeated assertions that he does not support racism and the like, Preston’s shared assumption that there is ‘a natural inequality of persons at both the individual and collective levels‘ only has a limited number of interpretations, and, just to make it abundantly clear, all of them are bad.  Use of the qualifier “natural” to allegedly justify a belief that, for example, “those little brown people have lower IQ’s than us, civilised white men” is hardly consistent with Anarchism as a political philosophy.

To translate, the rest pretty much states an opposition to egalitarianism of any kind, opposition to multiculturalism  and asserts an absolute freedom of association which acts as a limit on other freedoms.  In short, his ideas match up squarely with “National Anarchism” and Third Positionism.  But most who have had an encounter with “National Anarchists”, Third Positionists and ATS know this and would be familiar with the whole spiel which involves invoking the discussion of various reactionary Nationalist movements and a brief discussion of economics.

Preston concludes:

Here’s a good way to look at it: Libertarianism is neither left nor right in that it opposes both conservative as well as leftist forms of statism. There are also anti-capitalist and pro-capitalist forms of libertarianism. Likewise, Third Positionism is neither left or right in that it opposes both capitalism and communism, and there are statist and anti-statist variations of third positionism. So a technically proficient application of political language would indicate that I am both a libertarian and a third positionist, given my radical anti-statism and my free-market syndicalist-mutualist-distributist-communitarian economic outlook.

Of course this conclusion is ridiculous.  It again commits a logical fallacy.  Just because there are similarities on certain points between two political position, it does not follow that those two positions are politically compatible.  As I said in my initial “critique”: Milk is white.  Chalk dust is white.  Would you drink a glass of chalk dust?  It should be noted that responding to this point in my original post (not that there is really a response to basic logic) Preston took the opportunity to preach to the faithful.

However, this all assumes that Preston only rejects “Leftist cultural orthodoxy” when it is involved with Government and the State.  Fact is, Preston regards “Leftist cultural orthodoxy” as “totalitarian” and rejects it irrespective of whether it is “in power” or not.  As Johanna pointed out during an exchange with  Jeremy Weiland:

My impression was that Preston’s idea is that leftist cultural “orthodoxy” (not clear what that means) is totalitarian. IIRC, someone asked him this point blank on some forum (may have been LL2, but I don’t really remember now) and he answered with an unequivocal “yes”. No need for the “in the service of the state” business to pretend that this is necessarily an anti-state position.

and later:

It was intended to nail him down on whether the “totalitarian humanism” he’s talking about is, for instance, hate-speech laws where the state is enlisted and then the word “totalitarian” is doing something in his formulation, or cultural leftism itself where humanism=totalitarianism. Being it’s the latter, then TH is nothing more that “Preston hates lefties”…

And if that doesn’t do it for you, consider the following quote:

The real enemy is those who actually hold state power, not exotic cults despised by the wider society. As for movements that are currently out of power, the greatest potential threat in posed by an insurgent Islam made possible by demographic change in the West. This the primary reason why I endorse the European New Right as the best available metapolitical framework for present day anarchists. More than any other contemporary intellectual current, the ENR has developed a critique of the philosophical underpinnings of totalitarian humanism, as well as a rational response to the question of threats posed by demographic transformation.

Preston’s narrow interpretation of rulership combined with the use of this logical fallacy promotes “Third Positionism” by rendering any connection to “Anarchist” political philosophy so tenuous that it’s very use can only be considered a form of propaganda, especially when coupled with an inversion of the terms “Left” and “Right” that retroactively alters their use and applied meaning.

Third Positionism as Fascism

Time for a little history:

The origins of Third Position are in National Bolshevism, which originally referred to Communists who sought a national (rather than international) revolution. It soon came to refer to Nazis who sought an alliance with the Soviet Union. The most important of these was “left-wing Nazi ” Otto Strasser, a former Socialist who advocated land redistribution and nationalization of industry. After criticizing Hitler for allying with banking interests, he was expelled from the party. His brother, Gregor Strasser, held similar views but remained a Nazi until 1934, when other Nazis killed him in the Night of the Long Knives.

A number of postwar fascists continued this train of thought, including Francis Parker Yockey and Jean-François Thiriart. They saw the United States and liberal capitalism as the primary enemy, sought an alliance with the Soviet Union, and promoted solidarity with Third World revolutionary movements, including Communist revolutions in Asia and Latin American, and Arab anti-Zionists (particularly those with whom they shared antisemitic views). Thiriat’s followers in Italy formed a sect of “Nazi-Maoists” based on these principles, and after a gruesome August 1980 bombing in Bologna which killed 85 people, 40 Italian fascists fled to England, including Robert Fiore.

Fiore was sheltered by National Front member Michael Walker, editor of the Scorpion. This paper subsequently spread Third Position and New Right ideas into Britain’s National Front, and Troy Southgate openly credits it as a major influence. Third Position ideas also spread through the National Front via the magazine Rising. After a 1986 split, this new influence resulted in a reconfiguration of the party’s politics. Prominent members visited Qadafi’s Libya, praised Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini and forged links with the Nation of Islam in the United States.

…National-Anarchists retain the two main philosophical threads of Third Position. The first is the notion of a racist socialism, as a third option between both capitalism and left-wing socialism like Marxism or traditional anarchism. The second is the stress on a strategic and conceptual alliance of nationalists (especially in the Third World) against the United States. Just as the National Front praised the Nation of Islam and Qadafi, the National-Anarchists praise Black and Asian racial separatist groups, and support movements for national self-determination, such as the Tibetan independence movement. Unlike many White Nationalists (such as the British National Party), National-Anarchists are pro-Islamist —but only “if they are prepared to confine their struggle to traditionally Islamic areas of the world.”

As Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons note, Third Position fascism influenced U.S. groups such as the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), the American Front and the National Alliance; Christian Identity pastor Bob Miles also held similar views. Often overlooked by commentators is the American Front’s affiliation with Southgate’s NRF, which he boasted of for years. Like the National Front, U.S. fascists Tom Metzger and Lyndon LaRouche also forged ties with the Nation of Islam. More recently, the National Alliance has incorporated Third Position politics. They attempted to cross-recruit left-wing activists by launching a fake antiglobalization website, and, in August 2002, held a Palestine Solidarity rally in Washington D.C.

Matthew N. Lyons writes a good introduction to fascism here while Roger Griffin writes in a draft for a chapter that appeared in the book, Fascism and Theatre: The politics and aesthetics of performance in the era of Fascism that at their core, all fascist ideologies are driven by a definitional “palingenetic ultra-nationalism”.

Palingenetic’ refers to the myth of `rebirth’ or `regeneration’ (the literal meaning of `palingenesis’ in Greek). Clearly, the triumph of a new life over decadence and decay, the imminent rebirth from literal or figurative death, is a theme so universal within manifestations of the human religious, artistic, emotional and social imagination throughout history that it is in itself inadequate to define a political ideology…  The adjective`palingenetic’ first acquires a definitional function when it is combined with the historically quite recent and culture-specific phenomenon of `nationalism’, and only when this takes a radically anti-liberal stance to become ultra-nationalism. Fascism thus emerges when populist ultra-nationalism combines with the myth of a radical crusade against decadence and for renewal in every sphere of national life. The result is an ideology which operates as a mythic force celebrating the unity and sovereignty of the whole people in a specifically anti-liberal, and anti-Marxist sense….

what all permutations of fascism have in common (i.e. the `fascist minimum’) is that their ideology, policies and any organisations are informed by a distinctive permutation of the myth that the nation needs to be, or is about to be, resurrected Phoenix-like from the forces of decadence, which, without drastic intervention by the forces of healthy nationalism, threaten to extinguish it for ever.

Both Third Positionism and National Anarchism are a reworking of WWII era fascist ideologies, that conform to the definitional structure set out by Griffin.  This is necessary to note as both terms are often used interchangely and Preston explicitly identifies as a “fellow traveller” of National Anarchism.  Third Positionist’s generally outright reject both Marxist ideas liberal ideas.  Preston is no different in this regard (Preston refers directly to Jacobin, Marx and Marcuse in particular), but, like his use of the Anarchist label and libertarian terminology, he incorporates “classical liberalism” to the extent it frames and validates his strategy of “pan-secessionism”.  Similarly, the idea of Preston promotes a concept of a greater, abstract ultra-nationalism, which he  from which all individuals spring, an aspect of his philosophy that remains the domain of the Right.  The ultimate aim of rebirth is  expressed through a network of racial and ethnically pure communities where property is distributed evenly among members, free of interference from the “Left” which is characterised as having held down society with their “totalitarian humanist” views.

A look at the agenda for the American Revolutionary Vanguard (ARV) reveals two other notable characteristics common to fascist movements the world over: it is leader-focussed in the sense that a Third Positionist revolution depends on the leadership of the Vanguard guiding the average person who is considered too “simple” to understand ideas like feminism.  In a comment section on another post, Preston writes, I think we need for leaders to emerge in the various anarchist factions as well as overlapping and allied movements that are committed to the common plan of action we’ve outlined.

Secondly and just as importantly, ARV/ATS maintains a heavy focus on recruiting the youth or young people to the cause.

To quote the agenda:

5. Recognizing that youth are the future, American Revolutionary Vanguard focuses its primary recruiting efforts towards intelligent, committed and capable young men and women who will naturally develop into the leadership corps of the struggle to come.

and

6. American Revolutionary Vanguard supports the establishment of special clubs for youth oriented towards various forms of fashion, music, entertainment, sports and other features of youth culture along with the parallel provision of sound political education and training in firearms safety, competency and civilian defense techniques.

It is from this analysis that any claim by Preston to have transcended ideology is farcical.  The concepts being promoted are rooted firmly in far-Right ultra-nationalist ideology.  The “synthesis of ideas” Preston claims does not exist and are merely cherry-picked thoughts grafted onto a far-Right ideology.  More importantly, despite claiming to distance himself form European neo-fascists, his “Third Positionism” is not much different and meets, to borrow a phrase of Griffin, ‘the fascist-minimum’.

I hardly expect Preston to respond to this in any great detail.  He has written before about how he is not a fascist.  I will leave that up to the reader to decide.

A petty demagogue

Preston is of course correct when he notes that populism in and of itself does not explicitly belong to the Right and there is no direct relationship between Fascism, the Right and populism.  Populism, after all, is a tool that can be employed by the Right or the Left.  However, Preston’s response does nothing to answer any real questions and instead dodge the argument entirely.

Preston’s populist rhetoric, his embracing of the ultra-nationalist doctrine of Third Positionism as outlined above, over-emphasis on the American Empire as the only real oppressor and his narrow definition of rulership from which he constructs his “Anarchism” is an issue of serious concern to any Anarchist, any outsider and any individual belonging to a marginalised or alienated minority.  It is a means by which people are gradually introduced to attitudes and behaviours which they would normally reject.  These attitudes and behaviours then become normalised and the individuals identify increasingly with the Right.

Couple this with common techniques of propaganda and spin and a more developed picture emerges.  There is a tendency of Prestons to equate or use interchangeably the terms, Anarchist, Radical, Libertarian and Conservative which, though a curious aspect of American political discourse, is imprecise, misrepresentatitve and breeds confusion.  Further, in my original post, I noted the use of common techniques of propaganda and spin, which I called out.  These include appeals to “everyday people” and stating that “most people agree,” to stand in for coherent arguments.  Likewise, when I noted and called out Preston’s selective name-dropping of Kropotkin to give credibility to his “classical Anarchist” credentials, he responded:

Kropotkin’s strategic outlook regarding anarchist organizing among common people was the same as mine. For instance, he opposed trying to teach peasants about things like atheism, rationalism, Darwinism, etc and instead favored respecting their cultural and religious traditions while offering assistance on their own issues of concern like economic oppression and exploitation by the state and feudal landlords. And, if this means anything, Kropotkin’s daughter Alexandra actually immigrated to the USA and became a Goldwater supporter while continuing to claim her family’s anarchist heritage.

Fortunately, we don’t have titled aristocrats in modern Western societies, or where we still do, they are toothless. What “privilege” is it that we alternative anarchists are defending? The critic gives no examples or illustrations. Are we defending the military-industrial complex? Seeking to uphold the American empire? Are we Ayn Randian-fans of the corporate overlords? Are we apologists for the bureaucratic overlords of the New Class? Do we heap praise on the elites of the media and the world of academia?  Do we going around displaying slogans like “Support the Troops” or  “Support Your Local Police”? Not that I can tell.

Both these responds to two separate sections of my overall argument do not address the issue at all.  Instead they raise the volume in a direct appeal to emotion and deliberately deflect the question.  The point is that,  Kropotkin recognised his privilege as an aristocrat afforded to him as part of a feudal system and rejected it in an act of solidarity with the peasantry.  Importantly, Preston makes an assertion about Kropotkin’s attitudes and behaviour towards the peasantry without citation or reference which would enable a reader to check context and exact wording.  All we have is Preston’s word and his particular phrasing that this is the case.  Even still, looking at Kropotkin’s life, though he remained insulated from the peasantry and romanticised them, that he rejected his aristocratic privilege to the greatest extent possible for a man of his time and historical context, is an impressive feat.  In  a modern context that understanding of privilege goes further to other critical theories of gender, race and sexuality.

Later in his response, Preston concludes by insulting me and calling me ignorant of political history and political terminology.  This is despite Preston’s claim to be a “classical Anarchist” and “fellow traveller” to NA while self-identifying as a “Third Positionist” which is about as good attempt as any at obfuscation which relies on the contradictory use of technical political terminology to create confusion.  Then Preston apparently has no grasp of the concept of “privilege” as it relates to social inequality (I guess I took that for granted) but then, even if he does, he is playing games because it doesn’t exist in Preston’s ideological world view.  All talk of ‘privilege’ is “Marxist” and therefore evil.  Where he does acknowledge privilege however is where it remains consistent with the overarching narrative of the Great American Empire to the exclusion of any other form of oppression:

…Most of us are certainly privileged compared to our counterparts in many other parts of the world.  Fortunately, most of us are also stridently opposed to the oppression inflicted on people of other nations and civilizations by our own ruling classes such as people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Columbia, Latin America, Iran, northern Africa, Southeast Asia, etc.

Importantly, Preston again employs a favourite rhetorical technique of propaganda throughout his response; the labelling of opposition as “Politicly Correct” or  “Leftoid Marxists” in an attempt to create and designate an enemy.  Anyone who is too vocal about oppression or who too enthusiastically voices dissent is given either label, characterised a certain way and derided for ‘the reflexive dogmatism and cultic psychology common to so much of the Left.’  Never mind existential Absurdism tends to inform my philosophical background more often these days, but whatever.  Any discussion of racism or bigotry is derailed most frequently and most expertly.  In the comments section and the response itself, I’m characterised as a “Leftoid Anarchist”, or words to that effect. This is scapegoating and is yet another disturbing feature about Preston and ATS.  The Left-bashing that occurs so frequently, while another glaring factor that roots Preston’s ideology firmly in the Right, treats the Left as the great Other, the unifying factor around which the “Alternative Right” can gather.   The Left is repeatedly constructed as the oppressor, the great evil that threatens the narrative being spun by Preston:

The present day ruling class paradigm is a synthesis of classical bourgeoisie liberalism and socialism (i.e. a capitalist/social democratic hybrid) and the institutionalization of the values of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Therefore, the Left is indeed “in power.”

Behind his attempts to demonise “the Left”, there is the overwhelming sense that Preston and others genuinely believe that all those associated with “the Left” are only “following party lines” and are essentially feigning their commitment to dealing with and resolving serious social issues.  There is no “party line”.  There is no centralised cadre or leadership (unlike Preston’s vision for his own “movement”).  Those who adopt the LeftLibertarian label generally have formed a broad interpretation of rulership and so declare their opposition to all forms of rulership.  After all, self-liberation is the ultimate goal of Anarchism and Left-Libertarianism and no individual wants to live in a world where they know, that if they walk over the hill to a homogenous self-segregated community they are going to be lynched because of their identity, because they were simply being themselves and happened to violate a term stipulated by some local tyrant.

Preston’s conclusion reinforces this scapegoating and attempts to reinforce his legitimacy by falsely invoking historical struggles and drawing false parallels between them, himself and his ideas:

ARV/ATS… recognize(s) the dangers posed by authoritarian leftism (in spite of the history of bloody conflict between anarchists and left-statists). This is simply a replay of the battle between Bakunin and Marx, between the Kronstadt rebels and the Bolsheviks, or between the Spanish anarchists and the Stalinists.

So far this analysis has taken up almost 4000 words, and this is without going into explicit detail regarding how the Third Positionist and National Anarchist goal of “pan-secessionism” does not act as a “realistic” solution to racism or discrimination.  The very notion of forming alliances with the reactive Right to bring about any real, functioning Anarchism remains a downright absurd notion.  However, Preston frames any debate on the subject by discussing the need to build big tent coalitions between tendencies in order to achieve any real change and then immediately leaping to the conclusion that such an alliance must include the far Right.

Anarchists and Left-Libertarians have long recognised the need to work with and build large coalitions composed of all groups fighting oppression in some form, but this does not mean they should they form these alliances with reactive forces who outright reject any attempts to combat oppression against minority groups, or at least do so under the guise of “pragmatism” and “realism”.  These groups, treat certain identities as a virus and under certain far-Right ideologies are either to be crushed (i.e. White Nationalism) or can be told to “like it or leave it” in the form of “self segregation” (i.e. Third Positionism and National Anarchism).  Better yet “pan-secessionism” combined with self-segregation (absolute freedom of association as a express or implied limit on other basic freedoms) are said to be the only “realistic” means of solving oppression.  Otherwise it is argued that the average person is too stupid to understand such ideas that “women/people of colour/indigenous people/gay/lesbian/transgender people are people too” or that oppression and privilege is so ingrained in people that it is “unrealistic” to try to change it and any attempt to do so is that evil “Leftistism” or “Leftoidism”.  If anyone dares challenge this logic, the word “realistic” is thrown about like water and then a strawman is invoked in the sense that you are “Leftist” and you want to “shoot anyone who opposes you”, another condescending, melodramatic strawman.  Well, either this or you are some “evangelist Leftoid” promoting universalist values, because somehow it is feasible that just because everyone has different understands of what is “good” or “evil”, we must allow our neighbourhoods and spaces to be transformed into conversative theocracies or racially homogenous no-go zones for the rest of humanity.

If you want to talk realistic, discrimination and marginalisation caused by ultra-nationalist tendencies reinforces abstract concepts which define individuals and inevitably manifests conflicts that wouldn’t otherwise occur.  The marginalisation of the Japanese people and discrimination against Japanese migration (particularly to Australia) on the basis of race prior to WWII actually facilitated the rise of Japanese militarism.  The repeated humiliation and sense of inferiority inflicted upon the Japanese by European countries and Australia with their own nationalist policies for maintaining homogenous “White” societies actually helped to birth Japanese ultra-nationalism. Cyprus is another good, complex, multi-dimensional example of the dangers created by abstract ultra-nationalism and proposed “self-segregation” (I could write an entire series on the subject and it would take only the first chapter of the first volume to show Preston’s ideology to be silly).

After all this, I can only conclude that Keith Preston is little more than a petty demagogue in a black satin dress.

(and just in case there are any issues regarding interpretation, yes the “black satin dress” is a metaphor for Preston’s false appropriation of the label “Anarchist” and his particular method of dealing)

First off, and for the record, let me give you my original post which was written in response, not to Jeremy Weiland, but to a third party poster on the forum to whom I was trying to demonstrate that Keith Preston is a Third Positionist (before BrainPolice astutely pointed out it says so on his facebook page).