Steve Biko had a saying: “The oppressor’s most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed.” The state’s ideological indoctrination is far from perfect. But all too many people are still successfully conditioned by the state’s legitimizing ideology not to see certain internal contradictions in the state’s claims, or to ask questions that would seem obvious to anyone not trained to suppress certain kinds of logical connections.
One example of a question that’s not asked, a logical connection that’s not made, is the tendency to judge the state by the professed intentions of its spokesmen rather than by its actions. Closely associated with it is the tendency to judge the state by its professed intentions, while judging private actors by their actions.
For instance, Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers recently argued that US Army PFC Bradley Manning should be considered guilty of murder: “We know for a fact that people will likely be killed because of this information being disclosed.”
You don’t think anyone “knew for a fact” that people would be killed when Bush initiated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? So why isn’t an American President guilty of murder when he commits troops to a war?
Lots of public figures have argued that the idjit preacher from Florida who wanted to burn the Quran on 9-11 would be responsible for increased bloodshed. Glen Greenwald asks, in response, whether “establishment-serving, power-worshipping” commentators “would ever in a million years use language like that to condemn American officials who have actually spilled enormous amounts of blood?” (“The pastor and cheap, selective concern for ‘blood-spilling,'” Salon, September 10).
As Alexander Berkman pointed out in “The ABC of Anarchism,” in response to people who wrung their hands over anarchists’ alleged bomb-throwing and violence: “When a citizen puts on a soldier’s uniform, he may have to throw bombs and use violence.” The commands of the state, by their very nature, depend on force and violence. If the state was not, as Poul Anderson put it, the agency that reserves the right to kill anyone who disobeys it, why — its commands would be mere suggestions.
It follows, Berkman argued, that “we are so steeped in the spirit of violence that we never stop to ask whether violence is right or wrong. We only ask if it is legal, whether the law permits it. You don’t question the right of the government to kill, to confiscate and imprison. If a private person should be guilty of the things the government is doing all the time, you’d brand him a murderer, thief, and scoundrel. ”
Critics of anarchism demonize a hypothetical stateless society on the grounds that it will be unable to completely stamp out violence and crime — implicitly assuming that the state is fully successful in stamping out those things.
No, sad to say, voluntary associations in a stateless society wouldn’t be able to prevent a hundred percent of murders, robberies, and rapes. Unlike the state we live under now, which guarantees 100% effective crime prevention or your money back. Seriously, if you call 911 to report that a guy with a hockey mask and a hook for a hand is fiddling around with your back window screens, the state is under absolutely no legal obligation to get cops to your house before he eviscerates you and hangs you in the freezer. It’s not like you’re the customer or anything.
Never mind, as we saw above, that the state itself actively engages in murder, robbery and rape.
And this doesn’t just refer to those other, bad states, the official enemies of the good guys in the United States government — as bad as their death tolls have been. After WWII, the U.S. government itself was the world’s biggest job retraining program for Nazi war criminals. Left-wing resistance movements throughout the European and Pacific theaters were divested of the ground they held at the end of the war, and in many cases former Axis collaborators were put in control of provisional governments installed by the Allies. In the ensuing decades, the U.S. has been an overflowing source of fraternal aid and assistance to right-wing death squads and military dictators all over the world. In Central America alone, the death toll from military regimes installed by the U.S. and death squads trained by the U.S. extends into the millions. Under Operation Condor in South America, a series of coups — starting with Brazil — extended over most of the continent. And then there’s Mobutu, Suharto …
We need to start judging the state by its actions, not its words. And we need to judge the actions of the state by the same standards we use to judge everyone else.