”Who Says Violence Doesn’t Solve Anything?” A Review of Radicalized: Four Tales of Our Present Moment by Cory Doctorow

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By John Siman


On the back cover of this collection of four tales— intricately-imagined novellas, really, of about sixty to a hundred pages each — one reads a second subtitle: Radicalized: Dystopia is now. For Doctorow is not warning us about extra bad things that could very likely happen in the near future — about really scary things that might be well-nigh inevitable! — but is rather elucidating worst-case-scenarios into which the USA has already been immersed.

And the proof of the devil’s active existence in the Neoliberal USA is in the details, which Doctorow gets right in a way that is enrapturing in its precision: Here is the alluring beauty that arises from staring squarely at and studying what is most abhorrent.

 The reigning devil is, of course, the Neoliberal dispensation by which the USA has been consumed for going on four decades now, in whose workshop the country has been purposefully divided into an oligarchy consisting of the billionaires and their Creative Class, hipsterocratic lieutenants on the one hand, and the lumpen deplorables and the immigrants of ambiguous documentation and the vestigial middle class and the poor of many colors on the other.

 And Doctorow sees all this — or at least describes it — better than just about anybody.

In his first tale, “Unauthorized Bread,” Doctorow relates the anti-corporate adventures of a plucky, upward-aspiring Libyan immigrant named Salima, who, after having spent five years of humiliation in a camp for asylum-seekers in Arizona (after her parents had drowned at sea while trying to escape to Greece) and then several months in a shelter near Boston, is accepted into an income-indexed (i.e. subsidized) apartment in a brand-new state-of-the-art high-rise called Dorchester Towers. Salima is ecstatic.

But when Salima shows up in the lobby — the non-market-rent side of the lobby, that is — to move into her apartment on the thirty-fifth floor, she begins to discover with what intricate contempt her new living arrangements have been crafted: For each of the elevators in Dorchester Towers, Janus-like, has two sets of doors, one set that opens for the residents who pay market-rent, and an opposite set that seems not to open at all. Salima tries to appeal to the security guard:

     “The elevators don’t work,” Salima reminded him. “We waited and waited — “

     “The elevators work. They just give priority to the market-rent side. You’ll get an elevator when none of these folks need one.”

Salima grasped the system and its logic in an instant. The only reason she’d been able to rent in this building was that the developer had to promise that they’d make some low-income housing available in exchange for permission to build fifty stories instead of the thirty that the other buildings in the neighborhood rose to. There was a lot of this sort of thing, and she knew that there were rules about the low-income units, what the landlords had to provide and what she was forbidden from doing. But now she saw an important truth: even the pettiest amenity would be spitefully denied to the subsidy apartments unless the landlord was forced by law to provide it [italics mine, p. 31].

So here Doctorow shows us a screengrab of one of the most brutal aspects of Neoliberalism’s heart of darkness: the will to humiliate, the will to impose the very shittiest of conditions on whomever it can. Free marketsis a euphemism for fuck you.

  In this tale, however, our Salima, heartwarmingly and rather heroically prevails against an array of market-based enemies which include the grasping digital tentacles of hedge-fund-driven kitchen appliances, the impending danger of jail-time for jailbreaking such appliances under Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, and, finally, the tightening high-tech noose of a posse of predatory landlords. So hooray for brave Salima, the resourceful Libyan immigrant! Doctorow, we must be careful to note, even as he guides us through various circles of Neoliberal hell, realms which are in some ways, precisely because of their familiarity to us, worse than Orwellian, worse than Kafkaesque, is nevertheless not counseling us to abandon all hope as we enter therein, but just the opposite: For Doctorow envisions the possibility of victory in the brutal struggle against evil.

Thus we come to the tale “Radicalized,” from which the book takes its title. “Radicalized” does indeed give us a hopeful, even a happy ending, but only in the most gruesome way possible. Its hero is a thirty-six-year-old white guy named Joe who works for a Fortune100 company in what David Graeber would describe as a high-paying bullshit job:

People he’d started with left to work for experimental divisions with self-driving forklift companies, or diving into cloud-based self-serve platforms for ecommerce dropshippers, or all that other stuff that helped people get their Squatty Pottys and strobing LED USB chargers delivered to their doors with five nines of reliability (p. 201).

And Joe performs his Graeberian bullshit job with an enterprising and Sisyphean enthusiasm (after all, il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux), until one fateful day he goes “through a door that led out of his life as it was and into a new, worse life. It was a door that only swung one way and once you went through it, you could never go back” (pp. 184-185).

Joe’s wife has got a metastasizing, stage-four breast cancer, and Joe’s top-tier, $1,500-month insurance policy won’t cover the treatment. Joe just about goes insane with rage. So Joe joins an on-line forum: Its members are other husbands and dads whose wives and kids have been denied coverage for other treatable cancers. Other husbands and dads who are going insane with rage. The forum is called Fuck Cancer Right in Its Fucking Face: — Fuckriff. In it Joe gets radicalized, and getting radicalized means — getting violent. Getting radicalized means — becoming an enemy combatant. Getting radicalized means — becoming a terrorist.

 Or does it?

Through his laptop Joe watches, mouth agape, as, one after another, certain of his Fuckriff forum buddies metamorphosize ineluctably, Ionescoely, into suicide-bombers. First, LisasDad1990 blows up the South Carolina Headquarters of BlueCross/BlueShield. The second bomber, a charming former frat president, takes out a Tennessee Republican state senator. The third, DeathEater, phones Joe early in the morning on the day of his action:

“If you work for a health insurance company [DeathEater tells Joe], or their lobbyists, or a senator or congressman who votes against health care for everyone, I want you to be afraid. Scared to leave home. Too scared to sleep. I want you lying awake at night, feeling a rush of fear every time you hear a creak. I want you to have a concealed carry permit, a shotgun by the bed, and still find yourself wondering every morning whether today’s going to be the day. If you can’t take that, quit your job. Tell your boss you didn’t sign up to be blown to pieces by some grief-crazed suicide bomber. Eventually, those insurance executives and lobbyists and politicians will have to move on to Plan B. Which is health care for everyone…” (p. 212).

After DeathEater hangs up on him, Joe starts to dial 911 — but doesn’t. Later that day DeathEater blows himself up at a health insurance conference at a Sheraton in Clearwater, Florida. “The death toll,” Doctorow writes, “was spectacular” (p. 214).

 Joe himself does not metamorphosize into a suicide-bomber, but perhaps this is only because his wife’s cancer goes into spontaneous remission. To his, to the doctor’s — to everyone’s — utter amazement, by some utterly flukey miracle, her health returns. So Joe does not become a bomber, but neither does he ever provide law enforcement with any information about the national “epidemic of nice, respectable white dudes blowing shit up“ (p. 223). “Joe didn’t want to kill anyone,” Doctorow writes, “but deep inside, he knew that there were plenty of people who warranted killing” (p. 222).

So it’s really just a matter of time — excruciating time but logical, methodically-marching-forward natural time nevertheless — until Joe is shot, arrested, beaten, jailed, kept in solitary confinement. Joe sees all this coming, dreads it, suffers privately, but keeps his mouth shut.

While he’s handcuffed to a hospital bed, an FBI agent offers Joe a deal: no criminal charges if Joe will go undercover on the Fuckriff forum to help the Bureau identify the next wave of metamorphoses of dads into bombers. Joe refuses. “Joe decided,” Doctorow writes,”that he’d go to jail for a hundred years before he betrayed Fuckriff and all who sailed in her” (p. 240). This act seems to be both nauseating and heroic. Joe accordingly will be vindicated. Medicare-for-All will become the law of the land. “Who says violence doesn’t solve anything?” his cancer-free wife asks him through the prison Plexi glass at the conclusion of the tale (p. 244). And these fictional details are almost too much for me to process in my real life.

 I received my copy of Radicalized in the mail on the last Saturday in March and devoured it over the weekend. Then I had a wonderfully engaging two-hour-long phone conversation with Cory Doctorow that Monday.

 I spent the whole month of April and the first part of May returning to the dark question, first posed by DeathEater in the story and then repeated by Joe’s wife, a question I had never wanted to consider except in the most theoretical context: Who says violence doesn’t solve anything?

 I told just about anyone who would listen how moved and how troubled I was by the story and the harrowing question that arose from it. One of my neighbors sympathetically told me about a 2002 Denzel Washington movie (Doctorow says he is unfamiliar with it) in which a loving, middle-class dad — named not Joe, but John Q.— is driven to extremes and takes a hospital emergency room hostage after insurance refuses to cover the heart-transplant that his young son needs to survive. Charismatic Robert Duvall and Ray Liotta also star in the movie. So this is Hollywood fantasy, excitement and violence and wish-fulfillment all wrapped up into one awesome entertainment package. Doctorow is doing something fundamentally different: He is not inventing fantastical wish-fulfillment but rather is analyzing looming nightmare-fulfillment. He is showing us that we already inhabit a dystopia, and I for one confess that I am not fully ready to consider such harsh reality in all of its bedeviling implications. Though I need to be, as, I guess, we all do now.

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53 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    I was reading this morning an essay by an historian of Irish history about the achievements of violence – as he points out, every successful movement for independence for Ireland was either driven by violence (the 1916 rebellion and subsequent insurgency) or by leaders who advocated pacifism but kept the threat of violence to hand (Grattan, O’Connell, Redmond). The latter, as the historian argued, advocated for violence on behalf of the State (he encouraged his supporters to join the British Army in WWI in the foolish belief that Ireland would be rewarded for its loyalty).

    In the midst of the centenary commemorations of our independence, it is inevitable that difficult questions will be asked about the role of violence in achieving it.

    It is important that we don’t judge the events of the Irish revolution against fictional, sanitised versions of the Irish past.

    Even Gandhi only really succeeded (as he knew well) because the British knew he had the power to order a revolution.

    Reply
    1. The Rev Kev

      You might be interested in a clip from Star Trek where they discuss the use of violence in politics and even mentioned that Ireland was unified in 2024 through terrorism. I believe that this episode was banned from both the UK and Ireland as result and which is why I mention it-

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiaUusr7YdY

      Reply
    2. Joe Well

      In Boston, the violence in the American Revolution is mostly taught, correctly I believe, as having originated with the British. They kept sending troops illegally, and how were people supposed to respond? They certainly asked them nicely to take their troops back but that didn’t work. The first shots fired were when British troops massacred a bunch of farmers at Lexington for no real reason except to show that they could, and even then by accident. So it’s very clear where the violence started.

      The Revolution is explosive, dangerous history to teach in the US. From talking with Americans from other parts of the US, I get the impression it is not taught much at all. The parallels with later conflicts where the US took the role that Britain had taken are too obvious, so almost since the 1790s, historians have tried to avoid talking about it, and refer to a “War for Independence.”

      Reply
      1. Joe Well

        Also, at least 5% of the soldiers in New England were black, most of them slaves or former slaves, and the Revolution ended with slavery abolished in Massachusetts. That was repeated on a grander scale in the civil war.

        Eric Foner has written that the US and Haiti are the only countries where abolition was achieved in large part due to armed former slaves (or “enslaved people” if you want to be up to date). Another reason that the history of the American Revolution terrifies elites.

        Reply
          1. Joe Well

            Obviously, the US Civil War is not the same as the Haitian Revolution. The vast majority of the combatants were white, even on the Union side. The biggest contribution of the slaves was just walking off the plantations and taking the Southern economy with them. But 200,000 of those who served in the Union army and navy were black (not clear how many had been slaves), and I would say that is a significant contribution.

            This is a great introducton: “The Truth about the Civil War” by Eric Foner in The Nation.

            Eric Foner is one of the leading historians of the civil war and Reconstruction, and his books and articles are excellent reading.

            Reply
          2. JBird4049

            In every American war blacks have fought in large numbers and in the histories written afterwards it is almost uniformly erased. Interesting is it not?

            Reply
          3. Procpius

            I believe the history of U.S. involvement in Haiti proves that the elite has never forgiven them for that. We have done everything in our power, including sending the Marines in, to prevent them from solving their problems and progressing to a livable state. Europe, too.

            Reply
            1. Joe Well

              Thomas Jefferson, slavemaster, became president of the only other independent nation in the Americas soon after the Haitian Revolution. It was one of the worst things ever to happen to Haiti, and US policy toward the country has been mostly horrible since.

              Reply
    3. Oregoncharles

      Actually, there was an armed, violent rebellion in post-war India the whole time Gandhi was leading his movement. It’s mentioned in the movie. Similarly, there were armed Black movements, the Black Panthers and the Deacons, backstopping MLK Jr. One effect is to make the non-violent movement look like a preferable alternative.

      Reply
      1. jsn

        True non-violence is a luxury movements can afford only if they trust the “legitimate” violence of authorities.

        Tangency to illegitimate violence, as you note with Gandhi and MLK is what made their non-violence effective with the elites of their times and places. As the authorities shade into illegitimacy, who’s violence is legitimate becomes contested and elites often don’t have the courage of their cynical convictions.

        The largest anti-war protest in history in 2003, in the absence of militant violence, led to nothing though, and empowered cynical elites in the US & UK for another generation.

        Reply
    1. Anon

      Well, let’s help with the comprehension:

      David Rolfe Graeber is an American anthropologist and anarchist activist, perhaps best known for his 2011 volume ‘Debt: the first 5000 years’. He is professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. See Wikipedia.

      Reply
  2. Amfortas the hippie

    this sad reality has been coming since at least the 80’s…and it’s arrival shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention.
    you can only push people so far, until the thin patina of civilisation wears through completely.
    i only get commercials from walking through mom’s living room…but it seems we’re inundated with ads for miracle drugs that noone can afford…cures and fixes that are cruelly out of reach of most of us.
    who is the target audience for these ads? not 90% of the people i’ve spent my life with, fer sure.
    my co-conspirators in Getting By generally don’t have health insurance, and make “too much” to get medicaid…an only go to the doctor when they absolutely have to.
    then i hear tell of some big pharm monster arbitrarily raising the price of insulin a thousand fold…extortion on a grand scale!…and the talking heads lament that the Market(holy,holy) hiccupped in such a fashion…but what can one do?….
    then i hear about others…fully insured and complacent…getting denied for conditions and emergencies, arbitrarily, the possibility of which are the sole reason they stayed at that hated job, paid the extortionate premiums and copays and deductables in the first place…
    this precarious world is the one the Masters wanted…but I don’t think that they’ve thought it through….
    the Neoliberal Order is based on an idea of Individual Agency….I am an Enterprise, making Choices(tm).
    no citizens, no Human Beings, even…just Enterprises, surveying the field before them and Maximalising their Opportunities.
    But the Masters were too greedy, and too blind to their own greed…it felt so natural, after all, when viewed through such a lens…
    those Opportunities necessarily withered for the great many….and the Masses started noticing that the Masters ignored law and convention and “norms” and morality and anything resembling that old fashioned shared existence.
    it was only a matter of time before the Precariat(my favorite New Word) was left with imitating the core Essence of the Masters: Take what you can get away with Taking….Opportunity, it turns out, includes Eating the Rich.
    it’s gonna be ugly…and the talking heads will shake and nod and fail to understand how this could have come to pass….but at least some of the Masters are literally sucking the blood of the Youth(thiel–he can’t be the only one)…and at some point will be known as Enemy and Fair Game.
    for all the talk about who deserves what over the last 40 or so years…the Masters certainly deserve their comeuppance.
    Edo Dives.
    May the Mob find them Quickly.

    Reply
    1. Henry Moon Pie

      You can relate to this story better than most.

      And this:

      “you can only push people so far, until the thin patina of civilisation wears through completely”

      reminded me of this:

      But when there’s too much of nothing
      It just makes a fella mean.

      Dylan, “Too Much of Nothing”

      PP&M cover

      Reply
    2. Summer

      If you really want to piss professional class people off, point out how slim their “choices” actually are.
      Even inheritance has a way of slimming choices.

      Reply
  3. Jessica

    Cory Doctorow has also written Walkaway. I highly recommend it as a kind of Daily Antidote to the dystopian vision.

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      Walkaway is good. I’ve enjoyed several of Doctorow’s books very much, his point of view is easy for me relate to. He is a Canadian, although he generally sets his stories in the USA. Many times outsiders can see another country with clearer eyes than the citizens — this reminds me of Robbie Robertson of The Band, who wrote so many great “Americana” type of songs, but who was also Canadian.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaKD1Vdarnw

      Reply
  4. Mattski

    The poor live with the grinding implicit and explicit violence of poverty every day. The middle class, bred to ape upper class gentility, are taught to fear it. (Figures like MLK are use to falsely breed this fear into them–as if what King and Gandhi endured to expose evil wasn’t violence!) They will go to such lengths to avoid it that they will sell out their brothers and sisters by the billions just below, whether they are in hock to their eyeballs or not–whether their children can go to college or their parents fix their rotting teeth–and continue to tell themselves the system that is destroying them is virtuous/the only system possible.

    The result is that violence remains the option only of the rich, who apply it with excessive force as tool of discipline and domination.

    It’s those with nothing to lose who are going to make change. Fortunately, that comes to include almost all of us.

    Reply
  5. Joe Well

    I was a big Cory Doctorow fan until Little Brother, which is the most self-indulgent book I have ever seen anywhere. His 17 year old protagonist goes off on page-long rants about Jane Jacobs and whatever else Cory happened to be thinking about at the moment.

    His subsequent books have been like that, rants disguised as novels, and they’re rants by a member of the 1-2%, a to the manor born member of the creative class who deeply feels copyright law but never worries about how he’ll pay rent, and never has worried about that in his life.

    Is this book really different?

    Also, I wish Doctorow would have had the guts to set the book in Canada. Both for the sake of Canadians and for Americans who think it represents something better.

    Reply
  6. JCC

    The Powers That Be already understand this. That is why we are seeing DHS and its militarization of the nation’s police forces, among other tell-tale signs.

    Reply
  7. Pinhead

    Lenin pointed out, correctly, that “wars have consequences”. He could have added that the consequences are seldom the ones foreseen by those who start the wars or other violence.

    Reply
  8. skk

    This sounds like a heck of a book ! I’m glad to see a story that doesn’t moralise on violence but lets the users of it win.
    I came to the conclusion a couple of decades ago that its not so much “violence doesn’t work” nor that its EITHER violence OR pacifism but that both techniques are useful and work together.
    Not that the proponents of each method craftily, behind the scenes, cooperate, coordinate with each other, nor even the “bullet AND the ballot box” strategies of many resistance movements, but rather that when one works backwards from the successful conclusion of a resistance or independence struggle and scan the struggles evolutionary landscape one sees that both strategies played their own significant roles over the previous decades of struggle.
    Which should lead, if one learns from history, for leaders of each style of resistance to allow the other method to exist, even flourish and to temper your rhetoric against the other style. Of course in the fight for supporters, for members of your movement, you have to dispute the other technique, but with an eye on the history of other struggles keep the temperature of your refutations of the other technique down during your own struggles.

    I speak from looking at the Indian struggle for Independence, the republican/Catholic struggle in N.I. and the African-American struggles in the 2nd half of the last century.

    Reply
  9. Susan the other`

    Violence is the cure for violence. Structural violence is mitigated by unrelenting democracy which sometimes makes use of molotov cocktails and things. You could consider this form of politics as a form of controlled aggression – demanding change until you get it. The thing about structural violence is that it is ashamed of itself, so it tries to hide.

    Reply
  10. Richard Wixom

    Do not know about healthcare but have seen twice (that I know) in the corporate campaign to displace citizens using an alphabet soup of visas for cheaper foreign “guest workers”. In the cases of Kevin Flanagan and Andre Turner, corporate response was to hire public/media relations firms to prevent public linking of cause and effect, dig up dirt on the individuals, shape the news reporting, and then sanitize internet with goal of preventing a conflagration.

    Given the life-traumatizing impact, means, and readily identifiable cause, only surprise is such action is not more widespread.

    Reply
    1. Cal2

      “So here Doctorow shows us a screengrab of one of the most brutal aspects of Neoliberalism’s heart of darkness: the will to humiliate, the will to impose the very shittiest of conditions on whomever it can. Free markets is a euphemism for fu*k you.”

      So is giving subsidized apartments to foreigners whose parents never died in a war for our country, never paid taxes, never raised children here, nor worked to improved our nation. Yeah, fu*k that.

      That apartment, for all its defects, should have been given to a poor American veteran or a senior who can only afford cat food for dinner. We have no other country to go to.

      The book is on the want list.

      Reply
      1. Anon

        The ‘immigrant’ issue Trumps all, for some. You may have no other country to go to, but, if you’re ‘military’, there are at least 400 compounds around the world that may allow you to bed down.

        Reply
        1. JBird4049

          Those compounds ain’t available to the wandering bands of homeless near me. As an American who sees other Americans being grounded into the dirt because Markets!, I rather want them to be helped first in this the Greatest Nation on Earth Evuh!™️; however, since much of the planet has been turned into Hell by the actions of the United States, anyone else getting helped even accidentally is fine with me. We are all humans after all deserving of the same things.

          Reply
      2. Phil in KC

        Pitting seniors against homeless veterans against refugees–well, can we be charitable to all? Pitting one group against another in the game of “who is the most deserving of aid and protection,” seem to be one of the ways our elites keep us divided. At least in this country, we have enough for all, I think.

        Reply
  11. Tomonthebeach

    What does it say about us that we are fine with accepting global corporate greed that pushes people into a corner of desperation from which suicide or terrorism seem to be the only “reasonable” options? How did we let this happen? How did we aid and abet it?

    How is it that we sit idly by as fellow citizens cheer the coming of the 4th Reich under Her Trump? How is it that when we watch Trump daily dismantling our government that a great many fellow citizens go into schadenfreude rather than horror?

    It is as if Satan himself has ripped the needle of America’s moral compass and we are fine with replacing our white good-guy cowboy hats for red ball caps. I used to think of Satan as a metaphor for ambient evil in the world. Since 2016, it seem that the entire world would benefit form an exorcism.

    Reply
  12. Polar Donkey

    About 9 months ago the president of the chamber of commerce had his brains blown out walking down the sidewalk with dozens of witnesses present. This guy had broken a union and ran an airlines out of business while getting a golden parachute. He also at one point tried to set up a mayor
    years ago with a prostitute to create a political scandal.
    A couple teenagers were arrested the next morning for the killing. Those guys went into a black hole and almost nothing has been heard about the case since. After the murder every person working with chamber had 24hr police protection for almost a week. Neither the police, the lawyers for suspects, or reporters thought it was just random violence. The president of chamber getting gunned down infront of witnesses sent a collective chill down the backs of the elites of this city. I can’t imagine the response if there was a political/economic ideology behind the killing.

    Reply
    1. Emeline

      Just spitballing here, but the response might look like a couple of people being arrested and going into a black hole, with nothing being heard about the case.

      I’m more comfortable than a lot of people, and there are days when I ponder what self defense looks like in the context of a global oligarchy that seems determined to crush everyone.

      Reply
  13. Jonathan Holland Becnel

    Id prefer Radicalization without the violence. Let the State and Big Business stoop to that level.

    We must arm ourselves with Words and Truths, not guns and fear.

    Tbh this book sounds awful. I already know what Neoliberalism has done and what we need are inspiring tales of society and govt coming to their senses and eradicating Neolib.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Well, that certainly is a theory. You can join with like minded people in starting a Theory Action Group to pursue that theory. We will judge your TAG on its results.

      Reply
    1. Procopius

      Indeed, the reason the troops were there was to fight in what we called the French and Indian War and protect us from the evil French and the “savage” Indians. The reason the British government was trying to tax us was because they were tired of paying for our defense when we were not contributing anything toward the costs. We were even evading payment of legitimate customs duties by smuggling. So they kept trying to find ways to make us pay and we were infuriated because they were interfering with out right to make money. And violence eventually solved that problem.

      Reply
    2. witters

      I was wondering how long it would be before someone had the generosity to point that out to our expert on “the dangerous explosive history” of “the Revolution.”

      Reply
  14. Roy G

    Interesting, will have to check it out. I’ve usually enjoyed Doctorow’s books and essays very much, and was even a BoingBoing regular until 11/9 TDS took over there and forced me to retreat. Other than TDS, Doctorow tends to have astute and interesting takes on culture and technology.

    Reply
  15. Olivier

    “Radicalized” sounds wonderful. One is reminded that in tsarist times there was a joke in Russia that it is an autocracy tempered by anarchy (today we would say terrorism). Now we live under a corporate despotism tempered by… well, by what? Don’t tell me “by the ballot box” or I’ll have to point a finger at you and laugh till I break a rib.

    Reply
  16. Procopius

    In Robert E. Heinlein’s book Starship Troopers the Moral Science teacher responds to the assertion, “Violence never solves anything,” with, “You should explain that to the Carthaginians.” I don’t remember the whole paragraph, but that part stuck with me.

    Reply
    1. The Rev Kev

      I have the book but here he is wrong. The US used violence to conquer Iraq but that bred consequences and the formation of ISIS was the least of the results. The US topples the Ukraine and as a result Crimea goes back to Russia who becomes more resurgent. Japan destroys the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour and as a result are atom-bombed four years later. There is always blowback for violence – always.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        The problem as I see it is; where does the violence start? At the ‘blow the elites up’ stage, or the ‘grind the deplorables down’ stage? Or even earlier when little school kids are compelled to compete with each other for ranks and status in the school social hierarchy?

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  17. Wukchumni

    In Australia & New Zealand, violence made all the difference for the inhabitants, who are now roughly equal in number for both countries @ 750,000 population.

    Aboriginals didn’t put up much of a fight and largely disappeared into meaninglessness, whereas the Maori were fierce warriors who fought the English to a standstill in conflicts over a 20 year period, rendering them equality with the white settlers in the bargain.

    Here was the lay of the land for the original Australians, circa 1901:

    In the era of colonial and post-colonial government, access to basic human rights depended upon your race. If you were a “full-blooded Aboriginal native … [or] any person apparently having an admixture of Aboriginal blood”, a half-caste being the “offspring of an Aboriginal mother and other than Aboriginal father” (but not of an Aboriginal father and other than Aboriginal mother), a “quadroon”, or had a “strain” of Aboriginal blood you were forced to live on Reserves or Missions, work for rations, given minimal education, and needed governmental approval to marry, visit relatives or use electrical appliances(Wiki).

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  18. James Miller

    Cory Doctorow is a good storyteller who uses his fiction to proselytize for his political point of view- pretty libertarian. I bailed on him after reading Little Brother. A good story with a doubtful agenda very close to the surface. But we touch on what I think is an important discussion, which is, is violence per se always evil, leading inevitably to evil consequences, or are there circumstances in which it is the proper tool to be used to prevent evil?
    To juxtapose the Maori’s violent fight to survive with the US attacks on Viet Nam, Iraq, and a host of other resorts to violence is –, informative, and pretty much nails it for me. Yes, there are times when violence is a moral obligation.

    Reply
  19. Eclair

    Yeah, violence solves a lot of things. It prevents the rich from losing their money and power, through setting up a legal system that penalizes the poor and non-white people and locks them away in state-run gulags. Or forecloses on their homes. It allows the powerful nation to swallow the less powerful one, and to extract its resources to make the rich even richer.

    Violence is used by the powerful to subdue the powerless, in myriad ways that we have been taught are the ‘natural order’ of things. The first step towards a Revolution must always be a rending of the curtain that has disguised the built-in and never-ending violences of our System. And, The Rev is correct in his comment above: There is blowback for violence – always.

    Reply
  20. Norb

    America has not had a People’s Revolution yet. The two great political upheavals in American history, the American Revolution and Civil War are explained that way, but these explanations are sophisticated obfuscations masking defeat of people power. These conflicts were elite factions struggling for supremacy. Victory in these conflicts ultimately went to the elite, and the commoners only gained temporary benefits.

    This same dynamic is seen in the appropriation of radical figures as exemplars of the Status Quo. These figures are appropriated when they can, or disappeared from history if they can’t. MLK and Malcolm X being one example. MLK’s vision of a just future is turned on its head. The radical nature of MLK legacy is used to undermine actual change.

    One must ask if it is even possible to take back the true meaning of these figures once they have been appropriated? I tend to think not. Only the timeless inspiration can be rediscovered and used by a new generation to continue the struggle.

    American history and culture can be viewed from a perspective of the ultimate betrayal of the Common Good, not its exemplar or champion. This sets up a cognitive dissonance in the population that will be difficult to extricate oneself from. Much of the current insanity afflicting the country can be explained as a result of this dynamic. The mental image one holds of oneself does not match the everyday reality and does not hold up to scrutiny and reflection. One is enmeshed in a system of lies.

    Every true People’s Revolution around the world has been undermined and attacked by the US.

    The only hope for a peaceful future is that the people in the US will wake up to the fact that they have been deceived. Their government and economic system are not designed or run with their common interests as a priority. The question is not if violence is necessary, but to what end it will be directed.

    In the same twisted logic that neocons believe their use of violence is not really violence at all, or justified in the pursuit of a higher goal, a People’s Revolution must operate on the same level. If you allow your enemy to define the words that you will use to describe your actions, you have already lost the battle.

    The American People could be a great moderating force in the world, but they need to win a revolution first.

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  21. Deschain

    Violence can only ever offer lasting solutions if the winning side is willing to completely annihilate the losing side. Else, the losing side will never accept any solution imposed by violence, and will seek to undermine it at every turn.

    The American Civil War is a perfect example. Yes, slavery was ended. And race relations have remained a total shambles ever since. With serious consequences for everyone – it was the splitting off of white southerners from the New Deal coalition over civil rights that allowed the rise of neoliberalism.

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  22. Onebelowall

    I’m going to paraphrase (and sanitize somewhat) some quotes I’ve seen on other message boards that some up my feelings on what a violent uprising in this country will most likely entail:

    This country is full of a bunch of macho p@$$%&# who are masters of punching down and thinking it makes them tough. When they finally do “start the revolution like 1776”, they’ll go out and slaughter minorities, academics, LBGTs, the homeless, etc… in the name of freedom and American Jesus instead of going after the people who really made their lives miserable.

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