Thursday, September 23, 2010

The things you can find #1

Scanning through one of those "cool stuff on the web" sites just for the heck of it, I came across something taken from one of NPR's blogs:

It seems that during a talk last week, Bill Simon, the head of Wal-Mart's US operations, said that to see the reality of child hunger and rising poverty
you need not go further than one of our stores on midnight at the end of the month. And it's real interesting to watch, about 11 p.m., customers start to come in and shop, fill their grocery basket with basic items, baby formula, milk, bread, eggs, and continue to shop and mill about the store until midnight, when ... government electronic benefits cards get activated and then the checkout starts and occurs. And our sales for those first few hours on the first of the month are substantially and significantly higher.

And if you really think about it, the only reason somebody gets out in the middle of the night and buys baby formula is that they need it, and they've been waiting for it. ... [I[f you are there at midnight, you are there for a reason.
Simon said this "paycheck cycle," as Wal-Mart calls it, has become "extreme," with lots more shoppers at the beginning of the month than at the end.

"This," the NPR blog said, "is what a rising poverty rate looks like."

Simon's observation was an insightful one that puts a human face on the economic strains and stresses felt by so many among us. Too bad he works for such a scummy company.


JM said...

This might interest you too-how nonviolence protects the state:

Not that I outright agree with it(Why does it always seem that a lot of radical anarchists these days are of the white male variety?), but I'd be interested in your thoughts. I can understand the need for violence in desperate times*( i.e. Northern Ireland conflicts and Israel militant settlers vs. Palestine), but I don't think Black Blocs accomplish much.
*that is until you bring the more radical groups to the discussion table like in the resolution to the Northern Ireland conflict.

LarryE said...

I watched the first third of the video and refused to subject myself to more. The arguments being made are the same damn arguments that have been spouted for untold decades, founded on the same false grounds (nonviolence = passivity) and driven by the same false arguments (pacifists say all violence is the same, pacifists equate property with people).

It seems that every generation we are faced with a new crop of hip self-described radicals who think we are just a few bank bombings and a couple of riots short of a massive revolution that will smash the state! Frankly, I've gotten too old to have patience with them.

I'll just say, then, that what's usually (to be kind) lacking in these claims is any consideration of what constitutes "violence"* and under what circumstances some level of violence might be employed.**

If you (the generic "you," not the JM "you") want to tell me there is a "need" for violence in "desperate times" I will tell you that we can argue about that. If you want to tell me that celebrating blowing up banks (which I keep going back to because the video used it as an illustration) or smashing store windows will bring about "the revolution" rather then provoke and be used to justify state repression, I'm going to call you an idiot who is less concerned with the need for change than with how horny the destruction makes you.

And, fearing I've now offended you deeply, I'll stop.

*Are poverty and hunger "violent?" Yes, although not by the normally-understood meaning of the word. Was Gandhi "violent" when he cut through the fence erected to block his salt march? Hardly, even though it did technically destroy property.

**You will find few pacifists or nonviolent activists (they are not the same, although there is overlap) who would object to, for example, targeted sabotage - which, I hasten to add, blowing up a bank (or whatever) is not.

JM said...

I agree just blowing up a building or destroying a storefront are ineffective tactics, but I think violence is sometimes a necessary tactic like in the Haymarket riots or those described in The Clash's White Riot. But again, those came about in moments of desperation. I think Occupations work pretty well too in instances like the Chicago window pane company. However, I agree that the argument presented in the video is poor and reeks of generalization. Ironically however, I recall reading Gandhi supported violence in some cases though too.

LarryE said...

Three quick things:

- I'm not sure what Haymarket riot you're referring to; surely it was not the one in 1886, which consisted of a bomb thrown (quite possibly by an agent provocateur) into a line of police at the end of a peaceful rally, with the police responding by shooting protestors and each other.

- Occupations such as done at Republic Windows (about which I posted, by the way) cannot be considered violence in my view.

- Gandhi's quote, often enough misinterpreted (by some, I am certain, deliberately) to be an endorsement of violence, was actually that the only thing worse than violence was cowardly refusal to act in the fact of injustice. And he accepted that some people would never adopt nonviolence. But, he added, nonviolent action was always superior to violent action.

(Related to that, you might find this post interesting.)

JM said...

Thanks for the information, sorry for being so vague there.

I was actually referring to this quote by Gandhi:

But I dunno the context and I'll assume the author doesn't either.

LarryE said...

Let me say at the top that there is a bottom line to all such discussions which is that when someone tries to disprove nonviolence by saying "Gandhi said," the proper response is "Yeah, and?" Gandhi is not the be-all and end-all of nonviolence and nonviolent resistance and none of us are obligated to adhere to his views.

That said, I'll address the quote you provided. First, it's wise to remember that when Gandhi refers to nonviolence, he's referring to satyagraha, which is generally though loosely translated as "soul force" or "truth force." This was not merely a tactic, it was a whole way of living, of being. It was by definition a state one would strive for rather than something one "did."

It was also, then, by definition something not everyone could achieve or even effectively approach. Gandhi accepted this, which he why he would call off campaigns that strayed too far from his ideals: It was his conviction that the purity of the action was what gave it force. Others can argue if they choose as to whether or not that is a good or correct idea but what it undeniably does is point up the consistency of his philosophy.

Which raises the quote at your link, one which is not nearly as contradictory as it's made out to be. Gandhi frequently presented moral choices in the starkest, most extreme terms. If you were a participant in one of the campaigns, you were expected to stick to the philosophy of that action and if you couldn't you shouldn't be in it. And if you were a soldier who had taken an oath, you were expected to stick to the terms of that oath and obey all orders. If you couldn't, he said in a line omitted from the original post, then you couldn't be a soldier and had to resign. It was for him either/or, black or white, with very little gray. In this case he was essentially saying to the soldiers in the British army "You must be prepared to shoot us down in cold blood - or you must resign your commission."

Another, subtler reason he would not support the soldiers who refused to fire is that by being soldiers they were not part of the movement - and part of satyagraha is accepting suffering rather than shifting it onto anyone else. Supporting those soldiers was seeking to avoid suffering and in some sense to shift it off the movement and onto the soldiers.

That may well seem foolish but it is not inconsistent with his overall philosophy, which he was entirely prepared to push to its logical limits.

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