Arquivo da tag: Anarquismo

Feyerabend and the harmfulness of the ontological turn (Agent Swarm)

Posted on 

by Terence Blake

Feyerabend stands in opposition to the demand for a new construction that some thinkers have made after the supposed failure or historical obsolescence of deconstruction and of post-structuralism in general. On the contrary, he wholeheartedly endorses the continued necessity of deconstruction. Feyerabend also rejects the idea that we need an overarching system or a unified theoretical framework, arguing that in many cases a system or theoretical framework is just not necessary or even useful:

a theoretical framework may not be needed (do I need a theoretical framework to get along with my neighbor?) . Even a domain that uses theories may not need a theoretical framework (in periods of revolution theories are not used as frameworks but are broken into pieces which are then arranged this way and that way until something interesting seems to arise) (Philosophy and Methodology of Military Intelligence, 13).

Further, not only is a unified framework often unnecessary, it is undesirable, as it can be a hindrance to our research and to the conduct of our lives:

“frameworks always put undue constraints on any interesting activity” (ibid, 13).

Feyerabend emphasises that our ideas must be sufficiently complex to fit in and to cope with the complexity of our practices (11). More important than a new theoretical construction which only serves “to confuse people instead of helping them” we need ideas that have the complexity and the fluidity that come from close connection with concrete practice and with its “fruitful imprecision” (11).

Lacking this connection, we get only school philosophies that “deceive people but do not help them”. They deceive people by replacing the concrete world with their own abstract construction

that gives some general and very mislead[ing] outlines but never descends to details.

The result is a simplistic set of slogans and stereotypes that

“is taken seriously only by people who have no original ideas and think that [such a school philosophy] might help them getting ideas”.

Applied to the the ontological turn, this means that an ontological system is useless, a hindrance to thought and action, whereas an ontology which is not crystallised into a unified system and a closed set of fixed principles, but which limits itself to proposing an open set of rules of thumb and of free study of concrete cases is both acceptable and desirable. The detour through ontology is both useless and harmful, according to Feyerabend, because a freer, more open, and less technical approach is possible.

Conversation with Gabriella Coleman about her latest book “Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous” (Fruzsina Eördögh)


shelfie hibbard for twitter

Here is the unedited 30 minute conversation/interview with Coleman, three times the length as the one published on CSM’s Passcode

FE: I finally finished your book last night…. at 3 in the morning….  it’s a pretty long book… while I was reading it, it hit me that this book is really about everything that has to do with the modern Internet, so in that way it makes sense why it is so long… you have to provide context for all these different and new concepts that no one has really written about.

GC: that’s something that’s been interesting to see the reviews, a lot of them have been repetitive. It is about Anonymous, but it is about so much more….

FE: Like modern activism…

GC: yeah, and what it means for hackers… they’ve really coalesced into a major political force just in the last five or six years.

FE: I’m glad you brought the political activism angle, do you think there will ever be an Anonymous political party?

GC: I don’t think so, they’re going to continue in their guerrilla war fashion, but we will see more hackers in government, for sure. Anonymous has to be independent… there’s no way that they can overtly work with government…

FE: So, onto prepared questions… what does the media still get wrong about Anonymous?

GC: I am currently writing this article for this anthropology book about relationships with journalists, and how I came to see journalism differently over time, just as the same way Anonymous is not unanimous, the same can be said for journalism. There are much more local journalists, and some are fucked up, there are structural constraints, and it is the same for Anonymous.

GC:  But basically, I do think a lot of journalists get it, and initially there was three things that were really difficult.

First, so many people just wanted to say that they were all hackers and I think over time a great majority realized that sure hacking is very important, but what makes Anonymous interesting is precisely the fact that general geeks can join.

GC:  The second has to do with the leader issue and for that first year [of research], in 2011, so many people, even journalists that I respect, were still wanting to boil down leadership to sabu or topiary. While it is absolutely the case that the hacker groups command more power, for example, topiary and sabu were two of those charismatic public figures so they became really important brokers between the world of Anonymous and the public, these are not leaders… the chat logs show how organic everything arises.

GC: And that’s really tough to understand [for outsiders], and still continues a little bit, except for those people who have actually bothered to find out about Anonymous. Here’s a great story: a senior investigative reporter producer for one of the top networks contacted me soon after operation ISIS started, and they were like, well, you know, “can you get us in touch with the Julian Assange type figure in Anonymous?”  and I was like “oh my god, did you just not read a single article? Because had you read a single article” the journalism has gotten so good, I think, that he wouldn’t have asked such a stupid question.

FE: it’s an easier narrative to sell, it’s easier to understand, for them to do their job.

GC: it is, for sure,

FE: but on the other hand that’s a bit of laziness, because the simplest explanation is not always the correct explanation

GC: that’s right, and everyone else has accommodated, including much of mainstream journalism…

And one final bit, while looking over my notes from the first year, there was a lot of characterization of Anonymous as vigilantes, I actually don’t think there was a lot of vigilante operations that year!  A lot of that came later…

FE: or a lot of that was the lower case anons, on 4chan, when they were like, “OMG people abusing cats,” or “my gf dumped me, let’s harass her on Facebook.”

GC: that’s exactly it. And a lot of people in the public and some journalists still think they’re primarily vigilantes, while it is — I don’t have a number but it is probably a quarter or less of their operations, are vigilante operations.

FE: Speaking of vigilantism, about the “white knight ops”… do you think they were the best way Anonymous could have chosen to endear themselves to the general public and to feminists?

GC: I generally agree, although it’s fascinating because Steubenville is what put them on the map in that “white knight oping” I think overall– and this is one of the most heavily qualified statements– they did a service but they did it poorly. I do think the two subsequent ones were executed with a lot more precision and nuance, thankfully.

But I wish that had been the case with Steubenville as well. We have to take seriously that collateral damage but I also think it’s something journalists also fall prey to as well, they make these big big mistakes when they take action and they should do everything possible to call out folks who do that, like that Rolling Stone piece, but I am not going to damn the entire bit of Anonymous for making those mistakes, for one person, unless they keep on doing it time after time but they didn’t.

FE: yeah that’s one of Anonymous’ strengths, that they adapt over time

GC: exactly, so you’ve really got to fully take that into account and the biggest mistake that came after Steubenville came over a year later, with Darren Wilson, rather, not correctly identifying Darren Wilson —

FE: oh but that The Anon Message account is just a whole other issue —

GC: exactly, crazy, he’s totally crazy, and you’re going to get that sometimes, you’re going to get the loose cannon and that is one of the weaknesses of Anonymous, that loose cannon person

FE: it’s weird though, that everyone in the community knows that TAM is a loose cannon, untrustworthy, but then media outlets still take what he says seriously

GC: yeah, and that’s maybe one of the weaknesses to raise, when you don’t have a spokesperson, to say “hey don’t listen to them” and I at one time took that role, and helped a lot of journalists, saying “he is credible, she is credible, he is not credible” but because I am not active any more I don’t play that role.

FE: it’s interesting that Anonymous hasn’t really decided to create like an IRC channel that is just for press,

GC: I would say in 2011, the AnonOps reporter channel was that way, but post when AnonOps was DDoSed, when Ryan Cleary dropped all the IP addresses, AnonOps became less of a central place…and that reporter channel couldn’t function in the way it once did. You’re right, there isn’t a single place you can go today for that type of verification…it’s much more fragmented today.

FE: Were you aware of the controversy around KYanonymous?

GC: he was one of the people I could have featured like I did with Barrett Brown, but I had less original material…

FE: KY is just so horribly hated, and I read a lot of posts and talked to a lot of people who are convinced everything they say about him online is true–

GC: yeah, it’s hard to dig in, because on the one hand the reality is he went on talk shows and he was pushing his rap music, but I think they demonized him a little bit too much, if that makes sense. Had he just been like, “yo, I’ve been arrested,” and he didn’t try to financially capitalize, I think [Anons] would have come and financially supported him. They ostracize those that try to convert their personal relationships inside Anonymous for personal gain, and they would have, I’M SURE, organized a financial campaign to help him… but it was too much, to sell his story to Rolling Stone, which got sold as movie rights, and the rap stuff, you know in some ways, [similar to] Barrett Brown

FE: What’s your take on the general Anon view of women? You mentioned it briefly in your book, when talking about AnonOps 2011

GC:  so the hackers are all male, and we could blame Anonymous for keeping them out, but they are not keeping black hat hackers out because they barely exist. Now that said, there is a culture where they embrace this very offensive language, including misogynistic language, and this is obviously going to be a barrier, not simply for women but certain quarters of the leftist community.

There are definitely women who participate, I put the number at about 25% so probably much higher than Open Source development and they play key roles with Twitter accounts, organizers, these sorts of things, but it is certainly the case that… my experience is that leftists tend to love Anonymous or hate Anonymous

GC: they love Anonymous because they’re bold, taking action, and some of whom are still uncomfortable with the language, like how Jeremy Hammond was, but still decided that it was worth it, others who kind of enjoy the transgressive language, and then among a kind of  a camp on the left, understandably, their language politics are too naive and they don’t buy into the importance of transgressing language and norms and that acts as a barrier for them. i won’t be able to solve this question right now I actually go back and forth myself on the language issue, and certainly, it can act as a barrier for women and some leftists in general. That is just a fact. whether or not you agree with the language politics, it can and will act as a barrier.

FE: I thought with the “white knight ops” that it would draw more women to Anonymous, but it didn’t really, probably because of the language and the culture.

GC: that’s right, feminists were very torn, some saw them as quite bold and I quoted someone in that position, I quoted another woman, Jackie, was the woman that could see the value, but there’s others who really are just like, “it’s incredibly regressive.”

FE: Did you find any challenges while researching and writing about Anonymous and their taboo relationship with “the online troll?”

GC: yeah, for sure, I mean, like, because of trolling or…?

FE: as in, do people take what you have to say less seriously because you are caught up in this trollish community, did you have to take extra time to prove your point because of the troll stigma…

GC:  I do not evny those folks who have to write purely on trolling, because you become polluted by the trolls. Many people can respect very much what you do but a lot of people, and I’ve seen this with some of my good friends that write about trolls, some people, you know they are not giving trolls a free pass whatsoever, they’re trying to go beyond, “it’s simply racism”… there’s other things going on, right. As a result, they become polluted by the trolls and certain academics are really critical of that type of scholarship. Which is very very problematic. I was certainly concerned because I addressed trolls to some degree but I was relieved that I didn’t address it deeply.

FE: it makes me think of Whitney Phillips’ book

GC: [00:20:15.00] OFF THE RECORD DISCUSSION [00:21:05.07]

You know one of the difficulties is weev, in a lot of ways, because, obviously I interacted with him a lot and I really did want to convey how frightening of a troll he was, but not necessarily, simply moralize it from the get-go but show the cultural logic. I think I succeeded. Some of his victims thanked me for not white-washing him. But also, I went beyond the kind of moral narrative of good and bad even though I think it was pretty clear.

GC: As I like to say [to] weev [who] likes to call himself puck, “no, you’re more like loki, because loki is really fucking frightening and is far more playful.”

FE: do you feel DDoS will ever be recognized as a form of protest?

GC: Yeah, it might, in certain places of the world, certainly not the United States.

FE: why not the United States?

GC:Because it falls under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, because the United States has zero tolerance for “computer crimes” right, it will put anything under, any attack under the CFAA and just the history has shown they are not going to budge on this. Granted, the paypal14 outcome was more favorable than I expected, and this goes to show [that if] there is a big movement behind a case [it] can make a difference. If people weren’t watching, if there wasn’t a Free Anonymous campaign, if they didn’t have great lawyers, it would be much worse.

FE: so in your book you wrote that Brazil, Italy and Hispanic-Mexican Anons were the largest contingent. Do you still think that is the case in 2015?

GC: yeah, Italy not so much because there have been a lot of arrests, but certainly lulzsec peru is still kicking strong, and even in September they had that famous hack against the Peruvian government, that linked to emails that exposed corruption.

I have to see about Asia, not too sure about today, but certainly for the Umbrella Revolution they were quite active with hacking but again, we’re not seeing that coverage, understandably, Anonymous is quite hard to study now because of the language barrier, but once you differentiate between no activity versus global off-shoring…

FE: A few people think German Anons have best hackers right now,

GC: What you can say is that they’ve gotten smarter, they’re being quieter, hiding their tracks, [CUT]

FE: there’s so many levels of irony, contradictions to various aspects of Anonymous, right, like how they forgo identity yet are incredibly publicity hungry, they are leaderless, but then they always have a handful of temporary leaders for short periods of time, they’re not anyone’s personal army and yet they are, for someone or for a cause…

GC: and in many of their operations people are like, “hey help us,” and sometimes they initiate it but others… like Ferguson comes to mind, where they said “hey, we need Anonymous”

FE: and Anonymous is like, “yeah, we’ll be your Batman!”

GC: exactly

FE: and the last one is how it is not entirely Anonymous, the collective has to be pseudo-anonymous to function, so… out of all these levels of contradictions, which one do you think is the hardest to explain, and get around?


I think the hardest thing to convey is the changing structures of leadership, because people still are like, “but there must be leaders” when they say there is not a single spokesperson, and then I have to agree with them in that certain moments, certain teams or individuals are more important than others but, because of the fact that there are multiple ones, and it is highly dynamic and shifts, it means that it doesn’t resemble a certain organization where there really is a chosen spokesperson, or having an assigned roles, like with Red Hat Turkish group.

GC: I think some people have trouble understanding because they’ve never been on internet relay chat, and they don’t know what the exchange looks like, and that’s completely understandable that they can’t grasp the reality of those chats, and that was one of the reasons why I included so many chats in the book and why I also included the hackers working together and in a small team. And what’s interesting about Anonymous and this also goes back to the contradiction, it’s not simply that there is a shifting leadership, you have small teams that are very controlled at some level even if it is very much consensus-based and you have those big channels in the public that can determine what happens. This is why I included that example of the back channel DDoSing the Motion Picture Association of America and then when the group outed itself in the public channel and then the public channel engaged in mutiny,

FE: hanging out in IRC is quite a trip

BC: it really makes your ADHD worse…but that’s really hard because it is not simply the contradiction, if you have not experienced this interchanging spaces it is very understandably hard to wrap your head around it.

FE: I think that people are just confused that you can have leaders of a group of 10 people, and there will be 3 “leaders,” and they’ll only be “leaders” for a day or two, or a week,

GC: and some people like Commander X is really liked by some, and hated by some, so like the important movers and shakers he also gets a bad rap because he has talked to the media. But then he’s also put in a lot of work, and gets stuff done…

But you’re absolutely right, there’s a series of contradictions and that really defines who Anonymous is and it’s hard to convey some of them,

FE: it’s like in your book, when you mention you are breaking down the myth, but at the same time, that myth is what draws people to Anonymous so you also uphold it, it is a balancing act

GC: and that was like the central idea, I didn’t reveal it until the end, but yeah, my whole book is traveling this contradictory set of goals… there are too many misconceptions but I also wanted to make it exciting and enchanting and all sorts of things.

FE: so Barrett Brown, I know you said you didn’t want to talk about him, but…why do you think he was given more prison time?

GC: I think he was given… well, there are a couple things going on. Over the course of the history of transgressive hacking, or hacktivism, he’s not a hacker — so he took part in the hacktivism without the hacking — but whether it is Kevin Mitnick and the past, or now Barrett Brown, I think the state does want to create an example out of certain people, and he is the example of the non-hacker rabble-rouser who gets very close to the hackers,

FE: it’s very upsetting to me, because it’s like they are villianizing PR. PR is not a crime, and maybe that’s why he keeps denying he was a spokesperson… even if he wasn’t technically the official spokesperson, he still functioned like a PR rep,

GC: exactly, it’s true he was at times very close and involved in a lot of operations but you know, I was there for a lot of the Stratfor stuff, and Antisec was keeping him at bay. They didn’t even give him the emails! So it was really this unbelievable witch hunt against him, and it is true they capitalized off the fact that he was a central participant to kind of make their case, even though I think it was really ungrounded.

‘Technological Disobedience’: How Cubans Manipulate Everyday Technologies For Survival (WLRN)

12:05  PM

MON JULY 1, 2013

In Cuban Spanish, there is a word for overcoming great obstacles with minimal resources: resolver.

Literally, it means to resolve, but to many Cubans on the island and living in South Florida, resolviendo is an enlightened reality born of necessity.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba entered a “Special Period in Times of Peace”, which saw unprecedented shortages of every day items. Previously, the Soviets had been Cuba’s principal traders, sending goods for low prices and buying staple export commodities like sugar at above market prices.

Rationing goods was a normal part of life for a long time, but Cubans found themselves in dire straights without Soviet support. As the crisis got worse and worse over time, the more creative people would have to get.

Verde Olivo, the publishing house for the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, published a largely crowdsourced book shortly after the Special Period began. Titled Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos (With Our Own Efforts), the book detailed all the possible ways that household items could be manipulated and turned inside out in order to fulfill the needs of a starving population.

Included in the book is a famous recipe for turning grapefruit rind into makeshift beef steak (after heavy seasoning).

Cuban artist and designer Ernesto Oroza watched with amazement as uses sprang from everyday items, and he soon began collecting these items from this sad but ingeniously creative period of Cuban history.

A Cuban rikimbili-- the word for bicycles that have been converted into motorcycles. The engine of 100cc's or less typically is constructed out of motor-powered, misting backpacks or Russian tank AC generators.

A Cuban rikimbili– the word for bicycles that have been converted into motorcycles. The engine of 100cc’s or less typically is constructed out of motor-powered, misting backpacks or Russian tank AC generators. Credit

“People think beyond the normal capacities of an object, and try to surpass the limitations that it imposes on itself”, Oraza explains in a recently published Motherboard documentary that originally aired in 2011.

Oraza coined the phrase “Technological Disobedience”, which he says summarizes how Cubans reacted to technology during this time.

After graduating from design school to an abysmal economy, Oraza and a friend began to travel the island and collect these unique items from every province.

These post-apocalyptic contraptions reflect a hunger for more, and a resilience to fatalism within the Cuban community.

“The same way a surgeon, after having opened so many bodies, becomes insensitive to blood, to the smell of blood and organs… It’s the same for a Cuban,” Oraza explains.

“Once he has opened a fan, he is used to seeing everything from the inside… All the symbols that unify an object, that make a unique entity– for a Cuban those don’t exist.”

Losing our Fear! Facing the Anthro-Obscene (Entitle Blog)

October 20, 2014

by Erik Swyngedouw**

It’s useless to wait-for a breakthrough, for the revolution, the nuclear apocalypse or a social movement. To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here. We are already situated within the collapse of a civilisation. It is within this reality that we must choose sides.

The Invisible Committee

The hegemonic liberal frame that sutures the environmental literary landscape today is ‘market environmentalism’. Greening the market economy, so the fantasy goes, is systematically advanced across the academic and popular media landscape as the panacea for the environmental deadlock we are in. The dominant argumentation of ‘green economy’ pundits maintains that merely greening the existing socio-economic relations will bring a sustainable solution. Ecologising the economy would be necessary and sufficient to evade a pending ecological Armageddon while permitting the untroubled continuation of civilisation as we know it for a while longer.

It is precisely the premise of this biblical promise of an ecological catastrophe coming near you in the near future that should be rejected completely. Confronted with cataclysmic images of imminent ecological disaster, which predominate the ecological and climate discourse and imaginary, and whose ultimate goal is precisely to make sure that the disaster does not take place (if we take the right measures), the only correct radical answer seems to be ‘don’t worry’ (Al Gore, Prince Charles, green boys and girls, eco-responsible companies, environmental civil servants), your disaster scenario is factually correct, but just a bit out-of-synch; social-ecological Armageddon will not only take place, it is already taking place, it has already happened. Many already live in the apocalypse, in those places where the intertwining of environmental change and social conditions has already reduced living conditions to ‘bare life’. Socio-ecological entanglements have already reached the ‘point of no return’. It is already too late to do something about nature. It has always already been too late. It is precisely by accepting this reality that a new politics can emerge.

Source: Robyn Woolston

‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’ has become an often-heard slogan to inform us that a new geological era has started, that it is already too late to save Nature. Whereas until recently earthly processes only proceeded very slowly and irrespective of human interventions at the earth’s surface or in the atmosphere, human beings have now become co-producers of a deep geological time itself. Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winning chemist, invented the term about ten years ago to refer to what comes after the Holocene, the relatively moderate geo-climatic period in which agriculture, cities and complex human civilisations came into being. The notion of the Anthropocene suggests that the intertwining of social and ‘natural’ processes is now so intense that Nature as the merely external condition of existence for human beings has come to an end. There is no longer a form of Nature that is not influenced by social, cultural, and economic relations. Henrik Ernstson, eminent political ecologist, recently proffered the term ‘Anthro-Obscene’ to signal the starkly de-politicising and plainly disempowering mobilisation of what nonetheless sounds like a revolutionary concept. Is the ‘Anthropocene’ and its intense human – non-human entanglements not precisely the name for the disavowed historical unfolding of the capitalist political ecology of the past few centuries? Has it not been the historical-geographical dynamic of capitalism and its global spread that has banned the very existence of an external nature?

The Anthropocene heralds the period since the beginning of industrialisation, and therefore capitalism, which brought a qualitative change in the geo-eco-climatic dynamic on earth as a result of the ever intensifying interaction between human beings and their physical conditions of existence. The Anthropocene is therefore nothing else than a geological name for capitalism WITH nature. Ocean acidification, changes in biodiversity, genetic migration and new genetic combinations, climate change, large infrastructures which influence the geodetic dynamic, new materials, global and often unexpected new disease carriers and so on and so forth resulted in ever more complex entanglements of ‘natural’ and ‘social’ processes whereby human beings became active agents in the co-production of the earth’s future history. The Anthropocene is just another name to indicate the End or the Death of Nature. This cannot be undone, however hard we try. Time is irreversible. There is no ideal, lost place, time or ecology, no Arcadia to which we can return. Eden has never existed anyway. The past is foreclosed forever, but the future – now including the future of a thoroughly socialised nature – is radically open. It is within this historically and geographically specific configuration that not only the possibility, but also the necessity for a real politicisation of the environment arises, that choices have to be made and different socio-ecological entanglements have to be experimented with and produced.

The Anthropocene in its Anthro-Obscenic reality displaces the terrain of the political as merely inter-human activity to the environment as a whole, including those processes, which recently were left to (the laws of) nature. Non-human actants and processes are now engaged in a process of politicisation. And this should be recognised fully in its radical materiality. The Anthro-Obscene opens a perspective whereby different nature-realities and social-ecological interactions can be imagined and realised. The political struggle about the nature, direction and development of these interactions and about the process of egalitarian social-ecological co-production of the commons of life is what a progressive politicisation of the environment envisages. Yes, the apocalypse is already here, but that is not a reason for despair or panic. Let us fully recognise the emancipatory possibilities of apocalyptic life!

The ‘green economy’. Source: Nation of Change

Many people would concur with the view that the climate crisis will fundamentally not be solved by hegemonic approaches of the ‘green economy’, by making capital compatible with – if not cashing in on – ecology; they note that energy costs are on the rise, social inequalities increase, rigid nationalisms – if not worse – emerge everywhere, and that the marketisation of everything is being paid for at an extravagant ecological and social cost. Many people know that things can and should be different. However, like me, they do not know what to do or how to get to something not only different, but better. We all share this gnawing and uncanny feeling that hopeless attempts by economic and political elites to translate the ecological and social catastrophe which surrounds us into a ecological and social crisisthat can and needs to be managed does not solve the problems but push them into the future or to other places. Indeed, does the dominant rhetoric of the elite not maintain that ‘the situation is serious but not catastrophic’? Is their neoliberal recipe book proffered as guarantee that the disaster will not occur? Don’t they claim that the crisis can be overcome with a bit of goodwill and effort: social unity will be restored, economic growth will recover and ecological problems will be addressed sustainably? ‘Hold on for a while’, they seem to be saying, ‘rescue is on its way!’

Don’t you have the surreptitious feeling that something is wrong about this rhetoric of those who (sometimes literally) want to conserve the existing situation at all cost; that the ecological and social crisis cannot be made manageable with the help of mere technical and organisational adaptations; that the attempts of the elite to reduce the catastrophe to a crisis which only requires ‘good’, ‘participatory’ and ‘ecological’ management only enlarges the anxiety, increases insecurity, and especially, worsens the catastrophe which many already experience?

What would happen if we threw off the fear? If we resolutely accepted that the ecological, social and economic apocalypse is already here, that we live in the Anthro-Obscene, that it no longer needs to be announced as a dystopian promise for an avoidable future (if only the right measures are taken today)? What if we really would believe that things can not only change, but have to? That it really is already too late for many people and ecologies?

Yes but, you might think. After all, there is no catastrophe, we don’t live in the Apocalypse. It was a good wine year, the summer was a bit disappointing but the holidays were sunny, the financial crisis is being addressed without too much pain for me and my siblings, my education proceeds as planned, sustainable environmental technologies are stimulated, the hybrid car really drives smoothly, waste is being reduced, and the new IKEA catalogue promises sustainable entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the green parties are not doing badly in the polls. You’re right. The catastrophe is not for most of you or for me. Crisis, yes, but talking about catastrophe appears a bit overdone.

But perhaps we should not forget the words of the Italian Marxist Amadeo Bordiga: ‘when the ship goes down, so too do the first class passengers’. There is no salvation island where the elites can retreat into splendid isolation (despite their best efforts to do so) he claimed. This slogan is often adopted by ecologists of a variety of stripes or colours. We are all in the same boat. Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jeffrey, Richard Branson, the inhabitants of sinking islands, my son, and even Prince Charles today share the opinion of this notorious communist of the common threat facing the commons. But on closer inspection – I would argue — good old Amadeo was desperately wrong. See the blockbuster movie Titanic once again. A large share of the upper class passengers found a lifeboat; the others remained stuck in the underbelly of the beast. The social and ecological catastrophe is indeed not here for everyone; the apocalypse is uneven. And this is where the ultimate truth of our current predicament is situated. Remember the images of the earthquake in Haiti a few years ago, or the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina in New Orleans: hundreds of thousands of homeless people, hundreds of deaths, dysentery and malaria spreading fast, exaggerated reports about thieves who stole paltry possessions to stay alive, shortages of drinking water. The earthquake was not the consequence of human interventions in nature, the hurricane perhaps. But what we know very well is that the socio-ecological catastrophe is not caused by the earthquake or the hurricane. It was there long before disaster struck. Nature was not responsible for the post-apocalyptic post-human landscape after the quake. Most Haitians, together with all the others who balance on the verge of survival, have always already lived in the apocalypse, before, during and after the quake. Racial prejudices, dire living conditions and a precarious socio-ecological existence were also the lot of the poor in New Orleans. Or think about the incalculable number of environmental refugees.

Source: FightBack

We have a rough idea about the number that is reaching European shores via the Mediterranean, but we have not a clue about the countless migrants, except through occasional harrowing stories of sunken boats, that fail to make it to the continent, and become fish fodder. It is precisely the combination of ecological, social and economic relations, which pushes them, often with desperately little means, to leave their home countries. They, too, fled a catastrophe. Our apocalyptic times are perversely uneven, whereby the survival pods of the elites are fed and sustained by the disintegration of life-worlds elsewhere.

Consider, for example, how the socio-ecological conditions in Chinese mega-factories, like Foxconn, where our iPhone, iPod, iPad and other gadgets, so indispensable for ‘normal’ life are assembled, make 19th century European cities look like socio-ecological utopias. The social and ecological catastrophe which international elites imposed upon Greece to make sure the European neoliberal model could be sustained a while longer shows that the collapse of daily life is reserved for certain people, so that the others can go on with business as usual. If nuclear power plants close down tomorrow, the lights will continue burning on Putin’s gas. Despite Pussy Riot. And tar sands exploitation or ‘fracking’ will protect us from the disaster of ‘peak oil’ while further pumping up greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere never before found in the earth’s history.

‘Natural’ and ecological disasters show in all their sharpness what we have already known for a long time, namely, the politically powerless and economically weak are paying the price, they always do. The apocalypse is always theirs, and only theirs. While the biblical apocalypse of Saint John announced the final judgment which offered paradise to the chosen few and damned the evil ones, the socio-ecological apocalypse separates the elite from the powerless and excluded.

Perhaps something must be done about the lifeboats. For some, the solution is to seal them off hermetically, to protect them with electric fences and impenetrable walls, to strengthen militarised forces to secure the perimeter of their own little eco-paradise. The zombies of the apocalypse, the hordes at the gates, the motley crew that demands its share of nature, the rebels who ask a new order: they represent the reality of catastrophe today. And this reality should be taken seriously. We all share in it. Eco-warrior, advocate of nuclear energy, incorrigible Malthusian and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis James Lovelock summarised the possible consequences of the uneven apocalypse very eloquently and soberly:

“… what if at some time in the next few years we realise, as we did in 1939, that democracy had temporarily to be suspended and we had to accept a disciplined regime that saw the UK as a legitimate but limited safe haven for civilisation. Orderly survival requires an unusual degree of human understanding and leadership and may require, as in war, the suspension of democratic government for the duration of the survival emergency.”

The emergency situation evoked by Lovelock is not there to make sure everyone survives. It is supposed to be the consequence of the demographic explosion cum ecological disintegration of the Global South as a result of which hordes of eco-zombies will crowd at the gates of the egalitarian social-ecological paradise at the other side of the Channel. An autocratic leadership and the suspension of democracy are precisely needed to keep the gates firmly shut. This might appear a somewhat exaggerated perspective. But is this not exactly what happened over the past few years? Perhaps not so much with regard to climate change (very little has happened on that terrain), but surely with regard to attempts to reduce the economic-financial catastrophe to a manageable crisis. All other problems were shoved aside. Draconian austerity measures were imposed which especially affected the weakest, massive public means were and are mobilised to keep financial institutions afloat, migration is being managed with all possible repressive means. Despite profound and previously unseen protest, only one set of recipes was applied to restore the existing financial-economic order. The elite indeed will, if necessary, use all means available to maintain its status and position.

But does in the generalised forms of resistance reside not only the hope, but the absolute certainty, that change is possible and needed? A change that revolves around the signifiers of democracy, solidarity and the egalitarian management of the commons? Does this not suggest, rather provocatively, that the political project that combines those terms might carry the name ‘communism’; ‘a communism of the commons’. This suggestion breaks so strongly with the currently hegemonic logic and recipes that many will sceptically respond: how can the democratic management of the commons ever be realised? How can the egalitarian and collective management of the commons be organised in the current neoliberal climate which includes the privatisation of nature, the individualisation of daily life, and the fragmentation of the political and ideological landscape? Of course, the critique of the hegemonic project of the green economy is valid, and another approach is necessary, but should we – faced with the coming catastrophes – not rather opt for practical solutions, which maybe do not really question the status quo, but are at least a bit more realistic, less weighted down by history, and feasible today?

Furthermore, the term ‘communism’ probably – and rightly – evokes the horror of the 20th century (the Stalinist terror, the ecological disaster, the social inequality), or at least, the term refers to a radical failure of what was once presented as a utopian solution for society’s ills. Perhaps ‘communism’ is indeed not a good name to refer to a democratic ecological project of the commons. Perhaps we should let fear triumph here too. Or maybe it is better to reserve the term socialism or communism for the elitist and undemocratic mobilisation of the commons for personal gain and the reinforcement of the elite’s power position.

We are all socialists now. Source: Newsweek

In February 2009, Newsweek, not immediately the most radical magazine, stated on its cover “We are all socialists now”. The title evidently referred to the 1.5 trillion dollars of public money that President Barack Obama pumped into the banking system to save Wall Street and to prevent a (foretold apocalyptic) planetary financial meltdown. Shortly afterwards, other countries, including the European Union would follow suit. Trillions of euros, part of the common capital, of our commons, were mobilised to provide the sputtering profit motor with new oil. Is there a better example to show that socialism is a real possibility, that collective means, the commons, can massively and collectively be used to reach a particular social goal, in this case the maintenance of elite positions, the avoidance of the apocalypse for the elite on the back of the weakest? Despite the Spanish Indignados, the Greek outraged, and many Occupy! movements which demand ‘Real Democracy Now’, the assembled elites continue undisturbed, realising their collective phantasmagorical utopia. Indeed, we are living in properly socialist times, a socialism of the elites.

We are NOT all socialists now…..Source:

Is a better example possible that the commons can indeed be used collectively (in this case the collective of the 1% – still a significant number)? That a communism of the elites is precisely the political name for the current neoliberal practice? Putin’s Russia is a good example of the appropriation of the commons by an oligarchic ultra-minority. As Marx stated long ago, history unfolds as a drama (the real socialism of the 20th century) and repeats itself as a farce (the real socialism of the elites today). What the socialist movement of the 20th century mostly failed to realise (the nationalisation of the banks) is being achieved by the elite in a very short lapse of time, in the name of the recovery of and sustainability of capitalism! It appears indeed that the collective management of the commons as such is not the problem. It is certainly not a naive or utopian proposal. The question is rather one of its management by whom and for whom?

Where resides the problem then? What is it that we don’t dare to face? What withholds us from tackling the unequal social-ecological apocalypse? The answer is implicit in what precedes. Not the collective management of the commons, of the environment, is the problem, but rather the undemocratic character of the current type of management. This does not relate to the shortcomings of the institutional and electoral machines of daily policy-making (parliaments, regular elections, public administration, political parties, etcetera  – very few still believe in its potential to nurture democratizing and egalitarian change), but to the basis of a democratic society itself. The foundation of democracy is that everyone is supposed to be equal. Democratic equality is not a sociologically verifiable given – we all know that each concrete society knows many clearly observable inequalities – but an axiomatic principle. The democratic is precisely the axiomatic acceptance of the equality of everyone and the recognition of the egalitarian capacity to govern in a concrete context, which is always marked by social and ecological inequalities.  That is the truth which is put forward time and again by resistance movements, Indignados, the Arab Spring, the women’s, workers’ and environmental movements. That is why the truth of democracy is not a universal standard. Its universal truth (we are all equal in principle) is carried by the particular group who is wronged as its equality is mis- or unrecognised. That is why we can conclusively state that Al Gore, Richard Branson, the president of the European Central bank, or Angela Merkel are undemocratic, while environmental refugees, climate justice activists, resistance movements against the privatisation of the commons and Occupy! activists, through their political action, reveal the scandal of institutionalised democracy and the necessity of an egalitarian communist restructuration of political, social and ecological relations, although they too are a sociological minority. In this sense, they precisely indicate what really matters in these apocalyptic times. Let’s join them. Translating the egalitarian demand in concrete social-ecological equality is the stake of a real politicisation of the environment. And this requires intellectual courage, social mobilisation, and new forms of political action and organisation. We have nothing to lose but our fear.

* I have taken the term ‘Anthro-Obscene’ from Henrik Ernstson, eminent political ecologists of the Universities of Stockholm, Stanford, and Cape Town, who suggested it as part of the theme for an upcoming workshop on politicizing urban political ecology that we are organising in 2015. This blog is a redacted reflection of a foreword for a fantastic book coming out in 2015: Kennis A. and Lievens M. The Myth of the Green Economy. (London and New York: Routledge).

** Erik Swyngedouw Erik is Professor of Geography at the University of Manchester in its School of Environment and Development. He received his PhD entitled “The production of new spaces of production” under the supervision of David Harvey at Johns Hopkins University (1991). From 1988 until 2006 he taught at the University of Oxford and was a Fellow of St. Peter’s College. He moved to the University of Manchester in 2006. Erik has published several books and research papers in the fields of political economy, political ecology, and urban theory and culture. He aims at bringing politically explicit yet theoretically and empirically grounded research that contributes to the practice of constructing a more genuinely humanising geography.

Be the Street: On Radical Ethnography and Cultural Studies (Viewpoint Magazine)

September 10, 2012

The man who only observes him­self how­ever never gains
Knowl­edge of men. He is too anx­ious
To hide him­self from him­self. And nobody is
Clev­erer than he him­self is.
So your school­ing must begin among
Liv­ing peo­ple. Let your first school
Be your place of work, your dwelling, your part of the town.
Be the street, the under­ground, the shops. You should observe
All the peo­ple there, strangers as if they were acquain­tances, but
Acquain­tances as if they were strangers to you.
—Bertolt Brecht, Speech to the Dan­ish Working-Class Actors on the Art of Obser­va­tion (1934-6)

“Anthro­pol­ogy is the daugh­ter to this era of vio­lence,” Claude Levi-Strauss once said. Poetic as that state­ment is, I pre­fer the more pre­cise and less gen­dered words of esteemed anthro­pol­o­gist and Johnson-Forest Ten­dency mem­ber Kath­leen Gough: “Anthro­pol­ogy is a child of West­ern impe­ri­al­ism.” Much like Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies in the Span­ish Empire, anthro­pol­o­gists exam­ined indige­nous groups in order to improve colo­nial admin­is­tra­tion, a tra­di­tion that con­tin­ues into the present day with the US military’s Human Ter­rain Project in Iraq and Afghanistan. Often, this colo­nial imper­a­tive has fed a racist dis­re­spect of the sub­jects under study. It was not uncom­mon, for exam­ple, for researchers to draw upon colo­nial police forces to col­lect sub­jects for humil­i­at­ing anthro­po­met­ric measurements.

Accord­ing to Gough, at their best, anthro­pol­o­gists had been the “white lib­er­als between con­querors and col­o­nized.” Ethnog­ra­phy, the method in which researchers embed them­selves within social groups to best under­stand their prac­tices and the mean­ings behind them, had only medi­ated this rela­tion­ship, while Gough, a rev­o­lu­tion­ary social­ist, wanted to upend it. Writ­ing in 1968, she urged her dis­ci­pline to study impe­ri­al­ism and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments against it as a way to expi­ate anthro­pol­ogy of its sins. Gough later attempted this her­self, trav­el­ling through­out Asia in the 1970s. Although she lacked a solid uni­ver­sity con­nec­tion due to her polit­i­cal sym­pa­thies, she man­aged to con­duct field­work abroad, ana­lyz­ing class recom­po­si­tion in rural South­east India dur­ing the Green Rev­o­lu­tion, and detail­ing the improve­ment in the liv­ing stan­dards of Viet­namese peas­ants after the expul­sion of the United States.

Years later, anthro­pol­o­gist Ana Lopes sees fit to ask, “Why hasn’t anthro­pol­ogy made more dif­fer­ence?” The prob­lem is not that anthro­pol­o­gists are ret­i­cent to con­tribute to end­ing impe­ri­al­ism. Indeed, there are prob­a­bly more rad­i­cal and crit­i­cal anthro­pol­o­gists now than dur­ing Gough’s time, and cer­tainly the dis­ci­pline takes anti-racism and anti-imperialism incred­i­bly seri­ously. Gough her­self artic­u­lated some dif­fi­cul­ties:

(1) the very process of spe­cial­iza­tion within anthro­pol­ogy and between anthro­pol­ogy and the related dis­ci­plines, espe­cially polit­i­cal sci­ence, soci­ol­ogy, and eco­nom­ics; (2) the tra­di­tion of indi­vid­ual field work in small-scale soci­eties, which at first pro­duced a rich har­vest of ethnog­ra­phy but later placed con­straints on our meth­ods and the­o­ries; (3) unwill­ing­ness to offend the gov­ern­ments that funded us, by choos­ing con­tro­ver­sial sub­jects; and (4) the bureau­cratic, coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary set­ting in which anthro­pol­o­gists have increas­ingly worked in their uni­ver­si­ties, which may have con­tributed to a sense of impo­tence and to the devel­op­ment of machine-like models.

None of these plague anthro­pol­ogy today. Anthro­pol­o­gists are often incred­i­bly deep knowl­ege about mul­ti­ple dis­ci­plines (I have an anthro­pol­o­gist friend I con­sult on any ques­tions of struc­tural semi­otics, Marx­ism, 19th cen­tury lit­er­a­ture, or gam­bling); they have exam­ined cul­ture within large indus­trial and post-industrial soci­eties; they have been involved in all sorts of rad­i­cal issues, from union­iz­ing sex work­ers to ana­lyz­ing the secu­ri­tized state; and while the uni­ver­sity may remain a bureau­cratic, coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary set­ting, anthro­pol­o­gists have largely aban­doned machine-like mod­els. So what gives?

One issue is how anthro­pol­ogy chose to atone for its com­plic­ity in racism and impe­ri­al­ism. Instead of mak­ing a direct polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion into impe­ri­al­ist prac­tice, ethnog­ra­phy attacked impe­ri­al­ist hermeneu­tics. A deep cri­tique of the Enlight­en­ment sub­ject, the source of anthropology’s claims to sci­ence and objec­tiv­ity as well as meta­phys­i­cal ground for West­ern notions of supe­ri­or­ity, became a major tar­get of the dis­ci­pline. Thus rose crit­i­cal ethnog­ra­phy, decon­struc­tive in spirit. Accord­ing to Soyini Madi­son, crit­i­cal ethnog­ra­phy “takes us beneath sur­face appear­ances, dis­rupts the sta­tus quo, and unset­tles both neu­tral­ity and taken-for-granted assump­tions by bring­ing to light under­ly­ing and obscure oper­a­tions of power and control.”

This func­tions at the level of the method itself: crit­i­cal ethno­g­ra­phers should be self-reflexive. Rather than assum­ing an omni­scient author­i­ta­tive view­point, they should high­light their own posi­tion­al­ity in the field by empha­siz­ing it in the writ­ten account, thereby decon­struct­ing the Self and its rela­tion to the Other when­ever pos­si­ble. In an attack on Enlight­en­ment pre­ten­sions to uni­ver­sal­ity, accounts became par­tial and frag­men­tary, a way to head off poten­tially demean­ing total­ized por­tray­als at the pass.

How­ever, iron­i­cally enough, by per­for­ma­tively ques­tion­ing one’s own research, the fig­ure of the ethno­g­ra­pher risks becom­ing the cen­tral fig­ure in the study, rather than the social group. Even as it pro­duces an often-engrossing lit­er­a­ture, crit­i­cal ethnog­ra­phy can under­mine its own polit­i­cal thrust by dras­ti­cally lim­it­ing what it per­mits itself to say. While Marx­ist soci­ol­o­gist Michael Bura­woy, who shov­eled pig iron for years in the name of social sci­ence, claims that with exces­sive reflex­iv­ity ethno­g­ra­phers “begin to believe they are the world they study or that the world revolves around them,” I’d counter that this isn’t so much pro­fes­sional nar­cis­sism as a prod­uct of the very real anx­i­ety sur­round­ing the ethics of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. How best to fairly, but accu­rately, por­tray one’s sub­jects? How can one really know the Other? I’ve strug­gled with this in my own work, and I know col­leagues who have been all but con­sumed by it. Writ­ing about one­self seems, at the very least, safer. But this aban­dons sci­en­tific rigor in its reluc­tance to make any gen­er­al­iz­able claims.

My own expe­ri­ence in ethnog­ra­phy came from a study of pop­u­lar cul­ture. I had grown tired of schol­arly tex­tual analy­sis: it seemed like more of a game for the com­men­ta­tors, where we crit­ics bandied about spec­u­la­tive assess­ments of books and films and TV shows, try­ing to one-up each other in nov­elty and jar­gon. These inter­pre­ta­tions said more about our posi­tions as theory-stuffed grad­u­ate stu­dents eager to impress than they did about the puta­tive “audi­ences” for the texts. Our con­scious­ness of the objects in ques­tion had been deter­mined by our mate­r­ial lives as critics-in-training. I felt pulled fur­ther away from cul­tural phe­nom­ena, when I wanted to get closer in order to bet­ter under­stand its sig­nif­i­cance. So I revolted against the rule of thoughts, start­ing to learn the meth­ods that got closer to the mat­ter at hand: ethnography,

In cul­tural stud­ies, ethnog­ra­phy (or as a fully-trained anthro­pol­o­gist would prob­a­bly write, “ethnog­ra­phy”) is most closely asso­ci­ated with audi­ence recep­tion and fan­dom stud­ies. Tex­tual analy­sis tells you only what a critic thinks of the work; in order to dis­cover how “aver­age” con­sumers expe­ri­ence it, you have to ask them. This way you avoid the total­iz­ing, top-down gen­er­al­iza­tions of some­one like Adorno, where a rei­fied con­scious­ness is deter­mined by the repet­i­tive, sim­pli­fied forms of the cul­ture industry.

This was Janet Radway’s goal when she stud­ied female read­ers of misog­y­nist romance nov­els. She found out that read­ers cared more about hav­ing pri­vate time away from domes­tic duties than the borderline-rape occur­ring in the books. How­ever, she was forced to con­clude that romance nov­els worked as com­pen­satory mech­a­nisms, secur­ing women in cap­i­tal­ist patri­ar­chal dom­i­na­tion – in other words, she took the long way around and ended up in the same Adornoian con­clu­sion: we’re fucked and it’s our mass cul­ture that makes it so.

My cho­sen topic helped me get on a dif­fer­ent path, one that I believe has more rel­e­vance to rad­i­cal pol­i­tics than harangu­ing the choices of hap­less con­sumers. I wanted to study inde­pen­dent pop­u­lar music instead of romance nov­els. This meant I was well posi­tioned to exam­ine music from the stand­point of pro­duc­tion, rather than just sur­vey­ing audi­ence mem­bers, a tech­nique that always felt too spec­u­la­tive and a bit too closely aligned with mar­ket research.

Not that mar­ket research was totally off base. Pop­u­lar music exists in the form of com­modi­ties. Its form, as Adorno rightly points out, is dic­tated by the needs of the cul­ture indus­try. If the music indus­try was a fac­tory, then musi­cians were the work­ers, bang­ing out prod­ucts. A pecu­liar fac­tory, to be sure, where oper­a­tions spread to the homes of the work­ers, the machines were pirated soft­ware, and the prod­ucts were derived from unique cre­ative labors, becom­ing objects of intense devo­tion among consumers.

You can run into resis­tance when you define art in this way – it seems to cheapen it, as if you can’t call a song a “com­mod­ity” with­out implic­itly stick­ing a “mere” in there, just as refer­ring to artists as work­ers seems to demean their abil­i­ties. But this resis­tance comes almost entirely from music fans, who com­mit their own Adornoian blun­der by plac­ing music on that archaic crum­bling pedestal of Art. The pro­duc­ers and DJs I spoke to in Detroit didn’t see it that way. They saw them­selves as cre­ative work­ers; at best, as entre­pre­neurs. One DJ talked about remix­ing songs in the morn­ing over cof­fee. “You know how some peo­ple check their email or read the news­pa­per? Well, I’m mak­ing a remix of the new Ciara song dur­ing that time.” He took pride in his work ethic, but never roman­ti­cized his occupation.

There wasn’t much to wax roman­tic about in the Detroit music scene at that time. The cul­ture indus­tries were under­go­ing a restruc­tur­ing for the imma­te­r­ial age. Vinyl was no longer mov­ing. Local radio and local music venues had gone cor­po­rate, squeez­ing out local music. DJs who wanted local gigs had to play Top 40 playlists in the sub­ur­ban mega­clubs instead of the native styles of elec­tronic music that had given Detroit mythic sta­tus around the world. Many had given up on record labels entirely. Every­one looked to the inter­net as the sav­ing grace for record sales, pro­mo­tion, net­work­ing – for every­thing, prac­ti­cally. Some of the more suc­cess­ful artists were attempt­ing to license their tracks for video games. Almost every­one had other jobs, often off the books. For crit­i­cally acclaimed Detroit pro­ducer Omar-S, music is his side job, in case his posi­tion on the fac­tory line is eliminated.

I wasn’t embed­ded within this com­mu­nity, as an anthro­pol­o­gist would be. Instead, I made the 90 minute drive to Detroit when I could, and spent the time inter­view­ing artists in their homes or over the phone. I attended some events, par­tic­i­pated and observed. And still, I could have writ­ten vol­umes on my subject-position and how it dif­fered from many of the musi­cians: I was white, college-educated, not from Detroit (the last one being the most salient dif­fer­ence). But my goal was to go beyond self-reflexive inter­ro­ga­tions, in spite of their impor­tance as a start­ing point. I aspired to write some­thing that would in some way, how­ever minor, par­tic­i­pate in the implicit polit­i­cal projects of musi­cal workers.

I can’t say I suc­ceeded in this goal. But while I may have done lit­tle for the polit­i­cal for­tunes of Detroit musi­cians, I had started to think about how to rev­o­lu­tion­ize my the­o­ret­i­cal tools. The point was not to efface or under­mine my role in my research, but to iden­tify the struc­tural antag­o­nism the artists were deal­ing with and describe it from a par­ti­san per­spec­tive. Beyond the self-reflexive analy­sis of the ethnographer’s subject-position was the pos­si­bil­ity of pick­ing sides.

Decid­ing to pick sides is the dif­fer­ence between mil­i­tant research, of the kind Kath­leen Gough prac­ticed, and purely scholas­tic exer­cises. Bura­woy argues that this is a fun­da­men­tal ele­ment of Karl Marx’s “ethno­graphic imag­i­na­tion”: Marx rooted his the­o­ries – not just of how cap­i­tal­ism func­tioned, but how best to destroy it – in the con­crete expe­ri­ences of work­ers, as relayed to him by Engels and oth­ers. Kath­leen Gough is an exem­plary fig­ure in this respect, remain­ing a firm mate­ri­al­ist in her stud­ies. As Gough’s friend and col­league Eleanor Smol­lett puts it in a spe­cial jour­nal ded­i­cated to Gough’s legacy,

she did not arrive in Viet­nam with a check­list of what a soci­ety must accom­plish to be ‘really social­ist’ as so many Marx­ists in acad­e­mia were wont to do. She looked at the direc­tion of the move­ment, of the con­crete gains from where the Viet­namese had begun… Observ­ing social­ist devel­op­ment from the point of view of the Viet­namese them­selves, rather than as judged against a hypo­thet­i­cal sys­tem, she found the people’s stated enthu­si­asm credible.

After study­ing mate­r­ial con­di­tions and for­eign pol­icy in the social­ist bloc, Gough decided that the Soviet Union, while cer­tainly no work­ers’ par­adise, was a net good for the work­ers of the world – heresy for any­one try­ing to pub­lish in the West, let alone a Trotskyist.

Analy­sis is impor­tant, but the really explo­sive stuff of ethnog­ra­phy hap­pens in the encounter. Accord­ingly, ethno­g­ra­phers and oth­ers have increas­ingly turned towards the meth­ods of par­tic­i­pa­tory action research (PAR). In these stud­ies, a blend of ethnog­ra­phy and ped­a­gogy, the anthro­pol­o­gist takes a par­ti­san inter­est in the aspi­ra­tions of the group, and aids the group in actively par­tic­i­pat­ing actively in the research. Mem­bers of the group under study become co-researchers, ask­ing ques­tions and artic­u­lat­ing prob­lems. The goal is to tease out native knowl­edges that best aid peo­ple in nav­i­gat­ing dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances while mobi­liz­ing them to cre­ate polit­i­cal change.

But par­tic­i­pa­tory action research has returned to the same old prob­lems of impe­ri­al­ist anthro­pol­ogy. In the hands of rad­i­cal anthro­pol­o­gist Ana Lopes, PAR led to the for­ma­tion of a sex work­ers’ union in Great Britain. But in the hands of devel­op­ment scholar Robert Cham­bers, PAR is a tool to bet­ter imple­ment World Bank ini­tia­tives and gov­ern pop­u­la­tions by allow­ing them to “par­tic­i­pate” in their subjection.

The point, then, is to real­ize that ethnog­ra­phy has no polit­i­cal con­tent of its own. Pol­i­tics derives not from the com­mit­ment or beliefs of the researcher, but from engage­ment with wider social antag­o­nisms. Ethnog­ra­phy enables Marx­ism to trace the con­tours of these antag­o­nisms at the level of every­day life: a mil­i­tant ethnog­ra­phy means Marx­ism at work, and func­tions not by impos­ing mod­els of class con­scious­ness and rad­i­cal action from above, but by reveal­ing the ter­rain of the strug­gle – to intel­lec­tu­als and to work­ers – as it is con­tin­u­ally pro­duced. Ethnog­ra­phy can con­tribute in just this way, as a method where researchers lis­ten, observe, and reveal the now hid­den, now open fight for the future.

is a graduate student in Washington, DC.

Manifestações neozapatistas (Fapesp)


Para além das reivindicações contra os gastos públicos na organização da Copa do Mundo e por melhorias no transporte, na saúde e educação, as manifestações de junho de 2013 no Brasil ressaltaram uma expressão simbólica das articulações do chamado “net-ativismo”, expressão-chave de um estudo financiado pela FAPESP. No vídeo produzido pela equipe de Pesquisa FAPESP, o sociólogo Massimo Di Felice, do Centro de Pesquisa Atopos da Escola de Comunicações e Artes da Universidade de São Paulo (ECA-USP) e coordenador do estudo, fala sobre a qualidade e o lugar das ações net-ativistas e como as redes digitais e os novos dispositivos móveis de conectividade estão mudando práticas de participação social no Brasil e no mundo.

Occupy Democracy is not considered newsworthy. It should be (The Guardian)

Sleeping outside for an iPhone is OK, but do it in furtherance of democratic expression and you’re in trouble, Monday 27 October 2014 15.11 GMT

Occupy London demonstrationOfficers policing the Occupy Democracy protest in Parliament Square, London. Photograph: Jay Shaw Baker/NurPhoto/Rex

You can tell a lot about the moral quality of a society by what is, and is not, considered news.

From last Tuesday, Parliament Square was wrapped in wire mesh. In one of the more surreal scenes in recent British political history, officers with trained German shepherds stand sentinel each day, at calculated distances across the lawn, surrounded by a giant box of fences, three metres high – all to ensure that no citizen enters to illegally practice democracy. Yet few major news outlets feel this is much of a story.

Occupy Democracy, a new incarnation of Occupy London, has attempted to use the space for an experiment in democratic organising. The idea was to turn Parliament Square back to the purposes to which it was, by most accounts, originally created: a place for public meetings and discussions, with an eye to bringing all the issues ignored by politicians in Westminster back into public debate. Seminars and assemblies were planned, colourful bamboo towers and sound systems put in place, to be followed by a temporary library, kitchen and toilets.

There was no plan to turn this into a permanent tent city, which are now explicitly illegal. True, this law is very selectively enforced; Metropolitan police regularly react with a wink and a smile if citizens camp on the street while queuing overnight for the latest iPhone. But to do it in furtherance of democratic expression is absolutely forbidden. Try it, and you can expect to immediately see your tent torn down and if you try even the most passive resistance you’re likely to be arrested. So organisers settled on a symbolic 24-hour presence, even if it meant sleeping on the grass under cardboard boxes in the autumn rain.

The police response can only be described as hysterical. Tarpaulins used to sit on the grass were said to be illegal, and when activists tried to sit on them they were attacked by scores of officers. Activists say they had limbs twisted and officers stuck thumbs into nerve endings as “pain compliance”. Pizza boxes were declared illegal structures and confiscated and commanders even sent officers to stand over activists at night telling them it was illegal to close their eyes.

Finally, the fences went up, and the guard dogs appeared – ostensibly, for what officers insisted was scheduled cleaning that happened to continue each day of the occupation. Hundreds of participants were thus pushed into the tiny green strip to the north of the Churchill statue, and even then, it seemed like every time they sat down for a seminar on financial reform or planning a response to the housing crisis, they were interrupted by some new pretext for police intervention – someone had an “illegal” megaphone, there was what looked like camping equipment, some regulation might have been violated – and squads of police once again stormed in.

One could speak of many things here: the obvious embarrassment of the police, compared with the perseverance and cheerful good humour of the occupiers, who continually grew in numbers and spirit as the repression increased. But what I really want to talk about is the reaction of the media.

The reason that park occupations are so important is because everyone knows they are there. Activists constantly hear the same refrain from would-be allies: “I agree that there’s been an erosion of democracy in this country, that the money controls everything, what I don’t know is: what can I do?” Our usual reply is: meet with other like-minded people. When people get together, brilliant ideas invariably emerge. But it’s impossible to bring people together unless there is a location, a place where they can always go, 24/7, to meet people and begin to have conversations and make plans. This is precisely what our political authorities have decided that Londoners must never again be allowed to have.

To achieve this, the police and media must take what are ostensibly completely opposite reactions to any occupation. The police act as if the possibility of non-violent camping is an existential threat to the very idea of civil government; hundreds of police are mobilised in a near-panic reaction; hallowed public spaces are shut off.

Official media, on the other hand – and in this case the BBC and mainstream newspapers are acting as if they were an arm of government – take exactly the opposite approach, insisting that the events in question are so trivial and unimportant that there is no need to cover them at all. The very same press that provides wall-to-wall coverage of pro-democracy occupations and police repression halfway around the world, in Hong Kong, acts as if analogous events at home are of no interest. It’s hard to think of a more dramatic story than battles between police and non-violent protesters, or the erection of giant fences and mobilisation of attack dogs directly beneath the mother of all parliaments. Yet while I was in the square, the only TV cameras I saw were being carried by journalists from Iran, Russia and Qatar.

We need to ask ourselves what it means that police suppression of democratic assemblies is no longer considered news. Is the wall of silence, as most activists suspect, simply a continuation of the actual physical wall surrounding Parliament Square, another piece of the same strategy, or is it a token of ultimate cynicism? Britons no longer have the right to freedom of assembly. Sorry, that’s no longer news.

Why Do the Anarcho-Primitivists Want to Abolish Civilization? (io9)

George Dvorsky

Sept 12, 2014 11:28am

Why Do the Anarcho-Primitivists Want to Abolish Civilization?

Anarcho-primitivists are the ultimate Luddites — ideologues who favor complete technological relinquishment and a return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. We spoke to a leading proponent to learn more about this idea and why he believes civilization was our worst mistake.

Philosopher John Zerzan wants you to get rid of all your technology — your car, your mobile phone, your computer, your appliances — the whole lot. In his perfect world, you’d be stripped off all your technological creature comforts, reduced to a lifestyle that harkens back to when our hunter-gatherer ancestors romped around the African plains.

Why Do the Anarcho-Primitivists Want to Abolish Civilization?

Photo via Cast/John Zerzan/CC

You see, Zerzan is an outspoken advocate of anarcho-primitivism, a philosophical and political movement predicated under the assumption that the move from hunter-gatherer to agricultural subsistence was a stupendously awful mistake — an existential paradigm shift that subsequently gave rise to social stratification, coercion, alienation, and unchecked population growth. It’s only through the abandonment of technology, and a return to “non-civilized” ways of being — a process anarcho-primitivists call “wilding” — that we can eliminate the host of social ills that now plagues the human species.

As an anarchist, Zerzan is opposed to the state, along with all forms of hierarchical and authoritarian relations. The crux of his argument, one inspired by Karl Marx and Ivan Illich, is that the advent of technologies irrevocably altered the way humans interact with each other. There’s a huge difference, he argues, between simple tools that stay under the control of the user, and those technological systems that draw the user under the control of those who produce the tools. Zerzan says that technology has come under the control of an elite class, thus giving rise to alienation, domestication, and symbolic thought.

Why Do the Anarcho-Primitivists Want to Abolish Civilization?

Zerzan is not alone in his views. When the radical Luddite Ted “the Unabomber” Kasczinski was on trial for killing three people and injuring 23, Zerzan became his confidant, offering support for his ideas but condemning his actions (Zerzan recentlystated that he and Kasczinski are “not on terms anymore.”) Radicalized groups have also sprung up promoting similar views, including a Mexican group called the Individualists Tending Toward the Wild — a group with the objective “to injure or kill scientists and researchers (by the means of whatever violent act) who ensure the Technoindustrial System continues its course.” Back in 2011, this group sent several mail bombs to nanotechnology lab and researchers in Latin America, killing two people.

Looking ahead to the future, and considering the scary potential for advanced technologies such as artificial superintelligence and robotics, there’s the very real possibility that these sorts of groups will start to become more common — and more radicalized (similar to the radical anti-technology terrorist group Revolutionary Independence From Technology (RIFT) that was portrayed in the recent Hollywood film, Transcendence).

Why Do the Anarcho-Primitivists Want to Abolish Civilization?EXPAND

But Zerzan does not promote or condone violence. He’d rather see the rise of the “Future Primitive” come about voluntarily. To that end, he uses technology — like computers and phones — to get his particular message across (he considers it a necessary evil). That’s how I was able to conduct this interview with him, which we did over email.

io9: Anarcho-primitivism is as much a critique of modernity as is it a prescription for our perceived ills. Can you describe the kind of future you’re envisioning?

Zerzan: I want to see mass society radically decentralized into face-to-face communities. Only then can the individual be both responsible and autonomous. As Paul Shepard said, “Back to the Pleistocene!”

As an ideology, primitivism is fairly self-explanatory. But why add the ‘anarcho’ part to it? How can you be so sure there’s a link between more primitive states of being and the diminishment of power relations and hierarchies among complex primates?

The anarcho part refers to the fact that this question, this approach, arose mainly within an anarchist or anti-civilization milieu. Everyone I know in this context is an anarchist. There are no guarantees for the future, but we do know that egalitarian and anti-hierarchical relations were the norm with Homo for 1-2 million years. This is indisputable in the anthropological literature.

Then how do you distinguish between tools that are acceptable for use versus those that give rise to “anti-hierarchical relations”?

Those tools that involve the least division of labor or specialization involve or imply qualities such as intimacy, equality, flexibility. With increased division of labor we moved away from tools to systems of technology, where the dominant qualities or values are distancing, reliance on experts, inflexibility.

But tool use and symbolic language are indelible attributes of Homo sapiens — these are our distinguishing features. Aren’t you just advocating for biological primitivism — a kind of devolution of neurological characteristics?

Anthropologists (e.g. Thomas Wynn) seem to think that Homo had an intelligence equal to ours at least a million years ago. Thus neurology doesn’t to enter into it. Tool use, of course, has been around from before the beginning of Homo some 3 million years ago. As for language, it’s quite debatable as to when it emerged.

Early humans had a workable, non-destructive approach, that did not generally speaking involve much work, did not objectify women, and was anti-hierarchical. Does this sound backward to you?

You’ve got some provocative ideas about language and how it demeans or diminishes experience.

Every symbolic dimension — time, language, art, number — is a mediation between ourselves and reality. We lived more directly, immediately before these dimensions arrived, fairly recently. Freud, the arch-rationalist, thought that we once communicated telepathically, though I concede that my critique of language is the most speculative of my forays into the symbolic.

You argue that a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is as close to the ideal state of being as is possible. The Amish, on the other hand, have drawn the line at industrialization, and they’ve subsequently adopted an agrarian lifestyle. What is it about the advent of agriculture and domestication that’s so problematic?

In the 1980s Jared Diamond called the move to domestication or agriculture “the worst mistake humans ever made.” A fundamental shift away from taking what nature gives to the domination of nature. The inner logic of domestication of animals and plants is an unbroken progression, which always deepens and extends the ethos of control. Now of course control has reached the molecular level with nanotechnology, and the sphere of what I think is the very unhealthy fantasies of transhumanist neuroscience and AI.

In which ways can anarcho-primitivism be seen as the ultimate green movement? Do you see it that way?

We are destroying the biosphere at a fearful rate. Anarcho-primitivism seeks the end of the primary institutions that drive the destruction: domestication/civilization and industrialization. To accept “green” and “sustainable” illusions ignores the causes of the all-enveloping undermining of nature, including our inner nature. Anarcho-primitivism insists on a deeper questioning and helps identify the reasons for the overall crisis.

Tell us about the anarcho-primitivist position on science.

The reigning notion of what is science is an objectifying method, which magnifies the subject-object split. “Science” for hunter-gatherers is very basically different. It is based on participation with living nature, intimacy with it. Science in modernity mainly breaks reality down into now dead, inert fragments to “unlock” its “secrets.” Is that superior to a forager who knows a number of things from the way a blade of grass is bent?

Well, being trapped in an endless cycle of Darwinian processes doesn’t seem like the most enlightened or moral path for our species to take. Civilization and industrialization have most certainly introduced innumerable problems, but our ability to remove ourselves from the merciless “survival of the fittest” paradigm is a no-brainer. How could you ever convince people to relinquish the gifts of modernity — things like shelter, food on-demand, vaccines, pain relief, anesthesia, and ambulances at our beckon call?

It is reality that will “convince” people — or not. Conceivably, denial will continue to rule the day. But maybe only up to a point. If/when it can be seen that their reality is worsening qualitatively in every sphere a new perspective may emerge. One that questions the deep un-health of mass society and its foundations. Again, non-robust, de-skilled folks may keep going through the motions, stupefied by techno-consumerism and drugs of all kinds. Do you think that can last?

Most futurists would answer that things are getting better — and that through responsible foresight and planning we’ll be able to create the future we imagine.

“Things are getting better”? I find this astounding. The immiseration surrounds us: anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia, etc. on a mass scale, the rampage shootings now commonplace. The progressive ruin of the natural world. I wonder how anyone who even occasionally picks up a newspaper can be so in the dark. Of course I haven’t scratched the surface of how bad it is becoming. It is deeply irresponsible to promote such ignorance and projections.

That’s a very presentist view. Some left-leaning futurists argue, for example, that ongoing technological progress (both in robotics and artificial intelligence) will lead to an automation revolution — one that will free us from dangerous and demeaning work. It’s very possible that we’ll be able to invent our way out of the current labor model that you’re so opposed to.

Technological advances have only meant MORE work. That is the record. In light of this it is not quite cogent to promise that a more technological mass society will mean less work. Again, reality anyone??

Transhumanists advocate for the iterative improvement of the human species, things like enhanced intelligence and memory, the elimination of psychological disorders (including depression), radical life extension, and greater physical capacities. Tell us why you’re so opposed to these things.

Why I am opposed to these things? Let’s take them in order:

Enhanced intelligence and memory? I think it is now quite clear that advancing technology in fact makes people stupider and reduces memory. Attention span is lessened by Tweet-type modes, abbreviated, illiterate means of communicating. People are being trained to stare at screens at all times, a techno-haze that displaces life around them. I see zombies, not sharper, more tuned in people.

Elimination of psychological disorders? But narcissism, autism and all manner of such disabilities are on the rise in a more and more tech-oriented world.

Radical life extension? One achievement of modernity is increased longevity, granted. This has begun to slip a bit, however, in some categories. And one can ponder what is the quality of life? Chronic conditions are on the rise though people can often be kept alive longer. There’s no evidence favoring a radical life extension.

Greater physical capacities? Our senses were once acute and we were far more robust than we are now under the sign of technology. Look at all the flaccid, sedentary computer jockeys and extend that forward. It is not I who doesn’t want these thing; rather, the results are negative looking at the techno project, eh?

Do you foresee the day when a state of anarcho-primitivism can be achieved (even partially by a few enthusiasts)?

A few people cannot achieve such a future in isolation. The totality infects everything. It all must go and perhaps it will. Do you think people are happy with it?

Final Thoughts

Zerzan’s critique of civilization is certainly interesting and worthy of discussion. There’s no doubt that technology has taken humanity along a path that’s resulted in massive destruction and suffering, both to ourselves and to our planet and its animal inhabitants.

But there’s something deeply unsatisfying with the anarcho-primitivist prescription — that of erasing our technological achievements and returning to a state of nature. It’s fed by a cynical and defeatist world view that buys into the notion that everything will be okay once we regress back to a state where our ecological and sociological footprints are reduced to practically nil. It’s a way of eliminating our ability to make an impact on the world — and onto ourselves.

It’s also an ideological view that fetishizes our ancestral past. Despite Zerzan’s cocksure proclamations to the contrary, our paleolithic forebears were almost certainly hierarchical and socially stratified. There isn’t a single social species on this planet — whether they’re primates or elephants or cetaceans — that doesn’t organize its individuals according to capability, influence, or level of reproductive fitness. Feeling “alienated,” “frustrated,” and “controlled” is an indelible part of the human condition, regardless of whether we live in tribal arrangements or in the information age. The anarcho-primitivist fantasy of the free and unhindered noble savage is just that — a fantasy. Hunter-gatherers were far from free, coerced by the demands of biology and nature to mete out an existence under the harshest of circumstances.

In our world beyond nations, the future is medieval (New Scientist)

04 September 2014

Magazine issue 2985

Islamic State is more like a postmodern network than a nation state – so we’ll need new tactics to deal with it

FOR most of the past thousand years, there were no nations in Europe. It was a hotchpotch of tribal groupings, feudal kingdoms, autonomous cities and trading networks. Over time, the continent’s ever more complex societies and industries required ever more complex governance; with the French Revolution, the modern nation state was born.

Now the nation’s time may be drawing to a close, according to those who look at society through the lenses of complexity theory and human behaviour. There is plentiful evidence for this once you start looking (see “End of nations: Is there an alternative to countries?Movie Camera“). Consider the European Union, which is trying – much to the disapproval of many Europeans – to transcend its member nations.

Is this a prospect to welcome or dread? One possible reaction is a resurgence of nationalism, based in the desire to consolidate a perceived common identity. Russia’s bellicosity in eastern Ukraine, for example, was supposedly intended to protect the interests of Russian speakers – a transnational act in itself.

Some believe, instead, that the medieval way of running things is due for a comeback. For much of the Middle Ages, power was wielded by city states, like Florence and Hamburg, and by mercantile associations like the Hanseatic League. Reinventing this system might not sound like progress, especially to those who mistrust the overweening power of cities like London or bodies like the World Trade Organization, but it has its pluses. The governors of big cities oversee most of the world’s inhabitants, share many concerns and are often freer to act than national governments.

Small nations could also thrive, particularly if they distinguish themselves through high-tech expertise (New Scientist, 31 May 2014, p 12). Witness how talk of “going it alone” around the imminent Scottish referendum has often segued into talk of how a politically independent Scotland could maintain its links with England and the EU.

But post-nationalism has its ugly side, too. Islamic State, the extremist movement which has overrun northern Iraq and Syria, is usually described as medieval in a pejorative sense. But it is also hyper-modern, interested in few of the trappings of a conventional state apart from its own brutal brand of law enforcement. In fact, it is more of a network than a nation, having made canny use of social media to exert influence far beyond its geographical base.

Confronted with this post-national threat, the world’s most powerful nations have reacted with something approaching stunned silence. “We have no strategy,” said US president Barack Obama in a rare gaffe. The British government has resorted to “royal prerogative” – a medieval legal instrument if ever there was one – to provide a pretext for controlling the movements of British jihadis. It remains to be seen if this will work: any such action is fraught with complexity under international law.

Thirteen years ago this month, Al-Qaida’s attack on the World Trade Center demonstrated the shortcomings of conventional defences in the face of 21st-century threats. The response was a radical reshaping of the security and military landscape, with effects that are still playing out.

Today, Al-Qaida’s offspring pose a similarly acute challenge to the apparatus of international relations. Even if we decide not to embrace post-nationalism, we’ll have to figure out how to engage with those who do. And we don’t have a thousand years to do it.

This article appeared in print under the headline “State of the nation”

Darwinismo 2.0 (Valor Econômico)

JC e-mail 4976, de 24 de junho de 2014

Artigo de José Eli da Veiga publicado no Valor Econômico

Até o início dos anos 1980 o darwinismo foi amesquinhado pela concepção de que a sobrevivência dos mais aptos só decorreria da feroz competição que caracterizaria a “luta” pela existência. Por oitenta anos foi rejeitada a desviante interpretação das obras de Darwin proposta em “Ajuda Mútua: um Fator de Evolução”, livro com argutas observações sobre a extraordinária cooperação que caracteriza as vidas de abelhas, formigas e vários outros animais, publicado em 1902, no exílio londrino, pelo sessentão príncipe russo Piotr Kropotkin.

Mesmo que não tenha havido reconhecimento explícito, a perspicácia desse expoente do anarquismo começou a ser redimida quando um dos então mais promissores ramos da matemática – a Teoria dos Jogos – foi mobilizado para solucionar uma das questões que mais intrigava os pesquisadores, especialmente os das humanidades: num mundo de egoístas, desprovido de governo central, em que condições pode emergir a cooperação?

Resposta original e persuasiva foi dada em 1981 pelo cientista político da Universidade de Michigan, Robert Axelrod, que três anos depois lançou o hoje clássico “A Evolução da Cooperação” (Ed. Leopardo, 2010). Um livro que deveria tomar o lugar daquelas bíblias gratuitas achadas nos criados-mudos dos hotéis, diz Richard Dawkins, o célebre autor de “O Gene Egoísta” em prefácio à edição de 2006.

A proeza de Axelrod foi executar inéditas simulações computacionais que confirmaram hipóteses formuladas na década anterior por biólogos evolutivos: nepotismo e reciprocidade seriam os dois fatores determinantes da cooperação. Na ausência do primeiro, ela estaria na dependência de um padrão comportamental em que cada um dos atores repete o movimento do outro, reagindo positivamente a atitudes cooperativas e negativamente a gestos hostis.

Ainda em plena Guerra Fria, quando o risco de um “inverno nuclear” exigia a cooperação bipolar entre EUA e URSS, o que poderia fazer mais sucesso do que essa orientação apelidada de “tit-for-tat”, título de uma das populares comédias da dupla “O Gordo e o Magro”? Embora seja traduzida por “olho-por-olho, dente-por-dente”, essa expressão está mais próxima do “toma-lá-dá-cá”, pois é uma estratégia que exige prévio arranque cooperativo.

Como sempre ocorre na ciência, boa resposta a uma grande questão faz com que pipoquem novas dúvidas. Por exemplo: se por mera razão acidental um dos atores falhar em fazer o esperado movimento positivo, isso por si só inviabiliza a continuidade da cooperação? E o que ocorreria quando o esquema de cooperação envolvesse mais do que dois atores? Foram questões como essas que alavancaram o fulgurante avanço da biologia matemática nos últimos vinte anos. O padrão “toma-lá-dá-cá” hoje não passa de uma das três modalidades de uma das cinco dinâmicas de cooperação evidenciadas.

O “tit-for-tat” é manifestação rudimentar do que passou a ser chamado de “reciprocidade direta”. Novas simulações indicaram que eventual passo em falso pode engendrar uma segunda chance, em estratégia apelidada de “toma-lá-dá-cá generoso”, a origem evolutiva do perdão. E desdobramentos ainda mais sofisticados revelaram a existência de uma terceira forma de reciprocidade direta, na qual o agente inverte sua atitude anterior quando nota que as coisas vão mal, mas logo depois volta a cooperar. Algo que já era bem conhecido na etologia como comportamento “Win-Stay, Lose-Shift”, comum entre pombos, macacos, ratos e camundongos.

O segundo vetor da cooperação, chamado de “reciprocidade indireta”, foi crucial para a evolução da linguagem e para o próprio desenvolvimento do cérebro humano, pois se baseia no fenômeno da reputação. Neste caso, o que condiciona as atitudes dos atores são comportamentos anteriores em relações com terceiros. A cooperação avança quando a probabilidade de um agente se inteirar sobre a reputação do outro compensa o custo/benefício do ato altruísta.

Os demais determinantes da cooperação são as três formas em que ocorre a seleção natural, pois, além da já mencionada nepotista (de parentesco), ela não opera apenas entre indivíduos, mas também entre grupos (multinível) e nas redes (espacial).

Mesmo que as observações acima não sejam suficientes para que se possa ter uma boa ideia das descobertas da biologia matemática no âmbito da dinâmica evolutiva, elas certamente permitem notar que o darwinismo aponta tanto para “luta” quanto para “acomodação” pela existência. Exposição rigorosa e extremamente amigável desse darwinismo 2.0 está em “SuperCooperators – Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed” (Free Press, 2011), do austríaco Martin A. Nowak, biólogo matemático que está em Harvard depois de ter brilhado em Oxford e Princeton, e que contou com a inestimável ajuda do jornalista científico britânico Roger Highfield.

Esse sim é um livro que mereceria ser distribuído gratuitamente. Não para substituir bíblias cristãs, mas para promover o entendimento das origens naturais dos códigos de ética de todas as grandes religiões.

José Eli da Veiga é professor sênior do Instituto de Energia e Ambiente da USP e autor de “A desgovernança mundial da sustentabilidade” (Editora 34, 2013). Escreve mensalmente às terças-feiras.

(Valor Econômico)

O problema de Benzema, o craque da França que não canta a Marselhesa (Diário do Centro do Mundo)

Postado em 20 jun 2014

por : 


O melhor em campo na partida em que a França atropelou a Suíça, Karim Benzema perdeu um pênalti, fez dois gols (o segundo não valeu por que o juiz caprichosamente havia apitado o fim da partida), deu duas assistências — e não cantou o hino.

Não é um detalhe. Ele não estava nervoso e atrapalhado. Benzema não entoa a gloriosa “Marselhesa” jamais. “Não é porque eu canto que eu vou marcar três gols. Se eu não cantar a ‘Marselhesa’ e marcar três gols, não acho que no final do jogo alguém vai reclamar. Zidane, por exemplo, não cantava. E há outros. Eu não vejo isso como um problema”, disse ele.

Benzema, como Zidane, seu ídolo e amigo, é filho de imigrantes argelinos e é muçulmano. O silêncio é um protesto a uma letra que fala: “Às armas, cidadãos/ formai vossos batalhões/ marchemos, marchemos! / Que um sangue impuro / banhe o nosso solo”. É duramente criticado por essa atitude. A Frente Nacional, de extrema direita, fundada por Jean Marie Le Pen, o chamou de mercenário desleal e pediu seu banimento. “Ele não vê problema nisso. Bem, o povo francês não veria nenhum problema se ele não estivesse mais no time”.

É uma falácia. Benzema, que também cravou dois contra Honduras na estreia, faz toda a diferença para a França, uma equipe majoritariamente de filhos de imigrantes. Além dele, o time tem Valbuena (descendente de espanhois), Cabaye (de vietnamitas), Matuidi (angolanos), Sagna (senegaleses), Varane (os pais são da Martinica).

Há três anos, o ex-técnico da seleção, Laurent Blanc, chegou a sugerir que se limitasse o número de atletas não-brancos. Blanc queria uma cota de 30% de descendentes de africanos na federação. Para sorte dos franceses, a ideia não foi adiante.

Na Espanha, Benzema costuma ser chamado de “vendedor de kebabs”. “Se marco gol, sou francês. Se não marco, sou árabe”, afirma. Karim Benzema e seus colegas são um problema, sem dúvida, mas para os adversários. E uma lembrança perigosa para o Brasil, cujos jogadores estufam o peito para cantar a capella o ouvirundum.


Grupos judaicos protestam contra Prêmio Adorno para filósofa crítica de Israel (DW)


Detratores atacam escolha de filósofa e ativista política Judith Butler para importante prêmio cultural alemão. Condenação da filósofa de origem judaica à política do Estado de Israel é equiparada a antissemitismo.

Filósofa norte-americana Judith ButlerFilósofa norte-americana Judith Butler

O anúncio da cidade de Frankfurt, em maio último, de que Judith Butler receberia o Prêmio Theodor W. Adorno por sua contribuição extraordinária ao pensamento filosófico, desencadeou uma guerra de palavras especialmente violenta entre a pensadora e seus críticos.

Professora de Retórica e Literatura Comparada na Universidade de Berkeley, Califórnia, Butler é conhecida sobretudo por suas obras sobre teorias queer e dos gêneros, entre as quais Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity (1990) e Undoing gender (2004).

Mais recentemente, ela ganhou destaque como ativista política e crítica da política de Israel no Oriente Médio. Butler é adepta veemente do movimento Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS – Boicote, Desinvestimento e Sanções), que defende medidas não punitivas contra o Estado israelense.

“Judia de álibi”

Concedida a cada três anos, a distinção que traz o nome do filósofo e teórico alemão Theodor W. Adorno premia desempenhos extraordinários nos campos da música, literatura, filosofia e cinema.

Bandeira israelense em Jerusalém. Ao fundo, cúpula da Mesquita da RochaBandeira israelense em Jerusalém. Ao fundo, cúpula da Mesquita da Rocha

Em seguida à escolha de Judith Butler em 31 de maio último, membros da comunidade judaica, acadêmicos e articulistas reagiram com um longo e corrosivo ataque publicado no jornalJerusalem Post, condenando em especial o apoio da autora ao BDS.

Gerald Steinberg, docente de Ciência Política na Universidade Bar-Ilan, em Ramat Gan, definiu a campanha do BDS como “a acepção moderna do antissemitismo”. “Butler é uma de um ínfimo número de ‘judeus de álibi’, usados para legitimar a guerra continuada contra Israel, seguindo uma obscura prática empregada durante séculos na diáspora”, afirmou.

Stephan Kramer, secretário-geral do Conselho Central dos Judeus na Alemanha, deplorou a decisão de dar o prêmio a alguém que “notoriamente odeia Israel”. Conceder a distinção – que leva o nome de um filósofo forçado a fugir do regime nazista devido a sua própria herança judaica – não pode ser considerado “um mero equívoco”, condenou Kramer.

“Tática de silenciamento”

Judith Butler, judia norte-americana de ascendência russa e húngara, respondeu a seus detratores num longo artigo publicado pelo website de notícias judaicas Mondoweiss. Obviamente magoada pelas críticas direcionadas contra ela, denunciou os ataques como “tática de silenciamento”.

“É falso, absurdo e doloroso alguém argumentar que quem formula críticas ao Estado de Israel seja antissemita ou, se judeu, autodesprezador. Tais ataques visam demonizar a pessoa que está articulando um ponto de vista crítico, assim desqualificando de antemão seu ponto de vista.” Além disso, seus adversários estariam tentando monopolizar o direito de falar em nome dos judeus, apontou a filósofa.

Um pomo da discórdia específico têm sido os comentários feitos por Butler sobre grupos políticos palestinos e libaneses, durante um fórum antibélico em 2011: “Entender o Hamas e o Hizbollah como movimentos sociais que são progressivos, de esquerda, que são parte da esquerda global, é extremamente importante”.

Em sua inflamada réplica, a norte-americana alega que o sentido de seus comentários foi arrancado do contexto e seriamente distorcido. Partidária da resistência não violenta, ela afirma não endossar nem o Hamas nem o Hizbollah. “Na minha opinião, dada a minha história, é importantíssimo, como judia, pronunciar-me contra a injustiça e lutar contra todas as formas de racismo.”

Prêmio será entregue na Igreja de S. Paulo de FrankfurtPrêmio será entregue na Igreja de S. Paulo de Frankfurt

Contexto teuto-israelense delicado

A autora austríaca Marlene Streeruwitz, integrante da banca do Prêmio Adorno, defendeu a decisão de laurear Judith Butler. Ela declarou-se atônita diante da celeuma resultante, que classificou uma verdadeira “denunciação”, e louvou a “complexa e diferenciada atitude em relação ao mundo” representada por Butler.

O democrata-cristão Felix Semmelroth, encarregado para assuntos de cultura em Frankfurt, também manifestou apoio à decisão do júri, denominando Butler “uma das pensadoras-chaves de nosso tempo”. Quanto à crítica à premiação, ela seria “compreensível, mas injustificada”, observou o político conservador alemão.

A autora estadunidense não é a única voz crítica a Israel a enfrentar oposição ferrenha. Em março de 2012, o autor alemão Günter Grass, Prêmio Nobel de Literatura, também desencadeou polêmica com seu poema O que deve ser dito, no qual tacha Israel de ameaça à paz mundial. Em meio à celeuma, Grass expressou frustração por toda crítica a Israel ser equiparada a antissemitismo.

Filósofo Theodor W. Adorno nasceu em 11 de setembro de 1903Filósofo Theodor W. Adorno nasceu em 11 de setembro de 1903

A decisão de conceder o Prêmio Adorno à pensadora estadunidense coincide com um momento atipicamente sensível nas relações teuto-israelenses do pós-guerra. Em junho, um tribunal da cidade de Colônia classificou a circuncisão de bebês como “lesão corporal criminosa”, provocando protestos das comunidades judaica e muçulmana da Alemanha e do resto do mundo. No início de setembro, entretanto, o estado de Berlim considerou a circuncisão legal por motivos religiosos.

Opositor de nacionalismos e racismos

Nascido na cidade de Frankfurt em 1903, Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund-Adorno tinha uma relação complexa com sua própria identidade judaica. Integrante central da Escola de Frankfurt de Teoria Crítica, mantendo laços estreitos com pensadores como Max Horkheimer, Ernst Bloch e Walter Benjamin, Adorno foi um dos principais filósofos da estética, música e cultura de massa de sua geração.

Crítico determinado do fascismo, Adorno exilou-se da Alemanha em 1934. Em Cultura crítica e sociedade, de 1951, ele cunhou a famosa frase “Escrever poesia depois de Auschwitz é barbárie”, mas que depois rejeitaria. Durante toda sua vida, permaneceu extremamente cético no tocante a todas as formas de nacionalismo.

Retornando à Alemanha após a Segunda Guerra Mundial, atuou como professor na Universidade de Frankfurt de 1949 até sua morte, em 1969. Em sua honra e no dia de seu aniversário, 11 de setembro, desde 1977 a cidade natal concede a cada três anos o prêmio que leva seu nome, dotado com 50 mil euros. Entre os laureados estiveram Jürgen Habermas (1980), Jean-Luc Godard (1995), Jacques Derrida (2001) e Alexander Kluge (2009).

Judith Butler recebe o Prêmio Theodor W. Adorno neste 11 de setembro, na Igreja de São Paulo de Frankfurt.

Autor: Helen Whittle (av)
Revisão: Carlos Albuquerque

Hacker Helped Disrupt 300 Web Attacks, Prosecutors Say (New York Times)

A prominent hacker set to be sentenced in federal court this week for breaking into numerous computer systems worldwide has provided a trove of information to the authorities, allowing them to disrupt at least 300 cyberattacks on targets that included the United States military, Congress, the federal courts, NASA and private companies, according to a newly filed government court document.

The hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur, also helped the authorities dismantle a particularly aggressive cell of the hacking collective Anonymous, leading to the arrest of eight of its members in Europe and the United States, including Jeremy Hammond, who the Federal Bureau of Investigation said was its top “cybercriminal target,” the document said. Mr. Hammond is serving a 10-year prison term.

The court document was prepared by prosecutors who are asking a judge, Loretta A. Preska, for leniency for Mr. Monsegur because of his “extraordinary cooperation.” He is set to be sentenced on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan on hacking conspiracy and other charges that could result in a long prison term.

Hector Xavier Monsegur cooperated with the authorities.


It has been known since 2012 that Mr. Monsegur, who was arrested in 2011, was acting as a government mole in the shadowy world of computer hacking, but the memorandum submitted to Judge Preska late on Friday reveals for the first time the extent of his assistance and what the government perceives of its value. It also offers the government’s first explanation of Mr. Monsegur’s involvement in a series of coordinated attacks on foreign websites in early 2012, though his precise role is in dispute.

The whereabouts of Mr. Monsegur have been shrouded in mystery. Since his cooperation with the authorities became known, he has been vilified online by supporters of Anonymous, of which he was a member. The memo, meanwhile, said the government became so concerned about his safety that it relocated him and some members of his family.

“Monsegur repeatedly was approached on the street and threatened or menaced about his cooperation once it became publicly known,” said the memo, which was filed by the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

Born in 1983, Mr. Monsegur moved to the Jacob Riis housing project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at a young age, where he lived with his grandmother after his father and aunt were arrested for selling heroin. He became involved with hacking groups in the late 1990s, drawn, he has indicated, to the groups’ anti-government philosophies.

Mr. Monsegur’s role emerged in March 2012 when the authorities announced charges against Mr. Hammond and others. A few months later, Mr. Monsegur’s bail was revoked after he made “unauthorized online postings,” the document said without elaboration. He was jailed for about seven months, then released on bail in December 2012, and has made no further postings, it said.

The memo said that when Mr. Monsegur (who used the Internet alias Sabu) was first approached by F.B.I. agents in June 2011 and questioned about his online activities, he admitted to criminal conduct and immediately agreed to cooperate with law enforcement.

That night, he reviewed his computer files with the agents, and throughout the summer, he daily “provided, in real time, information” that allowed the government to disrupt attacks and identify “vulnerabilities in significant computer systems,” the memo said.

“Working sometimes literally around the clock,” it added, “at the direction of law enforcement, Monsegur engaged his co-conspirators in online chats that were critical to confirming their identities and whereabouts.”

His primary assistance was his cooperation against Anonymous and its splinter groups Internet Feds and LulzSec.

“He provided detailed historical information about the activities of Anonymous, contributing greatly to law enforcement’s understanding of how Anonymous operates,” the memo said.

Jeremy Hammond is serving a 10-year prison term. CreditCook County Sheriff’s Department, via Associated Press


Neither Mr. Bharara’s office nor a lawyer for Mr. Monsegur would comment about the memo.

Mr. Monsegur provided an extraordinary window on the activities of LulzSec, which he and five other members of Anonymous had created. The memo describes LulzSec as a “tightly knit group of hackers” who worked as a team with “complementary, specialized skills that enabled them to gain unauthorized access to computer systems, damage and exploit those systems, and publicize their hacking activities.”

The memo said that LulzSec had developed an “action plan to destroy evidence and disband if the group determined that any of its members had been arrested, or were out of touch,” and it credits Mr. Monsegur for agreeing so quickly to cooperate after being confronted by the bureau. Had he delayed his decision and remained offline for an extended period, the document said, “it is likely that much of the evidence regarding LulzSec’s activities would have been destroyed.”

After his arrest, Mr. Monsegur provided information that helped repair a hack of PBS’s website in which he had been a “direct participant,” and helped patch a vulnerability in the Senate’s website. He also provided information about “vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure, including at a water utility for an American city, and a foreign energy company,” the document said.

The coordinated attacks on foreign government websites in 2012 exploited a vulnerability in a popular web hosting software. The targets included Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Brazil, according to court documents in Mr. Hammond’s case. The memo said that “at law enforcement direction,” Mr. Monsegur tried to obtain details about the software vulnerability but was unsuccessful.

“At the same time, Monsegur was able to learn of many hacks, including hacks of foreign government computer servers, committed by these targets and other hackers, enabling the government to notify the victims, wherever feasible,” the memo said.

The memo does not specify which of the foreign governments the United States alerted about the vulnerabilities.

But according to a recent prison interview with Mr. Hammond as well as logs of Internet chats between him and Mr. Monsegur, which were submitted to the court in Mr. Hammond’s case, Mr. Monsegur seemed to have played a more active role in directing some of the attacks. In the chat logs, Mr. Monsegur directed Mr. Hammond to hack numerous foreign websites, and closely monitored whether Mr. Hammond had success in gaining access to the sites.

Sarah Kunstler, a lawyer for Mr. Hammond, said on Saturday: “The government’s characterization of Sabu’s role is false. Far from protecting foreign governments, Sabu identified targets and actively facilitated the hacks of their computer systems.”

At his sentencing in November, Mr. Hammond was prohibited by Judge Preska from naming the foreign governments that Mr. Monsegur had asked him to hack. But, according to an uncensored version of a court statement by Mr. Hammond that appeared online that day, the target list included more than 2,000 Internet domains in numerous countries.

Mr. Hammond’s sentencing statement also said that Mr. Monsegur encouraged other hackers to give him data from Syrian government websites, including those of banks and ministries associated with the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad.

Viveiros de Castro: A escravidão venceu no Brasil. Nunca foi abolida (Público)

16 de março de 2014


Fome, secas, epidemias, matanças: a Terra aproxima-se do apocalipse. Talvez daqui a 50 anos nem faça sentido falar em Brasil, como Estado-nação. Entretanto, há que resistir ao avanço do capitalismo. As redes sociais são uma nova hipótese de insurreição. Presente, passado e futuro, segundo um dos maiores pensadores brasileiros

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, 62 anos, é o mais reconhecido e discutido antropólogo do Brasil. Acha que “a ditadura brasileira não acabou”, evoluiu para uma “democracia consentida”. Vê nas redes sociais, onde tem milhares de seguidores, a hipótese de uma nova espécie de guerrilha, ou resistência. Não perdoa a Lula da Silva ter optado pela via capitalista e acha que Dilma Rousseff tem uma relação “quase patológica” com a Amazônia e os índios. Não votará nela “nem sob pelotão de fuzilamento”.

O antropólogo Eduardo Viveiros de Castro é autor de uma obra influente, que inclui “A Inconstância da Alma Selvagem” e “Araweté — O Povo do Ipixuna” DÉBORAH DANOWSKI

Professor do Museu Nacional, no Rio de Janeiro, autor de uma obra influente (destaque para A Inconstância da Alma Selvagem ou Araweté — O Povo do Ipixuna, este último editado em Portugal pela Assírio & Alvim), Viveiros de Castro é o criador do perspectivismo ameríndio, segundo a qual a humanidade é um ponto de vista: a onça vê-se como humana e vê o homem como animal; o porco vê-se como humano e vê a onça como animal. Humano é sempre quem olha.

Nesta longa entrevista, feita há um mês no seu apartamento da Baía de Botafogo — antes ainda da greve dos garis (homens e mulheres do lixo), um exemplo de revolta bem sucedida — Viveiros foi da Copa do Mundo ao fim do mundo. Acredita que estamos à beira do apocalipse.

Vê sinais de uma revolta nas ruas brasileiras? Aquilo que aconteceu em 2013 foi um levantamento mas não uma revolta generalizada. Acha que isso pode acontecer antes da Copa, ou durante?

É muito difícil separar o que você imagina que vai acontecer daquilo que você deseja que vá acontecer.

Vamos separar. O que desejaria que acontecesse?

Revolta popular durante a Copa.

E isso significa o quê, exactamente?

Manifestação. Não estou imaginando a queda da Bastilha nem a explosão de nada, mas gostaria que a população carioca o deixasse muito claro. Embora a Copa vá acontecer em várias cidades, creio que o Rio se tornou o epicentro do problema da Copa, em parte porque o jogo final será no Maracanã.

Mesmo nas manifestações, o Rio foi a cidade mais forte.

São Paulo também teve manifestações muito importantes, mais conectadas com o Movimento Passe Livre [MPL, estudantes que em Junho de 2013 iniciaram os protestos contra o aumento dos transportes]. Voltando ao que eu desejaria: que a população carioca manifestasse a sua insatisfação em relação à forma como a cidade está sendo transformada numa espécie de empresa, numa vitrine turística, colonizada pelo grande capital, com a construção de grandes hotéis, oferecendo oportunidades às grandes empreiteiras, um balcão de negócios, sob a desculpa de que a Copa iria trazer dinheiro, visibilidade, para o Brasil.

O problema é que vai trazer má visibilidade. Vai ser uma péssima propaganda para o Brasil. Primeiro, porque, se estou bem entendendo, vários compromissos contratuais com a FIFA não estão sendo honrados, atrasos muito grandes, etc. Segundo, porque essa ideia de que os brasileiros estão achando uma maravilha que a Copa se realize no Brasil pode ser desmentida de maneira escandalosa se os turistas, tão cobiçados, chegarem aqui e baterem de frente com povo nas ruas, brigando com a polícia, uma polícia despreparada, brutal, violenta, assassina. Tenho a impressão de que não vai fazer muito bem à imagem do Brasil.

Outra coisa importante é que a Copa foi vendida à opinião pública como algo que ia ser praticamente financiado pela iniciativa privada, que o dinheiro do povo, do contribuinte, ia ser pouco gasto. O que está se vendo é o contrário, o governo brasileiro investindo maciçamente, gastando dinheiro para essas reformas de estádios, dinheiro dos impostos. Então, nós estamos pagando para que a FIFA lucre. Porque quem lucra com as copas é a FIFA.

Desejaria que essa revolta impedisse mesmo a Copa?

Impedir a Copa é impossível, não adianta nem desejar. Não sei também se seria bom, poderia produzir alguma complicação diplomática, ou uma repressão muito violenta dentro do país. Existe uma campanha: Não Vai Ter Copa. O nome completo é: Sem Respeito aos Direitos Não Vai Ter Copa. No sentido desiderativo: não deveria haver, desejamos que não haja.

O que se está dizendo é que os direitos de várias camadas da população estão sendo brutalmente desrespeitados, com remoções forçadas de comunidades, desapropriando sem indemnização, modificando aspectos fundamentais da paisagem carioca sem nenhuma consulta. Isso tudo está irritando a população.

Mas não é só isso: a insatisfação com a Copa foi catalisada por várias outras que vieram surgindo nos últimos anos, que envolvem categorias sociais diversas, e não estão sendo organizadas nem controladas pelos partidos. Essas manifestações têm de tudo, uma quantidade imensa de pautas [reivindicações]. Tem gente que quer só fazer bagunça, tem gente de direita, infiltrados da polícia, neonazistas, anarquistas. Um conjunto complexo de fenómenos com uma combinação de causas. Uma coisa importante é que são transversais: tem gente pobre e de classe média misturada na rua. É a primeira vez que isso acontece. O que talvez tenha em comum é que são todos jovens. Da classe média alta à [favela da] Rocinha.

Mas agora não são muito expressivas em termos de números. E não são as favelas que estão em massa na rua.

As famosas massas ainda não desceram, e provavelmente não vão descer durante a Copa. Nem sei se vão descer em alguma momento, se existe isso no Brasil. Mas acho que vai haver uma quantidade de pequenas manifestações. Por exemplo, a Aldeia Maracanã [pequena comunidade de índios pressionada a sair, por causa das obras do estádio] produziu uma confusão muito grande, se você pensar no tamanho da população envolvida. Os moradores daquela casa eram 14 pessoas e não obstante mobilizaram destacamentos do Bope [tropa de elite], bombas, etc. Quem está, em grande parte, criando a movimentação popular é o estado, com a sua reacção desproporcional. O Movimento Passe Livre ganhou aquela explosão em São Paulo por causa da brutalidade da reacção policial. O Brasil nunca teve esse tipo de confronto entre a polícia e jovens manifestantes. A polícia não sabe como reagir, não tem um método, então reage de maneira brutal. Os próprios manifestantes não têm experiência de organização. O que estão chamando de black bloc não é a mesma coisa que black bloc na Dinamarca, na Alemanha ou nos Estados Unidos.

Mais volátil.

Ideologicamente pouco consistente. Sabemos que o black bloc europeu é essencialmente uma táctica de protecção contra a polícia. Noutros países, como os Estados Unidos, tem uma certa táctica de agressão a símbolos do capitalismo. Aqui no Rio está uma coisa meio misturada, ainda não se consolidou uma identidade, um perfil táctico claro para o que se chama de black bloc. E eles estão sendo demonizados. Acho até que, no caso do Brasil, o facto de que sejam black coloca uma pequena ponta de racismo nessa indignação. Não duvido de que no imaginário da classe média por trás da máscara negra esteja também um rosto negro. Pobres, bandidos, etc.

Mas isso está acontecendo ao mesmo tempo que a polícia continua invadindo as favelas, matando 10, 12, 15 jovens por semana. Até recentemente esse comportamento clássico do estado diante da população muito pobre, isto é, mandar a polícia entrar e arrebentar, era algo que a classe média tomava como… [sinal de longínquo].

Porque se passava lá nos morros.

Quando a violência começou a atingir a classe média — ainda que uma bala de borracha não seja uma bala de fuzil, porque o que eles usam na favela é bala de verdade e o que eles usam na rua é bala de borracha, ainda assim você pode matar com bala de borracha, pode cegar, etc —, à medida que a polícia começou a atacar tanto a rua quanto o morro houve um aumento da percepção da classe média em relação à violência da polícia nas favelas, o que é novidade. A imprensa fez uma imensa campanha para santificar a polícia com a coisa das UPP [Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, programa para acabar com o poder armado paralelo nas favelas, instalando a polícia lá dentro], mas todo o mundo está percebendo que essas UPP são no mínimo ambíguas. Basta ver o caso do [ajudante de pedreiro] Amarildo, que foi sequestrado, torturado e morto pela polícia [em Junho de 2013, na Rocinha], e sumiu da imprensa.

Vinte e cinco policiais foram indiciados.

Quero ver o que vai acontecer. Quem deu visibilidade à morte do Amarildo não foi a grande imprensa. Foram as redes sociais, os movimentos sociais. Essa morte é absolutamente banal, acontece toda a semana nas favelas, mas calhou de acontecer na altura das manifestações, então foi capturada pelos manifestantes, o que produziu uma solidariedade entre o morro e a rua que foi inédita.

Num país como este, em que a desigualdade, a violência, continuam, porque é que as massas não saem?

Quem dera que eu soubesse a resposta. Essa é a pergunta que a esquerda faz desde que existe no Brasil. Acho que há várias razões. O Brasil é um país muito diferente de todos os outros da América Latina, por exemplo da Argentina. Basta comparar a história para ver a diferença em termos de participação política, mobilização popular. Tenho impressão de que isso se deve em larga medida à herança da escravidão no Brasil. O Brasil é um país muito mais racista do que os Estados Unidos. Claro que é um racismo diferente. O racismo americano é protestante. Mas no Brasil há um racismo político muito forte, não só ideológico como o americano, interpessoal. O Brasil é um país escravocrata, continua sendo. O imaginário profundo é escravocrata. Você vê o caso do menino [mulato] amarrado no poste [no bairro do Flamengo, por uma milícia de classe média que o suspeitava assaltante] e que respondeu de uma maneira absolutamente trágica quando foi pego: mas meu senhor, eu não estava fazendo nada. Só essa expressão, “meu senhor”… O trágico foi essa expressão. Continuamos num mundo de senhores. Porque o outro era branco.

Como um DNA, algo que não acabou.

Não acabou, pois é. É o mito de que no Brasil todas as coisas se resolvem sem violência. Sem violência, entenda-se, sem revolta popular. Com muita violência mas sem revolta. A violência é a da polícia, do estado, do exército, mas não é a violência no sentido clássico, francês, revolucionário.

E toda a vez que acontecem coisas como essas manifestações de Junho, por exemplo, há aquela sensação: dessa vez o morro vai descer. O morro não desceu. Em parte porque já não é mais o morro, boa parte do morro é de classe média. Evidentemente, houve um crescimento económico. As favelas da minha infância, nos anos 50, eram completamente diferente, como essas vilas da Amazônia, feitas de lona preta. Hoje são casas de alvenaria, feitas de tijolos. Ainda assim a miséria continua. Quero dizer apenas que a distância entre a classe média e o morro diminuiu do ponto de vista económico.

Ao fazer ascender esses milhões da miséria, o PT neutralizou a revolução?

Em parte pode ser isso. Houve uma espécie de opção política forçada do PT, segundo a qual a única maneira de melhorar a renda dos pobres é não mexer na renda dos ricos. Ou seja, vamos ter que tirar o dinheiro de outro lugar. E de onde é que eles estão tirando? Do chão, literalmente. Destruindo o meio ambiente para poder vender soja, carne, para a China. Não está havendo redistribuição de renda, o que está havendo é aumento da renda produzida pela queima dos móveis da casa para aquecer a população, digamos. Está um pouquinho mais quente, não estamos morrendo de frio, mas estamos destruindo o Brasil central, devastando a Amazônia. Tudo foi feito para não botar a mão no bolso dos ricos. E não provocar os militares.

A ditadura brasileira não acabou. Nós vivemos numa democracia consentida pelos militares. Compare com a Argentina: porque é que no Brasil não houve julgamento dos militares envolvidos na tortura?  Porque os militares não deixam. Vamos ver o que vai acontecer agora, no dia 1 de Abril.

Com o aniversário do golpe militar.

Já existe uma campanha aí, subterrânea, para que no dia 31 de Março apaguem-se as luzes, toquem-se buzinas, para comemorar o 50º aniversário do golpe. Ou seja, existe uma campanha da direita para mostrar que a população ainda apoia a direita. Não sei que sucesso vai ter, mas não duvido que haja uma manifestação, oculta, pessoas que vão apagar as luzes das suas casas ou piscar as luzes à meia-noite, alguma coisa assim.

Mas nenhuma possibilidade de viragem à direita.

Não creio.

O actual regime não é uma democracia?

O Brasil é uma democracia formal, claro, mas consentida pelo status quo. A abertura foi permitida pelos militares. A Lei da Amnistia foi imposta tal qual pelo governo militar. Eles não foram destronados, presos, criminalizados. Simplesmente foram amnistiados. E boa parte do projecto de desenvolvimento nacional gestado durante a ditadura militar está sendo aplicado com a maior eficiência.

Pela esquerda.

Pela chamada esquerda, pela coalisão que está no poder, na qual a esquerda é uma parte mínima, porque tem os grandes proprietários de terra, os grandes empresários.

Está cumprindo um ideário que vem da ditadura?

O PT é um partido operário do século XIX. Eles têm um modelo que é indústria, crescimento, como se o Brasil fosse os Estados Unidos do século XXI. Com grande consumo de energia. Uma concepção antiga, fora de sintonia com o mundo actual. Agora está começando a mudar um pouco, mas a falta de sensibilidade do governo para o facto de que o Brasil é um país que está localizado no planeta Terra, e não no céu, é muito grande. Eles não percebem. Acham que o Brasil é um mundo em si mesmo.

Ou seja, que não vai ser afectado pelo aquecimento global, etc.

É, que todas essas coisas são com os outros. Um pouco como acontece nos Estados Unidos, em países muito grandes.

A única visão global que o Brasil tem é de se tornar uma potência geopolítica. O Brasil, hoje, é um actor maior, de primeira linha, em Moçambique, em Angola, nos países latino-americanos. Está disputando com a China pedaços de Moçambique. A Odebrecht está construindo hidroeléctricas [barragens] em Angola e assim por diante. O Brasil se imagina como potência que vai oprimir. Agora é a vez de sermos opressores, deixarmos de ser os oprimidos. Agora os brasileiros da vez vão ser os haitianos, os bolivianos, os paraguaios, que trabalham nas “sweetshops” de São Paulo, nas terras em que plantamos soja e etc. O PT nunca foi um partido de esquerda. É um partido que procurava transformar a classe operária numa classe operária americana.

E nunca o Brasil foi um país tão capitalista.

Minha mulher me contou que, conversando com um desconhecido, operador da bolsa de valores, isto em 2007, 2008, ele dizia: se eu soubesse que ia ser tão bom para nós jamais teria votado contra o Lula.

Onde está a esquerda? Qual é a sua opção de voto? Ou a opção deixou de ser votar?

Tanto a esquerda como a direita são posições políticas que você encontra dentro da classe média. A classe dominante é de direita de maneira genética, a grande burguesia, o grande capital. E os pobres, a classe trabalhadora… se eu fosse fazer um juízo de valor um pouco irresponsável diria que 60 a 70 por cento do Brasil estaria muito feliz com um governo autoritário, que desse dinheiro para comprar geladeira, televisão, carro, etc. Uma população que tem uma profunda desconfiança em relação a esses jovens quebradores de coisas na rua, que seria a favor da pena de morte, que é violentamente homofóbica.

Iapii-hi, índia Araweté, prepara doce de milho (fotografia de 1982) EDUARDO VIVEIROS DE CASTRO

Depois do garoto do Flamengo ter sido amarrado por aquela milícia, ouvi trabalhadores negros pobres dizerem: tem mais é que botar bandido na cadeia, fizeram foi pouco com ele.

Ou seja, é um país conservador, reaccionário, em que os pobres colaboram com a sua opressão. Não todos, mas existe isso. A escravidão venceu no Brasil, ela nunca foi abolida. Sou muito pessimista em relação ao Brasil, digo francamente. Em relação ao passado e ao futuro. Em relação ao passado no sentido de que é um país que jamais se libertou do ethos, do imaginário profundo da escravidão, em que o sonho de todo o escravo é ser senhor de escravos, o sonho de todo o oprimido é ser o opressor. Daí essa reacção: tem mais é que botar esses caras na cadeia. Em vez de se solidarizar. E podia ser o filho dele facilmente. E às vezes é o filho dele.

Oswald de Andrade, o poeta, dizia: “O Brasil nunca declarou a sua independência.” Em certo sentido é verdade, porque quem declarou a independência do Brasil foi Portugal, um rei português. Eu diria: e tão pouco aboliu a escravidão. Porque quem aboliu a escravidão foi a própria classe escravocrata. Não foi nenhuma revolta popular, nenhuma guerra civil.

E em relação ao futuro sou pessimista porque… talvez ainda tenha um pouco de esperança, mas acho que o Brasil já perdeu a oportunidade de inventar uma nova forma de civilização. Um país que teria todas as condições para isso: ecológicas, geográficas.

Uma espécie de terceira via do mundo?

É, outra civilização. Porque civilização não é necessariamente transformar um país tropical numa cópia de segunda classe dos Estados Unidos ou da Europa, ou seja, de um país do hemisfério norte que tem características geográficas e culturais completamente diferentes.

Lembremos que houve um projecto explícito no Brasil, e que deu certo, que está dando certo, por isso é que sou pessimista, que é o projecto iniciado com Pedro II, em parte inspirado pelo célebre teórico racista Gobineau, que era uma grande admiração de D. Pedro: o Brasil só teria saída mediante o braqueamento da população, porque a escravidão tinha trazido uma tara, uma raça inferior.

Havia que lavar o sangue.

É uma ideia antiga, que já vem dos cristãos-novos que vieram de Portugal, que tinham de limpar o sangue. A gente sabe que quase toda a população portuguesa que se instalou no Brasil é de cristãos-novos, Diria que 70 por cento desses brancos orgulhosos de serem brasileiros são judeus, marranos, convertidos a ferro e fogo pela Inquisição. Então, havia essa ideia de que o Brasil era um país racialmente inferior porque era composto de negros, índios, portugueses com essa origem um pouco duvidosa. E já Portugal em si não é…

A Holanda.

Exacto. Não é a coisa mais branca que podemos encontrar na Europa. A Península Ibérica é um pouco africana, foi dominada 800 anos pelos árabes. Então o Brasil só ia melhorar com branqueamento. Isso foi uma política de estado que durou décadas e trouxe para o Brasil milhões de imigrantes alemães, italianos, mais tarde japoneses. Com o propósito explícito de branquear, não só geneticamente, mas culturalmente e economicamente. E eles foram para o Sul, de São Paulo até ao Rio Grande. Mas, esse que é o ponto curioso, a partir do governo militar para cá essa população branca invadiu o Brasil, a Amazônia. A colonização da Amazônia a partir da década de 70 foi feita pelos gaúchos, muitos deles pobres, que foram expulsos, alemães pobres, italianos pobres, cujas pequenas propriedades fundiárias foram absorvidas pelos grandes proprietários, também gaúchos, também brancos, e que foram estimulados pelo governo, com subsídios, promessas mirabolantes, a irem para a Amazônia. Hoje, tem um cinturão de cidades no sul da Amazônia com nomes como Porto dos Gaúchos, Querência, que é um lugar onde se guarda o gado, típico do Rio Grande do Sul. Os gaúchos [de origem europeia] chegaram numa região temperada, subtropical [sul do Brasil] em que você podia mais ou menos copiar um tipo de estrutura agrícola, de produção alimentar do país de origem. Só que na Amazônia isso é uma abominação. É um preconceito muito difundido essa ideia de que pessoal do Norte não sabe trabalhar, é preguiçoso. Você ouve muito isto no Paraná, no Rio Grande do Sul. Quem sabe trabalhar é o colono alemão, italiano.

Hoje o Brasil foi branqueado. Essa cultura country aí é uma mistura de cultura europeia com cultura americana, de grande carrão, 4×4, pick ups, rodeos, chapéus americanos, botas. Existe um projecto de transformar o Brasil num país culturalmente do hemisfério norte, seja Estados Unidos, seja essa Europa mais reaccionária. Porque estamos falando de colonos alemães que vieram do campesinato reaccionário, bávaro, pomerano, e dos camponeses italianos, que eram entusiastas do nazismo e do fascismo na II Guerra. Continuam sendo. O que tem de grupo de extrema-direita no sul do Brasil é muito. O foco da direita fascista, nazista é o Paraná e o Rio Grande do Sul. Então o Brasil é um país dividido entre um sul branco e o resto não branco, português, negro no litoral, índio no interior.

O censo da população dá por uma unha uma maioria não-branca.

O agronegócio é na verdade o modelo gaúcho, desenvolvido no pampa, nos campos do Rio Grande. Plantação extensa de monocultura, de soja, de arroz, de cana. Então o Brasil está perdendo a oportunidade de se constituir como um novo modelo de civilização propriamente tropical, com uma nova relação entre as raças, que fosse efectivamente multinacional. Um país que se constituiu em cima do genocídio indígena, da escravidão, da monocultura. Que continua fazendo o que fez desde que foi criado, exportando produtos agrícolas. Que continua a alimentar os países industrializados. Primeiro a Europa, depois os Estados Unidos, agora a China. Continua sendo o celeiro do capitalismo.

E o matadouro.

O segundo maior rebanho bovino do mundo, depois da Austrália. Um país que se está destruindo a si mesmo para se transformar numa caricatura dos países que lhe servem de modelo cultural. Em vez de, ao contrário, saber utilizar a sua situação geográfica altamente privilegiada, a sua situação demográfica, uma população imensa, para construir um novo estilo de civilização.

O senhor está descrevendo a derrota do “Manifesto Antropófago” de Oswald de Andrade [visão de um Brasil que se torna forte por comer, absorver o outro]

É, acho que sim. Bom, nenhuma derrota é definitiva. O meu pessimismo nem passa tanto pelo facto de que o Brasil não tem jeito, porque acho que ainda poderia haver uma revolução antropofágica no Brasil. Mas hoje isso é uma questão que já não teria mais sentido colocar pelo simples facto de que estamos numa situação planetária em que a catástrofe já se iniciou. O mundo está entrando, num sentido físico, termodinâmico, num outro regime ambiental que vai produzir catástrofes humanas jamais vistas, no meu entender: fome, epidemias, secas, mudança de regime hidrológico, tudo. Nessas circunstâncias, é possível que cheguemos a um momento em que noções como Brasil, Estados Unidos, países, comecem a perder a sua nitidez. Pode ser que daqui a 50 anos a palavra Brasil não tenha mais nenhum sentido. Que tenhamos que falar em Terra.

É um pré-apocalipse?

Dira que sim. Isabelle Stengers, filósofa belga, diz que a palavra crise não é adequada porque supõe que você pode superá-la, quando o que estamos vivendo é uma situação que não tem um voltar atrás. Vamos ter que conviver com ela para sempre. Um novo regime do mundo, de climas, de águas, não haverá mais peixes, os estoques estão acabando no mundo, a quantidade de refugiados que vão invadir a Europa vai ser brutal nas próximas décadas. Se a temperatura subir quatro graus, que é o que todos os climatologistas estão imaginando, isso vai produzir uma mudança total no que é viver na Terra. E a quantidade de africanos que vai invadir a Europa vai ser um pouco maior do que aqueles pobres que morrem afogados ali em Lampedusa. E como os países ricos vão reagir? É uma questão interessante. Vai ser com armas atómicas? Vão bombardear quem? O meu pessimismo passa mais por aí.

No Brasil as crises são estritamente políticas. Faz reforma política? Vai ter revolta da população? Será que há Copa? Tudo isso é verdade, fundamental, mas a gente não pode perder de vista o cenário mais amplo.

Não vê ninguém no Brasil, politicamente, que tenha uma visão ampla? O senhor votou na Marina Silva [nas últimas presidenciais].

Votei na Marina em 2010, com certeza. Não tenho certeza nenhuma de que votaria nela em 2014, talvez não.

Eduardo Campos [candidato pernambucano que fez uma aliança com Marina]?

De forma nenhuma. A Dilma, nem sob pelotão de fuzilamento voto nela. Esses idiotas do PSDB nem pensar. Então talvez eu não vote. Talvez vote nulo.

Qual é a missão, o papel, a hipótese para alguém como o senhor? Virar uma espécie de guerrilheiro nas redes sociais?

É. Eu diria que a revolução antropofágica do Oswald de Andrade só é possível sob o modo da guerrilha. Estamos falando de uma coisa que foi pensada em 1928…

Mas que foi revivendo, anos 60, agora.

O Oswald, um homem da classe dominante, pensava no Brasil como uma coisa sobre a qual você podia pôr e dispôr. Nesse sentido, ele pertence à geração dos teóricos do Brasil, que eram todos da elite dominante paulistana ou pernambucana: Gilberto Freyre, Caio Prado Júnior, Eduardo Prado. Os modernistas eram uma teoria do Brasil, de como o Brasil deve ser organizado, governado.

Talvez os muitos povos brasileiros que compõem esse país só tenham chance de ganhar uma certa emancipação cultural, política, metafísica, no contexto do declínio geral do planeta. Nessas condições é possível que haja esperança para os negros, os índios, os quilombolas [descendentes de escravos], os gays, os pobres desse planeta favela. Não esqueçamos que o mundo tem três bilhões e meio de habitantes vivendo em cidade, metade da população mundial. Desses, no mínimo um bilhão vive em favelas. Ou seja, um sétimo da população mundial vive em favelas. O Brasil deve ter uma proporção maior que a Alemanha, Estados Unidos. Diria que deve andar na casa dos 30 milhões. [A população de] um bom país europeu.

Seria uma guerrilha nas redes sociais? Admite o uso de violência ou uma guerrilha virtual apenas?

Nem uma coisa nem outra. A existência da Internet mudou as condições da guerra, em geral, sim. O maior acto de guerra recente, no bom sentido, de que me consigo lembrar foi o Edward Snowden. Não mais os Estados Unidos espionando a Rússia, nem a Rússia espionando os Estados Unidos, mas o vazamento de informações secretas dos estados. Isso é muito significativo. Um jornalista morando aqui no Rio de Janeiro, que trabalha para um jornal inglês, que recebeu informações de um analista americano, que estava escondido em Hong Kong: isso só é possível com Internet. As redes sociais mudaram completamente as condições de resistência ao capitalismo.

Uma nova forma de guerrilha?

Que não é nececessariamente violenta, embora exista o problema do hacker, do bombardeio de sistema electrónico. Mas o que penso não é bem por aí. Quando penso em guerrilha, é no sentido de combates locais, ponto a ponto. Não estou falando de quebrar a porta do banco ou bater na polícia. Falo em combates em que você seja capaz de conectar combates locais através do mundo inteiro.

Existem formas novas de resistência e aliança entre as minorias étnicas, culturais, económicas do planeta que passam pela conectividade universal da rede, que é frágil, ao contrário do que se imagina, com pontos fracos, nós, gargalos, em que os Estados Unidos têm um poder muito grande. Mas eu diria que é muito difícil controlá-la até porque essa rede é indispensável para o capitalismo. Difícil o capitalismo danificá-la demais, senão vai perder seu principal instrumento hoje. Ainda que haja várias tentativas, no Brasil inclusive, de vigilância.

É possível que a gente passe para um estado de vigilância à la George Orwell. Tudo isso é possível. Mas acho também que a situação actual permite o desenvolvimento de uma guerrilha de informação, muito mais que de acção física, porque a informação hoje é uma mercadoria fundamental, estamos na economia do conhecimento, então a guerra é uma guerra também pela informação. É por aí que tenho alguma esperança, muito mais que numa saída nas ruas, com ancinhos, forcados, machetes.

Parar de imaginar uma luta de classes e imaginar uma guerrilha de classes. Classe definida, agora, não só de maneira classicamente económica mas no contexto da nova economia, que mudou a composição de classes. Vários intelectuais hoje pertencem à classe dominada, operária. Então, vejo mais uma guerrilha do que uma guerra, com a vantagem de que as guerras em geral terminam na constituição de um novo poder totalitário, um novo terror. O “Manifesto Antropófago” pode acabar se realizando mais por esse lado. O sonho clássico da revolução, como transformação de um estado A em estado B é um sonho pouco interessante.

Não há desfecho.

Não há desfecho. Prefiro falar em insurreição do que em revolução, hoje. Um estado de insurreição permanente como resistência. A palavra talvez seja mais resistência, insurreição, do que revolução e guerra. Guerrilha é sempre de resistência. O modelo da resistência francesa [na ocupação alemã], criar redes subterrâneas de comunicação. Estamos nessa posição, somos um planeta invadido por alienígenas, digamos, que é o grande capital, a TV Globo, o agronegócio, a hegemonia norte-americana sobre os sistemas de entretenimento; como é que você cria uma rede de resistência a esses “alemães”?

Sou um activista das redes, de facto. Mas não convoco para manifestações, não pertenço a nenhuma organização, estou um pouco velho para sair na rua.

Está com 62 anos.

É, mas para sair na rua como black bloc [sorriso]… Posso ir atrás do black bloc, na frente não dá.

Começou tarde a ser um activista/guerrilheiro. Porquê?

É uma questão interessante. A minha relação com o activismo na ditadura não foi receio físico. Não que eu não tivesse medo de enfrentar a repressão. Vi vários amigos presos, torturados, todo o mundo tinha medo. Mas não foi por isso que não entrei na luta contra a ditadura. Foi porque não acreditava nela, em tomar o poder para instituir uma nova ordem não muito diferente. Eu achava que era uma briga entre duas fracções da classe média alta para saber quem ia mandar no país. E eu não tinha a menor simpatia pela ideia de mandar no país. Tinha uma desconfiança, que infelizmente se confirmou, quando a gente vê que uma das pessoas que fez a luta armada está mandando no país. E ela está fazendo coisas muito parecidas com o que os militares queriam fazer, pelo menos na Amazônia. O projecto da Dilma na Amazônia é idêntico ao do Médici [terceiro presidente da ditadura, no período 1969-74].

O senhor se configura como um anarquista?


Fora do estado.

Digamos que sim. Mas não sou um anarquista daqueles que acham que a sociedade actual pode prescindir do estado. Acho isso um sonho um pouco infantil.

Acha que não pode prescindir do estado mas que é importante cultivar…

Uma oposição, sim. A ideia de uma abolição do estado nas presentes condições é fantasia. Existem algumas contradições que não podemos evitar. Por exemplo, o maior inimigo dos índios brasileiros, num certo plano, é o estado, que representa uma sociedade que os invadiu, exterminou, escravizou, expropriou de suas terras. Ao mesmo tempo, o estado brasileiro é a única protecção que os índios têm contra a sociedade brasileira. Se não fosse o estado, os fazendeiros já teriam aniquilado todos os índios. Mas é uma quimioterapia, como se o Brasil fosse o câncer e o estado fosse aquele remédio. Faz um mal horrível mas você tem de tomar, é o único jeito de ter esperança de se curar. Portanto, não posso ir contra o estado.

Tenho simpatia pela tese do [antropólogo francês Pierre] Clastres, “A Sociedade Contra o Estado”, um tipo de sociedade como ele entendia que era o caso de várias sociedades indígenas, mas não imagino que isso possa ser transferido para as nossas dimensões demográficas. Isto dito, não sei por quanto tempo vamos ter essas dimensões no planeta, estados-nação com milhões de habitantes. Precisamos guardar os anti-corpos contra o estado porque podemos precisar deles no futuro.

Defende que toda a lógica do que o Brasil poderia ser, oferecer, passaria por se tornar mais índio. Não os índios tornarem-se brasileiros mas o Brasil tornar-se índio, o que significaria uma outra forma de vida, não para produzir, não para consumir. Que significa isso na guerrilha das cidades e das redes? Como os índios podem estar presentes aí? O que podem dar à tal insurreição contínua?

Vou juntar isso com o final da pergunta anterior. Fui-me tornando mais activo nas redes porque apareceram, antes não existiam, e em função da minha enorme decepção com o final da ditadura, o facto de que continuamos reféns do grande capital, dos grandes clãs, dos capitães hereditários que continuam mandando no Brasil, José Sarney, Fernando Collor, Renan Calheiros. Essa aliança entre o mais arcaico, que é Sarney, e o mais moderno do capitalismo, que são esses agronegociantes de alta tecnologia do Mato Grosso do Sul, todos eles combinados para manter a tranquilidade política: não deixemos as massas virem atrapalhar.

Então, a minha decepção com a trajectória depois da ditadura; a minha decepção maior ainda com a trajectória do PT, a partir da eleição do Lula, na qual ele escreveu uma carta aos brasileiros dizendo que não ia tocar no bolso dos ricos; a minha decepção ainda maior com a performance do governo Dilma em relação ao meio ambiente, à Amazônia, aos índios, a total incapacidade política da presidente para ter o mínimo de diálogo, por mais fictício que seja com as populações indígenas, ao contrário, ela demonstra um desprezo, um ódio mesmo, que me parece quase patológico; tudo isso me levou ao activismo.

Todo o mundo tem uma imagem do Brasil como país preguiçoso, relaxado, laid back, onde tudo é mais devagar. E existe uma grande ambiguidade nossa em relação a essa imagem. Por um lado achamos interessante a imagem de um país easy going, por outro lado temos uma grande vergonha disso, nos queremos transformar num país performante, que vai para a frente, produtivo. A gente quer ao mesmo tempo ser sambista e grande potência mundial. Eu acho que devia continuar sendo sambista. Que a gente devia saber explorar as virtudes do não-produtivismo. A ética protestante, que nos deu o espírito do capitalismo, para falar como Weber, nunca esteve inscrita no DNA do Brasil, graças a vocês portugueses, que também não a tinham [risos]. Tiveram durante século e meio, mas depois… Então, por um milagre histórico fomos preservados dessa maldição que é a ética produtivista do capitalismo. Fomos capturados pelo capitalismo porque nos invadiu, domou. O capitalismo foi possível porque a Europa invadiu a América. Se não fosse a America, a Europa não teria deixado de ser o que era na Idade Média, um fundo de quintal. Na Idade Média, as sociedades desenvolvidas eram o Islã, a India e a China. Os europeus eram um bando de bárbaros, sujos, mal vestidos, católicos. Mas por acaso os portugueses e os espanhóis deram de cara com o novo mundo e o capitalismo tornou-se possível. Porque foi o ouro do Novo Mundo, milhares de toneladas, e tudo o que saiu da América, novas plantas, novos recursos alimentares, que permitiu a expansão do capitalismo e  depois a revolução industrial. Se não tivesse havido invasão da América, destruição da América não teria havido Europa moderna. Hoje, no mundo, as principais plantas que servem de alimentação mundial são de origem ameríndia: o milho, que se planta em toda a parte, a batata, que permitu a revolução industrial inglesa, a mandioca, da qual toda a África do Oeste hoje vive. Só que a América já era, não tem mais Novo Mundo para descobrir, a terra fechou, arredondou, além de que o pólo dinâmico do capitalismo foi para a China.

Voltando aos índios.

O Brasil tem muito poucos índios comparado com os países andinos ou mezo-americanos. Estão na casa de um milhão, num país de 200 milhões. Mas têm um poder simbólico muito grande, até porque têm uma base muito grande, 12 por cento do território brasileiro. Está tudo invadido [por obras ou fazendeiros] mas oficialmente é terra indígena. Além de que têm um poder de sedução no imaginário ocidental. A Amazônia tem um poder simbólico imenso. Embora, ao contrário do que os brasileiros pensam, não seja só brasileira, a maior parte da Amazônia está no Brasil. E é um objecto transcendente, uma espécie de última chance, último lugar da terra. O que dá ao Brasil um poder simbólico que ele não sabe usar, ao contrário, a Amazônia tem servido para atacar o Brasil por não saber cuidar da Amazônia. E sabe uma coisa? Não sabe mesmo. E não está sabendo se valer da Amazônia como um trunfo mundial. Nem como um lugar onde poderia se desenvolver uma civilização menos estúpida, do ponto de vista tecnológico e social. Os índios aí servem como exemplo. Estão na Amazônia há pelo menos 15 mil anos. Boa parte da floresta amazónica foi criada pela actividade indígena. Boa parte do solo foi criado com cinza de fogueira, detritos humanos. A Amazônia é essa floresta luxuriante em parte por causa da acção humana, dos índios.

Perante isto, o modelo sulino, gaúcho, europeu, de ocupação da Amazônia, é um plano liso que você possa encher de fertilizante, para poder plantar plantas transgénicas, resistentes a herbicidas, para produzir soja para vender para China, para em seguida pegar esse dinheiro e dar Bolsa Família. Não seria mais simples fazer com que essas pessoas não precisassem de Bolsa Família dando para elas terra para plantar, fazendo a célebre reforma agrária que jamais foi feita no Brasil?

Estamos exportando terra, solo e água na forma de carne, de soja. Um quilo de carne precisa de 15 mil litros de água para ser produzido, um quilo de soja, 7500 litros. Essa água toda, que poderia estar sendo usada para plantar comida para nós, está sendo usada para produzir soja para alimentar gado europeu, ou em tofu e miso na China.

O Brasil destruiu mais de metade da sua cobertura vegetal, a Mata Atlântica, que era igual à Amazônia do ponto de vista ambiental, para plantar cana e café durante a colonização. E ficámos mais ricos? Agora estão devastando a Amazônia para produzir soja e gado. Estamos ficando mais ricos? Os pobres estão melhores porque está caindo mais migalha da mesa dos ricos, não porque vieram sentar na mesa.

Meninos a pescar no rio Xingu (1982) EDUARDO VIVEIROS DE CASTRO

Isso também afectou os índios, não? Em São Gabriel da Cachoeira, o município mais indígena do Brasil [estado do Amazonas], um dos grandes problemas é o alcoolismo. Impressionante ver o estado em que muitos índios vivem em São Gabriel. É um resultado desse erro de tentar converter o índio em brasileiro nesse modelo que está a descrever?

O alcoolismo é uma praga da população indígena das três Américas. Tem a ver com várias coisas. Uma delas é genética, mesmo. Os índios têm, por razões de evolução, muito menos resistência ao metabolismo do açúcar no organismo. Por isso que eles têm essa tendência à obesidade e à diabetes. Segundo, os índios sempre tiveram álcool, na América do Norte menos, mas todos os índios da Amazônia preparavam bebidas fermentadas, etc. É a mesma coisa com o tabaco, só que ao contrário. O tabaco é indígena. Os índios fumavam, mas não tinham câncer, ou a taxa devia ser muito pequena, assim como o alcoolismo existe entre nós mas é muito menos violento. Porquê? Os índios, para fazerem o tabaco deles e a bebida deles, tinham que produzir à mão. Tabaco tinham de plantar, de enrolar, de fazer um charuto, levava cinco dias para fumar, eram objectos custosos. A cerveja que faziam levava semanas. Aí, chega de repente a cachaça, seis meses de trabalho indígena concentrado numa garrafa que custa dois reais. A mesma coisa com a gente: quando você pega num maço de cigarro que tem concentrado seis meses de trabalho indígena, você fuma um atrás do outro. Você morre de câncer aqui e os índios morrem de cirrose lá.

O capitalismo apresenta aos índios uma coisa que eles nunca tiveram: o infinito mercantil. Os objectos não acabam nunca. Você tem uma quantidade infinita de cachaça. É como se chegassem aqui marcianos que nos dessem soro da vida eterna. Os índios não entendem e consomem, consomem, consomem. Eles produziam pouco para ter tempo livre. O que acontece agora é que continuam produzindo pouco mas os produtos chegam em quantidade infinita. E eles não têm estrutura social, política, institucional. Vai levar séculos para que desenvolvam resistências. Todo o ser humano gosta de se drogar, alterar a consciência, desde o café até ao LSD, então nos índios o álcool entrou destruindo tudo. É certamente a coisa mais destrutiva em todos os índios das Américas.

Não há sociedades perfeitas. É preciso distinguir entre modelo e exemplo. Os índios são um exemplo, não um modelo. Jamais poderemos viver como os índios, por todas as razões. Não só porque não podemos como não é desejável. Ninguém está querendo parar de usar computador ou usar antibiótico, ou coisa parecida. Mas eles podem ser um exemplo na relação entre trabalho e lazer. Basicamente trabalham três horas por dia. O tempo de trabalho médio dos povos primitivos é de três, quatro horas no máximo. Só precisam para caçar, comer, plantar mandioca. Nós precisamos de oito, 12, 16. O que eles fazem o resto do tempo? Inventam histórias, dançam. O que é melhor ou pior? Sempre achei estranho esse modelo americano, trabalha 12 horas por dia, 11 meses e meio por ano, para tirar 15 dias de férias. A quem isso beneficia?

A única vantagem indiscutível que a civilização moderna produziu em relação às civilizações indígenas foram os avanços na medicina. Se você fosse viver o resto da vida no mato o que levaria? Penicilina. Foi de facto um avanço. Mesmo assim nossos avanços sempre avançam demais. Hoje preferimos manter uma pessoa de 90 anos sofrendo horrivelmente, tem de viver, tem de viver, a família vai à falência. Ou seja, não sabemos mais morrer. Todo o mundo antes do século XX sabia morrer.

Falling for the Anarchy She Was Sent to Fight (New York Times)

‘The East,’ Written by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling

Published: May 30, 2013

“The East” is a neat little thriller about ends and means and ethical quandaries. The title refers to a mysterious network of anti-corporate militants whose activities — called “jams” — shade from prankish agitprop toward outright terrorism. The members of the group, who live off the grid in an abandoned house in the wilderness somewhere near the Mason-Dixon line, are determined to hold the poisoners and polluters of the executive class accountable for their actions. Sometimes, as in the case of a pharmaceutical company that has peddled dangerous antibiotics, this means giving the bosses a literal taste of their own medicine.

Written by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling and directed by Mr. Batmanglij, “The East” follows Jane, an undercover operative for a private security-consulting firm, played by Ms. Marling, as she progresses from Dumpster diving and freight train hopping to the inner circle where the jams are planned. Jane, known to her new comrades as Sarah, is a former F.B.I. agent who reports back to her boss, a serenely chillyPatricia Clarkson. The parameters of Jane’s mission are not as clear as her almost instantly divided loyalty.

Back home in Washington, Jane has a scruffy, sensitive, bland boyfriend. Out in the woods, she falls under the spell of Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), who is scruffy, sensitive and dangerous. While the East, being a group of anarchists, has no formal leader, Benji is clearly the alpha dog. His main lieutenants are an elfin zealot named Izzy (Ellen Page) and Doc (Toby Kebbell), a troubled former medical student. All of them come from relatively privileged backgrounds and have painful, intimate reasons for taking up the cause.

In general, “The East” is a bit more persuasive on the psychology of its characters than on the politics of their actions. Ms. Marling is a sympathetic presence, in part because her slack-jawed, glassy-eyed passivity is an effective mirror of the audience’s ambivalence. She is initially appalled by Benji and his followers — by their hygiene as much as by their self-righteousness — but gradually finds comfort in the rough simplicity of their thrifty, communal approach to life. The world of work, stability and consumerism feels increasingly sterile and false to her. Mr. Batmanglij and the cinematographer, Roman Vasyanov, register this evolution with subtle visual cues, as the forest and the old dark house become less scary and more enchanted, and everywhere else is drained of color.

Jane’s goodness is as axiomatic as that of a fairy tale princess. While we suspect that she will stray into morally dangerous territory, real evil seems beyond her capacities. In their previous collaboration — the cult film (in both senses) “Sound of My Voice” — Ms. Marling and Mr. Batmanglij played with her aura of guileless blond sweetness to haunting and troubling effect. “The East,” while more conventional in style and structure than that film (or “Another Earth,” which Ms. Marling also helped write and starred in), has some of its spookiness, a sense of ambient vulnerability that extends from the individuals on screen into the very universe they inhabit.

This intimation of large, lurking danger is appropriate to this movie’s vague environmental theme. The damaged, idealistic young people plotting to terrorize the wealthy and comfortable are seen as canaries in the coal mine, their rage a sign that something is terribly wrong. But their animus is also explained in ways that strain credibility and undermine the film’s topicality. Benji, Izzy and Doc are motivated by grief, filial resentment and a desire for revenge. For them the political is personal, which makes it a little less urgent for everybody else.

But it may be asking too much of “The East” — which is, after all, a twisty, breathless genre film — to wish that it would frame the contradictions of contemporary capitalism more rigorously. The movie is aware that they exist, and wishes that they could be resolved more or less happily, which is hard to argue with, though also hard to believe.

“The East” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Restrained violence, sex and profanity.

The East

Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Directed by Zal Batmanglij; written by Mr. Batmanglij and Brit Marling; director of photography, Roman Vasyanov; edited by Andrew Weisblum and Bill Pankow; music by Halli Cauthery; production design by Alex DiGerlando; costumes by Jenny Gering; produced by Ridley Scott, Michael Costigan and Jocelyn Hayes-Simpson; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes.

WITH: Brit Marling (Jane/Sarah), Alexander Skarsgard (Benji), Ellen Page (Izzy), Toby Kebbell (Doc), Shiloh Fernandez (Luca), Julia Ormond (Paige Williams) and Patricia Clarkson (Sharon).

Tradicionais e libertários (Carta Capital)

“Muito das catástrofes da esquerda nas últimas décadas” deve ser atribuído “à perpetuação dessa divisão, que pode e deve ser superada”

por Vladimir Safatle — publicado 13/01/2014 06:19

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro é, atualmente, um dos intelectuais mais originais e rigorosos de nosso país. Responsável por concepções antropológicas inovadoras, como o “perspectivismo ameríndio”, o antropólogo carioca forneceu subsídios teóricos importantes para a problematização de um campo, nem sempre totalmente explícito, no interior do qual se desenvolve o comércio entre filosofia e antropologia.

Muitas vezes de maneira silenciosa, conceitos filosóficos ligados à noção de progresso, identidade, diferença e racionalidade fornecem o fundamento implícito para teorias que querem ser vistas como a mera descrição neutra de realidades sociais múltiplas. Explicitar e problematizar tal fundamento implícito é apenas uma das virtudes do pensamento de Viveiros de Castro. Com isso, ele não apenas forneceu uma visão mais rica e complexa daquilo que a antropologia tradicional chamara anteriormente de “animismo”, com suas pretensas ligações a um “pensamento pré-lógico” que coloca os sistemas indígenas de representação no interior de um bizarro cortejo de regressões no qual encontramos, um ao lado do outro, o selvagem, a criança e o psicótico. Ao insistir que o estudo antropológico das realidades indígenas poderia revelar o potencial perdido de uma racionalidade mimética ignorada por nossos sistemas de pensamento, ao mostrar como conceitos de natureza marcados por um perspectivismo interno era uma maneira forte de nos ensinar a sair das vias da racionalidade resvalada à estratégia de dominação instrumental, Viveiros de Castro não teria como deixar de se voltar contra certo positivismo latente que habita mais de uma versão das teorias marxistas da história.

Nesse sentido, a entrevista por ele fornecida à revista Piauí de janeiro é reveladora. Nela, Viveiros de Castro expõe claramente suas críticas àquilo que aparece no texto como “a esquerda tradicional”, com sua incapacidade de escapar de uma visão produtivista da relação entre homem e natureza, de sua fascinação não dita pela força disciplinar do Estado, pela organização política sob a forma do partido e pela sua crença na história como realização progressiva que marca com o selo do arcaísmo aquilo que sempre esteve fora do processo de modernização capitalista. Contra isso, apareceria uma “esquerda libertária”, à sua maneira tributária dos ideais antitotalitários de maio de 1968, ciosa da afirmação das diferenças e desconfiada dos arranjos institucionais que a esquerda tradicional procuraria preservar.

De fato, essa foi a divisão política que marcou a história política da esquerda nos últimos 40 anos. Talvez a boa questão seja se precisamos realmente de ainda conservá-la. Muito das catástrofes políticas da esquerda nas últimas décadas deve ser debitado na conta da perpetuação dessa divisão, que pode e deve ser superada. É verdade que tal divisão é ainda tão forte que nem sempre conseguimos nos fazer ouvir para além de certos estereótipos. Mas é de sua superação que depende o futuro de uma esquerda renovada e tal superação passa, certamente, pela revisão de certos pressupostos antropológicos que acabam por implicitamente guiar a ação política.

Por exemplo, podemos nos perguntar em quanto a tendência de alguns em estigmatizar ações como as impetradas pelos Black Blocs não seria dependente da crença em uma política organizada a partir de um “institucionalismo forte” que imediatamente compreende a recusa à institucionalidade como convite direto ao irracionalismo. Há de se perguntar o quanto isso não seria dependente de certa noção de progresso histórico como fortalecimento institucional.

No entanto, há de se lembrar dos problemas que o outro lado tem dificuldade em responder. Por exemplo, ao desconfiar do pretenso potencial disciplinar que estaria presente nas exigências de igualitarismo próprias à “esquerda tradicional” a dita “esquerda libertária” acabou, nas últimas décadas, por esquecer quão fundamental é organizar a luta política a partir do combate à desigualdade. Lembrem, o Partido Verde alemão, talvez um dos mais clássicos representantes dessa “esquerda libertária”, foi o mesmo que apoiou as leis de desregulamentação liberal do trabalho (Hartz IV) na Alemanha. A afirmação da diferença não pode nos cegar para a centralidade do combate sem trégua à desigualdade. Mas é simplesmente impossível lutar contra a desigualdade em larga escala sem um aparato institucional como o Estado, com sua força legal, tributária e universalizadora.

Noam Chomsky: What Is the Common Good? (Truthout)

Tuesday, 07 January 2014 10:41

By Noam ChomskyTruthout | Op-Ed

 (Image: <a href="" target="_blank"> Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Brian Hillegas, Reigh LeBlanc, abrinsky</a>)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Brian Hillegas, Reigh LeBlanc, abrinsky)

This article is adapted from a Dewey Lecture by Noam Chomsky at Columbia University in New York on Dec. 6, 2013.

Humans are social beings, and the kind of creature that a person becomes depends crucially on the social, cultural and institutional circumstances of his life.

We are therefore led to inquire into the social arrangements that are conducive to people’s rights and welfare, and to fulfilling their just aspirations – in brief, the common good.

For perspective I’d like to invoke what seem to me virtual truisms. They relate to an interesting category of ethical principles: those that are not only universal, in that they are virtually always professed, but also doubly universal, in that at the same time they are almost universally rejected in practice.

These range from very general principles, such as the truism that we should apply to ourselves the same standards we do to others (if not harsher ones), to more specific doctrines, such as a dedication to promoting democracy and human rights, which is proclaimed almost universally, even by the worst monsters – though the actual record is grim, across the spectrum.

A good place to start is with John Stuart Mill’s classic “On Liberty.” Its epigraph formulates “The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument unfolded in these pages directly converges: the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity.”

The words are quoted from Wilhelm von Humboldt, a founder of classical liberalism. It follows that institutions that constrain such development are illegitimate, unless they can somehow justify themselves.

Concern for the common good should impel us to find ways to cultivate human development in its richest diversity.

Adam Smith, another Enlightenment thinker with similar views, felt that it shouldn’t be too difficult to institute humane policies. In his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” he observed that “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”

Smith acknowledges the power of what he calls the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind”: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people.” But the more benign “original passions of human nature” might compensate for that pathology.

Classical liberalism shipwrecked on the shoals of capitalism, but its humanistic commitments and aspirations didn’t die. Rudolf Rocker, a 20th-century anarchist thinker and activist, reiterated similar ideas.

Rocker described what he calls “a definite trend in the historic development of mankind” that strives for “the free unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life.”

Rocker was outlining an anarchist tradition culminating in anarcho-syndicalism – in European terms, a variety of “libertarian socialism.”

This brand of socialism, he held, doesn’t depict “a fixed, self-enclosed social system” with a definite answer to all the multifarious questions and problems of human life, but rather a trend in human development that strives to attain Enlightenment ideals.

So understood, anarchism is part of a broader range of libertarian socialist thought and action that includes the practical achievements of revolutionary Spain in 1936; reaches further to worker-owned enterprises spreading today in the American rust belt, in northern Mexico, in Egypt, and many other countries, most extensively in the Basque country in Spain; and encompasses the many cooperative movements around the world and a good part of feminist and civil and human rights initiatives.

This broad tendency in human development seeks to identify structures of hierarchy, authority and domination that constrain human development, and then subject them to a very reasonable challenge: Justify yourself.

If these structures can’t meet that challenge, they should be dismantled – and, anarchists believe, “refashioned from below,” as commentator Nathan Schneider observes.

In part this sounds like truism: Why should anyone defend illegitimate structures and institutions? But truisms at least have the merit of being true, which distinguishes them from a good deal of political discourse. And I think they provide useful stepping stones to finding the common good.

For Rocker, “the problem that is set for our time is that of freeing man from the curse of economic exploitation and political and social enslavement.”

It should be noted that the American brand of libertarianism differs sharply from the libertarian tradition, accepting and indeed advocating the subordination of working people to the masters of the economy, and the subjection of everyone to the restrictive discipline and destructive features of markets.

Anarchism is, famously, opposed to the state, while advocating “planned administration of things in the interest of the community,” in Rocker’s words; and beyond that, wide-ranging federations of self-governing communities and workplaces.

Today, anarchists dedicated to these goals often support state power to protect people, society and the earth itself from the ravages of concentrated private capital. That’s no contradiction. People live and suffer and endure in the existing society. Available means should be used to safeguard and benefit them, even if a long-term goal is to construct preferable alternatives.

In the Brazilian rural workers movement, they speak of “widening the floors of the cage” – the cage of existing coercive institutions that can be widened by popular struggle – as has happened effectively over many years.

We can extend the image to think of the cage of state institutions as a protection from the savage beasts roaming outside: the predatory, state-supported capitalist institutions dedicated in principle to private gain, power and domination, with community and people’s interest at most a footnote, revered in rhetoric but dismissed in practice as a matter of principle and even law.

Much of the most respected work in academic political science compares public attitudes and government policy. In “Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America,” the Princeton scholar Martin Gilens reveals that the majority of the U.S. population is effectively disenfranchised.

About 70 percent of the population, at the lower end of the wealth/income scale, has no influence on policy, Gilens concludes. Moving up the scale, influence slowly increases. At the very top are those who pretty much determine policy, by means that aren’t obscure. The resulting system is not democracy but plutocracy.

Or perhaps, a little more kindly, it’s what legal scholar Conor Gearty calls “neo-democracy,” a partner to neoliberalism – a system in which liberty is enjoyed by the few, and security in its fullest sense is available only to the elite, but within a system of more general formal rights.

In contrast, as Rocker writes, a truly democratic system would achieve the character of “an alliance of free groups of men and women based on cooperative labor and a planned administration of things in the interest of the community.”

No one took the American philosopher John Dewey to be an anarchist. But consider his ideas. He recognized that “Power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Whoever owns them rules the life of the country,” even if democratic forms remain. Until those institutions are in the hands of the public, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business,” much as is seen today.

These ideas lead very naturally to a vision of society based on workers’ control of productive institutions, as envisioned by 19th century thinkers, notably Karl Marx but also – less familiar – John Stuart Mill.

Mill wrote, “The form of association, however, which if mankind continue to improve, must be expected to predominate, is . the association of the labourers themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers electable and removable by themselves.”

The Founding Fathers of the United States were well aware of the hazards of democracy. In the Constitutional Convention debates, the main framer, James Madison, warned of these hazards.

Naturally taking England as his model, Madison observed that “In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place,” undermining the right to property.

The basic problem that Madison foresaw in “framing a system which we wish to last for ages” was to ensure that the actual rulers will be the wealthy minority so as “to secure the rights of property agst. the danger from an equality & universality of suffrage, vesting compleat power over property in hands without a share in it.”

Scholarship generally agrees with the Brown University scholar Gordon S. Wood’s assessment that “The Constitution was intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period.”

Long before Madison, Artistotle, in his “Politics,” recognized the same problem with democracy.

Reviewing a variety of political systems, Aristotle concluded that this system was the best – or perhaps the least bad – form of government. But he recognized a flaw: The great mass of the poor could use their voting power to take the property of the rich, which would be unfair.

Madison and Aristotle arrived at opposite solutions: Aristotle advised reducing inequality, by what we would regard as welfare state measures. Madison felt that the answer was to reduce democracy.

In his last years, Thomas Jefferson, the man who drafted the United States’ Declaration of Independence, captured the essential nature of the conflict, which has far from ended. Jefferson had serious concerns about the quality and fate of the democratic experiment. He distinguished between “aristocrats and democrats.”

The aristocrats are “those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.”

The democrats, in contrast, “identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interest.”

Today the successors to Jefferson’s “aristocrats” might argue about who should play the guiding role: technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals, or bankers and corporate executives.

It is this political guardianship that the genuine libertarian tradition seeks to dismantle and reconstruct from below, while also changing industry, as Dewey put it, “from a feudalistic to a democratic social order” based on workers’ control, respecting the dignity of the producer as a genuine person, not a tool in the hands of others.

Like Karl Marx’s Old Mole – “our old friend, our old mole, who knows so well how to work underground, then suddenly to emerge” – the libertarian tradition is always burrowing close to the surface, always ready to peek through, sometimes in surprising and unexpected ways, seeking to bring about what seems to me to be a reasonable approximation to the common good.

© 2014 Noam Chomsky
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

Entrevista com Pablo Ortellado (Desentorpecendo a razão)


Por Coletivo DAR e Desinformémonos, 10/09/2013

Com trajetória de ativismo primeiro no movimento punk e depois nas lutas antiglobalização da virada dos 1990 para os 2000, Pablo Ortellado hoje é professor de gestão de políticas públicas na USP Leste. Referência para os ativistas do movimento autônomo e autor de “Estamos vencendo: resistência global no Brasil”, Ortellado lançará nos próximos dias o livro “20 centavos: a luta contra o aumento”, escrito em parceria com Elena Judensnaider, Luciana Lima e Marcelo Pomar, e foi exatamente para entender a conjuntura das lutas sociais após o explosivo mês de junho, tema do livro, que ele encontrou um espaço em sua reta final de escritura para conversar com o Coletivo DAR e oDesinformémonos, que nessa postagem em comum esperam contribuir para a reflexão em torno do que compartilham, a busca pela transformação e pela autonomia.

Na entrevista, Ortellado traça um rico panorama do que foi o movimento autônomo em São Paulo e no Brasil desde suas origens, reflexão que ganha ainda mais importância em um momento em que todos buscam aprender e apreender as lições de horizontalidade e ação direta trazidas pelas mobilizações massivas ocorridas pelo país. Ele comenta as raízes zapatistas do movimento e como este desde seu princípio foi identificado com tecnologias que em verdade foram criadas em seu interior, e situa a importância de iniciativas como o Centro de Mídia Independente (CMI) no processo.

Além de imprescindíveis reflexões sobre o que o MPL tem para ensinar aos ativistas anticapitalistas, sobrou tempo também para uma crítica ao Fora do Eixo, definido por Ortellado não como uma experiência de política alternativa, mas como uma organização “hipercapitalista”.

Quando começou seu ativismo?

Minha militância começou no movimento punk dos anos 1980. É a geração dos punks que se politizaram, no finalzinho dos anos 1980. Deve ser a segunda ou a terceira geração do punk em São Paulo. Tem aquela do final dos 1970, que a gente chamava de “geração 82”, que eram uns caras mais velhos. E a nossa vai até 1988, 1989, é uma geração que se politizou, que fez o encontro da contracultura com a ação política.

Foi a geração que encontrou os sindicatos. Em 1987 e 1988 a gente tentava organizar o sindicato dos office-boys – eu era office-boy – junto com um processo de refundação da Confederação Operária Brasileira, que era a Confederação Operária Anarquista dos anos 1910.

E teve o processo de encontrar os velhinhos, os “anarco-nônos” como a gente chamava, no Centro de Cultural Social nos anos 1980. Foi muito importante para a minha geração, e acho que para eles também foi. Reencontrar com o anarquismo, surgindo de um jeito muito diferente. Foi um encontro importante também porque foi o encontro de duas gerações militantes. Eles já não eram a geração da greve de 1917, eram a geração derrotada, dos anos 1930. O Centro de Cultura Social foi uma estratégia do movimento operário derrotado pelos comunistas e depois pelo Estado Novo, eles optam por essa estratégia cultural de fundações de cultura social. E eles tem ainda, eles guardam a historia das lutas sociais dos anos 1910 e 1920, receberam essa vivencia dos mais velhos, mas sao uma geração da derrota, que foi mantendo vivo o legado do anarquismo em São Paulo durante quase todo o século 20.

Acho que para eles, deve ter sido muito vivo ver aquele bando de adolescentes nos anos 1980 cheios de interesse pelo anarquismo. E foi um movimento interessante de troca, no qual a gente aprendeu bastante com eles a respeito de toda essa história de lutas e eles também. Por incrível que pareça, embora a gente viesse da contracultura, um outro mundo do mundo dos sindicatos anarquistas dos anos 1930, houve muitos contatos. Inclusive nos elementos contraculturais. Por exemplo, o Centro de Cultura Social só tem uma propriedade, que é um sítio naturista. Então eles eram naturistas, eram vegetarianos, eram adeptos do amor livre. Então vários elementos da contracultura que a gente carregava ainda naqueles anos – porque o movimento punk em São Paulo tinha algumas características bem particulares, eram meio incipientes, meio confusos, a gente encontrou apoio e espelhamento na experiência histórica dos velhinhos e houve muita troca.

Houve casos super interessantes já nos anos 1990, dos velhinhos se tornarem veganos, que era uma coisa totalmente da nossa geração, a partir do intercâmbio com os punks. Tinha algumas coisas bem peculiares, a minha geração era uma que não usava drogas. Eu nunca fumei maconha. E fui beber depois dos 25 anos. Isso não tem nada a ver com os straight-edges, era outra coisa. Tem a ver com a cultura da disciplina militante do anarquismo dos anos 1930, uma coisa que a gente, do meu grupo pelo menos, da Santa Cecília, que frequentava o Centro de Cultura Social, incorporou. A gente não tolerava pessoas que bebiam e fumavam, porque “era coisa de gente alienada”. Uma percepção totalmente em desacordo com a cultura punk que é punk de esgoto que bebe pinga.

E já tinha isso.

Ah sim, claro, era a cultura dominante. A nossa geração, a geração dos punks que se politizaram, tinha ojeriza a isso, achava que era coisa de playboy. Eu não sei, acho que gerações posteriores não tiveram isso, mas essa que teve esse contato, incorporou elementos que não eram nossos, eram elementos dos velhinhos. Embora tivesse esse contato com a contracultura, que a gente acha que a contracultura é uma invenção dos anos 1960, dos hippies, mas a gente via nas discussões do movimento operário vários debates sobre feminismo, sobre natureza, sobre vegetarianismo, todos esses elementos que a gente considerava contraculturais, muito presentes.

Eles tratavam com muita tranquilidade, embora de um jeito totalmente diferente. Porque nosso discurso era anti-disciplinar, contra as instituições, contra as regras. O deles não, era auto-disciplinar, era a ideia de praticar o amor livre por não precisar do Estado ou da Igreja ditando para a gente como é, tipo “nós fazemos nossas regras”, diferente do “rejeitamos as regras”. Tinha contatos e diferenças e minha geração é desse intercâmbio, final dos anos 1980.

Como foram os anos 1990?

Acompanhei pouco, porque fui pros Estados Unidos, militei no hardcore, fiz outras coisas e só retomei no fim dos anos 1990, então tenho um hiato na história de São Paulo. Já no final dos anos 1990 surge o movimento antiglobalização que é a confluência de outras coisas. Tinha essa cultura anarquista ligada à contracultura, ao hardcore, ao punk; tinha uma tradição libertária no movimento estudantil, principalmente na FFLCH; e tinha esse contexto mundial de resistência ao neoliberalismo.

No final dos anos 1990 vários de nós estávamos acompanhando as listas das mobilizações, estava acontecendo bastante coisa na América Latina. Teve a greve da UNAM, depois teve o 501 na Argentina. O 501 foi um movimento muito importante, foi o pessoal que depois viria para o movimento antiglobalização. Surgiu contra o processo eleitoral e tem uma lei que o voto é obrigatório se você tiver a até 500 km do seu domicílio eleitoral. Então o movimento era uma caravana, com vários grupos ativistas, que levava você até 501 km.

Isso marcou muito a esquerda argentina porque era uma iniciativa dos jovens não anarquistas, era o que viria a ser o autonomismo argentino. Eles organizaram assembleias cujo lema era “Existe política além do voto”. Então a gente estava muito inspirado por essas coisas. Campanhas de apoio aos zapatistas, a greve na UNAM, o movimento 501 eram mais ou menos o panorama latino-americano.

E aí em 1997, no Segundo Encontro Intergaláctico pela Humanidade e Contra o Neoliberalismo, dos zapatistas, surgiu a ideia de fundar a Ação Global dos Povos (AGP), que era confederar os movimentos sociais de base voltados para a ação direta, para organizar globalmente uma oposição ao neoliberalismo.

No Brasil, como era a AGP?

No Brasil, a gente começou, era isso: a contracultura do hardcore e do punk, o movimento estudantil principalmente da USP não ligado a partidos e pequenos coletivos, pequenos coletivos feministas, pequenos coletivos ambientalistas… Esse era o caldo. A gente começou a se reunir, entrando para valer, no ano 2000.

Já tinha uma cultura de internet no movimento?

Sim, era totalmente cultura de internet. Uma das coisas totalmente distintivas do movimento antiglobalização em relação a movimentos anteriores dos quais ele é filiado é que ele era totalmente organizado globalmente.

Antes as coisas iam, se espelhavam, uma luta influenciava a outra, mas não havia uma organização de fato de as lutas se corresponderem. Com a internet isso mudou completamente, esse movimento foi completamente articulado.

Por exemplo, a gente sofreu repressão no A20 em 20 de abril de 2001. Aí ocuparam a embaixada brasileira em Amsterdã, em Roma e assim, completamente articulado, foi a partir dos relatos que a gente mandou para os companheiros. E vice versa: quando aconteceu a morte do Carlo Giuliani em 2001 a gente ocupou o consulado da Itália, e não era uma coisa espontânea, era uma coisa de articulação da rede de solidariedade. A gente ensaiou essa possibilidade de organização horizontal num nível internacional.

A grande inspiração você diria que foram os zapatistas?

Com certeza. A ideia da AGP nasceu num encontro zapatista, em Barcelona. Nasceu a ideia e o primeiro encontro fundador da AGP foi em Genebra em 1998.

Quais os princípios que ligavam essas pessoas e coletivos?

Todos exatos eu não lembro de cabeça, mas eram os princípios da autonomia, da horizontalidade, a ideia de não ser uma organização. A AGP não era uma organização, era uma espécie de rede de solidariedade e luta. A ideia da diversidade de estratégias de luta, de não termos uma linha única que fosse imposta, de rejeição dos modelos já estabelecidos de luta, e uma crítica muito forte a todas as formas de opressão. O que não era algo necessariamente novo, mas levávamos muito sério. Incorporamos essas lutas do feminismo, do movimento negro, de forma muito forte.

Na verdade a gente via o processo de globalização como uma oportunidade para federar as lutas que tinham se fragmentado nos anos 1960, era nossa leitura. Antes dos anos 1960 era o movimento operário que conduzia a luta social, depois se fragmentou no movimento feminista, movimento ecológico, movimento negro, e assim por diante.

E nossa ideia era que o processo de globalização econômica permitia federar essas lutas porque afetava as mulheres que estavam trabalhando num workshop no México, afetava o problema do desmatamento porque suspendia as regulações ambientais para gerar competitividade entre os países, então o movimento ambiental podia se somar, o movimento trabalhista porque suspendia também a proteção ao direitos trabalhistas para flexibilizar a mão de obra, etc.

Quando demos o nome de anticapitalismo no final dos anos 1990, é curioso, tinha uma acepção diferente, porque não era econômica. Era a ideia de que o capitalismo era a soma de todas essas formas de dominação e exploração, e que o anticapitalismo era a federação de todas essas lutas em uma luta comum, a luta contra o neoliberalismo. Foi realmente uma tentativa. Tanto que por exemplo, na nossa rede da AGP aqui teve vários grupos feministas, vários grupos ambientais, alguns sindicatos pequenos, no Ceará tinha um pessoal do Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST), então a gente confederava lutas muito diferentes, mas aqui muito orientadas na luta contra a ALCA [Área de Livre Comércio das Américas].

Como funcionava a AGP a nível mundial, como um coletivo daqui se vinculava, se relacionava?

A AGP não era nada. A AGP era uma ideia, uma carta de princípios. Qualquer um que respeitasse essa carta de princípios levantava a mão. Formalmente, nos encontros, tinha delegações da AGP. Então o primeiro que aconteceu em Genebra em 1998, o delegado brasileiro foi o MST. E o MST se somou às nossas primeiras manifestações, participava. Nossa primeira reunião se eu não me engano foi inclusive na sede da Consulta Popular, foi o MST que deu toda a infraestrutura. Mas aos poucos, digamos, eles participavam, mas não eram os atores mais importantes da AGP aqui.

E depois, o que houve para que a AGP fosse se desarticulando?

Esse ciclo se desgastou. Ficamos muito ativos desde 1998, acredito que o auge tenha sido em 2000, a gente fez o S-26, barrando um encontro do Banco Mundial e do FMI em Praga e acho que foi nossa grande conquista. Fizemos ações em cerca de 300 cidades no mundo e eram totalmente dominadas pelo movimento autônomo, conduzidas por nós, o grande feito político foi termos coordenado protestos em centenas de cidades, muitas milhões de pessoas. Depois tiveram outros grandes, protestos em Gênova, houve vários.

Mas a fórmula era tentar copiar o sucesso de Seattle. A ideia original eram os “carnavais contra o capitalismo”, que quem tinha dado a ideia eram os companheiros de Londres, do “Reclaim the streets”. Eles vinham da confluência do movimento de politização das raves e do movimento anti-estradas, ligado a coletivos ambientais. E faziam essas festas de rua que bloqueavam estradas e tal, e eles que lançaram a ideia de carnavais globais contra o capitalismo. Tinha esse caráter meio contracultural.

Essa ideia foi lançada e a primeira fez que aconteceu globalmente de fato foi no J18, 18 de junho de 1998, em dezenas de cidades. Aí em seguida teve Seattle, que foi 30 de novembro de 1999, e depois 26 de setembro de 2000. E em 2000 a gente já estava completamente articulado globalmente, foi quando a coisa atingiu centenas de cidades.

Em Seattle tinha dado muito certo, porque conseguiram barrar fisicamente a reunião da OMC [Organização Mundial do Comércio], da rodada do milênio. A estratégia era pegar um mapa, o lugar do encontro, barrar todos os acessos por meio de bloqueio de ruas. Atrasou os delegados, os sindicatos estavam fazendo uma megamanifestação, o Clinton estava na parede porque tinha eleição próxima, isso gerou um caos. E a rodada do milênio que era um projeto extremamente ambiciosa de desregulamentação econômica em âmbito mundial, falhou miseravelmente.

Isso virou um espécie de paradigma do movimento antiglobalização: fazemos grandes manifestações tentando bloquear ou invadir os eventos, e centenas de protestos pelo mundo para aumentar a pressão. Fizemos isso inclusive aqui, teve o encontro do BID [Banco Interamericano de Desenvolvimento] em 2002 e fizemos protestos em Fortaleza, por exemplo.

Mas esse modelo começou a se esgotar, porque ficávamos correndo atrás, começou um sentimento de que a gente estava girando em falso, que a experiência de Seattle nunca mais ia acontecer. Teve o 11 de setembro que endureceu nos EUA e em outros países a maneira como o Estado combatia esse movimento, ameaçando aplicar leis antiterroristas por um lado e, por outro, a ameaça de uma guerra a nível global fez com que a gente fosse mudando gradativamente para o movimento antiguerra. Acho que essas duas questões foram levando esse modelo para o esgotamento, além dos aspectos internos, a sensação de que não estávamos caminhando para nenhum lugar.

Houve um movimento natural de ir voltando para os coletivos locais. O pessoal da Argentina, por exemplo, foi em peso para o Movimento Piquetero, alguns para o movimento de assembleias. Aqui, teve uma galera que foi para o Movimento Passe Livre (MPL).

Além dos bloqueios e manifestações de solidariedade, quais eram os outros eixos de atuação da AGP?

Aqui, por exemplo, a gente fazia muita campanha pública. Fizemos toda a campanha contra a ALCA, muito antes de entrarem as igrejas, os partidos políticos. A gente ia em escola, sindicato, associação de bairro, produzimos centenas de panfletos, jornais, fizemos uma campanha bem estruturada, de informação. Explicar o que era a ALCA, quais seus impactos, o que significava para as relações trabalhistas, para o meio ambiente, e assim por diante. Isso articulado com os protestos. Acho que adquirimos um nível bom de organização, e tinha bastante gente simpática ao movimento, financiavam nossas publicações.

Embora eu ache que para a coisa ter vingado tenha sido importante a participação dos partidos políticos, da igreja católica, o plebiscito que foi feito sobre a ALCA, isso ajudou a enterrar a ALCA, já por volta de 2003.

Quais as características e especificidades dos movimentos que se seguiram a esse processo, que hoje se convencionou chamar de movimentos autônomos?

A ideia de coletivos autônomos foi sendo construída muito no movimento antiglobalização. Antes a gente tinha uma cena anarquista. Isso tem a ver com a contracultura brasileira, que não teve a interface com a política. Foram dois caminhos, numa trilha os tropicalistas, os hippies, na outra, a luta armada contra a ditadura militar, a crítica ao stalinismo. Essas coisas não se encontravam, como aconteceu, por exemplos nos Estados Unidos, na Itália.

Essa fusão só aconteceu aqui com os punks. Que o punk antes era despolitizado, se associava o que a gente chama de punk 82 com algo mais social que político, era a classe trabalhadora gritando com uma guitarra. Um grito confuso, um grito sem experiência política, mas gritando. Um grito de revolta contra a pobreza, a exclusão, misturado com algo contracultural, existencialista, tudo junto e muito confuso.

Essa coisa do anarquismo é do fim da segunda e da terceira geração do punk, que se aproximou mais da tradição sindical do anarquismo brasileiro. Tem um fato que é muito marcante, em 1988 tem um 1 de maio que fazemos a segurança da manifestação, junto com a CUT [Central Única dos Trabalhadores]. Era a COB, a Confederação Operária Brasileira que a gente estava tentando refundar, junto com a CUT e outras centrais. Nesse momento estava começando a se definir entre os punks um grupo anarquista, que lia Proudhon, Bakunin, frequentava o Centro de Cultura Social, era uma novidade.

Outros grupos de punks, misturados com skinheads, que estavam caminhando para a direita, essa cisão só aconteceu no final dos anos 1980, e eles vão para esse 1 de maio para bater, e tomam uma surra. Menos dos punks porque a gente era muito miudinho, mais dos sindicalistas. Tomam um pau. Acho uma marca dessa cisão ideológica da contracultura brasileira. Para mim a fusão entre contracultura e política se concretizou nesse dia. Tem a direita e tem a esquerda. Os skinheads começaram a flertar com o integralismo e viraram fascistas e outro grupo eram os anarquistas.

No movimento antiglobalização, tinha, por um lado, a rejeição aos partidos políticos, à hierarquia, tinha discurso libertário mas tinha uma visão mais ampla. A gente dialogava com as ONGs, com movimentos mais tradicionais na sua forma de organização, começou a haver certa diferenciação com um anarquismo mais programático. Começou a surgir essa ideia do movimento autônomo, também sob inspiração da teoria político mais autonomista, seja na tradição francesa como Castoriadis, seja na italiana, como Negri ou Mario Tronti. Algumas pessoas começaram a ler, e foi se desenvolvendo esse entendimento, de se juntar também aos marxistas dissidentes mais horizontalistas, que nunca tinham sido bem vindos no movimento anarquista por razões históricas. Autonomia em relação ao Estado e em relação ao mercado. Isso é uma construção do final dos anos 1990, início dos 2000.

E o Fórum Social Mundial?

O Fórum Social Mundial foi uma construção totalmente separada da nossa. Tinha o Fórum Econômico Mundial de Davos, que juntava representantes das empresas, dos governos, do setor acadêmico e fazia um grande encontro de cúpula dos líderes mundiais para discutir assuntos de interesse global. O Fórum Social Mundial foi pensado exatamente nos mesmos termos originalmente. Era para ser um encontro das lideranças dos sindicatos, das lideranças dos movimentos sociais e das lideranças dos partidos políticos, numa grande conferência contra-hegemônica.

Nesse momento já tinha o movimento antiglobalização, um movimento de base horizontalista, e já tinha sua importância. As primeiras propostas do Fórum eram de um encontro de cúpula que as pessoas inscreviam lideranças. Aí abriram um negócio chamado oficinas que permitia a participação de todos. E as oficinas bombaram, porque o movimento era horizontal. E subverteu.

Apesar de não surgir da nossa tradição, os organizadores do Fórum souberam incorporar, digamos, esse caráter horizontalista e deixar o encontro virar outra coisa. Ficou mais participativo, mais rico. A gente nunca participou ativamente, da construção, mas aproveitava que vinha gente do mundo inteiro, e sempre fizemos, ao menos até 2005, encontros paralelos.

Você vê, então, o MPL como uma espécie de continuidade desse processo?

Totalmente. O MPL tem duas origens: o movimento antiglobalização e outra que vem ideologicamente do trotskismo, mas que vem talvez mais que isso, do movimento estudantil pelo passe livre. Nos anos 1990 tem a luta forte pelo passe livre estudantil que traz como inspiração as conquistas no Rio de Janeiro, então tem uma tradição estudantil forte.

Em Florianópolis, por conta do Juventude Revolução Independente, começaram a defender essa ideia da autonomia a partir do trotskismo. A partir de uma leitura e reflexão interna dentro do trotskismo, atuando com o conceito de autonomia nesse campo da luta pelo passe livre estudantil. Aí nasce dessa experiência de Floripa, por um lado da Juventude Revolução Independente por sua vez ligada ao processo do passe livre estudantil dos anos 1990, e por outro,  o movimento antiglobalização.

Vários militantes do movimento antiglobalização compuseram o MPL original de Floripa. Quando a gente faz o primeiro encontro do MPL lá no Fórum Social Mundial de 2005, estão presentes muitos do movimento antiglobalização e principalmente do CMI [Centro de Mídia Independente], que é, digamos, a face mais organizada do movimento.

O CMI era praticamente a expressão midiática do movimento antiglobalização. E o CMI era organizado, tinham vários grupos locais que se reuniam. Sempre funcionou como uma espécie de esqueleto da AGP, mais claramente organizado porque tinha coletivos, endereços, comunicação global, um site de referencia. Foi muito importante para o movimento antiglobalização como um todo. E serviu como meio de difusão do MPL. Tanto é que acho que quase todos os primeiros MPLs em 2005 vieram de coletivos do CMI.

Chegando nos tempos atuais, como você vê esses coletivos e movimentos autônomos que estiveram envolvidos na onda de mobilizações que começou em junho? E também as novas articulações entre esses movimentos que essa jornada de lutas tem impulsionado?

Acho que essa experiência da luta contra o aumento da tarifa trouxe um salto qualitativo muito importante. Essa tradição de luta que a gente remonta ao zapatismo, ao movimento antiglobalização, mais recentemente ao Occupy Wall Street, ao 15M, e lá atrás a maio de 1968, às lutas da autonomia italiana, essa tradição é muito marcada pela valorização do processo de organização.

Ou seja, a ideia de que devemos fazer política pré-figurativa. Que a forma de organização do movimento deve espelhar a sociedade que a gente quer. Então ser horizontal, inclusivo, não ser sexista, não ser racista, um enorme cuidado com o processo. É processo político e também criativo – então fazer intervenções divertidas, contraculturais, é a mesma valorização do processo: queremos uma vida prazerosa, desburocratizada das amarras institucionais.

Eu faço uma avaliação crítica que essa característica fez com que historicamente a gente fosse muito desatento aos resultados da luta. Várias experiências dessa se perderam por serem incapazes de ter um foco claro de luta. No movimento antiglobalização, era um esforço enorme a gente converter a luta em uma luta objetiva contra a ALCA. Vamos pressionar o governo brasileiro a não assinar a ALCA. Fazer isso era um esforço, porque a tendência do movimento era ser algo auto expressivo, carnaval contra o capitalismo. Uma explosão de rebelião antissistêmica.

O que estava valorizado aí? O processo, a forma de luta. Um dia, quando a gente vencer, que a gente não sabe como, vai ser por meio do fortalecimento da luta, que vai ser horizontal, participativa, comunitária. Mas isso fazia com que o movimento não tivesse um objetivo de curto prazo ligado a esse objetivo de longo prazo. Não tinha estratégia para vencer. Por sorte, em Seattle funcionou e criou um paradigma de estratégia para vencer: a gente barra. Foi tentado em vários lugares, nunca mais aconteceu.

Mas se olhar a experiência do 15M, do Occupy Wall Street e das ocupas pelo mundo todo, também daqui como o Ocupa Sampa, essa incapacidade de ter um foco apareceu. Isso aconteceu desde o final dos anos 1960 se pegarmos gênese do movimento.

E eu acho que a grande novidade aqui é que o MPL criou um novo paradigma. Ter um objetivo de curto prazo, que é um processo de uma utopia, de uma transformação mais profunda. Qual a transformação mais profunda? A desmercantilização do transporte. Direitos público à mobilidade urbana. Mas isso se concretiza num passo: a tarifa voltar para trás. É totalmente contra-intuitivo, do jeito que a coisa é, a tarifa sempre cresce. A partir do momento que ela volta para trás, você coloca no horizonte a possibilidade de voltar para trás até seu limite, que é o zero.

E isso, cara, parece selvagem, há dois meses atrás diriam que é coisa de extremista, de gente delirante, e eles mostraram isso que agora está no centro da pauta: não tem um partido, um veículo de comunicação ou um político que não estejam discutindo essa pauta que há dois meses era chamada de delirante, sem pé na realidade.

Eu acho que eles conseguiram criar isso. E era factível, apesar de bem difícil. Foi suado, custou bastante trabalho, muita gente foi presa, muita gente apanhou, teve gente que morreu, mas era factível, foi factível.  E isso ampliou os horizontes.

Mas tem mais do que isso aí, não? Porque já teve outros aumentos que foram barrados…

Já teve, já teve.  Na verdade eu estou falando do MPL como um todo…

Ah, você acha que já nas primeiras vitórias isso está contido?

Já contém isso, sim. Eu acho que o MPL daqui simplesmente deu muita visibilidade por estarmos em São Paulo, mas o MPL é isso, ele nasce do aprendizado da Revolta do Buzú de Salvador. A Revolta do Buzú foi um movimento espontâneo, de jovens – molecada mesmo, adolescentes, até pré-adolescentes – que saíram nas ruas e bloqueram a cidade durante vários dias contra o aumento das passagens e foram traídos pela UNE.

Eles não tinham um instrumento político. O MPL é a busca por aprender com esse erro, aprender com o processo espontâneo. Quem inventou, quem exemplificou essa estratégia de luta foram os meninos de Salvador, só que teve uma falha, já que não havia com quem negociar.  E eles fracassaram, perderam bem perdido com a traição da UNE. E aí a ideia do MPL é dar um estamento político pra essa luta, e fomentar essas revoltas que tinham nascido espontaneamente.  Um grupo político vai fomentar uma revolta.

E aconteceu em Floripa duas vezes, 2004 e 2005. Depois aconteceu em várias cidades, deve ter tido mais de dez revoltas de transporte entre 2004 e agora.  Talvez mais de vinte.  E as instituições políticas foram surdas a esse processo. E os meninos do MPL de São Paulo continuaram, “um dia vai virar aqui, tem que virar, ta virando em todo lugar”.  Eles apostaram, continuaram insistindo na luta e tiveram vários acertos estratégicos, amadureceram estrategicamente, começaram a pensar no curto prazo, em como fazer para pressionar, houve uma maturidade no jeito político de atuar que eu acho um aprendizado  para o movimento autônomo não só do Brasil como do mundo.

Sem brincadeira: Ocuppy WallStreet tinha muito a aprender com o que os meninos do MPL fizeram, se eles tivessem os vinte centavos deles pro sistema financeiro as coisas teriam sido muito diferentes, podia ter tido uma vitória. E que não é só uma pequena reforma,  o passe livre é uma pequena reforma que aponta imediatamente pra sua própria natureza de uma profunda transformação do sistema.  Liga-se com a desmercantilização do transporte, e isso abre o precedente para várias outras desmercantilizações, é como um novelo de lã que você começa a puxar e vai ampliando os horizontes.

Conseguiram colocar uma meta de curto prazo, exequível e intrinsicamente ligada ao processo de transformação da sociedade que a gente quer.  E ao invés de valorizar apenas o processo de luta, valoriza-se também o processo de luta, porque é um movimento autônomo, que faz essas discussões de que o processo tem que ser horizontal, independente dos partidos e etc., mas não descuida da conquista de objetivos práticos de curto prazo que vão acelerar essa passagem pro objetivo de longo prazo.

Desde esse começo da Internet que você fala desenvolve-se também um saber relativo a organização de movimentos pelas redes, mas isso talvez tenha explodido no senso comum agora, não? É de agora que vem mais à tona esse discurso de que as mobilizações são produto das redes sociais e da Internet?

Então, essa conversa não é nova. O movimento antiglobalização foi muito rotulado como o movimento da Internet.  E eu acho essa uma leitura tecno-determinista muito equivocada, porque a história é o inverso do que é contada. A história que a gente escuta é a de que as redes  são horizontais, democráticas e participativas e o movimento das ruas copia a forma de organização das redes.  Ou seja, a forma de organização das redes impõe a organização das ruas. E é exatamente o oposto. As redes foram desenhadas por nós pra ter esse formato e não o contrário, ou seja, as redes adquiriram esse formato horizontal e participativo.

A Internet era uma rede universitária até 1995, ela se privatizou, ou seja, foi aberta pra venda e serviço de acesso a Internet em 1995. E quando ela se privatizou o modelo que se tentou fazer é o modelo do portal, que é o mesmo da comunicação tradicional: um emissor e vários receptores.  E foi isso que estava imposto, o modelo da American Online (AOL),  do iG, do Uol… Eu vou ter um portalzão, uma redação com jornalistas que vão abastecê-lo…

Os portais até proviam acesso.

É, vou prover acesso, vou prover informação, serviço de e-mail… é um modelo de um para muitos, o modelo tradicional da comunicação de massa. E era esse modelo que estava sendo implementado nos anos 1990.

O CMI é um entendimento de que a gente devia usar as possibilidades da Internet, que era um veículo bidirecional, em que se falava e recebia, e subverter essa tentativa de transformá-la numa grande televisão ou numa grande revista e fazer uma forma de comunicação interativa, baseada nas experiências das rádios livres, das TVs comunitárias, dos fanzines, nessa tradição de comunicação alternativa. E foi assim que foi desenhado. O CMI era um site de publicação aberta, quando não existia nem blog. Quem inventou o conceito de blog foi o CMI, não tinha blog, as pessoas não faziam isso, elas faziam sites. Uma ideia de um blog,  que seja um negócio fácil de escrever e que possa ser atualizado rapidamente não existia, o CMI é pré-blog, é précreativecommons.

E não é à toa que do CMI saíram muitas das empresas de redes sociais: Twitter, Youtube, Flickr e Craigslist. Todas foram fundadas por pessoas que vieram do CMI.  Foi um duplo movimento, o CMI servindo como exemplo de que se pode fazer comunicação de outro jeito e gente do CMI que quando ele se exaure vai tentar viver de outra forma. Isso tem a ver também com a forma de organização da esquerda liberal americana que permite essas passagens do movimento social pro mercado de uma  maneira que a gente consideraria  bizarra – mas que no contexto americano não é tão bizarra.

Isso aconteceu, principalmente nos EUA e na Inglaterra, vários técnicos do CMI trabalhando nessas empresas e de certa maneira desenhando essas empresas. Ou elas sofreram influência direta, no sentido que de pessoas saíram e desenharam essas tecnologias,  ou por meio da inspiração do modelo de comunicação participativa. E hoje todo mundo faz né, a Globo News tem lá “mande seu vídeo”. Só que a gente inventou em 1999 o “mande seu vídeo”.

Mas isso aconteceu como? Uma conversão ideológica dessas pessoas ou mais uma questão de trabalho?

Eu acho que era mais uma coisa de decisão pessoal de arrumar um trabalho, mas nisso você carrega essa sua bagagem. Quando você vai desenvolver um projeto pra uma empresa, pensa em fazer algo participativo.  Mas é uma história oculta: essa história nunca foi contada porque os atores têm vergonha.  Conheço vários deles, eles têm vergonha porque são pessoas que são militantes até hoje. Do mesmo jeito que eu fui pra universidade eles foram trabalhar em empresas, se eu estava fazendo mestrado e tinha isso como caminho, o do cara que era programador era trabalhar em uma empresa onde pudesse programar pra viver.

Mas seria importante exemplificar pra ficar claro que nós não estamos copiando as redes, e sim foram elas que nos copiaram. Se você olhar hoje pra esse panorama de que hoje toda a comunicação eletrônica é participativa de certa maneiro isso é uma vitória do nosso projeto. E não precisava ser assim, cara, aliás a tendência nos meados dos anos 1990 era a de que a Internet fosse uma grande televisão e a interatividade seria você mudar de canal. Ela foi outra coisa porque houve participação popular e se tentou pegar as formas participativas de comunicação que vinham da comunicação popular e aplicar explorando as potencialidades da Internet.

Por exemplo no livro Mídia Radical, do Joe Downing, ele vai contando a história das rádios livres, das TVs comunitárias, e como tudo isso converge no CMI no final dos anos 1990.  Daria pra fazer um segundo volume do livro dele, mostrando como a partir daí acontece uma revolução nas empresas de tecnologia da informação.

Seu próximo livro é esse então?

Não, não. Mas eu já pedi pra vários amigos, vocês precisam contar essa história, perder a vergonha porque é importante, é uma história oculta, essa ninguém sabe.

E como fica o “terceiro setor” dessa história, que não é propriamente movimento nem mercado, esse negócio estranho aí que é o Fora do Eixo. Seriam também um produto dessa evolução?

Cara, eu acho que o Fora do Eixo é uma coisa totalmente à parte. Acho que o Fora do Eixo não tem nada a ver com essa história, de nenhum dos lados, acho que ele é uma tentativa de positivar a natureza do trabalho contemporâneo. O Fora do Eixo é o grupo político mais impressionante que eu já vi em mais de vinte anos de militância, nunca vi ninguém mais eficiente do que eles, são um fenômeno político impressionante.

Eles são uma organização hipercapitalista. O que eles fizeram: quando a natureza do trabalho virou informacional, você já não consegue mais separar trabalho de não trabalho. Você  trabalha com jornalismo, você não desliga, não é que nem um operário que pendura o macacão e vai pra casa. Você não desliga o cérebro, você tá pensando na pauta, senta pra conversar e está conversando sobre a pauta, aquilo te toma. Por isso que é muito difícil organizar tempo de trabalho neste tipo de trabalho informacional.

Todo mundo que trabalha atrás de uma tela de computador trabalha assim, você não tem como se desligar de um trabalho dessa natureza simbólica. E aí você tem essa mistura de trabalho e não trabalho, que é massacrante.  O que eles fizeram foi transformar isso numa coisa positiva e militante.

E escondem o lucro.

Eu acho que eles não são capitalistas nesse sentido, porque eles não estão atrás do lucro econômico. É curioso, você vai ver o núcleo do Fora do Eixo, os caras que moram na casa, eles vivem que nem estudante.  Moram em beliches, vivem muito pior do que eu. E têm uma conta com três milhões de reais. Não é orientado pro lucro: o que é mais capitalista, e não menos.

Mas se é muito orientado pro poder de Estado, que implica em lucros pessoais, de uma forma é orientado pro lucro, não?

Eu acho que a questão deles é poder, não é dinheiro. Posso estar enganado, estou analisando aqui de fora.  Quer ver o que eu penso? Guardadas as proporções, não estou querendo supervalorizar, eles são superinteressantes mas também não são tudo isso que o pessoal pinta não, mas pega o Webber, a ética protestante. Pega a definição de capitalismo marxista, é geração de valor pra geração de mais-valor, pegar dinheiro, investir e gerar lucro é totalmente pré-capitalista, é desde a Antiguidade.

Mas nessa época o que você faz? Pega e gasta. Na Antiguidade uma das condições de ser rico é que você não trabalhava, você entrava num empreendimento econômico pra não trabalhar, punha as pessoas pra trabalhar e só vivia na riqueza.  E o Webber fala assim: o capitalismo não é isso. Capitalismo é outra coisa, eu pego a riqueza e reinvisto,  gerando um processo de expansão econômica.  Isso é o que diferencia o capitalismo de outros processos econômicos, e ele vai buscar no ascetismo protestante essa lógica.

Os protestantes acumulavam dinheiro e reinvestiam. E a partir do momento que você tem essa lógica de não vou gastar com mulheres, bebidas e na vida de luxo, que é a forma tradicional das pessoas ricas viverem a vida, mas eu vou reinvestir na produção, a partir do momento que você faz isso você obriga todos os competidores do mercado a seguirem a sua mesma lógica. A lógica de trabalho capitalista, de expansão: trabalho, mais trabalho, mais rigor, mais acúmulo de capital.

E quem não entra nessa lógica perde pra você, e é comprado por você. O  capitalismo é uma lógica de expansão, e vai expandindo essa lógica do trabalho pra todas as esferas da vida.  É isso, cara. Então o capitalismo não é acumular dinheiro,  o capitalismo é não acumular dinheiro.  Por isso eu acho o projeto do Fora do Eixo profundamente perigoso, porque é um projeto de vida para o trabalho. Sem acumulação.

A acumulação é de poder?

É acumulação de poder, é um projeto que usa uma estrutura econômica para um projeto de poder oculto. Qual o projeto político do Fora do Eixo? Desconhecido.  Não tem documento público. Mas eles têm projeto político, eles são um partido, obviamente eles são um partido político. Eles não estão nessa por dinheiro, vai lá na casa deles, os caras comem miojo e vivem que nem estudante.  E eles trabalham pra caralho, e bem. Eles deram um choque de capitalismo, de organização capitalista, na cultura alternativa.  Chegaram em São Carlos e falaram “vamo organizar o circuito de bandas de São Carlos”.  Na cultura até a parte capitalista é super desorganizada, a parte alternativa da cultura é caótica. Cara, é o caos. Aí eles chegam com uma ética de trabalho rigorosa, com gente eficaz, e impõem isso.

E fazem isso positivando a distinção entre trabalho e não trabalho, criando uma cultura de que minha vida é o trabalho. Com um discurso ativista. Como se eles estivessem fazendo ativismo, mas eles não estão fazendo ativismo, estão fazendo atividade econômica sem finalidade de lucro, gerando mais acumulação.  É brilhante. E perigoso.

E desse processo de junho aparentemente eles saem favorecidos, afinal depois do MPL quem ganhou mais visibilidade foi a tal Mídia Ninja.

É impressionante. Eles têm um entendimento muito sofisticado da natureza do nosso capitalismo contemporâneo. Eles sabiam que como eles não tinham capacidade de ser um ator relevante, se eles controlassem a comunicação do movimento eles controlam o movimento, controlam a imagem de como o movimento é representado.

O que é o Ninja, cara? É uma coisa minúscula perto do que aconteceu, do fenômeno político que aconteceu. Mas eles são superexpostos, porque eles controlam a comunicação e a comunicação é chave pra maneira como as pessoas percebem o movimento e como o movimento se percebe. Então é estratégico.  E eles fazem de um jeito sofisticado, eles trabalham marca…  O trabalho de marca deles é impressionante, que organização política trabalha marca? Exposição do nome, exposição do logo,  constroem um texto político colocando o logo e o nome, trabalhando com alavancagem de marca pra usar a expressão publicitária.

Já falei várias vezes que a gente deveria aproveitar isso pra gente ganhar maturidade política, porque a gente só vai enfrentar um ator político dessa natureza se tornando muito mais sério no nosso entendimento da luta social, a gente é muito amador. Eles colocam o desafio num outro nível.  São mais eficientes que os capitalistas.

Mas engajam seus membros sob uma perspectiva de militância.

Essa forma é militante mas é despolitizada. Qual a plataforma pública deles? Nenhuma. Fizeram Marcha da Liberdade, em defesa da liberdade. Lutaram pra que mantivesse esse sentido genérico.  Fizeram Existe Amor em SP. É amor, liberdade, vão fazer algo pela paz, porque é uma estratégia de mobilizar sem causa. Curioso, é extremamente despolitizante.

Mas o Existe Amor em SP tinha uma causa, era eleitoral.

Tinha, mas era oculta. Era contra os fascistas, em tese. E depois que saiu o Russomano ficou ainda mais vago. Pela cidade… é um nível de total despolitização, eles não têm um programa político.  Eles não podem ter um programa político, por isso começaram pela cultura, que é o setor mais despolitizado. É muito interessante, porque é uma militância do não político. Porque não tem causa.

É uma grande construção política. Agora, eles chegaram a um limite. Porque o que aconteceu em junho é um grande chacoalhão. É uma enorme politização da sociedade brasileira. Minha tia está falando de política, tá todo mundo falando de política, a sociedade se politizou. E como eles vão reagir frente a isso? Se politizar é tomar posição, apoiar isso ou aquilo, essa forma de organização. Eles defendem qual forma de organização?  São a favor do mercado privado, são a favor da socialização, são a favor do PT, contra o PT?  Nada, você nunca sabe.

É que isso é uma discussão muito “rancorosa”.

Exatamente… Mas você não sabe, e essa é exatamente a força e o limite do projeto político. Imagino que em algum momento eles vão dar um salto, porque isso vai chegar no limite, e como eles são muito habilidosos eles vão criar uma outra coisa a partir do que eles construíram.  Eles já tão muito perto desse limite.

Por exemplo, eles fizeram o Ninja, que é um relativo sucesso,  mas ao mesmo tempo é um fracasso, porque eles não tiveram papel ativo nessa mobilização.

Mas esse desafio que eles lançam é importante pro movimento autônomo, porque eles expõem como a gente é amador. Isso é outro assunto, mas os movimentos autônomos são muito, mas muito principistas.

Outro aprendizado do MPL: eles foram, falaram no Jornal Nacional, falaram no Roda Viva,  sem pudor, sentaram pra negociar no Conselho da Cidade. Porra, isso é um ganho. Se você olhar pra história desses movimentos, fazer isso com essa maturidade, com clareza, com estratégia, nada disso era possível no movimento antiglobalização. Essas coisas eram absolutamente necessárias. O que acontecia? Pessoas faziam isso nas costas do movimento.

Porque é necessário, como é que eu vou organizar um movimento global sem dinheiro? Tem que fazer compra internacional, imprimir material, pagar servidor de Internet. E aí como eu gerencio doações?  O movimento não quer decisões delicadas desse tipo. Então algumas pessoas faziam. “Recebemos uma doação de cinquenta mil dólares”. Alguém falou com alguém pra conseguir esse dinheiro, não cai do céu – foi feito nas costas do movimento. E isso sabotava a autonomia do movimento. O movimento antiglobalização, ao contrário do MPL, não falava com a imprensa. E aí alguém falava com a imprensa, porque tinha setores da imprensa que apoiavam o movimento. Porque o movimento não tem maturidade pra lidar com essas coisas, com dinheiro, falar com a imprensa, pressionar o governo, trabalhos necessários se você ta fazendo luta política.

Eu acho que o MPL deu um show de maturidade política em relação aos nossos padrões anteriores. Fizeram tudo que era necessário e o resultado está aí. 600 milhões por ano no bolso da classe trabalhadora! Isso não tem o que discutir. E não eram coisas assim terríveis. Dar entrevista pra deus e o mundo fez uma puta diferença. E tinha gente nos meios de comunicação que apoiava. E que quando a coisa virou e o editor permitiu fez coisa boa. Tem que explorar isso, muda muito. MPL mostrou maturidade, de mostrar que se leva a sério, e assim consegue efeito político.

Esse aprendizado a gente tem que incorporar, eu espero que a lição de junho não seja nós fomos às ruas e vencemos, que é parte da verdade, mas não a mais importante. Nós fomos às ruas e vencemos com estratégia e com maturidade política, o que é muito diferente. Que é o que o OcuppyWallStreet não fez, o 15M não fez, o movimento antiglobalização não fez.

Interessante também que em relação ao diálogo com o governo, eles aceitaram os convites mas não negociaram nada.

Faz parte da estratégia deles, mas eles podiam estar numa estratégia em que fosse estratégico negociar. Mas no caso deles a reivindicação era muito simples.  O que a gente quer é revogar o aumento. “Vem aqui, vamos discutir corredor de ônibus, licitações, municipalização do imposto da gasolina…” Não, revogação do aumento. É uma mensagem simples, do ponto de vista de comunicar com a população é claríssimo. E significa um rompimento de paradigma, a tarifa volta para trás e é isso que eles tavam querendo, o projeto deles é zero. E eles conseguiram colocar isso, ganharam a revogação e tarifa zero ta na boca do povo.

E tarifa zero é muita coisa, é mobilidade como direito social. E uma vez que você conquista isso você fala: nossa, que mais é direito social? Quero mais. Que mais como membro de uma coletividade eu tenho direito, só por ser membro dessa coletividade?

Occupying Wall Street: Places and Spaces of Political Action (Places)


The Design Observer Group

Occupy Wall Street digital activity timeline
Occupy Wall Street activity online. Click image to enlarge. [Timeline by the authors]

For nine weeks last fall crowds gathered every evening at the eastern end of Zuccotti Park, where a shallow crescent of stairs creates a modest amphitheater, to form the New York City General Assembly. A facilitator reviewed rules for prioritizing speakers and gestures by which participants could signal agreement or dissent. Over two hours or more, they worked through issues of common concern — every word repeated by the assembly, which formed a human microphone amplifying the speaker’s voice — until they reached consensus.

Such was the daily practice of Occupy Wall Street, paralleled in more than a thousand cities around the world. Participants borrowed tactics from Quaker meetings, Latin American popular assemblies, Spanish acampadas, and other traditions of protest and political organization. They also enacted something foundational to the western democratic tradition: constituting a polity as a group of speaking bodies gathered in a central public place.

At the same time, another crowd assembled in a range of online spaces. Moving between the physical and the virtual, participants navigated a hypercity built of granite and asphalt, algorithms and information, appropriating its platforms and creating new structures within it. As they posted links, updates, photos and videos on social media sites; as they deliberated in chat rooms and collaborated on crowdmaps; as they took to the streets with smartphones, occupiers tested the parameters of this multiply mediated world.

What is the layout of this place? What are its codes and protocols? Who owns it? How does its design condition opportunities for individual and collective action? Looking closely at these questions, we learn something about the possibilities for public life and political action created at the intersection of urban places and online spaces.

Top: Occupiers camp in Liberty Plaza as news vans line up across the street. Middle: Detail of#OccupyMap. Bottom: Occupy coordinators meet in the atrium of 60 Wall Street. [Photos by Jonathan Massey]

Occupying the Public Square 
Zuccotti Park — or Liberty Plaza — was the site not only of General Assembly but also of the bustling camp that materialized and sustained the occupation. As architects, we were fascinated by the intensive use of this privately owned public space. As citizens, we were inspired by the movement’s critique of the U.S. political system and its experiment with alternate forms of social organization. After the arrest of 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge, Jonathan began visiting Liberty Plaza and occasionally participating in rallies. Brett tracked the movement’s use of new media to expose inequalities in wealth distribution. Jonathan enlisted friends to survey and document the encampment, while Brett developed an interactive project, Public Space 2.0, that linked Occupy to broader questions about public space. Following the eviction of occupiers in New York and other cities, we decided to collaborate on a project examining the spatial and social organization of Liberty Plaza.

In the tradition of urban demonstrations and sit-ins, the camp claimed a prominent and symbolically charged city space in order to call attention to a political cause. It provided logistical support as the first day of protest extended into a two-month occupation. It gave visitors a point of entry into the movement and its ideas. Moreover, it prefigured in microcosm the alternative polity desired by many participants, modeling and testing modes of self-organization partly autonomous from those provided by the state and the market.

As such, it embodied one of the defining tensions of Occupy Wall Street: between the aims of protest and prefiguration. [1] One reason for claiming Liberty Plaza was to command the attention of the public and the state. Indeed, the blog post that sparked the movement, by the Canadian magazine Adbusters, urged activists to create “a Tahrir moment” by insistently repeating “one simple demand” akin to the call for Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. [2] But some of the New York activists who planned the occupation pursued a vision of autonomous self-organization and self-government informed by anarchist principles. Occupiers refused to formulate their objectives as political demands, even though doing so might have strengthened their grip on the public imagination. Instead of a unified plea to elected representatives, broadcast from a central square, Occupy yielded a polyphony of discussions in the agoras of the hypercity.

Occupy Wall Street police observation tower
Top: Occupiers in mid-October. Bottom: NYPD Skywatch portable surveillance tower. [Photos by Jonathan Massey]

From its founding on September 17, 2011, the occupation traced contours of regulation and control. Its location, design and construction limned the legal, juridical and police affordances of New York’s public realm, revealing the constraints placed on people assembling to form a counterpublic — a public operating according to practices distinct from those of the mainstream. [3] The declared site of the first protest, carnival, and General Assembly was Chase Manhattan Plaza, but occupiers arrived to find the corporate space closed off by barricades and patrolled by police. Prior General Assemblies had been held in New York public parks and squares, but organizers knew the city tightly controlled those spaces by requiring permits, enforcing nighttime closures and barricading areas. The use of city sidewalks was also curtailed. Bloombergville, a sidewalk encampment near City Hall, had survived for three weeks in July, but a test camp-out on Wall Street on September 1 had been broken up by police. [4] When demonstrators found Chase Plaza closed, they moved to the privately-owned Zuccotti Park, three blocks away, claiming the space with signs, megaphones, sleeping bags and blankets.

The following weeks confirmed that the state would use police control to assert its hegemony over the terms of public assembly and discourse. When protesters crossed the border of Liberty Plaza onto city streets or squares, they encountered “order maintenance policing,” a euphemistic directive that empowers New York police to intervene in public events irrespective of criminal action. Over the past 15 years, the NYPD has expanded the practice to assert control over parades, festivals and rallies, often arresting participants for “disorderly conduct” and releasing them without charge. [5] Under this vague authority, NYPD limited the range and duration of Occupy demonstrations and tightly controlled their internal dynamics through barricades, kettling and arrests.

And yet Occupy Wall Street showed that possibilities foreclosed on private and public land could be actualized in the liminal territory of the city’s privately owned public spaces(POPS) — plazas, arcades and other spaces built by real estate developers in return for density bonuses under the terms of the 1961 Zoning Resolution. [6] The occupation of Zuccotti Park was made possible by ambiguities in the POPS system, which has created places where the city government must negotiate authority with corporate owners as well as site occupants. Even so, the city intervened in the camp’s internal organization and operation: fire marshals prohibited tents and other structures in the early weeks; they removed generators as the weather grew cold in late October; and, shortly after midnight on November 15, police forcibly cleared the park.

Zuccotti Park after eviction of protestors
Top: The planned site of the September 17 protest, Chase Manhattan Plaza, was barricaded at the request of its corporate owners. [Photo by David Shankbone] Bottom: Police patrol Zuccotti Park on November 15 after evicting protesters. [Photo by Jonathan Massey]

During the two-month occupation, protesters rewrote the social and spatial codes that had determined use of the block for decades. Created in the late 1960s as a POPS concession linked to the construction of One Liberty Plaza, the park was rebuilt by new owners Brookfield Properties in 2006 to a design by Cooper Robertson & Partners that serves downtown office workers by encouraging passive recreations like lunch and chess while discouraging active ones like cycling and skateboarding. In a related feature on Places, we look more closely at the Cooper Robertson design and its transformation into the Liberty Plaza encampment.

Stepping partially outside state and market systems, occupiers created their own structures for discussion and governance; for provision of daily services; for medical care and sacred space; for music, dance and art. Some aspects of this counterpublic resembled the exhilarating, liberatory “Temporary Autonomous Zones” described by anarchist writer Hakim Bey. [7] Others were pragmatic, even bureaucratic. Within days, working groups resembling urban agencies — dedicated to issues like Comfort, Medical, Kitchen, Library, Sanitation and Security — created a series of nodes or workstations that cut diagonally across the park. They appropriated design elements such as retaining walls, benches and tables to define functional zones.

In overlaying the permanent landscape of the park with new activities and installations, the occupation created what anthropologist Tim Ingold calls a “taskscape”: a topography of related activities deployed in space and changing over time. [8] Through their patterns of spatial appropriation, occupiers responded to the asymmetries of the park — its slope, the priority of Broadway relative to Trinity Place, and the more favorable sun and wind exposures available in the northeast corner — by programming the plaza along a gradient. Running from north and east to south and west, this gradient shaded from public to private, mind to body, waking to sleeping, and reason to faith. Outreach/Media/Legal claimed the location that afforded the most shelter and the best sun exposure while also being situated far from the noise and dust of the World Trade Center construction site.

Kitchen compost station and The People’s Library. [Photos by Jonathan Massey]

On the austere geometry of a tasteful corporate plaza, just under 33,000 square feet, the occupation created an entire world in which you could meditate, change your wardrobe, update your blog, cook lentils, read a book, sweep up litter, bandage a wound, bang a drum, roll a cigarette, debate how best to challenge corporate hegemony, make art, wash dishes and have sex, usually in the company of others.  The square teemed with friends and strangers, allies and antagonists; it was intensely public and interactive. Daily activities were saturated with a talky sociability in which the challenges and opportunities of every action, every decision, were open to reinterpretation and negotiation. At any moment, the call of “Mic check!” could ring out across the camp, obligating participants to drop personal conversations and become part of a communal discourse. The act of chanting in unison, as a human microphone, created a common sense of purpose, established relationships among neighbors and intensified awareness of surrounding bodies.

This new world could feel exhilarating and inspiring but also threatening and claustral. It was crowded. It was charged with strong emotions. Its core members were working hard, and they were often tired. On top of reforming global capitalism, they had to handle fights, thefts, drug use and sexual assaults, while operating under the strain of official hostility, police surveillance, constant interaction with supportive and hostile visitors, and weather. Radical openness and participatory self-government proved taxing. As the occupation stretched from days into weeks and months, participants took shelter from cold, rain and snow in tents and tarps. The plaza became more internalized and lost some of its intense sociability.

The functional zoning also reinforced sociological differences in the camp. Many of the most active members identified themselves as coordinators or occupiers. These groups were not mutually exclusive, but they gravitated toward spaces in separate ends of the park.Coordinators, who facilitated discussions and posted on blogs, often spent nights at home, while occupiers put their bodies on the line by living and sleeping in the park. A spatial gradient emerged, with occupiers’ tents clustered toward the western end. Not surprisingly, these constituencies were marked by differences in class, education level, ethnicity, sexuality and gender. The Daily Show even aired a skit about the differences, using “uptown” and “downtown” to describe the two ends of the park. [9]

Occupy Wall Street Sanitation Workstation

Top: Sanitation workstation. [Photo by Jonathan Massey] Bottom: Liberty Plaza Site Map drawn by Occupy participant on October 10. Click image to enlarge. [Map by Jake Deg]

Organizers worked hard to build the institutions needed to sustain the micro-city, but its autonomy was inherently limited; the camp was shaped by its adjacencies to the social, commercial and political networks of Lower Manhattan and the Financial District. Businesses provided restrooms. Sympathetic unions made facilities available. Organizations lent kitchen and office space. Individuals donated money, books, clothing and food. Murray Bergtraum High School opened its auditorium to meetings of the OWS Spokescouncil. A local government authority, Manhattan Community Board 1, mediated among protesters, neighborhood residents, Brookfield Properties and city officials in discussions about drum noise and other issues where order maintenance was enforced through claims about “quality of life.”

These interactions extended the spatial and social gradients of Liberty Plaza across a broader urban geography. Dozens of working groups met in the enclosed atrium at 60 Wall Street, a privately owned public space at the base of an office tower built by J.P. Morgan and currently occupied by Deutsche Bank. In that large room, designed by Roche and Dinkeloo and clad in marble and mirror and decorated with palm trees and postmodern grottoes, they shared space with chess-players and well-heeled denizens of the Financial District. From morning to night they used the tables, benches, chairs and wifi of the climate-controlled space as a purposeful, orderly extension of the eastern end of Liberty Plaza, establishing commuting patterns that figured 60 Wall as the Occupy office.

Occupying the Internet 
The Wall Street protests would not have materialized without extensive work by on-the-ground activists in New York. But it was the Adbusters blog post that gave the action a name and date. It also gave them #occupywallstreet, the first of thousands of #Occupy hashtags that enabled the spontaneous assembly of strangers on Twitter and other internet platforms. In the months leading up to the first occupation, and in the year afterward, Occupy established an online presence unmatched in the history of social action, leveraging multiple online spaces to stage protests and to generate a distinctive counter-public and alternative polity.

Top: Occupiers connect via laptops and smartphones from Liberty Plaza. [Photo by David Shankbone] Bottom: Instagram photo sent by Occupy activist: “Riding in a bus with 50 others, in cuffs writing this.” [Photo by pulseprotest]

In the United States, the internet was largely exempt from the state control and censorship that curtailed protest activity on the street, but it was inherently open to surveillance and imposed another set of exclusions based on access to online spaces and protocols. Its various platforms afforded ties that were both broader and weaker than those at Liberty Plaza. Discussions took place in specialized forums and channels quite unlike the multisensory, multiparticipatory assemblies, meetings, marches and rallies of the physical realm. From its inception, Occupy tested the capacities of the internet’s virtual spaces to sustain organizational activity, deliberative discourse and other kinds of public-making. [10]

As with the physical occupation, many online actions had precedent in earlier movements, from the anti-globalization protests of the 1990s to the Arab Spring of 2011. For years U.S. activists have used sites like Indymedia to distribute information and mobilize protest participation. [11] After posting its call to action, Adbusters sent word to its email distribution list and created a Facebook event, mobilizing a pre-existing network of followers. As one of the largest privately owned public spaces online, Facebook became a key platform for the Occupy movement. Facebook profiles such as OccupyWallSt,Gilded.Age and OccupyTogether, created in the weeks leading up to the first protest, provided broadly accessible channels for information. When individuals “liked” or commented on items in these newsfeeds, Occupy ideas propagated through user-generated social networks. Throughout the fall, members used the site’s text, link, note, and photo and video sharing features to endorse events and activities. [12]

During the groundwork phase, organizers also used open-source web-coding tools to create dedicated Occupy websites. The most important were, a Github site launched in mid-July as a clearinghouse and contact-point for the movement;, a WordPress site created a few weeks later to serve the New York City General Assembly and its working groups; and the blog These sites combined newsfeeds and social media links with manifestos, videos, crowdmaps and other resources, and they linked together other sites to create a sprawling landscape of information.

A selection of the more than 1600 posts submitted to the 99 Percent Project in October 2011.

In parallel, organizers tapped the internet’s capacity to build what sociologists Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport call “e-movements”: politically effective campaigns that circulate in the media without necessarily coalescing into mass gatherings. Online tools provide immediate and inexpensive site design and back-end functionality, allowing organizations or individuals to launch awareness campaigns and other political actions that demand little money or time from participants. [13] One such tool for Occupy activists was the image-based microblogging site Tumblr. In late summer, the 99 Percent Project invited people to “get known” as part of a majority disenfranchised by the super-rich. Under the slogan “We Are the 99 Percent,” the image blog featured self-portraits of working- and middle-class Americans holding handwritten signs or letters describing the circumstances of their indebtedness. The project called attention to the rise in income inequality and helpedpopularize the rhetoric of “the 99 percent.” [14] After September 17, it became an online analogue to Liberty Plaza, enabling a geographically dispersed set of participants to join the occupation of Wall Street and forging a common consciousness about debt and disenfranchisement. The self-portraits were often shot at a computer desk with a webcam, and overwhelmingly they were set in domestic interiors like living rooms, dens and bedrooms. But the handwritten signs pointed to a world outside those walls, evoking the signs of the homeless explaining their misfortunes and asking for help, as well as the signs of protesters bearing expressions of solidarity and calls to action. [15]

Global crowdmap on the Ushahidi platform. [Screenshot by the authors]

Contours of the Hypercity 
In the summer of 2011, before the first protesters had set foot in Liberty Plaza, the Occupy movement was evolving toward a model of General Assembly that hybridized online and offline discourse. While street activists in New York were practicing consensus decision-making in public parks, online participants were responding to a poll Adbusters created using Facebook’s “question” function: “What is our one demand?” Answers included abolishing capitalism, demilitarizing the police, legalizing marijuana, reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act and freeing the unicorns. (The winner was “Revoke Corporate Personhood.”) Through this asynchronous online polling, Facebook supported a weak form of political discussion that prefigured the stronger and more interactive deliberations that filled Liberty Plaza.

By September 10, General Assembly minutes were being posted online at NYCGA. Over time these became more elaborate, and note-takers projected their evolving documents on a screen in Liberty Plaza so that participants could respond to the minutes-in-the-making. Assembly meetings were livestreamed so that participants across the globe could follow in real time, and some were archived online in audio and video formats. Congregants also livetweeted the assemblies under Twitter handles such as @DiceyTroop and @LibertySqGA. These accounts attracted thousands of followers, many of whom responded to live events, adding a layer of online conversation that augmented the face-to-face assemblies.

Hybrid discussions were the norm for the working groups that handled the day-to-day and week-to-week activity of Occupy Wall Street. During and after the occupation, working groups met regularly at Liberty Plaza, the 60 Wall atrium, Union Square and other locations throughout New York. A blackboard at Liberty Plaza listed some of these meetings, but more reliable information was found online at NYCGA, where nearly every working group had a page with a blog, activity wall, shared documents and event calendar, and discussion forum involving members who had never attended the face-to-face meetings. By spring 2012, the site hosted roughly 90 working groups, some with just a handful of registered users and a couple of posts, others with many hundreds of users and more than 2,000 entries.

Top: Blackboard at Liberty Plaza announces working group meetings. [Photo by Jonathan Massey] Bottom left: Livestream at Occupy Detroit. [Photo by Stephen Boyle] Bottom right: “People’s Mic: Please join the Conversation.” 24/7 internet broadcast from Occupy Wall Street. [Photo by Chris Rojas]

As the weather changed in late October, the Town Planning forum hosted extensive discussions on a topic that simultaneously preoccupied the group’s in-person meetings and the General Assembly: how to sustain the camp into the winter. One participant lit up the forum with a long post advocating event tents that would cover large expanses of the park in communal enclosures, as an alternative to individual camping tents. “Safety teams are unfortunately learning … that privacy equals risk,” wrote Sean McKeown, “because privacy allows for unseen violence, unseen sexual menace, and for drugs, alcohol, and weapons to be kept in shockingly large number if we are to guess by the number of needles found around tents lately since they have gone up.” [16] Members suggested building geodesic domes or frame structures with salvaged materials, or claiming regulatory exemption by designating the camp as a Native American sacred site. The reconfiguration of Liberty Plaza at the beginning of November was negotiated simultaneously in the park, in dispersed work-group meetings, and on the internet.

While online forums, as the Latin term implies, evoke the experience of face-to-face discussion, other online technologies create public spaces without analogue in the physical world. The Twitter hashtag, for example, enables radically new modes of creating, discovering and organizing affinity clusters, which proved useful in movements like the January 25 Egyptian Revolution and the Green Revolution in Iran. In self-conscious emulation of those precedents, Adbusters branded September 17 with the hashtag#occupywallstreet, signaling an expectation that participants would use Twitter to communicate with one another and with larger publics.

It took more than a week for the hashtag to catch on, and from July 25 through the end of August, the four hashtags #occupywallstreet, #occupywallst, #occupy and #ows together accounted for an average of only 27 messages per day. Activity increased in September, and by the day of occupation, Twitter volume on this group of hashtags hit 78,351 as the broader public of participants, bystanders and commentators joined organizers in using the platform for realtime micoblogging of information, opinions and photos. Twitter’s instantaneous syndication was a valuable conduit for time-sensitive news, and its 140-character message limit was well suited to the mobile devices that predominated in Liberty Plaza. Some activists used photo, video and geotagging features on their phones to make Twitter a medium for mapping and building the extended Occupy taskscape. Volume on those four hashtags peaked at 411,117 on November 15, the day protesters were evicted from the park. [17]

Visualization of the Occupy movement online, July to December 2011, including activity on Google, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and We Are the 99 Percent. Click image to enlarge. [Timeline by the authors]

Many other online spaces provided venues for discourse and arenas for participation. Internet relay chat channels allowed participants to talk to one another, individually and in groups. Live video streams from Liberty Plaza and other camps opened real-time windows onto parks, squares and streets around the world. compiled more than 250 such livestreams, each flanked on screen by a chat feed. Video and photo-sharing sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and Instagram enabled participants to post, share and discuss images of Occupy protests, police actions, and other content. Much of this activity garnered only limited interest, but some posts went viral, such as the late September videoof a high-ranking NYPD officer pepper-spraying women who had already been corralled on the sidewalk. Edited and annotated with the low-tech tools that support user-generated content, the video broadened awareness of and sympathy for the occupation.

As social media expanded the range of channels for participation in Occupy Wall Street, it also changed the nature of the public that joined. Extrapolating from the work of anthropologist Jeffrey S. Juris, we can contrast the network logics that predominated in summer 2011, when organizations and activists used email lists and websites to mobilize pre-existing networks, with a new set of aggregation logics that developed as the event took off. Social media engaged many thousands of people who had no pre-existing connection to social change organizations and activist networks. These virtual spaces, even more than city parks, became points of encounter where previously unrelated individuals aggregated to form popular assemblies.

Focusing on Occupy Boston, Juris suggests that while the alter-globalization protests of the 1990s created “temporary performative terrains along which networks made themselves and their struggles visible,” the Occupy movement activated a wider public. “Rather than providing spaces for particular networks to coordinate actions and physically represent themselves,” he writes, “the smart mob protests facilitated by social media such as Facebook and Twitter make visible crowds of individuals aggregated within concrete locales.” [18]

Political scientist Stephania Milan has characterized Occupy protests as “cloud protesting,” comparing the movement to “a cloud where a set of ‘soft resources’ coexist: identities, narratives, and know-how, which facilitate mobilization,” much as social media hosted via cloud computing gives individuals the tools for “producing, selecting, punctuating, and diffusing material like tweets, posts and videos.” [19]

Top: Protest sign in Times Square: “Get off the internet. I’ll Meet you in the streets.” [Photo by Geoff Stearns] Bottom: Collaboratively edited User Map at

Though Milan and Juris don’t address them, we could add crowdmaps to the list of “cloud tools” that activated aggregation logics in the Occupy movement. Online maps populated by user-generated content were published at Take the SquareUS Day of Rage,, and Most used Ushahidi, free open-source crowdmapping software developed in 2008 in Kenya to support disaster relief and response efforts. By compiling data into a common geospatial framework, these crowdmaps visualized Occupy participants and camps as discrete elements that aggregated to form a global phenomenon. They associated people, texts, images and videos with particular places, constructing hypergeographies of action and potential. Animated timeline features encouraged users to visualize themselves and local events as part of a process of “#globalchange.”

The most robust crowdmap was the #OccupyMap at, built by the Tech Ops working group of NYCGA. It provided a web interface for reporting events such as marches, rallies and police interventions, with easy media embedding and compatibility with the Ushahidi app on iOS and Android mobile devices. It also populated automatically from Twitter: any tweet from a location-enabled device that included the hashtag #occupymap generated a geotagged report that could incorporate photos and videos via the Twitpic and Twitvid apps. By spring 2012, the map had aggregated some 900 entries from New York City into a database that could be sorted geographically and temporally, by medium and by event type — all viewable via map, timeline and photo interfaces. By pulling together disparate events and data across space and time, the #OccupyMap created a counterpublic integrated through its use of online media to contest state and corporate control of urban places.

The Occupy crowdmaps were most compelling rhetorically at larger scales, where they visualized landscapes fundamentally distinct from those visible in city streets. In counterpoint to the intense attention paid to Liberty Plaza, these virtual geographies redefined the public of Occupy Wall Street as a dispersed set of agents linked more by online communication channels than by proximity. Viewed at national scale, the red placemarker icons on the User Map at suggested a crowd of hot air balloons that had landed — or were preparing to take off — all across the country. In places they clustered so tightly as to create red contours marking an otherwise invisible topography of radicalism. But at the local scale, what had seemed a continuous landscape of occupiers thinned out; zooming in on Liberty Plaza, you saw only a forlorn green oblong scattered with a few markers.

Open-Source Urbanism 
While some online activists relied on corporate media such as Facebook and Twitter to reach a broad public, many made a point of using open-source software, sources and methods such as wikicoding. Occupy websites became spaces for the elaboration of what Christopher Kelty calls a recursive public, “a public that is vitally concerned with the material and practical maintenance and modification of the technical, legal, practical, and conceptual means of its own existence.” [20] In the physical realm, Liberty Plaza and other occupied spaces functioned as offline analogues of a wiki page. Participants without much prior affiliation built new worlds and organized themselves to maintain them while avoiding hierarchy and formalization whenever they could. At these “wikicamps,” open-source urbanism operated at a scale simultaneously local and global. [21] The New York camp was built with knowledge, idea and resources from Spain and Argentina, Chiapas and Cairo, as well as from local coalitions.

Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder map Liberty Plaza’s functional zones and activities. See the sidebar  “Mapping Liberty Plaza” for axonometric drawings of the site’s transformation.

Participants have continued to explore the ways that digital media can reshape our public spaces and public spheres. One example is a course project at The New School that emerged from a multi-day, multi-city “hackathon” sponsored by the working group Occupy Research. The Twitter bot @OccupyPOPS is a script that cross-references check-ins on social media sites Foursquare and Twitter with the New York City government database of privately-owned public spaces, then automatically tweets a call to temporarily occupy a particular POPS at a specific date and time. Created by Christo de Klerk, @OccupyPOPS mobilizes virtual spaces, physical places and social networks to reshape urban public space and the regulations that govern it. Other New York-based projects addressing the issues foregrounded by Occupy include #whOWNSpace and The Public School, as well as pre-existing initiatives like Not an Alternative.

Open-source hypercity urbanism becomes increasingly important as governments constrain public assembly in the offline world. On November 15, the state cleared the experimental agora at Liberty Plaza. Police and sanitation workers with bulldozers removed tents and tarps while resisting occupiers fell back to the People’s Kitchen. As NYPD blockaded the surrounding streets and airspace, people and texts and media feeds streamed out from an atmosphere made toxic by chemical and sonic weapons. Coordinated police actions evicted occupiers in Oakland, Portland, Denver and other cities.

Occupy Wall Street working groups and General Assemblies continue to meet in the 60 Wall Street atrium and other public locations, and to stage intermittent marches, rallies and actions. Occupations were sustained in other cities around the world, and activists tried several times to retake Zuccotti Park. Without its base camp, the Occupy movement relied even more extensively on websites and other online media as its primary means of communication and self-representation. This activity expanded into an array of diffuse campaigns: to reduce and renegotiate student debt; to resist foreclosures and reclaim bank-owned houses; and to challenge corporate power on many fronts.

Top: Sign posted at the 60 Wall atrium on November 15: “No excessive use of space.” [Photo byJohanna Clear] Bottom: Protesters remove police barriers and reoccupy Zuccotti Park on November 17. [Photo by Brennan Cavanaugh]

Occupy Wall Street had an immediate impact on U.S. domestic politics. Counteracting anti-deficit rhetoric from the Republican Party and Tea Party activists who sought to cut social services while borrowing heavily to fund wars and regressive income redistributions, the Occupy movement shifted the focus of mainstream political discourse to income inequality and the burdens of consumer debt. For many participants and observers, though, its more compelling achievement was to embody a minimally hierarchical communitarian polity that combined consensual direct democracy with a high degree of individual autonomy, and also a voluntary sharing economy with the market logics and state service provision that dominate everyday urban life. The longer-term impact of #OWS may well stem from the techniques it modeled online and in the streets for building new publics and polities.

What might this history mean for the future of public space and political action? Events are still unfolding, so the question is open-ended. But here are some provisional conclusions:

  • Online tools are rapidly changing the dynamics of political action. The aggregative, rhizomatic, and exponentially expanding character of the Occupy movement reflects the distinctive capacities of social media.
  • Media are accelerating the pace of discourse and action. Flash mobs and viral tweets may be excessively hyped, but the compressed temporality of the new media landscape is reflected in the rapid emergence, metastasis, and dormancy of Occupy Wall Street.
  • Digital communities are good at building systems. Wikicoding and other modes of online collaboration can build online venues fast and well.
  • These communities may still require face-to-face interaction to achieve substantive change. Digital communication is easy, but for that reason it can feel too light and weightless to mobilize people for the tenacious action it often takes to achieve deep structural changes.
  • Bodies in the street still matter for commanding attention and galvanizing engagement.
  • Modern forms of police control violate basic civil liberties. From the constraints placed on all manner of public assembly to the everyday civil rights violations of the stop-and-frisk system, police in New York and some other American cities have passed a dangerous tipping point.
  • Asserting a broad right to the city means claiming public places, online and offline, for assembly, dialogue and deliberation by multiple publics with varying spatial and temporal requirements.
  • Privately owned public spaces offer platforms for experimentation. The prevalence of corporate enclaves in our cities and online often homogenizes and constrains public life, but Occupy Wall Street showed that POPS can be sites for public-making and political action.
  • But users should reclaim some of the value we create in using corporate media. Activists should find ways to gain at least partial control over the valuable and revealing information trails that users generate through activity online and in our cities.

Finally, initiative is shifting to global-local coalitions. While Occupy was often framed in nationalist terms, its more pervasive character was simultaneously transnational and highly local, reflecting the new geographies of capitalism and its media. The intersections between global and local, online and face-to-face, reformist and radical are promising sites for the creation of the new publics and polities that might open up futures beyond the neoliberal state.

Editors’ Note

See the sidebar “Mapping Liberty Plaza” for axonometric drawings of the site’s transformation, by Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder.For related content on Places, see also “Occupy: What Architecture Can Do” and “Occupy: The Day After,” by Reinhold Martin, and “Housing and the 99 Percent,” by Jonathan Massey.

Authors’ Note 

Andrew Weigand and Grant D. Foster assisted with research and visualization for this project.

We would like to thank many colleagues who contributed research and ideas. Early discussions about Occupy Wall Street included Joy Connolly, Elise Harris, Greg Smithsimon and Jenny Uleman. Matt Boorady, Timothy Gale, Steve Klimek, Gabriella Morrone and Nathaniel Wooten contributed to the mapping and surveying of Liberty Plaza. Jennifer Altman-Lupu, Rob Daurio and Katie Gill shared Occupy Wall Street maps they had made and gathered. The Transdisciplinary Media Studio at Syracuse University supported our research with funding from a Chancellor’s Leadership Initiative.

The project benefited from feedback at two stages. The Aggregate Architectural History Collaborativeworkshopped an early version of the text. Organizers and participants in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute in Digital Humanities, “Digital Cultural Mapping,” held at UCLA in June and July 2012, helped us develop the project both intellectually and representationally. Particular thanks to organizers Todd Presner, Diane Favro and Chris Johanson, and to consultants Zoe Borovsky, Yoh Kawano, David Shepard and Elaine Sullivan, as well as Micha Cárdenas of USC.


1. See Doug Singsen, “Autonomous Zone on Wall Street?,” Socialist Worker, October 11, 2011.
2. “#OCCUPYWALLSTREET,” Adbusters, July 31, 2011.
3. On Occupy Oakland as a counterpublic, see Allison Laubach Wright, “Counterpublic Protest and the Purpose of Occupy: Reframing the Discourse of Occupy Wall Street,” Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature 2.2 (Spring 2012): 138-146.
4. “Nine Arrested and Released Without Charge in Occupy Wall Street Test Run,” Occupy Wall Street, September 8, 2011. For early histories of OWS in New York, see Writers for the 99%, Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America (New York and London: OR Books, 2011), andOccupyScenes from Occupied America, ed. Astra Taylor, Keith Gessen, et al. (London: Verso, 2011).
5. See Alex Vitale, “NYPD and OWS: A Clash of Styles,” in OccupyScenes from Occupied America, 74-81; and Vitale, City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics (New York: NYU Press, 2008).
6. On the POPS system, see Jerold S. Kayden et al., Privately Owned Public Spaces: The New York City Experience (John Wiley & Sons, 2000); and Benjamin Shepard and Greg Smithsimon, The Beach Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York City’s Public Spaces (Albany: Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press, 2011), Chs. 2-3.
7. Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous ZoneOntological AnarchyPoetic Terrorism (New York: Autonomedia, 1985). See also Shepard and Smithsimon, The Beach Beneath the Streets, Ch. 1.
8. Tim Ingold, “The Temporality of the Landscape,” World Archaeology, 25:2 (1993): 152-174. Thanks to Jennifer Altman-Lupu for suggesting this way of understanding Liberty Plaza.
9. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, “Occupy Wall Street Divided,” 16 November 2011. For a more serious account, see Writers for the 99%, Occupying Wall Street, 61-67.
10. The Occupy movement online combined two modes that Sándor Végh describes as “internet-enhanced activism” and “internet-enabled activism.” See “Classifying Forms of Online Activism: The Case of Cyberprotests against the World Bank,” in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice, ed. Martha McCaughey and Michael D. Ayers (Portsmouth, NH: Routledge, 2003), 71-96. These approaches constituted what we might call a digital repertory of contention. See Charles Tilly, Regimes and Repertoires (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), and Brett Rolfe, “Building an Electronic Repertoire of Contention,” Social Movement Studies 4:1 (May 2005): 65-74.
11. Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport call this “e-mobilization”: using the web to facilitate and coordinate in-person protest. See Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011).
12. Some commentators even used the site’s “notes” function to publish commentaries on and critiques of the movement for others to discuss and repost. See, for instance, Greg Tate’s note “Top Ten Reasons Why So Few Blackfolk Seem Down to Occupy Wall Street,” 17 October 2011.
13. See Earl and Kimport, Digitally Enabled Social Change, Introduction.
14. See Adam Weinstein, “‘We Are the 99 Percent’ Creators Revealed,” Mother Jones, 7 October 2011, and Rebecca J. Rosen, “The 99 Percent Tumblr and Self-Service History,” The Atlantic, 10 October 2011.
15. After a slow start in August 2011, participation in the 99 Percent Project spiked at the beginning of October 2011, as the Brooklyn Bridge march and arrests spread awareness of Occupy Wall Street. Activity peaked on October 20, when site managers posted 264 photos and site visitors added nearly 6,000 comments. By the end of May 2012, the project encompassed 3255 posts and more than 134,000 comments.
16. Sean McKeown, “Winter Event Tents for Liberty Plaza,” Town Planning forum, New York City General Assembly.
17. Twitter data is drawn from a dataset compiled by social analytics company PeopleBrowsr.
18. Jeffrey S. Juris, “Reflections on #Occupy Everywhere: Social media, public space, and emerging logics of aggregation,” American Ethnologist 39:2 (2012): 259-79: 260-61.
19. Stefania Milan, “Cloud Protesting: On Mobilization in Times of Social Media,” lecture, 10 February 2012 (abstract).
20. Christopher Kelty, Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008). See also “Recursive Public,” The Foundation for P2P Alternatives.
21. “Wikicamps” adapts the term that sociologist Manuel Castells used to describe the camps that filled Spanish plazas beginning in May 2011. See Castells, “The Disgust Becomes a Network” (translation of “#Wikiacampadas,” La Vanguardia, 28 May 2011), trans. Hugh Green, Adbusters 97 (2 August 2011).

David Graeber’s “The Democracy Project” and the anarchist revival (New Yorker)



BY , MAY 13, 2013

Occupy resisted those who wanted to stop it and those who wanted to organize it. Illustration by Shout.

Occupy resisted those who wanted to stop it and those who wanted to organize it. Illustration by Shout.

In the summer of 2011, when David Graeber heard rumors of a mobilization against Wall Street, he was hopeful but wary. Graeber is an anthropologist by trade, and a radical by inclination, which means that he spends a lot of time at political demonstrations, scrutinizing other demonstrators. When he wandered down to Bowling Green, in the financial district, on August 2nd, he noticed a few people who appeared to be the leaders, equipped with signs and megaphones. It seemed that they were affiliated with the Workers World Party, a socialist group known for stringent pronouncements that hark back to the Cold War—a recent article in the W.W.P. newspaper hailed the “steadfast determination” of North Korea and its leaders. As far as Graeber was concerned, W.W.P. organizers and others like them could doom the new movement, turning away potential allies with their discredited ideology and their unimaginative tactics. Perhaps they would deliver a handful of speeches and lead a bedraggled march, culminating in the presentation of a list of demands. Names and e-mail addresses would be collected, and then, a few weeks or months later, everyone would regroup and do it again.

Graeber refers to march planners and other organizers as “verticals,” and to him this is an insult: it refers not just to defenders of Kim Jong-un but to anyone who thinks a political uprising needs parties or leaders. He is a “horizontal,” which is to say, an anarchist. He is fifty-two, but he has made common cause with a generation of activists too young to have any interest in the Cold War, or anything associated with it. And, as he listened to speeches in Bowling Green, he realized that many of the people there seemed to be horizontals, too. Working with some like-minded activists, on the opposite side of the park, Graeber helped to convene a general assembly—an open-ended meeting, with no agenda and a commitment to consensus.Adbusters, a Canadian magazine, had called for an occupation of Wall Street on September 17th, which was six weeks away; that afternoon, in Bowling Green, a few dozen horizontals decided to see what they could do to respond.

When the day came, Graeber and his allies had to fend off two different enemies: the people who wanted to stop the occupation and the people who wanted to organize it. Occupy Wall Street succeeded, and survived, in its original location—Zuccotti Park, halfway between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site—for nearly two months, much longer than anyone predicted. It inspired similar occupations around the country, creating a model for radical politics in the Obama era. And it became known, more than anything, for its commitment to horizontalism: no parties, no leaders, no demands.

Inevitably, this triumph of horizontalism increased the prominence of a handful of horizontals, none more than Graeber, who has emerged as perhaps the most influential radical political thinker of the moment. His American academic career has been rocky: he was an associate professor at Yale but was never up for tenure, and in 2005 the university decided not to extend his contract. (He now suggests that he was insufficiently deferential to Yale’s “hierarchical environment.”) By the summer of 2011, he was teaching anthropology at Goldsmiths College, in London, while building a growing reputation in anarchist circles worldwide. His books tend to end up as pirated PDF files, freely available on left-wing Web sites.

A few weeks before the rally in Bowling Green, Graeber published “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” a provocative counter-history of civilization that has become an unlikely best-seller. He argued that the current American anxiety about debt, private and public, is merely the latest manifestation of an ancient obsession. He sought to show that debt preëxisted money: people owed things to each other before they had a way to measure the size of those obligations. In one of his most memorable passages, he considered the differing roles of debt in a market society (where we “don’t owe each other anything,” except what we agree to) and in a nation-state (where we all owe an insurmountable debt to the government, whether we agree or not). He called this dichotomy “a great trap of the twentieth century”—a false choice between the freedom of a consumer and the obligations of a citizen. “States created markets,” he wrote. “Markets require states. Neither could continue without the other, at least in anything like the forms we would recognize today.” This is the essence of Graeber’s ideology, and to a large extent the essence of Occupy: a commitment to fighting the twinned powers of private wealth and public force. He has proposed a grand debt cancellation, to remind the world that a debt is merely a promise—that is, a plan, and one that can be changed.

By the time the New York Police Department reclaimed Zuccotti Park, in November, the evictees were already trying to figure out whether the occupation had been a success, and what “success” might mean. In the past year, this debate has been taken up in a series of essays and books rehearsing the little indignities and big ideas that characterized life in Zuccotti Park and other sites of occupation. Now comes Graeber himself, with “The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement” (Spiegel & Grau). Like all revolutionaries, he is skilled in the art of wild extrapolation, starting from a small band of dissidents and imagining a world transformed. He doesn’t believe that a better future is inevitable. But like lots of people, not all of them radical or even political, he does believe that the current arrangement is unstable, and that we may as well start thinking about what might come next.

“We are the ninety-nine per cent!” That was the rallying cry in Zuccotti Park, and beyond, although there is some debate about exactly which member of the “we” came up with it. In his book, Graeber stakes a partial claim, quoting an e-mail he sent to a group list on August 4, 2011, in which he proposed calling the occupation the Ninety-Nine Per Cent Movement. The figure had been popularized by the economist Joseph Stiglitz, who estimated that the richest one per cent of Americans earn nearly twenty-five per cent of the income and control forty per cent of the wealth. “The ninety-nine per cent,” then, is everybody else. It was a great slogan, because it linked the people in the parks to the people watching at home, suggesting a kind of class struggle that even class-averse Americans could support.

What’s striking about this formulation, though, is what’s missing: any explicit reference to the one per cent. It was a self-reflexive slogan for a self-reflexive movement, one that came to be known more for its internal politics than for its critique of the outside world. Perhaps no one could say exactly what the Zuccotti Park occupation wanted, but lots of people knew how it worked. There was “the people’s mic,” an ingenious system of public address: short speeches were delivered one phrase at a time, with each phrase repeated, in unison, by whoever happened to be standing nearby. And there was a small lexicon of hand signals, which Occupiers could use to respond with approval, or disapproval, or extreme disapproval—the crossed-fists “block,” which could bring any discussion to a halt.

In “We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation” (AK Press), a deftly edited anthology, a wide range of Occupiers and sympathizers look back on those days in 2011. One New York participant recalls the nerve-racking moment when she helped block the adoption of an official declaration, because she felt that the language downplayed the importance of race, gender, and other kinds of identity. Marisa Holmes, a New York activist, describes how the occupation’s horizontal structure—composed of semi-autonomous working groups, free-form discussions, and a spokescouncil—worked, for a time, and then disintegrated. Graeber describes the encampments as “a defiant experiment in libertarian communism,” but the subtext of “We Are Many” is that this experiment was more inspiring as an ideal: the most enthusiastic essays tend to come from people, like Graeber, who spent little or no time actually living in the parks.

Is it fair to describe the Occupy movement as anarchist? In “We Are Many,” Cindy Milstein, a longtime activist, stipulates that radicals in Zuccotti Park were outnumbered by liberals, including those she deprecates as “militant liberals.” But she argues that, even if the Occupiers weren’t all anarchists, they were nevertheless “doing anarchism.” In Zuccotti Park and elsewhere, “doing anarchism” often meant struggling not against bankers, directly, but against local government and local police. (In New York, one galvanizing figure was Anthony Bologna, a senior police officer who was disciplined after video surfaced showing him squirting protesters with pepper spray.) Perhaps this was a smart strategy: instead of arguing about economics and ideology, the Occupiers could affirm, instead, their unanimous commitment to freedom of assembly. Occupy may have begun with a grievance against Wall Street, but the process of occupation transformed the movement into a meta-movement, peopled by activists demanding the right to demand their rights.

Karl Marx agreed with the anarchists of his day that the state should be destroyed. But he disagreed about when. He was convinced that the state would become obsolete only after the working class had taken it over, thereby destroying the class system. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the French philosopher who popularized the term “anarchist,” thought that the idea of a revolutionary government was a contradiction in terms. “Governments are God’s scourge, established todiscipline the world,” he wrote. “Do you really expect them to destroy themselves, to create freedom, to make revolution?” Mikhail Bakunin, the prickly Russian agitator, sneered at Marx’s idea of a workers’ state. “As soon as they become rulers or representatives of the people,” he wrote, they “will cease to be workers and will begin to look upon the whole workers’ world from the heights of the state.” In 1872, at a meeting in The Hague, Marx helped to expel Bakunin from the International Workingmen’s Association, formalizing a division that seemed no less stark, nearly a century and a half later, when the horizontals broke from the verticals on an August afternoon in Bowling Green.

In delivering his brief for anarchism, Graeber asks readers to take into account the movement’s history of good behavior. “For nearly a century now,” he writes, “anarchism has been one of the very few political philosophies whose exponents never blow anyone up.” This is a sly way of acknowledging that, a hundred years ago, anarchists had a rather different reputation. On May 4, 1886, in Haymarket Square, in Chicago, police tried to halt a demonstration by striking workers, and someone in the crowd threw a bomb, which killed at least ten people, including seven police officers. Chicago had become a hub of anarchist politics, and although the bomber was never identified, eight anarchists were convicted of being accessories to murder. In Europe, anarchists carried out a series of spectacular attacks, including the assassinations of one President (French), two kings (Italian and Greek), and three Prime Ministers (Spanish, Russian, and Spanish again). In the U.S., anarchism’s reputation was sealed for a generation by Leon Czolgosz, who killed President William McKinley, in 1901; he had evidently been inspired by Emma Goldman, the prominent anarchist rabble-rouser.

Over the years, though, anarchists’ ferocious reputation has mellowed. The Occupy movement borrowed some of its organizing tactics from the egalitarian groups that formed, in the nineteen-seventies, to try to stop the construction of nuclear power plants. And the rise of punk helped give anarchism a new image: “Anarchy in the U.K.,” by the Sex Pistols, was an ambiguous provocation; other bands, like Crass, used “anarchy” to signal their commitment to a bundle of emancipatory causes, and their independence from the socialist organizations that dominated the British left. The connection to punk lent anarchism a countercultural credibility, and in 1999, when tens of thousands of activists materialized in Seattle, intent on shutting down a World Trade Organization conference, raucous young anarchists were out in front; at one point, they smashed the window of a Starbucks. The smashed window became an icon of resistance, and the chaos in the streets of Seattle galvanized a mobilization, known as the Global Justice movement.

Twelve years later, not all of Occupy’s supporters were happy to see anarchists playing a starring role. In a contentious essay titled, “The Cancer in Occupy,” Chris Hedges called for a clean break. Hedges is a former Times reporter turned socialist author and activist, and he published his essay on the progressive Web site Truthdig, a few months after the Zuccotti eviction. His main target was the “black bloc” phenomenon, in which activists—often anarchists—dress in black clothes, with black handkerchiefs obscuring their faces, the better to cause mischief anonymously. Hedges accused black blocs of a “lust” for destruction, which he described as a sickness. “Once the Occupy movement is painted as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob we are finished,” he wrote.

In a deeply indignant response to Hedges, Graeber pointed out that black-bloc actions had been rare in the Occupy movement. Much of Hedges’s concern seemed to arise from a single incident in Oakland, when a black bloc smashed bank windows and vandalized a Whole Foods. Like many anarchists, Graeber doesn’t think property damage is violence. And he believes that so-called “mobs” have their uses—in 2001, in Quebec City, he was part of a black bloc that succeeded in toppling a chain-link fence meant to separate activists from the free-trade meeting they wanted to disrupt. He supports “diversity of tactics,” an approach that urges different kinds of activists to stay physically separate (so as not to endanger each other) but politically united. Above all, Graeber rejects what he calls “the peace police”: activists who try to control other activists’ behavior, sometimes in collaboration with the real police. His tolerance for confrontational protest stems in part from his disinclination to empower anyone to stop it.

Graeber is more worried about the charge that modern anarchists are feckless, so he is keen to give anarchists credit for changing the world. He claims that the Global Justice movement weakened the W.T.O. and scuttled the Free Trade Area of the Americas pact, which was the topic of those discussions in Quebec City. And he credits the Occupy movement with preventing Mitt Romney from becoming President. (He underestimates Romney’s own, invaluable contributions to this cause.) Graeber is pleased, too, to underscore the links between Occupy and other popular movements around the world, from the Egyptian uprising to the ongoing demonstrations of the Indignados, in Spain. He sees a global “insurrectionary wave,” united less by a shared ideology than by a shared opposition to an increasingly global social arrangement.

The rehabilitation of anarchism in America has a lot to do with the fall of the Soviet Union, which lives on in popular memory as a quaint and brutal place—an embarrassing precursor that modern, pro-democracy socialists must find ways to disavow. Graeber sees “authoritarian socialists” not as distant relatives but as longtime enemies; channelling Bakunin, he claims that the Marxist intention to smash the state by seizing it first is a “pipe dream.” For anarchists, the major historical precursors are so fleeting as to be nearly nonexistent: the Paris Commune lasted scarcely two months, in 1871; anarchists dominated Catalonia for about a year, after the Spanish revolution in 1936. The appeal of anarchism is largely negative: a promise that a different world needn’t resemble any of the ones that have been tried before.

In a new book, “Two Cheers for Anarchism” (Princeton), James C. Scott, a highly regarded professor of anthropology and political science at Yale (and, Graeber says, “one of the great political thinkers of our time”), commends anarchism precisely for its “tolerance for confusion and improvisation.” Graeber did his anthropological field work in the highlands of Madagascar, and Scott did his in Southeast Asia, but their conclusions were similar. Both of them encountered communities that lived more or less autonomously, finding ways to resist or ignore whatever governments claimed jurisdiction over them. And both are eager to expand the history of lived anarchism beyond Paris and Catalonia; it is, they argue, broader and more common than we’ve been taught.

“Two Cheers for Anarchism” conducts a brief and digressive seminar in political philosophy, starting from the perspective of a disillusioned leftist. “Virtually every major successful revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew,” Scott writes. Traditionally, this has been an argument against revolutions, but Scott wonders whether it might be an argument against states. He stops short of calling for the abolition of government, which explains the missing cheer. Instead, he highlights everyday acts of petty resistance: “foot-dragging, poaching, pilfering, dissimulation, sabotage, desertion, absenteeism, squatting, and flight.” Most of all, he urges citizens to be wary of their governments, which is good advice, but rather deflating—Scott can make anarchism sound like little more than a colorful word for critical thinking.

Graeber shares Scott’s mistrust of grand prescriptions, but he thinks that he has found an alternative: prefigurative politics, which holds that political movements resemble the worlds they seek to create. Instead of planning a new society, revolutionaries must form a new society, and then grow. A hierarchical vanguard party will never create broad equality, just as, he says, “grim joyless revolutionaries” can’t be trusted to increase human happiness. From this perspective, all those seemingly insular procedural debates in Zuccotti Park weren’t insular at all: how the movement worked would determine what it wanted. What Graeber wants is a kind of decentralized socialism, with decisions made by a patchwork of local assemblies and coöperatives—at one point, he imagines “something vaguely like jury duty, except non-compulsory.” He argues that serious economic inequality wouldn’t endure without a state to enforce it. “We are already anarchists, or at least we act like anarchists, every time we come to understandings with one another that would not require physical threats as a means of enforcement,” he writes. “It’s a question of building on what we are already doing, expanding the zones of freedom, until freedom becomes the ultimate organizing principle.”

Graeber is comfortable—perhaps too comfortable—with uncertainty. “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse,” he writes, which seems an odd admission for a deeply committed unfetterer. (If we don’t know much about this “free” world, how do we know it won’t be, in some ways, just as coercive?) Graeber talks about the way a new society would expand people’s options, but he has acknowledged that a truly anarchist revolution would mean less production, and less consumption. Humankind would be rid of “all the useless or destructive occupations like telemarketers, lawyers, prison guards, financial analysts, public relations experts, bureaucrats and politicians.” (Anthropology professors would appear to be safe.) Although Graeber likes to distance himself from his grim and joyless rivals, there is a trace of asceticism in his vision. Part of Graeber’s motivation for wandering down to Bowling Green, back in 2011, was his opposition to what he calls “draconian austerity budgets” proposed by Mayor Bloomberg. Graeber wants to demonize modern debt without demonizing debtors. Yet the language of economic “austerity” finds a striking analogue in his vision of a post-debt society composed of people who have learned, at long last, to live within their means.

Graeber believes that the Occupy movement wouldn’t have attracted as much attention if it hadn’t been for the Tea Party movement, a few years earlier. Reporters sensed a parallel, and they wanted, he says, to make “a minimal gesture in the way of balance.” He notes that the reporters moved on around the time it became clear that the Occupy movement, unlike the Tea Party movement, was not going to become a force in electoral politics. In fact, there is one anarchist who could be considered influential in Washington, but he wasn’t among the activists who participated in the Occupy movement—he died nearly twenty years ago. His name is Murray Rothbard, and, among small-government Republicans, he is something of a cult hero. He was Ron Paul’s intellectual mentor, which makes him the godfather of the godfather of the Tea Party. Justin Amash, a young Republican congressman from Michigan and a rising star in the Party, hangs a framed portrait of him on his office wall.

Rothbard was an anarchist, but also a capitalist. “True anarchism will be capitalism, and true capitalism will be anarchism,” he once said, and he sometimes referred to himself by means of a seven-syllable honorific: “anarcho-capitalist.” Graeber thinks that governments treat their citizens “like children,” and that, when governments disappear, people will behave differently. Anarcho-capitalists, on the contrary, believe that, without government, people will behave more or less the same: we will be just as creative or greedy or competent as we are now, only freer. Instead of imagining a world without drastic inequality, anarcho-capitalists imagine a world where people and their property are secured by private defense agencies, which are paid to keep the peace. Graeber doesn’t consider anarcho-capitalists to be true anarchists; no doubt the feeling is mutual.

The split personality of anarchism demonstrates the slippery nature of anti-government arguments, which can bring together a wide range of people who are deeply dissatisfied with the government we’ve got. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the government bailouts and loans that followed, capitalists and anticapitalists were often united in their disapproval, and, when Graeber criticizes “collusion between government and financial institutions,” he is speaking the shared language of the Tea Party and the Occupy movements. During those days in 2011, one of the politicians who expressed support for the Occupy movement was Buddy Roemer, a Republican and a former governor of Louisiana, who was waging a long-shot campaign to win his party’s Presidential nomination. “I think the Tea Party is onto something: special favors for special friends,” he said, after visiting the Washington encampment. “Hell, that’s what Occupy Washington, D.C., is saying—they’re saying the same thing.”

Despite a few attempts at outreach, Occupy and the Tea Party never found much common ground. It’s not easy for a protest movement to shrug off the logic of partisanship: the Tea Party was essentially a Republican movement, and, if the Occupiers held low opinions of the Democratic Party, it was always clear that they disdained Republicans much more. Even Graeber, for all his radicalism, still sees himself as an ally, however disaffected, of liberal Democrats in their fight against the conservative agenda. In a recent online exchange, he wrote about his frustration with the political establishment. “What reformers have to understand is that they’re never going to get anywhere without radicals and revolutionaries to betray,” he wrote, and went on:

I’ve never understood why “progressives” don’t understand this. The mainstream right understands it, that’s why they go crazy when it looks like someone might be cracking down on far-right militia groups, and so forth. They know it’s totally to their political advantage to have people even further to the right than they so they can seem moderate. If only the mainstream left acted the same way!

Despite his implacable opposition to state power, Graeber often finds himself defending the sorts of government program that liberals typically support, such as socialized medicine. There is a distinction, he argues, between state institutions based on coercion, like prisons or border control, and those which could (in a post-capitalist future) be run as voluntary collectives, like health care. Still, he is self-aware enough to be amused by all the ways in which anarchists find themselves fighting, in the short term, for causes that would seem to increase the role of government. Early in “The Democracy Project,” he describes being at a demonstration in London that protested government budget cuts and corporate tax breaks. He remembers thinking, “It feels a bit unsettling watching a bunch of anarchists in masks outside Topshop, lobbing paint bombs over a line of riot cops, shouting, ‘Pay your taxes!’ ” Then he admits that he was one of the paint bombers.

At times, Graeber can sound like one of the orthodox Marxists he lampoons, eager to see the state wither away—just not quite yet. It’s a common paradox. For years, American politicians have been promising to bring the country a smaller, more streamlined state; President Obama was obliged to present his health-care reforms as an opportunity to reduce, not increase, the federal budget. As the government expands, the calls to shrink it grow louder; even many radicals, these days, decline to be counted as proponents of big government. In a more fragile state, like Greece or Spain, anarchism often adopts an apocalyptic tone: to be an anarchist is to accept, or even to welcome, the cataclysm that all the politicians fear. But in America anarchism’s appeal surely has something to do with the seeming durability of our current arrangement, and the inexorable growth of the government that maintains it. Such is the power of a sprawling and sophisticated state: the bigger it gets, the easier it becomes for us to imagine that we could live without it. ♦

A Radical Anthropologist Finds Himself in Academic ‘Exile’ (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

April 15, 2013

A Radical Anthropologist Finds Himself in Academic 'Exile' 1

Pete Marovich for The Chronicle. David Graeber, an anthropologist who studies and participates in the radical left, finds fans of his work inside academe and out. Here he speaks with audience members during a talk at a public library in Washington, D.C.

By Christopher Shea

Who’s afraid of David Graeber? Not the dozens of D.C.-area residents who showed up on a recent night at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to hear the anthropologist and radical activist talk about his new book, The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement(Spiegel & Grau). Aimed at the mainstream, the book discusses Mr. Graeber’s involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement and the idea that principles drawn from anarchist theory—a wholesale rejection of current electoral politics, for starters, in favor of groups operating on the basis of consensus—offer an alternative to our present polity, which he calls “organized bribery” (or “mafia capitalism”).

On this warm spring evening the rumpled scholar was interviewed by a friendly and more conventionally telegenic writer, Thomas Frank. Graying lefties and young liberals and radicals in the crowd alike seemed impressed. Even the token skeptical economist in the audience framed her question respectfully, and C-Span broadcast live.

Mr. Graeber is a star in the left-academic world. Indeed, it’s possible that, given his activism and his writings, he is the most influential anthropologist in the world. He played a part in establishing the nonhierarchical “organization” of the Occupy movement, in its early days in Manhattan, and his 500-plus-page Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House, 2011) struck scholars for its verve and sweep. It made the case that lending and borrowing evolved out of humane, communitarian impulses in premodern societies—out of a free-floating interest in the common weal—and only later became institutionalized actions spawning moral guilt and legal punishment.

The book ranged from discussions of ancient Sumerian economics to analyses of how Nambikwara tribesmen in Brazil settle their affairs to the international monetary system. “An argument of Debt’s scope hasn’t been made by a professional anthropologist for the best part of a century, certainly not one with as much contemporary relevance,” wrote the British anthropologist Keith Hart, of Goldsmiths College, University of London, in a review on his Web site last year. The book won a prize for best book in anthropology from the Society for Cultural Anthropology in 2012 and according to his agent has sold nearly 100,000 copies in English alone.

But strikingly, Mr. Graeber, 52, has been unable to get an academic job in the United States. In an incident that drew national attention, Yale University, in 2005, told him it would not renew his contract (which would have promoted him from assistant professor to “term associate” professor). After a fight, he won a reprieve—but only for two years. He never came up for tenure.

Foreign universities immediately sent out feelers, he says. From 2008 through this spring, Mr. Graeber was a lecturer and then a reader at Goldsmiths College and, just last month, he accepted a professorship at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

But no American universities approached him, he says, and nearly 20 job applications in this country (or Canada) have borne no fruit. The applications came in two waves: directly after the Yale brouhaha and a couple of years later, when he concluded he wanted to return to the States for reasons that were partly personal (a long-distance romantic relationship, the death of his mother and older brother).

His academic “exile,” as he calls it, has not gone unnoticed. “It is possible to view the fact that Graeber has not secured a permanent academic position in the United States after his controversial departure from Yale University as evidence of U.S. anthropology’s intolerance of political outspokenness,” writes Jeff Maskovsky, an associate professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, in the March issue of American Anthropologist.

That charge might seem paradoxical, given anthropology’s reputation as a leftist redoubt, but some of Mr. Graeber’s champions see that leftism as shallower than it might first appear. Anthropology “is radical in the abstract,” says Laura Nader, a professor in the field at the University of California at Berkeley. “You can quote Foucault and Gramsci, but if you tell it like it is,” it’s a different story, she says.

Mr. Graeber “talks about possibilities, and God, if there’s anything we need now it’s possibilities,” she says. “We are in tunnels. We are turned in. We are more ethnocentric than ever. We’ve turned the United States into a military zone. And into this move-to-the-right country comes David Graeber.”

When he applied to Berkeley in the early 2000s and the department failed to hire him, “we really missed the boat,” she says.

Jonathan Marks, a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who had no direct experience with any Graeber job search, agrees: “Whoever had a chance to hire him and didn’t missed out on having the author of one of the most important books in recent memory on their faculty,” he wrote in an e-mail.

 ‘Incredibly Conformist’

Mr. Graeber was at first reluctant to talk about his failed job searches, for fear of coming across as bitter and souring future chances, but he decided to open up after the LSE job became official. As he recalled, the places to which he applied twice were the City University of New York Graduate Center, the New School, Cornell University, and the University of Chicago. The others were Hunter College, Emory, Duke, Columbia, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins—as well as the University of Toronto. He heard indirectly of colleagues at other universities trying to secure him a position, to no avail.

Responding to anthropologists’ frequent claim that they embrace activist scholarship, he echoes Ms. Nader: “They don’t mean it”—at least when it comes truly radical activism.

“If I were to generalize,” Mr. Graeber says, “I would say that what we see is a university system which mitigates against creativity and any form of daring. It’s incredibly conformist and it represents itself as the opposite, and I think this kind of conformism is a result of the bureaucratization of the university.”

He and his allies also suspect that false information emanating from his public fight with Yale, garnered secondhand, has hurt him.

When Yale announced it was not renewing his contract, students and some professors rallied behind him, and he gave interviews suggesting that the decision was politically motivated. (The story made The New York Times.) He had spent part of a sabbatical working with the Global Justice Movement, which has mounted protests against such groups as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Perhaps surprisingly, he did not take much part in the heated Yale debate over graduate-student unionization. He was, he likes to say, “a scholar in New Haven and an activist in New York.”

During the dispute over his Yale position, he said, he’d been accused of not doing service work (though he did all he was asked, he said), of being late for classes, and of being ill prepared to teach. Yancey Orr, a graduate student in religion at the time who took courses from Mr. Graeber and is now an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Alberta, says that charge is absurd: “He was easily the most helpful seminar leader you could ask for.”

Being denied tenure at Yale is hardly unusual, but not getting rehired at Mr. Graeber’s stage is. Some professors Mr. Orr has talked to at institutions that failed to hire Mr. Graeber were under the impression that he went nuclear over a tenure denial, but the situation was more complex, more unorthodox, says Mr. Orr.

The chairs of the departments to which Mr. Graeber applied who could be reached all cited confidentiality in declining to talk about the decisions—or, typically, even to confirm he’d applied. But several denied that politics would affect such decisions. “I can say without hesitation,” wrote James Ferguson, the chair of anthropology at Stanford, in an e-mail, “that I personally would not regard Graeber’s political orientation as in any way disqualifying, nor would I expect such views to be held by my colleagues.”

“As is known throughout the world,” wrote Janet Roitman, chair of anthropology at the New School, “the New School prides itself for its longstanding tradition of radical politics; David would not have been the first hire or tenured faculty member to pursue ‘radical’ political positions or to engage in activism.”

Some anthropologists, including Alex Golub, a contributor to the popular blog Savage Minds and an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, suggested that a general dearth of jobs in the field would be enough to explain Mr. Graeber’s run of bad luck—especially because the book that brought him fame, Debt, had not been published at the time of the searches. (Though he’d published four others by 2009, as well as a much-read pamphlet, “Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology,” with Prickly Paradigm.) But Mr. Graeber scoffs at that: “Gee, I applied for 17. Somebody got those jobs.” Moreover, Britain is not brimming with anthropology jobs, either, yet he’s had little problem there.

“I believe it’s possible that his politics have helped him in some cases and hurt him in others,” says Mr. Maskovksy, of CUNY, who in his American Anthropologist essay raised the issue of what Mr. Graeber’s academic exile to England meant for the profession . “He has a huge following among graduate students because of his protest work and because he links his protest work to the kind of anthropology he wants to do. But there’s a huge gap between generating that kind of interest and respect, on the one hand, and job-hiring decisions. I don’t know what makes people hire and what makes them not.”

On Collegiality

One charge that has dogged Mr. Graeber is that he is “difficult,” an attribute that’s obviously hard to gauge. Ms. Nader says she urged him to soften his rough edges—to send thank-you cards, even, when protocol suggested it. (Mr. Graeber does not recall that counseling session on manners and says he always sends thank-you notes.) But she finds it deplorable that scholars would value superficial clubbability over originality of thought; she decries the “‘harmony ideology’ that has hit the academy.” She also thinks the fact that he “writes in English,” eschewing jargon, hasn’t helped him.

There is some evidence of Mr. Graeber’s contentiousness. During an online seminar about Debt on the blog Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, said Mr. Graeber had—for example—provided insufficient evidence that in the first Gulf War the United States had attacked Iraq partly because Iraq had stopped using dollars as its reserve currency and turned to the euro. In Mr. Graeber’s response, he accused Mr. Farrell of “consummate dishonesty” and said he had failed to engage with the argument and instead sought to show its maker was a “lunatic.” Mr. Farrell responded that he was “very unhappy” with Mr. Graeber’s charges and tone.

From February to April 1, J. Bradford DeLong, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, baited Mr. Graeber by setting up an automated Twitter stream that sarcastically recounted dozens of alleged (or actual) errors of fact in Debt. For example: “Learned that 12 Regional Fed Banks not private banks like Citi or Goldman Sachs? Stay away until you do! #Graebererrors.” Mr. Graeber responded aggressively. At one point he wrote, on Twitter, referring to Mr. DeLong’s work in the Clinton Treasury Department on the North American Free Trade Agreement: “I bet the poor guy had a rough time at 14. Tried to compensate by gaining power, then look—destroyed Mexico’s economy.”

Mr. Graeber calls some of Mr. DeLong’s postings “libelous”—a virtual campaign of harassment. “He has been on a crusade to hurt me in every way,” he says, growing angry.

“Yet these guys are considered mainstream and I’m the crazy guy who can’t get a job.” He adds, “I don’t even write negative book reviews.”

Mr. Graeber, who says he gets along just fine with his colleagues in London—and, indeed, with most of his former colleagues at Yale—has his own take on what scholars mean by “collegiality”: “What collegiality means in practice is: ‘He knows how to operate appropriately within an extremely hierarchical environment.’ You never see anyone accused of lack of collegiality for abusing their inferiors. It means ‘not playing the game in what we say is the proper way.'”

In his American Anthropologist essay, CUNY’s Mr. Maskovsky said that the many graduate students who took part in Occupy Wall Street might view Mr. Graeber’s difficulty finding a job as a cautionary tale. Would their advisers see their activism as, at the least, a distraction from their research?

Manissa Maharawal is one such student, at CUNY, a participant in Occupy now studying the activist projects that emerged from it. She says she has received nothing but support from her advisers and doesn’t understand the politics of academic hiring, but finds the Graeber situation perplexing—in a bad way. “His work is really good, he’s well reviewed, he’s become pretty famous in the last year,” she says. “I’m not sure what’s going on. You can have all the boxes you’re supposed to check checked and still not get a job. It’s scary, for sure.”

Os invisíveis querem ser vistos (Fapesp)

Livro resgata a contribuição dos antropólogos franceses Pierre e Hélène Clastres sobre os Tupi-Guarani, “um desafio para o modelo de desenvolvimento dominante” (reprodução)


Por José Tadeu Arantes

Agência FAPESP – O resgate do pensamento dos antropólogos franceses Pierre e Hélène Clastres é uma das peças de resistência do livro O Profeta e o Principal, de Renato Sztutman, professor do Departamento de Antropologia da Universidade de São Paulo (USP).

Ponto de clivagem na reflexão antropológica, com profunda repercussão na filosofia, na sociologia e na prática política, a obra seminal do casal Clastres foi objeto de atenta releitura por parte de Sztutman em sua tese de doutorado, desenvolvida de 2001 a 2005, sob a orientação de Dominique Tilkin Gallois, com Bolsa da FAPESP. O livro, recentemente publicado também com apoio da FAPESP, é uma revisão dessa tese, que tem por objeto o material teórico relativo aos Tupi-Guarani.

“A reflexão acerca dos Guarani foi fundamental para que Pierre Clastres [1934-1977] formulasse sua concepção de sociedade contra o Estado”, afirmou Sztutman. “E o que estamos vendo hoje, 35 anos depois da morte prematura de Clastres [que faleceu aos 43 anos em um acidente automobilístico], é justamente um reflexo disso. Por se estruturarem como uma sociedade contra o Estado, os Guarani se tornaram indesejáveis para a sociedade e para o Estado hegemônicos”.

Sztutman aponta diversas características que fariam dos Guarani um desafio para o modelo de desenvolvimento dominante: “São povos que vivem em regiões que estão sendo ocupadas pelo agronegócio; que atravessam as fronteiras nacionais, transitando entre o Brasil, o Paraguai, a Argentina e o Uruguai; que têm uma relação com a terra completamente diferente do que se possa imaginar como sendo propriedade; que, apesar de terem líderes e saberem se organizar politicamente para a autodefesa, resistem à centralização política e à figura de um chefe central”.

Segundo o pesquisador, durante muito tempo a sociedade brasileira fez vistas grossas aos crimes cometidos contra os Guarani. “Eles estavam sendo dizimados e ninguém se importava. Hoje, uma parcela expressiva da sociedade chegou finalmente à compreensão de que é imprescindível dar direito de existência a populações que são contra o modelo hegemônico. Não podemos mais fazer vistas grossas. Temos que nos posicionar pelo direito de essas sociedades serem o que são: contra o Estado (e seu modelo desenvolvimentista), dentro de um Estado”, disse.

No Sudeste e Sul do Brasil, há Guarani em muitos locais. Na própria cidade de São Paulo, a não muitos quilômetros do marco central, na Praça da Sé, existem três aldeias guarani: duas em Parelheiros e outra próxima do Pico do Jaraguá. Mas, por ocuparem pouco espaço, estarem sempre em movimento e serem discretos no contato com a sociedade envolvente, esses Guarani se tornaram praticamente invisíveis.

“Em um texto de meados dos anos 1980, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (antropólogo e professor da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) se referiu a eles como povo imperceptível”, disse Sztutman. “Quando pensamos em índio, pensamos na Amazônia ou no passado. Mas os Guarani não estão na Amazônia nem no passado. Estão diante dos nossos olhos. E nós não os vemos.”

Conforme Sztutman, outro marco divisório, este no domínio teórico da antropologia, com repercussão na filosofia e nas ciências humanas em geral, foi estabelecido, décadas atrás, pelo livroA Sociedade contra o Estado, de Pierre Clastres. Nele, o pesquisador francês interpretou a ausência de Estado nas sociedades indígenas não como uma deficiência (algo a que elas ainda não chegaram), mas como uma rejeição (algo a que elas se opõem, por meio de mecanismos eficazes).

A partir de Clastres, o esquema clássico, calcado na experiência dos povos da Europa, deixou de ser um modelo inelutável para a interpretação da trajetória de todos os povos do mundo. O Profeta e o Principal, de Sztutman, se insere em um grande movimento de recuperação e releitura da obra de Clastres.

“Principalmente nos anos 1980, os antropólogos se afastaram muito da perspectiva clastreana, pois buscavam uma antropologia mais empírica e Clastres era considerado excessivamente filosófico: alguém que trabalhava com os dados de maneira imprecisa e chegava a grandes conclusões com base em poucas evidências. De fato, na época em que ele escreveu, décadas de 1960 e 1970, havia poucos estudos etnográficos sobre os povos amazônicos, dentre eles os de língua tupi. Porém, nas décadas seguintes, estudos importantes foram realizados. E, principalmente com o trabalho de Viveiros de Castro, começou a haver uma reaproximação da etnologia com a filosofia, mas, então, já com a possibilidade de se discutir ideias filosóficas a partir de uma grande riqueza de dados empíricos. Aí, se abriu uma brecha para a releitura dos Clastres, Pierre e Hélène”, disse Sztutman.

Sztutman, que também é pesquisador do Centro de Estudos Ameríndios e do Laboratório de Imagem e Som em Antropologia, considera-se um herdeiro dessa nova tendência, reconhecendo, além da contribuição de Viveiros de Castro, as influências de Márcio Goldman e Tânia Stolze Lima, do Rio de Janeiro, e de Dominique Gallois e Beatriz Perrone-Moisés, de São Paulo, com quem tem trabalhado frequentemente e que prefaciou o seu livro.

“Realizei, em 1996, um trabalho de campo entre os Wajãpi, grupo de língua tupi que habita a região do rio Oiapoque, no extremo norte do Brasil, perto da fronteira com a Guiana Francesa. Escrevi sobre essa experiência em minha tese de mestrado. Foi uma permanência curta, mas que originou muitas inquietações que motivaram, depois, meu doutorado”, contou Sztutman.

“Embora os Guarani sejam, hoje, o povo indígena mais populoso da América do Sul, existem também muitos povos Tupi na Amazônia. O que suscitou meu interesse pelos Tupi antigos foram os Tupi amazônicos, e não os Guarani”, afirmou.

O xamã e o guerreiro

“Meu trabalho de pesquisa se baseia na continuidade das formas indígenas de organização políticas do passado até o presente. Tento identificar, como base dessa continuidade, a relação de duas figuras importantes: a do chefe ou ‘principal’, ligado à guerra, e a do xamã ou ‘profeta’, ligado ao mundo não humano. São duas figuras ao mesmo tempo opostas e complementares”, disse Sztutman.

“ É um pouco na alternância dessas duas formas de liderança que a vida social se constitui. Mas não há um dualismo total, porque você não encontra essas figuras puras. Todo chefe de guerra é um pouco xamã; todo xamã é um pouco guerreiro. São princípios em combinação. O profeta é um grande xamã, alguém que vai além do xamanismo estrito, voltado para a cura e a feitiçaria, e lhe dá um sentido político, liderando as grandes migrações rumo à ‘terra sem mal’”, explicou.

Sztutman reconhece que seu viés é mais o do pesquisador teórico-bibliográfico do que o do pesquisador de campo. Porém considera a pesquisa de campo uma passagem obrigatória para o antropólogo.

“Uma professora que tive dizia que é muito diferente ler uma etnografia quando se teve experiência de campo. A formação do antropólogo tem que passar pelo campo, mesmo que ele descubra que a sua vocação é mais ligada ao trabalho de comparação, de análise, de sistematização ou mesmo de história intelectual, como é o meu caso”, disse.

“Voltei a campo, depois que estive com os Wajãpi. E gostaria de voltar novamente. Mas acho que a melhor contribuição que posso dar é a de cotejar as etnografias, de confrontar as teorias com os dados, e, também, de fazer um pouco da história da etnologia indígena. Acho que a etnologia indígena pode dar uma contribuição muito grande para as ciências humanas em geral”, disse Sztutman.

David Graeber: Some Remarks on Consensus (Occupy Wall Street)

Posted on Feb. 26, 2013, 3:37 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt 

the medium is the message

As part of our recent series on Occupy and consensus, we are posting this timely piece by David Graeber, originally published at

There has been a flurry of discussion around process in OWS of late. This can only be a good thing. Atrophy and complacency are the death of movements. Any viable experiment in freedom is pretty much going to have to constantly re-examine itself, see what’s working and what isn’t—partly because situations keep changing, partly because we’re trying to invent a culture of democracy in a society where almost no one really has any experience in democratic decision-making, and most have been told for most of their lives that it would be impossible, and partly just because it’s all an experiment, and it’s in the nature of experiments that sometimes they don’t work.

A lot of this debate has centered around the role of consensus. This is healthy too, because there seem to be a lot of misconceptions floating around about what consensus is and is supposed to be about. Some of these misconceptions are so basic, though, I must admit I find them a bit startling.

Just one telling example. Justine Tunney recently wrote a piece called “Occupiers: Stop Using Consensus!” that begins by describing it as “the idea that a group must strictly adhere to a protocol where all decisions are unanimous”—and then goes on to claim that OWS used such a process, with disastrous results. This is bizarre. OWS never used absolute consensus. On the very first meeting on August 2, 2011 we established we’d use a form of modified consensus with a fallback to a two-thirds vote. Anyway, the description is wrong even if we had been using absolute consensus (an approach nowadays rarely used in groups of over 20 or 30 people), since consensus is not a system of unanimous voting, it’s a system where any participant has the right to veto a proposal which they consider either to violate some fundamental principle, or which they object to so fundamentally that proceeding would cause them to quit the group. If we can have people who have been involved with OWS from the very beginning who still don’t know that much, but think consensus is some kind of “strict” unanimous voting system, we’ve got a major problem. How could anyone have worked with OWS that long and still remained apparently completely unaware of the basic principles under which we were supposed to be operating?

Granted, this seems to be an extreme case. But it reflects a more general confusion. And it exists on both sides of the argument: both some of the consensus’ greatest supporters, and its greatest detractors, seem to think “consensus” is a formal set of rules, analogous to Roberts’ Rules of Order, which must be strictly observed, or thrown away. This certainly was not what people who first developed formal process thought that they were doing! They saw consensus as a set of principles, a commitment to making decisions in a spirit of problem-solving, mutual respect, and above all, a refusal of coercion. It was an attempt to create processes that could work in a truly free society. None of them, even the most legalistic, were so presumptuous to claim those were the only procedures that could ever work in a free society. That would have been ridiculous.

Let me return to this point in a moment. First,


The first thing to be said about this statement is that this idea is a very American thing. Anyone I mention it to who is not from the United States tends to react to the statement with complete confusion. Even in the US, it is a relatively recent idea, and the product of a very particular set of historical circumstances.

The confusion overseas is due to the fact that almost everywhere except the US, the exact opposite is true. In the Americas, Africa, Asia, Oceania, one finds longstanding traditions of making decisions by consensus, and then, histories of white colonialists coming and imposing Roberts Rules of Order, majority voting, elected representatives, and the whole associated package—by force. South Asian panchayat councils did not operate by majority voting and still don’t unless there has been a direct colonial influence, or by political parties that learned their idea of democracy in colonial schools and government bodies the colonialists set up. The same is true of communal assemblies in Africa. (In China, village assemblies also operated by consensus until the ’50s when the Communist Party imposed majority voting, since Mao felt voting was more “Western” and therefore “modern.”) Almost everywhere in the Americas, indigenous communities use consensus and the white or mestizo descendants of colonialists use majority voting (insofar as they made decisions on an equal basis at all, which mostly they didn’t), and when you find an indigenous community using majority voting, it is again under the explicit influence of European ideas—almost always, along with elected officials, and formal rules of procedure obviously learned in colonial schools or borrowed from colonial regimes. Insofar as anyone is teaching anyone else to use consensus, it’s the other way around: as in the case of the Maya-speaking Zapatista communities who insisted the EZLN adopt consensus over the strong initial objections of Spanish-speaking mestizos like Marcos, or for that matter the white Australian activists I know who told me that student groups in the ’80s and ’90s had to turn to veterans of the Maoist New People’s Army to train them in consensus process—not because Maoists were supposed to believe in consensus, since Mao himself didn’t like the idea, but because NPA guerillas were mostly from rural communities in the Philippines that had always used consensus to make decisions and therefore guerilla units had adopted the same techniques spontaneously.

So where does the idea that consensus is a “white thing” actually come from? Indigenous communities in America all used consensus decision-making instead of voting. Africans brought to the Americas had been kidnapped from communities where consensus was the normal mode of making collective decisions, and violently thrust into a society where “democracy” meant voting (even though they themselves were not allowed to vote.) Meanwhile, the only significant group of white settlers who employed consensus were the Quakers—and even they had developed much of their process under the influence of Native Americans like the Haudenosaunee.

As far as I can make out the ideas comes out of political arguments that surrounded the rise of Black Nationalism in the 1960s. The very first mass movement in the United States that operated by consensus was the SNCC, or Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a primarily African-American group created in 1960 as a horizontal alternative to Martin Luther King’s (very vertical) SCLC. SNCC operated in a decentralized fashion and used consensus decision-making. It was SNCC for instance that organized the famous “freedom rides” and most of the direct action campaigns of the early ’60s. By 1964, an emerging Black Power faction was looking for an issue with which to isolate and ultimately expel the white members of the group. They seized on consensus as a kind of wedge issue—this made sense, politically, because many of those white allies were Quakers, and it was advantageous, at first, to frame the argument as one of efficiency, rather than being about more fundamental moral and political issues like non-violence. It’s important to emphasize though that the objections to consensus as inefficient and culturally alien that were put forward at the time were not put forward in the name of moving to some other form of direct democracy (i.e., majority voting), but ultimately, part of a rejection of the whole package of horizontality, consensus, and non-violence with the ultimate aim of creating top-down organizational structures that could support much greater militancy. It also corresponded to an overt attack on the place of women in the organization—an organization that had in fact been founded by the famous African-American activist Ella Baker on the principle “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” Stokely Carmichael, the most famous early Black Power advocate in SNCC, notoriously responded to a paper circulated by feminists noting that women seemed to be systematically excluded from positions in the emerging leadership structure by saying as far as he was concerned, “the only position for women in SNCC is prone.”

Within a few years SNCC began to splinter; white allies were expelled in 1965; after a brief merger with the Panthers it split again, and dissolved in the ’70s.

These tensions—challenges to horizontalism and consensus, macho leadership styles, the marginalization of women—were by no means peculiar to SNCC. Similar battles were going on in predominantly white groups: notably SDS, which ultimately ditched consensus too, and ended up splitting between Maoists and Weathermen. This is one reason the feminist movement of the early ’70s, which within the New Left began partly as a reaction to just this kind of macho posturing, embraced consensus as an antidote. (Anarchists only later adopted it from them.) But one point bears emphasizing. It’s important. None of those who challenged consensus did so in the name of a different form of direct democracy. In fact, I’m not aware of any example of an activist group that abandoned consensus and then went on to settle on some different, but equally horizontal approach to decision-making. The end result is invariably abandoning direct democracy entirely Sometimes that’s because, as here, that is explicitly what those challenging consensus want. But even when it’s not, the same thing happens, because moving from consensus sets off a dynamic that inevitably leads in a vertical direction. When consensus is abandoned, some are likely to quit in protest. These are likely to be the most dedicated to horizontal principles. Factions form. Minority factions that consistently lose key votes, and don’t have their concerns incorporated in resulting proposals, will often split off. Since they too are likely to consist of more horizontally oriented participants, the group becomes ever more vertical. Before long, those who never liked direct democracy to begin with start saying it’s what’s really to blame for all these problems, it’s inefficient, things would run far more smoothly with clearly defined leadership roles—and it only takes a vote of 51% of the remaining, much more vertical group, to ditch direct democracy entirely.

Obviously, the widespread perception of consensus process as white isn’t just be a hold-over from events that took place forty years ago. A lot of the problem is that, since the ’70s, consensus process has largely been developed among direct-action oriented groups, and, while there are certainly African-American-based groups operating in what might be called the Ella Baker tradition, most of those groups have been largely white. The reasons are pretty obvious. Those lacking white privilege face much higher levels of state repression, and (unlike, in say, Mexico, or India, where those who face the most repression are generally speaking already organized in semi-autonomous communities that operate at least partly by consensus), in the US, this limits the degree to which it’s possible to engage in creating experimental spaces outside the system. Communities face immediate such practical concerns so pressing many feel working outside the system would be irresponsible. Those who don’t often feel they have no choice but to adopt either strict, rigorous, MLK-style non-violence, or adopt revolutionary militarism like the panthers—both of which tend to lead to top down forms of organization. As a result, the culture of consensus, the style in which it’s conducted, the sensibilities surrounding it, inevitably comes to reflect the white middle-class background of so many of those who have created and shaped it, and the result is that those who do not share these sensibilities feel alienated and excluded. Obviously this is something that urgently needs to be addressed. But the problem here is not with the principles underlying consensus (that all voices have equal weight, that no one be compelled to act against their will), but with the way it’s being done—and the fact that the way it’s being done have the effect of undermining those very principles.


I think the real problem here is a misunderstanding about what we’re basically arguing about. A lot of people on both sides of the debate seem to think “consensus” is a set of rules. If you follow the rules, you’re doing consensus. If you break the rules, or even do them in the wrong order it’s somehow not. I’ve seen people show up to meetings armed with elaborate diagrams or flow-charts for some kind of formal process downloaded from some web page and insist that only this is the really real thing. So it’s hardly surprising that other people put off by all this, or who see that particular form of process hit some kind of loggerhead, say “well consensus doesn’t work. Let’s try something else.”

As far as I’m concerned both sides completely miss the point.

I’ll say it again. Consensus is not a set of rules. It’s a set of principles. Actually I’d even go so far to say that if you really boil it down, it ultimately comes down to just two principles: everyone should have equal say (call this “equality”), and nobody should be compelled to do anything they really don’t want to do (call this, “freedom.”)

Basically, that’s it. The rules are just a way to try to come to decisions in the spirit of those principles. “Formal consensus process,” in is various manifestations, is just one technique people have made up, over the years, to try to come to group decisions that solve practical problems in a way that ensures no one’s perspective is ignored, and no one is forced to do anything or comply with rules they find truly obnoxious. That’s it. It’s a way to find consensus. It’s not itself “consensus.” Formal process as it exists today has been proved to work pretty well for some kinds of people, under some circumstances. It is obviously completely inappropriate in others. To take an obvious example: most small groups of friends don’t need formal process at all. Other groups might, over time, develop a completely different approach that suits their own dynamics, relations, situation, culture, sensibilities. And there’s absolutely no reason any group can’t improvise an entirely new one if that’s what they want to do. As long as they are trying to create a process that embodies those basic principles, one that gives everyone equal say and doesn’t force anyone to go along with a decision they find fundamentally objectionable, then what they come up with is a form of consensus process—no matter how it operates. After all, it a group of people all decide they want to be bound by a majority decision, well, who exactly is going to stop them? But if they all decide to be bound by a majority decision, then they have reached a consensus (in fact, an absolute consensus) that they want to operate that way. The same would be true if they all decided they wanted to be bound by the decisions of a Ouija Board, or appointed one member of the group Il Duce. Who’s going to stop them? However, for the exact same reason, the moment the majority (or Ouija board, or Il Duce) comes up with a decision to do something that some people think is absolutely outrageous and refuse to do, how exactly is anyone going to force them to go along? Threaten to shoot them? Basically, it could only happen if the majority is somehow in control of some key resource—money, space, connections, a name—and others aren’t. That is, if there is some means of coercion, subtle or otherwise. In the absence of a way to compel people to do things they do not wish to do, you’re ultimately stuck with some kind of consensus whether you like it or not.

The question then is what kind of decision making process is most likely to lead to decisions that no one will object to so fundamentally that they will march off in frustration or simply refuse to cooperate? Sometimes that will be some sort of formal consensus process. In other circumstances that’s the last thing one should try. Still, there’s a reason that 51/49% majority voting is so rarely employed in such circumstances: usually, it is the method least likely to come up with such decisions.

Think of it this way.

Imagine the city is about to destroy some cherished landmark and someone puts up posters calling for people to meet in a nearby square to organize against it. Fifty people show up. Someone says, okay, “I propose we all lay down in front of the bulldozers. Let’s hold a vote.” So 30 people raised their hands yes, and 20 people raise their hands no. Well, what possible reason is there that the 20 people who said no would somehow feel obliged to now go and lay in front of the bulldozers? These were just 50 strangers gathered in a square. Why should the opinions of a majority of a group of strangers oblige the minority to do anything—let alone something which will expose them to personal danger?

The example might seem absurd—who would hold such a vote?—but I experienced something almost exactly like it a few years ago, at an “all-anarchist” meeting called in London before a mass mobilization against the G8. About 200 people showed up at the RampArts Social Center. The facilitator, a syndicalist who disliked consensus, explained that another group had proposed a march, followed by some kind of direct action, and immediately proceeded to hold a vote on whether we, as a group, wanted to join as. Oddly, it did not seem to occur to him that, since we were not in fact a group, but just a bunch of people who had showed up at a meeting, there was no reason to think that those who did not want to join such an action would be swayed by the result. In fact he wasn’t taking a vote at all. He was taking a poll: “how many people are thinking of joining the march?” Now, there’s nothing wrong with polls; arguably, the most helpful thing he could have done under the circumstance was to ask for a show of hands so everyone could see what other people were thinking. The results might even have changed some people’s minds—”well, it looks like a lot of people are going to that march, maybe I will too” (though in this case, in fact, it didn’t.) But the facilitator thought he was actually conducting a vote on what to do, as if they were somehow bound by the decision.

How could he have been so oblivious? Well, he was a syndicalist; unions use majority vote; that’s why he preferred it. But of course, unions are membership-based groups. If you join a union, you are, by the very act of doing so, agreeing to abide by its rules, which includes, accepting majority vote decisions. Those who do not follow the group’s rules can be sanctioned, or even expelled. It simply didn’t occur to him that most unions’ voting system depended on the prior existence of membership rolls, dues, charters, and usually, legal standing—which in effect meant that either everyone who had voluntarily joined the unions was in effect consenting to the rules, or else, if membership was obligatory in a certain shop or industry owing to some prior government-enforced agreement, was ultimately enforced by the power of the state. To act the same way when people had not consented to be bound by such a decision, and then expect them to follow the dictates of the majority anyway, is just going to annoy people and make them less, not more, likely to do so.

So let’s go back to Justine’s first example,

the first time I saw a block used at Occupy was at one of the first general assemblies in August 2011. There were about a hundred people that day and in the middle of the meeting a proposal was made to join Verizon workers on the picket line as a gesture of solidarity in the hope that they might also support us in return. People loved the idea and there was quite a bit of positive energy until one woman in the crowd, busy tweeting on her phone, casually raised her hand and said, “I block that”. The moderator, quite flabbergasted asked why she blocked and she explained that showing solidarity with workers would alienate the phantasm of our right-wing supporters. Discussion then abruptly ended and the meeting went on. The truth was irrelevant, popular opinion didn’t matter, and solidarity—the most important of all leftist values—was thrown to the wind based on the whims of just one individual. Occupy had to find a new way to do outreach.

Now, I was at this meeting, and I remember the event quite vividly because at the time I was one of the participants who was more than a little bit annoyed by the block. But I also know that this is simply not what happened.

First of all, as I remarked, OWS from the beginning did not have a system where just one person could block a proposal; in the event of a block, we had the option to fall back on a 2/3 majority vote. So if everyone had really loved the proposal, the block could have been simply brushed aside. While many felt the woman in question was being ridiculous (most of us suspected the “national movement” she claimed to represent didn’t really exist), the facilitator, when she asked if anyone felt the same way, was surprised to discover a significant contingent–some, but not all, insurrectionist anarchists–did in fact object to holding the next meeting at a picket line, since they didn’t want to immediately identify the movement with the institutional left. Once it became clear it was not just one crazy person, but a significant chunk of the meeting—probably not quite a third, but close (there weren’t really a hundred people there, incidentally; more like sixty)—she asked if anyone felt strongly that we should move to a vote, and no one insisted. Was this a terrible failure of process? I must admit at the time I found it exasperating. But in retrospect I realize that had we forced a vote, the results might well have been catastrophic. Because at that point we, too were just a bunch of people who’d all showed up in a park. We weren’t a “group” at all. Nobody had committed to anything; certainly, no one had committed to going along with a majority decision.

A block is not a “no” vote. It’s a veto. Or maybe a better way to put it is that giving everyone the power to block is like giving the power to take on the role of the Supreme Court, and stop a piece of legislation that they feel to be unconstitutional, to anyone who has the courage to stand up in front of the entire group and use it. When you block you are saying a proposal violates one of the group’s agreed-on common principles. Of course, in this case we didn’t have any agreed-on common principles. In cases like that, the usual rule of thumb is that you should only block if you feel so strongly about an issue that you’d actually leave the group. In this sense I suspect the initial blocker was indeed being irresponsible (she wouldn’t have really left; and many wouldn’t have mourned her if she had.) However, others felt strongly. Had we held a vote and decided to hold our next meeting at a picket line over their objections, many of them would likely not have shown up. The anti-authoritarian contingent would have been weakened. Had that happened, there was a real chance later decisions, much more important ones, might have gone the other way. I am thinking here in particular of the crucial decision, made some weeks later, not to appoint official marshals and police liaisons for September 17. Judging by the experience of other camps, had that happened, everything might have gone differently and the entire occupation failed. In retrospect, the loss of one early opportunity to create ties with striking unionists now seems a small price to pay for heading off on a road that might have led to that. Especially since we had no trouble establishing strong ties with unions later—precisely because we had succeeded in creating a real occupation in the park.

There are a lot of other issues that one could discuss. Above all, we desperately need to have a conversation about decentralization. Another point of confusion about consensus is the idea that it’s crucial to get approval from everyone about everything, which is again stifling and absurd. Consensus only works if working groups or collectives don’t feel they need to seek constant approval from the larger group, if initiative arises from below, and people only check upwards if there’s a genuinely compelling reason not to go ahead with some initiative without clearing it with everyone else. In a weird way, the very unwieldiness of consensus meetings is helpful here, since it can discourage people from taking trivial issues to a larger group, and thus potentially waste hours of everyone’s time.

But all this will no doubt will be hashed out in the discussions that are going on (another good rule of thumb for consensus meetings: you don’t need to say everything you can think to say if you’re pretty sure someone else will make a lot of the same points anyway). Mainly what I want to say is this:

Our power is in our principles. The power of Occupy has always been that it is an experiment in human freedom. That’s what inspired so many to join us. That’s what terrified the banks and politicians, who scrambled to do everything in their power—infiltration, disruption, propaganda, terror, violence—to be able to tell the word we’d failed, that they had proved a genuinely free society is impossible, that it would necessarily collapse into chaos, squalor, antagonism, violence, and dysfunction. We cannot allow them such a victory. The only way to fight back is to renew our absolute commitment to those principles. We will never compromise on equality and freedom. We will always base our relations to each other on those principles. We will not fall back on top-down structures and forms of decision making premised on the power of coercion. But as long as we do that, and if we really believe in those principles, that necessarily means being as open and flexible as we can about pretty much everything else.

Bem-vindos ao mundo dos adultos. Ou não? (Canal Ibase)


Renzo Taddei
Colunista do Canal Ibase

O texto abaixo é uma reflexão sobre o que significa hoje, em face às crises globais –  política, econômica e ambiental -, atravessar a fronteira que separa o mundo dos jovens do dos adultos. Foi escrito por ocasião de minha indicação a paraninfo da turma de formandos do curso de Comunicação Social da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, e lido em cerimônia de colação de grau, no dia 2 de março de 2013. O texto, no entanto, fala não apenas aos graduandos da referida turma, mas a todos os jovens que se acham de alguma forma interpelados pelas exigências do mundo adulto, interpelação esta que se dá na forma de pressão para que tais jovens se conformem e se adequem às estruturas e formas de organização social existentes. Por essa razão, decidi reproduzi-lo nesta coluna. O texto foi mantido tal qual foi apresentado.


Foto: adam.declercq/Flickr

Inicialmente não posso deixar de agradecer a minha indicação a paraninfo da turma, coisa que verdadeiramente me emocionou. Essa é a primeira vez que isso me acontece. E como seria de se esperar de um paraninfo de primeira viagem, fui pesquisar do que se trata. A rigor, o paraninfo é um padrinho ligado à identidade profissional dos formandos, alguém de quem se espera que diga algo no rito de passagem da formatura que seja ao mesmo tempo uma última aula – mas não exatamente, porque nesse momento vocês não são mais estudantes -, e que seja também o primeiro conselho profissional – mas não exatamente, porque nesse momento vocês ainda não estão formados. Vocês estão, nesse exato instante, em processo de transformação. Entraram nesse auditório como estudantes, e vão sair como bacharéis. Por isso a colação de grau é um rito de passagem: vocês saem diferentes do que entram, alguma coisa se transforma no processo. Nesse meu discurso, quero falar um pouco sobre isso que muda, que se transforma. E como isso se transforma, em que direção, pra onde vai.

Alguns de vocês certamente devem estar se perguntado se eu não vou simplesmente congratular os formandos e dizer que o Brasil precisa deles, que se esforcem para fazer desse um país melhor, que agora eles tem uma responsabilidade para com a sociedade, etc.– o discurso padrão, pré-formatado, disponível na Internet. Pois é, não vou. Isso seria perder o tempo de vocês e o meu. Se vocês me elegeram paraninfo – eu, que não sou jornalista, publicitário, editor, produtor, diretor, apresentador ou locutor; eu, que nem sequer sou professor das habilitações profissionais da Escola de Comunicação, mas ao invés disso sou um humilde professor de disciplina do ciclo básico, antropologia -, alguma razão deve haver. Nem que ela seja apenas certo gosto por viver perigosamente (dado que quem teve aula comigo sabe que eu tenho certa tendência a ser provocador e subversivo).

De qualquer forma, não posso evitar certo ponto de vista antropológico. Então, gostaria inicialmente de dizer que vocês são privilegiados. Já foram mais longe do que o Bill Gates e o Steve Jobs – ambos abandonaram os estudos universitários, e, portanto, não viveram esse rito de passagem que vocês vivem aqui hoje. Mas obviamente não é disso que quero falar. De certa forma, se há uma equivalência ou continuidade entre esse rito de passagem, a graduação universitária, e os ritos de passagem vividos por outras coletividades e grupos sociais, essa equivalência existe nos rituais nos quais um indivíduo passa a desempenhar, de forma integral, papéis de adulto. Esses são tradicionalmente chamados ritos de puberdade. “Mas a puberdade já passou faz tempo!”, vocês me dirão. Pois é aí mesmo onde reside o privilégio: entre deixar de ser criança e passar à condição de adulto, de forma integral, nossa civilização criou a adolescência, esse período que não acaba nunca, e onde tudo é mal definido, esquisito, tudo está de alguma forma fora do lugar, sem que se saiba exatamente o porquê. Em geral, a adolescência não existe nas culturas não ocidentais, e não existia no mundo ocidental até por volta da década de 1880. Na visão de muitos povos não ocidentais, o que nós ocidentais fazemos é infantilizar os indivíduos por quase uma década, e depois exigimos maturidade, como se ela surgisse num passe de mágica. Mas sabemos que as coisas entre nós não se dão exatamente dessa forma.

Ou seja, se vocês fossem índios – isto é, se não forem; quem sabe alguém aqui seja – já teriam passado pelo ritual que faz de alguém um adulto há muito tempo. Como vocês podem ver, não há qualquer relação entre ser adulto, no sentido que estou usando aqui, e uma determinada idade cronológica. Em algumas sociedades pode-se ganhar o status de adulto aos 7 anos; em outras,  como no mundo acadêmico em que eu vivo, por exemplo, a cidadania integral só se consegue com a obtenção do título de doutor, e a vida adulta raramente começa antes dos 30 anos. Tomemos então o conceito de adulto como equivalente a estar integrado de forma plena à ordem social vigente, às instituições centrais do meio social em que o indivíduo vive.

Voltando ao rito de passagem, um rito que funcione como tal não é apenas uma formalidade. Ele opera uma certa mágica, algo que efetivamente transforma quem por ele passa. A famosa frase “eu vos declaro marido e mulher”, ou a temida “eu declaro o réu culpado”, tem o poder de operar uma transformação real na identidade do sujeito; transformação que não ocorreria sem a existência do rito. Infelizmente, grande parte dos nossos ritos se burocratizou. O que os exemplos antropológicos mostram é que os ritos de passagem mais eficazes são aqueles em que o simbolismo associado à transformação da identidade é vivido materialmente, através de objetos capazes de grande mobilização emocional – como a hóstia, as alianças, o anel de formatura, o diploma, os trajes especiais -, e mais ainda quando essa materialidade é vivida no corpo – como as distintas formas de circuncisão, as escarificações (a produção de cicatrizes), tatuagens específicas, o corte dos cabelos, os estados de transe e outras práticas que envolvem alguma forma de dor. Numa conhecida prática que é parte do ritual de puberdade dos índios Maués e de outras tribos amazônicas, por exemplo, os jovens são levados a inserir uma das mãos em uma luva cheia de formigas tucandeiras, e devem suportar, por 15 minutos, a dor das ferroadas. Em nossa sociedade há muitos rituais que deixam marcas no corpo e que envolvem sofrimento: sem mencionar o “pede pra sair” do Capitão Nascimento, outro exemplo talvez igualmente chocante – pra quem não é da nossa tribo, obviamente – é o fato de que muita gente acha que antes de aparecer nas fotos de celebrações como essa, é preciso deformar o corpo de alguma forma: suando muito nas academias, submetendo-se a dietas alimentares agressivas, e até a cirurgias plásticas. Perto disso tudo, a monografia de graduação parece moleza.

Mas qual a necessidade disso tudo? Por que a transição à vida adulta não ocorre de forma gradual, sem que um ritual marque o momento, produzindo uma singularidade no transcorrer da vida que desordena e reordena as coisas? Num texto publicado há alguns anos no Brasil, Levi-Strauss narra e analisa um fato ocorrido na cidade de Dijon, França, no ano de 1951, que pode nos ajudar a entender essa questão. Mais precisamente no dia 24 de dezembro daquele ano, padres promoveram o enforcamento da figura do Papai Noel, que posteriormente foi queimado, em frente à catedral da cidade. A acusação: paganizar o Natal. No dia seguinte, o velhinho foi ressuscitado pela prefeitura da cidade, e apareceu no topo do prédio do governo municipal, falando às crianças, como fazia tradicionalmente. Essa sequência de eventos naturalmente gerou um intenso debate, que se espalhou por toda a França. Na opinião de Levi-Strauss, no entanto, mais importante do que discutir se se deve dar cabo ou não do Papai Noel, ou porque as crianças gostam tanto dele, é tentar entender por que é que os adultos o criaram, em primeiro lugar. Afinal, o Papai Noel não é invenção das crianças; estas são levadas a acreditar nele, por influência direta dos adultos. A resposta é bastante óbvia: o Papai Noel é um instrumento através do qual os adultos exercem controle sobre as crianças. “Só ganha presente quem se comportar bem, deitar-se quando mandado, comer tudo”. Levi-Strauss segue adiante para mostrar que os dados antropológicos são abundantes em relação ao fato de que os adultos temem as crianças, ou os não-ainda-plenamente-adultos.

E por que é que os adultos temem as crianças e os jovens, os não-ainda-plenamente-adultos? Porque esses têm o poder de bagunçar a vida adulta, desorganizar a ordem estabelecida, são subversivos por natureza – e, em muitas tradições, inclusive a nossa, isso literalmente é entendido como uma questão de natureza, em oposição à sociedade: as crianças são parte do mundo da natureza, mundo esse que é ao mesmo tempo uma ameaça ao mundo social, essencialmente dos adultos (e, frequentemente, dos homens), e precisa ser conquistado por este. Esse medo resulta na criação de personagens como o Papai Noel e o bicho papão, apenas para mencionar dois exemplos mais familiares; resulta também na necessidade de submeter os ainda-não-adultos a ritos de passagem psicologicamente intensos, de modo a construir, através do rito, um novo adulto, desnaturalizado e socializado.

E aqui estamos chegando ao que interessa. O que eu acabo de dizer é que todo ritual tem um duplo efeito: por um lado, transforma a identidade de quem passa por ele, de modo que o indivíduo interiorize os valores da sociedade e localize-se, de forma produtiva, nela; por outro, o ritual promove a ratificação dos poderes instituídos, o reforço das estruturas de poder, do status quo. Nesse mesmo ritual que vivemos aqui, no momento em que cada um de vocês ganha a credencial de bacharel, renova-se a sacralidade da universidade enquanto poder instituído legitimamente, com autoridade para traçar a linha dos que têm e dos que não têm acesso aos privilégios trazidos por tal credencial. Renova-se também a sacralidade da autoridade dos professores – vejam só como estamos em posições espaciais diferentes aqui hoje, vocês mais embaixo, os professores mais acima, vocês aqui para receber algo, os professores para dar algo. O mesmo ocorre num tribunal, em uma cerimônia de casamento ou em um batismo: ao mesmo tempo em que alguém é condenado ou absolvido, ou casado, ou batizado, é reforçado o poder do Estado ou da instituição religiosa.

Até aqui, tudo certo: não é difícil encontrar livro de introdução à antropologia que diga, ou pelo menos dê a entender, que as sociedades sempre se organizaram dessa forma, de modo que esse é um fato da realidade. O problema é que, na minha visão, isso existe em contradição com a ideia, tão repetida em discursos de paraninfo mundo afora, de que os formandos devem contribuir na construção de um mundo melhor. Trata-se de um problema de incompatibilidade entre forma e conteúdo: falar em mudanças, ou seja, na construção de um mundo melhor, num ritual que promove a reprodução das coisas como elas são, que coopta mentes e corações jovens e os coloca no centro das estruturas sociais que criaram e mantém em funcionamento o mundo que se pretende mudar. Talvez, se vivêssemos em um mundo com problemas menores, precisando de pequenas reformas aqui e ali, mas no qual o estado geral da vida fosse o de plenitude e alegria, esse fosse o caso.

Mas não há nada mais radicalmente oposto à realidade na qual nos encontramos. O mundo não precisa de pequenas reformas; os problemas da atualidade são estruturais e profundos. Aproveitando que estamos aqui, no Centro de Tecnologia, coração da engenharia da UFRJ, eu diria que, se perguntarmos a um engenheiro civil o que se deve fazer com um edifício com problemas estruturais profundos, ele diria: é preciso demolir o edifício, e fazer outro, sobre base mais sólida, com estrutura mais adequada. Mas quais são esses problemas, tão sérios, no mundo em que vivemos? Eu certamente não precisaria (nem conseguiria, se quisesse) listar os problemas que temos diante de nós, dado o fato de que vocês talvez estejam entre as pessoas mais bem informadas do planeta. Mas permitam-me citar apenas alguns, de modo a colocar recheio no argumento que estou construindo aqui. O mundo vive, já há cinco anos, uma crise econômica global sem precedentes, crise na qual ficou claro o quanto os Estados nacionais funcionam para manter o mercado mundial em funcionamento, atendendo a interesses das grandes corporações, e em detrimento de suas próprias populações (basta analisar a relação entre governos, bancos e a população, em países como os Estados Unidos, Inglaterra, Itália e Espanha, para se ver isso com clareza; ou a relação entre governos, empreiteiras, mineradoras e a população, no caso do Brasil).

Além disso, o mundo vive há pelo menos trinta anos uma crise ambiental sem precedentes, e continuamos ouvindo dos governos americano e chinês a mensagem de que sua produção econômica no curto prazo é mais importante do que a vida no planeta no futuro. Isso dá certo alívio ao governo brasileiro, que pode apenas entrar no vácuo dos gigantes americano e chinês, sem ter que declarar explicitamente que tem a mesma posição. Ao mesmo tempo, vemos grande parte da Europa trabalhando na transição de suas matrizes energéticas em direção a fontes de energia que não agridem os ecossistemas locais (como a energia solar; detalhe que não estou falando de energias supostamente “limpas”, mas das que não agridem os ecossistemas. As hidrelétricas, por exemplo, não apenas são grandes agressoras dos ecossistemas, como alimentam a perversão política que é o papel das grandes empreiteiras no financiamento das campanhas políticas nesse país); enquanto isso o Brasil trabalha para tornar-se o sexto maior produtor de petróleo do mundo! Nada como ser capaz de mobilizar um time excelente de publicitários para ser capaz de andar na contramão do bom senso e ainda ter apoio popular. E some-se a isso tudo o fato de que no Brasil, os 20% mais ricos detém 60% de toda a riqueza nacional; metade da população economicamente ativa, mais de 50 milhões de pessoas, trabalha de sol a sol para o enriquecimento de duas ou três centenas de famílias.

E eu nem mencionei a política. Alguém acha que as estruturas políticas brasileiras funcionam bem? Ninguém sabe, porque ninguém sabe como elas funcionam!

Enfim, esse é o mundo dos adultos em que vocês são, agora, admitidos de forma integral. Não é de se estranhar que um bocado de gente jovem resista a esse processo, muitas vezes entendido, literalmente, como um processo ilegítimo de cooptação. O mundo dos adultos – ou seja, do status quo, das instituições de poder que nos trouxeram até aqui – está moralmente falido. Construir um mundo melhor, em qualquer sentido que não seja apenas a reprodução de retórica vazia, é tarefa necessária, mas que não vai deixar os adultos felizes. Ou seja, para que os jovens efetivamente construam um mundo melhor, o que se vislumbra não é a paz entre adultos e jovens, paz supostamente produzida pelos ritos de passagem mencionados por mim anteriormente; ao invés disso, o que se pode esperar é a espada, para usar termos bíblicos.

E, vejam só, não estou falando de algo – jovens comprometidos com a criação de um mundo melhor – que não esteja, já, acontecendo: a única novidade política interessante, na última década, é a novidade produzida por movimentos jovens, em reação à falência moral e material do mundo dos adultos: estou me referindo aos muitos movimentos de ocupação, como o Occupy Wall Street, que se multiplicou e se espalhou pelo mundo todo; às manifestações juvenis contra os partidos do status quo no México (o PAN e o PRI), além do movimento zapatista no estado de Chiapas; ao movimento Idle no More no Canadá, que, como o movimento zapatista, uniu a juventude às lideranças indígenas locais; ao 15-M, na Espanha; à participação dos jovens nos eventos ligados à chamada Primavera Árabe; à importância da Cúpula dos Povos, na Rio+20, onde se articularam ações políticas mais interessantes que a prevista paralisia política dos diplomatas que participaram da reunião oficial. Ainda no Brasil, está claro que podemos, através de movimentos descentralizados, combinando manifestações públicas e petições pela Internet, forçar o governo a ações específicas, como ocorreu no movimento em apoio aos índios Guarani Kaiowá do Mato Grosso do Sul.

Ou seja, a boa novidade é que não é necessário inventar as soluções e ferramentas para um mundo melhor a partir do zero; muitas coisas interessantes já estão em movimento. Basta que vocês sejam conscientes e autônomos para decidir como vão se posicionar no mundo. Achar que as sociedades sempre se organizaram integrando os jovens às estruturas existentes, e que, portanto, não há nada a fazer a esse respeito, é discurso dos que tem interesse em manter os jovens sob controle, ou seja, é discurso de quem efetivamente tem medo dos jovens – porque tem algo a perder com qualquer mudança no status quo.

“Mas esses movimentos que você mencionou não foram capazes de se constituir como alternativa política efetiva!”, dirão alguns. Esse tipo de afirmação revela, por parte de quem a enuncia, a dificuldade em pensar um mundo efetivamente diferente; é como se a única política possível é aquela que toma o poder, e não aquela que transforma o próprio poder em alguma outra coisa. O que é radicalmente interessante nesses movimentos jovens é a recusa que têm em querer tomar as estruturas de poder existentes. O poder, da forma que este se constitui e manifesta no âmago das sociedades ocidentais, é herança do mundo adulto falido, que a juventude não quer. O que os movimentos juvenis querem é construir um outro mundo, um outro poder, um  mundo que, inclusive, não está predefinido, não existe ainda – e tais jovens não tem medo de viver em incerteza e ambiguidade, posto que estas são marcas de todo momento de transição. Isso, aliás, é uma das coisas que gera ansiedade no mundo dos adultos, porque pode desorganizar o processo através do qual Estados e corporações criam riscos, incutem nas pessoas níveis elevados de medo, e apresentam-se, então, como protetores. Como a história não cansa de mostrar, gente sem medo é um atentado à soberania de Estados fundados no medo.

Enfim, o que eu estou propondo aqui não é que todos rejeitem esse ritual, que desistam do título de bacharel, mas, ao invés disso, que vocês tomem controle sobre a mágica do ritual. Que o título de bacharel não seja uma forma de anular a sua capacidade de efetivamente transformar o mundo, mesmo que à revelia do que querem seus pais, professores, patrões, médicos, juízes, o Estado. Ao contrário, que vocês, ao invés de serem vítimas do título de bacharel, ou seja, de terem que se transformar para caber na persona social com direito oficialmente ratificado de usá-lo, tomem para si a missão de definir o que será ser bacharel, em suas vidas, e na sociedade que irão criar.

Ou seja, e para finalizar, o que eu quero propor de forma substantiva aqui são duas coisas, que considero fundamentais para que vocês estejam preparados para participar na criação de um mundo efetivamente, e não apenas retoricamente, melhor. A primeira é: não acreditem em identidades. Ou, pelo menos, não sejam vítimas delas. Nunca se deixem reduzir a uma ou a um número restrito de possibilidade de ser e estar no mundo: vocês nunca serão apenas jornalistas, publicitários, editores, produtores, diretores, apresentadores ou locutores. Vocês sempre serão muito mais do que isso. As identidades têm o potencial de se transformar em uma forma de tirania, de fascismo, mesmo quando isso se manifesta na forma de conflitos psicológicos internos ao indivíduo. Cada um de vocês não é um, são muitos. As possibilidades para o futuro são infinitas; nunca se deixem convencer, com ou sem rito de passagem, do contrário.

O segundo conselho: não vivam com medo. Do Papai Noel e bicho papão em diante, o mundo adulto administra quem pode efetivamente transformar a sociedade usando o medo. O medo é paralisante, algo que não convém quando o objetivo é mudar algo, e muito menos quando se quer mudar algo grande, como o mundo. A obra de construir um mundo melhor passa, necessariamente, pela desarticulação da grande burocracia do medo que nos controla a todos. Nesse sentido, o trabalho de vocês não será fácil, dado que tal burocracia tem na mídia uma de suas principais ferramentas.

Uma decorrência prática destes dois conselhos – não se deixar levar pela ilusão das identidades ou pelo discurso paralisante do medo -, é que vocês devem estar prontos para enfrentar resistência. Ou seja, não é possível querer mudar o mundo e, ainda assim, viver buscando aplausos; quem efetivamente mudou o mundo, no passado, enfrentou desafios homéricos. A boa notícia é que ninguém mais precisa ser um Ulisses ou um Aquiles; ninguém está sozinho, o movimento já está em curso, e, como diz um dos seus principais expoentes, “somos legião”. Basta a cada um escolher como irá participar: como agente, participante efetivo, ou como observador distante, alguém que, mais tarde, será inevitavelmente arrastado pela corrente.