Interesting Links: May 2, 2015

Here are links to some interesting news articles that I came across today. These are on the apparent necessity of violence for any real changes, even if those changes are right, just or popular.

Link 1: There is no social change without coercion: Race, Baltimore, and how violence makes nonviolence possible

Beyond the firewall of rhetoric about the crisis in Baltimore lies a stark reality: There is no social change without coercion. Authoritarians do not step down because people are saying mean things about them on Facebook or Twitter; social elites do not relinquish their privilege simply because they saw people walking down the street, arms locked, singing kumbaya. One has to speak to power in a language it understands. It must be made clear that there are consequences for ignoring dissidents, that a return to the status quo is not an option. Shy of this, there is no change.

Mobilizing waves of the disenfranchised to assemble at seats of power underscores this threat further: right now, the angry mob at your doorstep is committed to non-violence. But should they grow disillusioned with pacifism, they may return with torches and pitchforks—and under the sway of revolutionaries who will not be placated with piecemeal reforms or patiently strive to accumulate small concessions, nor will they turn the other cheek in the face of repression. That is, it is violent movements (or other forms of coercion) that motivate elites to engage at all, even if progressives and pacifists are their preferred interlocutors.

Link 2: Why the CVS Burned

Informed by this history, when I look at the Baltimore riots of the past week, I see something more complicated than mere hooliganism. To me, the riots reflect fury not just at the police, but at the constraints of the ghetto’s retail economy, where the poor pay more. As I see it, the indignity of being roughed up by the cops is of a piece with not being able to afford to shop in your own neighborhood. Much of the violence that erupted this week took place at and around West Baltimore’s Mondawmin Mall, a retail stretch that is part of the same system of exploitation and humiliation rioters in ’68 stood up to fight.

Many poor Americans don’t cash their paychecks at banks (which typically require a minimum deposit), and are forced to use the services of cash-checking shops, which tend to take 2 percent off the top. On the 1600 block of North Avenue, where a police van held Freddie Gray on the night he was arrested, the storefront of payday lender Ace Cash Express advertises “PAY BILLS. CHECKS CASHED.” Last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau denounced Ace Express’ payday lending, which “used false threats, intimidation, and harassing calls to bully payday borrowers into a cycle of debt … drain[ing] millions of dollars from cash-strapped consumers who had few options to fight back.”

Link 3: Baltimore, and America’s double standard on violence

These days, riots are almost universally associated with black urban communities. But before the 1960s, “race riots” meant white riots, almost universally directed against blacks. Whether it was competition for jobs (Cincinnati: 1841), resentment at black veterans (Memphis: 1866; many cities: 1919), paranoia over black sexuality (Atlanta: 1906), or resentment at blacks moving into white communities (Detroit: 1943), American whites have historically needed little excuse to conduct mob violence against African-Americans.

This violence was not random or accidental. It was part of the American system of racial domination. It was not a coincidence that when a riot got going in 1921 in Tulsa, white mobs, assisted by local authorities, proceeded to loot and torch the entire black district of Greenwood — then the richest black community in the nation — burning over 1,200 homes and killing dozens. More generally, as Hamden Rice points out, semi-random psychotic violence against black men was the keystone institution of Jim Crow. It was what kept blacks in terrified submission, lest they be lynched on the slightest (or no) pretext.

Link 4: Is Violence Ever Justified? Does Violence Ever Solve Anything?

Relatedly, violence often does solve problems. The Native Americans cleansed from North America were “problems” to the settlers, and violence dealt with that problem just fine. Fascist Germany was a problem to most non-German countries, Jews, Gypsies, Socialists, Gays, and many others and violence solved that problem. Carthage was a problem to Republican Rome and violence solved that problem. And riots, rather better organized than the Baltimore ones, granted, solved the Parisian problem with the old Regime, while the Terror, terrible as it was, did make sure that there was to be no going back–even if France was to alternate between Republics and Empires for some time. Violence often solves problems and it often does so rather permanently.

I don’t know if violence is ever justified. But I do know that violence often does “solve” problems and I do know that peoples who insist on being entirely non-violent or bad at violence eventually discover that everything they have they hold at the sufferance of those who are good at violence.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. P Ray
    May 3, 2015 at 9:08 am

    I’ll just go with this:

    I wonder what people like Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman or Laurence Fishburne have to say?

  2. hoipolloi
    May 3, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    The links above talk about violence and problem solving. I heard once that marines have a motto that says violence is the answer or some such thing. May be someone can give an accurate version. There may be some collateral damage but violence solves. Some forces on earth do not listen to words and gestures.

  3. May 3, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    advipoops, what’ya think of this…

    He is more correct than he realizes.

  4. May 3, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    This piece of garbage says the looters and rioters are “criminals” and during his rant, he goes on to attack a young man who stole a soda from a store during the riots. I could go on about him and the situation at whole, but there’s something wrong when people care more about businesses and property than certain demographics of people.

  5. hoipolloi
    May 4, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    “Many poor Americans don’t cash their paychecks at banks (which typically require a minimum deposit), and are forced to use the services of cash-checking shops,…”

    Poor and uneducated are not as dumb or exploited as it appears. Many of these people do not have a bank account for a good reason, they do not pay any taxes. You can open a bank account in the DC area with no minimum and no monthly charge. To each their own.

    • P Ray
      May 4, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Businesses are not stupid either, about how they fiddle with the employees:

      • hoipolloi
        May 5, 2015 at 1:15 am

        I have a suggestion that the educated and middle class in America are as much exploited as poor and uneducated.

      • P Ray
        May 5, 2015 at 7:08 am

        ^ You’d be right about that, as there is a gearing ratio for worker income in every country; for example in some countries in Asia it is 1:23.
        e.g. for every 1,000 in salary you earn, the company must profit 23,000.

        Google, for all its vaunted “makes people millionaires” schtick — only makes the people at the very top rich: engineer salaries force some of them to sleep in cars, the high housing prices in Silicon Valley don’t help AND those prices are being reflected in other countries e.g. Australia (Sydney, specifically Pyrmont — where Google has offices there).

        I know people who have been working there for 5 years, and cannot afford apartments there.

        Interesting, eh?

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