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"Our problem is civil obedience."
November 24, 2013 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Matt Damon reads from Howard Zinn's 1970 speech "The Problem is Civil Obedience" (via)

"As soon as you say the topic is civil disobedience, you are saying our problem is civil disobedience. That is not our problem.... Our problem is civil obedience."

"Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”

"We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin's Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people."
posted by jeffburdges (41 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
A well delivered polemic. But to me it's as dated as it is timeless.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 3:01 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The question I therefore put to you is, how would you update this dated, timeless polemic?
posted by hippybear at 3:10 PM on November 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


Well now I really want to see what Lupe Fiasco said.
posted by postcommunism at 3:15 PM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was at a meeting the other night of an organization filled with people who have been arrested multiple times for civil disobedience. At the beginning of the meeting, I was offered a free dinner, and at the end, I was offered a free MetroCard to get home. I didn't need either of these (I was meeting my spouse for dinner, and I have an unlimited MetroCard), but what occurred to me was that it is the people who DO need these free things who are willing to put their lives on hold to get arrested for something they believe it.

In was a humbling night.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:16 PM on November 24, 2013 [32 favorites]


On a FBI agent's salary, you take all the free dinner and metro cards you can get.
posted by benzenedream at 3:33 PM on November 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


> On a FBI agent's salary, you take all the free dinner and metro cards you can get.

I think most first-year FBI agents make over $60k/year, plus comprehensive benefits.
posted by planetesimal at 3:53 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Disobedience is not justice. And if an authority gives a just order, then it is just to obey that order.
posted by koeselitz at 4:03 PM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is only a short 'dated' section on Nixon and Hoover, but actually that section takes on a different kind of power now.

We revile that both Nixon and Hoover today because they both committed serious crimes, so identifying them with the corresponding bad guy from their day helps recognize that our leaders bear more in common with today's bad guys than with ourselves.

John Brennan or Keith Alexander are quite reminiscent of, and maintained comfortable working relationships with, intelligence leaders working for Hosni Mubarak or Bashar al-Assad, even down to sanctioning torture. We know Lloyd Blankfein is far closer to Bernard Madoff, who was a Chairman of NASDAQ, than to us.

Leonhart and Harrigan, who run the DEA, are really no different from Mutaween, although they enforce a much narrower ideology. Carmen Ortiz or Stephen Heymann are arguably worse than Chinese prosecutors who prosecute bloggers for "defaming government agencies" for China's Public Security ministry. Oh, apparently Heymann got ‘ SWATed’. lol

Zinn's dated section is more powerful now because you cannot criticize it as hyperbole today.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:05 PM on November 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


Disobedience is not justice. And if an authority gives a just order, then it is just to obey that order.

I don't think anyone would argue against that. But what the question comes down to is, who gets to decide if the order is just or not? Any answer that involves authority is vulnerable to the same processes that might make the order questionable.
posted by JHarris at 4:19 PM on November 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


who gets to decide if the order is just or not?

We all do. It's our moral conscience. If we surrender that to anything we are told under color of authority, then we have no business calling ourselves human any more.
posted by localroger at 4:22 PM on November 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Of course. But authorities will not be swayed by that argument, because it looks exactly like people just doing whatever they want anyway. And then there's still the issue of those people who are sociopaths, or those whose consciences aren't defective but have a highly individualistic sense that authority can't hope to satisfy.

My point is, this is a hard problem.
posted by JHarris at 4:32 PM on November 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think anyone would argue against that.

Well... It's even a tricky question how well the notion of "authority" can be reconciled with justice (in the individual conscience sense) at all. Clearly there are experts whose judgments we might trust in some cases above our own (eg, about questions of science, engineering, or what the law is), but when our moral judgment diverges from theirs about some issue, it's hard to find a notion of justice rooted in moral conscience (or whatever you want to call it) that says it is more just to follow their moral judgment than one's own.

That said, there are certainly people out there whose judgments I trust, and who I trust to have thought through moral questions with the time and attention that I all-too-often lack; but even then, their "authority" is at best provisional, and dropped without qualm as soon as I've thought the issue through myself.

The correlate of this is that I am unsure how well we can reconcile "obedience" of any form with individual moral conscience. One goes along because one agrees, or because one is forced to, but neither of these things are moral obedience, and a "just order" remains a somewhat paradoxical notion.
posted by chortly at 4:35 PM on November 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think a good update would be that the problem is acquiescence. We have deferred and not voted and sold and outsourced and been outspent by ' business interests' much more rich and powerful than the average person at every turn, and we are losing power and all of our money and increasingly writing off our futures to them. There are vampires and anarchists running our government and our economy, and we act like it's just spectator sport.

The problem is no longer disobedience. It's disinterest.
posted by Dashy at 4:39 PM on November 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


The problem is no longer disobedience. It's disinterest.

The Tea Party, Koch brothers, and Fox News are plenty interested.
posted by chortly at 4:45 PM on November 24, 2013


Of course. But authorities will not be swayed by that argument, because it looks exactly like people just doing whatever they want anyway

I think if you're still worrying about "swaying authorities" then you're kind of missing the point. If the authorities are unjust and harmful, why do you want to sway them?

It kind of gives me the shits, actually, when people engage in some civil disobedience and then get all indignant when it results in their arrest/mistreatment/punishment at the hands of the authorities. What did you expect to happen? If you really believe the authorities are corrupt, injust, to the extent you're going to protest, what did you think would happen to you when you threaten them? You thought they'd bring you a nice cup of tea and some cookies?

I'm a bit frustrated on this front in regards to the Greenpeace protesters facing prosecution in Russia at the moment. For the last 2 months, the news has been a constant barrage of "FREE THE ARCTIC 30! RING YOUR RUSSIAN EMBASSY AND DEMAND JUSTICE!" I have heard nothing, nothing about the actual issue they were protesting. I'm assuming the oil drilling is continuing as planned. Now the issue has become getting people out of jail, instead.
posted by Jimbob at 4:54 PM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


me: “Disobedience is not justice. And if an authority gives a just order, then it is just to obey that order.”

JHarris: “I don't think anyone would argue against that.”

Howard Zinn does indeed seem to be arguing against that; his thesis (and title) is that the problem is civil obedience.

But Howard Zinn absolutely steamrolls over the most important in his speech –

“Law is very important. We are talking about obedience to law-law, this marvelous invention of modern times, which we attribute to Western civilization, and which we talk about proudly. The rule of law, oh, how wonderful, all these courses in Western civilization all over the land. Remember those bad old days when people were exploited by feudalism? Everything was terrible in the Middle Ages-but now we have Western civilization, the rule of law. The rule of law has regularized and maximized the injustice that existed before the rule of law, that is what the rule of law has done. Let us start looking at the rule of law realistically, not with that metaphysical complacency with which we always examined it before. When in all the nations of the world the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this.”

You'll note that Zinn says "let us start looking at the rule of law realistically" and then does the complete opposite. This is standard practice for ideologues, but it isn't fitting for people who wish to think hard and think well about important things.

The difficult thing is that the rule of law actually protects us. It protects "us" as in the majority of the people. This is simply and flatly true; when the rule of law is preserved, fewer people die – fewer poor people, fewer disadvantaged people, fewer people over all in general. This is the rule of law Lincoln struggled mightily to preserve, when half the Republic was screaming for him to establish complete dictatorship so he could abolish slavery by fiat. And it's a damned good thing he did, because even in the name of a good cause dictatorship generally turns out to be a bad thing and the rule of good law protects human beings. And – gosh, I know this is heresy, but – the bulk of US law is good, just law.

But – pardon me, that gets in the way of Zinn's project of proving that obedience is evil and disobedience is good, in some unqualified way. He twists his reading of history to suit this. The distinction between lies and untruths is whether we recognize the truth, but in some cases we actually lie to ourselves because we want so badly to believe something other than what is in front of us.

from lecture: “It started way back. When the Bill of Rights was first passed, remember, in the first administration of Washington? Great thing. Bill of Rights passed! Big ballyhoo. At the same time Hamilton's economic pro gram was passed. Nice, quiet, money to the rich-I'm simplifying it a little, but not too much.”

And they call this person a historian.
posted by koeselitz at 5:10 PM on November 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


The question I therefore put to you is, how would you update this dated, timeless polemic?

i would say that the idea of civil disobedience no longer works in a country that thrives on putting people in jail and has an apathetic, or hostile population, made so by the constant media barrage against progressive values

i don't know what the answer is - direct action, or violence might cause an even worse situation - and there's moral problems involved in that

i do know one thing - breaking the law and then waiting around with your hands out waiting to be handcuffed is pretty pointless now - especially when they bust you before you've even gotten to the scene of the struggle on trumped up charges that will later be dropped, once the opportunity for protest has passed

i say break it and make them look for you, if you're feeling that you must actively disobey

i don't know if that would be effective, either - but at least you have a chance of avoiding arrest
posted by pyramid termite at 5:16 PM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the rule of law Lincoln struggled mightily to preserve, when half the Republic was screaming for him to establish complete dictatorship so he could abolish slavery by fiat.

he DID abolish slavery by fiat in the rebellious states - and suspended habeus corpus in the country as a whole

i wouldn't call that a complete dictatorship by any means - but he did do some dictatorial things in his conduct of the war
posted by pyramid termite at 5:23 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Exactly. In a complicated moment, he wrestled with what to do, and (I think) preserved law in the right way and to the right degree to allow it to continue after the war. Zinn believes such complications are meaningless, that all of history is simply material to prove his ideology correct.
posted by koeselitz at 5:40 PM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Also, I don't think this polemic is "dated." It was wrong when it was first written and spoken, and it's wrong now.)
posted by koeselitz at 5:41 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Zinn is not talking about the rule of law per se. Zinn criticizes obeying "overly emphatic" authorities.

Authorities never bother telling us don't kill, don't steal, etc. anymore because our culture has largely internalized those restraints. You aren't obeying an authority when you don't steal, except maybe your parents.

Authorities emphatically tell us "don't take recreational drugs", "don't share your music collection", "don't go out dress slutty", "don't get an abortion", "don't have more than one sex partner", etc. because all those behavioral restraint lack the intrinsic legitimacy to be accepted without coercion.

I'm extremely dubious about your assertion that U.S. laws are just too, although obviously that's too complicated for this thread. Are there any just sentencing guidelines in the U.S. today though? There is simply no justice when the sentencing guidelines are all designed to cow the accused into a plea deal.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:47 PM on November 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


jeffburdges: “Authorities never bother telling us don't kill, don't steal, etc. anymore because our culture has largely internalized those restraints. You aren't obeying an authority when you don't steal, except maybe your parents.”

I think history shows that this "internalization" thing is dubious at best if counted on as an actual structural restraint. When offered the opportunity to do so without repercussion, people break the law openly.

“Authorities emphatically tell us 'don't take recreational drugs', 'don't share your music collection', 'don't go out dress slutty', 'don't get an abortion', 'don't have more than one sex partner', etc. because all those behavioral restraint lack the intrinsic legitimacy to be accepted without coercion.”

You've stopped talking about law now. Law does not forbid us from taking recreational drugs; it only prescribes which ones we take, ostensibly on the grounds that we should be protected from poisons, and in general that's correct. Law doesn't forbid us from sharing our music collection; it only forbids certain ways of doing so. Law absolutely doesn't tell us not to dress sluttily or not to get an abortion or not to have more than one sex partner. In fact, under US law, it is generally illegal to use coercion to prevent someone from doing those things if they want to.

We argue about the limits of these laws. I have significant concerns about the limits of the law myself. I have strong opinions about it in all of these cases. But that doesn't mean I think the law is wrong in and of itself.

“I'm extremely dubious about your assertion that U.S. laws are just too, although obviously that's too complicated for this thread. Are there any just sentencing guidelines in the U.S. today though? There is simply no justice when the sentencing guidelines are all designed to cow the accused into a plea deal.”

Sentencing guidelines are a minor part of the law and relatively easily changed. I agree that sentencing guidelines in many states are problematic, but they are on the whole not terrible. They need adjustment, in some cases severe adjustment. But again, that doesn't mean I think they shouldn't exist. That means I think we should use our democratically-granted processes to change them.

But, again, sentencing guidelines are a minor part of the law. Much of the law in the US is generally a result of the progressive project of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It focuses on equalizing conditions and making opportunity something available to all. This project has flaws, but I support it, and I think it's a good idea. And moreover I think it's consonant with the beneficent and beneficial founding principles of the United States.
posted by koeselitz at 6:04 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The goal should be living your life so that Civil Obedience is not really necessary. It's only the 'orders' falling in line with what you think is best for you to do anyway.

If someone comes to your door saying you must evacuate because of an oncoming typhoon/tsunami/tornado/terrorist attack, you should thank them for notifying you if you weren't aware and start doing what you need to do, which would most likely be packing up to evacuate UNLESS you already have onsite facilities superior to whatever the Authorities would direct you toward. (And if I ever see you again, I'll apologize for laughing at your over-spending on emergency preparations - if I never see you again because your onsite facilities turn out to be inadequate, I'll just laugh more)

But if you're doing some things just to 'stay out of trouble', you might have a "Civil Obedience" problem.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:18 PM on November 24, 2013


Zinn is arguing that a large part of "the law" in the US is about corporations, torts, punishment, and other right-leaning concerns. He grants explicitly in his essay that another large part is about liberalism, the bill of rights, etc.

Much of the law in the US is generally a result of the progressive project of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Is this empirically true? Has anyone categorized the US code in this way? Presumably the result of such a categorization would be irrelevant though, since Zinn's fundamental question is whether your default relation to the law should be obedience, or doubt and trusting your own judgment.

The difficult thing is that the rule of law actually protects us. It protects "us" as in the majority of the people.

Is this true in a country where 22% of all children are in poverty, 33% of black men have been in jail at some point in their lives, and 400 Americans own more than half of America combined? Sure, if you compare "the rule of law" to some straw man of lawlessness, anything is probably better, but Zinn isn't doing that. More fundamentally, the statement above is probably not even false.

This is simply and flatly true; when the rule of law is preserved, fewer people die – fewer poor people, fewer disadvantaged people, fewer people over all in general.

Soviet systems had an elaborate rule of law which they followed fairly assiduously, and plenty of people died. Though again, what the counterfactual is, I don't know; Zinn isn't engaged in anything as silly as comparing "the rule of law" to total lawlessness.

This is the rule of law Lincoln struggled mightily to preserve, when half the Republic was screaming for him to establish complete dictatorship so he could abolish slavery by fiat.

This is false; it's not the case that 50% of the country, the North, or anywhere else was asking for a dictatorship. What a silly assertion.

Law does not forbid us from taking recreational drugs; it only prescribes which ones we take, ostensibly on the grounds that we should be protected from poisons, and in general that's correct. Law doesn't forbid us from sharing our music collection; it only forbids certain ways of doing so. Law absolutely doesn't tell us not to dress sluttily or not to get an abortion or not to have more than one sex partner. In fact, under US law, it is generally illegal to use coercion to prevent someone from doing those things if they want to.

This is quite false as well, unless you are using words such as "law" and "coerce" in very unusual ways. US laws most certainly coerce us not to have abortions, not to use certain relatively harmless drugs, and not to share music in various ways. They also are responsible for sending those 33% of black men to jail and keeping them there; for keeping 22% of children in poverty (SNAP and welfare are laws); and for preserving the wealth of those 400 (taxes are laws). There are a lot of bad laws, and Zinn's point is that default obedience is worse than default disobedience. After all, with the latter, you are still free to follow all those laws you agree with.
posted by chortly at 6:41 PM on November 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


me: “Much of the law in the US is generally a result of the progressive project of the late 1800s and early 1900s.”

chortly: “Is this empirically true? Has anyone categorized the US code in this way?”

Er – yes. This is how historians generally agree the whole thing came about. The vast majority of the US code of laws was constructed during the Reconstruction and particularly during the New Deal during FDR's progressive project to end the recession and equalize economic opportunity. "Progressive" is the term that was invented to describe this movement.

“Presumably the result of such a categorization would be irrelevant though, since Zinn's fundamental question is whether your default relation to the law should be obedience, or doubt and trusting your own judgment.”

It's not a "question." He doesn't even argue about this; he says at the beginning that he assumes that we don't need to argue about it, since it's self-evidently obvious.

me: “This is simply and flatly true; when the rule of law is preserved, fewer people die – fewer poor people, fewer disadvantaged people, fewer people over all in general.”

chortly: “Soviet systems had an elaborate rule of law which they followed fairly assiduously, and plenty of people died. Though again, what the counterfactual is, I don't know; Zinn isn't engaged in anything as silly as comparing "the rule of law" to total lawlessness.”

Zinn is an anarchist. Of course he's engaged in comparing the rule of law to total lawlessness. He believes total lawlessness is preferable, categorically. Of course there are regimes that are bad, but Zinn's assertion is that all of them are worse than lawlessness, which is virtuous and good. I disagree, on a categorical level.

me: “This is the rule of law Lincoln struggled mightily to preserve, when half the Republic was screaming for him to establish complete dictatorship so he could abolish slavery by fiat.”

chortly: “This is false; it's not the case that 50% of the country, the North, or anywhere else was asking for a dictatorship. What a silly assertion.”

The North really did want him to establish dictatorship over the South by fiat. He made it clear that that wasn't a solution. If you disagree that this is a nuanced discussion in which he was really fighting against a number of different forces, then I'm not sure what to say.

me: “Law does not forbid us from taking recreational drugs; it only prescribes which ones we take, ostensibly on the grounds that we should be protected from poisons, and in general that's correct. Law doesn't forbid us from sharing our music collection; it only forbids certain ways of doing so. Law absolutely doesn't tell us not to dress sluttily or not to get an abortion or not to have more than one sex partner. In fact, under US law, it is generally illegal to use coercion to prevent someone from doing those things if they want to.”

chortly: “This is quite false as well, unless you are using words such as 'law' and 'coerce' in very unusual ways.”

Really? Where exactly in the US is it illegal to "dress slutty" or "have more than one sex partner"?
posted by koeselitz at 7:37 PM on November 24, 2013


Authorities emphatically tell us "don't take recreational drugs", "don't share your music collection", "don't go out dress slutty", "don't get an abortion", "don't have more than one sex partner", etc. because all those behavioral restraint lack the intrinsic legitimacy to be accepted without coercion.

Likewise, "Don't have separate facilities for blacks and whites"; "Don't restrict blacks to separate, unequal schools"; "Don't lynch black men who look at white women"; "Don't prevent black people from voting". All lacked the intrinsic legitimacy to be accepted without coercion. And there were quite a bit of affected people who protested those laws. And hey, these days we've got "Don't be without health insurance" evidently as something that requires coercion.

The question is, who decides what's the right thing to protest? You don't need government to have people patrolling the border looking for immigrants to persecute, nor does a "vigilance committee" need government backing. Just who's inherent values do we accept as having "intrinsic legitimacy?"
posted by happyroach at 7:44 PM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is a crucial difference between segregation and recreational drug use, happyroach. Desegregation stuck. Prohibition blew up in our faces, ditto the War on Drugs. Women's suffrage stuck. Copyright infringement shall continue increasing.

Our society accepted harsh DUI punishments quickly. Abortion was accepted anywhere that lacks a powerful religious force opposing it, while anti-abortion laws are routinely flaunted by all social classes. National health insurance has always been accepted quickly once it exists, actually that's expressly why the Tea party fights so hard.

In all these case, there is a social group with a more reality based perspective and a social group with a less reality based perspective. Intrinsic legitimacy is not that nobody will protest now, but that later generations quit protesting.

Are road speed limits legitimate? Yes, most people violate them, but not by soo much. We're likely communicating the speed limits wrong, hence the trend towards residential speed bumps, cobble stones, etc. We're maybe letting people drive too young too, well teenagers are different, that's reality.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:22 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, is an analysis of the news media, arguing that the mass media of the United States "are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion".[1]

Relevant.
posted by polymodus at 8:42 PM on November 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Zinn is an anarchist. Of course he's engaged in comparing the rule of law to total lawlessness. He believes total lawlessness is preferable, categorically.

Wrong. Anarchists are never in favor of full-blown lawlessness in the naive sense. And claiming that only proves your ignorance.

Really? Where exactly in the US is it illegal to "dress slutty" or "have more than one sex partner"?

Zinn speaks about law & order types globally, including Islamic countries in which Mutaween enforce dress codes. Also, adultery is still technically a crime in various states, just one that's not currently enforced because reality kicked in eventually.

I singled out dress codes as unjust laws because I'd singled out DEA agents as being no better than Mutaween. And the DEA does collaborate with authorities in places like North Africa and Afghanistan. Zinn writes :
When in all the nations of the world the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this. We have to transcend these national boundaries in our thinking. Nixon and Brezhnev have much more in common with one another than we have with Nixon.  J. Edgar Hoover has far more in common with the head of the Soviet secret police than he has with us. It's the international dedication to law and order that binds the leaders of all countries in a comradely bond. That's why we are always surprised when they get together -- they smile, they shake hands, they smoke cigars, they really like one another no matter what they say. ..

We are asked, "What if everyone disobeyed the law?" But a better question is, "What if everyone obeyed the law?" And the answer to that question is much easier to come by, because we have a lot of empirical evidence about what happens if everyone obeys the law, or if even most people obey the law.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:45 PM on November 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


me: “Zinn is an anarchist. Of course he's engaged in comparing the rule of law to total lawlessness. He believes total lawlessness is preferable, categorically.”

jeffburdges: “Wrong. Anarchists are never in favor of full-blown lawlessness in the naive sense. And claiming that only proves your ignorance.”

Assuming that I'm "naive," and therefore wrong, is a neat rhetorical trick, but what I said is correct. Since Kropotkin at least, "anarchism" has meant the advocation of a world in which law backed by violent coercion does not hold sway. Are you sincerely arguing that anarchism isn't against violently coercive law?

“Zinn speaks about law & order types globally...”

That's kind of my point. Advocating resistance to law globally is irrational and rash.
posted by koeselitz at 9:02 PM on November 24, 2013


Anarchism == against violently coercive law
Zinn == anarchist
->
Zinn "believes total lawlessness is preferable, categorically"

Got it.
posted by chortly at 9:59 PM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


This post has taken me loner than I thought to write because I can see a core of truth in every post above and yet what I wanted to write was a distillation that also rises to an early challenge in thread to how we might render an update to a dated and yet timeless polemic.

First go and listen to Matt Damon reading Howard Zinns words which come from the year 1970. We live in a topsy-turvy world of horrors. Why?

Zinn immediately mentions civil disobedience but I think of this reference as a token, emblematic of this period where popular movements, using civil disobedience as an option of last resort, had in every other way been crushed and dis-empowered by overwhelming state forces. Popular movements suffered assassinated leaders, shootings at demonstrations, imprisonment, constant cointelpro operations and persistent discrediting in all forms of media.

I assume that the phrase 'civil disobedience' had at that time been turned so thoroughly against popular movements that Zinn felt the need to defend it and I think he does this nicely. He makes plain that obedience is not always a virtue and more pointedly; obedience has resulted in wholesale and innumerable documented atrocities. Civil disobedience has it's place for anyone with a conscience.

Now I do think we live in a different time and there are as many or more institutionalised forms of coercion and control in the hands of authoritarian power but there is a different dynamic because neo-liberal thought is so dominant.

Consider updating Zinns piece. Our modern armies are no longer even armies or made up of obedient conscripts. We are more likely self-interested parties and contractors who wish to secure themselves positions in society outside of an economic ghetto. It might be that nothing changed except that we recognised that warfare is economic.

In a modern piece I don't know what I'd be defending; maybe socialism as a principled idea or maybe the right to exist as an unprofitable agent outside of the corporatocracy. I could make a point that making money is not always a virtue and that the profit motive has resulted in wholesale and innumerable documented atrocities and finish in a different fashion; perhaps to say that people in all walks of life in countries all around the world need to have the spirit to do work that puts life first rather than profit. Then I'd look uncertain and put my hands in packets and look out over the audience. Ummm ... has anyone got any ideas?
posted by vicx at 10:16 PM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The question is, who decides what's the right thing to protest?

You do. That's what living in a free society is about.

There are many authorities: Governments, organizations, family members, one's personal conscience. It is up to everyone to decide for themselves which one has a basis in justice and should be heeded.
posted by anemone of the state at 10:36 PM on November 24, 2013


I may be late to the discussion, but I can't stop wondering, "Why should I advocate for The Rule of Law by a Government that considers ITSELF exempt?"
posted by mikelieman at 2:11 AM on November 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Koeselitz, with respect, the us was already a violently repressive dictatorship, prior to the civil war, with one third of its residents denied any semblance of human rights, and half of the rest denied most of them.
posted by empath at 4:25 AM on November 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Anarchism is usually defined by advocating stateless societies, koeselitz, not lawless societies in the sense that people just do whatever they want. Anarchist are not even terribly dogmatic about society being stateless either, mostly they're just worried about concentrations of power.

Anarchists believe violently coercive law should be eliminated whenever possible. Yet, so does anyone with any halfway sensible world view, just compare Europe vs the U.S., the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:30 AM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]




The men who are responsible for the My Lai massacre are not on trial; they are in Washington serving various functions, primary and subordinate, that have to do with the unleashing of massacres, which surprise them when they occur.

This is only dated with regards to the specific examples mentioned, but it could just as well be about the moral monsters of the Bush administration, who cynically abused 9/11 to push through two wars, or those in the Obama one who plan extrajudicial executions through drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:58 AM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Law does not forbid us from taking recreational drugs; it only prescribes which ones we take, ostensibly on the grounds that we should be protected from poisons, and in general that's correct.

LOL at this. Yes, we should be protected from poisons. But you sidestepped an important fact here while continuing to be "the rule of law"s ultimate apologist: the law has failed MISERABLY to correctly identify for us what are "poisons" vs recreational drugs, and has increased the danger to users in so doing. In fact, some of the worst poisons are now sanctioned by big pharma while truly promising and much safer substances (Ahem, LSD) are stuck on the shelf.

And so, why should I trust any drug law when I know most are based on information that is clinically proven to consist of lies?
posted by cbecker333 at 8:50 AM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


. Law does not forbid us from taking recreational drugs; it only prescribes which ones we take, ostensibly on the grounds that we should be protected from poisons, and in general that's correct.

That is emphatically not why drugs were banned.
posted by empath at 9:43 AM on November 25, 2013 [6 favorites]




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