Danish squat evicted
March 5, 2007 8:21 PM   Subscribe

Three days of rioting and protest across Denmark, fueled by an influx of supporters from outside the country, was the result of the Danish police's sudden eviction of long-standing squat Ungdomshuset ("Youth House"). It was the last such social centre in Denmark, whose self-governed municipality of Christiana also began as a squat (though its future remains in question).

Squatting, the act of taking over abandoned property (sometimes surreptitiously as a way to secure housing for the homeless, sometimes publically as a way to exert political pressure) has a long history, and often meets with intense repression, though has sometimes been instrumental in city-building. In New York City's early days, homesteading was how many neighbourhoods began, and the squat movement which birthed the now-legal ABC No Rio community centre is linked to the city's community gardens, as well as its independent arts culture through publications such as World War 3. (WW3's co-founder Seth Tobocman receives continued attention for his graphic novel War In The Neighbourhood.)

Demolition of Ungdomshuset has already begun.
posted by poweredbybeard (53 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not to take away from an otherwise cool post, but I think you mean publically publicly.

Sorry, it was just grating on me.
posted by rollbiz at 8:29 PM on March 5, 2007

Meanwhile, in Sydney, squatters win right to stay in empty harbourside home.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:05 PM on March 5, 2007

great post. it is good to see they are fighting in Denmark, even if this round might be lost.
posted by pwedza at 9:14 PM on March 5, 2007

Dette er ikke saa godt.
posted by LordSludge at 9:20 PM on March 5, 2007

Is it bad that I always thought they called it squatting because they took craps anywhere in the house because there was no running water?
posted by fenriq at 9:28 PM on March 5, 2007

no that's accurate
posted by grobstein at 9:33 PM on March 5, 2007

(When there's running water, it's not properly called squatting.)
posted by grobstein at 9:34 PM on March 5, 2007

This has been front page news in Sweden for the last week.

It seems that the bit about "... fueled by an influx of supporters from outside the country..." did not help anyone's cause when the supporters were nothing more than football hooligans looking to cause/join/prolong the violent mayhem.

Also it seems that the destruction caused to the building by the "protesters" is providing the motivation for the rapid demolition of the building.

Great way to protest, dumbasses.
posted by three blind mice at 10:07 PM on March 5, 2007

Your cogent and subtle analysis is welcome as always, three blind mice. Thanks for adding another wrinkle to the issue of public housing within the framework of private land ownership. I think you've given us all a lot to think about here today.
posted by poweredbybeard at 10:28 PM on March 5, 2007 [3 favorites]

One of my more interesting memories is, two summers ago, attending a party in a NYC lower east side half-squat/half-abandoned building. Indeed, in the abandoned sections where the party was, people were pissing anywhere in the house (though I think there was a functional bathroom somewhere.) It was thrown by some artsy kids (no idea who) and featured weird art being projected, dollar shots of bargain-basement tequila, graffiti being thrown up on the surrounding buildings, and some sort of dyke band who had one lyric I could understand - a frantically repeated "I'LL CUT YOUR DICK OFF!"

I was surprised a squat could still exist in this day and age in NYC.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:49 PM on March 5, 2007

Everybody who actually buys real estate is so stupid! Why buy when you can simply STEAL OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTY and then refuse to leave when they want your ass outta there!
posted by Sukiari at 11:08 PM on March 5, 2007

I'm frightened to read this thread. Be prepared to be overly reamed for spelling and formatting issues. Whatever. It's an interesting story that I hadn't heard about with a lot of useful context. Excellent post.
posted by serazin at 11:15 PM on March 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

The OP's link to the Wikipedia article didn't survive for some reason. IMHO the following articles are interesting and worth a look:

* Squatting (lists lots of squats similar to the ones under discussion and gives details about how they work)
* Squatter's Rights
* Squatter Sovereignty

FWIW, the township where I now live, in Missouri, was a "lost township"--meaning that the government somehow lost all the land ownership records. Maybe it was never surveyed or the records were lost--no one seems to know.

But the result is, when farmers moved into the area in the early 1800s they just squatted on their land for decades until they finally got it all straightened out.

Even today under most modern legal systems, it is still possible to take possession of land by squatting if certain conditions are met. The squat (or, more technically, "adverse possession") must be visible (as opposed to hidden), actual (ie, you & your possessions must physically be there), exclusive (as opposed to sharing it with the real owner), hostile (as opposed to with the permission of the owner), and continuous (though not necessarily constant) for a certain period of time. If you can prove all that, just head down to court and claim your title. (Details in the wikipedia article.)
posted by flug at 11:17 PM on March 5, 2007

From the links you've provided, it sounds as though everything is going according to the way it should.

The building belongs to someone who wanted them out, the squatters have refused to leave or (in years past) allow needed repair and renovation, and court orders have given the owners the means to evict the "residents". They (the squatters) even owned it for a period and had to sell because they couldn't keep up with owing the building.

The squatters seem to have made an issue of the fact that they are "stone throwing, violent psychopaths from hell" and would refuse to move. They seem petulant and immature, and I think the Danish police had a difficult job to do, which, from what I read, went pretty smoothly.

I have little sympathy for the Ungdomshuset group.
posted by dozo at 11:34 PM on March 5, 2007

I vote against dozo.

Collective space, imaginatively used, demolished so some rich church can use it for goodness knows what (my guess is yuppie flats if it's not an actual church). Corrupt deal with local authority. Victory for grim uniformity.

posted by imperium at 12:00 AM on March 6, 2007

You can watch the building being demolished here.

The incoming protesters were not "football hooligans" but other supporters of autonomous spaces. As for "squatting;" the people occupying Ungdomshuset maintain that the city had no right to sell the building.

In any case, the whole affair is a loss for Copenhagen. The city has lost a great 25-year-old social center and venue in the central city which will not easily be replaced. Ungdomshuset repeatedly offered to buy the building at a price far exceeding its value, but was refused each time. In the end, the riots have cost 5 times more than the value of the building, and its demolition has angered a huge number of citizens. In Ungdomshuset's place there will be an empty lot owned by a cult.
posted by beerbajay at 12:08 AM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

This all sounds very much like the Netherlands in the 1980`s.
posted by happybunny at 12:16 AM on March 6, 2007

What beerbajay said.

I live near the Ungdomshus, and this is truly a loss. It is the victory of soulless, greedy politicians and christian fundamentalists.
Ungdomshuset was one of the few places in Denmark where you could actually listen to some independent music, while enjoying a beer without having to pay half your income in one sitting.
We are looking forward to a summer of rioting because a lot of people do not have a place to go after music venues. Instead they will just hang out in the streets.
posted by Eirixon at 12:34 AM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I stayed at the Ungdomshuset for a while about 10 years ago. Frankly, everyone who lived there was a jackass and I slept on glass about every night. The best part was that the people living there long term had claimed rooms and put padlocks on their bedroom doors to keep out dirty squatters... oh, the irony. I was eventually kicked out... and was delighted to find much better squats with much nicer people in other parts of Copenhagen.
posted by baklavabaklava at 12:37 AM on March 6, 2007

I live near the Ungdomshus, and this is truly a loss. It is the victory of soulless, greedy politicians and christian fundamentalists.

Rioting, setting cars on fire, and throwing paving stones at the police is no way to garner public sympathy Eirixon. It's like those "reclaim the streets" marches that leave central Stockholm looking like Baghdad every summer. All it does is empower the "souless, greedy politicians." I'm all for peaceful protests and "autonomous spaces"; wonton distruction of public property and violence I have no patience or respect for.

What follows is by no means an excuse for police brutality which was absolut (there very existence is offensive) but a comment on tactics. As the rts with the sound system in the middle moved from the side streets into the middle of a major street junction and took it, we realised the front of the march had sped up and disappeared around a corner - for 5 minutes the situation was unclear with about 300 people blocking the road (not enough) and advancing riot vans and police - we got reports of some arrests and were trying to figure out what to do when 150 black block came running back round the corner to huge cheers.......followed by maybe 12 running riotcops. when they reached the main party blocking the road the bloc stopped turned round and the riot police were met with a small hail of bottles they had to retreat under this but this was the only excuse needed for a full assault on the party - some of the bloc and some easily mobile people managed to retreat but a woman in a wheelchair people with kids in trailer bikes the soundsystem older people and various less aware or less mobile people took the brunt of the charge. this action far from protecting the party massively exposed the most vulnerable elements and was a major fuck up as far as im concerned for blackbloc tactics to be effective they needed to be highly conscious and what happened at that crucial point in yesterdays rts couldnt have been less conscious possibly something to do with the high number of internationals present who didnt understand the loocal situation and maybe werent tuned in to local organisers so weel but most people had been in copenhagen for several days at least and perhaps should have known better a few more points of info over 250 people were arrested (3/5ths non danish) many people were hurt, 1 person in hospital with a broken arm 3 people facing serious prison sentences (irish swedish and german) the rest of the evening continued with your usual riot psycho police madness lets keep fighting to spread our autonomus spaces but with a higher level of tactical consciousness than the police which lets be honest isnt that difficult

"Riot psycho" is not the sole province of the police.
posted by three blind mice at 2:11 AM on March 6, 2007

Also, the house itself (Ungdomshuset) has asbestos coming out of every nook and cranny; it hasn't been looked after particularly well either, which makes the danger of living there quite real.

The international protestors include the Norwegian "Blitzers", who consider the Ungdomshus (Youth House) "members" their squatting society drop-out brothers in arms.
posted by flippant at 3:28 AM on March 6, 2007

First: I do not condone any use of violence in this matter. I think it is wrong on both moral and strategical levels. And I feel sorry for the cops being used as garbage collectors by the politicians (slightly less so for the cops who have repeatedly beaten up my friends because they looked like they might be punks; and the chopper that keep us up all night in order to frighten the Nørrebro population).

Second: I believe much of the rioting is caused by fundamental social inequality and lack of integration. The Ungdomshus situation merely ignited the gasoline laid out by the aforementioned politicians.

And back to work.
posted by Eirixon at 3:31 AM on March 6, 2007

I, too, live not too far from Ungdomshuset. The other day I couldn't walk down the street with my girlfriend because there was tear gas all over the place. The protesters have done millions of kroners worth of damage and several people have been injured seriously.

I liked having Ungdomshuset around and coming there and and I'm all for diversity and everything. But protesting by trashing my city? No way. Fuck them.

I get especially pissed off because the violent protesters ruin it for the rest of us who believe in many of the same things but who think non-violent protests is the best way to go about it. Who is going to listen to my arguments about cultural diversity and the value of sub-cultures when their car has just been set on fire?
posted by sveskemus at 5:01 AM on March 6, 2007

This is my take, as a local, on the chain of events.

The use of the Youth House was granted to the squatters by the city of Copenhagen in the early 1980's and became something of a cornerstone for the alternative punk and extreme-left youth culture in the greater Copenhagen area.

While the city kept ownership, it was run autonomously and without supervision. It had concerts, book clubs, parties and soup kitchens. It also, however, became the natural meeting place for extreme-left hooligans, and though these people may have been unrepresentative of the majority of the house's users, the Youth House became the centre of several riots and street fights following parties and political manifestations.

This made it unpopular in the city council. Meanwhile, the house fell into disrepair and it was feared it had become a fire hazard. During concerts and parties there were no control over the number of people present and reportedly several people used it as a home, which was against the agreement with the city council. When a fire broke out in the 1990's the youth repaired the damage themselves, but they wouldn't allow the city council to check on the soundness of the repairs.

At this point, the city council felt unable and unwilling to keep the political responsibility of the house. They had no way of guaranteeing the safety of the users and decided to sell the house under the condition that the new owners would maintain or replace the house and continue to use it as a culture centre for youths and the neigborhood.

Several interested buyers made bids for the house. Many were rejected including "The Father House"-church. Instead, a somewhat neutral stock corporation won the bid, promising to keep a culture centre going. It soon became clear that "The Father House" had or had adquired the stock majority of the corporation. While the city council had reserved the right to buy back the house in case the corporation wanted to sell, they could not force the corporation to sell it.

Angry that a fundamentalist church had ninja'ed a place of punk and counter-culture, the youths rejected to cooperate in any way with the church, and they forcefully ejected representatives of the church trying to inspect their new property. The church retaliated by going to the courts, and the youths counter-sued, claiming the city council had no right to evict them, claiming they were de facto tenants and were protected by tenant's rights.

Both county court and high court ruled in favor of the Father House-church, and the church went to the police asking them to help evict the youths.

At this point there was a considerable political understanding of the plight of the youths and negotiations between the youths and the city council went on, trying to find an acceptable substitute for the house. Several other houses were offered to the youths, but they did not accept them, both because the couldnt be guaranteed the same level of autonomy they had at the old house, and also because they still believed the city council was wrong in selling the old house in the first place, and they hoped that the city council could somehow sway the Father House-church to relinquish the house.

As several proposals were rejected the negotians came to a halt and at point the police decided to evict. The youths had prepared for a long siege and had fortified the house with barbed wire and they had prepared bombs, flame throwers and plenty of rocks for throwing. However, the police caught the youths completely by surprise as the anti-terror department led a multi-pronged assault on the building, and in a matter of minutes, the police had control of the building without any major injuries at any side.

During the day, peaceful demonstrations turned violent during the night as activists smashed storefronts, erected burning barricades and tried to kill or main the police officers by throwing cobblestones at them. The police had refined their riot control and used armored cars to control and contain the riots and despite the effort of the rioters and despite hundreds of arrests very few personal (and no major) injuries were caused.

Next day, the same thing happened. Peaceful demonstrations turned violent during the night, but the destruction were greater and more wide spread. A local high school was ransacked and several cars were turned over or set on fire. Again the police were able to arrest hundreds of protesters with very little injury caused or received.

The day after this, the police raided several locations believed to house leading groups of the activists. Whether this is the cause or it was because the activists realised that the sympathy they had in the general public had vanished after two nights of mindless rampage, the demonstrations and political manifestations have been peaceful since then.

As of yesterday, 650 people had been arrested. Most have been released and will face fines for breaking local ordnances. 189 are now jailed facing different criminal charges. There have been 145 foreigners arrested: Approx. 22 Norwegians, 26 Swedes and 34 Germans. 58 youths below the age of 18 have been arrested.
posted by cx at 5:53 AM on March 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

Is it bad that I always thought they called it squatting because they took craps anywhere in the house because there was no running water?
no that's accurate
posted by grobstein

No, that's not accurate. "Squatting" just means (metaphorically) walking onto somebody's property and squatting down unceremoniously, asserting your presence and intention to remain. It has nothing to do with defecation or (originally) buildings. OED s.v. squatter:

1. a. U.S. and early Austral. A settler having no formal or legal title to the land occupied by him, esp. one thus occupying land in a district not yet surveyed or apportioned by the government.
1788 J. MADISON in Sparks Corr. Amer. Rev. IV. 207 Many of them and their constituents are only squatters upon other people's land, and they are afraid of being brought to account. 1809 KENDALL Trav. III. lxxiv. 160 Upon visiting his lands, he finds..possession taken by a race of men, (the settlers and lumberers,) who in this view are called squatters. ... 1833 W. H. BRETON Excursions in N.S.W. 442 There are likewise in the colony certain persons called ‘squatters’ (the term is American) who are commonly.. of the lowest grade. 1834 PRINGLE Afr. Sk. iii. 162 Engelbrecht is what in America would be called a Squatter. He has no land of his own. 1835 Sydney Gaz. 28 Apr. 2 In every part of the country squatters without any reasonable means of maintaining themselves by honesty, have formed stations, and evidently pursued a predatory warfare against the flocks and herds in the vicinity. ...
d. One who occupies an uninhabited building illegally (esp. as a member of an organized group).
1880 W. H. DIXON Royal Windsor IV. xxix. 269 The King's house was a wreck; the fanatic, the pilferer, and the squatter, having been at work. ... 1952 M. LASKI Village xiii. 185 The London squatters had moved into their flats and their hotels, and triumphantly held the police and all the authorities at bay. ... 1973 LD. DENNING in All England Law Reports III. 395 [McPhail v. Persons unknown]. What is a squatter? He is one who, without any colour of right, enters on an unoccupied house or land, intending to stay there as long as he can. 1980 Oxf. Compan. Law 1171/2 A squatter is a trespasser and liable to criminal penalties if he forces entry against the opposition of the lawful occupier or if, having been warned, he fails to leave.

Good post, but please don't use multiple paragraphs in a front-page post. [More inside] is your friend.
posted by languagehat at 6:03 AM on March 6, 2007

Oh, and the verb squat:

9. To settle upon new, uncultivated, or unoccupied land without any legal title and without the payment of rent. Orig. U.S.
1800 Mississippi Territorial Archives 212, I wish also to be instructed for my Conduct towards those people Squatting or establishing themselves upon the Public Lands. 1829 MARRYAT F. Mildmay xxi, He was a Kentucky man, of the Ohio, where he had ‘squatted’, as we say. 1854 THOREAU Walden 70 As for a habitat, if I were not permitted still to squat, I might purchase one acre. 1884 St. James's Gaz. 20 June 6/1 The ancestors of many of the present freeholders began to squat upon the uncultivated slopes of the hills.

c. To occupy an uninhabited building illegally (esp. said of a group of homeless people organized for this purpose); to live as a squatter (SQUATTER n.1 1d).
1880 DIXON Windsor IV. xxix. 269 Paupers had squatted in many of the towers. 1937 ‘G. ORWELL’ Road to Wigan Pier v. 81 In one town I remember a whole colony of them who were squatting, more or less illicitly, in a derelict house which was practically falling down. 1946 Daily Worker 9 Sept. 4/3 We.. decided to assist homeless people to squat in certain of these buildings. ... 1969 Peace News 13 June 5/1 One startling realisation.. is how few is the number of families that have had the courage to squat. 1980 Oxf. Compan. Law 1171/2 Persons may squat in buildings by reason of inability to find other accommodation and may do so deliberately as a protest against shortage of housing in the area.
posted by languagehat at 6:08 AM on March 6, 2007

The Hat hath spoken.

And 'tak' for the story background, cx.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:40 AM on March 6, 2007

Whee, I was just down near Ungdomshuset to take photos of the demolition and was detained, my person was searched, then my apartment was searched. Totally awesome!
posted by beerbajay at 6:47 AM on March 6, 2007

I was standing around Nørrebro Runddel, watching the demolition take place, after having taken some pictures of the flowers (lots of them have been left now), some photos of the building (the top floor is now gone), and some of the crowd and police. I feel a big heavy arm under mine and think maybe somebody is trying to make off with my camera, but then another one gets me from the other side. I don't know danish. They some something about 'politet,' aw shit.

I ask what they suspect me of, they tell me they'll say in a few minutes. I'm taken to a police van (standard blue one, but not the troop carriers; this has seats on the side, grill over the back doors, probably for prisoners). There are six male officers and one female. They drive around in circles presumably looking for a place to park. They take my camera, look through the pictures. They take my wallet, look through my money, id, etc. They take my bag and search it. They ask me questions about where I'm from, what I'm doing in Denmark, how long I've been there, where I live, etc. I answer their questions. They start to drive again and I ask where they're taking me. They tell me they don't know. Eventually we stop and a couple of the male officers get out and talk with some other officers. They get a folder with pictures of people (presumably screen captures from video) and flip through it.

They tell me to get out of the van and get into a tiny car with two officers. They tell me they suspect me of being at the riots (I wasn't) wearing a long black coat and carrying a 3 phone (or a 3 bag, I forget which). They drive me to my girlfriend's apartment where I am staying and tell me they're going to search for this jacket and phone/bag. Thankfully my girlfriend is also there and corroborates my story. They look through my clothes and through my girlfriend's clothes; they don't find anything.

They ask to see my photos from the first of March, which are on my computer. I am rather tense because I was out taking photos, and was at Folkets hus when there was a bonfire in the street and some tear gas was fired at people gathered there (no "rioting" though). They look through my photos. They take mugshot style photos of me with and without a black knitted cap, which I often wear.

They don't seem to care about the photos, and are finally done. They tell me that since they needed to find the clothes, but since they didn't, they can no longer suspect me of rioting. I ask take their photos, they say okay, so I do. They leave.

Lessons learned:
* If one riots, put the clothes in which you riot somewhere safe outside your apartment, and never wear them anywhere near cops.
* If one riots, cover your face, even if it's illegal so that it will be more difficult to identify you. Make sure you follow the previous point.
* Keep other evidence of your whereabouts unrecorded; don't take photos of yourself throwing a rock, or if you do, don't make it easy to access. =)
* Even if you've done nothing, you can easily be sucked in to police-land.
posted by beerbajay at 7:33 AM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yes, thank you cx. It's sad how good intentions and high ideals on both sides can lead to this sort of thing.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:36 AM on March 6, 2007

The day after this, the police raided several locations believed to house leading groups of the activists.

It's an old strategy for police to use the cover of this or that conflagration as an excuse to crack down on other activists or execute some raid for which they've yet to have actual legal justification...

Charges resulting from such incidental raids often get dropped, but "you can beat the rap, but not the ride..." Files, hard drives, personal effects, and so forth tend to get (oops!) lost by police in the intervening period, and they'll often get some info or a chance to put restrictive bail conditions on some folk.

And it's all much easier to justify when there's a blanket of kneejerk OMG ACTYVISTS!! reactions, the sort of which we see in some of the comments here.

Also, the house itself (Ungdomshuset) has asbestos coming out of every nook and cranny; it hasn't been looked after particularly well either, which makes the danger of living there quite real.

I don't live in Copenhagen (and thanks indeed, cx, for the summary). But I do get the feeling that "bargaining in good faith" hasn't exactly been the operative term here.

The squatters and the city probably should have met halfway and figured how to keep the place safe.

But it's extremely difficult for a group with relatively no power to find middle ground with those who hold all the cards; history shows again and again that if you try to compromise with those in power, they'll screw you. Letting inspectors in to get the place up to code could have been the solution, or it could have been the thin edge of the wedge for a bust. I wouldn't blame the squatters for fearing the latter.

In the end, it's a sort of small-scale blockbusting. The city is slimy privately with the squatters, while publicly appearing to be trying to help. The building goes to shit (for which the squatters must of course be partially to blame), police go completely over the top in their raid, things get broken in the resulting anger, and the city can say, look, see, they're hooligans.

A good strategy also tends to be picking the less popular target, to elicit the sort of prejudice we've seen here; I can't help wondering whether someone is hoping this will soften people up for a push to start chipping away at Christiania.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:12 AM on March 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Quotes from the police in the press indicate that they did not have warrants for the raids on activist homes. I'll find the article when I have a few minutes.
posted by beerbajay at 9:23 AM on March 6, 2007

Yeah, I kind of assumed they didn't have warrants.

And I'm sorry you had to go through that experience, beerbajay. In my mind I was saying, "If they don't have a warrant, tell them to eff off," but of course things change a lot en route from theoretical to practical. Especially when practical is large and has a nightstick.
posted by poweredbybeard at 9:34 AM on March 6, 2007

Yeah, or when you don't really know the relevant laws in a country that's not your home.

They've already started chipping away at Christiania. There are now daily (hourly?) patrols of cops through pusher street.
posted by beerbajay at 10:52 AM on March 6, 2007

I'm not a supporter of direct, violent action, however, ask yourself the following:

What is there that is nonviolent or peaceful about the forceful, police-force eviction of an anti-establishment youth center?

What is there that is nonviolent about the way in which the building was "purchased"?

By what right (other than the right of might) does the establishment have to act as they do? To take away? To destroy and bulldoze what others have created?

Violence comes in many, many forms. Violence can be paper, and words, and civility. Violence can be warrants and laws. Violence can be biased, corporate media coverage. Violence can be so slow and subtly you don't even notice it.

Just because it's not exploding doesn't mean it's not violence. Just because there's no blood doesn't mean it's not violence.

It's all too easy to forget, and all too important to remember.

Also: I'm with you, Copenhagen, and in the network. Copenhagan youth and activists feel free to email me. My freetekno/activist housemates may be able to help in a variety of ways.
posted by loquacious at 11:28 AM on March 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

What is there that is nonviolent about the way in which the building was "purchased"?

I'm not following you here. Are you claiming that guns were used in the "purchase"?
posted by languagehat at 12:16 PM on March 6, 2007

I'm not following you here. Are you claiming that guns were used in the "purchase"?

No. I'm claiming that not all violence comes from the barrel of a gun.

How is the destruction of cultural center not violent? How is it that it's clandestine purchase (as described in this thread) is not violent?

I implore you to consider that even a mundane bearaucracy can be "violent", with naught but paper and ink as a weapon.
posted by loquacious at 12:59 PM on March 6, 2007

No. I'm claiming that not all violence comes from the barrel of a gun.

I was afraid that's what you meant.

My friend, I'm one of your fans here at MeFi, and I love your over-the-top loquacity, but I implore you to consider that words have meanings, and to wantonly disregard those meanings is to degrade the quality of discourse. Believe me, I understand the temptation to push words beyond their job descriptions in the service of ideological oomph, but it's self-defeating. To call all heterosexual intercourse "rape" (to take a notorious example) is to dilute the power of the word rape for the sake of agitprop. And the same goes for calling—what, all of capitalism? or just the purchase of things you think are cool by people you don't think are cool?—"violent"; it just makes the word that much less meaningful. We can oppose things effectively while still using language in normal ways; in fact, I'd say that was the most effective way to communicate. Normal people, when they hear you describe a real estate transaction as "violent," are going to think "oh, bullshit" and stop paying attention. I don't think that's the consummation you devoutly wish for.
posted by languagehat at 2:46 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

but I implore you to consider that words have meanings,

Hu? As I read it, that is precisely the point loquacious was making.

Hell, I'd go further and argue that most violence doesn't come from the barrel of a gun, that most of it isn't actually physical.

To ignore the possibility of non-physical violence (or non-physical dimensions to anything, really) is to ignore most of what makes humans human, and most of what makes this system function the way it does.

Not to mention most of the history of psychology.
posted by poweredbybeard at 2:53 PM on March 6, 2007

Or, to put it another way, to deny the non-physical manifestations of violence is to buy in to the dominant discourse on both violence and language.
posted by poweredbybeard at 2:55 PM on March 6, 2007

Hell, I'd go further and argue that most violence doesn't come from the barrel of a gun, that most of it isn't actually physical.

Do you seriously think most people would agree with you? You say "to buy in to the dominant discourse on both violence and language," and I hear "'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'" The OED says violence is "The exercise of physical force so as to inflict injury on, or cause damage to, persons or property; action or conduct characterized by this; treatment or usage tending to cause bodily injury or forcibly interfering with personal freedom... d. Undue constraint applied to some natural process, habit, etc., so as to prevent its free development or exercise. Now used in political contexts with varying degrees of appropriateness." So no, violence doesn't have to be physical, but the farther you get from that, the more the "varying degrees of appropriateness" vary towards the bullshittical. As the final citation in that d. section puts it:
1984 Daily Telegraph 5 Oct. 20/2 [At the Labour Party Conference] much violence was done to the word violence, which it appears can be used to describe almost anything you do not care for.
posted by languagehat at 3:23 PM on March 6, 2007

Or, to put it another way, "Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"
posted by languagehat at 3:24 PM on March 6, 2007

Or, to put it yet another way, how would you like it if people on the opposite side of the political fence talked about a street demonstration from your crowd as being "violent" despite the fact that there was no, you know, violence (in the boring literal sense), because your beliefs, chants, and demeanor were inherently violent? You wouldn't, right? It always helps to turn things around and see how they look from the other side.
posted by languagehat at 5:28 PM on March 6, 2007

Do you seriously think most people would agree with you?

I'm sorry, I kind of zoned out after the implication that right or wrong is judged by popularity. Unfortunately, that was your first sentence.

But I am getting that you'd rather cling to a sanctity of some theoretically neutral and immutable language rather than think about actual power relations, or their intersection with that language. So, bully for you, Lord of Words.

Oh, and when you're out of targets, I have some more straw you can use, if you like.
posted by poweredbybeard at 7:45 PM on March 6, 2007

beerbajay, thanks for sharing your story. I've visited both Ungdomshuset and Christiania, albeit about 15 years ago, and I remember being really impressed by both of them.

I think the underhanded way in which this eviction was accomplished is horrid.
posted by dejah420 at 10:19 PM on March 6, 2007

But I am getting that you'd rather cling to a sanctity of some theoretically neutral and immutable language rather than think about actual power relations, or their intersection with that language. So, bully for you, Lord of Words.

oh no you dind't

But anyway, just because one does not believe that language is an unchangeable thing does not mean it cannot be perverted or used to conceal or prevent thought.

George Orwell sez-

"Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable.' The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality."

"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."

When you use "violence" to describe any action you dislike, you render the word meaningless. There are many other words that can be used to describe what you are talking about, but as I think you know, the word "violence" carries a specific meaning that you wish to bring to your writing, even though it makes your use of violence and vague meaningless word.
posted by Snyder at 11:35 PM on March 6, 2007

If a state holds the monopoly on the 'legitimate' use of force, then any act of that state against the wishes of those acted upon, can be construed as violence.

That that act is indeed accepted as legitimate makes it no less violent. The more contested the legitimacy, the reasonably it may be described as violent.

Either that, or using force is not, by definition, violent. In which case, if you rape someone at the point of a gun, but don't shoot them, it was a non-violent act.
posted by Goofyy at 1:56 AM on March 7, 2007

Boy, someone need to read some Foucault...
posted by Eirixon at 5:15 AM on March 7, 2007

I'm sorry, I kind of zoned out after the implication that right or wrong is judged by popularity. Unfortunately, that was your first sentence.

I'm sorry, but the implication was that meaning is judged by "popularity"—or rather, how the majority of people actually use words. Unfortunately, you appear to have limited reading skills.

But I am getting that you'd rather cling to a sanctity of some theoretically neutral and immutable language rather than think about actual power relations, or their intersection with that language. So, bully for you, Lord of Words.

But I am getting that you are one of those pathetic ideologues who cannot address a difference of opinion without treating the other person as The Enemy. It makes no difference to you that I agree with you and loquacious about the actual politics involved; the fact that I differ about the most effective way to describe it means I must be driven out with torches and (come the revolution, comrade!) purged. I've known lots like you; you and your ilk are one of the main reasons I refuse to identify myself as a leftist. A person is known by the company they keep.
posted by languagehat at 5:54 AM on March 7, 2007

When you use "violence" to describe any action you dislike, you render the word meaningless.

Snyder, this isn't simply about using violence to describe something one dislikes. No one's claiming a right to call Rocky Road ice cream violent. Well, not here, anyway.

It's a question of whether there are things which are not physical which can still exert force, intentionally impugn on personal freedom, and create and leave injury.

Just because some (alright, many) people use some words irresponsibly doesn't mean we abandon all right to be poetic. "Freedom" certainly has been expanded to the point of meaninglessness. You're right to take issue with that. I do as well. And it's the same drive which makes me take issue with the calcification of the word "violence" in certain contexts.

Rather than saying open definition is bad, while narrow definition is good, let's look at power. The state benefits from a watered-down definition of freedom; it also benefits from a tightly controlled definition of violence. I'm more interested in taking it up on that level.
posted by poweredbybeard at 5:56 AM on March 7, 2007

But I am getting that you are one of those pathetic ideologues who cannot address a difference of opinion without treating the other person as The Enemy.

Ok, now we've both made absurd, pat character judgements based on no information. Friends?

languagehat, I am sorry for the smackdown (I shouldn't post when I'm tired). Irresponsible. But the first sentence of your post did really rile me up, and I think it's irresponsible as well.

I'm sorry, but the implication was that meaning is judged by "popularity"

Yeah, I get that. Please explain how meaning and ethics are separate.

you and your ilk are one of the main reasons I refuse to identify myself as a leftist.

Just so I'm on record: I'm not a leftist.

But I do get touchy about a (presumed) insistence that language is somehow an objective thing, or that I don't have a right (even a responsibility) to thoughtful definition as a political act.

If I thought I could pull it off, I'd make some joke at this point about how you infringing on my right to definition is violent, but it would just go horribly wrong.
posted by poweredbybeard at 6:06 AM on March 7, 2007


Sure, no problem, and I withdraw my unmerited snark as well.

Please explain how meaning and ethics are separate.

I don't even know how to address this. I don't know what they have in common. Meaning is how the speakers of a language use words, ethics is... ethics. Please explain?
posted by languagehat at 7:59 AM on March 7, 2007

Well at least there is English-language coverage of this now. I'm sitting right now in Summit County, Colorado, and there's even a mention of the story in the local community paper. It doesn't, of course, mention scary and foreign Danish words like Ungdomshuset and Nørrebro, but it's a step up from when I was living in Denmark last year, when this newest round of rioting started, and I couldn't find an English-language news story to save my life. I remember turning on TV2 and seeing helicopter coverage of my block and having no idea what was going on until I asked my flatmates, who were less than thrilled to have to turn from the TV to explain to me what was happening.

It's only a matter of time before similar steps are taken in Christiania; the patrols are hourly and the only thing that might keep the citizen's reaction milder in Christiania--if and when the real crackdown come--is their choice of drug.
posted by jckll at 8:26 AM on March 7, 2007

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