Sunday, August 02, 2009

on disengagement

Okay, I've said some pretty negative things about the "get off the grid" folks (along with the "get on a boat" folks) and have observed that, just as GOP support for Bush was a mile wide and an inch deep, the disengagement of conservatives from the GOP now is similarly shallow; as soon as an articulate and charismatic conservative candidate springs up, the "gridders" and born-again libertarians will go back to the GOP in droves. It will be Reagan II.

But I need to make an important caveat and clarification: Disengagement in itself is not a bad thing. Alternative models are important. Blueprints might have been counterproductive in 1848, but the lateness of late capitalism necessitates them now.

So here's the thing: Here's my challenge to the disengagement crew: I want to see you disengage from the state, and capital, and whatever you perceive to be the complex power structure that holds us down--but I want to see you do it without disengaging from the needs and struggles of your African, or Latino, or Indigenous brothers and sisters. Convince me that your disengagement will be more progressive, more inclusive, and more loving than staying here and fighting for a better society.

If all you want to do is implement a market-based outside alternative, you won't convince me of those things, because I don't trust the market alone (or often at all) to meet people's needs--material, spiritual or otherwise.

If you're going to argue that whites have the right live in their own communities and establish their own rules of exclusion (I'm pretty sure the right to discriminate is an ulterior motive for many disengagers), then we have nothing more to talk about. I'd suggest building a spaceship rather than a boat or mountain cabin.

Because ultimately, my deeply misled friends, you can't run away and form your own little micronations or A-framed cabins and get away from the challenges facing humanity. They'll catch up to you, and while it might be fun to think about ten thousand little shootouts and civil wars brewing, or keeping the door to your shelter shut while your neighbors scream and beg, I invite you to consider some more life-affirming alternatives to taking your balls ... and going home.


Will said...

Seasteading has a lot to do with facilitating this sort of disengagement. Our thought revolves around the idea that people should be able to choose the type of society that they want to live in. We think it sucks that envioronmentally-conscious people can't live in a society that shares their values, in the same way that we think that it sucks that socially conservative people can't live in a society that shares their values. There's no one set of rules or laws that everyone will find ideal - we're about proliferating a wide variety of legal systems so that each can find the one that appeals to them. While there might be non-progressive societies, the "ecosystem," if you will, created by dynamic geography would be extremely progressive.

matt said...

Yes, I know that's what you believe.

Anonymous said...

While I very much appreciate and largely agree with your underlying point Matt, I think you have gone a bridge too far in this post. The question you ask is a fair one but it is not the case, as I imagine you will agree, that all those who “disengage” are unmoved by such issues. When we are talking about disengagement, as a rule, we are talking about degrees of selective disengagement.

If you are limiting your criticism to conservatives/libertarians disengaging from the GOP (something I have not seen; maybe we travel in different circles) your admonition to explain their decision in terms of its impact on black, Latino, or indigenous brothers is pissing up a rope. In general, they don't care about those populations, as you know, so calling for such justifications is plainly misplaced.

If you are referring to any and all folks who disengage, this particular effort at criticism is underdeveloped but over-applied.

And the question can be read the other way: Those radicals, revolutionaries, progressives, etc., who remain engaged (as if only embracing sq institutions constitutes engaging with life) should always ask themselves how their innumerable small and large contributions to the current order - contributions that inevitably arise from remaining engaged - will impact black, Latino, and indigenous brothers and sisters.

Or for that matter, ask how investing time, energy, and rhetoric in marginal, disorganized, and electorally ineffective small parties whose maximal impact in the short term is pushing electoral outcomes marginally to the right affects those same groups? What is the benefit to them, setting aside personal satisfaction?

matt said...

My comments were exclusively directed at disengagers from the right, many of whom fall into the hucksertism of professional survivalists, others who, as I mentioned, grew disenchanted with the GOP under Bush, sees no improvement in the current crop of GOP frontrunners and party leaders, and who therefore want to reject all politics at least, and the entire material collective ("the grid") at most.

There's also a core of Christian conservatives who genuinely believe the election of Obama heralds the apocalypse. But there's a whole layer of racists and semi-racists in the GOP who may not be particularly religious but who gather around that kind of rhetoric and find ways that it explains their own life situations.

As for whether it's a waste of time to try to point out the absurdity and futility of their actions, I suppose it's a waste of time compared to doing or writing something historically groundbreaking, but it's a better use of my time than reading random Wikipedia articles or eating another donut.

As for whether staying engaged in the system helps people compared to the damage you do participating in the system: I see examples every day of where both government-supported and "civic" collective action helps people in my community and I know it does so elsewhere. Fighting to defend the commons, if you will, in politics and civil society helps more people than disengaging. But it also probably "delays the revolution," to put it bluntly, and the state and civil aid I am talking about is largely a _response_ to the problems generated by capitalism.

If we're going to talk about blueprints, and creating new societies, that's great. And I'm even sympathetic to the idea of letting racists form their own little societies in the middle of the ocean; I mean, think about it...but the "grid" isn't the problem for me. It's the ownership arrangement of the grid that screws things up.