Thursday, January 10, 2008
Anarchism & Murder (2)
Some Thoughts on Murder
I've been asked what an anarchist might think about murder.
I suppose my first response to the question would be (in smart-ass anarchist tradition) to ask more questions. What is murder and who defines it?
Is every death a murder? Is every "unnatural" death a murder? What deaths are worthy of the designation "mortal sin" and which can be excused or ignored? Is there a difference between the death of a person who is shot point-blank on the street and that of someone by state-ordered firing range? What of death called "collateral damage"? Death by starvation after natural resources have been stolen or destroyed? Death by malnutrition where health is cost-prohibitive? Death by pollution-related illness? Death by flood or draught in an unsteady climate? Death by suicide after a lifetime of institutional, personal and internalized oppression? Death by car culture or drug culture? Death by wage-slave-labor?
Clearly we (both those who do the defining and those who are merely complacent) have a lot tied up in believing some deaths are not murder, eh? As defined by my culture and government now, it seems that murder includes only those deaths of individuals that can be blamed on another individual or group. All other deaths--whether or not they were avoidable, unnecessary, cruel, pre-meditated, or even a clear by-product, aftereffect or consequence of any other act--are not murder. All the deaths that result from the actions and beliefs of a system, institution, corporation or culture are also not murder.
That is the first problem with the question of murder. If it is to be thought-about, discussed, "dealt with," or solved, first the definition must be amended. Don't exclude all the ways that people lethally effect each other in this giant, interconnected global village (yes, I just said "global village") because they are too complicated or because too much depends on our collective denial.
There. Now that that has been taken care of, let's tackle the next part of the question. How should we *anarchists* respond to murder? Well, there are as many ways to respond to murder as there are people in the world. And I would hope that the choice of response will be left to those who are touched by a murder—that the survivors and communities impacted will be able to decide what they want and need to deal, to heal, to find accountability, take responsibility and make sure it won't happen again—in whatever way they see fit.
I know what you're thinking: Nice rhetoric, Mac, but what does that have to do with reality?
So maybe the question is less "how should an anarchist respond to murder?" and more "why the fuck doesn't my culture and my government respond to all this murder we are a part of?!" The murder that I am culpable of in my life right now (because of the energy I use, the medications that keep me alive, the food I eat, the systems I have not brought down…) is so far removed from me. How could I possibly be held accountable by the communities, families and nations of those I have had a hand in murdering? How can people in this giant fucked-up mess have the power to respond to death in the way they see fit? I can hardly find the victims of my murderous culture on a map, let alone find the survivors and bow at their feet to ask their forgiveness.
And you're right: that reality is totally terrifying. And I am enough of a realist and cynic to know that murder will probably be around as long as humans are. But here's one human hoping that in the future murder looks less like globalization, and more like someone stabbing another with a shiv—two people fighting close enough to look in each others' eyes—in a world that is small enough that we can 1) define reality for ourselves, and 2) hold each other accountable for our actions.