Sunday, March 07, 2010

Late weekending

Noone is illegal
Paul in Lancashire on Yarls Wood and Labour’s soul.

Reconfiguring the left
Reuben asks How should the left feel about social filth? 

Orwell and nationalism
A critical view from Dave Semple, and a response from Carl Packman.

Blair Derangement Syndrome
Jeff on the pyschodynamics of the Chilcot Inquiry.

A post with must-read links from Graeme: Poison in the well of history. Also read: What we've learned so far from the Karadzic trial.

Black metal and the extreme right, Part I
More from Graeme.

David Adler writes:
I've just delved into Michael Bérubé's book The Left At War, and it's reminding me how deeply influenced I am by the late Ellen Willis, in particular her 2003 essay "Is There Still a Jewish Question? Why I'm an Anti-Anti Zionist." [read the rest]
The apartheid analogy
Z-Word have a bunch of resources to refute the Israel apartheid analogy. Good stuff,. Ben talks about "the antisemitic, Soviet-inspired slander that Israel is an apartheid state." However, I cannot understand why making the analogy is itself antisemitic. Surely, even if some of people that make the analogy have dodgy motivations, there is nothing intrinsically antisemitic about it?

Via AA: "Potkin Azarmehr and Peyvand Khorsandi challenged Galloway and his strange asociates in the Palace of Westminster. Video here."

Ditto: "Oliver Kamm added another to the list of useful John Pilger links."

Moonbat and Wingnut watch
Sunder K reports that
The Tory right is getting a British Tea Party movement off the ground this Saturday.

Its being organised by the Freedom Association, perhaps making Hannan heir to Norris McWhirter of "Norris on the spot" Record Breakers fame.

And so the battle to be Britain's Sarah Palin is joined in earnest, with Hannan moving decisively to rein in the early lead taken by The Spectator's Fraser Nelson and ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie.
Meanwhile, across the pond, not suprisingly, neo-Nazis love Ron Paul. And Michelle Malkin, darling of the hard pro-Israel right, describes as "buzzworthy"
a deranged antisemitic screed by conspiracy theorist and 9/11 Truther Paul Craig Roberts, accusing Israel of committing “genocide” and ranting crazily about the “Israel lobby.”
Who’s “abandoning Israel” now?
Incidentally, Paul Craig Roberts is the former Reaganite who now writes regularly for CounterPunch. It's a strange world.

Sarf London resurgant
I loved this map from Brockley Central, re-aligning the world (well, London) correctly:

Other miscellanies
TNC. Poumista. Kellie.

Bob's beats
To finish, Sulochana, aka Ruby Myers,and Nadira, aka Florence Ezekiel, Jewish stars of classic Indian musical cinema.

(More info: Sulochana; Nadira.)


kellie said...

Thanks for the links, but that map, bloody hell, are we allowed to keep the 134 bus?

Peggy loved the Shree 420 clip, and we went looking for more - great stuff.

schalomlibertad said...

"social filth"?! you gotta be kidding me. that´s nazi talk. addressing about male hostility towards women, yes, the left needs to address that. but subway graffiti and loud music, gimme a break. and to conflate them with hostility towards women, is to cheapen the latter. to roll them up under the term "social filth" is to turn it into a reactionary framework. no thanks.

bob said...

kellie, I'll let you keep the 134

Schalom Lib, is it Nazi simply to use words like "filth" and "scum"? Disrespect for the public, common sphere is surely anti-social by any standard? I'm not calling for zero tolerance on graffiti, which I used to think of as a victimless crime (and, indeed, I still think that a lot of graffiti makes a positive contribution to my daily life), but I spend huge amounts of my time on public transport, and I feel kind of like Reuben does when I cannot see through the bus window because it's been scratched up, or I can't read the route because it has been covered up by marker pen tags.

Sure, we need to understand and analyse the root causes of anti-social behaviour. But there is also a meantime, a here and now, in which working class people, and especially poor people, bear the brunt of this kind of behaviour.

I don't know what I would say is the right response - and Reuben doesn't either - but we surely need to come up with one if we want to be taken seriously by the people that live in social housing that is constantly vandalised, people whose kids go to schools were other kids have weapons, people who catch buses and don't drive cars, people who walk down dangerous streets.

My neighbourhood, Crofton Park, is statistically one of the very safest in inner London - but I see reasons to be fearful frequently. What's the right, non-reactionary, response?

bob said...

P.S. Non-British readers may not know, but the "filth" is commonly used here to mean "police" ("the police"). Not sure if that's relevant. The term "scrote", used by one of the right-wing commenters on Reuben's post, is a term used by police and people that talk to policemen, for habitual criminals and so on. Obviously, "scrote", like "chav", is a term loaded with class connotations. (And I assume it goes without saying, but you never know, that "filth" would be considered very derogatory by policemen and their supporters...)

P.P.S. These issues were debated by Red Action and the Independent Working Class Association, as well as by Class War, who used to have stickers saying "No muggers no burglars". I just had a quick look for them, but found this instead:

HACKNEY POLICE ARE planning a clampdown on ‘anti-social behaviour’ around Stoke Newington and Finsbury Park. Apparently they will be using new powers to "disperse" groups of two or more people whom they believe to be involved in anti-social behaviour.

TWO OR MORE? This is more than a tad draconian – even the filth often patrol Hackney in groups
of three! That is one aspect of this new operation we find disturbing. The other is, what is anti-social behaviour? If groups of people are more than two, there’s every chance that they are out socially, on the way to a pub or from a party. In other words, we suspect that the police will use their new-found authority to pick on people out for an evening.

We at London Class War oppose anti-social behaviour – real anti-social behaviour, that is. We oppose muggers and burglars and other scum who prey on their own. It’s typical that this new police initiative comes in areas like the gentrified Stoke Newington, and not in places like Hackney Wick or Haggerston, where working class people predominate. Draw your own conclusions about the filth’s priorities!

Is that fascist talk? (Not a rhetorical question.)

schalomlibertad said...

hi bob,
i am not familiar with the use of the word "filth" to mean police but it is also not the word being used. the word being used is "social filth," which yes i think is nazi talk, and is neither the term used to refer to the police nor the term used by class war.
class war is reframing the term "anti-social," not "social filth."
i still disagree with the conflation of street violence and hostility towards women on the one hand, and graffiti on the other. i dont think one can put them in the same category. i think to do so plays into a reactionary discourse about "the urban problem," attacks on poor people of color, gentrification campaigns, etc.
i think you can find a better way to address the DIFFERENT issues than the way done by the original poster.

bob said...

Thanks. I agree that there is a clear difference between, say, acts of violence and anti-social acts which are primarily against property, and that these should not be conflated. However, I think there is a continuum of anti-social behaviour, where, say, spitting on the floor is different from spitting at a person which is different from hitting a person, but nonetheless these might be related.

Certainly, there is unpleasant eugenic sound to the phrase "social filth", and the fact that Reuben's post was enthusiastically picked up by various right-wing blogs says something.

I googled the term "social filth" and found interesting results.
- its use in a widely circulated text by the American white supremacist Hal Turner.
- its use by the paramilitary squads (limpiezas) hired by the ruling classes in Latin American countries who "cleanse" communities of their "social filth" through terror, as brilliantly described in Michael Taussig's chilling Colombian diary Law In A Lawless Land.
- it is the name of at least one punk band .
- it was used in 1967 by David Rambeau director of Concept-East theater who were staging a LeRoi Jones play which the police tried to shut for indecency. Rambeau was making the point that the play was about the "social filth" that is out there in the city (I think) (here).
- the common use of "anti-social filth" by anarchists and others in the way that Class War use it in my previous comment.

So, I get your point, but I think what Reuben says is otherwise largely valid.

TNC said...

Thanks for the link.

Re: Orwell and nationalism. I have long felt that people who live in/with a relative security and abundance of something feel much more free to denigrate it. So Orwell, who lived in a strong and powerful nation, felt free to dis nationalism.

That sentiment is often not shared by formerly colonized peoples (in South America or Africa, for example) or for those who have existed in a situation of stateless for a couple thousand years (Jews). For many of them, nationalism is an incredibly positive thing.

I feel the same way about middle-class folks who constantly drone on about how the working-class and poor should abandon middle-class aspirations. Easy for them to say, isn't it? Most of the poor folks who I grew up with were trying their hardest to escape poverty and enter the middle-class.


In the U.S., neighborhoods where graf and other "victimless crimes" are permitted are neighborhoods where violent crimes are more common. I'm not saying one causes the other, but there is certainly a relationship if in no other sense of people realizing there is a decreased police presence in these neighborhoods as compared to other neighborhoods. Seriously. The things people feel comfortable doing in some neighborhoods (whether that is tagging, urinating in public, harassing women, etc.) they would not dare attempt in others for fear that they will be busted. I see it all the time and have seen it all my life.

"Some day a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets"
--Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in "Taxi Driver"

kellie said...

I thought Dave Semple's account of Orwell's argument seemed very distorted in places. I hadn't read the full essay before, & enjoyed it.

schalomlibertad said...

dear bob,
no, i don´t think there is a relationship between violence against women and spitting on the floor. i can´t think of a "spectrum" that reasonably relates the one to the other. "anti-social" is just too vague of a term to make any coherent connection. plenty of people pee in the street where I live, and many others graffiti the walls. I don´t really like the smell of sun-baked urine, but I wouldnt say the men who relieve themselves in the public are somehow more likely to hit women than those men who have easy access to toilets.

bob said...


I agree that "violence against women" is a fundamentally different category than "anti-social behaviour". But I still think that the notion of anti-social behaviour is meaningful. It is about a disrespect for the common realm, the social realm, a conscience that is thoroughly privatised (or perhaps thoroughly retracted to a small group of peers) that the social is erased. This can take very trivial forms, such as playing tinny music out of your phone on the bus, at a volume that the whole bus can hear. Sure, no big deal, but indicative of a certain degree of unawareness of the needs of others. And it can take serious, violent forms.

Not all violence falls into the catogory of anti-social violence. For example, someone who robs someone out of truly desperate hunger, someone who is completely insane, someone who is acting out of some particular motivation such as vengeance, these are not good examples of anti-socialness (which is not to say I am approving of them).

And anti-socialness may not be the most significant thing about a particular act. For example, a piece of graffiti might be both anti-social but also enormously beautiful, and the latter feature might be more significant, at least in some contexts, than the former. Conversely, an act of misogynistic violence might fall into the "anti-social category" too, but its significance (morally and politically) is as an act of gendered violence and not as anti-social.

Does that make sense?

bob said...

Prompted by Kellie, I just re-read "Notes of Nationalism". What a stunning piece of writing. What insight. Go and read it everyone now! And if you can't for whatever reason read the whole thing, read the sections that begin "Instability" and "Indifference to reality".

I think it may be the case (and Orwell kind of admits this) that he is stretching a bit to use the word "nationalism" as the name for what he is talking about. I can't think of a better word though.

I agree with some of Dave Semple's points, and Raymond Williams' points are very insightful and I think mostly true. But I think that Dave is tilting at the wrong target, and Williams' criticism does not stand up against this particular text (though it might against other "late" Orwell writings).

First, Dave puts a lot of words into saying Orwell is wrong about patriotism, even though Orwell barely touches on patriotism here. Dave, in my view, goes way over the top here. I don't think Orwell really claims that the English/British "way of life", or any other, is some homogeneous, unchanging entity; I think his position still works if you admit that "cultures, national or otherwise, like religions or any body of shared ideas, traditions and practices, are syncretic" etc. (Dave is extremely eloquent on this, but goes too far with the phrase "no culture escapes geographic amorphism"!)

Second, I think that Dave is wrong to suggest that Orwell's nationalist is contrasted to a fantasy "normal" man. You could read it this way if you focus on the opening paragraphs, but if you carefully read the final paragraphs I think quite the opposite is true.

This is a key point Orwell makes: "The Eltons and Pritts and Coughlins, each of them simply an enormous mouth bellowing the same lie over and over again, are obviously extreme cases, but we deceive ourselves if we do not realise that we can all resemble them in unguarded moments." And: "As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one's own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias. If you hate and fear Russia, if you are jealous of the wealth and power of America, if you despise Jews, if you have a sentiment of inferiority towards the British ruling class, you cannot get rid of those feelings simply by taking thought. But you can at least recognise that you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes. The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. But this, I repeat, needs a moral effort, and contemporary English literature, so far as it is alive at all to the major issues of our time, shows how few of us are prepared to make it."

This is a point he makes again and again in his writing. Politics, he says, is necessary, is the most important thing in the world. But its practice is impossible without the exercise of our most base urges and passions. So we have to constantly struggle, make the simultaneously moral and intellectual effort to reckon with our own prejudices and predispositions, a reckoning that can never be complete.

As an example of the truth of this, I was struck reading the essay that I probably count, in his again rather stretched and idiosyncratic use of the term, as a "Trotskyist", and I find unacceptable the facts that refute this worldview.

schalomlibertad said...

Would the following activities also fall under the category of "anti-social behavior:" Street and subway performers, or homeless people who sleep on (ie, "occupy") public property? The former "interrupts the public," pleas for money, or entertains, disturbs passerby or other subway riders, etc. Creates "noise pollution." Do you really want to place them also in the category of "anti-social"? The homeless who sleep in public places, or the increasing tent cities in the US which occupy public property such as parks, who need to use the commons to fulfill their basic needs also disrupt and occupy public space. Do you want to place them in the category of "anti-social"? Or is there a way of "excusing" such examples as "desperate situations" whose material needs need to be satisfied by use of "public resources"? And how would you then address "non-material needs", such as that of art and self-expression, of graffiti artists, or taggers, who expropriate "the public" for the satisfaction of their "non-material needs"?
What about protests or spontaneous forms of resistance which occur, which "disrupt public order," but address specifically the issue of "the social" and "the public", with means that interrupt everyday life? I think of alienated punk rock youth just as much as the feminist debates between the personal and the political, which to this day remain open questions, which I dont think the category "anti-social behavior" helps to address.
How about the blockades of militant antifascists last month in Dresden who used trash cans and other public materials to build barricades to prevent the Nazi demo? Do you want to place all of those in the category of "anti-social"?
I generally think the term "anti-social behavior" is incoherent and conservative at best, and yes, fascistic, at worst (if it perpetuates the ideology of thinking about human society being contaminated by "social filth").

schalomlibertad said...

»Anti-social solidarity« from the radical-Left
(Germany-based) journal "Wildcat":

We asked people in several countries to write down observations about social effects of the crisis.


If the stakes and complications of any near-future class confrontation can be conceived this way, perhaps it's possible, even more tentatively, to imagine some factors which might contribute to its outbreak:

New unemployment on a massive scale, coinciding with the introduction of the most punitive dole regime ever. Dole offices are already fraught, violent places; what will the arrival of thousands/millions of workers unused to such humiliation mean?

Opportunistic employers seizing on the crisis as the chance to finish off long-running labour disputes and recalcitrant workforces. Of course this could also just mean quick capitulation by the blackmailed workers, but might a strike like last year's at the Post Office be taken further in the absence of the illusion of anything to lose?

New redundancies, wage and benefit cuts and shutdown of basic services in areas where strong collective memory of struggle over similar things during or since deindustrialization exists, eg. the North-East (miners' strike, 1984-85), Liverpool (dockers' strike, 1995-98).

Ever-increasing regulation and policing of social reproduction (biometric ID database, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, state intervention in parent-child relations, etc). This is presented by middle-class campaigners as a 'civil liberties issue', but it really has more to do with attacking the semi-legal or illegal means of survival of the 'socially excluded': 'benefit fraud', informal labour, small-scale drug trade etc. Policing of these things has been used quite successfully so far to provoke division between the 'respectable' mostly-working class and the so-called 'sub-proletariat'. But will it still work this way if a lot more people suddenly find themselves depending on these 'grey markets', or officially 'anti-social' forms of social collaboration, in order to survive?

schalomlibertad said...

oops, i wrote too quickly: my statement "the feminist debates between the personal and the political" should be changed to "the feminist debates about the distinction between the public and the private." i also am reminded of Hannah Arendt´s problematic division between "the social" and "the political." Not that I think all can be collapses into one category, but her distinction tends to depoliticize important social issues, if you´re following me.

bob said...


Excellent points.

Clearly, the way our rulers use the term ASB is highly problematic, inflecting with class prejudices, often racialised. The whole machinery of governmentality and policing which has built up around it (I think in Britain more than anywhere else) has been extremely repressive. There are fascist genealogies behind the "ruling class" use of the term, as well as communitarian ones and Christian socialist ones.

Does that completely rule it out as a category? I don't think so. I think that, unless we can come up with a better term, we need to find a way to use the term to articulate what is a major aspect of lived reality for the great majority of ordinary people in the inner cities and in the suburbs of today. It is not a coincidence that a discourse around the anti-social re-appeared on the far left among precisely among the groups with the most heavily working class composition (Class War, Red Action) at the moment in the 1980s when the social dislocation caused by Thatcherism's assault on the institutions of working class common life were at their most intense.

The 1980s, neo-liberalism ascendent, saw a massive decomposition of the working class, and the flourishing of forms of behaviour that were previously heavily repressed internally within working class communities. It is of course true that the informal mechanisms of repression were potentially reactionary, and it is true that the ways in which this moment is narrated now in both popular discourse and in the media, as well as in commuitarian philosophy, is coloured with a potentially reactionary nostalgia. (I am drawing in thinking about this on oral history work I have done on a South London social housing estate.) But I think that there is nonetheless a crisis of the common realm, especially in the city, that is palpibly felt by the most vulnerable and not just by the gated few.

Of course, this analysis points to a "root causes" approach, the need to struggle against neo-liberalism, that Reuben is sort of arguing against in his post, and it pushes away from a focus on bad individuals and bad their acts to society as a whole. But, and this is Reuben's main argument I think, in the here and now, before the revolution, in the age of waiting as Victor Serge put it, how to address the day to day misery in so many people's lives that is not caused by the "ruling class" but by their own neighbours.

So, many of the examples you mention might be called ASB by the powers that be, but might in fact be better thought of as attempts to recreate or reinhabit the common realm. Or, yes, they may even be better understood as simply survival strategies. So, while the term is fuzzy around the edges and, yes, problematic, it is still, to my mind, of some use.

bob said...

On Hannah Arendt: her strict distinction between the social and the political is, I agree, one of the most damaging aspects of her philosophy. When I first encoutered her, I instinctively disliked her for precisely this. For me then (and now), the social - social movements, socialism as the expression of the social needs of social classes, even social science as the search for understanding of these sorts of social needs - were at the heart of my politics, and to eliminate them seemed profoundly reactionary. Her dismissal of the sans culottes of the French revolution, the rabble who sought to impose social demands on the political revolution, exemplified this.

Over time, I have come more and more to respect her thought, but this remains one of my main sticking points.

I'm not sure exactly how this intersects with our argument. I guess Arendt would criticise any political project that tried to address the anti-social. But, on the other hand, my understanding of the social is coloured by her understanding of the common realm, the world between us, which she defends so valiantly.

There is also a useful Arendtian critique of communitarianism, taken up in recent decades by the late Iris Marion Young and by Richard Sennett, which I broadly buy into, but that's probably for another time!

schalomlibertad said...

"But I think that there is nonetheless a crisis of the common realm, especially in the city, that is palpibly felt by the most vulnerable and not just by the gated few."

I think I found in Reuben´s text, an attempt to push away the issue of structural causes (of the state and capital) in the creation of the "crisis of the common realm," in the attempt to formulate an "approach of the here and now." That is problematic in my view.

A few years back when I was living in Brooklyn, at the border between Bushwick and Bedford-Styvesant, a crater-sized pothole opened up in the street near my apartment. It was there for a few weeks. It was huge, whole families could have gotten eaten up in that thing! Day by day the crater filled up with trash. McDonald´s food wrappers, old tires, plastic junk, moldy clothing, until it filled up so high that an orange plastic cone that was placed in it began to peak out of it. My question: Why not address the state´s destruction of the commons, the erosion and commodification of the commons by capital, rather than speaking about "bad behavior" of individuals? But if you feel determined to speak about individual behaviors, at least address the relationship between those behaviors and the state and capital`s destruction of "the commons." What is the relation? How does the state and capital´s destruction of the commons create a resentment on the part of the most disadvantaged individuals? And so forth. How does the deterioration of roads, the state´s neglect of low-income neighborhoods, and the commercialization of public space contribute to the neglect of it by individuals?

Another point I thought of was the way the "anti-social behavior" ideology is used in schools and by reactionary psychologists to subdue, stigmatize, or exclude rebellious youth. Someone I knew some years back was literally imprisoned in a boarding school under the supposed "anti-authoritarian behavioral disorder." He was an anarchist, and a very intelligent one, whose rebelliousness at school got him in trouble, and his "loving" parents had him sent away and locked up for 2 years of "rehabilitation," until he reached his 18th birthday, and was free to leave. So, there is also the question of the use of repressive forms of psychology in the debate.

schalomlibertad said...

Nice to read your thoughts on Arendt! I share your admiration and distance for her. Too busy to respond at the moment. Should have left the Arendt remark out. Discussion for another time.

TNC said...

"Why not address the state´s destruction of the commons, the erosion and commodification of the commons by capital, rather than speaking about "bad behavior" of individuals?"

Perhaps because examining human nature and individual behavior is more productive than trying to reduce everything to the role of "capital" and "the state"?

schalomlibertad said...

"Productive"? In what sense?

bob said...

re SL/TNC,

It seems to be my scripted role here to say this, but surely it both/and rather than either/or?

If you have an illness with really unpleasant symptoms, you want to deal with the symptoms quickly, but ultimately you want to cure the illness as well. In this case, we need to respond to the symptoms in the here and now, but we also want to address the social malaise at their heart.

(I don't think looking at "human nature", however, is that productive, myself. I don't believe that either anti-social or pro-social behaviour is an inevitable feature of the human make-up. And I think that we can shape society in ways that encourage one or the other; our current social world encourages anti-social rather than pro-social behaviour.)

harpymarx said...

Ooo... I like the map, I see Crystal Palace (my manor... is that still a hip phrase?) and the Penge East and West. Feel so like home!! Great one Bob..!!

schalomlibertad said...

hey bob,
look! a new vacation destination for your conservative readers, where the "quality of life police" sweeps the "social filth" off the street.

bob said...

Touché. But I still think that just because the Powers That Be in places like Key West wrongly see vagrants as social filth doesn't mean ordinary folk in communities cannot use some similar concept for the people that rob, harass and generally make unpleasant in places like Peckham or the Bronx or Berlin SO 36.

schalomlibertad said...

what you persist on referring to as "social filth," are those people whose luck living from one pay-check to another ran out. and in the current recession, a lot of luck is running out.

the article is amazing for the lens it looks through - removing quality of life as an issue from those who are only seen as disrupting it. the frame that is set - which your conservative readers share - is to see some people as mere pests to the commons, whereas capital plays no role in destroying the commons, other than potentially socializing sections of the poor into being bad neighbors and fellow occupiers of public space.

bob said...

The article is a fascinating exemplar of how the concept of "quality of life" has fed into a particular and clearly highly repressive and highly class-inflected regime of policing. The "vagrants" in the article are certainly people whose luck has run out, along, perhaps, with other factors, which make them "anti-social" by a very particular (bourgeois) definition.

I agree this way of thinking hides the negative effects of structural/systemic factors (and specifically capital) on the destruction of the commons, by placing blame on individuals.

I also think that the term "social filth" and the way Reuben spun it (and perhaps the way I have phrased it at times in this thread) similarly implies a problem with specific individuals, whereas it would be better to think in terms of anti-social acts.

Nonetheless, I continue to think that (even if "social filth" is perhaps not the best phrase) there are certain acts which are profoundly anti-social, which sit on a continuum from fairly trivial to very serious, which cannot simply be seen as the symptoms of poverty, or of luck running out.

To place all blame on systemic effects is disrespectful to our common humanity, as it implies (some) poor people have no agency or responsibility. People are morally responsible for their actions, even if they are not responsible for the circumstances in which those actions were shaped. People make choices, and many (most) people who have run out of luck continue to act respectfully towards their neighbours and fellow users of public space.

Good for thinking about this issue with: Mitch Duneier's brilliant account of the lives of (male, black) street book vendors on 6th Avenue (extract here: ), as well as Lois Wacquant's attack on Duneier here: (and, if you are still interested, Duneier's counterresponse here:

TNC said...

I realize I am rather late in responding but I've been out of the country for the past two weeks...

SL asks:

""Productive"? In what sense?"

Productive in the sense of producing actual results for the people who are impacted by these anti-social activities. Policies that address criminal behavior directly are much more effective at improving peoples lives. This is particularly the case in low-income, high-crime communities.

Theorizing about capital and the state, by contrast, does little to improve the lives of people who are impacted by crime. They could give a rats behind about what some Marxist or anarchist has to say about the oppression of capital. They care much more about what will be done about the scum sticking a knife to their throat or a gun to their head.

And no, many of the people committing these criminal acts are not simply folks who have missed a paycheck. That's wishful thinking. Many have no wish in being productive or having a steady job. I write this as someone who grew up poor most of my life. Me and my neighbors were not afraid of working-class and low-income people who happened to be down on their luck. We were afraid of people who made a conscious decision to live a life of crime.

Yes, you are right. This isn't an either/or situation. Structural and individual factors both play a role. My point had to do with the idea that academic theorizing about capital and the state does anything to improve the day-to-day lives of people who live in high crime areas. I don't think it does.

schalomlibertad said...


1 - I had argued against the grand category of "anti-social behavior" which encompasses people who paint graffiti and those who physically attack people, and especially violence towards women. Look over the thread again and you will see that.

2- Individual acts of graffiti on the subway account for only a very marginal aspect of the disregard for the commons. (In the cases where it covers advertising, I am all for it. Where it covers the sear or the window, I don´t really care.) But if you only want to see the destruction of the commons through the lense of individual acts of graffiti and pissing on city streets, then you are only interested in seeing a very marginal percentage of the destruction of the commons.

If you don´t think capitalism has anything to do with that process, than you are simply missing the forest for the trees.

Additionally, if you don´t want to consider the relationship between social structure and individual behavior (that is, the structural destruction of the commons by capital, and it´s "destruction" by individual actors) then you seem to be completely against sociology as such, and have retreated into a Margaret Thatcher conservatism which believes "there is no such thing as society, only individuals."

3 - Furthermore, your policing approach is more PRODUCTIVE in filling up the jails and tying people up in the criminal justice system. Three-Strikes-You´re-Out laws in the US, and similar forms of criminalization for misdemeanors produce criminals, nothing more. You can fantasize that it produces any solutions, if you want. But that´s your fantasy.

If you were concerned about the destruction of the commons itself - rather than about subway graffiti - you would find yourself compelled to address society as being produced by it´s social-economic system. Not sure what you find so repugnant in analysis. I am somewhat surprised. If you think that poor people don´t care about how the criminal justice system is destroying their lives and life chances, or how the commons are being destroyed through privatization, then I don´t know who you´ve been talking to. But I think you have a false idea of what it means to analyze the way capitalism destroys the commons and oppresses the working poor.

And yes, it does have to do with poverty, precarious job market, lack of a social welfare, that pushes the poorest out of an accessible private sphere into the public, who have to use the public space for their private needs. That is precisely why some of the newly made homeless population in the US has chosen the Florida Keys, and why the state has instituted police squads to "protect the quality of living." Because the lives of those who have been left with nothing are regarded as nothing more than "anti-social" and "social filth". Again, I am not and have not been speaking about violence towards others. That was already made clear a while back in the discussion. I am referring specifically to the what Bob and others on this thread are calling "anti-social behavior" which includes graffiti, pissing on the city street, spitting on the floor, and other such things.

TNC said...

Hi SL. Yes, I did notice you mentioned non-violent acts. My apologies for my confusion. Please allow me to rephrase the last sentence of my second paragraph:

They care much more about what will be done about the idiot tagging their house or business or the scumbag urinating on their property.

As I mentioned above, I think there is a strong connection between nonviolent anti-social behavior and violent anti-social behavior if in no other sense than criminals recognize they can get away with the latter when the
former is permitted.

Regarding society, I am not Thatcherite in that regard. I recognize these acts are both anti-society and anti-individual.

However, I do not think it is very fruitful to locate a structural reason as to why individuals engage in anti-social criminality. I think there are bad individuals who make bad decisions when they choose to engage in criminal behavior. I do not think these acts result from a "bad" socio-economic structure (capitalism).

As to the argument about locking people up, etc. I do not think people should be locked up for minor offenses but they should be fined at a much higher rate than they are at this time. If they can't afford to pay, make them clean up the neighborhoods they are destroying.

Frankly, I am far less concerned about the perpetrators than the law-abiding people (my friends and neighbors) who are the victims of criminality. I realize that
might sound callous but I grew up poor most of my life and know first-hand the sort of low-lives who urinate in the streets, tag folks property, etc. It is not due to poverty.

If we are talking about homelessness, then I would absolutely agree with you regarding the role of joblessness, poverty, etc.

You write:

"You can fantasize that it produces any solutions, if you want. But that´s your fantasy."

It's no fantasy. It is reality. Many, if not most, of us who grew up in low-income neighborhoods could care less about what happens to the criminals. We want the same enforcement of law that people in middle-class and upper-class neighborhoods expect and demand of law enforcement. Nothing more, nothing less. Why is that so difficult to understand?

We are sick and tired of academics and other experts telling us what we should want and what we should believe. People who have not lived the reality of poverty and being preyed on by a small minority of criminals in your midst, have no idea of what they are talking about.

This is my problem with people who focus on theory, rather than reality. They have a well-developed critique but are divorced from the lived experience of the actual human beings who live in the neighborhoods they write about.

As to where I am coming from and who I talk to, my experiences are in central Los Angeles as a youth and West Oakland in my 20s and early 30s. Not the ghetto, but definitely the hood. In L.A., my neighbors were primarily a mix of Mexicans, Asians and poor whites. In Oakland, primarily working-class African-Americans.

Lastly, regarding sociology, I think it can be somewhat useful but it is generally an overrated analytical tool for explaining human behavior.

schalomlibertad said...

Dear "The New Centrist",

The original text asks how should one respond to so-called "anti-social behavior"? Your response is, there are no alternatives to policing and the criminality discourse?

Honestly, is that "new centrist" means? Does "new centrism" distinguish itself from "old centrism" by it's simultaneous introduction of Left rhetoric (of speaking for the oppressed, poor, working-class) yet simultaneously eliminating the Left's view that there is an alternative?

What I've gathered from your comments on this thread, "new centrism" means an ideology of "pragmatism" without a critical self-reflection upon the terms and methods being taken up by a society obsessed with "security," surveillance, and punishment.

Additionally, you try to naturalize your own subjective position (of increased policing and criminality discourse) by wedding it to a social-economic experience of living in working-class and working-poor neighborhoods. But what happened to your strong emphasis on the individual subject, who makes their own decisions? Do you need a reminder that your view is your own and not the natural response of your class? And that many others who live in working-class and working-poor neighborhoods sharply oppose the criminal justice system precisely because -- as the following website shows -- it means for example that 1 in every 3 black males (in the U.S.) will end up behind bars. Does the argument that you are pushing -- that "criminality" is the free choice of individuals, and has nothing to do with social structure -- not inadvertently affirm the structural racism in American society which leads to the figure mentioned above? It is precisely projects like Critical Resistance and others working against the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex and for practical alternatives, approaching the issue analytically and practically, which provide hope, rather than submitting themselves to the dominance of the criminal justice system which you appear to have resigned yourself to.

bob said...

A few thoughts, not necessarily very worked out, in response to the last 2 comments from TNC and SL.

1. In a Thatcherite vision ("no such thing as society") the concept of "anti-social" is completely nonsensical.

2. Perhaps the best solutions, including some of those suggested by Critical Resistance, such as neighbourhood watches, involve people whose lives are blighted by anti-social behaviour being empowered, or empowering themselves, to respond. How can the left feed into the sort of empowered, cohesive communities who can take these sort of steps? Well, not by failing to take seriously the complaints that the majority of people who live in low-income areas have about anti-social behaviour.

3. The "cage-based" solutions which have been imposed on the American inner city produce criminality, and I have witnessed a milder version of this on the streets of South London where I regularly see youth, especially black male youth, getting stopped and searched by police officers for little or no good reason, leading to resentment and alienation. Sociology can give good accounts of why this happens (see, e.g. the Wacquant and Duneier links I recommended above), but is less good at identifying alternatives.

4. On "centrism". It is a failure of the conservative political tradition that it does not take account of structural causes for bad things, while it is a failure of the left political tradition that it refuses to acknowledge individual moral responsibility for actions. I guess I might be a "centrist" in the sense that I think we need to do both.

schalomlibertad said...

Bob wrote: "In a Thatcherite vision ("no such thing as society") the concept of "anti-social" is completely nonsensical."

Why? The Thatherite statement can also be understood as this: "Society is merely a collection of individuals. Nothing more, nothing less." "Anti-Social" would be an act against other autonomous individuals. It's a very old reductionistic understanding of the social world.

On your second comment, CR was given as an example that counters criminalization outright, on the one hand, and on the other hand, produces alternative forms of conflict resolution. They are not an alternative police force cleaning the subway stations of graffiti or dried gum on the sidewalk, and will not become such a stupid thing. That is to say, you are grouping too much into your category "anti-social behavior" once again.

Bob wrote, "Sociology can give good accounts of why this happens (see, e.g. the Wacquant and Duneier links I recommended above), but is less good at identifying alternatives." Do you not think the two are linked?

Bob, I think you are bending off backwards to please everyone. Centrism appears to me to be a pretty term for former leftists one the one hand, or conservatives who are trying to appeal to liberals.

It is not the "failure of the left political tradition that it refuses to acknowledge individual moral responsibility for actions." It is the failure of dogmatic leftists. Are you familiar with "The Authoritarian Personality" (Adorno, et al), for example?

bob said...

1. The Thatherite statement can also be understood as this

This is what Thatcher said: "they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first."

In that vision, the idea of "anti-social" makes no sense because that vision is anti-social, in the sense of anti-society. It was this anti-social ethos that gave us the "broken" world we have now. The problem is precisely a world where everyone looks to themselves first.

2. They are not an alternative police force

I don't know an awful lot about Critical Resistance, so can't really comment, but I don't see what is wrong (or "stupid") with people policing their own communities, cleaning up their own streets together.

3. "Sociology can give good accounts of why this happens (see, e.g. the Wacquant and Duneier links I recommended above), but is less good at identifying alternatives." Do you not think the two are linked?

I'm not sure what you mean here, or indeed if you are being ironic. Understanding why something happens is a necessary first stip towards proposing solutions. But it is not sufficient, and sociology, on the whole, draws back from proposing solutions, mainly for honourable reasons. Conservatives propose solutions too readily, without understanding the reasons, hence propose the wrong solutions (retribution and punishment). But the left has (on the whole - see below), failed to provide anything that speaks to the immediate short term need of people whose lives are afflicted by, yes, anti-social behaviour.

4. Bob, I think you are bending off backwards to please everyone.

You have of course nailed my main asset and fault here, something that Noga and others have scolded me before here! It is of course my natural inclination. But I also think that there is a problem with (most of - see below) the left, or rather a whole series of problems, of which this is one.

5. It is not the "failure of the left political tradition that it refuses to acknowledge individual moral responsibility for actions." It is the failure of dogmatic leftists. Are you familiar with "The Authoritarian Personality" (Adorno, et al), for example?

Good point. Yes, it is not the left as a whole, but of, I think, the dominant tradition within the left, the tradition which I am in many ways closest to, the tradition which was probably inaugerated by Marx, which is all about material determiantions and root causes. Our desire to analyse and refusal to judge is a failure. That is not to say that we should abandon the left (as my "centrist" friend have), but nonetheless...

schalomlibertad said...

Bob wrote: Conservatives propose solutions too readily, without understanding the reasons, hence propose the wrong solutions (retribution and punishment).

Do you really think prisons are the mere result of a "flawed approach to crime?" What makes you think conservatives care about anything other than producing a "clean" place to live? I didn't get the sense from the New Centrist's comments that s/he really was trying to resolve any problem. More the sense that s/he would be happy to get rid of people with the use of prisons and heavy fines, so s/he can feel like s/he lives like the middle or upper class (as s/he said so his/herself).

But the left has (on the whole - see below), failed to provide anything that speaks to the immediate short term need of people whose lives are afflicted by, yes, anti-social behaviour.

The working-class and working-poor left has always been involved in self-help projects, and this has involved organizing soup kitchens, sharing food and resources, cleaning up neighborhoods that were destroyed by property markets and used as dumping sites for toxic waste, and so forth.

Regarding the two last examples I think of the lower east side of Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s, when poor and working class latinos squatted abandoned buildings, cleaned up abandoned lots and built community gardens, and so forth. This was done along with the efforts to combat street violence or drug abuse.
And these projects were done with the support of leftists, who helped out with installation of solar energy sources, and the like.

But once again, these initiatives were aimed at reclaiming the commons which were ravaged by capital, and combating the forms of violence and abuse that sprung up in the vacuum. The two issues were bound together because they have a relationship.

I don´t see you or the New Centrist addressing that relationship.

Sorry, I haven´t read the texts you recently linked to. If you want to summarize an argument, go for it! I will take a look.

bob said...

Conservatives propose solutions too readily, without understanding the reasons, hence propose the wrong solutions (retribution and punishment). I phrased that badly; it's not really what I meant. I don't think prisons are just the result of a mistaken approach to crime or that the wrong solutions are honestly proposed by conservatives. Although I am probably less quick than you, SL, to reduce conservatism to a reflex of the ruling class, I agree that it is impossible to consider conservative ideology separately from the material interests of the property-owning sections of society.

The working-class and working-poor left has always been involved in self-help projects

Yes, true. But I think that this tradition has been in tension with, on the one hand, an orthodox vulgar Marxism which basically thinks that the worse things get the likelier revolution is and that it is not the job of the revolutionary to address here and now problems, and, on the other, a sociologically informed left-liberalism which is good at "root causes" but shies away from grassroots solutions. From where I'm standing, these currents have been ascendant over the last two decades, and the working class/working poor left is completely marginal. I would dearly like to see it revived, but I think recognising and understanding working class and working poor fears about crime and anti-social behaviour is essential to that revival.

The links I put up more recently I don't necessarily endorse wholesale, but they all take the position that we need to take crime seriously, to take anti-social behaviour seriously, that we won't be taken seriously unless we do. They also argue that anti-social behaviour is rooted in the Thatcherite destruction of the social: the neo-liberal onslaught on the lifeworld and community infrastructure of working class areas, in an age of de-industrialisation and consumerism.

schalomlibertad said...

Hi Bob,
I never said that conservativism is merely the ideology of the ruling class. In the US it has a strong basis in the lower stratum of society. We see that now in the US with the nutty tea party protests. Yes, it wouldnt have nearly as much power if FOX news wasnt fully behind it, and if neoliberal think tanks didnt back it, but nevertheless, it can be seen as merely orchestrated from above.

Additionally, conservative ideology which has become mixed (especially in the US) with neoliberalism, is the expression of idiocy of people pushing policies against their material interests. They think however, by pushing a nuclear family model of politics, or by opposing healthcare reforms that might offer a public option, that they are defending their material interests. This connects to the role that white racism or nativism plays in conservative (I am looking for an appropriate translation of the term "Wohlfahrtschauvinism" or "Standortnationalismus" but can´t really find one, sorry.).

They also argue that anti-social behaviour is rooted in the Thatcherite destruction of the social: the neo-liberal onslaught on the lifeworld and community infrastructure of working class areas, in an age of de-industrialisation and consumerism.

That sounds interesting! Not to toot my own horn, but I had argued that earlier on in the thread, but it was mostly ignored.

bob said...

The links, incidentally, include some from the IWCA, which many would see as somewhat conservative, although rooted in Marxism, as can be seen in parallel thread here:

SL, yes, I agree with the analysis you made earlier in terms of Thatcherism etc, and I agree with what you say about conservatism here.

I think we most sharply disagree is the relevance or usefulness of the concept of "anti-social behavior", and whose class interests the terms is in.

Although I don't think I will persuade you on the core issue, I was thinking about your additional objection to its slipperyness, that it slides from dropping peanut shells on the bus to extreme violence against women. I thought, however, that you would be happy with a term like "homophobic behavior" or "antisemitic behavior", even tho the former would similarly slide from relatively non-malignant banter to dragging a gay kid by a rope from a truck, or the latter would slide from some off-colour joke to the Final Solution. The broadness of those terms creates problems, but doesn't invalidate them.

bob said...

I know this thread is dead, but while I was eating lunch today some school kids came into Sweeney's, my street's new local working class style caff, and asked them to put up a City Safe sticker - see

Seemed relevant

Richard S. said...

Hi, Bob. I didn't know you had done a post on Jewish Bollywood actresses, which I just found out via a more recent post somewhere else... Reading about someone mentioned in the original article that you linked to, I certainly can relate, because I am also someone of Jewish descent (as you know :) who fell totally in love with classic Indian cinema of the style we commonly call Bollywood (though I love the cinema from various places in the Subcontinent, not just the Bollywood cinema from Bombay/Mumbai). (BTW, this should be obvious if you look at my blog these days - the one that used to be devoted to "global music and some politics" which now is almost completely devoted to Indian movies of the '40s and '50s.)

And I also do love both Nadira and Sulochana... But the woman in the "Sulochana" clip that you posted is not Ruby Myers aka Sulochana. (There have been quite a few other actresses named Sulochana.)

Below, I'm posting the link to a clip that includes Sulochana, from the film Jugnu. She is the large older woman in the hat. And by the way, Jugnu was made in 1947.

bob said...

Thanks so much for that Richard. I spent a fair bit of time seeking out sound or video clips, and got quite bamboozled by all the people with similar names and so on, so am really glad to have been put right! I will amend the post.