The ‘Courage’ of No Convictions

There’s a certain tactic I’ve noticed lately of writers making seemingly profound pronouncements but concluding with vague, difficult to categorize conclusions. This then allows them to easily slither away from being pinned down to a position when called out. It’s probably present in all political strains but I’m most concerned with its appearance among writers who position themselves as representative of the left.

Many people find the ally or enemy they need in Glenn Greenwald, almost regardless of what he says or does. I’ll leave analysis of the Snowden show to those more adept, but the schtick involved in that spectacle is being copied by satellite lefties perhaps inspired by Greenwald’s success in leveraging essentially toothless dissent. Occupy-emergent artist Molly Crabapple can call for a No-Fly Zone in Syria and then in the same breath deny she advocates bombing, or write an article describing – adeptly! – the horrors of American policing and end it with a literal joke of a “solution.”

The past week treated us to another Occupy celebrity, “Anarchy Dad” David Graeber, berating the “world” — by which he means the “international left” — for “ignoring the plight of the revolutionary Kurds” in Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan, in their fight against the Islamic State (IS). The solipsistic scolding (“I feel it’s incumbent on me, as someone who grew up in a family whose politics were in many ways defined by the Spanish revolution”) is framed within his own father’s commitment to the fight against Spanish fascists in the 30s. Since the piece was devoid of a prescription, the Twitter left scratched its collective head.

The real fun came when Graeber, taken to task on Twitter, doubled down on his vagueness. He accused critics who saw his open-ended article as a pro-US intervention argument of being motivated by a desire for “moral purity“. Graeber, a professor, blocks people for the slightest criticism and then continues to talk at them — often through intermediaries and tag-teaming — while shutting down the opportunity to respond. Even linking to the humorous petition to send the courageous prof to defend the Kurds in a tank himself was met with pre-blocking.

“Can someone explain to that guy that it’s not NATO that’s aiding defenders of Kobane?” Graeber begged one of his wingmen. Right, it’s something he called the “coalition,” coincidentally (or not) the whitewashy, “Allies”-invoking label the US gave its partners in the invasion of Iraq.

Other voices used the same “I’m not saying, I’m just saying” argument for the same ends. Kerem Nisancioglu, yet another Occupy kiddie, issued his own condemnation of the Western left. Through successive Twitter exchanges, he also refused to come out and say what precisely he’s advocating, accused the left of denying Kurdish agency, and like Graeber, said the Kurds know better than the Western left how to “deal with” imperialism. When I pointed out recent history has shown them to actually not be able to handle the empire, the conversation ended. Malcolm Harris, known for having been arrested during Occupy, parroted the same arguments but took it into the clouds when he unironically said he thinks communism will defeat the empire in Rojava. Welp.

The argument against “helping” the Kurds by advocating US action is based in the critique of imperialism. It’s not about “purity,” but perspective. Yes, it’s very nice that the PKK are now devotees of Murray Bookchin, I guess. This is no reason to support an imperial action nominally in their favor. The empire wants the Kurds defended at this point in time and is dead-set on an apparently independent Kurdistan. Neither of those things are bad, but if Washington’s media and diplomatic assets are pulling for bombing for Kobane and a free Kurdistan, you can bet they’re not going to just set all that up and walk away, allowing Kurds to then somehow dismantle the empire. Someone who calls himself an anarchist should be suspicious of further US involvement, especially on the military front. If you’re allied with the likes of Anne-Marie Slaughter and the foreign policy establishment, you may want to rethink your analysis. Or quit fronting.

Effective solutions have got to be outside of imperial action, and there may exist a potential rainbow of them outside the very narrow range of just dropping some fucking bombs. A left academia that can’t look outside the lines drawn by the ruling class is, well, even less important to a movement against war and capitalism than even I thought.

I think this tendency to so verbosely make no argument, offer no prescription, is a product of academia. Who else would spend so many words saying jack shit and think it would inspire the masses? I have to assume vagueness is hiding brand-inappropriate opinions like that the US should bomb Syria to save socialism. This is the kind of shit the left should sneer at, not debate. Three years after the destruction of Libya, you have to conclude Graeber, who supported that crime, actually agrees with US foreign policy.

The idea that Occupy didn’t have to have a specific list of demands was a good one; it was enough that people learned to protest again, that they could even simply vent their anger in a public way. But you can’t credibly make a “no demands” style of argument, even if you are a patron saint of Occupy. Especially if it serves an imperial narrative.

For the record, while the wider world may not have been aware of the Kurdish communes, plenty on the left were. In August, ROAR devoted 3300 words to the Rojava Kurds’ philosophical evolution and organizational structure. Two whole years ago, Danny Gold of Vice — read, if not loved, by many radicals — wrote all about the Kurdish popular militia known as the YPG and, interestingly, how they didn’t need anybody’s help. Graeber’s problem is, unlike the Spanish anarchists calling on his dad’s generation, many of us don’t think calling our Uncle Sam is a good solution.

The US did end up bombing more IS targets, ostensibly aiding the YPG in defense of the city of Kobane. We can’t know if the Kurds could have swung it themselves. Would their fierce sisters and brothers from Turkish and Iraqi territories have come to their aid? It seems probable, and the war ain’t won yet.


I came across this today, from March. Click the date to open the full thread.

Crabapple was the first I saw of this hanging every argument on some imperial victim’s “agency.” What’s the origin of this particular shitty tactic?