Albert's plot of thinkers has elicited some strong reactions. The vertical “Ecotopia”/“Collapse” axis seems somewhat less controversial: it seems that some people are more optimistic, some less optimistic, but that this is a personal preference that others can easily accept. But the horizontal axis, especially in his initial version, where it went from “peaceful transformation” on the left to “violent revolution” on the right, didn't sit well with many people. The new version, which goes from “transformation” to “resistance” may be more politically correct, but I feel that something is lost in eschewing the concept of violence, which I feel is omnipresent and inescapable.
Perhaps the new axis should start out with “appeasement” rather than “transformation”? Doesn't it stand to reason that to remain scrupulously peaceful and cooperative in a situation where acts of unspeakable violence are being carried out in your name is to tacitly condone that violence? When US citizens pay their taxes, or cast their vote for President, they, wittingly or unwittingly, give their approval to a system of mass imprisonment that has surpassed both Hitler's and Stalin's, become complicit in the mass murder of foreign civilians, a.k.a. “collateral damage,” that number in the hundreds of thousands, and underwrite a system of global surveillance that has put East Germany's Stasi and USSR's KGB to shame. By this standard, a law-abiding, hard-working, tax-paying American is automatically one of the worst criminals mankind has ever known. How is that nonviolent?
Turning our attention to the right end of the axis, where the label has been changed from “Violent revolution” to “resistance,” things are not any less muddled. A good example of “resistance” is the recent Greenpeace action to stop Russian oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. The activists got arrested, charged with “hooliganism,” imprisoned, and then amnestied and released. The Russians were able to neutralize their effort and to deter any repeat of the action. As far as their drilling program, no damage has been done. Another good example is the “resistance” against XL pipeline, where various celebrities burned lots of jet fuel and gasoline to travel to Washington and get themselves arrested. Unlike most Russians, most Americans can't seem to see the irony in burning fossil fuels to protest the burning of fossil fuels. It is rather late in the day for the environmental movement, and it seems to have devolved to the status of fossil fuel industry's “useful idiots.” Is resistance just another form of appeasement?
If so, then the horizontal axis goes from “passive appeasement” on the left to “active appeasement” on the right, and both of them, and all points in between, are soaked through with violence—against people and against nature. The difference between them seems to be a matter of posturing: some people prefer to act in ways that get them invited to international conferences which fail to achieve anything; other people prefer to hire college students to stand around on the sidewalk and get money from passing pedestrians, so that they can then grandstand on the high seas and get caught, charged with “hooliganism” and released. It's a question of style: some people prefer business-casual, while others like to dress sporty.
If resistance=appeasement, then what is left? What is the actual behavioral difference that actually does make a difference? It is not resistance, it is defiance. Now, there are two types of defiance: open defiance and secret, clandestine, plausibly deniable defiance. Open defiance is the domain of fools and madmen: refuse to pay your taxes, and you get fined and jailed. Secret defiance is the key to success: don't owe any taxes, and you find yourself living better than most. It is also the key to making tangible improvements to your tiny patch of the world. Now, it would make no sense to ask people to place themselves on the “obedience”/“defiance” axis, since doing so would constitute open defiance, which is foolish. Moreover, secret defiance starts with defying classification.
Classification, you see, is a form of violence—a subtype of “objective violence.” The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek defined the terms “subjective violence” and “objective violence” roughly as follows: subjective violence happens when you are walking down the road and somebody throws a brickbat at your head and robs you; objective violence happens when you then get taken to a hospital emergency room, stitched up, and later receive a hospital bill for tens of thousands of dollars, including $300 for a $3 bandage, plus a separate exorbitant bill from a doctor who didn't even see you. Now, you could say that the robber “classified” you as an easy mark—somebody who could be robbed—but that's stretching it, because the robber's victims do not constitute a recognizable class. On the other hand, when you are received in the emergency room, you are immediately classified as a patient, triaged, treated, and, upon release, pursued in the public realm of collections agencies and bankruptcy courts. Epistemologically speaking, your victimhood in a robbery is a matter of perspectival identification—“that guy over there,” while your victimhood in this commonplace episode of medical extortion is public identification—based on your full name, social security number, date of birth and, if you decide to flee, your fingerprints and biometric data that are on file.
Classifying people is almost always an act of objective violence. Let's try an exercise. You probably fancy yourself as a member of the middle class. Most people prefer to consider themselves middle-class, because upper-class aspirations seem arrogant and overweening while lower-class aspirations don't exist. On the other hand, it is often said that the middle class is rapidly disappearing. The parents might still fancy themselves middle-class, but their underemployed basement-dwelling adult children have scant hope of keeping up the appearances. Now, let's follow this trend to its obvious conclusion. The middle class is gone; what are you now? Let's introduce some categories: we have nobs (filthy rich bastards), proles (who have a job serving the nobs) and bums (who don't have such a job). Which one are you? Do you feel slightly offended at being classified in such a manner? Well, you should be. Classifying people is an offensive thing to do.
But this sort of thing goes on all the time, and English-speakers seem particularly susceptible to it. English, with its definite and indefinite articles, which, unlike other languages, convey semantic rather than grammatical distinctions, makes it a grammatical requirement to classify things. In Chinese or Russian, you can only say the equivalent of “president of bank”; in German you can say ”Bank-Präsident”; while in English you might say “a president of the bank” or “the president of a bank”, in each case picking out one or more members out of one or more classes. It is commonly believed that different languages do not set limits on what thoughts their speakers can entertain, but they certainly do set limits on what thoughts their speakers can refuse to entertain, and English-speakers cannot refuse to entertain thoughts about the class membership of the objects they wish to discuss. I believe that this may help explain the appalling level of objective violence and the horrific level of social stratification and inequality that can be observed in most English-speaking societies.
And so I am quite happy that Albert's plot produced such great discomfort; maybe there is some hope for us English-victims after all... I certainly have resented the classification “Orlov is a collapsitarian” (whatever that means) with which some fool writing for Mother Jones once tried to pin me down. I defy efforts to classify me. I suppose this puts me somewhere on the defiance spectrum, but I can't tell you how high or I'd be openly defiant, i.e., I'd be a fool. Maybe you can do even better. This is one parameter in which some one-upmanship might be called for. How defiant are you?