The Anarchist Township

Fight the war, fuck the norm!

Month: January 2019

A Brief Note on Sara Schulman’s “Conflict is Not Abuse”

Note: I can’t call this a review, cause I couldn’t finish the book, even 1/4th of it!

This book is giving me a conflict, I’ll tell you that!

This will go to show me that you need to read more book reviews before you order something. I thought Schulman’s book would be an insightful, nuanced and carefully crafted book about the dangers of call-out culture (which are real and important to talk about!) but instead, almost 50 pages in, I’m exhausted. Exhausted with Schulman’s lack of self-awareness, lack of cogent writing, with her lack of ability to make any particular argument enticing, much less not maddening. I’m exhausted with her petty examples from life that strike me as diminishing real abuse and conflict for that matter. I’m just exhausted with this book.

Schulman’s thesis is a fairly simple one and almost inane in how non-controversial it is: People in today’s world tend to overstate the nature of harm when it’s really just normal conflict, people resisting injustice or they’re just doing nothing at all. Her examples leave a lot to be desired however as they get us into some very big discussions of politics through the cases of Michael Brown, domestic abuse and weirdly, the violence at the Gaza Strip between Palestine and Israel.

Warning: I am very uncultured when it comes to this particular topic and I’ve done that rather intentionally. I have no real stake in the question (I’m not Jewish) and the issue constantly perplexes me with its terms and sides and so forth. Suffice it to say, I’m against nation-states and violence against peaceful people, which nation-states tend to perpetuate. That should be enough, hopefully.

All these issues are (as you might notice) wildly different in terms of scope, content and the sorts of discussions they might engender. Yet Schulman is convinced that they are all connected because of one simple thing: The conflation between conflict and abuse. In making their her central thesis she horribly (and offensively) waters down these situations by leaving out systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, and, Jesus, just the whole history of Israel and that whole mess. It’s complicated as fuck.

But no, these situations can all be reduced to Schulman’s thesis. You know what else can? Schulman seems to think the AIDS crisis is also comparable to the horrors on the Gaza Strip because of similar reasons. You can (hopefully) see the issues starting to pile up in this book already: Namely that Schulman has no sense of scale.

She has no sense of how to compare one thing to another without going from 0 to 100 in a minute flat. It’s amazing how she can start talking about emails and how awful they are and “artificial” but then rant and rave about how great phone calls are (aren’t they “artificial” too?). And then she shames people for not picking up her phone calls because what reason could there be? God forbid people have phone anxiety right? Or maybe they just don’t like your sense of entitlement?

There’s also a gross section about a woman talking about her g-spot and it’s not gross because of that but because Schulman decides it’s necessary to fill my head with thoughts of her penetrating this same woman. Why did I, as the reader, need to explicitly know about this emotion? It’s not gross because it’s queer, it’s gross because it’s inappropriate in this book. I don’t need to know about your unfulfilled sex life, this book is (supposedly) about the intricacies of conflict.

One of the running themes I noticed in the start quotes is that they all mention some sort of “facing” or “confronting”, which, as far as I’m concerned, just reinforces this patriarchal notion that all emotions must be dealt with. You have to be a man and face your emotions and you need to get a hold of them/yourself. There’s no living with your emotions or trying to work through them, there’s only “facing” or having the “will” to keep them in check or make them disappear.

The larger problem with Schulman’s book is that she presumes just because we can make peace with our friends online, over email or in our day to day interactions, that somehow the situation in Gaza or between a rich football player and the wife he beat in an elevator are even remotely similar. She takes the “starting from smallest principles” thing to its logical (fallacious) conclusion and presumes since the tiniest drop of oppression makes up the largest, the same tools must apply!

But solving a conflict with a friend is not necessary for establishing larger efforts for peace. Although working at the small scale is assuredly helpful for getting started, neither guarantees the success of the other. Trying to solve a conflict between a friend and between a cop and a friend are, by themselves, very different. Forget about the Gaza strip or the power struggles of a wealthy football player and their wife, the small scale and the large scale are not the same thing.

These are not even remotely similar cases. And while we need small-scale repairing skills to help with the larger social context, they are again very different circumstances. The tools we need to fix the conflict between our friends and a bad email and the tools we need to solve things like domestic violence among the wealthy, police brutality and violence on the Gaza strip may appear similar and in some ways they have core things in common such as dispute resolution.

But they are on such different scales that the tools we used for one are not likely to be effective in the bigger scale. We’ll need new and better and more refined tools, not just the ones we keep for personal and small-scale community use. Solving an entire nation’s dispute with another nation that dates back hundreds of years, requires a very different strategy than dealing with an errant email between friends.

More than anything, this book is just exhausting and the worst part is I’m not even 1/4 of the way through the book. I haven’t even mentioned Schulman’s comparison to slavery, her little note on “people of the wrong age” and her comparisons of white folks falsely accusing black men of harassing white women with her desire of another woman. We haven’t even touched on her entitlement that runs throughout so much of the book that at even 1/4th in I’m sick of it.

So nope, I’m done.

I don’t owe anyone anything and I doubt many people read these blogs anyways. I did my best to slog through this book and I wanted to finish it, but I just don’t have it in me to finish a book that constantly minimizes conflict and abuse.

I’m doing these reviews as bibliotherapy and it’s not especially therapeutic to constantly read a book that makes me want to tear out its pages and yell at the author for their nonsense. I’m doing this series because I want to try to be a better person and, less than 50 pages in, I’m convinced this book won’t do that for me.

Lastly, on the book, it’s not always possible to communicate or repair (as Schulman herself has admitted ) relationships once they are broken. Sometimes the best thing you can do to someone who is seemingly unwilling to do better or be better is to kick them out of the community. Is it a total solution? No. Is it always the most helpful thing to do for everyone? Also no. But sometimes it’s the necessary thing to do for the survivors. And that’s enough of a reason (often enough) to do it.

Apparently there’s a “way” to read this according to one GoodReads reviewer, but  if your book can’t stand up to the way it was meant to be read, then you’ve got bigger problems (c.f. The Machete Order for Star Wars which tries to grapple with the fact that the prequels exist). Here’s a handful of reviews I like that I feel would sum up my attitude (had I finished), 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Up next is The Revolution Starts at Home!

(CW: Long and detailed discussions of sexual violence including rape and assault)

Not my picture.

Introduction: What about me?

In my continuing series of self-accountability so I can better deal with my shit I read the interesting and engaging collection called what about the rapists? which I ordered from AK press. In addition, I bought a book on intimate violence and another on conflict resolution within social justice communities, so expect a book review of these books before my winter break is over.

What about the rapists? is separated into two parts, with the first considering the method of transformative justice (TJ) and the second talks about retributive justice; for example, survivor-led physical confrontations with rapists.

There’s also a conclusion about getting beyond this dichotomy of revenge and reconciliation that makes for a nice overview. The collection was published by Active Distribution in 2017 and acts as part of the Dysophia series.

This collection was challenging at times for me to process, being a rapist myself, and someone who has sexually assaulted a previous partner on multiple occasions (according to the definitions from the Chrysalis collective).

But it was also necessary for me so I could get a better idea of how to feel and label myself. Am I a perpetrator? An aggressor? A serial abuser? Am I just a shitty person? This collection has various opinions on the utility of labels.

Politically and ideologically I can’t say this collection had much of an impact on me. I still consider TJ a better alternative to revenge and I wish I hadn’t handled my call-out so poorly (not to mention harmed people to begin with) that TJ ended up being unrealistic.

Honestly, if you’re an anarchist and have been for a while (like me, bad at it though I am) then this collection may not do much for you. Most of the essays in this collection are pretty light on the details and while the challenges towards TJ are refreshing to see, the collection had a pretty narrow scope overall and a 101 vibe throughout with only Accounting for Ourselves doing more 201 stuff.

Which, yeah, that makes sense. The question what about the rapists? is a 101 question that we as anarchists get asked early and often. And the collection is right to point out early that “…[anarchists] have neglected to engage meaningfully with the issue in favour [sic] of idealized notions of a post-capitalist, anarchic future.” (4)

Personally though, I can say I benefited from this book. It brought me to terms with a previous relationship I had mulled over for a long time. Was masturbating around them or bringing their hand to my boxers half-asleep, sexual assault (SA)? I was never sure and many friends and a few therapists said it wasn’t.

But at least by the definitions I’ve mentioned via Chrysalis, any violation of sexual boundaries is considered SA. So by that definition, it definitely was SA and I can’t say the definition doesn’t make sense to me. There were a few (former) friends who said it was SA but since they were always such a minority, I felt as though they couldn’t be right; I’m good at denial and defensiveness.

Though as this collection and other articles have pointed out we all are. None of us want to admit we’ve been the bad person this whole time. We want to believe that we’re good people who may make mistakes, but we’re doing our best.

Well, it turns out that my best wasn’t good enough.

So I better start doing better.

Part One: Transformative Justice

What it is, what it is, what is it?

This book review will be split into two parts but I’ll come back to look at an overview of this book in my conclusion. I want to start negatively with TJ because I prefer it as a method of dismantling rape culture and patriarchy and start positively with retributive justice, because I (largely) don’t prefer it in that same context.

TJ can be an arduous process that leaves survivors more exhausted than when they first started. It can also divert into a process whereby the aggressor gets most of the time and energy of the community, not the survivor. And more to the point, TJ processes can require a lot of time and energy from the community. This can lead to fractures within the community and people dropping out from the stress.

There can be unclear standards of success or failure, we often lack the resources as a community (anarchists that is) to handle the process adequately. On top of that it’s depressing as fuck and not always reconcilable with sustained passion.

A lot of those criticisms are taken from Accounting for Ourselves by Crimethinc which has many great criticisms of TJ. The author is quick to note that, “Some of these pitfalls aren’t inherent to these processes, but are simply mistakes commonly made by people who undertake them.” (38)

And none of these pitfalls are bad ones to point out. I don’t have any personal experience with TJ myself, I’ve mostly read first-hand accounts from other collectives and individuals who tried to make it work. And within those accounts there are varying degrees of success and failure, both easy and hard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, what exactly is TJ?

TJ has its origins in some indigenous practices, mediation work … Like [Restorative Justice or RJ], it strongly opposes punitive responses to crime, places the parties in conflict at the center of the process, and is (in theory at least), voluntary.

Like RJ, it facilitates understanding between individuals and allows them to agree steps to ‘repair’ the harm caused.

[Accountability processes] ideally assume the following form: a person makes an allegation; a handful of people form a support group for that individual; the support group convenes a process and organizes a similar support group for the ‘perpetrator’, who will be asked to broach the issue with this individual; the ‘perpetrator’ agrees to participate in a process; the two groups gather in a session run by a ‘neutral’ facilitator, during which both sides are given time to discuss their feelings; the ‘perpetrator’ acknowledges responsibility and an agreement is reached on steps they will take to repair the harm, such as informing future partners about what happened, or attending counseling; the ‘perpetrator’ abides by the agreement and is regularly checked in on by their support group, as is the ‘survivor’.

(12)

So, for example, because I failed in apologizing in any sincere or accountable way, I took matters into my own hands. I’ve re-doubled my efforts in counseling (at one point quite literally, I had two therapists at once talking about my mistakes), acknowledged my actions here and elsewhere and told my current partner about everything. Is that good enough? Probably not.

Sadly, I don’t really know what to do to hold myself accountable for what I’ve done. I’ve tried to take responsibility, acknowledge how I could have done better, etc. But how the heck do you make up for years of harm? I honestly have no idea.

This “bibliotherapy” is my best idea so far, I’ve tried looking into groups that focus on people who have been aggressors, but there’s almost none locally. The closest is group counseling about domestic violence, which is irrelevant to me as long as it means physical violence. But even if it didn’t, it’s too expensive and I’m concerned about going to a local place and being recognized, perhaps that’s cowardice.

And besides that those groups are made for men. As a non-binary person I don’t feel comfortable (much less safe) in those sorts of spaces. So what should I do then? Most organizations near me that focus on issues of sexual violence only serve survivors (which isn’t bad! survivors should obviously be the focus of this shit, not me), so I can’t seek help there either. What should I do? Where should I go?

Until I figure it out, I’ve got bibliotherapy, counseling, talking to friends, journaling, meditation, exercise and more. But maybe none of that’s good enough, in which case, realistically, what can I do? The past is gone and I can’t change what I’ve done, I can only strive to do better and make sure I never repeat those mistakes.

None of that is me trying to elicit  sympathy.

I’ve been bad at being a decent human being in a lot of ways and that’s on me. But it’s also an example of how, when TJ doesn’t happen, accountability becomes your responsibility more than ever. I need to handle myself better, somehow, someway.

But OK, let’s get back to basics.

On Crime

The first article On Crime takes us there with a prolonged discussion of whether what anarchists oppose within crime that involves violence (such as rape). Is it best described as a transgression, violence, or domination?

The collective (a)legal maintains that domination is the best among the three, though that does not mean its a perfect definition. I agree with most of this article, transgression is only the violation of a social norm and we as anarchists do this all of the time, does that make us wrong? And while violence is often a negative for an anarchist, anarchists also advocate revolutionary violence, so violence in of itself can’t be the thing that anarchists are opposing when it comes to rape.

Instead, (a)legal contends that domination, defined by Foucault as relationships that are “…fixed in such a way that they are perpetually asymmetrical and allow and extremely limited margin of freedom.” (9) This is an excellent definition and perfectly captures what I’m against as an anarchist.

That doesn’t mean my theory has matched my practice, it hasn’t in many ways. But ideally, these are the sorts of relationships I and other anarchists would work against. Unfortunately, not everything is a perpetual relationship. What about the one-off times we harm each other? What about rape in one-night stands (which is essentially what happened last year)? These kinds of temporary relationships are not around long enough to constitute a basis for domination to take hold.

Luckily (a)legal accounts for this by including that “abuses of power” is what anarchists are really after in these cases. We’re not against power existing (self-empowerment is a plus after all) but rather a misuse of that power over others.

So instead of looking at issues of rape through the lens of crime, we should be treating it as issues of abuses of power that perpetuate domination. And within longer lasting relationships, domination itself.

I think that’s all well said and argued. I think getting mired in statist conceptions of law and justice to explain why we oppose rape is likely a self-defeating venture. In addition, anarchists are clearly okay with some violence and transgression.

So what really bothers us about rape, specifically as anarchists, is domination, that asymmetrical relationship that springs from momentary abuses of power.

Sure, that makes sense. It doesn’t really get me anywhere I wasn’t before, but it’s a solid framing for issues that anarchists might regard as “crime”. I admit, I may have called rape a “crime” in an anarchist society, but that was convenient shorthand.

Still, now I can just say it would be referred to as an abuse of power (though perhaps this is too weak of a phrase for the situation?) in an anarchist society which helps perpetuate patterns of domination.

But OK, if that’s the case, what do we as anarchists do about it?

Beautiful, Difficult, Powerful: ending sexual assault through transformative justice

The Chrysalis Collective thinks they have an answer, though right off the bat, I take issue with their title. As much as we all may want to end it, (yes, including some of us who have committed it) sexual assault will likely never go completely away.

I think that it can be reduced to astonishing lows relative to what we have today and it definitely should be. But completely eliminating intimate violence isn’t realistic anymore than completely eliminating unjust authority or hierarchy.

But then what’s the point? The point should be to minimize aggression (sexual or otherwise) as much as possible. That doesn’t mean we’re okay with whatever happens if we get it to a certain point, but we should also hold realistic standards.

Coincidentally, this is something the Crimethinc article I mentioned earlier criticized TJ for. So, we’re not off to a good start for this essay.

That said, the rest of the essay is an interesting account of two individuals (“Diane” and “Tom”) and Diane’s experience of acquaintance rape. Tom was your typical well-to-do white dude who was generally loved and respected by the community.

Diane felt manipulated by Tom into sexual situations she did not feel comfortable with. And so their friendship abruptly ended, with Diane eventually realizing that she had been raped by Tom. Diane decided to, with the help of her close friends, form the Chrysalis Collective, so that Tom could be held accountable.

Most of the article details the process, mainly making a survivor support team and an accountability team, one for Diane and one for Tom. The article talks about how they did what they did and why they did it…but little about the actual results.

That’s disappointing, not to mention confusing, given I figure you would want to write this article only after the initial accountability process is done.

But it’s at least noted that “…healing and transformation is clearly, slowly, steadily happening for everyone involved. This experience has connected each of us in unexpected and powerful ways that reaffirm our collective commitments to transforming ourselves and our communities.” (28)

But Jesus, that’s after two years.

It’s not surprising then that some survivors just turn to…

Part Two: Retribution

Accounting for Ourselves: Retribution Edition

It’s noted in the Chrysalis essay that Tom’s general demeanor was expected to consist of the following upon being told how Diane experienced their situation:

  • Denial
  • Outrage
  • Remorse
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Defensiveness
  • Betrayal
  • Overwhelmed
  • Ganged up on

With the exception of the last one, I realized reading this that I fit all of these to a T. Look at my second attempt at “apologizing” (which I linked previously) and tell me it’s not full of denial, outrage, shame, fear, defensiveness and most of all, a sense of feeling overwhelmed with the call-out.

I was ill-prepared for being called out on a night that I thought was (at worst) “weird” but wasn’t me taking advantage of a drunk friend. I really and truly thought that they were tipsy (which is what they told me) but none of this really matters.

I didn’t understand that this isn’t what you should do if you actually feel genuine remorse for what happened. It’s OK to talk about how your experience may differ from the accuser, but I went further than that and dipped my toes into silencing.

I tried to say I wasn’t doing that, but people weren’t having it. Instead, of doing my research on how to apologize and take accountability for myself, I just wrote what came to mind and had a few people (my best friend, my therapist at the time) look it over and let me know what they thought. My best friend said it needed work but I ignored her and my therapist said it was great and advised what turned out to be a disastrous change, which is still my responsibility, of course.

So, all in all, I really fucked the whole thing up.

How can you blame someone like my accuser then for just wanting to be done with me, even before I attempted to apologize? They knew how I would react and what would happen. I didn’t have the tools to deal with it in any meaningful way, and instead of developing those tools for myself I panicked and responded within two weeks, completely unaware of what the heck I was doing.

Honestly, I can’t blame my accuser or my previous partner for wanting to take a swing at me. In fact, in reading this section I realized that if doing so made either of them feel even a little better (just for a day or a moment) I’d be okay with it.

No hospital trips, but otherwise, you know, I can’t say I don’t have it coming to me in some way or another. Desert ethics being as bad as they are, I’m not sure what I “deserve” or don’t., but I’m OK with a punch or two, if anyone’s curious.

I think there’s some great catharsis in punching someone or intimidating someone who did a lot of harm to you. To an extent, I can understand  why this would be an attractive offer. It doesn’t “solve” patriarchy (you can’t punch a social relationship) but it does give some personal sense of empowerment and that’s important too.

Heck, what if it empowers other survivors to punch their rapists or abusers? Wouldn’t this be a good thing in some way? It’s hard to argue that people, especially folks who just don’t hecking get it (like me) couldn’t use a mark on the face.

With me being so negative about TJ and the somewhat weak article supporting TJ in this collection, as well as my sympathetic (at worst) feelings towards retribution, it seems like I should want a more revenge-driven society, right?

Nah, not really.

There are so many problems with retribution as a model of justice that TJ tends to win by TKO, more than anything else. I don’t support TJ over retribution (generally) because of my personal biases (though they are there, AKA not wanting to get my books wrecked or my face smashed in) but because there are so many better alternatives to beating up shitty people.

There’s a lot of discussion about “intent vs impact” when it comes to harm and I don’t think retribution is much different. The intent is good, but the impact is muddled for me. I’m not quite sure what’s gotten out of it besides an immediate sense of empowerment and while that can be important, it’s not enough.

It’s not enough to give healing to just about anyone I can think of. I can’t imagine that all of your problems are solved (or even a few important ones) just by punching someone who was (to say the least) shitty to you.

But then again, maybe that’s not the intent, right?

I’m not even clear what the intent is because it can be so individual. Is it about immediate empowerment? Inspiring fear in rapists and abusers? Preventing further harm? Undoing the harm that’s already done? A few of the authors in this book complain of TJ and how it can be unaccountable itself and vague on its goals.

But there seems to be even less idea of what retribution is exactly supposed to do. If it’s only supposed to give immediate empowerment to the survivors, then I can get that on an emotional level. But I can see a lot of the ways this can backfire no matter the intent and this is where impact comes in.

As Crimethinc puts it:

Choosing to escalate the situation brings serious risks, both legally and physically. Cops are more likely to bring charges for a group physical assault on a man than an “alleged ” sexual assault.

Beyond the immediate risks, you can’t beat up a social relationship, as they say; throttling an individual scumbag doesn’t do much to make anyone safer or end systematic rape culture, however satisfying it may feel to a vindicated survivor. (50)

This isn’t to cherry pick the Crimethinc article (Accounting for Ourselves), there’s a lot of positive points they make in favor of vigilantism as well. But most of those are points I’ve already said in vigilantism’s favor. So it’s time to get critical of it.

For example, the Crimethinc article quotes from Safety is an Illusion, “There is no safety after an SA, but there can be consequences.” (48)

And sure, but what consequences are the best? Losing the support of the friends and family would likely prove much more devastating for example. Calling their workplace could deprive them of temporary income, threatening potential homelessness. How much is too much? When is it not enough?

I lost many friends because of my actions as well as access to the anarchist community I had been around for about 8 years. Is this enough of a consequence (punishment?) or should I have been attacked as well? I don’t ask this in jest or to make the idea seem ridiculous. I’m curious when punitive ends are satisfied.

On the other hand, I question the effectiveness of physical harm. Yes, it can dissuade further violence but it can also repeat the cycle. It can also lead to them (the aggressor) wanting revenge so it has to be done carefully if it’s done at all. Are there better ways to end these cycles of violence besides more violence?

I don’t say this because of some liberal concern of moral impurity or “you’re as bad as them!”, I’m mostly talking from a utility perspective here. Is it effective? What have the results been for both perpetrators and survivors alike? Or do the results not matter? Is the process the end in of itself?

Crimethinc notes that this method mostly comes out of desperation and frustration with other methods. While that’s understandable, it also doesn’t make for the best mindset to be eliminating patriarchy or fighting against rape culture.

On the other (other) hand, it can feel fulfilling and powerful as heck for the people (usually women) involved. There’s a sense of satisfaction they’ll likely get from that they may never get from an abstract process of accountability.

Then again, are we just talking short-run and long-run benefits here? How long does this sense of empowerment last for these women? Does it effectively address their own trauma or does it just stir up new ones? And while it can build collective power concretely, how long does that last typically? Does it remain stable and carry on to other actions against rape culture?

We need sustained activism as much as we need quick and get-the-job-done styles of activism. Both are good! I’m not saying the latter isn’t, but I question its efficacy.

Beyond Revenge and Reconciliation: demolishing the straw men

There’s a point made in here that the benefit of retribution over TJ is that, dammit, at least revenge is an action. But hold on, dialogue is a form of action, the two are not necessarily separate from each other. This essay also mentions how opponents of retribution miss out on the fact that it gives power back to survivors.

I can’t speak for others, but at least my issues with revenge has less to do with having power in the hands of the oppressed, what it does to them, or whether it makes them as bad as the people they take revenge upon, but its efficacy.

Does it provoke more long-term organizing around this subject? Does it stop the rapist/abuser from being an asshole in the future? Does it send a clear message to communities or does it divide them further? If division occurs, is this division helpful or a hindrance? Not all divides are bad after all.

And while it’s true that sometimes violence can be justified in all sorts of ways such as self-defense, that doesn’t make it always the best choice. After all, any action can be justified, if you try hard enough. The real question (at least for me, in this present discussion) is whether it accomplishes anything past immediate sense of empowerment. And if it doesn’t (and I’m not knocking immediate feelings of empowerment) is that enough to make those actions worth it?

This is obviously not up to me.

It’s up to those survivor-led groups and the communities surround them. So what did they conclude? I’m genuinely curious and I wish there was more discussion about results, not just about how the rapists and survivors felt, but how it affected the community at large. What did it do, what happened after?

I know I’m asking a lot of questions and not making statements but that’s because I want to emphasize my curiosity and desire to learn. I’m not trying to condemn these survivors or violence per se’ and it’s really not my place either way.

And though retribution is a form of direct action it’s not like TJ can’t possibly involve direct action and anyways direct action isn’t inherently good anyways.

Some direct action is not tactically efficient in the context or is more likely to backfire, publicity wise. I don’t claim that’s necessarily the case for survivor-led groups doing vigilantism, but it could be and it’s worth asking these sorts of questions instead of only tackling responses from folks we might assert are falling prey to a “liberal” bias or are pacifists, etc.

And although there are many issues with TJ, at least with these “roleplays and powerpoint slides” (68) we can often know what the results were in some documented way. I can’t say the same sort of satisfaction has come to me through the stories of survivor-led groups attacking rapists. That doesn’t make them bad or wrong necessarily, but it seems to me an obvious drawback that’s worth exploring.

Obviously, the action itself is illegal so documentation can be tricky, but it’s clear people can do it and talk about it fairly publicly (there are two examples from the book that even name some names), as long as they keep it anon.

Lastly, to a previous point I discussed and one which this article mentions, survivor-led resistance could inspire other women to resist, that’s very possible.

But then there have been many forms of resistance throughout history that influenced people. You could just as easily say MLK’s demonstrations or Gandhi’s demonstrations inspired many people. But at the same time we’d take issue with their personal lives or tactics, right?

In the same vein, while these types of tactics could result in a “…realization and affirmation of the collective power of the oppressed” (68) as Fanon put it, that doesn’t in of itself make it worth doing. Plenty of things can lead to this type of realization and they never have to involve violence to do so. Again, I’m not against violence especially in cases like this, not wholesale, anyways. But the reasoning here seems flawed to me and that’s worth commenting on.

Another type of punitive type of response strikes me as far more effective, which I’ve already mentioned: Shame.

Shaming as a way of retaliation is, in my opinion, way stronger and much more likely to severely harm people. If you really want to leave people hurting, tell their friends and family, tell their job, go around the communities they frequent. The survivors I’ve harmed did only a few of these things this to great effect and they never had to lay a finger on me to make me want to never harm anyone again.

It didn’t guarantee that I never hurt anyone ever again, but I did learn to be more careful and try to minimize the harm if it ever happened again. To be honest though, it clearly didn’t work the first time around. Though to be extra fair, I was barely called-out, it was mostly me outing myself to the larger community privately.

It’s also interesting how we as anarchists often recognize that emotional harm can be just as harmful as physical harm, if not worse, with our criticisms of “it’s just a joke!” style trolling. But when it comes to redistribution of violence towards rapists, some of us seem to think that what will make them the most afraid and give them the greatest mark is necessarily violence. That seems wrong to me.

Speaking from personal experience, not to mention years of therapy and multiple calls to suicide hotlines, I know that’s wrong. You can do some serious damage to people just by fucking with their social lives.

Now, I don’t think shame is a helpful way to get people to change. But shit, if you just wanna hurt someone and don’t give a fuck about them changing or not? Yeah, it’s an amazingly powerful weapon and I’d take a punch in the face over it any day.

Conclusion: Alternatives to being a Prick and Punching Pricks

There’s a lot I’ve skipped over, but this is already too long and I suspect most folks won’t bother to read this anyways (though if you’re reading this, thank you!).

I think there’s a lot to love about TJ and I mostly want to talk about that now, to balance the pessimism from earlier. Here’s a “brief” list:

  • It can be empowering for survivors
  • Can bring communities together in beautiful ways
  • There can be a lot of affirmation towards the survivor
  • Although a long process, it can give some measure of healing
  • It can help the perpetrator become a better person
  • It’s all voluntary
  • There’s no physical violence
  • There are many ways to model it (for example the Chrysalis collective had the Accountability group made up of mostly white dudes so Tom would feel more at ease and not as threatened)
  • It can dissuade future abusers and empower other survivors
  • It will likely never involve legal processes

There’s a bunch of positives but also these positives are dependent on the TJ process going smoothly. As I’ve discussed throughout this book review there’s many potential pitfalls (via the Accounting for Ourselves essay, which is great!) but as the essay itself says, these aren’t inherent to the process.

I know all too well that processes between survivors and perpetrators can go south. With a former partner of mine, they practically forced my hand when they told a current partner about the harms I perpetuated in our relationship (I was struggling at the time to come forward with my mistakes) and I had nothing left to lose.

And even after acquiescing, they still weren’t satisfied. Giving money to an organization that supports survivors, taking full responsibility (as I had done previously) and apologizing were all part of the process, for full context.

But the process ended up leaving them dissatisfied. It’s hard to blame them, as much as I look back on this experience with a mix of anger at myself and them. Anger at myself because I should have done better for them and anger at them for not discussing it with me before breaking up my relationship.

So I know processes can fall apart because of unclear guidelines. But I also know it can be done so much better from the experiences discussed in this collection. Not to mention the experiences I’ve read otherwise via South of Forgiveness.

Obviously that’s an extreme example, but I still think it’s informative to look at. Not to mention there are essays, like this one that discuss the viability of the method.

And to be honest, I think this collection is stacked against TJ as a method.

There’s hardly any articles positive about it (save for one) and the only other one about TJ is one that brings up its pitfalls. That’s balanced in a way (one positive, one negative) but then you add the fact that most of the rest of the articles are hard-lined against it/arguing something very different and the collection makes TJ seem a difficult option to imagine. Not to mention the one positive example is light on the results of how it ended up playing out which makes for a poorly done positive.

And unfortunately, this is the least of the problems with the collection.

Their alternatives to TJ or revenge are pretty lean on the details. And when they are more detailed they’re generally pretty underwhelming. This goes for Accounting for Ourselves as well as Beyond Revenge and Reconciliation, perhaps even more so.

Let’s start with the former.

Accounting for Ourselves (and Our Alternatives)

The first idea is “gender-based organizing” which is supposed to be a more preventative way of making sure sexual violence doesn’t happen. Crimethinc smartly notes that a lot of the strategies noted in anarchist discourse is after-the-fact methods to diminish harm that has already occurred.

But if we could prevent it before it ever happened? Well, that sounds like a terrific idea to me and I think, if implemented well, it could perhaps lead to fruitful results. It just sucks that this suggestion lacks a bit of imagination and the before-the-fact organizing is difficult for many reasons (though I won’t tackle them here).

Some of the ideas aren’t bad, Crimethinc posits that men get rape education and women take self-defense classes. But wait, aren’t men in anarchist spaces already seeing a lot of rape education from other anarcha-feminists? Aren’t women who are anarchists already prone to taking self-defense classes?

I could be wrong about both of these things, of course. But I remember thinking I was a guy and being an anarchist years ago and seeing plenty of material about rape culture, patriarchy and how I contributed to it. Maybe my experience was unique, but I doubt that. Nevertheless, I still ended up inadvertently taking advantage of a friend last year when they were drunk. Clearly the education failed (or I failed it).

And it’s not like the education didn’t involve alcohol. I even read Learning Good Consent months before that incident happened last year.

But maybe some of us (even if we’re not men) are just thicker than others.

And if anyone is going to value self-defense it’d be anarchists who aren’t men. It’s tough enough to not be a dude in this world (especially if you’re non-white) but if you’re also an anarchist you’ve got the whole system often working against you.

Still, I don’t really know if any of this actually decreases the amount of intimate or acquaintance violence between anarchists. But that’s not a point against rape education or self-defense classes, obviously. Both of those are great ideas, I’m just not clear if these aren’t things we’ve been trying forever anyways.

One of my main problem with gender-based organizing is the gender part. Crimethinc kind of addresses this, but not really. It mostly hand-waves concerns about trans folks by saying intimate violence typically falls along certain gendered lines. Okay, that’s true, but what about when it doesn’t?

I’m not a guy (despite being assigned as one at birth) and having men segregated from women so they can lean to not be assholes just seems, as Crimethinc itself points out, to give men a bigger platform they don’t need. Plus, the men who likely need it the most won’t use it. Who wants to admit they need that shit?

The next alternative is conflict resolution and seems much more promising, especially given this quote:

Rather than extending the identity politics of survivor and perpetrator, we could create more nuanced language that neither idealizes nor demonizes people, but asks all of us to remain engaged in lifelong processes of self-transformation. This requires empathy towards folk who have done harm, to create space for them to own up to their behaviors and heal. (55)

I don’t particularly like this negative focus on “identity politics” (it made me side-eye this article a few times) but besides this, I respect the intention and think it sounds like a great idea. …But how do we do it?

This is what I mean, even when the ideas are cool, there’s very little detail presented on how we are to do it. I’m not looking for a full set of directions but something more substantive would be nice. How do we do the above without ceding too much space to aggressors? How do we balance survivor concerns effectively?

More commitments to self-accountability and conflict resolution sounds nice but how do we get folks to do this? Write more? Do more presentations? Call for some community meetings? Maybe Crimethinc just wants us to come up with this shit on our own and if so, that’s fine (and the anarchist thing to do). But make that explicit.

Not to mention that conflict resolution strikes me as fairly close to TJ just in a smaller way. There’s just two people and a “neutral” facilitator, just less involvement from the surrounding community. And that sounds like a bad thing, especially when conflict resolution “…is not appropriate for many cases of partner abuse.” (56) to begin with.

I hate to be so negative and it’s not like I think TJ is the only way to go (I don’t) but the alternatives listed in this essay are either great but highly underdeveloped or just not good. The next one, concentric circles of affinity is another idea that sounds super interesting but also goes underdeveloped.

The idea is to, within each of our circles of friends, explicitly list what makes a community for us and how to move forward. How do we define rape and sexual violence more generally? My affinity model would include my partner and my best friend as well as another close friend. The next level up would be some sort of shared community space, but I don’t have many of those. I guess their the few libertarian hangouts I go to once in a blue moon, though they barely count.

Affinity groups are awesome and sound like a great way of organizing communities from the bottom up! But there’s just a lack of detail here to get me fully into it.

Beyond Revenge and Reconciliation (and Bad/Redundant Alternatives)

One thing this section made me realize was how stacked against me the prospect of TJ ever happening between me and my accuser last year was. While some folks in the community still had affinity for me, most did not have love. The harm I caused my accuser was through ignorance, not malice, though that does not excuse it, of course. But the way I expressed remorse was poorly done and that soured it.

Even without that though my accuser wanted me to leave the community and not much was going to outweigh that need of theirs. Besides that, the harm to them was \severe and I had a pattern of being shitty to people. It was a no-brainer.

And it didn’t help that I fucked up my “apology” but hey, I was likely done for anyways. Even if  I hadn’t fucked it up, I still would never have come back anyways, especially not to a community I was feeling increasingly detached from.

Not just cause of my mistakes but more generally I was burnt out on politics. But that’s another conversation for another time.

That’s where the revelations started and stopped for me in this one. The alternative approaches are…largely redundant. Mediation, Self-help groups, exclusion and retribution have all been discussed before, but I guess they’re included again?

And the new ones are…a mixed bag.

There’s a very brief passage on internal resolution but it’s pretty unclear what the authors even mean by it. And while survivor self-help group and oppression awareness groups (which aren’t gendered!) sound like awesome ideas they are still (say it with me!) underdeveloped and with no examples to cite.

At least there’s this nice quote about survivor self-help groups:

In this way both survivors and perpetrators can move from being disempowered and constrained by these labels, to having the strength and knowledge to feedback into the community. (76)

Besides that though, there are some much needed notes on a lack of resources for communities to have some of these groups, except maybe online and regionally. That would make sense to me as a good start and I hope that happened.

But also the most important point I concluded the most from this section was that, we don’t have an obligation to save everyone, especially folks who have patterns of abuse and seemingly have little desire to change their ways.

It may be passing the problem elsewhere, but communities can only take so much before they disintegrate because of stuff like this. Communities must have a limit before they push serial abusers (such as myself) out.

I don’t know if “serial abuser” is the right word. But I’m definitely a serial fuck-up when it comes to relationships and sexual intimacy, I can’t deny that. I’m doing better with my current partner of a year now, but I still have my problems.

Conclusion to a Concluding Conclusion:

Phew. This was way too long, but I guess all of my previous reviews were pretty short for me, so maybe this “makes up” for that. I was thinking about it yesterday and the reason why I spent so much more time on this than the last three books was because it had so much politically to say that I wanted to argue and engage with.

I had a lot of thoughts on TJ and retribution already and I’ve never really shared them. Partly because I was nervous about sharing my opinion about “shooting your local rapist” and whatnot. But now that I have very little to lose, I guess in a way it’s comforting and I can just say how I feel and not worry as much.

Don’t worry, it’s as liberating as it is depressing.

Anyways, as a “…sensitive anarcha-feminist sexual assaulter…”(38) there’s probably not much here people would take seriously, even if they were to read it. But I don’t really care about that. I’m not writing 7,000+ words because I hope to change minds, but because this is therapeutic for me. I’m still trying to process my bullshit and writing all of this helps and hopefully can help me be a better person.

Because that’s all I really want to get out of this series: Being a better person.

I know I’ve failed at that so far in a lot of important ways. So this reading, note-taking and finally writing this shit out is me trying to take some shred of accountability for my mistakes over the years. It’s not so any community will take me back, the survivor(s) will forgive me or I can get some “likes”.

I just want to be a better person.

Oh, and this collection reminded me that I should re-read and review Safety as an Illusion: Reflections on Accountability which this collection cites every 10 pages or so (an exaggeration, but not much of one).

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading.

I hope you’ll join me for the next book review.


Next up is Conflict is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair by Sarah Schulman. I also recommend reading this great article on ways to be accountable when you’re called out for being abusive.

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