Thursday, January 19, 2012

The force of anger

Betty Krawczyk.                                                             Don Staniford.

[ I am republishing a blog post which I wrote over a year ago, in October 2010. It was about Betty Krawczyk's latest legal battle against government and industry over the protection of our ecosystems. 

How not to think of Don Staniford and his ongoing battle against fish farm giant Mainstream Canada when reading this?

The specific contexts in Don's and Betty's cases are different, obviously. But this feels so relevant that I decided to re-post it without any change. I also added Don's picture next to Betty's original one to symbolize the linkage. 

This is to you, Don and Betty. ]


First posted October 22, 2010

Last September, Crown Counsel took veteran environmental activist Betty Krawczyk to a new level in her struggle with the BC legal system. She is now facing – at least in theory – the prospect of life in prison for having temporarily and non-violently stood in the way of trucks and heavy machinery. To that effect, Crown Counsel has submitted two rulings to the court involving repeat violent pedophiles who had raped their own children, indicating that those rulings were relevant to Betty's case. That's quite an irony when one considers that this grandmother has spent her golden years standing up against large corporations which were raping the environment.

A few days ago, Crown Counsel announced that in the BC Rail corruption trial, it had reached a guilty plea deal with the defendants, and therefore the case was closed before Gordon Campbell and his former finance minister Gary Collins could be called to testify. For some detailed analysis of this development, I refer you to Rafe Mair's indispensable and surgical daily blog. The two defendants, Basi and Virk, are reported to have signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Crown whereby they are contractually obligated to take to the grave the secrets of this case. In its wisdom, the Crown also found it appropriate to stick the BC taxpayer with the defendants' legal bills in the amount of $6 million.

Each of these announcements is stunning in its own right, but they take their full significance when put in resonance with one another. Together, they underscore the growing rift between the ruling class' infinite leniency towards itself, and its extreme severity and growing repressive stance towards ordinary citizens.

Such moves by the Attorney General's office are usually carefully calculated. In the case involving Betty, the goal is to send a chill wave through the activist community by making an example of a high-profile iconic figure. The calculation is that this obvious overkill on the part of the Crown will (a) feed our instinct of fear and increase our general sense of powerlessness and apathy, and (b) possibly set a useful legal precedent in the event that new generations of radicalized Betties would come of age.

And indeed, if it were carried through, the Crown's threat against Betty would probably be successful in achieving that goal. Increased repression and criminalization of nonviolent and non-criminal acts of civil disobedience does cause well-meaning people to pause and think harder about the consequences of their actions before they act. Who wants to go to jail for 10 months – let alone a lifetime – for holding back a bunch of construction trucks for a week or two? Certainly not me.

And yet, how little does the elite class understand the laws of dialectics! Clearly, they do not see that through their actions they are awakening and enabling the very monster that they are trying to keep locked away. They are, in their mode of reasoning, the tributaries of formal logic. In their worldview, something can never be simultaneously something else. People are either scared or they are not. They are either apathetic or politically active. If you successfully scare them into a state of apathy, you have by all measures accomplished your mission, case closed. Sometimes after a time of relative calm people grow agitated again, and so then you scare them again by stepping up the repression by a couple notches. Causes are followed by effects. A simple world, really.

In contrast dialectics, which can be defined as the study of the general laws of motion, describes the permanent state of change of things - which are, quite literally, always simultaneously themselves and something else. One huge practical benefit of dialectics as a methodology is that it is adept in all things contradictory. Whereas formal logic is incapable of explaining contradiction and generally dismisses it as a form of error, dialectics thrives on it. The dialectician actively seeks contradiction everywhere, sees it always as an opportunity and never as a problem, reads in its distinct pattern an indication that change is about to occur - that things are about to be set in motion.

Well folks – things are about to be set in motion. The elite class' contradictory treatment of the rule of law, their ridiculous leniency towards themselves paired with their increasingly repressive stance towards the rest of us, throws us, in turn, into a deep state of contradiction. We are deeply conflicted between our growing fear of repression against dissent, which leads us to apathy, and our growing revulsion of the elite class' appropriation of the judicial apparatus to their own benefit, which leads us to anger and therefore dissent.

As a social force, anger follows the same general laws as any physical force found in nature. A force which is repressed does not vanish away. Rather, it accumulates behind the obstacle which retains it and grows in magnitude until the obstacle comes under stress. And when the force is eventually released, it takes the form of a violent explosion which brings the obstacle down. Today, the obstacle constituted by the elite class' judicial apparatus is finding itself under considerable stress, pressured as it is by the forces of anger accumulating behind it. 

Those pressures will continue to grow in years to come, as our rulers' judicial schizophrenia does not happen in a vacuum. It takes place in a global socioeconomic context of systematic looting of the public commons which I had referred to in an earlier blog post as a modern form of barbarism. It is because they are robbing us that the world's elite class must allocate an increasing amount of their resources to both controlling us and getting themselves off the hook whenever they get caught. Gordo and friends did not invent the neoliberal ideology which transfers the public commons into private hands: they are simply doing what the members of their global class are meant to do. And so, they have no option but continue to crack down on activists like Betty while bailing themselves out, thus accelerating the conditions for a massive social explosion. They are objectively working on the side of the revolution. All I can say to them is – keep it up, brothers!

In my frequent moments of powerlessness and apathy, I take personal comfort in one particular law of dialectics, the law of transformation of quantity into quality. Water when cooled down to zero degree turns to ice not gradually, but all at once. Change when it happens is usually not incremental but instantaneous and brings along a new qualitative reality. There are thresholds when suddenly we are not in Kansas anymore. That is what, for example, makes the threat of climate change so godawful terrifying. This law helps me answer the nagging question of why are we keeping our heads down, even as the elite class continues to abuse us on a daily basis. Marxist commentator Rob Sewell wrote:

“Just as colossal subterranean pressures that accumulate and periodically break through the earth's crust in the form of earthquakes, so gradual changes in the consciousness of people lead to an explosion which is turned into a class struggle. The "cause" of the qualitative change may be something quite small and incidental, but it has become "the last straw that breaks the camel's back", to use a popular (dialectical) expression. It has become the catalyst whereby quantity changes into quality.”

"A catalyst" is also what Rafe Mair called Betty in a recent column. He is spot on. That, indeed, has been Betty's historical significance in this province. By using disproportionate legal weaponry against her, the judicial apparatus has only succeeded in speeding up the very chemical reaction which it was trying to avoid. The Crown has realized the magnitude of its error and is now in damage control. It has recently circulated the following statement on the blogosphere, referring to Crown prosecutor Mike Brundrett's submission to the court of the two pedophile rulings:

"While making submissions to a Court, the Crown may refer to cases for the legal principles they set out. That does not mean that the Crown equates the background facts of those cases with the case before the Court. In the context of Ms Krawczyk’s appeal, the Crown is not analogizing acts of civil disobedience with sexual offences."

Too late, Mr. Brundrett. The reaction is already initiated, the contradiction has been expressed. You are no longer in control in this matter. The laws of motion are now in control.