Bullying, Proposition 8, and Hard Times

If there is an argument to be made against anarchism, it is against an assumption that humans fundamentally are empathetic beings who can cooperate in the absence of hierarchy. In Mutual Aid, Peter Kropotkin argues that species best adapted for survival are not those that kill each other off in competition, but those who cooperate to advance mutual interests.

Amid the election results which so many celebrate, California’s proposition 8 passed, meaning the state is now constitutionally forbidden from recognizing same-sex marriages. The proposition is already under challenge in the courts. The ACLU writes:

The petition charges that Proposition 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution’s core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group – lesbian and gay Californians. Proposition 8 also improperly attempts to prevent the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of protecting the equal protection rights of minorities. According to the California Constitution, such radical changes to the organizing principles of state government cannot be made by simple majority vote through the initiative process, but instead must, at a minimum, go through the state legislature first.

Passage of this proposition does not merely reflect an intolerance of difference among human beings; it reflects proponents’ insistence that tolerance for others is intolerance for them, that recognition of others’ rights diminishes their own rights.

But the Federalist Papers reflect an understanding that rights are not needed by majorities who can prevail in any election. Rights exist instead for minorities who will be inevitably outvoted. The rights that James Madison, et al., sought to protect were not those of stigmatized minorities, such as gays, but of property owners who feared a class uprising. Certainly this view of rights in the Papers were not meant to protect the rights of Indians who were being crowded off their land, or the rights of slaves. So a more nuanced view is that we had a hierarchy in which some minority rights were protected and others were disregarded.

This is supposed to have gone away. The fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution forbids “any State” from “deny[ing] to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” But obviously, discrimination still exists, is still legislated, and is even approved in plebiscites.

So the antithesis of empathy, bullying–in which we now learn that bullies are not not simply “cold and unemotional in their aggression,” but are sadistically deriving “pleasure out of seeing someone else in pain”–is a privilege that some of us compete for.

This suggests that there are two kinds of humans. The first might be those that Kropotkin sees as best suited for survival. And the second might be those who have a more primitive view of “survival of the fittest.” And some of us in the first group have acquiesced to a few in the second in order to protect us from the rest in the second. Yet I see no meaningful distinctions amongst members of this second group that can work to the advantage of the first.

Rather, the generosity of the first group aids the second’s survival. And some members of the second group, whom we refer to as a government, exploit our fear of others in that same group to sustain our generosity. This government then hires more people from the second group, whom we call the police, to enforce the rule of law and to maintain social order, that is, to protect the elite from those of the rest of us whose generosity may be exhausted.

We are, by the accounts of all but those who wish for the rest of us to pump up the values of their stock holdings, entering very hard times. My generosity is exhausted.

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