No excuses: Power, responsibility, and accountability

Every once in a while, it is necessary to make plain what I think should be obvious.

By design,[1] and in effect, there is a single powerful class in the United States, comprised principally of wealthy, white males who hold political, economic, military, and religious power over the rest of us, and who are not amenable to our interests, but rather only to their own.[2] In critical terms, they are the colonizers and we are the colonized.[3]

The capitalist libertarian distinction between economic (“good”) and political (“evil”) power over us,[4] the colonized,[5] is simply and manifestly incoherent. The colonizers’ claim to merit, rationalizing their power and privilege over the rest of us, is self-serving, generally nepotistic, and, itself, without merit.[6] The idea that we, the colonized, should, through repeated agitation, petition the colonizer even for essential social change at an incremental and glacial pace[7] in fact amounts to an acquiescence to this power relationship and to the colonizers’ failure to act in the common interest, even on urgent and existential issues such as the climate crisis.

Political and economic systems are largely about the allocation of resources. Do we spend money on the military? Do we fix roads? Do we take care of the working class and the poor? Do we educate our people? How do we decide to accomplish these things? Do we only decide to do these things when they benefit the powerful, as with weapons purchases, as with the pharmaceutical industry, as with fossil fuels?

To attribute these decisions to political and economic systems, however, is in fact to introduce layers of abstraction: It is the self-interested, even greedy, colonizer that makes these decisions.

So I am not interested in the colonizers’ excuses for failing to act even on necessity. They have the political power. They have the economic resources. They have the means. They have the opportunity. What they choose to do or not to do is their responsibility. And they should be held accordingly accountable.

But holding people accountable requires power over them.[8] Holding the colonizer accountable in fact requires that the colonized have power over the colonizer. This is the failure of our system of social organization: We, the colonized, as is evident in the only means of nonviolent social activism available to us, that incremental and glacial quest for progress at a pace that does not dare too much to discomfit the colonizer at any given moment in time,[9] lack that power, utterly and completely.

It is only through the threat of violent revolution that the colonized hold any leverage whatsoever over the colonizer. Do not, therefore, blame looters and rioters for looting and rioting, for they exercise the only power that we, the colonized, possess. Blame them rather for their failure to get the rest of us to join in.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10,” Not Housebroken, July 3, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/22/a-constitutional-oligarchy-deconstructing-federalist-no-10/
  2. [2]Noam Chomsky, “The U.S. behaves nothing like a democracy,” Salon, August 17, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/08/17/chomsky_the_u_s_behaves_nothing_like_a_democracy/; Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Princeton University, April 9, 2014, http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf; C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite: New Edition (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2000).
  3. [3]Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Linoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds., Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (Los Angeles: Sage, 2008).
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  5. [5]Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Linoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds., Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (Los Angeles: Sage, 2008).
  6. [6]Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012); C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite: New Edition (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2000).
  7. [7]Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy (Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society, 2001).
  8. [8]Uri Gordon, Anarchy Alive! (London: Pluto, 2008).
  9. [9]Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy (Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society, 2001).

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