THE SAVAGE PEACE: II. Management [Homonoia]

II. Management

Homonoia: democratic power and its consensus machinery

Everybody knows, no one can deny, is the form of representation and the discourse of the representative. [Because it] rests its beginning upon such implicit or subjective presuppositions, it can claim innocence, since it had kept nothing back —except, of course, the essential — namely, the form of the discourse.” -Gilles Deleuze

On Sunday, November 15th, 2015, the day Jamar Clark was shot in North Minneapolis, people gathered at the 4th Precinct on Plymouth Avenue for what was not really a rally nor a protest, but a motley assemblage of bodies. There were the activists, of course, confined primarily to the front of the building and huddled up inside to block the entrance, surrounded by signs, important looking people, pizza. The space around the precinct was visibly organized around this spot. The activists were placed front and center, by the doors, in a spectacular confrontation with the line of police. This is the point around which most of the writing on the occupation has focused, but it was not the only space. Even 10 feet away on both sides of the entrance things became more complicated. There, people erected tents, set up fires, formed close-knit circles and talked. On the street just behind the activist cluster, fire pits were built daily, each harboring its own conversation, where we heard frank discussion about the meaning of the occupation, admission of confusion about what was happening, earnest pleas for understanding certain racial or tactical points, or simply jokes and stories. Much of what occurred here, only yards away from where the cameras were focused, would have been considered heretical or misinformed by those with the cameras and microphones in their faces and statements in their hands.

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Activists worked to maintain a clear boundary at the 4th Precinct occupation in November, 2015.

On both sides of the precinct were two other exposures, where the mood of people gathered was quite different. There was no longer the appearance of one group, but rather clusters of people, impossible to pin down. Some wore hoods and talked quietly in huddled circles, kids darted in and out of yards and alleys on foot or BMX bikes, some men were laughing on the corner, some shady figures were configuring a pipe, some grumpy looking old men shouted expletives at the station, others talked in circles or just stood around. The periphery was more ambiguous. The clear lines being drawn at the front were more vague on the sides.

Eventually, there came the meetings of forces. It didn’t happen smoothly, but it happened faster than we imagined it would. Music was played. Some objected to the kids who rode bikes around the cop cars, throwing up middle fingers while the cops were trying to pull out. The sound of air leaving the cop car’s tires could be heard; stones were thrown; a shout was heard “Hey! Careful! They probably have a camera in there!” Tensions continued to rise as the activist and religious leaders noticed the escalating crisis. One of the leaders tried to sing a song. Someone else grabbed the mic from their hand and said “we’re not going to sing a slave song.” A brick was thrown at the precinct. Another man began screaming at the activists, calling them “fucking singers” and telling them to go home. Someone asked what he planned to do. He said that he was going to sell crack so he can buy a gun to kill a cop. The prayer circle responded by tightening their circle and singing louder and louder until he gave up screaming and walked away.

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A crowd spontaneously forms a half-circle around a camera. 4th Precinct, Minneapolis, 2015.

Monday saw the first appearance of “protest marshals” who were there to “protect the protestors” and who worked tirelessly to form barriers keeping out crack sellers, rock throwers, BMX riders, hood-wearers, and hooligans, who, along with those allowed to stay, actually live there. Such exclusions continued amidst calls for “unity” and “peace.” I-94 was blocked, arrests were made.

Coffman protest
A demonstration at Coffman Memorial Union on the University of Minnesota’s campus spontaneously forms the ideal representative shapes. December, 2015.

Wednesday, the 18th, was the highest point of contention. Bodies circulated in uncontrollable, unidentifiable units: mingling, gossiping, clustering, and scattering are the best words to describe the scene. The experience of the periphery in the first few days seemed to have actually displaced the center. Most of the activists were still cluttered in the front, the most visible space, mediating the conflict between the mass of high school youth shouting various taunts and threats, in some cases coming directly between the two parties to protect the police. But they were spread too thin. The line between two consistent arbitrators collapsed into a wider conflict. The strategy was to hem the cops in their own lot by blocking the fences. Being a fairly small group, this meant that they lacked the constant aggressive mediation required to pacify the growing crowd. All night, we saw the same exhausted faces running to wherever there seemed to be the most energy and tension to remind everyone that they needed to follow certain rules and remain peaceful. At some points, the activists resorted to shouting “Stop that!” to the groups of kids throwing bottles over the fence at the caged-in police, or trying to re-erect the standing camera a group had knocked over to take refuge behind. The democratic self-mythologization was initiated at one of the side gates where the thronging crowd was maced by battle-ready police. The police were met by a volley of stones, bricks, water bottles, milk, and a trash can by some groups and the passive bodies and chants of “peaceful protest” by others. The police retreated and in all but two minutes —the time it took to stand back up after being maced— the activists flocked to the plentiful cameras, claiming that their “peaceful resistance” had driven the cops back while the stone-throwers were busy running or pouring milk into the burning eyes of those who were maced. The center was re-established, at least temporarily.

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Tarps being held against the fence to block the police’s vision and spotlights. The opacity of the periphery was overshadowed by the brightly lit front entrance. November 18th, 2015.

Over the course of the next few days, city officials and religious leaders were welcomed to the precinct to speak on the “issue” of police murder, while anyone with a spark of passion or self-determination was frequently branded as an “outside agitator” or “provocateur.” On the 23rd, five occupiers were shot by white supremacists who organized online, spurring a media strategy that consisted of branding this event an act of “terrorism,” which would be used to justify the increasing policing strategies of the protest leaders. The next day, a concert was held at the site, and a boy hopped the police gate and rushed the police after being called a racial slur, prompting the NAACP leadership to remark, within minutes to a crowd of thousands, that this was “proof” that “provocateurs had infiltrated the movement.” In an apparent move to remind everyone that the protest leadership was not fighting the police but merely trying to replace them, or even just work with them, protest marshals proliferated at the site and a list of rules of conduct began to be distributed, which prohibited, among other things, “gang activity,” “property destruction,” and “consumption of alcohol and or drugs.”

The democratic mythologization of the occupation only took a few days to take hold. Once it did, the “thugs” and “agitators” were nowhere to be found.

Democratic discourse as a practice requires the exclusion of any discourses that challenge its equalizations or threaten the weak circulation of its trivialities. What’s lost is what makes a body matter at all —its force in a situation, its understanding of a neighborhood or a way of speaking that is not and could not be equal to any others. The democrat’s constant recourse to the designation of the “outsider” (whether as “outside agitator” or “outside provocateur”) is a telling sign of their discourse’s fatal circularity. Everything that moves and connects with others in a real and specific way in the complexity of a situation is “outside” to it, and must be categorized as such. At one point on the 18th, an organizer for Black Lives Matter confronted a white high school student who, along with his group of friends, was pushing and insulting the police, telling him “this isn’t your fight.” He pointed down the block. “That’s my house,” he said, “I live here. This is my fight.” The organizer walked away without saying anything. It is that inappropriable attachment, that real connection to a place and the people in it, that democratic discourse cannot internalize and regurgitate. Democracy speaks universally, but is always, in each and every situation in which it appears, administered locally. Its vapid nature as a form of organizing makes it compatible with commodity and information circulation as it clears up flows, unclogs byways, attacks disease, fights entropy —and with passion, even.

Democracy is the regime of visibility, and its self-justifying exaltation to the skies above humankind. That which is opaque, like the kids and the old men walking around in groups, is opaque because the forms of relation are irreversibly attached to the world in which they dwell. Having no relation to them, all we can do is describe them. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (Ludwig Wittgenstein). We can’t say anything about their walk, their mood, their talk and tone of voice, at least not anything that we would understand. To force it to become visible is to erase the attachment that cannot appear because it can only be experienced. It is to mediate it through a discourse in which it will become as smooth as a commodity transaction or an indignant tweet. This explains the obsession at the occupation around possible “infiltrators” and “instigators” directed toward anyone with a mask or a hood on. In their frenzy to categorize every body, the partisans of democratic consensus are distinguishable from the police only by their lack of resources, and, unfortunately, their claims to legitimacy in opposition to those same police.

Let us reconsider the man’s statement at the rally that we are fighting “civil warfare” and that black youth first “fight with [their minds].” Now we can read this in a new light: the first fight is the reduction of all intensities to a zero point —it is to discount the discourse of those who speak a different way, have different priorities, understandings, backgrounds, a different way of reading, but in such a way that it appears to be doing exactly the opposite. “We’re trying to provide you with opportunities here,” they say, “aren’t you happy to live in a democratic society?” What is discounted is everything that makes us what we are in a situation.

This passion for superiority in simple unities is of course what drives these “revolutionaries” who will naturally be the leaders of the new unified group to transform or deny any rooted contention in the city that’s worth discussing. An interesting example of the strategic and aggressive use of “unity” occurred at the demonstration outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul on July 7th, 2016, following the murder of Philando Castile. One group of speakers, led by a familiar speaker from the 4th precinct occupation, was positioned on top of the mansion’s gate making short speeches and leading chants over a megaphone. Another group, identifying themselves with Black Lives Matter demanded that they be given the floor to speak. When the first group continued to speak, those identifying with Black Lives Matter began blaring the megaphone siren horn, which naturally angered the group on the gate. An inaudible and intense looking argument occurred between the two men acting as leaders of the small factions.

The group on the gate continued trying to lead chants, but eventually lost their support after the man from Black Lives Matter began chanting “unity” and declared that “real unity is over here, real love is right here, don’t listen to them.” The man on the gate made a quick attempt to affirm the necessity of “unity,” but didn’t get very far because the other man quickly handed the megaphone to an older woman, demanding that “people listen to the elders.” This was followed by a dance in solidarity from an indigenous group. The first group on the gate was ruined. The audience completely turned away, chanting “unity” with the new leaders. But few seemed to question the function of that “unity.” For those seeking legitimate leaders, it seemed that a crisis of legitimation was at hand. The first man was black, and identified himself as a resident of North Minneapolis, the site of the 4th precinct; the second was also black and identified as a member of Black Lives Matter. For the majority of the audience who personally knew neither and only related to them via symbolic markers of legitimacy (i.e. skin color, neighborhood, or group belonging), there was no clear legitimate voice.

So did they turn to the one who merely invoked the word “unity” first? Or was the latter group’s “unity” more legitimate because they identified themselves with a larger variety of legitimate parties? Is “unity” then a quantitative term, denoting whichever group has the widest range of support? Does “unity” then demand that we exclude those voices and groups less “unified” or “unifiable” than others? If so, the unity they invoked was certainly not an actual or a total unity because this unity explicitly functioned as an exclusionary tactic. “Unity” meant “forget what makes you different, the ‘movement’ is more important” and, on a practical level, “silence those who do not accept this fact by chanting over them.” Most people could not even hear the substance of the debate, but once this spectacle of legitimacy had been established, they were comfortable silencing one party in favor of another in their calls for “unity.”

Such tactics are constantly deployed in schools, which, being partly-closed discursive circuits, serve as good case studies for understanding the weapons of consensus discourse. Let us consider, for instance, the increasing phenomenon of school violence in the Twin Cities. In an article from the Star Tribune in December of 2015 we read that “The issue of school safety is important enough to call a strike […] to the president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers — and the union’s 3,800 members.” The galvanizing event took place the week before when “According to witnesses, police reports and court documents, a teacher was choked into unconsciousness after trying to break up a fight Friday between students in the Central cafeteria.” The assistant principal and other staff were wounded in the proceedings. The student involved is currently awaiting trial. But this is no isolated incident. In an unsurprising official statement, the union president Denise Rodriguez said, “Teachers don’t want to walk away from their classrooms or their students, but if our school climates are not safe and equitable environments for learning, [a strike] is a step our members may need to take.” The simple existence of the conflict and the constant necessity of its management calls into question the very idea that school is supposed to be composed of “safe and equitable environments for learning.” What does this “learning” mean in a situation more and more resembling a counterinsurgency campaign (“The teachers union is pitching a proposal to improve school climate by drawing upon the expertise of counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists, and by putting schools in charge of efforts to turn around problem behavior”) targeted at the students themselves? And what does “equitable” mean to those confined inside a building described by a local architectural critic as “The nadir of modern school architecture in Saint Paul, a building so resolutely grim and uninviting that it suggests that education can only be viewed as a form of incarceration?”

These are ethical and political contestations and not specifically related to one or another “injustice” to be reformed. These conflicts are interesting to us because they cannot be included in a reformist or revolutionary campaign without being significantly altered in some way. The inclusion of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers dirties up the matter for the Left, who won’t get involved unless they can find a way to frame it as a binary conflict that serves their own Good versus Evil narratives. But, viewed in the context of civil war and free of moral binaries, it is not necessary to choose sides between the false categories of “violent high schoolers” and the choked-out teacher with possible brain damage representing the army of “educational and behavioral professionals.” We aren’t celebrating when a teacher lands in the hospital, but we certainly aren’t surprised that a high school student would attack someone representing the assault of pacification techniques aimed at them. The only possibility we can see is the strategic intelligence inherent to both the violence and the inevitable pacification campaign that cannot be separated from the larger program of pacification inherent to the school and its student body in the first place. We can and must assess and discuss, find affinities and enmities, and explore the contours of this and other complex conflictual terrains, not as an outside intervening force of “conscious” radicals, but as our growing connections and affinities allow.

It’s worthy to note that in Ancient Greece what was perceived to be the greatest preventative of the outbreak of civil war was neither the army nor the police. In fact, Athens had nothing resembling a police force, nor a standing army. Every citizen, in order to be called a citizen, had to be armed and ready to defend the city. According to Plato, the reason why no one in Athens feared a slave revolt was because they knew all the armed male citizens would rise up and defeat them. On this issue, the slave-owning men were “all of one mind.” This state of “being of one mind” is what was called “justice.” The city relied on that “justice,” and, for that reason, stasis, when things didn’t exactly work out that way, was always “unjust.” The Greeks had another word for justice: homonoia, same-mindedness. In Plato’s Republic, in which he constructs the ideal and just city, the Guardians, or the heads of the city, do not control the means of violence nor of another form of coercion, they form an educational system.

The function of such a system was to delegitimize interests that may result in the formation of faction by teaching citizens not some specific content, but rather “how to learn.” Teaching someone “how to learn” turned out to be as simple as depriving them of the means to discover it themselves, and offering the student only forms of learning that will inevitably lead to the conclusions they had in mind from the outset. This process aims toward reorienting dispositions, not teaching some specific content. Ivan Illich had a similar insight: “Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being ‘with it,’ yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.” Learning how to learn means learning to distrust your connections, learning to trust in the distant manipulations occurring around you, and learning how to celebrate these things and feel good about them. The first and most simple step is to remove children from the streets by mandating compulsory education. This also prevents the child from forming relations with the adults and elderly who live in their localities and funnels them from one controlled environment into the next, preparing them for degrading and pointless jobs —over which they will also have no power— to come.

These same ideas were popular among the early theorists and proponents of public education. Thomas Jefferson, for one, confessed in a letter to Thomas Cooper that he felt that “The article of discipline is the most difficult in American education. Premature ideas of independence, too little repressed by parents, beget a spirit of insubordination which is the great obstacle to science with us and a principal cause of its decay since the Revolution.” And in another letter, this time to George Ticknor, he said much the same:

[t]he rock which I most dread is the discipline of the institution, and it is that on which most of our public schools labor. The insubordination of our youth is now the greatest obstacle to their education. We may lessen the difficulty, perhaps, by avoiding too much government, by requiring no useless observances, none which shall merely multiply occasions for dissatisfaction, disobedience and revolt by referring to the more discreet of themselves the minor discipline, the graver to the civil magistrates.

And so he desired “elementary schools for all children generally, rich and poor.” How noble.

Another Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, the “father of public education under the constitution,” and a supporter of women’s right to public education, was more direct about the purpose of education. In a document titled “Of the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic,” Rush argued that public education would, “. . .by producing one general, and uniform system of education […] render the mass of the people more homogeneous, and thereby fit them more easily for uniform and peaceable government.” In choosing content, Rush is guided by the principle that one should mold education “. . .to secure to the state all the advantages that are to be derived from the proper instruction of youth.” So, for instance, he recommends teaching Christianity, which inculcates “humility, self-denial, and brotherly kindness.” In politics, he warns that “The science of government, whether it relates to constitutions or laws, can only be advanced by a careful selection of facts” and he suggests, to that end, teaching about the “ancient republics” and “the progress of liberty and tyranny in the different states of Europe.”

We emphasize that he made these choices based on one criterion and one question: what will encourage good civic and moral behavior in the citizen as defined by the current power of government? The actual material was inconsequential. If other material could be molded to those ends, he would have suggested them instead. The goal, expressed in language similar to our own, was

to convert men into republican machines. This must be done, if we expect them to perform their parts properly, in the great machine of the government of the state. That republic is sophisticated with monarchy or aristocracy that does not revolve upon the wills of the people, and these must be fitted to each other by means of education before they can be made to produce regularity and unison in government (Benjamin Rush).

We have Horace Mann and Richard Henry Pratt to thank more than anyone else for our modern system of compulsory education. When Horace Mann took the office of Secretary for the new Massachusetts State Board of Education, public education in the U.S. was not a unified program. Massachusetts in particular was spotted with non-compulsory common schools and less official education programs one could participate in depending on the individual’s location and status. Mann, inspired by the Prussian system of education, succeeded in passing legislation in Massachusetts in 1852 requiring attendance in a common school and funding teacher training colleges. Children and their parents resisted this imposition, and so the first students of what would become the modern public education system were marched into their classes by the National Guard, while some of the more rebellious parents languished in jail cells. “Forts, arsenals, garrisons, armies, navies, are means of security and defense, which were invented in half-civilized times and in feudal or despotic countries,” Mann would write later, “but schoolhouses are the republican line of fortifications.”

Richard Henry Pratt, a soldier who would become another major advocate for public education, and the man who created the phrase “kill the indian, save the man,” described his time as a soldier in the following way

As a Civil War cavalryman [over Negro soldiers], I marched over vast stretches of slavery’s domain, serving the four years in a war which led to broader Americanization, through participation in the duties of American citizenship, for the recent primitive Africans . . . [M]y government used me in war to end a system which had forcibly transformed millions of primitive black people by transferring them from their torrid zone homes and life across a great ocean and compelling them to live with, and make themselves individually useful in, our temperate national family and by abandoning their own meager languages and adopting the supremely prolific language, life, and purpose of America . . . [T]hrough forcing Negroes to live among us and become producers, slavery became a more humane and real civilizer, Americanizer, and promoter of usefulness for the Negro.

His great insight was that a national system of public education might have precisely the same effects with other potentially dangerous groups, particularly the new Puerto Rican immigrants and Natives. He fought for eight years with General Sherman in his wars of extermination against the insurgent mid-western and western tribes. Those who were not killed were compelled to sign treaties giving up the meager remains of their land, and the potentially insurgent warriors were sent to to the Fort Marion prison in Florida without trial. Pratt was assigned oversight at the prison in 1875. Under his direction, unruly prisoners were branded, confined in iron shackles, and left to simply die from dehydration and starvation. His greatest “success” was in reforming the younger POWs. He cut their hair and marched them around the grounds in military fashion, forcing them to cook, clean, attend church, and perform drills. He also would mix different tribes who spoke different languages and then sow the seeds of suspicion and doubt among them, turning some into informers, others into his personal police.

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Richard H. Pratt with Prisoners at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida.

After his successes at Fort Marion, Pratt began lobbying around the country in favor of a system of Indian Schools, which would be run on the model he refined at the prison. In 1879, the Carlisle Indian Industrial school was opened with Pratt as its headmaster. Between 1879 and 1900, twenty-four more schools would open with the same paradigm developed by Pratt. The scope of his influence reaches much farther than just Indian Residential Schools. At the National Education Convention in Los Angeles in 1899, Pratt drafted a series of resolutions that would be ratified and adopted by the entire convention. These resolutions declared:

RESOLVED, that the true object of the Indian schools and of Indian management is to accomplish the release of the Indian from the slavery of tribal life and to establish him in the self-supporting freedom of citizenship to take his place in the life of the nation […] RESOLVED, that the public schools of the United States are fundamentally and supremely the Americanizers of all people within our limits.

The idea of the school as normalizer of American democratic processes is still held today. In 2008, a California Court of Appeal held that parents who homeschool their children may be found guilty of criminal charges, fined and be compelled to attend parents training and counseling. The Court’s opinion stated that public education was necessary to produce “knowledge and intelligence” and “good citizenship, patriotism, and loyalty to the state.” For white families, compulsory education was resisted as an affront to their freedom to choose where, when, and how to educate. For Natives, immigrants, and freed slaves, it was a scorched earth tactic of war. In the graveyards of their parents, kidnapped children were the first non-whites taught the goodness of Western Civilization and its inclusive democracy in American schools.

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Morton Indian School, Morton, Minnesota, 1905.

The school is preeminently aimed towards the production of same-mindedness, but not merely, or even primarily, in terms of content. Schools today celebrate the fact that they are discovering new ways to integrate the students experience into their lesson plans. All the better, since the form of connection discovered by that experience is excluded, and the foundation and justification of the school’s discourse is kept from view. Integrating experience is another way to conceal the arbitrary nature of the school’s conceptual categories, which still largely consist in applying measurable and quantifiable standards of knowledge to the most variable of situations. The school is a well-oiled democratic consensus machine, not only maintaining its own innocence in the face of violence within its walls but also denying its own violence. The school, which longs to be seen as the source of all future morality and civility, is the citadel of Western Civilization’s own decrepitude in the face of its empty moral binaries.

Soak up the confusion of our situation. Imagine the process necessary to institute a nationwide network of confined and enclosed territories whose halls are roamed by security guards and social workers watching and teaching ever-changing groups of students, including many from a heritage of slavery or expropriation, who are confined there to learn how to learn and “be good citizens.” Now ask yourself whether or not this is “violent” according to the standards with which the school prosecutes the “violent or disorderly” students. Ivan Illich wrote that “As much as anything else, schooling implies custodial care for persons who are declared undesirable elsewhere by the simple fact that a school has been built to serve them.” Focusing on the choking of a teacher masks the enormous violence of the school itself in American history. How are students supposed to act when school appears today to be like a giant machine designed to pacify them in a planned environment filled with as many counselors and social workers as educators teaching them how to learn —teachers talk about hallways as if they were warzones?

Yes, civil war is dirty, complex, and sometimes tragic, but, in opposition to the benevolent “revolutionaries” and other “democrats,” it accepts difference as a fact of life and begins from there. At the same time, we understand that many use “revolution” in different ways, and that the word does not have the same meaning universally. We are using this example to insist specifically that the democratic movements and self-elected “leaders” and “marshals” of the Left paradoxically produce hostilities everywhere they speak of “community,” while also calling attention to the term’s ability to impose a binary narrative structure on a complex field of confrontations and alliances. The content of their “unity,” which, being theoretically universal and based on abstract principles of communication, is only unifiable on the condition that it actually exclude bodies and discourses that don’t or can’t accept the basic principles of that unity, because it threatens or neutralizes another irreducible bond.

This was obvious throughout the 4th Precinct occupation, and was explicitly acknowledged by leaders in the Left. Nekima Levy-Pounds, the Minneapolis NAACP President:

What [city officials] don’t understand is that that occupation is the only thing that stopped the city of Minneapolis from burning to the ground. They have no idea about the number of people that we were able to stop from doing things that would have been harmful and destructive out of rage. There’s a place for rage in the movement.

If we have focused up to now on the vague question of violence, it isn’t because we love street brawls or burning buildings, but rather because these are the elements most viciously (and yet superficially) suppressed in the Twin Cities, where the difference between “violent” measures and “non-violent” measures is in no way agreed upon, and where any definition or declaration of violence must be viewed as a part of the strategy of the speaker. “Violence” is one of the central questions of democratic discourse not because some forms of force (fighting, fires, or guns) are important in themselves, but because the term “violence” is defined by democratic discourse in such a way that it itself becomes a tool of defining acceptable and unacceptable discourses and practices.

The 4th Precinct occupation had no lack of so-called positive and material resources like food, space, fire pits, barricades, the communication network necessary to gather crowds and pull off large events; but, the organizers were able to exclude large groups of people by monopolizing control of the form and spaces of discourse. They did not at any point expunge violence from Plymouth Ave, they merely defined it according to pre-legitimated, unspoken criterion unavailable and often foreign to many of the people there. Thus, any confrontational activity they participated in (like blocking the freeway, blocking the police in their station, or manipulating discourse and excluding bodies) was non-violent, while knocking over a standing camera to defend the group from rubber bullets was violent. In the case of school “violence,” school officials can brand their persistent assault of manipulative educative, therapeutic, and preventative techniques practiced on students as “non-violent,” while a single act of frustration is “violent” enough to arrest the student. In May, 2016, a former student of Central High School was found on campus. He was was “trespassing” according to the police and “visiting a teacher” according to the him. In the end, he was pinned and arrested while the other students watched.

This is why we can’t feel anything but ambivalent when we read a teacher’s letter about the incident at Central that bewails the fact that “Teachers feel powerless to discipline. I am not exaggerating. We are told to never under any circumstances touch a student as a behavioral intervention. … If a child is running around screaming, we let them run around and scream.” This statement is particularly laughable considering the huge variety of physical measures available to staff in a public school. According to the St Paul Public School’s Student Behavior Handbook: Rights and Responsibilities, teachers are asked to “respond appropriately and consistently […] when students do not follow the expectations.” They must respond when they don’t follow the expectations. This means they make these decisions on a discretionary basis, since the staff member does not need to first filter their proposed response through a forum or authority which will legitimate it, but is expected to respond immediately. They distinguish between “interventions,” which “facilitate positive behavioral change,” and “disciplinary responses.” “Interventions” (apparently these are not seen as “discipline”) include the ability to:

  • Re-teach expected behavior/skill
  • Verbal or nonverbal redirection
  • Role play
  • Written reflection/apology
  • Seat change
  • Teacher/student conference
  • Daily progress sheet on behavior
  • In class time-out
  • Restitution (fix-it plan)
  • Removal from class to another supervised
  • Change in schedule
  • Loss of privilege(s)
  • Student contract
  • Parent/guardian notification
  • Parent/guardian/teacher conference
  • Parent/guardian accompanying student to school or class
  • Removing, adjusting, or covering up clothing that violates student dress requirements
  • In-school community service
  • Conflict resolution
  • Mentoring program participation
  • Peer mediation
  • Referral

Should they be so bad as to require a “disciplinary action,” they may be subject to the following in addition to being reported to the police:

  • Parent/guardian notification
  • Parent/guardian conference
  • Short-term suspension, in excess of one complete school day
  • Alternatives to suspension
  • Administrative transfer
  • Interim alternative educational placement
  • Referral to Local Pupil Problems Committee
  • Utilization of lower-level interventions and
  • consequences in addition to the above

They also have the ability to conduct searches of a student’s property with “reasonable suspicion” that they have violated a school code. What are are some of the behaviors that may warrant such a reaction? There are two tables that list the spatial expectations of the school, including which side of the hallway one ought to walk on, how to greet others “respectfully” (“wave, smile, thumbs up”), what “voice level” to use in various environments, rules for how to stay “clean,” when to stand in a line, when you must raise your hand, when to have your electronics off, when you may talk with others, when the voice of the adult must be expected and listened to, and many more minute regulations and norms.

What should be characterized as a “punishable offense” and what is merely an “expectation” are mixed together in the section that follows. Side by side, we see the injunctions that students are responsible for “obtaining a pass from a staff person when late for class or if there is a need to leave class” and also that “Reasonable force by staff to restrain or correct a student from injuring self, other persons, or property […] is allowable.” In this passage, law, regulation, and expectation are all mixed together:

Students are responsible for responding to all directions or questions from staff and for following all laws, policies, rules and expectations that apply to them. Students are responsible for knowing and following all applicable classroom rules, expectations, and procedures. Students are responsible for treating all persons respectfully. Students are responsible for respecting the space and freedom of those around them. Students are expected to treat the property of others and the district responsibly.

This category of “respectful” behavior is consistently mixed with “lawful” behavior throughout the text, so much so that there is functionally no difference. How you must act and how you should act are so closely related that it is up to the discretion of the staff to decide when to take action, ignore, “intervene,” or “discipline.” The police powers assumed by the school are ultimately arbitrary and yet extensive with the student’s entire existence in the spaces they inhabit (when and where they can appear, how they must be in the space, how they must conduct themselves). Whenever the question of what is violent takes precedence over who decides what is violent, the management avoids exposing itself to its own history, its own source of legitimation, or, in other words, civil war.

Central high arrest
Former Central High School student learning about democracy in St. Paul in May, 2016

What the most radical elements on the Left —the elements that make destruction, self-negation, or another negative content their independent goal— often miss is that these conflicts, civil war, and division are incumbent to the current situation. What is needed is not an opposing manipulation from the opposite end of the spectrum towards increasingly negative forms of conflict regardless of situation. This would make each situation a polarity between a “positive” interventionism and a “negative” interventionism. We propose the breakdown of the unifying programs of the Left or any other managerial machine, the fracture of the posited center and narrative, and a politics of friendship and strategic affinity. It is not as simple as attacking the visible elements of the Left, but rather amplifying the elements of civil war internal to it so that it breaks apart and divides.

We offer the following: With the recognition of civil war comes the understanding that there are irreducible differences. We are fated to divide. Far from creating “chaos,” —we hope we have refuted Hobbes enough to show that chaos is an absurd idea in the context of the political— this division produces political multiplicities and inter-contextual ways of relating to our environments. Rather than gathering up the lowest common denominators of that division in tepid democratic forms, we will —slowly, as it must be— start with our division as a prospect of friendship. Friendship (because it is based on what is irreducible, unequal, and often even unspoken between people) is antithetical to democratic mechanisms. Friendship is the leap across and yet within division. Friends neither try nor desire unification into One. It is the play between their differences that makes the connection so strong. When the Left calls for more “unity,” we will content ourselves with more friends.

Consensus also makes any empirical understanding of enmity an impossibility. For, as Nietzsche tells us, “[i]f one would have a friend, then must one also be willing to wage war for him: and in order to wage war, one must be capable of being an enemy.” Consensus only understands itself and, thus, handles the appearance of difference with purifications. The enemy of consensus is an internal disease that ruins the very basis of association. The student who stands up in class and shouts “fuck school!” or the kid who lights a fire in the bathrooms are not “enemies” with legitimate perspectives but “problems” to be worked out by experts. Adversaries locked in conflict receive no pleasure in the absolute destruction or purge of the other. They are held in a balance in which the delicate play of their forces increases their own power in relation to the other. In the midst of the legal battle and personal feud at the center of Balzac’s story “Gobseck,” the lawyer Derville remarks with deep insight that “two adversaries more often than not sense one another’s hidden motives and ideas. Between enemies, you sometimes find a similar lucidity of mind, the same sort of intellectual insight, as between lovers reading each other’s soul” (Honore de Balzac).

When we meet the Left on the same terrain, we will either form irreducible bonds and disrupt the flows of the organizations, or we will consider them adversaries, to the degree the situation allows.

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