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Prisoner in the dock: How do you plead?

By Michael J. Smith on Wednesday November 9, 2011 09:28 PM

Much discussion, most of it deeply depressing, on my Lefty mailing lists about the supposedly deplorable 'violence' in Oakland. Material for several posts on the intellectual limitations of the American left. But tonight's topic is question and answer, a rhetorical gambit one of my listmeisters loves to indulge in:

What I'm mostly remarking on is the inability of any proponents to explain just what breaking windows accomplishes. Like I said, I'm not at all opposed to violence in principle. I'd like to hear why it makes sense now.
Posing questions, as an argumentative gambit, is a little squirrelly anyway, isn't it? I never much admired Socrates, myself.

No doubt there's a place for it --trying to tease out implications, trying to see whether you're following the interlocutor's logic. But in general it puts the questioner in the position of Mr District Attorney and casts the questionee as Prisoner In The Dock. Answer the question! Yes or no!

Then there's the related question of Bad Questions. Nobody is required to answer any question, but it's downright stupid to answer Bad Questions -- questions packed as full of questionable presuppositions as a haggis is of offal.

The constructive thing to do with a Bad Question is point out why it's bad. But even that may start to seem like too much work for too little reward, particularly with a questioner who seems to specialize in bad questions.

More on Bad Questions with toxic presuppositions tomorrow.

Comments (25)

Attacking the premise of a question is far too rare MJS. It's an admirable quality.


Yep. Vital skill, insufficiently understood. The short approach is to answer a question with a question. There's an old Yiddish joke:

Q: Why does a Jew always answer a question with a question?

A: And why shouldn't a Jew answer a question with a question?


Who knows what Socrates said about anything?


Especially valuable for the image of Jobs.

MJS' interlocutor sez:

"Like I said, I'm not at all opposed to violence in principle. I'd like to hear why it makes sense now."

That is among the most laughable comments ever. Right... having had violence committed upon me and having committed a bit of violence myself I can tell you the last thing that occurs to a person about to commit violence is "why does this make sense now?"

Fucking stupid shit... Some motherfuckers who've never experienced that shit don't get it.


Socrates is of course a fictional character, mostly, and as such, even more irritating than Lord Peter Wimsey and Jack Reacher.

Personally, I don't get too upset if this or that protestor engages in violence. The police are, after all, institutionalized violence.

While I don't necessarily condone violence, or, perhaps stated more accurately, hooliganism, I do view the detractors of violence with a certain degree of suspicion, as the interests of ruling groups are preserved by a mob that remains docile.

Pacifists can be every bit as much the allies of the powerful as can those who engage in destruction unwisely.

Pied Cow


This post would benefit from a link. The only violence I heard about in Oakland was the cops smashing up the Occupy encampment last week or so.

Walter Wit Man:


I think the missing link to evidence of violence is what MJS is referring to when he notes that the premise of the question is flawed. It's an elemental mistake lots of people seem to be making.

People are horrified at the "violence" that occurred on Nov. 2 and 3 in Oakland. Mayor Quan has demanded OO renounce "violence" as have Michael Moore and other prominent Democrats and liberals.

Except I haven't seen a single act of "violence" committed by a Black Bloc protester other than some scuffling with the Whole Foods liberals that were trying to stop the petty property crimes. In fact, the police were the only ones engaging in massive violence that night. So it's odd that a request to denounce violence is directed not at those that committed vandalism, not violence.

Ironically, the Nov. 2 strike and actions honored a vet the police almost killed on October 25, yet on that same night the police beat and almost killed another vet, and then mocked and tortured him as he lay dying (they refused to adequately treat him). He was beaten so hard he later had surgery. He was also tortured by Oakland PD for 16 hours. I have barely heard a word about this from the Whole Foods liberals yet they want to spend hours on the subject of how important it is to denounce vandalism.

The entire demand to renounce "violence" is one big rat fuck by the Democrats and the Whole Foods liberals . . . just like the other rat fucking they have done over the years. The loaded requests to renounce non-existent or hypothetical violence while diminishing and providing justification for massive state violence needs to be thrown back at them for the propaganda it is.

Curiously enough, when challenged to define the violence what troubles their precious souls, these same [capitalist] progressives retreat to a the redoubt of "optics." Everything which isn't (and I'm quoting a scold from the OO GA, livestreamed on AmLeft last night) in accord with the beneficent tactics of "Gandhi-ji" lacks the necessary purity of heart to heal the universe, or something. Fuck that. And fuck the memory of that reactionary fondler in a loincloth.

It's about image, for them. Brand recognition, in other words. Pleasing the company store's operating management. They're looking forward towards a job in the racket. But they ain't going to call it a racket once their regulators get spun into the cycle.


Also, Walter with a knockout.

I guess it means something that Chucky's sockpuppeting now includes me with MJS and OP, and not as a bucket of nails to toss defensively against them.

Al Schumann:

There's been lots of straining at gnats, re: the black bloc. There was a general strike! Here! In the US of A! How often does that happen? The Democrats were begging for one during the Baby Doc Bush regime. The conditions they deplored then obtain every bit as much now. Of course we all know where that's at.

As for whether or not I will condemn whatever it is that requires condemnation, my answer is a resounding, "huh?".


I'm with Walter and Jack all the way.

I'd only add, Jack:

Re: Gandhi-ji --- the movie sucked too.

And you write, "They're looking forward towards a job in the racket."

I don't know if that's the case, or if the problem is more pernicious. That being: These. Attitudes. Are. So. Ingrained.

State violence against people is somehow not a problem. But violence against PROPERTY? "Whoa, hold on there, let's not get carried away now!"

As a recovering liberal myself, I understand their ways and their impulses. Has been written of here many, many times: The desire to *control* is like an addiction and/or an obsession. There's isn't an event, an uprising, spontaneous of otherwise,that eventually they don't want to "get a handle on."

Mike F's right: a few shoves of the billyclub might knock 'em into anarchist sense into 'em


some off hand "Theses:

1. Anarchism, in the course of many more years has produced nothing but general platitudes against exploitation.

These phrases have been current for more than 2,000 years.

What is missing

(alpha) an understanding of the causes of exploitation;

(beta) an understanding of the development of society, which leads to socialism;

(gamma) an understanding of the class struggle as the creative force for the realisation of socialism.

2. An understanding of the causes of exploitation.

Private property as the basis of commodity economy.

Social property in the means of production. In anarchism–nil.

Anarchism is bourgeois individualism in reverse. Individualism as the basis of the entire anarchist world outlook.

Defence of petty property and petty economy on the land.

Negation of the unifying and organising power of the authority.

3. Failure to understand the development of society–the role of large-scale production–the development of capitalism into socialism.

Anarchism is a product of despair. The psychology of the unsettled intellectual or the vagabond and not of the proletarian.

4. Failure to understand the class struggle of the proletariat.

Absurd negation of politics in bourgeois society.

Failure to understand the role
of the organisation and the education of the workers.

Panaceas consisting of one-sided, disconnected means.

5. What has anarchism contributed
in recent history?

– No doctrine, revolutionary teaching, or theory.

– Fragmentation of the working-class movement.

– Complete fiasco in the experiments of the revolutionary movement

– Subordination of the working class to bourgeois politics
in the guise of negation of politics.

No majority rule (i.e., the anarchists’ non-acceptance of the submission by the minority to the majority )"


It is not for nothing that international socialist congresses adopted the decision not to admit the anarchists.

A wide gulf separates socialism from anarchism, and it is in vain that the agents-provocateurs of the secret police and the news paper lackeys of reactionary governments pretend that this gulf does not exist.

The philosophy of the anarchists is bourgeois philosophy turned inside out.

Their individualistic theories and their individualistic ideal are the very opposite of socialism.

Their views express, not the future of bourgeois society, which is striding with irresistible force towards the socialisation of labour, but the present and even the past of that society, the domination of blind chance over the scattered and isolated small, producer.

Their tactics, which amount to a repudiation of the political struggle,
disunite the proletarians and convert them in fact into passive participators in one bourgeois policy or another,
since it is impossible and unrealisable for the workers really to dissociate themselves from politics

Perhaps, Owen, faithless Clio has passed the centralists' program by, and prefers a different collective body for a differentiated time? The spectacle eats history, fragments it. Fashions it into fashions, modes. The permanent media cycle is not an atomic clock. It's an experiment in fission. It variegates, to preserve a dull living whole.

This is our present time. This is Clio's new form. She didn't ask your permission to take it, but what are you going to do, really? Struggle against the weight of history's collapse into identity? Complain that your god, like all gods, beats its loyal hounds hardest?

We are who she has kicked up from her historical forces to fight this coming string of battles. We're not dogs, and we're not yet human, I'll grant. But, why fight her on it? We lived through your primacy. Why begrudge us ours?


crow you intoxicate your self
with a cascade of nice words here

and then arm raised in triumph
annouce "This is our present time"
just before keeling over
on your face

from the floor gurgling up at us
you continue

"We are who she has kicked up from her historical forces to fight this coming string of battles....We lived through your primacy. Why begrudge us ours?"

i don't ...not one bit

even a black crow will have a warhol moment
knock yourself out

i'm backin ya baby right up to the father gapon intercept

yes Clio has her appointed agencies
no Clio
won't ask my permission to throw
us her next flurry of screw balls

but comrade is this clio's new form ???

one two ten a hundre...ten thousands maybe
but a million ketchups wiggling fingers
at hoodied blockheads ??

odds suggest this is not a new form
but an echo of an old form
long since run its course
in fact several times run its course

a course short colorful and sweetly sour

at the sovereign level of ONE

ever less so as the count rises




How I hate Stephen Colbert.

Some men there are love not a gaping pig,
Some that are mad if they behold a cat,
And others, when the bagpipe sings i' th' nose,
Cannot contain their urine.
Colbert falls into the bagpipe category for me. Metaphorically, of course, though as one ages....


I owe Jack & Owen an apology for my high-schoolish 'yawn' comment above. The running argument does seem too abstract to be either useful or resolve-able at this stage of the game, but that's what I should have said, instead of deploying a dismissive monosyllable. My excuse is, I have a toothache.

I took no offense. I meant what I wrote above, but it only works as a reply to the same objection that's been voiced since 1868. Out in meatspace, these labels are losing their sting.


"Out in meatspace, these labels are losing their sting."
yes and its because as father S suggests above
the use of the A's against the C's

for the moment is not important

the kremlin is now in narrow nationalist hands

Anarchists aren't being used against communists. There are no communists. The MLs, Maoists, Trots, Hoxhaists and MLMs spent the last four decades fragmenting into True Scotsmen sects. Those wounds are self-inflicted. Now, people who vaguely despise the state are actually acting. At best, you can just be happy that there's some sort of left at all.


There certainly aren't enough Communists -- though then again, sometimes it seems there are too many, if you count some of the specimens I encounter in cyberspace. Not so much in meatspace, apart from panels convened by the likes of Jacobin magazine. Couldn't swing a cat at that event without hitting a red-hot Communist, of a type that made me want to go read Kropotkin.

One would certainly like to believe that a better class of Communist remains possible. I have a sneaking notion that some such may emerge from the Occupations. Hope springs eternal in the Commie breast.

I'd love to meet and work with 'em (that better class, as you were) too, Mr. Smith. Bout the only thing we'd probably end up disagreeing on is the when of the withering away. And since I don't see it happening in anyone's near or intermediate future, that's like no disagreement at all.

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