Archive for August, 2009

Raw notes on the subject of Critical Mass

August 19, 2009

I’ve been participating in a couple online debates about Critical Mass. (one and the other)  I’ll do something with these raw notes a little later…

There’s a difference between making your world a better place and making the world a better place. Critical Mass, and really is developing community, connecting with real human riders only a selfish indulgence? Are the car driver stuck in traffic, who get angry, and not all the drivers get angry, happy in the current transportation system? Is it possible that cyclists are scapegoats of drivers and planners trapped in an inefficient, and frustrating system? Road Rage is a cultural phenomenon that has nothing to do with cyclists. Is the desire to shift traffic patterns, and create transportation alternatives selfish?

I read Luke’s post and think Critical Manners is more than somewhat open to interpretation. And fixed thinking, fixed meaning, the lack of open ability to interpret is, and I’m using this word with an understanding of the full possibility that you’ll recoil in smug indifference, fascist. I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure freedom of movement is a human right. I’d like to decide for myself, in community (read democratically) what that means, not have it decided for me by a self-legitimating power, or sycophants who ally themselves with that power.

One concern seems to be that this democratic expression (Critical Mass Ride) violates the rights of others. Are “freedom from delay” or “freedom from inconvenience” rights? I think it’s a stretch to call Critical Mass a violation of others’ rights.

Another concern is the flouting of law. Law is an institution of power, which in this case is confronted by a democratic multitude. But even this concern is weak. Critical Mass is a procession, like a parade or a funeral, a celebration of cycling in the city and as such it stays together. I don’t think the maintenance of a procession is too far outside accepted social behaviour.

We’re working with different definitions and not really understand each other.

Darren wrote:
“Just to be clear, you’re saying that if I choose to “ally myself with” a democratically-elected power, I’m a fascist? Does that make every citizen who voted for a government in power a fascist? That’s a peculiar point of view, particularly given the definitions of ‘democracy’ and ‘facism’.”

The definition of democracy on wikipedia includes this: “Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’, there are two principles that any definition of democracy includes, equality and freedom. These principles are reflected by all citizens being equal before the law, and have equal access to power.”

By the standards in this definition we do not live in a democracy, and I’ve noticed over the past month that most of the people opposing Critical Mass are arguing under the assumption that we do live in a democracy or under a democratic government, when it would be more referent to our reality to speak of living in an oligarchy or under a pastoral government. I think it’s this confusion of definitions that places Critical Mass outside the notion of democracy in public perception (a confused public that also erroneously perceives itself as democratic.)

I wrote “allying yourself with power against those confronting power is” fascist. I said nothing of a democratically-elected power, because the terms cancel each other out. The creation of a hierarchy is the end result of elections, and hierarchic power structures are not democratic (by definition which requires equality) I’ll try to be more clear this time around because I think these definitions are very important for bridging the gap in perception that has been expressed in this thread.

Because of the difference in power between those who rule and those who are ruled, this can be seen when thousands of people are systematically excluded from the decision making process, (don’t confuse an exclusive decision making process with democracy, it’s an oligarchy, let’s call things by their name) the excluded are confronted with a decision making power, a power that must be contested.

The contestability of freedoms written or desired is the basis of confrontational politics. So you can check any list you want but when a multitude appears on bicycles exercising that freedom you’ve got your reality.

This debate was started by a police warning and monopoly capitalist media sensationalism. How are these institutions of power democratically elected? How then is public perception important to consider if it has been manipulated by these powers? We often see what we know, and we know how power informs us. Why do the people who ride in critical mass have such a different perception of the meaning of the event than those who read the Province or the Sun? (or who side with the police force?) Critical Mass is definitely confronting institutional and capitalist power. Things are not the way they are for no reason. To try to change things is to confront those reasons.

Those reasons concern the systems of money and power; systems which in no way can be referred to as democratic. These systems have criminalized dissent/protest. So yes, Critical Mass operates outside the system, democratically mobilizing in public.

My point of view may be peculiar to liberal capitalists who’ve accepted the misnomer of democracy, but there is a huge body of work called Critical Theory written by Jews who fled from Nazi Germany, this stuff is definitely the point of view of outsiders. And the link I put to the guide to a non-fascist life is definitely worth reading. And then there’s Noam Chomsky, he’s also written extensively on the illusion of democracy. Point is, if we called things what they are and restarted this conversation, which I’ll say it again, was started by the institutional powers of the police and capitalist media, Critical Mass would be the democratic expression, opposed by non-democratic, oligarchical, capitalist, armed power.
Which side are you on?

Do you see that we are at odds in our terms?

There are two clear, reasonably well written posts preceding, but are in no way addressed by your question. I tried to express earlier the communal and democratic appeal of Critical Mass, which you constantly reduce to “personal enjoyment” and then even the term “entitled” is anti-democratic.

You say there are “infinite ways to find personal fulfillment” and you’re totally right on the mark with that. What’s missing are ways to find free communal fulfillment. Critical Mass is a rare free communal event. In a democracy access to power is equal, there is no need to produce a title. Critical Mass is an expression of this social alternative, and in our current totalizing system, an alternative can only be confrontational. I think it’s necessary for democracy to create the ability to say, “We are here.” Critical Mass presents an alternative. And I think the issue you have is with the alternative. There are people in our social body who think differently, and in our representational system, they don’t really exist, but for a few hours once a month, the last Friday of every month to be specific, Downtown, between the hours of 5:30 and 8 or so. Would you like to pretend that difference doesn’t exist? And that the difference will not sometimes express itself in blocked flows?

Critical Mass is about more than traffic, it’s an alternative form of social organizing, free and democratic, which just happens to get in the way of law and order.

I think liberal capitalists need to understand that their order impinges on the enjoyment, more the full development of life of a multitude that desires that full development. This desirous multitude is without access to media of power and money(capital/resources) towards the process of communal and human development, and every once in a while, through different channels, this multitude will make itself known. This is the world we live in for now.

There is a major bias or false foundation in all the arguments against CM here. (except Morten who doesn’t express the bias at all. He clearly sees our reality.)

I’m talking about the uncritical acceptance of a democratic society.

Raul starts with this statement: “One of the most powerful manifestations of a democratic society is the ability of citizens to raise their voices wanting to be heard on policy issues.”

Is this really one of a democratic society’s most powerful manifestations? That’s it? …the ability to raise your voice wanting to be heard? How do you define democracy? How do you define what is not? One problem with empirical research lies in its inability to discover the unrealized possible. I’d contend that democracy is a Utopian notion worth creating, and that the society in which we’ve found ourselves (selves created and socialized, prior to that discovery (I’m just saying..)) is not democratic.

It, that we don’t live democratically, comes through in what Victoria writes: “I’m fully for having mobility options versus vehicle usage, but when mobs like Critical Mass take to the streets it seems that far fewer influential ears are prepared to actually listen to our cry.” We live in a society where a larger number of bodies are classed ‘mobs’ and where a lesser number of bodies are classed ‘influential’. And it is through obedience to this smaller influential class that our cries will be answered. This is not democratic, but pastoral society.

The expression of desire by the multitude in a pastoral society will logically lead to conflict. but Victoria writes: “Critical Mass has no place in civilized, logical protest.” And in a confused society, one that names things what they are not, maybe protest can be civilized, whatever that means to you, but in our world, where civilization is an imposition, sometimes called colonization, and to be civilized is to be obedient, protest can never be that.

The society in which we’ve found ourselves and its institutions are not democratic. (Morten gives a good example to show this. And then he writes: “the utopian and unrealistic notion that the masses are better equipped to do the right thing than people in power. (sometimes called democracy!) It’s a nice thought but fundamentally flawed because most people are not equipped to actually make decisions that are for the betterment of everyone – in the end we are all pretty selfish!” Morten doesn’t believe in the possibility of democracy!!) That we believe society and it’s institutions to be democratic confuses our perception of nascent democratic (self-determining) practices like Critical Mass. Do you know what democracy looks like?

Riding in Critical Mass I feel democratic.

I’d define democracy, like sustainability, not as a concept, but as a practice. I also see the Critical Mass ride as a democratic practice/act. This democratic practice has been called “illegal” and a “criminal act” by the monopoly capitalist media in Vancouver (see this and this ) What researcher of social movements would miss the trend towards the criminalization of dissent? (And in the history of social movements tyranny hasn’t quieted democratic voices. Voices don’t cry out to be heard because some form of government allows it. And if it is grudgingly “allowed” today it is only because we cannot be stopped.)

Are you open to being convinced of your bias, or that we do not live in a democratic society? If you define democracy as rule by anyone or everyone, then the descriptions of our society by Morten and Victoria showing us (the mob) being ruled by the few should be enough to convince you that we are not ruled/governed democratically. What’s interesting is that both Morten and Victoria are opposed to Critical Mass in much the same way, but Morten clearly opposes democracy in favor of a rule by those in power (the entitled few) while Victoria sees the same thing, the same way and understands it as democracy.

I wonder if I could convince you of your bias… I also called it a false foundation. I could also call it a presupposition. If you desired a democratic society, that would be idealistic. Believing that we live in a democracy is false, not idealistic. A false belief, is paradigm shifting, and a bias is clearly expressed in your conclusion: “I asked online – “when is the tipping point? when does disruption become unruly social order?”. I think Critical Mass creators and their proponents should re-think this and their strategies. A democratic society is a collaborative society, not a confrontational one.” Raul, you show a bias toward social order, an order you falsely believe to be a democratic society. Our contemporary social order is heavily mediated by money and power. It is exclusive, unequal, and hierarchical. In our society where the titled expect compliance, the untitled voices/democratic voices can be nothing other than confrontational. If you re-think your foundational paradigm, that a collaborative society is a society of equals is a democratic society, not a confrontational one, you’ll hopefully recognize your error. We are not a society of equals and as such the political order of the day is confrontational. We must assert our voices, against an oligarchical regime of money and power who call us “illegal”. Our voices are untitled and deemed illegitimate. This regime must be confronted until every and any voice is legitimate, until democracy.

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Mid-Summer…

August 10, 2009

I’m feeling the end of summer coming on. I’m thinking about a couple more adventures before it comes to a definitive end, so this might be my first and last post in a while.

I watched Che over the past two nights, and today finished reading Ranciere’s the Hatred of Democracy. Maybe toward the end of summer I’ll start writing more on these. I did make a comment on Raul Pacheco-Vega’s Blog. After a couple weeks away I checked my twitter account. I had an @ message from Raul. Here’s something ridiculous, the message referred to the preceding tweet. Raul makes about a hundred tweets each day.  I scrolled through two weeks (is there another way to get to a specific date?) but I did come across his blog post on Critical Mass. I thought about commenting on this one about being an activist and a scholar, but couldn’t help commenting on the Critical Mass post.