m of care – sept 15

part 2 of walter benjamin’s critique of violence (part 1 – m of care – may 19)

david graeber on structural violence.. graeber man with stick law.. graeber violence/quantification lawness et al.. walter benjamin on critique of violence


Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence” is a seminal text that in just a few steps dismantles the very idea that any form of legitimate violence can exist, or that means can be separated from ends so that a just end can make a wrong means just. 

For that alone, this would be a great text, and the theoretical foundation of consistent and absolute nonviolence.

Yet there’s even more in it: as David Graeber pointed out, Benjamin’s ruling out of legitimate violence hits the very notion of modern State, as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” (as per the definition popularised by Max Weber in “Politics as a Vocation” (1918), since if there’s no such a thing as a legitimate use of violence, because of the contradiction that forbids, then there’s no such a thing as a legitimate, democratic monopoly of this use. In David’s words: 

“The contradiction is not simply one of language. It reflects something deeper. For the last two hundred years, democrats have been trying to graft ideals of popular self-governance onto the coercive apparatus of the state. In the end, the project is simply unworkable. States cannot, by their nature, ever truly be democratized. They are, after all, basically ways of organizing violence. (…) The coercive nature of the state ensures that democratic constitutions are founded on a fundamental contradiction. Walter Benjamin [in “Critique of Violence”] summed it up nicely by pointing out that any legal order that claims a monopoly of the use of violence has to be founded by some power other than itself, which inevitably means by acts that were illegal according to whatever system of law came before.”(David Graeber, “There Never Was a West”

there never was a west

In days like these, when the appeal to violence and the make-believe of people identified with nations, and nations identified with States and with their monopoly of violence are stronger than ever, it is particularly important to revert to this text, and discuss, with Walter Benjamin and with David Graeber, what are the possibilities, the consequences and the inner logic of violence and of seizing the power of the State, and how much we want or can accept of them. 

notes/quotes from meeting (hosted by simona):

[i wasn’t able to attend.. notes from video] – CRITIQUE OF VIOLENCE BY WALTER BENJAMIN with Nick Smaligo [Nick Smaligo has been a philosopher, published author, part of the Occupy Movement, thought leader, and vocal advocate – us illinois], Simona Ferlini and Lisa Wintersteiger [Co-founder and CEO at Law for Life (inc. Advicenow) – uk]

4 min – nick: the problem graeber is wrestling with is what benjamin articulates in the critique of violence.. the dialectic between lawmaking and law preserving.. and how they’re mixed together w the polic

structural violence

6 min – nick: lawmaking violence creates new then needs to preserve itself.. benjamin thinks we need to create a new ontology to get out of this problem.. graeber is also concerned with this problem.. what would it mean to create a revolution that would not simply reconstitute a new state and repeat that problem..

ie: a nother way

7 min – nick: but he’s not interested just in myopically understanding the history of sovereignty in the west.. rather.. he’s trying to take a diff approach to unraveling this problematic by understanding sovereign power as a distinct form of power from admin power.. categories benjamin also used toward the end of the essay.. and part of the problem of modernity is imagining that these things are bound up .. and if we want to open up our possibilities.. we’re going to have to disentangle those things and under them in themselves..

yeah.. i think that is part of the same song ness.. we have to let go of any form of m\a\p and try a legit diff way.. if we keep studying the past.. and separating anything.. we’ll just keep perpetuating the same song.. we’re spending/wasting so much energy not letting go of it.. we keep thinking part\ial ness is enough.. because we think total is impossible..

but.. for (blank)’s sake.. we have to let go

8 min – nick: so in on kings.. as attempt to understand the nature of sovereign power in its essence prior to its contingent historical association with an admin extension of that power.. so david is taking the paradoxical ness of sovereignty that is *stepping outside the legal order thru acts of violence.. and that’s always this ambiguous thing.. criminal and divine

on kings

*again.. our time/energy spend on then defining what is outside and inside.. our need for all that naming the colour ness.. is blinding us to our own perpetuation in trying not to perpetuate..

9 min – nick: i think that is a fascinating philosophical mood.. trying to re-ask these fundamental questions of political philosophy that have always relied upon a projected anthropology.. but that anthropology has been empirically ridiculous.. so what i see him trying to do is try to maintain .. against various current terms.. to pursue the attempt to ask universal questions about the human experience just to say we’ve been doing it wrong.. because we’re not grounded in a broad empirical understanding of the ethnographic record.. **and that also involved a relationship with what we don’t know

*black science of people/whales law..

**let’s just go with that.. let’s just assume that across the board.. ie: we have no idea what legit free people are like.. we need a global re\set.. not an understanding of how whales have been in sea world

10 min – nick: when we’re asking universal political questions from w/in any given society our imagination is limited.. we can only realistically extend that imagination thru encounter with ethnography and that is only also a tiny slice of the human experience.. but it can help us to make better generalization about what are possibilities are

ethnography: the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures

oh wow.. oh wow.. oh wow.. first part so spot on.. last part.. huge part of the perpetuation/limiting ness (history ness, research ness).. rather.. only a tiny slice of the whale experience

11 min – nick: for graeber a question about kingship across the world.. in on kings and doe.. central to argument about breaking apart state conception-ally.. you have diff way sov power was limited in time/space.. so in order to understand essence of sov.. have to look both what has been desirable about it and why/how it has been contained w/in another positive force in given political situation.. the constituent/fundamental war between the sov and the people.. the ways in which the people contained their king.. always in this battle..

14 min – nick: i’m still trying to figure this out and i want to know what people who are reading a lot of graeber are thinking about it.. to bring it back.. it looks not as an intrinsic nature of politics or sov power but in attempts to analyze.. sov and admin power.. and this abstraction called the people.. it’s confusing to me what ben means by divine violence..

15 min – nick: but the way i’m trying to think about it in relation to graeber.. there’s these basic metaphysical categories that graeber is developing around play and games and freedom.. he associates the principle of pure play w/sovereign power.. that play is actually something that is very dangerous.. it’s acting w/o rules.. he thinks this is a feature of human existence.. that play in connection w acts of violence estab a new set of rules.. in sov power is arrogated to some people who might be criminal might be divine..

graeber fear of play law et al

17 min – nick: so to connect it with the free people in doe.. d&d ask what are the conditions for sustaining that relationship of play outside of the dynamic of sov power..t

huge huge huge

graeber and wengrow freedom law et al

very key.. we have no idea what legit free people are like

conditions: need means to undo our hierarchical listening (aka: detox us in sync).. so that we can org around legit needs

hari rat park law et al.. we need to get out of sea world..

nick: so that it’s not just one group of people or hereditary lineage.. a king.. who has that power to step outside the existing social order and reconstitute its rules.. but that what free peoples are is that the care for that capacity to be collectivized so that sovereignty .. maybe it’s not longer sovereignty but just a relationship of what free political form is.. but it’s like.. in sovereignty that has been condensed into the hands of a few.. but that there are and have been human societies that have maintained that capacity of a free relationship w/their politics.. the ability to both.. make promises and commit to certain sets of rules.. and to break them and change them.. that might be what benjamin is talking about in divine violence.. this capacity for collective disruption that is not simply the reconstitution of a new order but is the holding open the possibility for transforming new orders.. i’d love to hear what people think about it..

ugh.. any form of m\a\p is violence.. none of it toxin free

19 min – lisa: (mostly her take on benjamin – sees him as legal philosopher.. and education via his writing on kafka – don’t know much about david’s work)

23 min – lisa: on demanding workers rights.. already a compromise.. on change..

25 min – lisa: on order.. and debt.. and guilt.. and boundaries..

29 min – lisa: worse abomination for him is tying it (divine and criminal violence) is tied into notion of justice.. but like benjamin.. he aint got a program for us.. we’ve got to work it out ourselves..

30 min – lisa: on being w/o lying and how do we know the truth (ie: if you’re telling the truth) w/o violence

31 min – simona: when i read ‘freedom to disobey’ in doe.. it was strong for me.. i come from.. there’s a ruler.. if good law.. we have to obey.. and this obedience is a difficult thing in my frame of what’s just.. has to do with.. if people are free to disobey .. how can we trust that we agree we do it together and you won’t be a free rider.. t.. this has to do .. ie: w the right to lie.. lie and disobedience are somewhat related.. just how to think/ethics that is ok w lying and disobeying is an important thing for me..

gershenfeld something else law

simona: from graeber i get that right to disobey is a right for violence.. still difficult for me

35 min – lisa: it’s the right difficulty.. rather than throwing it back on the law et al

36 min – simona: it blows up everything i believe about the state and order

yeah.. let that go.. carhart-harris entropy law

38 min – simona: to graeber it was negotiation/consensus.. can’t make agreements if not free to disobey

public consensus always oppresses someone(s)

40 min – lisa: how do you engage in an exercise of pure means

org around legit needs

41 min – nick: simona i hear you saying what pure means is.. as far as consensus and freedom to disobey.. not a right granted by state..

43 min – nick: am hoping the case is graeber suggesting diff set of categories to talk about it

and/or.. sans all the talking.. rumi words law et al

44 min – lisa: on how do we do a diff ordering

let go.. carhart-harris entropy law

45 mi – lisa: how do we have a diff form of a dialogue that would look somewhat like the govt process

oi.. need means to undo hierarchical listening first/most

46 min – lisa: when decision made.. problem is implementation .. because of law

gershenfeld something else law.. let go of law

48 min – nika: maybe it’s question.. what kind of decision we’re making.. ie: one we’re making right now.. don’t need govt et al.. we need some big force for govt.. as david was saying .. rev happens when people change their understanding.. common sense.. i think maybe we should try another approach.. change imaginary in big sense.. try assemblies.. sans coercive power

imagine if we ness.. curiosity over decision making et al

50 min – avi: if in the situation where you are only familiar with referring to an authority to define the legitimacy of something then you’re already.. you’ve skipped the step of ie: the point of being able to trust in your own ability to eval expertise and make a decision and think about what someone else is saying.. rather than thinking about this imaginary 3rd party that is going to authenticate.. i know assembly works against that .. but if you come to an assembly with that then the assembly is not going to deliver its promise.. so in that sense .. that’s why i’m fascinated w art and story telling.. those are interventions that can impact adult human beings before they’ve been processed in the sausage factory and awaken them to be ready to participate in an assembly..t it’s my daily grind w students.. exactly this problem

any form of m\a\p is violence/compromising to us being legit free humans

*art good.. but if have agenda of using it to get ready for assembly.. not legit free.. and not art.. let go

art (by day/light) and sleep (by night/dark) as re\set.. to fittingness/undisturbed ecosystem

52 min – nika: on the task being toward imagination.. via braintrust project.. et al.. hopefully one of biggest project of david graeber institute

52 min – nick: on occupy and assemblies.. in some ways born out of frustration w assemblies and direct democracy.. one critique out of it.. that the way this was taken up.. people orienting selves toward consensus based assembly.. that it was toward a new govt.. and a failure because it didn’t have an apparatus of enforcement.. and that that was what was needed.. attempts to transform an assembly from a space of encounter between groups into this new constituting force.. end up spending 6 hrs on topic most people not committed to.. poses question of.. what are these things for

imagine if we.. to get to curiosity over decision making

57 min – nick: at a certain point need an assembly.. a space to coord.. fundamental question of how would we build forms of decision making that don’t rely on that moment of sovereignty.. i don’t think i or anyone has an answer to that.. and that partly the non answer is part of the approach.. that we need to give up on the idea that there is a form.. rather.. just moving thru these experiments.. the failures, disobeying, lying.. all we can ever do is make promises together and try to hold to them.. maybe the threshold we don’t want to cross is.. that if you cross line we lock you up

oi.. let go of promise ness and talking ness

59 min – nika: we should talk about what decision is allowed to make and not allowed.. and what is nature of decisions we are taking.. ie: if dangerous just be a consensus w people able to step out.. other ie.. m of care.. in beginning.. one group created a room and were setting up rooms.. they wanted to do have assembly to decide rules that other rooms would follow.. rather make assembly for what you personally are going to do.. don’t make rules for others.. then you don’t need coercion/violence at all.. t

huge.. living sans people telling other people what to do.. sans any form of m\a\p is our best security (for ‘free riders’ or violence or whatever) .. that’s gershenfeld something else law

1:02 – lisa: on a non coercive way of decision making

ie: curiosity over decision making.. meaning.. start listening to curiosity (itch-in-8bn-souls) first.. then our ideas of decsion-making/consensus et al.. becomes irrelevant s

aka: use curiosity over decision making as means to connect us (assembly)

1:03 – lisa: on no easy way to get out of that.. make decisions but then have to have govt to implement et al

perhaps there is.. if we could just let go of the obstruct of thinking we need to make decisions.. maybe legit free people wouldn’t have any use/need for that thinking.. maybe they’d just dance..

ie: ‘in undisturbed ecosystems ..the average individual, species, or population, left to its own devices, behaves in ways that serve and stabilize the whole..’ –Dana Meadows

1:06 – simona: role of play is place where people experiment in doe.. thru collective imagination.. this is something that is already there.. so rather than making plans that have to be implemented thru laws/rules.. we could rather look at how to promote alts that are already there and that can become stronger ie: paris commue

even deeper.. already there ness of on each heart ness

imagine if we just focused on listening to the itch-in-8b-souls.. first thing.. everyday.. and used that data to augment our interconnectedness.. we might just get to a more antifragile, healthy, thriving world.. the ecosystem we keep longing for..

what the world needs most is the energy of 8b alive people

1:10 – lisa: on diff concepts of time.. on time stopping vs just a minor adjustment.. the smallness of the tasks ahead.. there’s a humility there

like a leap but via each/all of us (ginorm small) in sync ness

1:16 – steven: love requires its opp.. any time come up w category think of inversion (via david).. i would have loved to have seen where he was going with that.. his next book was about war.. maybe there’s something in hate that is separate from violence.. the moment you said love i thought hate.. something there that is part of the discussion .. that a lot of anarchists shy away from .. we don’t want to acknowledge the unpleasant because we’re all utopian at heart







museum of care meetings

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