Pandora's Protest Box
Some thoughts on the recent developments in Canada
I've neglected to discuss the current situation in Canada very much, as I have had little time to follow the happenings and every single person seems to have a take. So I'll keep this brief. I believe there are three important things to notice with the protests:
The shift in tactics from both the protester side (the Truckers) and the State side (Trudeau & Co)
The reminder of the difference between strength/weakness and durability/fragility
Further elaboration on the realities of property and ownership rather than the theory of it
Pandora's Box cracks open further
Perhaps the single biggest shift in tactics during the Convoy compared to major protest waves over the last decade or so (most notably Occupy & BLM) is the focus. I'm not talking about vaccines or "bodily autonomy"; no, I'm talking about infrastructure. While the riots associated with BLM burned some downtowns and caused ~$2bn of damages, they didn't actually do much to impact the day-to-day operation of the country outside of limited areas. The Ottawa Occupation part of the Convoy, similarly, is more bark than bite. A resistance cannot sustain itself on shock and awe. At some point it requires material power.
That's where the Truckers changed the game. The most impactful part of the protests, the ones that have caused the most concern, have been the Truckers shutting down bridges and border crossings. Vital infrastructure. Points of critical failure. The Truckers have provided the latest proof of concept that targeting infrastructure is more impactful than marching down streets chanting slogans. Shutting down ports, bridges, roads, border crossings, etc. is effectively shutting down cities, regions, even countries. It is taking Pandora's slightly open box and wrenching it open with a crowbar. Has there been violence? No. No one has detonated any kind of explosive or actually destroyed physical infrastructure. But occupying it is one step closer. The ideal outcome is that we de-escalate the situation and come to an agreement that is at least acceptable to all sides.
Instead, the Canadian State has escalated the situation, directing "private" institutions like banks to seize funds associated with supporting the Convoy. At no point has the public/private distinction been so clearly revealed as imaginary as during these protests (more on this later). Power is the law. This kind of escalation may work now, but what happens when 10% of Canadian truck drivers are unemployed due to mandates not going away? What happens when they exhaust their savings? The State is relying on leverage that it may very well be undermining by using. Which leads to our next point...
The Paradox of the Glass Cannon: Strong, but Fragile
Over a year ago I wrote a piece titled "Neoliberalism is Dead. Long Live Neoliberalism." In it, I laid out a critical fact of our world: there is a profound difference between strength and durability. Consider it the difference between Offense/Attack and Defense stats in a card game. Or think about bringing a gun to a knife fight (strength) and wearing high-tech armor (durability). Weakness and Fragility are the inverse, respectively, of strength and durability. In my old piece, I had this to say:
Weakness is bringing a knife to a gun fight.
Fragility is bringing a glass cannon to a knife fight.
The cannon is significantly stronger than the knife, but it is also far more fragile. That is what we see here: a consolidation/circling the wagons of the underlying power structure in the face of the collapse of the ideology that justified its existence.
It's true, the Regimes we struggle under can bring down significant amounts of material, social, and financial force upon citizens. Bank accounts can be closed, jobs taken away, reputations destroyed, lives ended (literally and figuratively). But the protests have proven the other leg of my thesis as well: the Regime is also quite fragile. It does not take a mass movement to take over a country. On the social level, the most intolerant minority tends to win (so long as they are at least acceptable to the Elites with power). On the material level, the minority that controls a handful of critical points, a set of key infrastructure, are the ones with the power. Escaping the financial system is good, but taking over infrastructure is far superior. The Truckers revealed that the emperor may not be naked, but he's prancing around in his underpants. The glass cannon has some cracks in it: when will the whole thing shatter?
The Realities of Property/Ownership and Resistance
10 days ago, I published a piece on the debacle of GoFundMe, again under the direction of the Canadian State, seizing donations to the Convoy. In the piece, I went into detail on what the Public/Private distinction actually is. I concluded with the perhaps controversial claim that "In a very real sense, there is no such thing as a 'private' company." Once again, real world events have borne out my theses. So here I want to note something very clearly:
If you are not capable of directly defending your assets, they are not fully "yours." In our society, something is my property when I have a socially recognized claim on possessing it and using it. But where does the social recognition come from? If the social recognition turns on me, can I survive? Can I defend my property? If a bank can seize your money, is it really your money?
What this demonstrates is that property is never an individual phenomenon. Property is necessarily a social understanding. Society runs on a set of socially accepted fictions. Trust in these fictions makes them as "real" as the computer or phone or tablet you're reading this piece on. Property, as it exists in our world, is one of these. But we must ask a question: society exists at various scales, so at which scale is social acceptance necessary? If the Federal State thinks that the property I occupy is not mine, but the local government disagrees. Here we see the importance of institutions. Our Rights stem from Power, and institutions are vastly more effective at exerting power than individuals are. A single man will never be able to fight off a State. A single institution will almost certainly fall. But as institutions network and support one another, and they engage in effective resistance instead of shock and awe strategies, well,……
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Well said. I'm in complete agreement with this take.