I think this is a pointless waste of time but as long as they don’t bother me, I don’t bother them. As I said, these people don’t do a lot so they are pretty easy to avoid. The problem is that some of these people like to evangelise and enforce their little rules on other people. Let’s call them the ‘Process Police’. This became a problem last year when someone set up a discussion email list for libertarian communists in Aotearoa/New Zealand. At first it went really well. There was a wide range of people young and old, from all sorts of different backgrounds, all discussing the issues of the day. The fact that the international Occupy movement had just begun also helped, as a lot of the list members were actively involved in several different Occupy groups around the country as well as following what was happening overseas.
Within a month the ‘Process Police’ announced they were not happy with the rules of the list. They wanted a much more formal process to be set up to make sure the list discussion did not lead to anyone being inadvertently oppressed. Several people opposed this on the grounds that it was unnecessary and in their experience tended to slow down and restrict discussion. This debate generated 40 emails in one day. I foolishly said this:
I think far too often we get hung up on sorting out processes for dealing with hypothetical situations where people might feel left out. personally I find 40+ messages about 'process' more off putting than anything else I have seen on this or other email lists. we are all grown ups and its only an email list. if
we can't operate a simple discussion list without first having a long winded discussion about how we will conduct our discussions then it is likely we we never get around to destroying the global capitalism and replacing with with something better.
The debate died down and then a few days later a Process Person popped up and announced that my post had broken the list rules by being oppressive (The list rules stated no racist or sexist language). She also accused the list admin person of being oppressive to her and breaking the list rules as well. She didn’t actually demand that he punish himself but I am sure she was hoping. She added that both of us were also very privileged. This person is a very articulate fulltime paid academic with post grad degrees in both science and humanities who owns her own home, so obviously knows a lot more about privilege than I ever will. The general gist of the argument that followed was that the people who were opposed to longwinded discussion of proposed internal group processes were privileged white men who did not like having their power threatened. The fact that several of the people who were most opposed to longwinded discussion of process were non-white men and women was inconvenient and therefore ignored. Ironically these people were the first to leave the list.
The Process Police genuinely believe any sort of organisation or meeting or email list, which does not have a particular sort of internal consensus based process which takes account of the latest in ‘Anti Oppression Theory’ can possibly be safe for various minorities to take part in. Any evidence that does not fit this theory must be ignored.
Anyway, the person who started the list got fed up and resigned, and the Process Police ended up taking over the running of the list. They immediately lost interest in any sort of process and everyone pretty much stopped discussing anything at all for months. Then a few people started using the list again, discussing various trade union activities, among other things. Still, the people who were now running the list made no effort to set up the process they were so keen on when others were running the list, until last week, when someone foolishly asked an innocent question.
An atheist parent asked for advice on dealing with a situation where he wanted his toddler to learn to speak Maori but the only place available in his area was also teaching a whole lot of religious/ spiritual stuff which he did not did not want his child to be exposed to. After months of silence from the Process Police, he was immediately attacked for “having complete disregard of people's spirituality”, and trying to restrict his child’s “self determination”. Then our academic jumped in and accused the original poster of being dismissive and arrogant (again, clearly an expert on the topic!), and accused him of not doing enough research into the issue. Surely if he had done more reading instead of just talking to his Maori partner and trying to have a polite discussion on the internet, he would not have held such unpleasant and intolerable views! Within a day, the list owners announced a new bottom line for list discussion (the only rule they have announced in the 8 months they have been responsible for the list).
If you "decide that Māori spirituality is only/always a metaphor, or that it is irrational nonsense or a bit iffy, you are supporting colonization”. (emphasis in the original text)
There it is in black and white. Certain topics are off limits and if anarchists express any other views (such as atheism) or even just fail to show enthusiasm for the approved views, they are guilty of oppression. I don’t know if anyone has replied or attempted to continue the debate because the moderators have now withheld all messages to the list in order to prevent the spread of any further oppressive ideas. This may all seem amazingly petty, and that is the problem with this sort of process politics. More time is spent on policing language than on discussing important issues. The Process Police seem to think that racism, sexism and all the other forms of bigotry out there are so ingrained in all of us that people of different races and genders cannot be trusted to have a conversation or talk about politics without close supervision by people like them (who have presumably gone through the appropriate workshops and training sessions).
This week, I attended two events that included powhiri and prayers. Although it doesn’t bother me if other people are into praying, it should not bother anyone that I am an atheist and therefore uninterested in it. This may surprise the Process Police, but I managed to get through both events without causing offence or needing supervision. I am currently part of a campaign group that is made up of mostly Maori, Pacific Island and Asian women (I won’t identify the group here in case the Process Police decide to come and interfere with it). There are three white men in the group and we don’t have a safer spaces policy or even a written internal process of any sort. We just make it up as we go along. For the Process Police this sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, as they can’t imagine how a group like this could function. Out in the real world, people of different genders and ethnicities manage to work together quite often, without any problems. None of us need to be told how to behave and we are all grown ups. I’m sure we will have problems like any group, and we probably could tidy up our meeting process a bit, but we are all focused on what unites us and not our differences and as most of us have lives, we simply don’t have time to spend hours and hours on our internal processes.
I had hoped that a national email list could be used for interesting political discussions. There are a whole lot of big theoretical issues that anarchists and other radicals need to discuss, and I personally think the most important are those around indigenous sovereignty, nationalism, and land rights. Anarchists and other leftists really need to have a big discussion about these topics as the situation in this country is unlike any other and we can’t just go around taking ideas from North America or Europe. Equally we can’t just say “Oh it’s up to Maori, lets just leave it to them to sort out” which is a common reaction among some anarchists and is often used to avoid having to think about this stuff.
I am sure the Process Police would think that years of careful preparation and thought would be needed before ordinary mortals could be allowed to discuss these important issues. After all, even discussing options for non-spiritual childcare is off limits for fear of potentially being offensive to someone. This is just insulting rubbish, not to mention extremely patronising to members of minority groups who are quite capable of taking part in rational debate and do not need to be protected from other peoples opinions. Anarchism is about people running their own lives and making their own decisions. If we really believe this, then we can start by trusting people to think for themselves.