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Why I Don't Trust "Isms": Chris Hedges Versus The Black Bloc

Originally published by CounterPunch – Editor Jeffery St Clair


A recent article by Chris Hedges is once again causing heated arguments among activists in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  “Black Bloc: The Cancer in Occupy,” was published in his syndicated column back in February, but folks are now talking about it again at political organizing meetings and on social networking websites. After Black Bloc Anarchists broke windows, vandalized cars and assaulted members of the press during May Day protests in Seattle and Oakland, the issue has taken on a new urgency among occupy groups around the country.

Hedge’s scathing critique of these tactics has been challenged by many people who sympathize with Anarchist philosophy. Most occupiers in the major cities have adopted a policy of neither condemning nor endorsing Black Bloc actions because they usually vandalize only corporate banks and businesses. But the truth is, many occupy activists and most of the general public are turned off by acts of property damage committed as a form of protest. Black Bloc tactics have been criticized by some Occupy Seattle activists and Chris Hedges claims it is responsible for chasing the 99% away from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In my opinion, Hedges’ article was a purely emotional response to the Anarchists. Rather than using good research and obtaining first-hand knowledge, he simply wrote from a gut level reaction. Hedges later admitted during an interview posted at that he hadn’t spoken to any Black Bloc activists before writing the article. He says he listened to about four hours of Anarchist radio out of Eugene, Oregon and read some magazines and websites. Supposedly, the Black Bloc are a direct threat to the power of what he calls the “organized left” – a group in which he seems to claim membership.

Actually, I am getting really tired of ideologues of all persuasions, including Chris Hedges.

I don’t trust any “ism”!

First of all, a true anarchist would never identify themselves with a political or philosophical label because that in itself is highly limiting. Society will immediately identify and categorize you depending upon their view of that political philosophy. I simply refuse to be labeled, folded, spindled or wrapped in anything besides my own skin!

Call me whatever you like, but you’re probably wrong.

I prefer to build bridges and work with as many groups and individuals as possible while never permanently adhering to anyone’s religion, whether it be Christian fundamentalism or Anarchism. Also, I find that most people’s political or non-political affiliations are almost always based on their own psychological profile. People choose politics according to their own personal style. A left-brained materialist might find conservatism appealing while a free thinking artistic adventurer is probably not going to have much fun at a GOP fundraiser. In my view, political and philosophical distinctions are basically natural byproducts of the personality of the individual.

Ideologues refuse to accept this fact. They can’t resist the urge to lead irrational crusades in an attempt to either win everyone over to their way or thinking, or to destroy the opposition. As two prime examples, I cite both the fanatical US corporatist “War on Terror”, and their Islamic extremist enemy Al Qaeda.

Ideologies are simply theories, many of which have never really been put into practice. Theoretically, many of them sound great. But these same ideologies are also responsible for a lot of mass suffering and destruction on this planet. Communism was invoked under Stalin to justify the deaths of millions of people. The Christian dominionist ideology has been responsible for religious wars and widespread ecological disasters. Inevitably, those who claim to have the answer to all of the world’s problems are actually the ones who end up causing a lot more suffering by their proposed solutions.

I say, free your minds! Don’t allow any person, organization, philosophy or authority to determine what you think.

The main problem I have with many of the “isms” being promoted within the social justice movement is that they are based on archaic, antiquated philosophies. Quoting dead writers from decades or centuries past is not an adequate response to the serious environmental and social crises we are facing in the world today. Doesn’t anyone have an original idea?

Anarchism, socialism, communism, capitalism, libertarianism, etc. are all just more “isms” that limit free thought through peer pressure and self-perpetuating propaganda. I know that some will accuse me of being a “deconstructionist”, but I also reject that label as purely fashionable and ultimately irrelevant.

I try to avoid accepted political terms or labels whenever possible when I speak or write. I want to reflect reality, not ideology!

But this doesn’t mean I consider myself a cynic. Actually the opposite is true. I am dedicated to upholding ideals concerning justice, autonomy and personal freedom. It’s just that I don’t expect any particular spiritual, political or economic philosophy to solve all the world’s problems and create Heaven on earth for me overnight. To me, those kinds of false expectations are based on immaturity. It comes from an uninformed but very popular point of view which sees a solution to everything in one powerful man or woman, one political philosophy or one religious doctrine.

And what about the idea that there is going to be some kind of glorious revolution which will solve all of our problems?

Well, if the revolutions in the USA, France, Russia, Tunisia and Egypt are any indication, it looks like multiple uprisings will be necessary in order to maintain any semblance of the original resistance movements. The struggle for justice is an eternal battle that requires constant vigilance and strong dedication. The battle is never completely won but it is certainly worth fighting!

And a life without “isms” is its own reward. Avoid them and live free!

Mark Taylor-Canfield is an independent journalist and a member of the Occupy Seattle Media Working Group.

Originally Published @



3 Replies to “Why I Don't Trust "Isms": Chris Hedges Versus The Black Bloc

  1. You wrote, “Hedges’ article was a purely emotional response to the Anarchists.” That implies that you think the Black Bloc aren’t so bad after all. But you don’t address that question in the rest of your article.

    Is Hedge’s opposition to Black Bloc based on ideology? Even without relying on the constraints of an ideology, one can still make reasonable arguments for and against the Black Bloc. Lack of ideology needn’t imply indifference. What DO you think about Black Bloc and about Hedge’s criticism thereof?

  2. I made it very clear that I try to avoid following “isms” of any kind.

    I also made it clear that most folks who support the Occupy Wall Street movement do not endorse property damage as a form of protest.

    Occupy Seattle never endorsed window breaking on May Day 2012.
    I said that publicly as a participant in Occupy Seattle events. The occupy movement has been a peaceful pro-democracy/anti-corruption campaign.

    The worst result of these tactics is that it often gives the authorities the excuse they are seeking to justify a crackdown on a political movement. Witness the current federal grand jury trial in Seattle and the jailing of three activists for refusing to cooperate. This creates a chilling effect on the movement as people worry that they will be repressed – so folks stop going to protests…

    In my article I was critical of both sides on this issue. Just because I criticize one side of the issue, it does not follow that I support the opposition.

    I had dinner with Chris Hedges when he was in Seattle earlier this year and we discussed these issues. I respect him as a journalist despite any disagreements that we may have. But Hedges has been in combat zones as a war correspondent and freely admits that he suffers from PTSD. I think part of his visceral reaction to the Black Bloc is the result of flashbacks from witnessing violence in the past.

    And I pointed out that as a journalist he did not really do much research on the history of the Anarchist movement and it’s many variations. He said he listened to a radio station for a few hours and checked out some Anarchist websites. Sorry, that does not make you an expert on any particular subject!

    Also, I don’t believe that his claim of representing the “organized left(?)” gives him any special authority either. I maintain that there is no organized leftist political bloc in the US.

    BTW: When Hedges spoke at the national Veterans For Peace convention he told me, “Never become a war correspondent because you will drink too much and suffer from panic attacks and insomnia…”

    I am thankful for his sound advice and I have followed it ever since. I suspect that Ernest Hemingway might offer the same advice.

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