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Censorship and Anarchism

[My last post sparked a somewhat polemical exchange over on the “Jesus Radicals” website between myself and Andy Alexis-Baker.  Today I discovered that Andy,  a blog administrator of that site, deleted the comments and so I posted another comment to try and make peace while also addressing some further issues of concern.  That comment is what is duplicated here along with the email I received from Andy in reply to it.  I want to post it here because I think it is important for us to consider this issues publicly — how does censoring our comrades fit within an anarchist or a Christian tradition?  How do polemics fit into the ways in which we relate to one another?  What happens when we share common goals and dreams but have trouble communicating with one another?  Below is my comment.]
It is worth observing that a comment thread mostly between myself and Andy Alexis-Baker was deleted from this post (with no notice or explanation given to me). It was deleted shortly after a third party remarked how s/he had appreciated both of our blogs but hated the way that we were talking so snarkily to each other and pointed out how at least some Conservative Christians can get along with each other whereas we so-called radical Christians seem to have a hard time of doing that (my paraphrase). That was the last comment I saw in the thread before it disappeared. A few things are worth noting here:
First of all, this kind of censoring out of disagreeable disagreements is in direct opposition to anarchist approaches to speech and dialogue and, therefore, seems odd on a blog that claims to espouse that way of thinking. This approach, of course, if why General Assemblies at some Occupy locations have appeared to be drawn out and tedious to some but necessary to others (including the anarchists who helped to bring those GAs to North America). Anarchists generally believe in avoiding censorship, even when that means they get presented in a less glowing light ((it’s hard to be anti-authoritarian yet approve of censoring your comrades simply because you don’t like their tone).
Secondly, erasing the comment thread after the comment made by the third party mentioned above is a way of hiding the very real differences that exist between people who share common beliefs, commitments and struggles. Just because two people identify in different ways with anarchism, postcolonialism, Christianity, etc., doesn’t mean they are going to agree on all the details and it doesn’t mean they are always going to voice their disagreement with one another in a cordial manner. There is no point in whitewashing the public record in order to try and hide this… otherwise, if or when people actually choose to get involved with people like this in “real life” they could very quickly end up becoming disillusioned. People are people. Sometimes we talk to one another like lovers and sometimes we talk to one another like petulant children, and sometimes we even do that with those who share a lot of things in common with us. That’s how it goes, and I don’t see the sense of hiding it.
At the end of the day I believe that Andy and I are struggling to achieve similar goals and are dreaming similar dreams. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re involved in similar actions. Of course, I don’t really know him in any way (apart from the persona he employs on this blog) but I see no reason why I should not wish and pray and hope the first for him. I am being completely sincere when I say that I hope the road will rise up to meet him. Which gets to the third point I want to make: even when we do disagree with each other, and use words that are intended to provoke the other person, it should be this recognition of what we have in common — these goals and dreams and maybe even actions — that both permits us to have the space to go at each other a little and permits us to come together and wish one another the best when all is said and done. That is to say, we need to learn to negotiate conflict amongst ourselves and, once again, simply erasing words from the record is not the way to do this. It is, instead, a habit we have inherited from the authorities whom we are trying to resist.
So, hey, I’m not sure which blog administrator chose to take that course of action, but I hope you will permit this comment to stand. Blessing to you all, and Andy most especially. Keep fighting the good fight.
[Postscript: here is the email I received from Andy after he deleted this comment:]
If you wish to continue that line of comments form the Jesus Radicals site
you can do so via email. It is not going to remain on the JR site, nor
will any further comments along those lines. Call it what you want, but it
is not relevant to the post at hand, you can be rude to me over email.
Maybe I’ll read it, maybe I won’t.

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  1. To my original comment, I would add two further remarks:
    First of all, it is precisely in the company of those who share similar goals and dreams that we should be able to be accepted, and accept one another, warts and all. Lord knows, we’re all fighting hard and struggling, and constantly longing for another world, so sometimes that can beat us down and sometimes we can end up talking to one another without a lot (or any) sensitivity. However, because we know this about one another (or assume it, as I do in this case), that means we should have the patience to abide with one another through those things and accept those things as a part of who we are. For example, I really have no ill feelings towards Andy because of the things he said in our exchange or in his last email or because of his choice to delete the comment thread (I reckon he was a little embarrassed about some of the things he said and I can understand that). The fact that he wanted to get in some burns doesn’t bother me. Like I said in my comments (and in my prior post), it ain’t fucking easy so, look, it’s okay to have a space to vent and sometimes speak a little provocatively or in an inflammatory manner. There’s a lot more out there to worry about than one another (and I’m sure we’ve all been called a lot worse… at least I have).
    Secondly, I think we need to get around the hyper-sensitive, hyper-defensive attitude that I often find is self-proclaimed “radical” circles and listen to the criticisms that we offer one another. My original post, the one Andy described as “belittling” and “demeaning” was intended as a broader criticism of much of what passes for so-called Christian “radicalism”. Why am I raising that criticism? Because I have been involved in those circles for over a decade (even though I long ago gave up using the language of “radical” in any sort of self-descriptive manner) and so these are the critical questions I ask myself about myself. Naturally, then, I want to know how others negotiate these criticisms. Simply refusing to listen to these criticisms, then, won’t get us very far (and actually suggests they might be more valid than we want them to be). I want these criticisms addressed because I want to be involved in something more life-giving… we gotta be honest about ourselves and our successes and failures if we’re going to get anywhere, right?
    Further, those like the Jesus Radicals or Christian anarchists should be especially open to receiving critical comments precisely because we are so critical of things that are near-and-dear to others. We have no problem speaking very critically of things that are at the core of the identity and values of others (war, nationalism, the rule of law, private property, wealth, resource extraction, etc., etc.) and so we should be the first group of folks to open ourselves up to criticisms that cut to the core of who we are. If we can’t do that, why we would expect anybody else to do that?

  2. Hi Dan. I was that third party that commented over at JR. It was really not my intent to have you “censored”. I thought the original couple of exchanges between you two were hard for me, because it seemed like it moved from beyond speaking critically about ideas to speaking critically about each other. It became, at least as I read it, a lot about “I’m more radical than you because…” and for me, that didn’t add to the conversation at all. Again, I apologize if it was my comments that got the thread deleted, but I find myself sometimes really struggling in the way and realize that when I’m a part of talk that becomes reactive it can cause alienation rather than helping collapse the differences between people.

    • Hi Landis,
      No need to apologize. I appreciated your remarks — both here and over at the other blog. And, as Andy explains below (and in an email to me) your comment really wasn’t the reason why the thread was deleted.
      But I seem to have failed to communicate one key point: sure, I was being condescending with Andy at times but I wasn’t trying to say “I’m more radical than you” or anything like that. I actually really dislike the word “radical” and would never claim to apply it to myself or anything that I do. I think I was trying to question if any of us are “radical” (or “revolutionary”) at all. Seems to me that all of us are just engaging in impotent posturing (at best) when it comes to creating change on the macro scale (and the micro scale is even up in the air more times that not… at least as far as I can tell). To reiterate, I mean that as much of me (of me most of all) and so I try to ask others how they come to different conclusions — Lord knows, I’m not a huge fan of the conclusions I have come to but I haven’t found reason to think otherwise — but I sure wish others could convince me. Mostly, however, it seems as though people don’t want to engage these criticisms. Perhaps because they don’t want to be challenged this way, perhaps because they are afraid that the criticisms are accurate, perhaps because I come across like an asshole, or perhaps because of any other of a number of possible reasons. Who knows.
      Anyway, thanks again for what you said both here and at JR.

  3. I have to say that blog interactions have helped me to both more critical and more mellow about the criticism. Good things, I think.
    That said, I have never been part of a popular enough site to have widespread criticism directed towards me which I am sure would be another experience.

  4. I have not given you permission to use my email on your public site. I want it taken off of this thread. Furthermore, it was directed not at this post, but at the petty and ridiculous exchange that was deleted, so you took the email out of context. Why? to make me look bad. This is exactly why the exchange was deleted.

    • Hi Andy, please don’t take (too-serious) aim at the ridiculous. Without the things that make us ridiculous the world would be a sadly lessened place.
      And, if it’s any comfort, as a person who knows neither you nor Dan nor your communities, I didn’t take what Dan said in this post as disparaging towards you… more just identifying that there seemed to be some raw nerves around public conflict.
      Good luck 🙂

  5. Just to clarify:
    1) It was not censorship to delete that exchange. The replies were not about the post on JR, but about your post which had nothing to do what that post on JR. So it was not relevant. And it was petty and personal. Two strikes. Then we get complaints. Three. No need to keep it.
    2) We, meaning Mark, Nekeisha and myself, post criticisms of Jesus radicals written by others on our own site when we get a submission like that.
    3) why would I censor you for criticizing a thread that I myself do not agree with?
    4) Even if your criticism was not a response to the thread but to the general site, why would I care if you think somebody there uses the word revolution poorly? First, it is their post, not mine. Second, you aren’t saying anything I have not heard before and we have not posted already on the JR site. Lots of different people claim to be able to police how folks use the word revolution. You are just one of many, lost in a sea on that score. Nothing new there. So to “censor” you for that makes no sense at all.
    Fact is, you were not censored. I took my responses, and yours off of the site because they were petty and personal, not because we disagree.
    Maybe you think it should all be done on public forums. That is one anarchist way of seeing free speech. Another anarchist view is that there is no such thing as free speech, but there is such a thing as safe space for discussion. When something degenerates into a FOX News type shouting match, that does not foster the environment the site exists for, we reserve the right to take off line.
    Finally, my email was a personal matter that I did not give you permission to use. Not only that, but it was in response to the whole exchange being deleted, not the post you put here. The fact that you append my email to this post as if it is a response to your post, is exactly why we deleted the replies on JR. It is disrespectful and designed to try to embarrass me personally and perhaps others who moderate that site.

  6. “”So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” – Jesus (as recorded in Matthew 10:26-37)

  7. Also, for the record, censorship is whenever someone in a position of power uses their power to prevent the words, thoughts, and ideas of another person from being freely expressed.
    So yeah, this was censorship. Denying that is a pathetic lie.

  8. I enjoyed your poem/response to the JR poem. It was a necessary push-back. Thanks for calling bullshit. Too bad I missed the actual debate/argument that ensued over at JR, but I have a strong feeling I know what went down.


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