Human Rights as a concept of universal freedoms and securities to which every homo sapiens is entitled, regardless of biological, economic, or political prerequisites, stands at odds with the core characteristics of the capitalist system. Perhaps the most exemplary illustration can be witnessed in the treatment of healthcare systems. The contrasts between the capitalist model as seen in the United States and the humanist model viewed through the diligently anti-capitalist Chiapas are stark; If Chiapas is a living, entangled, and inclusive representation of the possibilities for health, then the US system is its morbid, segregated, and discriminatory counterpart. The commodification of healthcare creates death, not the “right to life, liberty and security of person” proposed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Healthcare came to international attention in the West during the first Geneva Convention in 1864. Limited to wounded combatants, this treaty promised aid of the sick and wounded during warfare. After several subsequent agreements, it was not until 1949 that this grace was extended to civilians. Even after 85 years of health services being available to soldiers, prisoners, and healthcare workers, treatment of civilians was not all-inclusive. Article 4 of the fourth Convention demonstrates an explicit set of requirements defining which civilians should be protected. Instead of protecting people as defined solely by their existence, International Humanitarian Law determines aid by an individual’s affiliation to an institution or power, stating that only those in conflict situations who are citizens of countries (and their allied countries) that ratified the Convention will be honored. In short, one’s support of, or perhaps sheer luck in being associated with, those in power qualifies an individual to receive healthcare.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, made an effort to broaden the category of those qualified for receipt of rights to “everyone … without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status … political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.” While the rhetoric of Article 2 seemed to shed the restrictive elements of the Geneva Conventions, this Declaration and its authors neglect to acknowledge the power relations to which it and the world at large are subject. The Declaration’s ideals were noble, but without sufficient thought aimed at attainment of rights in the reality of dominating, oppressive institutions, it falls short of offering any more life than its precursors. The notions put forth were ineffectual suggestions, serving it seems as an obsolete, utopian reminder of the naïve perspectives systemic exploitation requires to “keep calm and carry on.”

Until the UN identifies and formulates a stance against the powers that systemically cause death and illness (be it authoritarian or emancipatory), the Western world is largely left to bear those structures as a sort of life support, even if the cost is the barrier to health itself. The US system has more than a few examples to demonstrate. Government officials are granted free, “universal” healthcare, a reward for their compliance and support of the exclusive, synarchistic status quo. Employees are given insurance based on their relationship to the employer. Part time, new, underaged, or independent workers—candidates for exploitation and disposal—are denied benefits. Meanwhile, since a steady, semi-skilled labor force is needed to provide obedient workers and another market for domination, employees with more experience, skills, or prestige are rewarded with insurance packages, their compliance procured.

Those in power determine the beneficiaries and the terms under which they qualify. In the case of healthcare in a capitalist system, this is never more obvious than in terms of economy. Those with more wealth control the health insurance premiums, cost of medical equipment, and educational requirements and availability for physicians (Never mind the political decisions and public opinions crafted by those with the resources to empower themselves for quick and easy domination). Capitalism breeds inequality. This manufactured scarcity is essential for upholding the current hierarchy. Scarcity creates a need for competition—that would otherwise cease to be purposeful—as individuals in a capitalist system are faced with choices between survival or cooperation, the ruthless ambition needed to gain access to wealth or death. Those who lack wealth are severely disadvantaged in the US healthcare system, unable to afford oftentimes the most basic of treatments. Since markets do not actually expand infinitely and resources are in fact limited, as the rich get richer, so the poor become more and more desolate. As Primo Levi observed, “Privilege, by definition, defends and protects privilege.” 1

Commodification of the healthcare system assists in expanding wealth for power elites and draining it from those under their domination. By limiting the number of physicians and medical facilities, healthcare corporations (the term “healthcare provider” in the US is often misleading, when used to describe the multi-billion dollar industry) create the limited supply needed to justify rising costs and discriminatory practices. The prices of medications and medical services cater to the budgets of the wealthy, while most working and middle class Americans can rarely afford them.

Even the goals of the healthcare system, once commodified, directly oppose the goals of the sick. The ill individual seeks health and wellbeing, while the commodified health system ultimately craves profit. The two are so alienated that it is not out of the question to propose that the more sick there are, the more wealth there is to be derived from those who seek health—to a degree that commodification of healthcare is detrimental to health itself, if not all universal human rights. Many might say that there is ample availability of healthcare in its commodified state primarily via emergency room visits. However, given the exorbitant price of such a visit, for the average American to pay for this visit often entails the denial of other human rights, for example, food and shelter. By alienating the patient from the healthcare system and creating scarcity of available resources, commodification of treatment straitjackets the ill to multiple inadequate options.

The Mayan communities in Chiapas are well aware of the discrepancies between rights and commodities, life and exploitation. As Farmer notes, a common observation among Chiapans is the idea that “Chiapas is rich; Its people are poor”. 2 Having witnessed the manufacturing of scarcity and redistribution of wealth throughout local history, the people have begun to stand against the commodification of rights by creating an entangled, inclusive, and cooperative model of treatment. “Prosperity of the few cannot be based on the poverty of the many,” states EZLN spokesman, Marcos.2

While Chiapas does not receive much aid from the Mexican government, donations have provided some access to medical training and equipment. Rather than sewing the seeds of scarcity by limiting knowledge to the few, local “health promoters” share information and work with formally-trained physicians to reach those in need. Similarly, health promoters define themselves as “multiethnic,” demonstrating their inclusion of others.2 Likewise, the women’s movement in Chiapas has focused on healthcare for women, but acknowledges that the movement includes the community as a whole, emphasizing that women’s health is inseparable from the wellbeing of their children, fathers, spouses, and the entire society.3 In the incorporation of and cooperation with their communities at large, Chiapans have developed a rich healthcare system wherein the goals of the system coincide with those of the society it serves. This differs significantly from the US model, where profits take priority over wellness.

Bryan Turner writes that “rights are merely ideological notions if they are not supported by real social and economic resources.” 4 The commodification of rights limits these resources by privileging those in power and disadvantaging the poor. This creation of inequality promotes illness, not health, and alienates the ill from actual healthcare solutions by seeking first wealth and the power it accompanies. Conversely, a model that embraces health as a systemic goal without seeking profit, such as that of Chiapas, Mexico, reconciles the sick and their right to healthcare.

  1. Levi, Primo

    1986 The Drowned and the Saved. Summit Books. []

  2. Farmer, Paul

    2005 Pathologies of Power. Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. University of California Press. [] [] []

  3. Villarreal, Gina

    2007 “Health Care Organized from Below: The Zapatista Experience.” Nacro News Bulletin. 11 January 2007. []

  4. Turner, Bryan

    2006 Vulnerability and Human Rights. The Pennsylvania State University Press. []

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The past century has been coined by scholars as “the century of genocide.” An estimated 50–60 million people have been killed in conflicts that can be classified as genocides. Many have observed that the development of the nation-state and the industrialization of killing has led to increased violence. However, few have examined the violent roots and effects of the processes that claim to prevent domination and promote peace. The United Nations, neglecting to address and act to resolve its own place in modern, rationalized violence, demonstrates its ignorance of power relations through the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.1 By authoritatively defining and ranking violence, the UN Convention, itself a product of 20th century bureaucratization, perpetuates and permits violence and reinforces the state-sovereignty that frequently effectuates crimes of genocide.

The term ‘genocide’ was first coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1943 in reference to the Holocaust. Likewise, the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was largely a reaction to crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany. The Third Reich’s offenses, such as the use of gas chambers in/and concentration camps, seemed the epitome of mass, industrialized violence. This type of brutality which sought efficiency and primarily identified its victims in ethnic terms was the standard example of genocide which the UN strove to oppose. When the Convention was written in 1948, World War II and the Holocaust were positioned in the forefront of the consciousness of world leaders, and the effects of this travesty still linger in the description and definition of genocide as proposed by the Convention.

However, the UN failed to acknowledge and address its own position historically and structurally within power relations in the context of modernization, bureaucracy, and the rationalized national and economic systems in which it exists. Both literally and implicitly, the Convention defines the irrational (violence) in rational terms in order to rank and analyze brutality. This appraisal of violence into predetermined, unchanging terms creates an inadvertent hierarchy of offenses, with genocide as the most heinous. Such ‘top-down’ authority of classification inevitably leads to the acceptance of seemingly lesser crimes. When combined with unabashed support of state sovereignty, this manner of rationalizing violence allows those in power to manipulate perceptions of domination in their favor.

Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention reveal the manner in which punishment of genocide is left to the wills of individual countries. According to these statements, it is the state’s responsibility to try the perpetrators of genocide and to extradite those in question “according to their [the contracting states’] laws” (Article 7).1 Using this logic, the state, often the culprit or sponsor of violent crimes, becomes both judge and suspect. For example, the Guatemalan government, while committing crimes of genocide against its Mayan citizens, presented its military brutality in terms of Cold War politics in order to craft a dominant narrative that excluded genocide as a motive for wide-spread violent action. Despite this staging of motives in international public opinion, internal Guatemalan documents revealed an attitude that specifically targeted Mayan communities and estimates of those killed show an overwhelming percentage were of Mayan descent.2 Though in 1999 the UN eventually declared that the crimes in Guatemala were, in fact, crimes of genocide, this was nearly two decades after the violence had begun. Clearly, the power given to nation-states in determining fault in even the most apparent cases of genocide as defined by the UN only postpones resolution and acknowledgement of brutality.

The explicit contents of the Convention demonstrate hierarchy of classification of violence by excluding most forms, specifying that only domination targeted toward “a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group” be categorized as genocide (Article II).1 Ranking types of violence by calling out genocide above the other forms legitimates ‘lesser’ offenses. For example, that the violence in Guatemala was dismissed initially as another facet of the Cold War and therefore in some way a more acceptable form of subjective violence is obscene if one is truly seeking to eradicate human rights violations and advocate peace. How is ‘war’ less offensive than ‘war crimes’? Or ‘war crimes’ any more acceptable than ‘crimes against humanity’? Why do all pale in comparison to the violence of genocide? While definitions of violence may be useful for studying and analyzing types of force, they are utterly inadequate for judging crimes. Law itself is a product of the state; The state is a symbol and vessel of legitimated power and authority; Power and authority, the parents of domination and oppression.

Without acknowledging these power relations, definitions of violence utilized in law, including the UN Convention, permit certain types of violence, as long as the rhetoric matches more prevalent, legitimate forms. Conflict in Iraq, usually perpetrated and promoted by the US, is labelled ‘war,’ and it’s non-military actors called ‘contractors.’ Conversely, violence in Darfur is decried by critics as ‘genocide,’ and by the UN as ‘crimes against humanity’ or ‘war crimes.’ Instead of using ‘contractors,’ those  independent criminals are dubbed ‘mercenaries.’ 3 The UN Convention has set a standard by which violence can be excused or opposed as relevant to the rhetoric power elites use to manipulate public opinion.

The example of Iraq and Darfur illustrates the detrimental effects of the simplification of conflict as shown through the Convention. Here, Iraq is largely tolerated or unaddressed by the American public due to the acknowledgement of complexity both historically, politically, and culturally. Darfur, however, is reduced to a static, purely ethnic conflict, with little consideration given to the sociocultural or political context in which it is situated. In this narrow understanding, all ‘Arabs’ are criminal and all ‘Africans’ are victims.3 This reduction of complexity has lead to less visible forms of violence, moving from the subjective to the objective. In the simplification of perpetrators in Darfur, the obvious consequence is racism against people of Arabic decent, a sacrifice made to legitimize intervention and supposed punishment for the charge of genocide, which is seen as a significantly greater evil.

Similarly, this shift from subjective to less visible violence can be seen in the example of the Rwandan genocide. Though research has revealed that the lines between victim and victor were not so clearly divided by ethnic determinations, the simplification of the conflict to meet the definition of genocide has led to continued less apparent forms of violence. In Rwanda, a narrow acknowledgement of who is classified as ‘survivor’ has lead to systemic violence in the form of denial of economic aid to those who do not meet this classification.4

Caught in a web of modern, bureaucratized, rational power relations, the UN Convention perpetuates subjective violence by legitimating and excusing offenses that do not fit the predetermined classification of genocide and creates new, less visible forms of domination, both objective and systemic. Thus, revision of the wording of the Convention alone will not prove useful. Rather, an honest evaluation of the UN’s position within power structures is essential to any lasting, useful assistance to those facing all kinds of violence, including, though not limited to, crimes of genocide.

  1. United Nations

    1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. [] [] []

  2. Sanford, Victoria

    2003 Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala. Palgrave MacMillion. []

  3. Mamdani, Mahmood

    2007 “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency.” London Review of Books 29(5):1-9. [] []

  4. Burnet, Jennie

    2009 “Whose Genocide? Whose Truth? Representations of Victim and Perpetrator in Rwanda.” Genocide: Truth, Memory, and Representation. ed. Hinton, Alexander and Kevin L. O’Neill. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press: 80-110. []

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Hey All!

As this is the New Year – indeed two weeks into it! – I’d like to introduce you all to my own “Resolutions to Make Revolutions.”  There are projects I’m hopefully going to pursue over the course of the upcoming year.  If any of you are interested in working with me on some of this, well that’d be awesome…

1) Building New Community Spaces

In the short term, this means reading groups, meet-ups, and lots of inclusive radical discussion.  In the long term, of course, I mean “spaces” more literally.  That is, I would definitely like to work with you wonderful radicals to establish real radical spaces for community education and organizing.  I don’t necessarily mean Infoshops.  Whatever you call them, I mean inclusive and inviting spaces that provide radical educational programming, reading, and community and workplace organizing space.  Emphasis on the INCLUSIVE.

2) A New KY Social Forum

There was a KY Social Forum in 2008, I think.  As our points of unity made clear this summer, we all believe that our nation is increasingly turning toward a reactionary, fascist ideology and form of governance.  Recent events seem to corroborate this analysis.  Obviously, it’s still necessary to organize against this trend.  To me, this means that we 1) need to confront the fascist threat directly at their rallies, marches, etc. and 2) need to organize a more unified left in KY and across the country.  As I see it, a KY Social Forum would be a good start in organizing a more unified left and spreading our radical critique(s).

3) May Day Organizing

Another significant step toward developing a more unified and powerful (!) left in our immediate vicinity, in my opinion, is to reinvigorate the tradition of May Day marches.  Recently, these marches have become devoted to issues of immigration and citizenship.  I think this an important development and one we should celebrate.  But I think it’s also important to emphasize the history of the marches in labor organizing and the Haymarket lynchings.  I was approached by someone working on organizing a May Day march in Louisville for this year not too long ago.  If anyone knows how to get involved, I’d appreciate the information.

4) Barnstorming

The idea is to develop a 2 hour panel on “Financial Crisis, Austerity, and Education” — Joan will recognize it… ;)  The panel will visit communities and colleges across the state, speaking with students and community members about how to organize around education.  My part being, obviously (?), to recount my own experiences in Berkeley and the occupations and to present my analysis of these events and how they apply to colleges and communities in KY.  If you’re interested to help out in any way, I’d love it!!

5) Louisville Copwatch

Probably speaks for itself.  Probably doesn’t apply to most of you.

Supposedly, I’ll also be doing “academic work” in this time… :) If you know anyone in Louisville, who’d be interested in such things, please put me in contact.

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I’m not a big fan of the self-deprivation – which often presents as puritanical and ascetic –often associated with New Year’s resolutions, unless they involve giving up… self-deprivation. The following five points – what I see as ways to make anarchism/ anarchy sexier, more practical, and in the here-and-now – do not serve as an arbitrary set of resolutions for a most heterogeneous of social/ political movements. Rather, they are my own aspirations and hopes for the anarchist movement in the New Year.

If they’re not your own hopes and aspirations, please add to this conversation. That is to say, I would love to hear others’ thoughts on what they would like to see anarchism become in 2011, and in the future.

The 2000’s have been a mixed bag for this movement that seeks to alter globalization. Of course 9/11/01 radically shifted the direction – and changed the dynamics, while slowing the momentum – of a movement that started the 2000’s still coasting off the fumes of Seattle ’99. We could consider 2011 as a time to reconsider what anarchism is, jettisoning the useless, and building on the valuable and useful and imaginative aspects.

I. Be nice to each other

This seems simple enough, but anarchists typically struggle in this department. Anarchism appealed to me as the anti-ideology – certainly the ideas are important, but it transcended other political and religious dogma. But the anarchist community is by-no-means immune to dogma and ultra-ideological partisans. If it’s important for you to tout the “correct” (as you see it) anarchist line, just acknowledge that you could be – and likely are – wrong, and subject to change your mind in the near future. If we want to end domination and oppression and “power-over” social relationships in their entirety, we better be able to play nicely.

A healthy plurality of theories and ideas that may full-well be antithetical to each other is perfectly fine; anarchism is a broad idea with sweeping, subjective principles defining it – always changing, never static. But partaking in these discourses in a manner that seeks to destroy our fellow anti-authoritarian theoretical opponents is counterproductive.

II. Immerse ourselves in community work

All-too-many well-meaning anarchists get lost in theory and counter-culture. I remember hearing a talk by Barry Pateman about anarchists that started a successful infoshop in California, and putting out a well-done paper. Headlines such as “Situationism: Second wave” graced the front page of this particular infoshop’s paper, according to Pateman. In an adjacent impoverished, working-class community, folks were being evicted from their apartments, having their homes foreclosed upon, and were plagued with other Capital-induced problems. The anarchists that made this successful infoshop run had likely no knowledge of what was happening in this adjacent community, or – even worse – they didn’t care. This is a shame, indeed… if you ask this anarchist.

Infoshops and cultural centers are a way to reclaim public space, using it to do non-hierarchical politics and letting non-oppressive social relationships flourish. I don’t want to understate the importance of such endeavors. But if such impressive anti-authoritarian projects flourish, while ignoring problems directly impacting communities in which they’re located, opportunities to build radical consciousness, to offer mutual aid and accompaniment with our neighbors in times of hardship are lost.

There are plenty of small gains that can be attained in the here-and-now in our communities. I can’t find any good reason we shouldn’t be, at the very least, attempting to form democratic neighborhood associations that do not work with the police or city government, foreclosure defense collectives, tenants’ unions, collectives with prisoners returning to the community, radically-oriented, directly democratic youth programs, and weekly, community discussion groups which give neighbors an opportunity to do face-to-face politics. All of these projects can be run non-hierarchically—without leaders. In every sense of the term, these would all be “anarchist” projects.

An infoshop can be an effective and meaningful way to spread consciousness and propaganda, but the community Pateman mentioned in his talk could benefit from the aforementioned examples of mutual aid, and anarchist-inspired projects.

III. Work on our communication skills

Many erudite radicals have come and gone, without the abolition of systems of domination and oppression. It is clear that the more verbose, obscurantist, or abstract our literature is – while this can certainly be an enjoyable challenge at times to read and discuss – doesn’t make it more effective in propagating ideas within non-radicalized communities. In fact, it may do the opposite; I would understand if someone not ensconced in the anarchist community would be more than a little put off if all they were exposed to was literature inspired by post-structuralist thinkers, Tiqqun-style essays, books, or pamphlets. Without points of reference, this style of communication could come off as either pretentious, or perhaps even nonsensical. Why start there?

Instead, we should consider universal accessibility: we need to create propaganda that can be heard for the blind, seen for the deaf, and can be understood by everyone in our communities. All people with so-called “disabilities” (an arbitrary concept and term, to say the least) should be able to experience and understand our means of communication if we stand opposed to social hierarchies. Our means of communication should also transcend language borders, and all borders for that matter. Well-done performance art, or visual art of any kind, would be one way to do this. Imaginative possibilities are endless, and different cultural milieu and geographic regions would create this in different manners.

IV. Attempt to organize workplaces on anti-authoritarian grounds

After our immediate community, the workplace is the most important space to encourage anti-capitalist resistance. In the community we’re consumers, and at the workplace we’re producers of services or goods; capitalism needs both. We need to encourage fellow community members/ workers to break the cycle.

Whether you think anarchism is a tradition that belongs to the lineage of the political left, or if you’re a left-loather and anti-workerist – and if you have a day job – attempt to form radical, horizontally-controlled unions, workers’ organizations, coalitions, or councils. Even if work is something you’d like to abolish in its entirety, organize not to work; you may find quite a bit of sympathy.

If your idea of a post-capitalist society is one for which there is some kind of industry, organize on those grounds. Organize at your workplace simply because you want modest improvements. But if you’re an anarchist, try to organize non-hierarchically; try to create webs of solidarity that exist without leaders or bureaucracy. If we can channel the vitriol most have for management and bosses, coupled with the fact that most do not like their jobs and would choose to do something else with their time if given a more attractive choice, we may be able to get somewhere.

Stand in solidarity with those workers doing just this at Jimmy Johns’ and Starbucks; both are affiliated with the IWW – its history with no shortage of anarchist involvement. Remind your employees that the American labor movement has made many gains thanks to anarchists since the Haymarket affair in Chicago, and remind them who struggled for the eight-hour workday. Promote May Day as a day to celebrate this event in 2011; appropriate it as a candidly anarchist holiday.

There’s no suggestion here that this will bring about some glorious revolution; this may be an outdated goal. If anarchy is permanent, it is dynamic in its meaning and present and future aspirations. Attempting to organize workers, i.e., Capitals’ cogs, can lead to radical community – a community informed to think freely. If a community feels able and is more-than-willing to think freely, this is more than an anarchist can ask for.

It can lead to a spreading conversation, a culture in opposition to the conformist hegemony of western, Eurocentric, capitalist society – even within one neighborhood. “Anarchizing” the workplace, in this sense, has the utmost potential. This is a call to “come out” to your fellow employees, if you haven’t already. Reach for the most absurd and unattainable goals like a city-wide wildcat strike; encourage the strike so the neighborhood can spend a day getting to know each other instead of working, or to abolish capitalism. Simply encourage idolatry, in rejection of the puritanical standards that consider back-breaking work “moral,” or organize on completely different grounds that you think your community might be sympathetic towards.

V. Continue to broaden the scope of our critique

Anarchism is more than an opposition to the State and Capital; we’ve done a poor job at articulating this at great measure. Even in many published, historical overviews of anarchism, it’s often reduced to being against government, or anti-statism. This leads folks to believe that anarchists cannot find liberatory relationships and can never “win” – assuming “winning” some kind of tangible battle is still the program – since winning involves what many in our community refer to as making “Total Destroy.”

This is why we must broaden the scope of our critique. There is a great deal of promising literature coming out regarding anarchism and disability intersections, anarchist perspectives regarding queer theory, and an anarchist analysis of the climate crisis. That said, we could do a whole hell of a lot better. Without capitalism, we would still have all of the constructed binary opposition – some examples of constructed binary opposition include “heterosexuality” v. “homosexuality,” “woman” v. “man,” “able” v. “disabled,” “sane” v. “insane,” etc. The reason all of these binary oppositions should be critiqued robustly by anarchists is that they create “power-over” social relationships. That is to say, binary oppositions create hierarchies with a dominant group, and an oppressed group.

While there is encouraging literature coming out from our community, we could afford to organize on these issues. In the wretched prisons, in our schools – which aren’t much different to our children than the prisons, in our community –in which people who do not conform to rigid gender identities are treated horrendously by market, patriarchal, white supremacist society, there are plenty of ways and means to form solidarity and mutual aid opportunities with these oppressed groups, and create anarchy in real time.

There is no conclusion…

Anarchism will constantly have to redefine itself to remain anti-authoritarian. There is no end result we seek; anarchism is a critique, and a constant demand for liberatory relationships with others, with the environment, with ourselves. This will apply to any future moment, as well. It doesn’t exist in the future. Direct action is something anarchists have been interested in for a reason: it is a demand for non-commodified relationships; opportunities for creative possibilities; making our imagination a reality, in real time. 2011 gives the movement opportunity to start fresh, and to reflect on the many promising, and negative, aspects of anarchism.

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What is the role of the cashier?What is the role of the cashier? Surely it is not that of the helper. The cashier is, at base, the low-level security guard. The cashier is the executor of arbitrary access guidelines. Her most basic job function is to ensure that if one attempts to access a thing without “possessing” a defined number of points (USD in my context) that one will meet violence (or the threat thereof) at the hands of the appropriate person. In order to mask the arbitrary and violent nature of the relationship between customer and cashier, the cashier must convince the customer (and himself) that his role is that of the helper.

What then is the difference between the cashier and the bureaucrat of the totalitarian state dispensing rations? I’d suggest that the primary difference is in form of the categorical “gun” held to each of their heads. With the latter it is concentrated: if she does not uphold the guidelines of access, she faces the literal gun of her supervisor. With the former it is diffuse: if he does not uphold the guidelines of access, he faces the gun, not of his supervisor, but of the police officer, or, in an even more dispersed form, the metaphorical gun that is the threat of homelessness and starvation.

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