Piggy in the Middle: Thoughts on Behaviour, Trauma and Conflict from an Anarchist Lens

Anonymous Submission to North Shore Counter-Info

I’ve had my share of conflict in my life. We all get into conflict, which feels normal. Whether it’s with our family, our lovers, our friends, our neighbours, roommates, co-workers, collaborators, this list goes on. No two people are the same, and it’s difficult to accept the nuance in the idea that most people are doing what they consider to be good, with the tools and understandings they have access to.

What I want to talk about here, is how we navigate these conflicts. I want to talk about how we often recreate the violence of the state in our ways of dealing with them, unless we admit that this is our socialized default and actively work to change it in ourselves.

Before this can happen, a distinction between behaviour and character must be made. This is not to excuse negative or toxic behaviour, but to really re-enforce that our behaviours don’t always match with our ideal versions of ourselves, and that the ways people figure out how to survive in capitalism have very specific motivations; rooted in pressure, threat and coercion. All this considered, we must understand that despite this, people will perceive how we behave as our expression of what our value system is. Actions speak louder than words right? Because of this, if we can recognize our behaviours don’t match our values and goals (admit there is a problem) we can begin to make changes more effectively.

I’m gonna try to keep it condensed as I feel like a lot could be said about this topic, and it feels like there’s some set up I need to do before really getting into it. The point of this piece isn’t coming from a place of having it “figured out”, to provide answers to everyone’s problems, or to magically fix everything, but I’m hoping it can raise some interesting questions for folks to reflect on alone and with others.

As much as it is uncomfortable to think about, our behaviours are shaped by our environments, our traumas and how we navigate surviving them. This is not to say that we cannot change them, but it is to say that every critique we have of how the state harms us, the earth, our loved ones and everyone in between; we must also have for our personal behaviours, especially our default unconscious ones. To be clear, this is not a “be the change you wanna see” rant, but more of a realization in my own life that the trauma and violence I have received existing in this world, I was recreating in my interactions with others, which contradicted my values and re-enforced patterns of the same ideology I am building my life around being in opposition of.

This may seem arbitrary, but for my own growth, I have been walking myself through what I understand capitalism to be, as much as I can break it down, so that I can look at which behaviours are encouraged vs discouraged, and what that process of validation/invalidation looks like in practice.

It is claimed that capitalism is the great success of our lineage; The system that supports that idea of the individual over all else. A monetary system that finally replaced the dysfunctional bartering and inconsistent values of labour and items. We are taught it protects the physical/intellectual property of the individual, without the bias of religion, class, gender or race; creating true Freedom & Safety.

But when we dig deeper, we find different truths. We find that these values have actually allowed certain individuals to have more importance over others, and validated ideas that infringed on basic freedoms, autonomy and livelihood. Eventually, we learn that it could not have been created without the creation of classes (social, gender, race etc), genocide of indigenous peoples and cultures, the slavery of racialized people and women, the destruction of land and water by resource extraction, all possible with punishment and praise by an armed ‘warrior’ class on behalf of the state. The choice then becomes assimilation, imprisonment, or death.

If we can agree that capitalism is actually founded on entitlement, individualism, supremacy, capital, property, hierarchy and domination; then we can start to look at the behaviours that support these values, how power is distributed, and how the approach of validating certain behaviours over others affects our social understandings of what is considered acceptable.

For those of us that have found Anarchism, I want to take the same approach. If we are aligning with a politic based on mutual aid, individual/communal autonomy, diversity of tactic/culture, informed consent, care taking of nature, voluntary association, equitable resource distribution, and communal horizontal power structures; then we can start to explore what behaviours we think can thoroughly express these values.

A lot of paranoia is created by the reality of infiltration. It’s not enough to just believe everyone is so solid that it couldn’t happen. It does. And these people are paid enough to live very comfortable lives (if they can still live with themselves after that is). It’s tricky bringing this one up, because my intention is to not to mud rake, create more fear, or encourage each other to try to figure out who the cop is. For me it feels more beneficial to take in the accounts of groups who have experienced infiltration, and learn from what they have observed about the behaviours of these individuals paid to play piggy in the middle, so we can build community and cultures of resistance more effectively.

In my conversations with folks and reading I’ve done, I’ve found some common threads with infiltration. It seems that there is often a pattern of supremacist behaviour, whether it’s used against femmes, racialized people, disabled people, or uneducated people. There is often an aggressive approach to gain access to people and spaces, leading to a martyrdom style of taking on several key roles, more than actually possible to sustain, so they become ‘in-disposable’. There seem to be patterns of intentionally encouraging interpersonal conflict, and shaming mediative approaches that communities try to take to mend them outside of the system. There is a posturing of trying to show people “how much they do” in the scene, which leads to having inappropriate conversations and sharing information that puts others at serious risk.

There are patterns of escalation, pressuring people to employ tactics that aren’t appropriate to the situation and goals. The encouragement of substance use, and often actually providing the means/funds to engage, especially drinking. Shutting down conversations. Polarizing black/white thinking. Lack of accountability, self reflection paired with deflective overstatements of harm when others are sharing their feelings about these behaviours (calling out/in), and often the popularity/scene cred of the informant’s character helps them navigate these spaces without being challenged. If someone is coming from a frame\work where the ideals of Capitalism are normalized or even celebrated, these behaviours start to make a lot of sense (especially if it pays you the big bux $$$).

This doesn’t mean that its easy to spot, or that every infiltrator does all of these things. More I think the questions we have to ask; are these behaviours communal or dominating? How much of ourselves can we see in this? If not, How about when you feel triggered or burnt out? Does this change it?

I really wanted to say “no that’s not me”, until at some point in my process of uncovering my own traumas, I realized that when I am triggered and feel threatened, I start to get real shitty, and can’t even see it until I’ve de-escalated which is usually after the damage is done. I have to constantly remind myself that being triggered doesn’t always mean I am in danger, and when I’m really mad at the state and people who have abused me, I find myself deflecting these feelings on to other people who couldn’t possibly be holding these systems of violence on their shoulders alone. Eventually, we have to ask whether it matters or not if someone is being paid by state if the behaviours look the same.

Any activism is intentionally addressing conflict head on. Disrupting the status quo. We tend to think that this can only mean physically/structurally, but I would like to suggest that it also must have context in our interpersonal relationships, and most importantly in our own self reflection. If we know that the system is inherently violent, and that we have been socialized in this system, we must also disrupt the status quo in ourselves. It is not enough to learn the language. We have to admit and own what is ours to own, so we can intentionally make changes. We need to help our friends, lovers, family, coworkers, accomplices, co-conspirators and often even strangers in this process too.

When punitive measures become the social norm, people become afraid to admit they’ve done something wrong, in fears of being excommunicated. What sucks about this is more than ever we need examples of people admitting faults and modelling strategies to change those behaviours. If it’s Men perpetuating misogynist tendencies, White people being culturally insensitive, able bodied people, financially privileged people, the list goes on. Supremacy is Supremacy. Entitlement is Entitlement. If we think that being able to check off a list of our marginalizations makes us above perpetuating supremacist/entitled behaviour, we are not being self reflective enough. If we think that someone who has made mistakes is incapable of making changes, we forget that mistakes are what help us learn and grow. If we think we are doomed to have our socializations dictate our actions, we cannot have hope in creating communities free of domination.

Language surrounding abuse, mental health, and social justice issues have surfaced in the mainstream in a very different way than it has before the internet. Parts of this are good. These are things that must surface and are inherently uncomfortable to talk about. We must sit with those feelings. What seems problematic is that its being heavily filtered through a neoliberal and individualist lense. If a problem is the sole responsibility of an individual, we get victim/abuser, privileged/oppressed or narcissist/co-dependant binaries. This creates an environment where it is considered that people don’t deserve support unless they are marginalized enough. Often this can emerge as overstating harm in conflicts out of fear of not being supported unless we have been heavily victimized. Other times it emerges as certain folks having access to support over others because they are considered to be more marginalized. Both re-enforce the other and feed into this cycle.

More and more the situations we find ourselves in are becoming more urgent. We are needing more than ever to build affinity to build capacity to support each other, while simultaneously attacking the structures of capitalism. I’ve been supporting lots of folks who are in conflicts of great divide, often caused by political differences, even if minuscule. I see people organizing/disrupting within the system (health/social services/education/bureaucracy/law) being accused of not being anarchist enough. Working class people being labelled as bigots because they are new to certain ideas that have very specific language. I see older experienced activists or folks who have any concerns about really risky actions being shot down as too liberal before having dialogue about effectiveness and potential repressions. I see groups doing very radical work, being criticized by ‘armchair activists’ who aren’t making any suggestions of how they will personally engage with said struggle in their own activism. I see people being pressured by their non political communities to collaborate with police and consider it when they are not properly supported otherwise.

Any large scale project will require working with people who differ from our views, we have to think about what behaviours would support that vs what would disrupt it. Any critique we make could instead be followed by what we would personally do for the said goal. Any action we don’t like, we don’t have to volunteer for. Any idea that starts with “someone should…” could instead be suggestions of a project that person is willing to facilitate. Space can be made for differing opinions, everyone knows something we don’t, and either person has the potential to learn from the other. I often wonder what other things we could be doing to facilitate more connections and affinity.

I want to note that I’m not at all suggesting we need to avoid conflict, make friends with everyone, and never be violent. It’s important to have enemies as much as friends. It’s important to use violence when it is most effective. More of what I want to bring into question is, Who are our real enemies, where is the line, and how often do we create enemies with potential accomplices. How often are interpersonal conflicts effective in disrupting social movements? How consensual and considerate is our decision making process of effective tactic verses inappropriate? Can we communicate all the risks, and anticipate aftermaths to make sure everyone’s commitment and consent is informed? Do we have capacity to debrief? When I look to autonomous anarchistic situations around the world, I see collaboration with many types of folks with very different views, tools, and access. I see very careful consideration of tactics. I see careful intent of creating cultures of truly informed consent. What behaviours will best support this and how can adjust our behaviours that don’t?

Despite the destructive nature of the divisions, infighting and poor conflict management I see, I write this because I am also hopeful. I also see people learning and growing. I see people making connections about the influence of these systems of domination on our lives and relationships. I see numbers growing, alliances building. I see an urgency to act and support. I’m hoping that in exploring these questions, we can imagine clearer ideas of the world free of all domination we want to create and contribute to. There is potential. Our visions are attainable. The state is vulnerable and the clock is ticking. You are worthy of love and support. When we can support each other effectively, we can get dangerous together. We can’t do it alone. We need you.