I learned about “near enemies” and “far enemies” from Buddhism, although I see that Muslim jihadists have developed a similar theory under the same name. What I’m going to talk about is closer to the Buddhist version.
For purposes of this discussion, a “far enemy” is someone who flat-out opposes you. The far enemy thwarts your efforts and tries to do you injury. The far enemy’s interests are the opposite of your interests. Far enemies are easy to spot.
“Near enemies” are harder to spot, and more insidious. Near enemies may appear to be friends and allies. Their goals appear to be your goals. But they are really “enemies” because they can’t be trusted to help you, and if you aren’t careful they will hurt you.
Note that when I talk about “near enemies” I am not talking about provocateurs or infiltrators. Those are far enemies in disguise. More often the “near enemy” is someone who identifies his far enemies as your far enemies. You may even share some of the same goals and ideals. But he’s still your “enemy,” because if you aren’t careful he will undermine everything you are trying to accomplish.
An example from Buddhism is that the “far enemy” of love is hate, and the “near enemy” of love is neurotic or selfish possessiveness. The near enemy is something that you mistake for a virtue or a benefit, but really isn’t. As I understand it, the jihadi version is about geography; “near enemies” are governments in the Middle East they want to bring down, whereas “far enemies” are governments further away they want to bring down. A whole ‘nother thing.
Applied to progressivism — Far enemy = Paul Ryan. Near enemy = Raph Nader.
See how it works? Of course, you can’t always draw clear, bright lines. Nader isn’t always wrong, for example. But there’s a kind of logical fallacy among the naive that if someone (like Nader, or Ron Paul) is right about something (political corruption; the war in Iraq), then that person is right about everything. That fallacy is a kind of near enemy.
Most of the time, in politics, the “near enemy” is someone who really is on “your side” in a broad sense, but his motivations are contaminated by ego, greed, immaturity, hotheadedness (excessive anger combined with a sense of righteous entitlement and poor impulse control), or plain ol’ stupidity. For example, a progressive who is stupid enough to brag about voting for Ralph Nader is a near enemy. Count on it.
(I found a classic example in this very recent Salon article. A guy planning some demonstrations in Iowa not only brags about voting for Nader; he also wants to know why Larry Summers hasn’t been kicked out of the Obama Administration yet. Summers left the administration in January. This guy obviously doesn’t care about anything but marching around with a megaphone. Such people are near enemies)
With that in mind — Ian Welsh has written some posts about OWS with which I mostly agree. Here’s one —
These folks would not believe those of us who told them that simple peaceful protest would not accomplish anything. Only the police, and a Democratic mayor whose resume is that of a DFH, could convince them of that.
I have said little about OWS, because there is little to say. OWS is necessary. People needed to try for peaceful redress, to make an attempt to convince elites to do the right thing, and see the response of the elites. The response was foreordained, but you can’t tell anyone anything, so they have to learn at the end of a nightstick, or while suffering from tear gas or pepper spray, or while being forced away from helping a critically injured man.
I agree, but I also think that what they are learning (or, at least, I hope they are learning) is a little more complex than that. From the beginning I didn’t think the OWS efforts were sustainable, and not just because of the NYPD. I didn’t think they were sustainable because — on the Left, anyway — as soon as you start demonstrating, the near enemies show up and ruin it. You can count on that as sure as the sun comes up in the morning.
And if you don’t have a plan in place to nip the nonsense in the bud as soon as it starts, it will destroy everything you are trying to do. These tired old eyes have seen it happen too many times.
For example, Ian writes in another post,
At the current time, one ideological fight is over absolute non-violence, and an attempt is being made by many in the Oakland/SF area to drive the anarchists completely out of the movement. Problem being that since non-violence is the rule, they have to rely on the police to remove the anarchists and the police aren’t cooperating any more.
What do you want to bet a lot of the Oakland OWSers already are thinking, next time, we’re going to have to do things differently …
Regarding OWS, one of their near enemies has been the OWSers inflated notions of their own power. They have none. Nor have they posed a genuine threat or even a mild challenge to the status quo. The political/economic landscape has not yet been changed. There is more open talk of income inequality than there was before, but so far, it’s just talk.
The only surprise to me is that the financial/power establishment reacted as forcibly as it did. This overreaction is the establishment’s near enemy, and no doubt comes from a deep fear that OWS — or somebody — might grow into a genuine threat someday. Sort of like the way antebellum plantation owners lived in terror of slave rebellions, even though there were remarkably few slave rebellions.
Police brutality gave OWS a veneer of credibility and a sense of importance that it hadn’t yet earned. As Ian says elsewhere, power does not give in to demands until there is an “or else.” OWS doesn’t have an “or else” that the establishment is bound to take seriously. And, rather famously, the OWSers have no agreed-upon demands.
As has been said earlier, for OWS to succeed on its own terms would require millions of people in the streets and a financial threat that would require the establishment to either negotiate or declare martial law. OWSers have been thinking way too small to put something like that in effect.
Outreach, bringing people from across the political spectrum together in the common cause of getting financial corruption out of politics — that would be a glorious thing. It would be a real coalition of the 99 percent. And it could put real pressure on the status quo. But a movement like that will not come out of some horizontal, consensus-based process. It will come out of very clear, and smart, messaging and leadership.
This will continue to play out, as it must. It is necessary and insufficient, but it will produce the cadre of radicals who will go on to the next steps.
This could be true, and it may be that, 20 years from now, people will say that the revolution was born in Zuccotti Park. But I don’t know if we need “radicals” in the ideological sense as much as we need strong, committed, and smart people to grow something that really does threaten the status quo. That something may come up with a radical approach and methodology, of course. And it may be that among the OWSers will come people who will lead that something.
Ian links to an article he says jives with what he’s heard elsewhere. If this article is to be believed, the crew at Zuccotti Park already has broken up into factions at odds with each other. I hope they are learning that organizational structures have a purpose.