Near Enemies, Far Enemies

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.

14 thoughts on “Near Enemies, Far Enemies


    This is an interesting article from Ted Rall.
    I don’t like the place he takes us, but that may indeed be the future if things don’t start changing; and I doubt they will.

    Rall makes a good point that there never is a peaceful revolution. Egypt is a prime example, they had a nonviolent uprising, kicked Hosni out, and now have his old cronies pulling the same old crap! Good people the world over cheered for the nonviolent Egyptian revolution, rightly so.

    I understand the concept of “near” and “close enemies”; simplified as “enemies” and “frienemies” perhaps?

    I had a conversation on this subject today with a friend, He is about 10 yrs my senior, and is convinced OWS will fail because the powerful will simply not be moved, no matter what….
    Unless removed via force. I’m hopeful that boycots and strikes will work, but it will come down to who blinks first, and who can wait the longest for results.
    This might be a good time to study Sun Tsu………..

    • I disagree totally with Rall, although I often do. OWS as it is cannot win through violence, unless Rall is thinking along the lines of a 20-year guerrilla war. Is Rall nuts? It would be like mosquitoes getting violent with an elephant.

      Popular uprising have to be, you know, popular. They have to have a very broad base of support within the population. Little fringe groups getting violent just annoy people. If OWS thinks the masses will rise up to join their fight against the evil financial sector, they are likewise deluded. The masses are just as likely to evoke the 2nd Amendment and go out hippie-shootin’.

      I wouldn’t call Egypt a “peaceful” revolution. As I recall, there was a lot of war involved. On the other hand — the USSR? Not completely violence free, but damn close. The fall of the USSR is a particularly interesting case, since it came about more or less because a critical mass of people decided they weren’t going to put up with the status quo any more.

      Rall pooh poohs Gandhi as not being a real revolutionary, but gaining independence from an Empire isn’t something to sneer at. On the other hand, Rall says, the French Revolution wasn’t really that violent. It was just some student marches that got a little out of hand, apparently. No mention of the Reign of Terror. And, frankly, the days in which a mob of peasants with pitchforks can mob the castle and haul the king away to a guillotine are kind of over. Military technology has come a long way from muzzle-loading muskets.

      He speaks of a relatively non-violent Chinese revolution. First, which one? Second, if he’s talking about Mao’s overtaking China, then let’s not forget that Mao spent 20 years in the field before Beijing fell, and that he was enormously helped by broad popular support and the fact that the Chinese people had had it up to here with Chiang Kai-Shek. And let’s not forget that Mao was no improvement.

      Did I mention I think Rall is nuts?

      OWS isn’t even two months old. Hell, it’s not even an organization yet.

      My sense of things is that OWS has already entered a shaking-out phase in which various factions are likely to spin off and form their own movements. And considering OWS was not really that big to begin with, most of those are going to be the fringe of the fringe. The best we can hope for is that at least some of them will take what they’ve learned and try something else that can be built into a real movement.

      But the essential thing is broad popular support. That’s key. There is no success without that, violence or no violence. That’s a lesson leftie activists continue to refuse to learn, for some reason. And if you resort to violence first, the support will never come. Boycotts and strikes won’t do much unless they are genuinely massive. Again, you’ve got to have broad popular support. OWS doesn’t have that yet, and now the well is poisoned enough it’s doubtful they ever will.

      And does overturning the status quo necessarily mean overthrowing the government? Or can the people retake the government as an instrument of their will to enact reform? Put another way, do we want revolution or reformation/restoration?

      The problem with revolution is that, most of the time, when the dust settles you’ve just traded one set of problems with another one. Again, violence or lack thereof is no guarantee that won’t happen. That’s why it’s better to not completely dismantle the system, in this case our form of government, but instead gain control of it and use it.

      But lefties, time and again, march around the block a couple of times and then complain nothing has changed, so let’s break some windows. They aren’t willing to put in the time, usually years, to build something effective.

      Anyway — I don’t think “near enemy” and “frienemy” are exactly the same thing. My idea of a frienemy is someone who pretends to be your friend while he’s trying to take your job. A “near enemy” wouldn’t necessarily be trying to undermine you, not consciously, anyway. Ted Rall is a near enemy.

    • Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson

      Hell, yes. I think now even the Dem establishment knows Lieberman is poison, though. Bloggers caught on to that first, and the establishment didn’t get it until Holy Joe won another term. Now they know.

  2. There’s a tendency to critique OWS on its merits, which are limited. While thousands have demonstrated at hundreds of locations, Barbara and Rall would agree, the establishment isnt structurally threatened. There is an implicit potential threat when the MSN is discussing income/tax inequality.

    The game isn’t just what OWS is (and isn’t). The game is how the powers-that-be might respond. Consider that the abolitionists movement in the 1850’s never came close to abolishing slavery. They managed to stem the growth of slavery to the new states – and the mere discussion of the eventual end of slavery provoked the South into secession. Four years later, slavery was abolished. IMO, had the South left it alone, slavery would have persisted in a curtailed form for many decades.

    OWS can not be the prime mover of reform any more than the abolitionists movement could end slavery. However, the reaction of the slaveowners did end slavery. OWS is an in-your-face provocation to the 1%. IF (that’s the biggest little word in the English language) OWS stays
    peaceful and IF they simply persist and endure, there will be a reaction that (maybe) swings popular

    • OWS can not be the prime mover of reform any more than the abolitionists movement could end slavery. However, the reaction of the slaveowners did end slavery. OWS is an in-your-face provocation to the 1%. IF (that’s the biggest little word in the English language) OWS stays peaceful and IF they simply persist and endure, there will be a reaction that (maybe) swings popular perception.

      Yes, the occupations are a great symbolic act, not unlike Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus. But Rosa Parks was smart enough to play her role perfectly. If she had yelled obscenities and tried to break a bus window … well, the history of the civil rights movement would have been very different.

      What’s worried me all along is that there are too many hotheads who don’t see the big picture. They actually think that a few acts of vandalism makes them more feared or respected or something. They have no appreciation of what they are up against or appreciate how symbolic acts actually work.

  3. Maha, we agree that Rall might indeed be nuts ( or trying to be shocking to get published);
    I think we can also agree that what happened during the 8 yrs before Obama was off the charts crazy, but there were lots of people who went along with it, and there are lots of people who long for those days.

  4. Good post today, Maha, though rather depressing. Yes, “near enemies” are a problem. But the bigger problem is that the movement has little chance of winning.

    What have they accomplished? Aside from spreading awareness of the issue (ie the fact that banksters pretty much now control the US government), there isn’t much. The most positive accomplishment I’ve seen is that some of Tea Partiers have actually grown sympathetic to OWS. Yes, really. Not the majority, but some. If you have the time, take a look at this 9-minute video:

    Tea Party founder backs Occupy Wall Street

    The guy being interviewed, Karl Denninger, runs the blog, which is pretty conservative. Since OWS began, the tone of the blog has changed, along with the commenters. Half want the “Marxist dirty-hippies” machine-gunned, the other half now realize that Limbaugh and Hannity are full of sh*t, and that liberals don’t in fact have horns growing out of their heads. Some of them now sheepishly admit that they were duped and used by Fox News – I guess that’s progress.

    Nice as that is, it’s probably not possible to get even the more enlightened Tea Partiers to work with OWS to form a political movement that could actually influence elections. And if they did, it begs the question as to who they’d vote for. The Republican Party is totally hopeless, but half the Democrats (and I would include Obama) are in bed with Wall Street too. A third party that could actually win elections – sounds good, but probably has a snowball’s chance in Hell. The closest we ever saw to that happening was Ross Perot’s Reform Party in 1992, but that has fizzled. And remember that 1992 was before Fox News and AM hate radio started their effective campaign to turn half the American public into foaming-at-the-mouth nutcases.

    I’ve got no real solutions to propose. My guess is that the USA will go the way of the former USSR – it will go bankrupt, and break up into a group of failed banana republics. Perhaps in time something good will emerge from the rubble, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Thanks for listening to my “cheery” post. Have a good weekend.


    We need jobs, but it appears we need this first. Apparently God needs his ego propped up a bit before we can move foreward as a nation.

    For those that think a violent revolution is a solution, I’d advise them to take a look at Libya; and not the sanitized mainstream T.V. version.
    THAT is what awaits revolutionaries. The smack down is overwhelming and sudden.
    Once the diving board is left, there is no turning back

  6. I was driving around yesterday, picking up some stuff to make a Chinese dinner for the family myself, when I heard a segment on Bloomberg Radio with Ed Koch – no, NOT one of THOSE brothers – but NYC’s former Mayor.
    There was a time when Koch stood for something. He was involved in the Civil Rights movement. Later on, he was good on Gay Rights. He was a good Congressman, and then a pretty decent Mayor – until his disasterous last term. But in the interview, when talking about OWS, you’d have thought he was a FOX viewer, Rush listener, and NY Post reader. He was spouting right wing talking points, including the BS story about a restaurant that had to lay off some staff and blamed it on the OWS movement (when in fact the greedy and stupid owner rented a place waaaaaay too large and expensive, and is overcharging ridiculous amounts, like $7.50 for an egg sandwich on a kaiser roll – that you can get for anywhere from $0.99 to $2.00 at any deli or bodega in the city; and the rest of his food is crappy and obscenely overpriced as well, according to people who’ve eaten there). But this is the new meme – OWS is hurting the 99% that they claim to represent, and Ed was happy to oblige the listeners, and his buddy Mayor Bloomberg, with this line of bullshit. Now, Ed Koch is no fool. Yes, he’s old. Very old. But he’s no fool. He knows that if he wants to remain on radio and TV, he’s got to pick a side. And he chose the side with money. No surprise there. Ed Koch sold his soul a long, long, time ago.
    So, Ed Koch is now a near enemy.
    In retrospect, he probably always was.

    As for Lieberman and Nelson – near enemy, far enemy?
    Both are selfish and egotistical f*cking assholes.
    So, the way I look at is this:
    I don’t need to distinguish – all I know is that those two f*cking pricks are part of “The Enemy.”

  7. Christianity distinguishes between infidels and heretics. Historically, heretics (the near enemy) have elicited far more hostility from the established church, because they are perceived as a bigger threat. It has been interesting to observe that Madison’s own small Occupy movement has been separate (although with some participant crossover) from the ongoing Capitol protests. The Capitol protests also have some bad actors who are making everyone look bad, and they have been the subject of debate on the left as well as the right. Occupy hasn’t gotten much traction here, because there is another (more focused) movement to provide an outlet for people’s rage.

  8. Candide –
    That is, to me at least, a remarkable thing to see on a conservative blog like Market-Ticker. Perhaps some conservatives actually still like to hear the truth.

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