“ACAB”, Privileged ‘Radicalism’, and the Destructive Impulse
Nowadays, I am pretty convinced that the rallying slogan of “All Cops Are Bastards” comes primarily from the perspective of reactionary, kudos-seeking White and/or passing-White privilege: that is to say, I think the symbol and sentiment can be taken up with ease because one has the relevant support network and infrastructural advantages to do so.* The indiscriminate terms of “ACAB” overrun the complex relationship people of color, and those in economically vulnerable classes, have had and continue to have with law enforcement: a relationship wherein the system as a whole is derived from and reinforces (principally upper-class) White Supremacy, yet can, and does, provide demonstrable, legitimate protection for certain disadvantaged communities and populations where crime is too difficult and dangerous to deal with through neighborhood patrols and the like — labor which should not be expected of these populations, anyway.
This is a fact which has been relayed to me by various people of color who may admit that, yes, it can fun to yell “ACAB” when you’re angry at the world (much like how it may be momentarily therapeutic for women to vent about how “all men are terrible”) — but also that this total demonization obscures the stories of the communities the slogan and attitude purports to support. After a while, like so many other things under political ideology, the orthodoxy becomes so prevalent that one comes to assume that such-and-such is a universally agreed upon matter. One need only see how many handles or bios on Twitter include “ACAB” to know that there is pressure to prop up the same logos in order to be politically presentable for a faction.
We must be careful, however, to to not super-humanize persons of color by treating the words of some as automatically overriding the words of (perhaps many) others. The New York Times published a piece last month by John McWhorter on this very thing — how a rock was removed from the University of Wisconsin’s campus because of a racist comment someone made about it a hundred years ago, and because the prompt to remove it was coming primarily from a union of Black students: an amazing example of young adults infantilizing themselves in (what they mistake to be) the name of justice. Any pushback there would likely have been career suicide for university administration or faculty. That this was likely shows how Progressivism within academia can in fact be petty, vengeful, myopic, and conservative, despite its situating as being the antithesis to “my way or the highway” political Rightism. Culturally, we are in a strange position where it is near-impossible to dispute such things without the charge of upholding White Supremacy (which will come to overpower all other interpretations), or having the smallness of such a “reparational” event contrasted with, for example, the United States’ history of slavery (as if to say, “How can you be concerned with this when there was that?”).
What all this means is that the matter is complex — too complex for feeble acquiescence or Yes/No binaries. Colored and economically disadvantaged persons’ experiences of law enforcement assisting their communities does not negate the police’s wickedness; but the reverse is true, as well.
Because the matter is complex, it cannot be solved by blanket statements or proposals, one of which has been to abolish the police (distinct, I believe, from de-funding them, although some campaigning for de-funding may be doing so hoping that it is a road to abolition). Two related trains of thought have come to me here. The first is that, during points over the last seven or so years when anti-police rallies within the U.S. have been most numerous and vigorous, I have observed, in chatrooms and other social media, detached calls for violence from largely young, non-Black, Queer people, with continual references to, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s comment about riots being the “language of the unheard” (seemingly without the understanding that King, Jr. was not calling for riots but contextualizing them as an explicable social phenomenon).
By detached, I mean that these were comments made online and comfortably far from where the rallies were occurring; and by “violence”, I mean that there was an apparent wish for the marches to evolve into riots. The overt sentiment here was that the only good cop was an injured or dead cop. This was a safe fantasy of violence, alluring perhaps because such persons have had little experience with debilitating or death-scraping encounters themselves. If this is indeed the case, such people have yet to understand that there is a significant difference between abstractly wishing for chaos and placing oneself in that situation; and that those involved in these scenarios, were they to become actual, would primarily be from the more vulnerable populations.
The other train of thought is that this wish for the abolition of the police, rather than its restructuring, is endemic of youthful, U.S.-centric radical and Progressive political attitudes which have come to be, on the whole, much more concerned — nigh-obsessed — with negation or obliteration than with modification, affirmation, or consideration. It is unclear to me how much this concern represents deeply held beliefs or is agitated posturing done to signal in-group sympathy. “Black Lives Matter” is, as a phrase, no longer really about its own affirmation as much as it is about singling out and ostracizing the people who do not want to plaster it onto themselves as a primary identistic marker. When various people at my last apartment brought home a bunch of Leftist bumper stickers last year and this year, very nearly all of them amounted to the expression, “Fuck this/that”, with imagery like extended middle fingers. Almost every explicitly Leftist bio I’ve seen on dating apps has been more of a fierce ultimatum than an attraction — “If this is who you are/what you do, fuck off and die”, essentially, over and over again (or, put another way, the ultimatum is meant to be the attractant for other Leftists).
This similarly applies to innumerable Tumblr bios (usually of people in their late teens and early twenties — people whose age gives them an undue confidence in their opinions, and whose thoughts have been made more extreme by the polarizing effects of a deep dependence upon online (anti)socialization), where the construction of identity is not so much about what the person can affirm relative to theirself; it is most strongly about who and what they will not tolerate, under any circumstances. Then there are the conversations I’ve been privy or party to wherein drop-of-the-hat break-ups/disownments are cavalierly advocated for if the Other Person has behaved “problematically”, including one’s parents.
Now, a caveat is required here too: moral discrimination is the right of every person, and ultimatums can be useful. But it is clear that the Leftism I am describing has become a monoculture whose authority is an Online-centric public opinion, and moreover that it has little to suggest except another fantasy of demolition. It is a mood, to use a bit of e-lingo. What disturbs me about our politics of negation is that it has often been paired with an ahistorical perspective. In looking at the oppressions and injustices of the past several centuries, and lacking an awareness of frameworks for interpretation besides dialectical materialism, one learns to denounce history itself (to say nothing about the denunciation of the self, too). This is a simplistic description, yet I think it lies near the heart of the rationale. With such a perspective, it is not difficult to, perspectivally, put oneself into an amoeboid state. If history was a lie, and if we bear the physical markers of the chief oppressors, we too are a lie. We must atomize ourselves (perhaps with an Anti-Racism Bomb) and try to begin at ground zero.
Accordingly, many terms with flexible qualitative aspects which connote phenomena and attributes providing a sense of continuity and/or social structuring have been made implicitly negative: “systemic”, “role”, “normative”, “traditional”, “classic”, “conventional”, “mythical”, “religious”, etc. As different groups vie for designations of marginality — labels such as Neurodivergent, Ace, Otherkin, or Depressed are clung to harder and harder as if they were superpowers to weaponize, for they are seen as non-normative markers, and thus in some way superior because of their social inferiority — and as our presentist radicalism has made the human into a political (rather than a mythological) being, we find ourselves increasingly unable to associate with what came before us. But of course this would be the effect — for politics are the most transient of human inventions.
*Just before completing this essay, I was made aware of a recorded conversation Jordan Peterson had with Rob Henderson from this month wherein Henderson uses the term luxury beliefs to describe “ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class.” Although Peterson and Henderson’s conversation focuses more on the upper classes — students at Ivy League schools, for example, who are preparing for high-powered financial jobs, or multimillionaire CEOs at technology companies — , I think that the term could be reasonably stretched to include the slogans and sentiments I have written on here. Regardless of how one may feel about Peterson, the video has a number of interesting points.