Sunday, March 29, 2009

do facts matter?

Here's an interesting dissonance of perspectives that might highlight one of the most basic differences between (at least some) 'anarchist' perspectives and those commentators who have more faith in 'liberal democracy' - and I think this ties into the discussion of postmodern anarchism below, but might also bring up seriously problematic issues of justification and standards for truth...

Andrew Liam, quoted on the Gauravonomics blog:

"As witnessed in Greece, the failure to verify information by the public and media professionals can be tragic. There was a universal assumption in Greece that the teenager was shot in cold blood, and no one bothered to wait for the coroner’s report. The policeman’s claim that he was innocent – that he had shot into the air to disperse the crowd– was summarily dismissed. It is a dangerous world, indeed, when citizen reporters are completely trusted, both by the media institutions that incorporate them and by the audience who consume that information. The role of the mature news organization, one should think, is to filter real news from pseudo news, rather than treating all content as equal."

One American 'post-left' anarchist blog, CSA, suggested the following, by contrast, in a discussion of an early-January shooting of a Greek riot police officer that had provoked some 'conspiracy theories' at the time:

"Of course, the precise identities and motivations of the shooters is no more important in this case than in the shooting of Alexis Grigoropoulos [ed note: the teen shot by Greek police, provoking the first wave of demos and rioting in early December, referred to above]. Hopefully Greek anarchists will avoid being sucked into the melodrama of bourgeois justice and will continue building on their impressive gains of the last month."

I think the contrast is particularly interesting in that it does an end-run around the need for the kind of refutation of the former comment which is actually juxtaposed to it on the Gauvaronomics blog (from Katrin Verclas, claiming that there was no shortage of 'professional' information provision and publicised debate), and gets at something much bigger; certainly - if facts don't matter - it takes the fight to the arena of simulation or the spectacle...

It's worth keeping in mind that this (CSA) is a US site, and only one example, but other statements that link up an almost holistic, but rather poetic, world-picture of injustice perpetuated by a vision of authority and capitalist/consumer culture do seem to play into the 'postmodern' anarchist radicalism Call (2003) describes...

...and this could well be a troubling thing, in some ways.

As Patrick Meier suggests on his blog:

"The mainstream media has an increasingly important social service to play in the Twitter age: distinguishing fact from fiction"

...and he goes on to suggest (a key point, I think) that the initial riots need to be understood in context (what is it about Greece in particular?), though the first wave of information going viral, as that term suggests, may indeed be understood via a kind of 'contagion' model.

It is also worth noting that while initial forensics on the December 6 shooting scene indicated a ricochet (potentially corroborating the officers story that he fired a warning shot in the air), it was later reported - after Meier's and Liam's initial postings - that the ricochet was near ground level, and indicated that the officer shot at the youths, killing Alexis. Incidentally, even BEFORE the story told about inaccurate online info-sharing that jumped the gun on the coroner's report as the catalyst for the initial riots, there was a video and eye-witness testimony to the account eventually borne out by later forensics.

And in the 'context' connection, I think that the fact that things are still going on - if less intensely, in some ways - around the kinds of social struggle called out by anarchists and others in December certainly indicates that the CSA position that the detailed facts of a single incident may not be the heart of the bigger story continues to carry some weight contra the alarm of those focusing on what turned out to be an erroneous claim that the officer was not at least partially (or indeed, entirely) culpable in this case...


  1. I think that the reaction to the news of the shooting was coloured by the previous incidents involving the police. "I shot in the air to warn them" is a well worn cliche, often used by accused officers.

    In addition the officer's story concerning the incident was almost immediately proved to be inaccurate as video footage taken at the time and eye witnesses contradicted their account. There was no mob of anarchists attacking, no molotov cocktail thrown as they the two cops had claimed.

    You have to remember that the Greek police have a long, inglorious history of violence going back generations and that human rights abuse are almost always left unpunished even when, by some miracle they do make it to the courts.

    Take the example of the Cypriot student beaten to a pulp in Thessaloniki on live TV November 17th, 2007. No cop went to jail for that.One of the officers in charge even received a promotion just months afterwards.

    Hence the frustration and anger felt by those taking part in the protests in December and January.

    As far as how the protests spread I would definitely agree with the idea of it going viral and there were so many disparate groups involved all over the country who got their news via SMS's and the internet. Twitter was a great source of info about what was happening at a time when the mainstream media did little more than relay pictures of burning streets in Athens.

  2. I appreciate your comment Teacher Dude.

    I had been unaware of the case you mentioned with the student in Thessaloniki, though your take does seem to confirm a lot of what I've heard about the more general climate (indeed, I believe that Amnesty International - not the most radical group - released a report a couple of days ago critical of Greek policing).

    And it does certainly appear as though the new media stuff plays into the possibility of coordinating a large number of people, and disseminating info such as that initial video and the claims of eye-witnesses - as well as spreading ideas that are irreducible to 'facts' as such (i.e. a kind of 'spirit' or common feeling). I find the discussion afterwards about the impact of these technologies to be interesting, and hope I got some of that into my post! I think interpretations like the Centre For Strategic Anarchy response I mentioned - i.e. that the details are not the important thing - are important to consider, and do bring the issue of context or broader dynamics, though in the particular case of Alexis is does appear that there were very good reasons to doubt the 'official' version of the facts - reasons that were themselves based on empirical information. It's sort of a strange tension created when it is important to destabilize the official picture (on levels large and small), but without losing sight of some kind of direction, and an alternative viewpoint that needs its own facts to work with - and when new media tech makes it possible to see, and spread, all kinds of info and messages (creating/disseminating 'memes' if all of the evolutionary psychology folk net-culture types are to be listened to...)

    I do believe I've looked at some of your - excellent- photos on FLickr recently (though I could be mistaken)...