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Cockburn Liberalism

Cockburn looted the looting book

Why subscribe to racist ideas like ‘you should pay for things that you want’?

September 1, 2020

11:50 AM

1 September 2020

11:50 AM

A few days ago, NPR’s Code Switch (tagline: ‘Race. In Your Face.’) interviewed antifa agitator Vicky Osterweil about Vicky’s book, In Defense of Looting.

To call the interview ‘friendly’ would be a disservice, implying that NPR was favorable toward Osterweil from a sense of general benevolence. But that is not what the segment was. It was de facto propaganda, with NPR ceding the space to Osterweil to state his entire thesis at length, with zero pushback. Even before Osterweil speaks, interviewer Natalie Escobar declares that ‘“nonviolence”
can be a misleading term.’ She then delivers questions like ‘What are some of the most common myths and tropes that you hear about looting?’ and ‘A lot of people who consider themselves radical or progressive criticize looting. Why is this common?’

Vicky seized her chance, using the NPR’s platform to promote the forcible dispossession of the unfortunate taxpayers who finance NPR’s existence.

‘Looting strikes at the heart of property, of whiteness and of the police,’ Osterweil said. ‘It provides people with an imaginative sense of freedom and pleasure and helps them imagine a world that could be. And I think that’s a part of it that doesn’t really get talked about — that riots and looting are experienced as sort of joyous and liberatory.’

Uh oh! It turns out NPR is promoting a crazy person. Nevertheless, Cockburn feels that NPR has taken a perhaps disproportionate amount of the heat for empowering Osterweil.


Surprisingly little chatter, in comparison, is being had about Bold Type Books, the outfit that chose to spread Osterweil’s manifesto. Say what you will about NPR, but they were at least getting into the spirit of things by spreading Osterweil’s ideas to the world for free. Bold Type Books, on the other hand, wishes to take its cut. In Defense of Looting will cost a reader $25.76 on Bookshop ($31.99
in Canada!). Even a digital copy runs for $16.99, and it’s just pieces of infinitely-reproducible computer code. It seems odd for Osterweil, who believes in a ‘white supremacist juncture of property and race,’ would insist on the inviolability of intellectual property.

So, to get into the spirit of things, Cockburn pirated a PDF of the book, which was surprisingly easy to do. He also fired off this email to Bold Type Books, Osterweil’s publisher, to ask how they’d feel if the public ‘looted’ their book:

Dear Sir or Madam,

We at The Spectator have successfully pirated a copy of In Defense of Looting from the internet. Beats paying for it! We’d like your permission to republish the entire book on our website free of charge as an easily downloadable or shareable PDF file — in order to spread the message far and wide. Assume that’s fine? Please let us know if not.

So far, Bold Type hasn’t gotten back to us. Suddenly, they don’t seem too enthusiastic about subverting racist ideas like ‘you should pay for things you want.’ How strange!

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Anyway, if you can get your own free copy of In Defense of Looting, Cockburn heartily recommends, well, not reading it, but giving it a skim. At a minimum, it’s helpful to see what ideas the would-be arbiters of American politics are setting as the limit of polite discourse. Right now, wanting effective policing in American cities is decidedly not a polite opinion to express at brunch or your bridge club.

What is polite is, erm, this:

‘With that understanding in mind, we can begin to analyze riots as births. Riots are violent, extreme, and femme as fuck: they rip, tear, burn, and destroy to give birth to a new world. They can emerge from rising tensions and lead to nothing — a miscarriage — or be the height and end point of a given movement. In most instances, however, they transform and build a nascent moment into a movement: rioting, as the Black trans women of Stonewall showed us, is a form of queer birth.’

Looting as a means for trans women to give birth. Well, credit to Osterweil for not leaving a single argument off the table.


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