Broken Teapot, The - a critical analysis of current "accountability" models
This is the first essay in the new anthology "The Broken Teapot" a critical analysis of current accountability models.
The Broken Teapot- Anonymous
We all start life with our teapot intact and at some point a little crack starts and slowly grows, or maybe one day we slip and the whole thing just crashes to the floor. Those with intact teapots, they don't know what its like to try and make tea with all the water leaking out. You can't do it.
The play of power that is accountability and how it currently (mal)functions in the anarchist 'community' has become a great fissure in my teapot. Its a big crack because I used to be very invested in it but it isn't working anymore. When tea is made now, because of this crack and, of course a few others, all that happens is that steam comes out and people get burned.
Ever notice the way that trauma can build up in your system gradually? You come to expect a certain amount of loss and you stop noticing how much it affects you until one day something really small makes you cry (you usually don't) and then you realize how toxic you have become. Then you really appreciate how grief accumulates. Everything feels like mourning, even things that usually make you happy.
[It's a cruel thing, you'll never know all the ways I tried It's a hard thing faking a smile when I feel like I'm falling apart inside
And now you're gone, there's like an echo in my head And I remember every word you said]
The idea that we could somehow help each other through the pain of resistance, love and loss used to help me hold my shit together. Support was the counter balance to each instance of abuse, queer bashing, eviction, suicide, murder, and rape. If sometimes life hurt, if it hurt in ways that threatened to drive one to madness, at least there was the understanding and compassion of friends to get one through.
Lately, however, I have found that a funny thing has happened, at least with the anarchists. We've become afraid to hold one another up in a real honest way. The language of accountability has made support a weird community currency, more important in appearance than deed. It has become something which must be unquestioningly offered that functions in rigid and essentialist ways. There is an algorithm for support now and if you don't engage with the algorithm in the correct manner you find yourself out in the cold or, even worse, hunted.
Last year when I left my partner, they totally lost their shit, became obsessed, fixated and eventually began stalking me. I received some support from close friends and family, but the general anarchist community, usually vocal to a fault, said nothing. Some said nothing because they did not know the extent of the escalation and some said nothing out of fear, a desire to avoid conflict. I hold no malice towards any of those people. Others said nothing because I would not begin an accountability process. It is these people, who could not have known at the time how they were breaking me, that hurt me in ways that are hard to express.
I did not want an accountability process and all the exposure and tendrils that came with it. I wanted to be left alone. I would not identify myself as a victim because I was not solely 'a victim'. Is anyone? In their saner moments neither was my ex solely 'a perp', in fact they considered themselves to be a victim of my manipulations and omissions. Somewhere far away from those flat unforgiving categories we might have found some gracious out but with the language available to us it was a mess. In order to pull support I was expected to mediate this Kafkaesque dis-juncture by branding them an abuser. I would not do that because abuse dynamics aren't so simple. I participated in a co-dependent relationship and at the end I lied like all hell to get out.
My ex started to use their need 'to address our issues' as a reason to continue to be in my life. When I would not give in to their demands, and understanding well how power works, they threatened to start an 'accountability process' against me. It was a bleak affirmation of my worst suspicions to watch them use these 'community' norms, so well-intentioned in their inception, in a manner befitting a very large stick. In the end wary, no doubt, of not winning a showdown at the larger 'community' level they never made good on that threat.
I had moved out of our collective house to get away but, not anticipating an escalation of hostilities, I made the tactical error of moving into a place alone. They started coming over unannounced. As their behavior became more and more erratic my fear of them grew. People expressed concern for me but no intervention was made to them. Consent culture precluded anyone telling my ex to leave me the fuck alone without some rubber stamp of approval. I needed someone else to say something totally independent of any request on my part because in ex's head I deserved to be punished, no reasonable discussion, amount of screaming or pleading from me made any difference.
I left town. They found reasons to be in each subsequent city I traveled to. At some point the categories of abuse flipped in their head. This did not actually help much, they continued contacting me, this time in order to be 'accountable' to me. I told them to fuck off and to leave me alone. From when I left them to when they finally left me alone was about 6 months.
After the therapist at the walk-in clinic told me if I didn't move far away without telling anyone, stop being a part of our shared radical 'community' and get a restraining order I was 'participating in my own stalking' I went to the park and cried long and hard in exhaustion and desperation. Eventually I pulled myself together and made a few phone calls to see who might be able to help. I begged a mutual friend to encourage my ex to leave me alone. They basically told me 'without an accountability process, they didn't feel comfortable intervening'. I wanted out of our terrible relationship not to be pressured into continuing it in the name of 'healing'. The tears I shed then were angry and bitter.
This is but one vignette in a thousand of the ways these processes have failed us. If not getting support unless you agree to the 'correct' process is one failure, then being unfairly damned and righteously condemned is another. I have seen people pulled into these processes through gray area mis-communications of consent. There have been people falsely accused, a verbal yes in the moment became a retroactive no later. We have hurt and branded people through our practicing of unquestioning belief and our sloppy use of really broad categories.
I have witnessed these processes become tribunals which continue co-dependency and become about revenge. It is hard to say if this is intentional or not but as they say, 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'. These processes were born out of trauma, hope and all the best of our desires for solidarity and healing. I know that to be true, but it's not working out that way. We wanted to free ourselves from patriarchy except we just created a new kind of 'justice', and it is damning us! It is making us act more and more like our enemies. Through much soul searching, I have concluded that I was wrong to believe in, participate in and perpetuate accountability processes. This anthology is part of my amends.
Since this break point I have started to try and challenge accountability processes but even at a theoretical level, this gets falsely categorized as 'blaming the victim'. To question accountability is to question the sex positive culture of consent we have all worked so hard to create. When did these things get so tangled together? There is a 'can't win for losing' mentality to these discussion. If you don't believe anymore, you don't care about violence, assault or abuse. To question is to betray.
Instead of embracing honest conflict we hide our true feeling under so many layers of mental gymnastics and double speak. If these algorithms also feel wrong to you trust those feelings and say something! We are all so afraid to speak our minds least we be judged to be on the wrong side of the 'fucked up' 'not fucked up' dichotomy. Adjudication requires such stark differentiation. There is always a price when you are asked to sit in judgment, be sure you are willing to pay it. It usually comes later in the form of futile prayers that no one will ever discover or prosecute your own faults. Regardless of how others feel, I know the jury is already in.
I know myself to sometimes be 'fucked up'. Its taken a long long time but I am finally comfortable with my contradictions and the slow progress to be made in changing them. I want friends and lovers who are also comfortable with those dis-junctures. I do not want comrades who either pretend such imperfections don't exist or condemn me for them.
What we do now is back people up against an ideological brick wall in an attempt to control them. In comparison beatings look straight forward- even merciful. At least those end and can be healed from on a physiological time frame. The message they provide is clear! That kind of hate is transparent and sometimes appropriate and necessary.
Perhaps that kind of violence makes you wary, that's good! Embrace those small nagging feelings of doubt. Wielding power should always make one a little disquieted. After reading and considering these essays, I hope accountability processes will make you feel at least as uncomfortable. I regret now that we've spent the last few years feeling so damn sure of ourselves.
I offer this anthology up to you out of deep pain, not hope for something better. I don't have anything better. This isn't about offering an alternative model. If any words here are taken out of context and somehow become a new orthodoxy we will have failed. This is about pointing out some of the more egregious missteps we have made and encouraging people to think and act contextually.
In parting I offer up only one concrete plea. Stop using the algorithm. It is hurting us.
The teapot may be nothing but jagged pieces, but we don't have to slit our wrists with them.
in love, despair, anger and contradiction.
Please forgive any repetition herein. It seemed more important to present pieces in long form and allow each author space to fully express their points than to edit for redundancy.
To those who contributed it is no small act of bravery to speak so bluntly against stacked ideological odds. This kind of discourse and debate is well past due. Thanks for being a catalyst.
To all of my friends who didn't shrink from conflict, understood the contradictions and supported me anyway... you've helped keep me sane during a long period of darkness. I love you.
Other essays in the anthology include "Safety is an Illusion" "Love You Too Much" and "Questioning Rape".