By gz, USA
What moves me as an educator are contexts where participants – teachers, learners, citizens, anyone present – are engaged and care about the content. As an instructional designer, I’m engaged when the material and the content shifts from connecting with the learner, to scaffolding knowledge and engaging with the learners and where they are at, and then progressing further. As a human being, I’m engaged when people speak to me and treat me as an equal, as a peer. Finally, I am engaged as a teacher, instructional designer, and human when individuals or groups synthesize attention, learning, inspiration, and ethics in short, powerful pieces.
Conflict, an anarchist class war punk band from England, do all these in tracks across multiple albums. Unlike most punk bands (commercial or underground), Conflict does not limit themselves to breaking taboos, challenging authority, critiquing power relations, celebrating intoxication or property destruction, or promoting having fun for it’s own sake. Given punk’s history – over 40 years now – the movement and the history is far richer than a sentence or paragraph can cover. What is notable is that a majority of Conflict’s fans are or were drawn to punk out of anti-authoritarianism, interest in the “lifestyle,” overt leftist or anarchist politics, or simply a desire to participate in a scene where music and politics blended together.
When searching punk in the record bins or online, Conflict is rarely the first band you’ll find. They never get radio play. Their concerts sometimes ended with police rioting and attacking fans. To outsiders, Conflict are pretty niche: they are an early, aggressive, non-pacifist political band. This is a significant deviation from other political and anarcho-punk bands like Cr@ss and A.P.P.L.E. who were, of political punk bands, also peace punks and pacifists. Conflict was not pacifist. They encouraged confrontations with power, police, Nazis, and nationalists. As such, many of Conflict’s fans arguably have a good idea of what they want to hear: brash, aggressive music with anti-state and anti-authoritarian messages. While fans could find similar messages in some mainstream punk and almost all political and anarcho-punk band tracks, Conflict took confrontation to a whole new level. While some bands might match their aggressive stance towards police and fascists, for example Oi Polloi’s “Bash the Fash,” [lyrics: http://www.metrolyrics.com/bash-the-fash-lyrics-oi-polloi.html video: https://youtu.be/f7mRG88KPbA ] and the first part of MDC’s “Dead Cops/America’s So Straight” [lyrics: http://www.plyrics.com/lyrics/mdc/deadcopsamericassostraight.html video: https://youtu.be/L1DbydIMZuw ], rarely do these bands move past ethos and reaffirming their standpoint, into instruction and mentoring rebellion for social justice.
Throughout their albums, Conflict performs consistently like other anarcho-punk bands, pointing out fascist and police violence, creating solidarity to resist attacks, and engaging in abbreviated forms of political education for interested listeners. These tracks lyrically trash the state, oppression, big business, and colonization. However, Conflict moves past analysis and into education in at least one song, “This is the A.L.F.” [lyrics: http://www.plyrics.com/lyrics/conflict/thisisthealf.html video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NZpEm_M5E8 ].
“This is the A.L.F. [Animal Liberation Front]”’s opening text explains what direct action is. Initially discussing dying children in Ethiopia and the cameraman who brought the story to the world, they summon up sympathy and imagery that some first world youth from the era of the album’s release would recognise. Conflict present a situation where a single individual, the photographer, is both moral and heroic. It’s an appealing role for idealists. After presenting this role model, Conflict ask the listener if they’re willing to do the same. While the initial example is on dying children, that pathos is then transferred to animals being tortured and the heroic role, the ethos and pathos, can be transferred from the photographer to the listener. The listener is instantly framed as potential hero, as liberator, to help free tortured animals.
For youth in a different era or different environment, these lyrics can serve to expand their understanding of oppression, violence, and corporate greed. Rather than thinking of corporate and government malice as a general malaise, references to specific abuses and atrocities help the listeners know more about the world around them. While entertaining and unifying their audience, Conflict is also educating some of them.
As an educator, we rarely have the chance to position our students as liberators, warriors for the good, or with the ability to save the lives of dying children or tortured animals. However, we can open up our lessons, either each week or day that we teach, with strong ethical and emotional appeals. Rather than relying on stolid, “Today we’re going to learn how to write a full-block business letter,” we could shift to, “You can use this if you are harassed at work to report the incident, to document workplace problems to your union, to file a complaint with your cell phone service provider, or to contact your Senator.” While filing a complaint or contacting a Telco does not seem very heroic or liberatory, by framing what we teach our students as forms for self-advocacy, conflict resolution or self-defense, we can do more than appeal to their interest. We can support their right and ability to claim autonomy, or at least a world with less harassment.
The second paragraph of Conflict’s track describes a multiplicity of physical and militant moves that can be used to destroy property of the oppressor or at least deprive them of capital. These range from gluing locks to not eating meat or wearing leather. Opening with the most aggressive moves keeps in tune with the angsty, fast, and raging guitar. Ending with personal options and choice allows those who are reticent about committing illegal, criminal acts of property destruction a way to engage with the song, with the movement, and with the feeling of supporting the Animal Liberation Front.
The third paragraph brings the direct action phase to a close and suggests a strategic approach or working in groups. It also reminds the listener of the opening appeal, that doing work in support of ALF is part of a larger agenda for human freedom, and that freedom is close.
Few things may be as exciting or terrifying as direct action or physical conflict. Fortunately, these elements are rarely present in the classroom – at least in terms of explicit violence. What we can learn from the second paragraph is that Conflict differentiates instruction for the audience and provides multiple points of entry for the audience. Not everyone needs to glue locks. People can do what they think and feel is best. After a brief exposure to the variety of tools available, the listener is reminded of the overall goal: why they are being educated. The short term stakes for most of our students rarely happen at a level comparable with animal liberation. For example, some of the direct actions Conflict describes might lead to freeing a handful or hundreds of animals (rabbits, monkeys, cats, or dogs) from ongoing tests or experiments – many of which are painful. Other direct actions, graffiti or gluing locks, might be punitive and designed to cost the corporation or agency doing the testing hundreds or thousands of dollars. Saving scores of cats from torture surely feels more heroic and intense – and comes at a far greater risk – than learning proper business letter formatting. Thus, when we plan to engage with our students and look to outside models, such as punk performances and music, we need to understand that our appeal and ability to engage our students is less strong than Conflict’s are with their self-selecting audience. However, with some work and creative thinking, we can work with our students to identify applications which will likely engage them more than our current lessons.
Paragraph four presents the challenges: being labeled a ‘crank’, a crazy person, a political or social extremist. However, these challenges are small when compared with human freedom and liberating animals from pain. While the song’s hyperbole of “black v. white or the nazis versus the jews (sic)” is quite strong, it’s there to make a point: if you do this, you will be labeled. You will have problems. But the struggle is worthwhile. Rather than hide the challenges, Conflict makes them explicit.
As educators, we can learn a lot from this by reminding our students that everything will not be easy. That others will not agree with what they do all the time, that they will not be coddled by others, and that simply being present is not a guarantee of a good life. Instead, if they choose to be educated, to pursue their work, they will, inevitably, have confrontations. When these occur, we can get lost in the names and the hurt or we can remember why we are doing this. We need to remember to help our students prepare for pain, rejection, and potential abuse. Rather than training them to be obedient, we need to help them remember why, at core, they are learning or studying or choosing their path. We can also help train our students to be purposeful and constructive, to reject the aggression, and to defend themselves. By supporting students’ ability to identify solutions that align with their ethics, we can support students’ safe and smart engagement in meaningful social and political causes.
The final paragraph delineates animal testing’s crimes, connects it to human rights, and closes by claiming the moral high ground: “Compassion and emotion are our most important safety values. If we lose them, then ‘we lose’ the vitality of life itself.” Again, Conflict situates this struggle as one of supporting the ALF, and thus supporting human dignity, versus aligning ourselves with those who torture, kill, and profit from emotional and physical torture and abuse.
Just as the opening paragraph, or opening portion of our classes, could touch on the moral and social issues at stake in our environment – either local or global – we can close our teaching, our lessons, with similar points. Rather than just thinking about teaching or educating for a simple goal or content exchange or licensure, we can work on reconnecting our students to the world around them. We could brainstorm specific situations where a person might need the tool or tools we’re working on this week. We could ask, “When might being able to write a formal letter help?” or “When could you use pathos to help increase community?”
I listen to Conflict not just because it recalls my edgy days as a punk. I listen to Conflict because, nearly 25 years later, their music and lyrics still appeal to me. Once it was their radical message and anti-authoritarian stance. Now Conflict appeals because they not only challenge authority, they show their audience how they might fight for their beliefs. I listen to Conflict because, in under three minutes, they offer an educational structure, ethos, pathos, and logos, that is more effective than 95% of the courses taught in “proper” schools.
We have a lot to learn from anarcho-punk.
About the Author:
gz lives in a library in Oregon's Willamette Valley surrounded by iris and orchids. He is inspired by ravens, Gysin, Fanon, Lao Tzu, and Nutella.
He blogs at http://zobelg.posthaven.com/