Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Individualist @

For the past few months I have been grappling with questions of identity and belonging, "What am I?" and "Which group of people am I a part of?", that sort of thing. I have discerned no real clear answers to this, however the term "anarchist" seems to still stick with me, since the philosophy and beliefs which dates back to at least 1840 still speaks to my heart. However, it is really difficult for me to wholeheartedly consider myself to be an anarchist these days because of the words and actions of my peers and contemporaries who are also associated with this word. I have already written about some of this stuff on my blog here last year.

However, things continue to happen. Take for example, May Day of this year, which is traditionally considered to be a radical leftist holiday and is personally one of my favorite holidays. In Seattle the anarchists there made themselves publicly come across as being, at best, complete fools (a video of this can be found here). And in Minneapolis, at an event that I happened to be attending, a public fight broke out as a result of a longstanding conflict/controversy carried over from last year (a video of this can be found here and another one here). And of course the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair has had another big ugly controversy this year as well.

Once again, I am left with feelings of disgust, exasperation, and complete repulsion towards the whole anarchist scene. "To hell with these people", I think. I'm done, it's over, I'm out. I feel such strong feelings of contempt towards the anarchist milieu, and over the past few months I have spoken with a number of other different long-time anarchists who have also been feeling similarly towards the self-proclaimed anarchist scene. And after that most recent incident in Minneapolis, another local long-time anarchist person wrote a public statement saying that he has disassociated himself from the anarchist scene.

At the same time, a person recently told me that he and another person both want me to continue being a part of the anarchist scene. He said that this scene needs "elders" to be present and that I would count as being such since I have been an anarchist since the mid-90's. I have also recently spoken with a friend of mine who says that she wants to continue being a part of the anarchist scene, and being a positive support to it in some way, even though she is well aware of the various faults and drawbacks associated with the whole thing.

This whole thing leaves me wondering: who or what exactly is the anarchist scene anyway?! The person who told me that he still wants me to be a part of it also told me that he personally does not consider himself to be an "anarchist". And when I think about it, I believe that most people who are a part of the "anarchist scene" would not actually consider themselves to be "anarchist". Likewise, a lot of people who I know that would consider themselves to be "anarchist", or at least who have an affinity for that general worldview, are actually pretty isolated from other people who think and believe things similar to what they do. So there is a social scene that exists, but it is not necessarily "anarchist", and there are anarchists who exist, but they are not exactly a part of an anarchist social scene.

One of the things that was written recently as a result of that incident in Minneapolis was that one side of the conflict said that the people who are on the opposing side have "no right to consider themselves a part of any progressive or radical community". I find this to be interesting, since it assumes that considering oneself to be a part of such a thing would actually be desirable. I suppose that it would be desirable if one wants to have that particular kind of identity, or if one wants to have one's social needs met through certain people, but it is hard to pin any of this stuff down really, since the whole area seems to be so very vague and amorphous.

For example, what does it mean to be "a part of the anarchist scene"? Does one have to consider oneself to be "an anarchist"? Perhaps the phrase "radical scene" would be better, but then that opens the door to those who consider themselves to be "radical libertarians", which most people view as belonging to a separate and distinct social scene. One could then say "radical leftist" instead, but then there are those who consider themselves to be "post-left" (and not "libertarian"!) and who are not "left", but they are still a part of the same general milieu. That phrase that I quoted earlier used the word "progressive", which I don't think fits at all, because that opens the door to Obama-voting liberal Democrats, who most people acknowledge are a part of a separate scene altogether.

And what does it mean to be a part of the scene, no matter what label you call it? Does one need to see certain people once a week in order to be a part of it? How about once a month? Is once a year too seldom? And how many people at a time does one need to see with such regularity in order to be a part of it? And which people does one need to see? Do online or long-distance interactions count, or does it need to be face-to-face? Does one need to be involved in particular projects, or does just going to parties and social events count? If you only speak with other radicals who feel similarly isolated and estranged from the scene, is one then still a part of the scene or is one instead a part of a separate parallel scene? At social events that are considered to be a part of the scene, if one is silent during the entire event is one still a part of it? What if one is talking the entire time and the others present are annoyed with your presence and are wishing that you would leave? In other words, how exactly does one retain or revoke one's membership with "the anarchist scene"?

I think that ultimately there really is no such thing as "the anarchist scene", "the anarchist community", and certainly not an "anarchist movement". I think that what really exists are various overlapping cliques and clubs, friendships and acquaintances. All notions of there being something greater than that are illusions and delusions that obscure the truth and cause unnecessary conflict and turmoil.

Thinking of this then reminds me of individualist anarchism, which is defined as being a kind of anarchism that "that emphasizes the individual and his or her will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions, and ideological systems." Remembering this whole tendency is a relief for me, a breath of fresh air, since it reminds me that I (and everybody else) is free to choose what they want, what they believe, what they think, what they do and who they associate with, and are not beholden to anyone or anything else. So often, especially in the midst of these big conflicts and controversies, this is simply ignored or forgotten. If ideas of there being things like "an anarchist scene" are to exist, these ideas should serve the purpose of there being more clarity of thought. These ideas should not serve as yet another notion that dominates or intimidates people.

So that leaves me here in this situation, where I know a bunch of people, some of whom I feel closer to than others, some of whom I share more political beliefs in common with than others, and some of whom live in the same geographic area as me and others who do not. When I really think about it there are no people who I feel really close to who are involved with any of these big controversies that are taking place out there. My sense of cognitive dissonance comes about only when I conjure up notions of there being "an anarchist scene" and when I consider myself to be a part of such a thing. "The anarchist scene" does not exist, and I am not a part of it, although I know others who think otherwise. If people were to make specific requests to me personally, I would consider them, but I do not want to act out of a vague abstract sense of duty and obligation to some idea. All of the various dramas and foolishness that other people choose to engage in does not concern me, at the moment.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. I've been having similar thoughts and it's nice to read about other people have similar experiences.

Anonymous said...

I think that how you live your life tells your story. A work in progress.


Anonymous said...

I think that how you live your life tells your story. A work in progress.


sarah said...

i enjoy reading your evolving thoughts on this. i especially liked this: "If people were to make specific requests to me personally, I would consider them, but I do not want to act out of a vague abstract sense of duty and obligation to some idea." same here.

Anonymous said...

Huge fan of several of your articles including this one. You are spot on about most anarchists not even being worth talking to/associating with. Of all the people I know who call themselves anarchists or would call themselves part of the anarchist scene, there are three or four of them who I have genuine respect/admiration for and enjoy working with. The rest of them I have gradually separated myself from.

I'm in a group here in LA where all the people often lament about "anarchists" even though they all place that label on themselves as well. I think it's important to distinguish political anarchist (people who have an anarchist politic and work towards an anarchist world) and people who are culturally anarchist (may hold some anarchist ideals and hang out with others who do, but don't actually do anything and in some cases are a detriment to the "movement"). Cultural anarchists go to punk shows and wear patches/join cliques to show how anarchist they are. Maybe they'll go to a march once and a while. Political anarchists are the ones you find doing real work, building infrastructure, and publishing good analysis.

Dave said...

I am glad to have found your blog. As a long time "anarchist leaning" person, and as a Buddhist practitioner since 1986, I find this blog refreshing.

As a buddhist and poet-type, I have long seen Gary Snyder as one of my "elders" as you say it. Especially since the workshop he held here (Rochester NY) in 1990 on green poetics.

I too have spent a lot of time in anarchist thought and looking for the weaving of that "mind-set" (if one can refer to that) with the Buddhist no-mind-set, and compassionate response rather than anger (I still work on my own anger of course...sigh)