Sunday, March 1, 2015

Anarchism and me

I have been feeling drawn lately to write about anarchism. There has been a pattern in my writings for the past few years that I've noticed of me feeling inspired to write when either a recent death occurs or an anniversary comes about. Well, I have both now in relation to anarchism.

The recent death that has occurred is that of Howard Ehrlich. Howard was an anarchist for many years, from at least the 1970's to the present. He was the editor for the journal Social Anarchism, as well as the author or editor for a number of books. I met him in person on a number of different occasions, and he was a delightful fellow to be around. His work served as a kind of bridge between the beginning of "Second-Wave Anarchism"(that is, the anarchism that emerged in the 1960's and 70's) and the anarchists of today. He will be missed.

The anniversary that has occurred for me recently is that of realizing that I now have spent that majority of my life considering myself to be an anarchist. Through different years and periods I have affiliated myself with different schools of thought within anarchism, and for one period of about two years I went through a kind of sabbatical where I refrained from associating with other anarchists or thinking about anarchist-related topics, although in my heart I still remained an anarchist.

This all leads me to now feel the desire to re-state my anti-statist beliefs, to say what anarchism means to me and how I see the world.

I would say that anarchism is a family of political philosophies that first emerged in the mid-nineteenth century that views all forms of authority, hierarchy and centralization as being both both unnecessary and undesirable. Various mass institutions, such as capitalism, the state, patriarchy and white supremacy, are all viewed as operating based on a fundamental principle of domination. As a result, anarchists wish for all these institutions to be completely abolished.

Instead of all of that, anarchists would like to see new forms of relationships and organization based upon voluntary cooperation, free association, people relating with each-other directly as equals and groups relating with each-other in a nonaggressive and decentralized manner.

The reason for all of this, for me at least, is a deeply felt desire to live as truly free as possible, to treat others and be treated by others as a genuine equal with all other people, and to have an experience of being an integral part of an authentic, caring and mutually-supportive community of people. I have the sense that these things once existed for humanity, long ago, and gradually over time they all have eroded away more and more, until the sense of personal disempowerment and social alienation gave way to lives lived in narrow prefigured institutional roles. This makes it possible for millions to routinely be slaughtered with no more response than perhaps a slight shaking of one's head before moving on to the next topic for one's attention. The people being killed are simply too abstract, and the machinery that is killing them (that they are also a part of) is just too vast to effect any substantial change in it. So helplessness and powerlessness become the prevailing subtext of our world.

That all being said, there are many different kinds of anarchism, different ways that people express their anarchist response to the horrors of the world. This is why I say that anarchism is a "family" of political philosophies, instead of simply "a" political philosophy. The differences within anarchism fall along many different lines, be it what kind of economic structures they would like to see in a new society, what kind of political structures they would like to see in a new society, which particular oppressed demographic groups they want to focus on, which other philosophies they want to combine with anarchism, how much they want to focus on individuals and how much they want to focus on society writ large, what strategies and tactics they want to use to get from the world that we have today to a new anarchist society, and whether one should even focus on "a new anarchist society" at all instead of on just life here-and-now.

There are some anarchists who respond to this multiplicity of different anarchist schools of thought by wanting to unite all the different tendencies under an umbrella organization or a broad inclusive identity, and others seek to downplay the differences and seek to emphasize what is in common to all anarchists. Others spend a lot of time and energy engaging in perpetual ideological rhetorical warfare in favor of their particular anarchist sect.

It has also been said that there are as many different kinds of anarchism as there are anarchists. This is because inherent in the whole thing is freedom of thought, each person doing their own independent thinking and coming to their own conclusions. This naturally can result in a whole wide variety of conclusions being reached on a whole wide variety of different issues. The trick then is to find, create, and implement different ways for different people with different perspectives to work together for common goals and interests, and for each to go their own separate ways when their goals and interests diverge.

Personally, where I find myself now in terms of the various anarchist schools of thought is a place where I can appreciate many of the different points-of-view that people are each coming from, while at the same time not really whole-heartedly identifying with any of them specifically. I am at once an anarcho-communist as well as a post-left anarchist. I am an individualist who sees the concepts of "property" and "ownership" as being meaningless and absurd. I appreciate Max Stirner's egoism as well as the Buddha's concept of anatta. I have a fondness for both anarchist hackers as well as for rewilding anarcho-primitivists, for both the Bookchinite fighters in Rojava as well as the touchy-feely anarchists who hang around self-improvement workshops. Unlike various times in my past, I currently have no quick-and-easy label to succinctly express what particular kind of anarchist I am. I'm OK with that.

What I do find to be the most important is to find ways to navigate through the world that we live in that maintains as much personal clarity, and mutual and self respect as possible. At the same time, it is just as important to keep an eye on the horrors and brutality that the world of domination continually threatens us with. This is no easy task. One's focus can easily be lost in ideological pissing matches and petty interpersonal squabbles that are blown up through the injection of moralistic undertones.

This then brings me to the matter of the anarchist subculture such as it currently exists. I have already written much on this subject, so I do not wish to repeat myself here. One thing that I will say, however, is that in spite of all my criticisms and apprehensions regarding the anarchist subculture, I do find a certain value in associating with it in some form. The reason why is that anarchists, regardless of the particular kind of anarchist one is, are at least a kind of person who sees through many of the extensive illusions that are projected at us about mainstream society. Such people are unfortunately rare and hard to find, given that so many buy into and abide by the narratives of authority that are fed to us all from birth onwards. A kind of basic need for kinship and companionship is met through anarchists associating with each other, regardless of whether any broader social/political change is effected as a result. And, if the people involved are able to live happier healthier lives because of the association, then that's even better!

Ideally, I would like to see and participate in a lot more anarchist projects that are designed to meet people's basic needs in the world we have now. I would like to see more different needs being met for more different people in ways that are in harmony with the principles underlying anarchist philosophy. The word "anarchist" is not important to me here, but meeting needs in harmony with the principles behind it is important to me.

I do not know what the future brings. While I do believe that human beings are capable of living in an anarchist society, there is no guarantee that people will not continue to live in authoritarian ways indefinitely. There is also no guarantee that human beings won't simply wipe out all life on this planet before any major change can take place one way or the other. For now, I am placing my bets on small pockets of people, scattered here and there, living more or less anarchically on different parts of the planet. Perhaps at some point the opportunities would present themselves for an endeavor that is larger than that, but for now we have to take what we can get.

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