Monday, March 28, 2011

Being in the world

Sparklehorse with The Flaming Lips, "Go":

To understand and be understood is to be free

One area of anarchist theory that I've never seen developed relates to how we live our lives in advanced consumer societies while at the same time practicing anarchism. To use my own life as an example, what does it mean to be an anarchist and work for a major corporation? Can anarchism apply when shopping at Whole Foods? Where does anarchism enter into our love for commercial music? In other words, what does it mean to be anarchist and, at the same time, just be yourself?

If we accept the premise that advanced consumerism leaves few spaces in which to escape either the authority which confronts us at work or the authority imposed by the market, then most people aren't going to be able to stand outside of these experiences, as anarchists might have in the past. I know I sure as hell don't. And yet somehow this blog has become a space where -- I don't know. I think last week's hijinks have helped me to understand that this blog has become a little too disconnected from the way that I think about anarchism in my everyday life. So maybe it would be good to start writing about that!


Anonymous said...

Yes, please write about what you want to find out about. I'm not sure what happened in "last week's hijinks" either though I'm just a blog reader! What you made me do, was think directly about why and how my own thinking had become stuck. I'm not sure I have changed my mind about what I think about interventionism, but I'm sure that you made me examine what other people were thinking as people, as opposed to as objects. That was good. And I grapple with my everyday "complicity," as BDR puts it, constantly. So, again, yes, write about that. Or anything else.

Abonilox said...

Yes. Very good topic. That's what I was after in my meager response to your post last week.

James N. said...


I feel ashamed saying this stuff because it sounds so lame. But I think almost any voluntary act of self-expression that some corporation can't exploit for profit - i.e., the shit people do all the time for their own enjoyment - is at least potentially anarchistic.

(I confess I don't understand doctrinal anarchism at all, but it seems to me that anarchism, at least informally, is about seeking the freedom to be yourself (and for others too). This necessarily includes doing regular human stuff. If anarchism's doctrinally not about that, then it ought to be tangled up in there somewhere. The state isn't just illegitimate, it's bad, and it's bad because it coerces us into living falsely. Or something.)

If you look at in that way, practically your whole life is filled with potentially anarchist stuff. Being in a lame-ass band. Blogging & hobnobbing on the Internet with internet-cronies. Volunteering down at homeless shelter or the after-school program. Helping a friend build a shed. Raising your kids to think for themselves.

Probably none of that stuff is sufficient to be anarchist (since all kinds of non-anarchists do it). But you're not perpetuating any of the evils that anarchism hopes to end, either. And I'd think that taking lots of satisfaction from voluntary collaborative acts of self-expression among people freely associating is a pretty good example of the world I'd like to live in, regardless of whether it meets some doctrinal definition of anarchism or not.

If this blog means something to you - and it ought to, 'cause it's a good blog - that's a sign that doing your own thing means occasionally blogging. I'm certainly better off having read your words.


JRB said...

James N.:

I feel ashamed saying this stuff because it sounds so lame.

And yet you took that risk in order to be supportive. I think you understand anarchism well.

Ben There said...

Why not dispense with "isms" altogether and direct that energy towards pursuing happiness,contentment, and personal freedom, so long as you're honoring the directives of "do no harm" and "love thy neighbor". (Or are those more isms?)

JRB said...

Ben There:

Another commenter I remember well, Marcus, asked something similar some time ago.

Paradoxically for my purposes, I actually think there is a great advantage in being able to approach people in this way, without "isms."

But it's probably too late for me not to have them working behind the scenes, and that's a lot of what this blog lets me work out.

Do you occasionally go by the handle Ben Free, by any chance?

Ben There said...

In that case I'm glad that you've immersed yourself in various isms and have been compelled to work them out here, as I very much enjoy your blog. Attempting to contort real life to fit within the framework of the isms we find ourselves attracted to can be a fun, challenging, and frustrating exercise.

Never gone by "Ben Free", but I like it.

offsoc said...

I look at anarchism as being a shades of grey situation—the closer you are to true anarchism the “blacker” you become.

Nothing in anarchism states that you must suffer for the -ism, so it's okay that you work for a major corporation. You're making a trade-off on the stress of your beliefs vs. putting food on the table. My goal is to stay aware of the problems of advanced consumerism and redirect my resources towards self-sufficiency and genuine experiences.

So, no iPad for me, no shiny new Android phones, and so on. I still (barely) use the Razr phone I bought over six years ago but it is nothing like that "personal attachment" that other people have with their phone―that is, if I leave my phone at home, it is nowhere near the end-of-the-world for me.

My point of view on what I need has radically changed since realizing that Anarchism better fits the way I see the world. Where you see it as "advanced consumerism" I see it as "dominant culture." The anarchists of our past could have made a difference if they realized it wasn't just governments and industrialization that were oppressing us, we were doing it to ourselves.

Ethan said...

I love this post and where it's pointing. Looking forward.

Peter Ward said...

I guess an act such as me pontificating on this blog from my phone at work could be considered anrchy in some broad sense... But I'm dubious of the "consumer choice" approach to activism. I can post this comment because Google and Tmobile have decided to let me. I haven't actually been subversive merely selected for a handful of acceptable outlets...the danger is that the scope of the problem will be underestimated and thus choosing an action one has been allowed to choose will be conflated with truley subversive action.

As a rule, if what one does doesn't bring reprisal one is doing something wrong.