Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Introducing a continuing series on the things I am for, and how they relate to the things I am against

The first thing I want to say about all of this is that I do not have a crush on Snooki.  I say this first, and foremost, for my partner's benefit; but also for your own.  And the reason for this, you see, is that by merely invoking The Snooks, she has already come between us.  To know her is to confront a kind of social power.

There are a few things you should know about before we get started.   The path ahead of us will not be easy, so I'm going to use a couple different maps.   I've adapted these maps as they relate to my own experiences.  Let me briefly say something about them here.

The first map that I want to bring up in this context is a map called anarchism.  Anarchism is the idea that all authority is wrong unless it can prove that it isn't wrong.   Authority is when somebody tells you what to do.  In other words, nobody should ever tell you what to do unless they can justify it -- to you.  If they can't do this, anarchists will challenge the claim until they do.

The second map I'm going to use is a map called Marxism.  To me, Marxism is concerned with how people make the things they need in order to survive.  For many of us today, this happens within a context which Marx called the capitalist mode of production; or, the capitalist way of producing what we need to survive.  Marx was particularly focused on this way of producing things; and he looked at it in a way that fits nicely with anarchism: the capitalist way of making things often "tells us what to do" in ways that other approaches might not.  Marxism fits into the broader project of anarchism because it focuses on a particular form of authority.

The third general map that I want to talk about is feminism.  Feminism also fits into anarchism's broad goals insofar as it challenges anything that tries to tell women what to do.  Sometimes it's men that try to tell women what to do; at other times institutions; still yet, it can be other women.  Feminism challenges any form of authority which tries to tell women what to do.

What we see coming out of these maps is the general principle laid out by anarchism, which is expressed within specific relationships.  If someone tries to tell you what to do because you are gay or because of the color of your skin or any other reason, to challenge this would constitute a specific struggle while at the same time satisfy anarchism's general rule.  When human beings try to tell animals or the environment "what to do," that fits in as well, if a little differently.  The important point is that we all have to draw maps which come out of our own experiences and interests; anarchism encourages us to learn from each other as we do.

I was hoping to return to our theme of the Jersey Shore, but this is probably enough to think about for one day.  We will reconvene tomorrow.  Until then, if you want to have fun then do something!


sewa mobil said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Abonilox said...


This is great. I will follow along with you closely since I am sincerely working on defining my own "maps" as you call them.

So if the main interest of feminism is its specific concern about how one particular group is "told what to do" by another particular group, how is that not subsumed by the anarchist map mentioned first?

Also, not to quibble too much, and I think I know where you're going, but I don't know if you can generalize the anarchist principle regarding authority to animals and the environment. You might need to find another "map" for that, in my opinion.

JRB said...


if the main interest of feminism is its specific concern about how one particular group is "told what to do" by another particular group, how is that not subsumed by the anarchist map mentioned first?

Feminists, to this view, are people who focus their practical activity on authority as it relates to women.

Ultimately as anarchists we focus on certain types of authority because we can't plausibly focus on (or even know) all types at all times. It's like a specialization which comes from your own experiences, in other words. It implies we have to work together to succeed at anarchism.

I don't know if you can generalize the anarchist principle regarding authority to animals and the environment. You might need to find another "map" for that, in my opinion.

The shared principle would relate to how far we can go without either an animal's consent or the consent, say, of future generations.

Just because we can't get an animal's consent the same way we can a human's doesn't mean we are free to treat them any way we want. This doesn't mean it is obvious how we should; it only places a burden on us to take the question seriously.

Jack Crow said...

"Anarchism is the idea that all authority is wrong unless it can prove that it isn't wrong."

Shooting for irony?

Or don't know what "an", "arch" and "ism" mean?

JRB said...

Just to be clear, the second two maps do fold into the first, Abolinox.

JRB said...


We've been through this before, and I'm not doing it again.

If you don't like it, do it your own way -- and be glad.

Solar Hero said...

There goes Jack again (I love you man!) who believes we can live in a world where absolutely no one ever tells/asks/requests anyone else to ever do anything!

That aside, I think Feminism and Anarchism are definitely different orders of magnitude, in this way: someone who agrees with the given definition of anarchism, can call themself an anarchist, but use patriarchal arguments to prove the legitimacy of their authority.

I see this all the time, does anyone need examples?

Jack Crow said...


I don't believe anything like that. I do think that "anarchism" has to at least take into account its root meaning.

No-power sort of negates "well, power if it proves it's not wrong to be powerful."

Especially since power's proof is existence, not some prettied up universal pure standard.

Does power exist?

That's it's own proof.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is breathing toxic fumes.

JRB said...

Solar Hero:

No question that this often happens in practice -- just like, on the other hand, people will perceive their struggle as the only struggle, discounting the importance of others (consider some Marxists).

All I'm saying is that in principle, there's no reason why this should be. It certainly doesn't have to be in practice, and we should be struggling to ensure that it isn't, at least to the degree we are able.


Amongst ordinary people there are differing conceptions of what "authority" precisely means, and it's good to account for that.

Besides this, if someone tries telling you what to do, it isn't always knowable in advance whether this constitutes "power" or "responsibility" unless it proves that it is not power -- i.e. unless it proves itself as responsibility. So whether you personally bind the definition of "authority" to "power" isn't really relevant here. What is relevant is justification vis-a-vis the affected person.

C-Nihilist said...

good stuff. i've been using the term grids rather than maps in my own internal dialog, but yeah, right on.

Anarchism is the idea that all authority is wrong unless it can prove that it isn't wrong.

i propose, "Anarchism is the idea that all coercion is wrong unless it can prove that it isn't wrong."

additionally, depending on how specifically or narrowly "authority" is defined, i'd propose something like:

Under Anarchism, authority can only be submitted to voluntarily.

Ben There said...

Possible alternative title:

"Viewing the world through the prism of isms"

(Looking forward to it. And you just brought to my attention that I'm an anarchist. Thanks!)

Jack Crow said...

If you rule someone, you don't have anarchism. It's really that simple. "Proving" it right or wrong has literally fuck all to do with anything.

You advocate anarchism like MLK advocated the invasion and occupation of Vietnam.

Cüneyt said...

I find the Germans have a terrific tradition of making new words in order to be precise.

That said, I know I have my disagreements with Mr. Crow, but part of what he's said makes sense to me here, and I wonder if what Mr. Boyd is saying could be better termed "power-skepticism," rather than "anarchism," which too rightly doesn't really worry about reasons, but about capacities.

Jack Crow said...


That's demarchist thought. It's an interesting school, with its own merits, but it's not anarchism.

The "an-" in "anarchism" kind of negates the authority to which one can submit, however voluntarily.

(And authority, in my experience, is never far from enforcement.)

DPirate said...

Feminism is comparatively unimportant and, as said above, a subset of your other two ideas; why feminism and not other anti-discriminatory ideals, racial for instance?

Sex discrimination may be shared across all strata, but is it a root cause? Though that question may not matter here.

JRB said...

Let me express the same concept, in Jack's terms: Any suspected authority must be treated as authority unless it can prove that it isn't.

In a strict sense, this is correct.

But because it doesn't really roll off the tongue and because most people I know don't strictly observe Jack's terms -- they might think of "authority" as either coercion, or something like an uncoerced respect -- I am choosing to defer to their terms, not Jack's, because I am obliged to communicate with them.

And I'd rather the starting point not be a lecture about why their definition of authority is wrong. They can come around to that later so long as we don't totally alienate them first.

Having said all that, yes, Jack is correct.

Devin Lenda said...

I like Montag's coercion definition but if coercion means "getting someone to do something she doesn't want to do," the definition seems to leave out those cases when the would-be coerced resists and is beaten up. There's also an important distinction between systematic violence/coercion, like a cop beating me up or making me show my license, and non-systematic violence, like an MMA fighter beating me up for the hell of it (all examples hypothetical, fortunately).

I think coercion makes sense as a type of violence, meaning it can be left out of the definition. I'd change Montag's coercion definition to "systematic violence (including coercion)" and make it a subset of a more fundamental principle "violence is wrong unless you can prove it's the best possible option." Anarchism is the rejection of a specific type of violence -- that used by the strong to systematically subdue the weak.

If violence always needs to be justified, then violence by the weak against the strong can be accounted for in the same scheme as violence by the strong against the weak. In a systematic hierarchical relationship (as opposed to a Weak attacking a Strong who has never coerced him), one could argue either that that the burden of proof is far lower since it's essentially a case of self-defense.

This broad use of the term "violence" also pertains to intellectual matters. If I know a guy who's intellectually weak due to socio-economic circumstances, whereas I got to read books full-time until I was 25, but he's making some nasty arguments about women or blowing up Muslims, I have to justify it if I'm going to humiliate him in front of his friends (via intellectual violence). I think there are some tricky issues here. On the other hand, tearing apart a David Brooks column is always justified.

C-Nihilist said...

Jack and JRB:

re: authority. the word is obviously wrong for what i was trying to communicate. i was thinking of some of its broader uses in plain English. i'm not married to it.

an example of the kind of authority i meant to include would be: climbing a mountain that i was not familiar with, with a guide who knows the terrain. i would defer to his or her authority and basically do what they say so long as it seemed reasonable ("we can't go that way because the rocks are unstable"; "we need to stop here because the weather is changing"...) i would recognize the guide as an authority on how to safely traverse the mountain.

maybe the principle i was trying to express might be better said:

Under Anarchism, obedience can only be given voluntarily.

and of course only temporarily on a case by case, moment to moment basis.

Devin Lenda:

i agree. and like your phrasing that includes violence. why limit it to "systematic violence" though?

until everyone is striving to live up to anarchist principles, people are going to get punched in the face. as Jack rightly points out, "power's proof is existence." it is what it is! examining a use of force through anarchist grid -- or using anarchist map :-) -- after the fact, is a way to discern whether the force was justified. doesn't the same principle apply regardless of scale?

that said, the brutal cop does deserve more scrutiny and criticism in that his violence is a product of a much larger, more powerful, coercive and violent system. the MMA fighter looking to get his rocks off in a street fight is but one contemptible individual who isn't being a very good anarchist.

James N. said...


Good post.

I'm taking your "authority" to cover a spectrum of stuff, like:

* A mentor helping you with your craft or hobby.

* Using Montag's example: experienced mountain climber advising you about a dangerous ascent.

* TV economist, fad nutritionist, philosopher, etc. giving prescriptive advice.

* Parent telling toddler to look both ways before crossing the street.

* Somebody acting in transparently bad faith, i.e., national politicians, corrupt cops, paid shills.

I don't have any problem with the the mentor, or the mountaineer. It's non-coercive authority that can sorta prove itself to my satisfaction. (The toddler example strikes me as valid, but it's likely very hard to justify to the kid and therefore very prone to coercion.)

The other examples begin to shade into what we know as the state, and are more suspect. In part this is because the authority is usually making claims about stuff nobody really understands.

PS. Jack, if "an" means a total negation, what's the basis for believing that the other half of the word means voluntary case-by-case deferral to someone with techne? Speaking with total naivete, I always figured anarchism was about abolishing rulership. If a doctor I trust is telling me to lay off cigarettes, and I think he's right, he's not really "ruling" me in the way we normally use that word.

Richard said...

"Feminism is comparatively unimportant and, as said above, a subset of your other two ideas; why feminism and not other anti-discriminatory ideals, racial for instance?

Sex discrimination may be shared across all strata, but is it a root cause? Though that question may not matter here."

I would suggest that feminism is the most important, and that all the others flow from it.

Jack -

By what authority should we accept your terms in this debate? This is not meant to be a snarky question. You often insist, rather strongly, on the correctness of your interpretations of what power and authority are and how they work. Not just make an argument, but authoritatively insist.

And what about the authority a parent has with respect to a child? In our case, we try to include our daughter in decisions affecting her, where possible, but it often isn't. It might be said that this example is not pertinent, but I disagree. It is but one example where a measure of authority can be justified.

Jack Crow said...


"An" means "without." "Absence of." "Lacking."

You cannot argue for an authority and then be without it. I'm not suggesting some imaginary "total negation." I'm suggesting that the prefix "an" has a common, ordinary use.

"Anaerobic" doesn't mean "aerobic." "Anhydrous" does not mean "watery."

Unless people are trying to be ironic, "anarchism" defines an absence of authority to which a person can submit, and implies an absence of any submission to authority, not an incorporation of it.

Voluntary choice has really nothing to do with. I'm not offering commentary on voluntarist theories of action, work or cooperation. I'm objecting to the use of a term which negates its definitional value.

You can call Donald Trump a communist until the world doesn't end. Won't make him on.

So why do it?


I'm not trying to be an authority on anything. I'm suggesting that words have accumulated meaning. A point you tried to make rather strenuously, IIRC, regarding word redefinitions elsewhere.

I'm not suggesting an interpretation at all. I'm suggesting a common, everyday use. "An" does not mean "pro."

Which has eff all to do with justifications for any one person's belief systems or actions.

You all can all any number things by any labels you choose. Won't make them appropriate.

And I'm not commenting on how you or anyone else raise your children.

I'm suggesting - without force, ferchissakes, this is the internet: we can enforce nothing on each other - that "anarchism" has no value as a term if you can use it to describe situations its definition purposely excludes.

And it's especially disheartening to see this twisty, clever usage addressed to people who are just coming to question authority and submission.

Anonymous said...

Any suspected authority must be treated as authority unless it can prove that it isn't.

You mean like how I'm part of Rape Culture and responsible for the rape of women, even though I've never committed rape?

So the suspicion of "authority" automatically tags the suspect and the suspect must prove his innocence? Guilty until proven innocent?

This is pure bullshit, JRB. I'm pretty sure I've stopped reading you now.

JRB said...

Hey guys:

I think it's great that everyone is thinking about these things, and working to find their own language to best express it.

I hope the operative concept will remain in play: If someone tries to tell you what to do, the burden is on them to show why you must.

If you can hang on to that concept, I think you will be able to find your way through the diverse semantic usages of particular terms. What's important is to be able to recognize the concept when it is in motion.

And finally, to Jack, before I move on:

"anarchism" defines an absence of authority to which a person can submit

Actually, I call this "anarchy."

"Anarchism" I think of as a process we use to pursue anarchy.

That's just what works for me at the moment.

Hope this helps.

James N. said...

Jack, thanks for that clarification, I appreciate your patience. I guess I'm asking about the derivation of "archos" or whatever the Greek noun is.

If a civil engineer says, "Whoa buddy, I've looked at your blueprints, and the bridge you're building is gonna collapse," would that be authority in the sense the ancient Greeks meant?

Is it 'authority' in the sense that you mean it?

And if it is, is there a particular reason to want to live in a world without civil engineering? I kind of like bridges, multi-story buildings, and scaffolding.

I'm not trying to bait you here, I just think you're taking a maximalist position, and assuming you're correct I don't see the appeal.

PS. If this is some "Hey dummy zillions of people have debated this for decades and there's a consensus you're not aware of" type of thing, I apologize.


Jack Crow said...


Within the specific context of any discussion of anarchism, even if loosely defined as "power-skepticism" (a definition I sort of obviously reject), what we understand as "power" will of course vary according to times, temperament and experience.

But, I offer I hope a very simple clarification which I have made elsewhere: power, in any social context, is always power-over.

For what it's worth, I'm not looking to rehash the debate over "electric power" or "motive power."

When it comes to how people organize, "power" cannot be separated from the giving and obeying of orders.

As for "authority" in the sense of "skilled practitioner" or "knowledgeable teacher."?

The words "expert" and "expertise" work just fine, in my book. And they aren't all wrapped in an actual maximalist (with its origins in Roman, Byzantine and Catholic Roman auctoritas) heritage.

Take any person, in our social and economic environment, who is actually understood as an authority on a subject and try to divorce him from the material means, the systems of power and control, which allowed him (1) to be defined as such, (2) to be approached as such, (3) to have that awareness made public and disseminated, and (4) which provided the resources, education and familial environment in which this authority is developed and maintained.

That applies as equally to the "local authorities," ie the cops, as it does to the "authority on linguistics" who currently takes MIT's death money to profit off books about non-coercive systems.

As a counter-example, my sister in law's long time partner is an expert potter. A craftsman of some local renown, whose work (at the height of his productive and creative capacities) was much in demand.

He has long lived alone, in the woods, after giving up the college level instruction in pottery and ceramics.

And although he was and still is an expert, he no longer has any authority. Barely anyone knows he exists. For the last thirty years, he's lived almost as a hermit.

His expertise, understood thusly, is not the same as his authority.

C-Nihilist said...

point taken, and very eloquently stated, WRT 'authority,' Jack.

no one has the authority to tell another what to do.

only the above doesn't make for a very satisfying map. compared with real life where there is no shortage of people willing to resort to coercion and/or naked force to get what they want or keep what they have. so i reckon it's also worth noting:

no one has the right to visit the use of force or the threat of force upon another.

so as we examine the state of the world in light of these standards, the extent to which force compels us every day becomes clear.

JRB's process certainly has merit as a strategy for someone who feels drawn to anarchism. if these two statements are true, how do those who give orders and coerce justify their actions? through the process of examining the justifications, it becomes clear that the powerful can't "prove that it isn't wrong."

James N. said...

Jack, thanks for the clarification. I wasn't purposely trying to exasperate you, and appreciate the distinction you're making.

Devin Lenda said...


No real disagreement, I think. I agree that all violence needs to be justified. You may be using "anarchy" in a broader sense than I am.

The reason I included systematic in the anarchy definition is that I take "archy" to mean rulership and rulership to mean continuity and system. So I'm using "anarchy" as a label for only part of my non-violence commitment, not the whole thing, as you seem to be using it. For example, the MMA fighter's relationship to his victim doesn't seem like a hierarchy to me. Anyway, the labels aren't so important but the distinction between systematic and non-systematic violence is.

C-Nihilist said...

DL, that makes perfect sense. i've realized that what i am taking as general ethical principles, as tools for my own life and thinking, are just that: general. while anarchy/anarchism is something more specific. the broader principles do lead to anarchism, of course, in its proper context.

you and jack have really pulled me along in clearing up my thinking on this. sincere thanks.

Jack Crow said...


That's an interesting opening into contest. I'm a secret agonist most of the time, and I have yet to define for myself the relationship between voluntary agonistic conflict (games, MMA, martial arts, etc) and the rejection of authority as a means of organizing community.

Contests and games require rules (see Carse, "Finite and Infinite Games") and often accepted referees.

The best I can come up with, for now, is a label, "hedonic agonism," and a bunch of glimpses into what I might think in the futue.

sarda said...

The problem is convincing the ordinary people that anarchy is a good thing. I am convince that marxism, socialism, communism are all a good thing but already having trouble making others to listen, and now "anarchy", in its ordinary, everyday meaning, which means "chaos", how could I show that there is "order" in it?


JRB said...


If you feel strongly that what you know might be relevant to others, try listening very closely to what they say.

The more relevant your ideas, the more you will be able to respond to their concerns in a natural, helpful way -- instead of trying to force a discussion on something that, under a particular label, might not be interesting to them.

sarda said...

The idea of being "ordinary", I wonder if that would be relevant enough in this ego sick society?


sarda said...

The Idea of Being Ordinary

What is the idea of being "ordinary" one might ask? It start with the five basic principles. and they are:

1) Don't be a burden!
2) Be independent!
3) Strive for equality!
4) Be practical!
5) Learn and improve!

For ordinary people are only human being and those are the only principles they can able to hold on and stand up to. They are are not transcendental being, not a hero, not a saint, not a martyr, just only being human, so what's wrong with that?