fragments of an anarchist anthropology
(2004) by david graeber
Jason Hickel (@jasonhickel) tweeted at 7:00 AM on Fri, Sep 04, 2020:
David Graeber’s brilliant pamphlet “Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology” had a big impact on me when I was a postgraduate student. The publisher has made it available for free download here: https://t.co/IMgQy2XukJ
notes/quotes (kindle from pdf 1116 pages):
anarchism: the name give to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived w/o govt – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspiration of a civilized being.. – peter kropotkin
yeah.. i don’t know.. i think we wash it out thinking there are – or should/could be ‘free agreements concluded between various groups’
i think we have the means today to get past that thinking.. ie: to undo our hierarchical listening.. which would also get us past the idea that life is all about production and consumption (rather than ie: 8b people grokking what enough is)
basically, if you’re not a utopianist, you’re a schmuck – jonothon feldman
what follows are a series of thoughts, sketches of potential theories, and tiny manifestos – all meant to offer a glimpse at the outline of a body of radical theory that does not actually exist, though it might possibly exit at some point in the future..
since there are very good reason why an anarchist anthropology really ought to exist, we might start by asking why one doesn’t, or, for that matter, why an anarchist sociology/econ/literary-theory/political-science doesn’t exist..
why are there so few anarchists in the academy
i think knowing ness is the opp (or something similar) to anarchism (living like you’re free).. i think intellect ness (thinking that we know or we need to know or we can know) is our biggest block.. it creates the need for all the red flags that we’re doing it/life wrong (thinking then that we need ie: training; prep; credential; other people telling us what to do; supposed to’s; et al)
2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b free people
perhaps in a few yrs the academy will be overrun by anarchists.. but i ‘m not holding my breath. it does seem that marxism has an affinity w the academy that anarchism never will.. it was, after all, the only great social movement that was invented by a phd.. even if afterwards, it became a movement intending to rally the working class..
anarchism is presented as the brainchild of certain 19th cent thinkers: proudhon, bakunin, kropotkin, etc,.. it then went on to inspire working class orgs.. enmeshed in political struggles, divided into sects..
anarchism, in the standard accounts usually comes out as marxism’s poorer cousin.. .. a bit flat footed but making up for brains, perhaps, w passion and sincerity..
but in fact, the analogy is strained at best.. the 19th cent ‘founding figures’ did not think of themselves as having invented anything particularly new.. the basic principles of anarchism – self org, voluntary association mutual aid – referred to forms of human behavior they assumed to have been around about as long as humanity…
the same goes for the rejection of the state and of all forms of structural violence, ineq, or domination (anarchism literally means ‘w/o rulers’) even the assumption that all these forms are somehow related and reinforce each others.. none of it was presented as some starling new doctrine..
we are talking less about a body of theory , then, than about an attitude or perhaps one might even say a faith: the rejection of certain types of social relation s, the confidence that certain others would be much better ones on which to build a livable society, the belief that such a society could actually exit..
graeber model law et al
pierre bourdieu once noted that if the academic field is a game in which scholars strive for dominance, then you know you have won when other scholars start wondering how to make an adjective out of your name..
it is presumably, to preserve the possibility of winning the game that intellectuals insist, in discussing each other, on continuing to employ just the sort of great man theories of history they would scoff at in just about any other context: foucault’s ideas, like trotsky’s, are never treated as primarily the products of a certain intellectual milieus, as something that emerged from endless convos and arguments involving hundreds of people, but always, as if they emerged from the genius of a single man (or, very occasionally, woman)..
it’s not quite either that marxist politics org’d itself like an academic discipline or that it has become a model for how radical intellectuals, or increasingly, all intellectuals, treated one another; rather, the two developed somewhat in tandem..
.. turning much intellectual debate into a kind of parody of sectarian politics, w everyone trying to reduce each others’ arguments into ridiculous caricatures so as to declare them not only worn but also evil and dangerous.. even if the debate is usually taking place in language so arcane that no one who could not afford 7 yrs of grad school would have any way of knowing the debate was going on
now consider the diff schools of anarchism: anarcho syndicalists, anarcho communists, insurrectionists, cooperativists, individualists, platformists.. none are named after some great thinker; instead, they are invariably names either after some kind of practice, or most often, organizational principle.. anarchists like to distinguish themselves by what they do and how they org selves to go about doing it.. and indeed this is what anarchists have spent most of their time thinking and arguing about..
anarchists have never been much interested in the kinds of broad strategic or philosophical questions that have historically preoccupied marxists.. questions like: are the peasants a potentially revolutionary class (anarchists consider this something for the peasants to decide).. what is the nature of the commodity form? rather, they tend to argue w each other about what is the truly democratic way to go about a meeting, *at what point org stops being empowering and starts squelching individual freedom..t
or alternately, about the ethics of opposing power: what is direct action? is it necessary (or right) to publicly condemn someone who assassinates a head of state? or can assassination, esp if it prevent something terrible, like a war, be a moral act? when is it ok to break a window?
to sum up then: 1\ marxism has tended to be theoretical/analytical discourse about revolutionary strategy 2\ anarchism has tended to be an ethical discourse about revolutionary practice.. it insists before anything else, that one’s means must be consonant w one’s ends; one cannot create freedom thru authoritarian means; in fact, as much as possible, one must oneself, in one’s relations w one’s friends/allies, embody the society one wishes to create
this does not square very well w operation w/in the uni, perhaps the only western institutions other than the catholic church and british monarchy that has survived in much the same form from the middle ages, doing intellectual battle at conference in expensive hotel, and trying to pretend all this somehow furthers revolution.. at the very least, one would imagine being an openly anarchist prof would mean challenging the way unis are run – and i don’t mean by demanding an anarchist studies dept either – and that, of course, is going to get one in far more trouble than anything one could ever write..
obviously, everything i’ve said has been something of a caricature (there have been wildly sectarian anarchist groups, and plenty of libertarian, practice oriented marxists including, arguably, myself).. still even so stated, this does suggest a great deal of potential complementarity between the two.. .. it’s not just that anarchism does not tend to have much use for high theory.. it’s that it is primarily concerned w forms of practice..
this does not mean anarchist theory is impossible..
this doesn’t mean anarchists have to be against theory.. after all, anarchism is itself an idea.. even if a very old one.. it is also a project.. which sets out to begin crating the institution s of a new society ‘w/in the shell of the old’.. to expose, subvert, and undermine structures of domination .. but always, while doing so, proceeding in *a democratic fashion, a manner which itself demonstrates those structures are unnecessary
i’d say *a democratic fashion is part of the old/unnecessary/cancerous structure/s .. we need to let go of
clearly any such project has need of the tools of intellectual analysis an dunserstnading
yeah.. i think that’s part of the cancer we need to let go of – intellect ness et al.. what we need are tools to augment our interconnectedness.. not to augment human intellect neither/nor to augment our collective intelligence
much better (than needing high theory) something more in the spirt of anarchist decision making processes, employed in anything from tiny affinity groups to gigantic spokescouncils of 1000s of people
imagine if we just focused on listening to the itch-in-8b-souls.. first thing.. everyday.. and used that data to augment our interconnectedness.. we might just get to a more antifragile, healthy, thriving world.. the ecosystem we keep longing for..
most anarchist groups operate by a consensus process which has been developed, in many ways, to be the *exact opposite of the high handed, divisive, sectarian style so popular amongst other radical groups..
public consensus always oppresses someone(s)
and now that we have the means to live beyond ie: consensus, decision making et al.. not the *opposite.. but rather.. same song.. just seemingly nicer.. et al
applied to theory, this would mean accepting the need for a diversity of high theoretical perspective,s united only by certain shared commitments and understandings.. in consensus process, everyone agrees from the start on certain broad principles of unity and purposes for being for the group; but beyond that they also accept as a matter of course that no one is ever going to convert another person completely to their pov, and probably shouldn’t try’ and that therefore discussion should focus on concrete questions of action, and *coming up w a plan that everyone can live w and no one feels is in fundamental violation of their principles
then let go of *planning.. no need..
today we can have diversity to infinity – if we just let go enough.. let our overarching commitment/understanding/consensus (if you must) be on what our infra is (complex simplicity) org’d around ie: maté basic needs.. via 2 conversations
against policy (a tiny manifesto):
the notion of ‘policy’ presumes a state or governing apparatus which imposes its will on others. ‘policy’ is the negation of politics; policy is by defn something concocted by some form of elite, which presumes it knows better than others how their affairs are to be conducted..
so.. the question ecomes: what sort of social theory would actually be of interest to those who are trying to help bring about a world in which people are free to govern their own affairs?
this is what this pamphlet is mainly about.. for starters, i would say any such theory would have to begin w some initial assumptions.. not many.. probably just two.. 1\ another world is possible.. that institutions like the state, capitalism, racism, and male dominance are not inevitable.. that it would d be possible to have a world in which these things would not exist, and that we’d all be better off as a result..
act of faith.. it might turn out such a world is not possible.. but one could also make the argument that it’s this very unavailability of absolute knowledge which makes a commitment to optimism a moral imperative: since one cannot know a radically better world is not possible, are we not betraying everyone by insisting on continuing to justify, and reproduce, the mess we have today..
this is ridiculous ness
against anti utopianism (another tiny manifesto):
here have to deal w inevitable objection: that utopianism has lead to unmitigated horror.. ie: stalinists, maoists,.. carved society into impossible shapes, killing millions in the process..
this argument belies a fundamental misconception: that imagining better worlds was itself the problem.. stalinists and their ilk did not kill because they dreamed great dreams.. actually .. stalinists were famous for being rather short on imagination.. but because they mistook their dreams for scientific certainties.. this led them to feel they had a right to impose their visions thru a machinery of violence..
anarchists are proposing nothing of the sort, on either count.. they presume no inevitable course of history and one can never further the course of freedom by creating new forms of coercion.. in fact all forms of systemic violence are (among other things) assaults on the role of the imaginations as a political principle, and the only way to begin to think about eliminating systematic violence is by recognizing this..
so that’s the first proposition
2/ any anarchist social theory would have to reject self consciously any trace of vanguardism (group of people leading the way)..the role of intellectuals is most definitely not to form an elite that can arrive at the correct strategic analyses and then lead the masses to follow
but if not that ..what? this is one reason i’m calling this essay ‘fragments of an anarchist anthropology’ because this is one area where i think anthropology is particularly well positioned to help..
and not only because most actually existing self governing communities, and actually existing non market economies in the world have been investigated by anthropologists rather than socialists or historians.. it is also because the practice of ethnography provides at least something of a model, if a very rough, incipient model, of how nonvanguardist revolutionary intellectual practice might work..
when one carries out an ethnography, one observes that people do, he then tries to teach out the hidden symbols, moral, or pragmatic logics that underly the actions..
but.. (black science of people/whales law) we really have no idea
one tried to get at the way people’s habits and actions makes sense in ways that they are not themselves completely aware of ..
one obvious role for a radical intellectual is to do precisely that: to look at those who are creating viable alts, try to figure out what might be the larger implications of what they are (already) doing, and then offer those ideas back, not as prescriptions, but as contributions, possibilities – as gifts..
or.. as infra
2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b free people
this is more/less what i was trying to do a few paragraphs ago when i suggested that social theory could refashion itself in the manner of direct democratic process.. and as that ie makes clear, such a project would actually have to have two aspects: one ethnographic, one utopian, suspended in a constant dialogue
as long as the ethnographic part has the people/whales .. out of sea world
none of this has much to do w what anthropology .. even radical anthropology, has actually been like over the last 100 yrs or so.. still, there has been a strange affinity, over the years, between anthropology and anarchism which is in itself significant..
graves, brown, mauss, sorel
peter kropotkin, arctic explorer and naturalist, who had thrown social darwinism into a tumult from which it still has never quite recovered by documenting how the most successful species tend to be those which cooperate the most effectively.. )sociobiology for instance was basically an attempt to come up w an answer to kropotkin)
marcel mauss.. inventor of french anthropology.. nephew of emile durkheim.. founder of french sociology.. mauss was a revolutionary socialist.. managed a consumer coop in paris.. trying to create links between coops in order to build an alt, anti cpaitalist, econ
his essay on the gift – 1925 in which he argued that the origin of all contracts lies in communism.. an unconditional commitment to another’s needs.. and that despite endless econ text books to the contrary, there has never been an econ based on barter: that actually existing societies which do not employ money have instead been gift econs in which the distinctions we now make between interest and altruism, person and property, freedom and obligation, simply did not exist..
mauss believe socialism could never be built by state fiat but only gradually, from below, that it was possible to begin building a new society based on mutual aid and self org ‘in the shell of the old’.. he felt that existing popular practice provided the basis both for a mora critique of capitalism and possible glimpses of what the future society would be like..
all these are classic anarchist positions.. still .. he did not consider himself an anarchist.. in fact he never had anything good to say about them.. this was it appears, because he identified anarchism mainly w georges sorel.. sorel agued that since the masses were not fundamentally good or rational, it was foolish to make one’s primary appeal to them thru reasoned arguments.. politics is the art of inspiring others w great myths.. one would need a revolutionary elite capable of keeping the myth alive.. by their willingness to engage in symbolic acts of violence..
an elite which.. like the marxist vanguard party (often somewhat less symbolic in its violence).. mauss described as a kind of perpetual conspiracy, a modern version of the secret political mens’ societies of the ancient world..
in other words.. mausss saw sorel, and hence anarchism, as introducing an element of the irrational, of violence, and of vanguardism..
by end of his life sorel had become increasingly sympathetic w fascism.. in this he followed the same trajectory as mussolini (another youthful dabbler w anarcho syndicalism) and who, mauss believe, too these same durkeimian/sorelian/leninist ideas to their ultimate conclusions.. by the end of his life, mauss became convince even hitler’s great ritual pageants, torch lit parades w their changes of ‘seig heil’ were really inspired by accounts he and his uncle had written about totemic rituals of australian aborigines..
‘when we were describing how ritual can create social solidarity, of submerging the individual in the mass’ he complained ‘it never occurred to us that anyone would apply such techniques in the modern day’ (in fact, mauss was mistaken. modern research has shown nuremberg rallies were actually inspired by harvard pep rallies.)
the outbreak of war destroyed mauss.. when nazis took paris.. he refused to flee.. but sate in his office very day w a pistol waiting for the gestapo to arrive..
the anarchist anthropology that almost already does exist
in the end though, marcel mauss has probably had more influence on anarchists that all the other cones combined.. this is because he was interest in alt moralities.. which opened the way to thinking that societies w/o states and markets were the way they were because they actively wished to live that way.. which in our terms means, because they were anarchists.. insofar as fragments of an anarchist anthropology do, already, exist, they largely derive from him
before mauss, the universal assumption had been that economies w/o money or markets had operated by means of ‘barter’ (acquire useful goods/services at the least cost to selves, get rich if possible).. they just hadn’t yet developed very sophisticated way s of going about it.. mauss demo’d that in fact, such economies were really ‘gift econs’.. *they were not based on calculation , but on a refusal to calculate.. they were rooted in an ethical system which consciously rejected most of what we would consider the basic principles of econ..
by these lights these were all, in a very real sense, anarchist societies.. they were founded on an explicit rejection of the logic of the sate and of the market
yeah.. i don’t think they were really rejecting the premise of state/market.. just the appearance of that premise
most amazonians don’t want to give others the power to threaten them w physical injury if they don’t do as they are told. maybe we should better be asking what it says about ourselves that we feel this attitude needs any sort of explanation..
toward a theory of imaginary counterpower
this is what i mean by an alt ethics, then. anarchistic societies are no more unaware of human capacities for greed or vainglory than modern americans are unaware of human capacities for envy, gluttony, or sloth; they would just find them equally unappealing as the basis for their civilization.. in fact they see these phenom as moral dangers so dire they end up organizing much of their social life around containing them..
it suggests that counterpower, at least in the most elementary sense, actually exists where the states and markets are not even present;
yeah that.. has to be not at all.. ie: 10-day-care-center\ness
that in such cases, rather than being embodied in popular institutions which pose themselves against the power of lords, or kings, or plutocrats, they are embodied in institutions which ensure such types of person never come about
what it is ‘counter’ to then, is a potential, a latent aspect, or dialectical possiblity if you prefer, w/in the society itself
this at least would help explain an otherwise peculiar fact; the way in which it is often particularly the egalitarian societies which are torn by terrible inner tensions, or at least, extreme forms of symbolic violence
yeah.. it’s because we’re claiming them to be the free est.. when they are not.. so.. making them lie/pretend even more (subtler/deeper et al).. like suicide rates going up in areas of affluence.. people don’t understand how they can be so depressed when things around them are so nice/good.. so they assume it’s just them.. and it won’t go away
and we’re missing it
of course, all societies are to some degree at war w themselves
rather .. all sea worlds.. we have no idea what legit free people are like..
there are always clashes between interest, factions, classes and the like; also social systems are always based on the pursuit of diff forms of value which pull people in diff directions
yeah.. we’ve got that all backwards.. it’s/life’s not about pulling us together.. but letting go enough for us to dance..
what we need is to augment our natural interconnectedness – not try to force us together..
we keep creating tragedy of the non common.. calling it egalitarian/commoning.. whatever.. and referring to that as obvious/factual.. ie: ‘of course’.. ‘there are always’..
in egalitarian societies which tend to place an enormous emphasis on creating and maintaining *communal consensus
this often appears to spark a kind of equally elaborate reaction formation, a spectral nightworld inhabited by monster, witches or other creatures of horror.. and it’s the most peaceful societies which are also the most haunted, in the imaginative construction of the cosmos, by constant specter of perennial war.. the invisible worlds surrounding them are literally battlegrounds.. *it’s as if the endless labor of achieving consensus masks a constant inner violence..t
*that’s it.. that’s spot on man.. and we’re missing it.. ie: if we’re trying to do (or thinking we can/must do) consensus.. we’re masking/hiding a deep violence..
or, it might perhaps be better to say, is in fact the process by which that inner violence is measured and contained
and it is precisely this, and the resulting tangle of moral contradiction, which is the prime font of social creativity..
yeah.. i don’t buy that.. (if i’m understanding it right).. i think we think that because we’ve only been observing whales in sea world
we have no idea what legit creativity is.. what legit social ness is..
it’s not these conflicting principles and contradictory impulses themselves which are the ultimate political reality, then; it’s the regulatory process which mediates them
rather.. it’s thinking we need regulation and mediation.. thinking that we need any form of people telling other people what to do
legit free.. 100% and 100% of us free.. or it won’t work
case 1: piaroa – egalitarian.. importance of ensuring no one is ever at another person’s orders.. famous for peaceableness.. murder is unheard of
case 2: tiv – another notoriously egalitarian society.. domestic life quite hierarchical.. male have many wives et al
case 3: highland madagascar – considered wrong for adults to be giving one another orders.. making wage labor morally suspect.. society remarkable peaceable.. yet once again.. surrounded by invisible warfare.. witches et al
note how in each case there’s a striking contrast between the cosmological content, which is nothing if not tumultuous, and social process, which is all about mediation, arriving at a consensus..
see.. to me that’s people telling others what to do.. pressuring people into things.. so not anarchist..
structural inequalities invariably exist, and as a result i think it is fair to say these anarchies are not only imperfect, they contain w them the seeds of their own destruction..
yeah.. so.. not ie’s of anarchism, commoning, .. et al.. in history.. yet
still i think it would be a mistake to see the invisible violence and terror as simply a working out of the ‘internal contradictions ‘ created by those forms of inequality.. one could perhaps make the case that most real, tangible violence is.. at least it is a somewhat notorious thing that, in societies where the only notable ineq’s are based in gender, the only murders one is likely to observe are men killing each other over women.. similarly, it does seem to be the case, generally speaking that the more pronounced the differences between male/female roles in a society, the more physically violent it tends to be.. but this hardly means that if all ineq’s vanished, then everything, even the imagination, would become placid and untroubled..
to some degree, i suspect all this turbulence stems from the very nature of the human condition.. there would appear to be no society which does not see human life as fundamentally a problem.. however much they might differ on what they deem the problem to be, at the very least, the existence of work sex, and reproduction are seen as fraught with all sorts of quandaries; human desires are always fickle; and then there’s the fact that we’re all going to die.. so there’s a lot to be troubled by..
human desires fickle because none of us know what we truly desire.. we need a means to undo our hierarchical listening .. so we can grok that
none of these dilemmas are going to vanish if we eliminate structural ineq’s (much thought i think this would radically improve things in just about every other way).. indeed, the fantasy that it might, that the human condition, desire, mortality, can all be somehow resolved seems to be an esp dangerous one, an image of utopia which always seems to lurk somewhere behind the pretentions of power and the state.. instead, as i’ve suggested, the spectral violence seems to emerge from the very tensions inherent int he project of maintaining an egalitarian society
if we let go enough .. for equity to be: everyone getting a go everyday.. dilemmas would vanish.. w/o need for violence to maintain..
2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b free people
in the end, all relations of command (military service, wage labor, forced labor) came to be fused together in people’s minds as variation on slavery; the very institutions which had previously been seen as beyond challenge were now the defn of illegitimacy, and this, esp among those who had the leas access to higher ed and french enlightenment ideas.. being ‘malagasy’ came to be defined as rejecting such foreign ways..
it’s precisely from these invisible spaces – invisible, most of all, to power, whence the potential for insurrection, and the extraordinary social creativity that seems to emerge out of nowhere in revolutionary moments, actually comes..
to sum up:
1\ counterpower is first and foremost rooted in the imagination.. it emerges from the fact that all social systems are a tangle of contradictions, always to some degree at war w themselves
yeah.. i don’t think that’s true (that we have tangles and wars.. at least not tangles that lead to wars) if we are all legit free..
or, more preciesely , it is rooted in teh relation betwen the practial imagiantion required to mainatin a society based on consnsus (as any society not based on violence mush, ultimatley be)
the constant work of imaginative id w others that makes understanding possible – and the spectral violence which appears to be its constant, perhaps inevitable corollary
appears to be its constant.. only because we’ve only been looking at whales in sea world
2\ in egalitarian socieites, counterpower might be said to be the predominant forom of social power.. ti satnds guard over what are seen as certain frigtening possibilities w/in th esociety itself: notably aginst the emergence of sytematic forms ofpolitical or economic domonance..
2a\ institutionally, counterpower takes the form of what we would call institutions of direct democracy, consensus and mediation; that is, ways of publicly negotiating and controlling that inevitable internal tumult and transforming it into those social states (or if you like, forms of value) that *society sees as the most desirable: conviviality, unanimity, fertility, prosperity, beauty, however it may be framed
that *whales in sea world see as most desirable.. we have no idea what legit free people see as desirable.. at least we’ve yet to see it played out
3\ in highly unequal societies, imaginative counterpower often defines itself against certain aspects of dominance that are seen as particularly obnoxious and can become an attempt to eliminate them from social relations completely. when it does,.. it becomes revolutionary
3a\ institutionally, as an imaginative well, it is responsible for the creation of new social forms and the revalorization of transformation of old ones.. and also
4\ in moments of radical transformation – revolutions in the old fashioned sense – this is precisely what allows for the notorious popular ability to innovate entirely new politics, economic, and social forms.. hence, it is the root of what antonio negri has called ‘constituent power’ .. the power to create constitutions
yeah.. i don’t see legit freepeople seeing the need for that..
most modern constitutional orders see themselves as having been created by rebellions: the american revolution, the french revolution, and so on.. this has, of course, not always been the case.. but this leads to a very important question, because any really politically engaged anthropology will have to start by seriously confronting the question of what, if anything, really divides what we like to call the ‘modern’ world from the rest of human history, to which folks like the piaroa, tiv, or malagasy are normally relegated. this is as one might imagine a pretty vexed question but i am afraid it can’t be avoided, since otherwise, many readers might not be convinced there’s any reason to have an anarchist anthropology to begin with
blowing up walls
as i remarked, an anarchist anthropology doesn’t really exists.. there are only fragments.. in first part of this essay.. i tried to gather some of them and look for common themes; in this part i want to go further, and imagine a body of social theory that might exist at some time in the future
anarchist: it’s happened before.. gift econ, consensus, direct democracy etc. skeptic: but only isolated.. not whole societies.. a: people have tried s: yeah and all got killed
before being able to do so i need to address the usual objection to any project of this nature: that the study of actually-existing anarchist societies is simply irrelevant to the modern world. after all.. aren’t we just talking about a bunch of primitives..
s: can you name me a single viable ie of a society which has existed w/o a govt a: have been 1000s.. bororo, baining, onondaga, wintu, ema, tallensi, vezo s: but those are all primitives.. i’m talking about anarchism in a modern, tech society
the dice are loaded.. you can’t win.. because when skeptic says ‘society’ he means ‘state’ even ‘nation state’.. since no one is going to produce an ie of an anarchist state – that would be contradiction in terms – what we’re really being asked for i san ie of a modern nation-state w the govt somehow plucked away: a situation in which the govt of canada, to take random ie, has been overthrown, or for some reason abolished itself, and no new one has taken its place but instead all former canadian citizens begin to org themselves into libertarian collectives.. obviously this would never be *allowed to happen.. in past.. whenever looked like it might.. politicians running pretty much every state in the vicinity have been willing to put their differences on hold till those trying to bring such a situation about had been rounded up and shot..
*from david is funny – at very end where he talks about adding to first amendment.. that we don’t need permission
there is a way out, which is to accept that anarchist forms of org would not look anything like a state..t. that they would involve an endless variety of communities, associations, networks, projects, on every conceivable scale, overlapping and intersecting in any way we could imagine, and possibly many that we can’t.. some would quite local, others global. perhaps all they would have in common is that none would involve anyone showing up w weapons and telling everyone else to shut up and do what they were told..
moxie on democracy – yay
and that, since anarchists are not actually trying to seize power a/in any national territory, the process of one system replacing the other will not take the form of some sudden revolutionary cataclysm.. but will necessarily be gradual, the creation of alt forms of org on a world scale, new forms of communication, new, less alienated ways of organizing life, which will, eventually, make currently existing forms of power seem stupid and beside the point.. t
irrelevant s et al – but no need to be gradual.. if it’s deep enough to resonate w the itch in 8b souls today..
that in turn would mean that there are endless ie’s of viable anarchism: pretty much any form of org would count as one, so long as it was not imposed by some higher authority,
unfortunately.. this kind of argument does not seem to satisfy most skeptics. they want ‘societies’.. so one is reduced to scouring the historical and ethnographic record for entities that look like a nation state (*one people, speaking a common language, living w/in a bounded territory, acknowledging a common set of legal principles).. but which lack a state apparatus (which one can define as: a group of people who claim that, at least when they are around an in their official capacity, they are the only ones w the right to act violently).. these, too, one can find, if one is willing to look at relatively small communities far away in time or space.. but then one is told they don’t count for just this reason
one people: nationality: human – (all of us)
common language: idiosyncratic jargon – (whatever you want)
bounded territory: earth
sans structural violence et al
so back to original problem.. there is assumed to be an absolute rupture between the world we live in and the world inhabited by anyone who might e characterized as ‘primitive”.. ‘tribal’.. or even as ‘peasants’.. anthropologists are not to blame here: we have been trying for decades now to convince the public that there’s no such thing as a ‘primitive’ that ‘simple societies’ are not really all that simple, that no one ever existed in timeless isolation, that it makes no sense to speak of some social systems as more or less evolved; but so far, we’ve made very little headway..
it is impossible to convince the average american that a bunch of amazonians could possibly have anything to teach them – other than, conceivably, that we should all abandon modern civilization and go live in amazonia – and this because they are assumed to live in an absolutely different world..which is, oddly enough .. again because of the way we are used to thinking about revolutions..
a fairly brief manifest concerning the concept of revolution:
the term ‘revolution’ has been so relentlessly cheapened in common usage that it can mean almost anything.. we have revolutions every week now.. banking/cybernetic/medical.. an internet revolution.. every time someone invents some cleaver new piece of software
this kind of rhetoric is only possible because the common place defn of revolution has always implied something in the nature of a paradigm shift: a clear break, a fundamental rupture in the nature of social reality after which everything works differently and previous categories no longer apply..
(on revolutions not happening overnight like we think.. when they do it’s more scientific revolution .. where we realize.. world is round.. and things change all at once) the phrase (what will ‘blank’ be like after the revolution) is a useful mental hinge; even if we also recognized that in reality, unless we are willing to massacre 1000s of people (and probably even then) .. the revolution will almost certainly not be quite such a clean break as such pa phrase implies
i think today.. we can leap to a nother way to live – over night – if we let go enough to try ie: a mech to listen to all the voices first thing everyday
what will it be, then? i have already made soem suggestionsa revoltuion on a world scale will take a very long time
yeah i don’t think so today.. at least i don’t think it has to.. and.. if a legit revolution would happen.. it would have to happen ie: over night.. as a leap.. otherwise.. the not in sync ness.. will keep on keeping us from seeing/being it
but it is also possible to recognize that it is already starting to happen. the easiest way to get our minds around it is to stop thinking about revolution as a thing – ‘the’ revolution, the great cataclysmic break – and instead as ‘what is revolutionary action?’
we could then suggest: revolution action is any collective action which rejects, and therefore confronts, some form of power of domination and in doing so, reconstitutes social relations – even w/in the collectivity – in that light.. revolutionary action does not necessarily have to aim to topple govts.. attempts to create autonomous communities in the face of power.. would by defn be revolutionary acts and history shows us that the continual accumulation of such acts can change (almost) everything
i’m hardly first to have made an argument like this.. some such vision follows almost necessarily once one is no longer thinking in terms of the framework of the state and seizure of state power..
yeah.. i don’t know if anybody is doing that.. we need to let go of any form of measuring/accounting.. and again.. i don’t think/see anybody doing that.. we keep holding onto a little piece.. and so.. just perpetuating ie: tragedy of the non common ness
what i want to emphasize here is what this means for how we look at history
a thought experiment, or, blowing up that walls
what if.. we have never been modern.. what if there never was any fundamental break and therefore we are not living in a fundamentally diff moral, social, or political universe than the piaroa or tiv or rural malagasy?
there are a million diff ways to define ‘modernity’.. according to some it mainly has to do w science and tech.. for others.. a matter of individualism.. others, capitalism, or bureaucratic rationality, or alienation, or an idea of freedom of one sort or another.. however they define it.. almost everyone agrees that at somewhere in the 16th or 17th or 18th centuries.. a great transformation occurred.. in western europe and its settler colonies.. and that because of it we became ‘modern’.. a fundamentally diff sort of creature than anything that had come before..
but if we kicked this whole apparatus away.. blew up the wall.. what ifwe accepted that the people who columbus or vasco da gama ‘discovered’ .. were just us?
i’m not arguing no big changes.. or that cultural differences are unimportant.. by blowing up walls i mean most of all, blowing up the arrogant, unreflecting assumptions which tell us we have nothing in common w 98% of people who ever lived.. so we don’t really have to think about them.. since after all.. if you assume the fundamental break. the only theoretical question you can ask is some variant on ‘what makes us so special’ once we get rid of those assumptions, decide to at least entertain the notion we aren’t quite to special .. we can also begin to think about what really has changed and what hasn’t
i do think we’re all the same.. but the commonality now is that none of us are legit ourselves.. none are living our fittingness.. so in that sense.. continually/obsessively looking back at history is a time suck.. a cancerous time suck.. that keeps us spinning our wheels in a broken feedback loop
(on questioning why the west (western europe) took over.. suggesting it was coincidence) it is at root a moral argument, an attack on western arrogance..as such it is extremely important.. (then on role of money and capitalism)
let us imagine, then, that the west, however defined, was nothing special, and further ,that there has been no on fundamental break in human history.. no one can deny massive quantitative changes: energy consumed, books read,.. but lest’ imagine that .. no change in quality: we are not living in a fundamentally diff sort of society than has ever existed before..
i go with that.. always been whales in sea world
we are not living in a fundamentally diff sort of time.. existence of factories/micicroships do not mean political or soaicl possibilties hav echangein basic nature.. or to be more precise, the west mgiht have intor’d some new possibitlies, but it hasn’t canceled any of the old ones out
so.. to me.. hasn’t really intro’d new ones.. quality changing new ones.. otherwise the old ones would just disappear.. become irrelevant s
but.. we do have the potential for that.. if we just ‘really think deep enough to figure something legit diff out’.. ie: short findings restate et al
the first thing one discovers when on tries to think this way is that it is extremely difficult to do so.. one has to cut past the endless host of intellectual tricks/gimmicks that create the wall of distance around ‘modern’ societies..t
begs a means to undo our hierarchical listening
what would it take to knock down these walls?
i’d say a lot.. too many people have too much invested in maintiaing them.. this includes anarchists, incidentally
so..what we need is a focus/infra that is based on the essence of being human.. so that we all already resonate with it.. and because of our (all of our) current state.. we all are craving to refill the holes of it..
graeber rethink law et al
on anarchists who take anthropology most seriously (in us) are primitivists.. believing huntergathering anarchist societies was a time when alienation and ineq did not exist (marshall sahlins’ the original affluent society).. and that if we abandon ‘civilization’.. get real liberation
yeah.. i don’t think hunter gathering anarchists (or anyone) .. has existed to date.. w/o ie: alienation and ineq.. for one (huge) reason.. it takes all of us.. pockets won’t work/dance
then talks of findings – of societies skipping back and forth between diff evoltuionary states
i do not think we’re losing much if we admit that human never really lived in the garden of eden..
not successfully – ie: garden-enough ness
knocking walls down can allow us to see this history as a resource to us in much more interesting ways.. because it works both ways.. not only do we still have kinship.. other societies have social movements and revolutions
is any of this relevant to contemp concerns? very much so, it seems to me. autonomist (self gov) thinkers in italy have, over last couple decades, developed a theory of what they call revolutionary ‘exodus’.. proposes that most effective way of opposing capitalism and liberal state is not thru direct confrontation but by means of what paolo virno has called ‘engaged withdrawal’.. mass defection by those wishing to create new forms of community
exodus ness et al
one need only glance at the historical record to confirm that most *successful forms of popular resistance have taken precisely this form.. rather than head on (and slaughtered) slipping away from grasp..
what we need (and today can facil) is a global (all of us) leap (at once).. and to something.. rather than from something
not in any history to date
yann moulier boutang has argued that history of capitalism has been a series of attempts to solve problem of worker mobility.. if system ever came close to own fantasy version of itself.. in which workers were free to hire/quit.. entire system would collapse.. it’s for precisely this reason that the one most consistent demand put forward by the radical elements in the globalization movement.. has always been global freedom of movement ‘real globalization’.. the destruction of borders, a general tearing down of walls
the merina rice farmers described in the last section understand what many would be revolutionaries do not: that there are time when the stupidest thing one could possibly do is raise a redo black flag and issue defiant declarations. sometimes the sensible thing is just to pretend nothing has changed, allow official state reps to keep their dignity, even show u pat their offices and fill out a form now and then, but otherwise, ignore them
tenets of a non existent science
areas of theory an anarchist anthropology might wish to explore
1\ a theory of the state – dual character.. 1\ institutionalized raiding/extortion and 2\ utopian projects.. first reflects way states are actually experienced.. second .. how they appear in written record.. for most part.. states were ideas.. ways of imagining social order.. models of control..
on having kings/nobles.. w/o having state.. theories of ‘sovereignty’.. sovereign’s person a power replaced by a fictive person called ‘the people” allowing the bureaucracy to take over almost entirely..
2\ a theory of political entities that are not states – chiefdoms? just don’t have intellectual tools to talk about such things..
3\ yet another theory of capitalism – at very least need a proper theory of history of wage labor.. after all, it is in performing wage labor, not in buying an selling, that most humans now wast away most of their waking hours and it is that which makes them miserable
bullshit jobs – dg et al
earliest wage labor contracts we have on record appear to be really about the rental of slaves.. ..we could easily.. argue that modern capitalism is really just a newer version of slavery.. selling/renting us out
4\ power/ignorance, or power/stupidity – people who like to think of selves as poltiical radical even though all they do is write essays likely to be read by a few dozen.. in an institutional environ..
the threat of that man w the stick permeates our world at every moment; most of us have give up even thinking of crossing the innumerable lines/barriers he creates,
anarchists.. have always delighted in reminding us of him (man w stick).. opens way to a theory of relation of power not w knowledge but w ignorance/stupidity.. because violence, particularly structural violence, where a power is on one side, creates ignorance..
if you have the power to hit people over the head whenever you want, you don’t have to trouble yourself too much figuring out what they think is going on , and therefore, generally speaking, you don’t.. hence the sure fire way to simplify social arrangements, to ignore the incredibly complex play of perspectives, passions, insights, desires, and mutual understandings that human life is really made of, is to make a rule and threaten to attack anyone who breaks it.. this is why violence has always been the favored recourse of the stupid: it is the one form of stupidity to which it is almost impossible to come up w an intelligent response.. it is also of course the basis of the state..
contrary to popular belief, bureaucracies do not create stpidity. they are ways of managin situation s that are alraey din herently stopid becae they are ultimately, based on the arbitrariness of force..
why is it that the folks on the bottom (victims of structural violence) are always imagining what it must be like for the folks on top (the beneficiaries of structural violence) but it almost never occurs to the folks on top; to wonder what it might be like to be on the bottom.. human beings being the sympathetic creatures that they are this tends to become one of the main bastions of any system of ineq.. the downtrodden actually care about their oppressors at least, far more than their oppressors care about them.. – but this seems itself to be an effect of structural violence
5\ an ecology of voluntary associations – what kinds exist.. in what environs do they thrive.. where di the bizarre notionso fth e’corp’ come from anyway
6\ a theory of political happiness – rather than just a theory of why most contemp people never experience it. that would be easy
7\ hierarchy – how structures of hierarchy, by their own logic, necessarily create their own counterimage or negation..
8 \ suffering and pleasure: on the privatization of desire – rather than grim.. create temp autonomous zones.. where one ca live as if one is already free.. could start w a kind of sociology of micro utopias.. counter to forms of alienation.. start to see they’re all around us.. that anarchism is already and has always been one of min bases for human interaction.. we self org and engage in mutual aid all the time.. we always have.. we also engage in artistic creativity.. which i think if examined would reveal that many of the least alienated forms of experience do usually involve an element of what a marxist would call fetishization (irrational/excessive commitment/obsessive to something)
9\ one or several theories of alienation – this is the ultimate prize: what, precisely, are the possible dimensions of non alienated experience.. how might its modalities be catalogued or considered?
any anarchist anthropology worth its salt would have to pay particular attention to this question because this is precisely what all those punks, hippies, and activists of every stripe most look to anthropology to learn.. it’s the anthropologists, so terrified of being accused of romanticizing the societies they study that they refuse to even suggest there might be an answer, who leave them no recourse but to fall into the arms of the real romanticizers..
there is of course no single anarchist program – nor could there really be – but it might be helpful to end by giving he reader some idea about current directions of thought and organizing
1\ globalization and the elimination of north-south inequalities
the ‘anti globalization movement’ is increasingly anarchist in inspiration.. the effacement of nation states will mean the elimination of national borders.. this is genuine globalization.. anything else is just a sham..
nationality: human et al
siddiqi border law et al
but for the interim, there are all sorts of concrete suggestions on how the situation can be improved right now.. w/o falling back on statist, protectionist, approaches..
(then gives one ie of one he worked up for invite to engage in radio debate w rep from wef) – task went to another activist but i did get far enough to prep a 3 pt program that i think would have taken care of the problem (ways to alleviate global poverty) nicely: the point is that despite endless rhetoric about ‘complex, subtle, intractable issues’.. (justifying decades of expensive research by rich and their well paid flunkies). the anarchist program would probably have resolved most of them in 5-6 yrs.. but, you will say, these demands are entirely unrealistic.. true enough.. but why are they unrealistic? mainly, because those rich guys meeting in the waldorf would never stand for any of it. this is why we say they are themselves the problem
2\ the struggle against work
(on canceling international debt) the moment the average resident of tanzania or laos was no longer forbidden to relocate to minneapolis or rotterdam, the govt of every rich and powerful country in the world would certainly decide nothing was more important than finding a way to make sure people in tanzania and laos preferred to stay there.. do you really think they couldn’t come up w something?
ha.. yeah good
the struggle against work has always been central to anarchist organizing.. by this i mean, not the struggle for better worker conditions or higher wages, but the struggle to eliminate work, as a relation of domination, entirely..
graeber job\less law et al
earn a living ness et al
hence the iww slogan ‘against he wage system’.. this is a long term goal of course.. in the shorter term, what can’t be eliminated can at least be reduced.. shorter work week et al
what jobs are really necessary
bullshit jobs – dg et al
minor note: admittedly, all of this presumes the total reorg of work, a kind of ‘after the revolution’ scenario which i’ve argued is a necessary tool to even begin to think about human possibilities.. even if revolution will probably never take such an apocalyptic form
yeah.. i think that’s where we start.. in the short term.. living as if already free.. from the supposed to’s of school/work et al
this of course brings up the ‘who will do the dirty jobs’ question.. one which always get thrown at anarchists or other utopians.. peter kropotkin long ago pointed out the fallacy of the argument.. there’s no particular reason dirty jobs have to exist.. if one divided up the unpleasant tasks equally, that would mean all the worlds’ top scientists and engineers would have to do them too; one could expect the creation of self-cleaning kitchens and coal-mining robots almost immediately..
from david is funny:
2:06 – kropotkin: only reason don’t have techs (to do dirty jobs) is that rich people don’t really need them
all of this is something of an aside though because what i really want to do in this final section is focus on:
(on ie’s of ‘this is what democracy looks like’ – ‘anarchist-inspired organizing’ – during protests et al).. first cycle of the new global uprising – what the press still insists on referring to, increasingly ridiculously, as ‘the anti globalization movement’.. beginning w zapatistas’ rejection of idea of seizing power and their attempt instead to create a model of democratic self org.. rejecting very idea that one could find a solution by replacing one set of politicians w another.. the slogan of the argentine movement was from the start, que se vayan todas – get rid of the lot of them
moxie on democracy – yay
instead of a new govt they created a vast network of alt institutions.. starting w popular assemblies to govern each urban neighborhood.. hundreds of occupied worker managed factories.. a complex system of ‘barter’ and newfangled alt currency system to keep them in operation.. in short, an endless variation on the theme of direct democracy
i think there’s so much wrong with all that.. so much poison in all that democracy ness.. i think in holding onto all that ie: managed factories, barter, currency, et al has kept us from legit change..
saying you’re not just replacing politicians is spot on.. but goes for ideas as well.. ie: why barter/currency.. we need to let go of any form of measuring/accounting.. not just replace them with nicer (more self reliant) sounding ideologies/practices
all this happened completely below the radar screen of the corp media, which also missed the point of the great mobilizations.. the org of these actions was meant to be a living illustration of what a truly democratic world might be like, from the festive puppets to the careful org of affinity groups and spokecouncils.. all operating w/o a leadership structure.. always based on principle of consensus-based direct democracy.. it was the kind of org which most people would have, had they simply heard it proposed, written off as a pipe dream..
yeah.. i see consensus et al as just replacing rep ness et al.. same song ness
and.. to the careful org of affinity groups.. we can do so much better.. ie: imagine if we just focused on listening to the itch in 8b souls.. first thing.. everyday.. and used that data to connect/coord us..
but *it worked and so effectively the police depts of city after city were completely flummoxed w how to deal w them.. of course, this also had something to do w unprecedented tactics (100s of activist in fairy suits tickling police w feather dusters, or padded so well .. impervious to police batons).. which completely confused traditional categories of voilence and nonviolence
so great.. but that’s not *it working (toward global change we all crave)
giant puppet ness
when protesters in seattle changed ‘this is what democracy looks like’.. they meant to be taken literally.. confronted in a way which demo’d why the kind of social relations on which it is based were unnecessary..
yeah.. not when they’re still using some of them.. again not knocking the great protests/activism.. just saying.. not diff enough.. ie: we need to now look like democracy.. we need completely diff social relations
this is why all the condescending remarks about the movement being dominated by a bunch of dumb kids w no coherent ideology completely missed the mark. the diversity was a function of the decentralized form of org.. and this org was the movement’s ideology
again.. great.. but not decentralized/diff/diverse enough
the key term in the new movement is ‘process’ by which is meant, decision making process
that key term is the key part we need to let go of.. only way we’ll have legit and ongoing diff/diverse/decentralized ‘social relations’
(then goes into ‘good consensus process’) one should not even try to convert others to one’s overall pov.. the point of consensus process is to allow a group to decide on a common course of action
maybe we let go of ‘common courses of action’.. maybe those aren’t natural..
public consensus always oppresses someone(s)
instead of voting proposal up and down, then, proposals are worked and reworked, scotched or reinvented, until one ends up w something everyone can live with..
? why.. why can’t we all live w diff things? (today we can actually facil/welcome/dance-with that chaos)
and again – public consensus always oppresses someone(s)
when it comes to the final state, actually ‘finding consensus’ there are two levels of possible objection: one can ‘stand aside’ which is to say ‘i don’t like this and won’t participate but wouldn’t stop anyone else from doing it’ or ‘block’ which has the effect of a veto.. one can only block if one feels a proposal is in violation of the fundamental principle or reason for being of a group
why waste our time on all that?.. not to mention that it changes us.. so that we’re not us
one might say that the function whic hin the us constituion is relegated to the courts, of striking down leggilsative decisions tha tviolate constitution principles
yeah.. how’s that working for us
is here relegated to anyone with the courage to actually stand up against the combined will of the group
so.. voice is only heard if stronger than the will of the group..
one could go on at length about the elab and surprisingly sophisticated methods that have been developed to ensure *all this works: modified consensus for large groups; consensus working so that don’t bring before large group unless have to as means of ensuring gender equity (in n america consensus process emerged more than antying thru feminist movment)
i guess the question is *all what.. because it hasn’t (and won’t) work toward a more antifragile, healthy, thriving world.. the ecosystem we keep longing for.. what the world needs most is the energy of 8b alive people
consensus ness won’t wake people up to that energy
started when in madagascar.. everyone had been doing this (dan – direct actions network) since they learned to speak..
yeah.. whales ness goes all the way back.. we need to quit thinking things are natural if even go way back and seem more peaceable et al.. we have no idea what legit free human being ness is like.. and we keep missing it
in fact, as anthropologists are aware, just about every known human community which has to come to group decision has employed some variation of what i’m calling ‘consensus process’ every one, that is which is not in some way or another drawing on the tradition of ancient greece. majoritarian democracy, in the formal, roberts rules of order type sense rarely emerges of is own accord.. it’s curious that almost no one, anthropologists included, ever seems to ask oneself why this should be
let’s ask too.. why we need to have group decisions.. if we re org’d our social relations.. that would become irrelevant
an hypothesis: majoritarian democracy was, in its origins, essentially a military institutio
the arguments never make sense. but they don’t really have to because we are not really dealing w arguments at all here, so much as w the brush of a hand.. the real reason for the unwillingness of most scholars to see a sulawezi or tallensi village council as ‘democratic’.. (well, aside form simple racism, the reluctance to admit anyone westerners slaughtered w such relative impunity were quite on the level as pericles) .. is that they do not vote..
over and over across the world, from australia to siberia, egalitarian communities have preferred some variation on consensus process (rather than voting/democracy)..
the explanation i would propose is this: it is much easier, in a face to face community, to figure out what *most members of that community want to do, than to figure out how to convince those who do not to go along w it.. t
moxie on democracy – yay
so imagine if we just focused on that.. on figuring out what *all people want to do
imagine if we just focused on listening to the itch-in-8b-souls.. first thing.. everyday.. and used that data to augment our interconnectedness.. we might just get to a more antifragile, healthy, thriving world.. the ecosystem we keep longing for..
consensus decision making is typical of societies where there would be no way to compel a minority to agree w a majority decision– either because there is not state w a monopoly of coercive force, or because the state has nothing to do w local decision making. if there is no way to compel.. then the last thing on would want to do is to hold a vote: a public contest which someone will be seen to lose..
what is seen as an elab and difficult process of finding consensus is, in fact, a long process of making sure no one walks away feeling that their views have been totally ignored
consensus over voting.. yeah.. i hear you.. still not buying consensus.. public consensus always oppresses someone(s).. would still be compelling/silencing someone(s)
majority democracy, we might say, can only emerge when two factors coincide: 1\ telling that people should have equal say in making group decisions 2\ *a coercive apparatus capable of enforcing those decisions..
*i see consensus as such an apparatus
for most of human history, it has been extremely unusual to have both at the same time. where egalitarian societies exist, it is also usually considered wrong to impose systematic coercion.. where a machinery of coercion did exist, it did not even occur to those wielding it that they were enforcing any sort of popular will
maté trump law et al
this in turn might help explain the term ‘democracy’ itself, which appears to have been coined as something of a slur by its elitist opponents: it literally means the ‘force’ or even ‘violence’ of the people.. kratos, not archos. the elitists who coined the term always considered democracy not too far from simple rioting or mob rule;t hough of course their solution was the permanent conquest of the people by someone else.. and ironically, when they did manage to suppress democracy for this reason, which was usually, the result was that the only way the general populace’s will was known was precisely thru rioting, a practice that became quite institutionalized in, say, imperial rome or 18th cent england
wow.. yeah that..
all this is not to say that direct democracies – as practiced for ie in medieval cities or new england town meetings – were not normally orderly and dignified procedures ..
orderly and dignified as structural violence
though one suspects that here too, in actual practice, there was a certain baseline of consensus -seeking going on ..
and in that.. still the coercion going on .. ie: maté trump law
still, it was this military undertone which allowed the authors of the federalist papers.. to take it for granted that what they called ‘democracy’ by which they meant, direct democracy – was in its nature the most unstable, tumultuous form of govt, not to mention one which endanger the rights of minorities (the specific minority they had in mind in this case being the rich).. it was only once the term ‘democracy’ could be almost completely transformed to incorporate the principle of representation – a term which itself has very curious history, .. since as cornelius castoriadis..
(several breaks like this when red letters stop)
in a sense then anarchists think all those rightwing political theorists who insist that ‘america is not a democracy; it’s a republic’ are quite correct. the diff is that anarchists have a problem w that.. they think it ought to be a democracy. though increasing numbers have come to accept that the traditional elitist criticism of majoritarian direct democracy is not entirely baseless either..
i noted earlier that all social *orders are in some sense at war w themselves..t
*carhart-harris entropy law et al
those unwilling to establish an apparatus of violence for enforcing decisions necessarily have to develop an apparatus for creating and maintaining social consensus (at least in that minimal sense of *ensuring malcontents can still feel they have freely chosen to go along w bad decisions)..
as an apparent result, the internal war ends up projected outwards into endless night battles and forms of spectral violence.. majoritarian direct democracy is constantly threatening to make those lines of force explicit..
and consensus still makes the lines.. explicit or implicit or invisible.. but still there.. still violent
for this reason it does tend to be rather unstable: or more precisely, if it does last, it’s because its institutional forms (medieval city, town council, gallup polls, referendums) are almost invariably ensconced w/in a larger framework of governance in which ruling elites use that very instability to justify their ultimate monopoly of the means of violence.. finally, the threat of this instability becomes an excuse for a form of ‘democracy’ so minimal that it comes down to nothing more than insisting that ruling elites should *occasionally consult w ‘the public’ in carefully stated contests, replete w rather meaningless jousts and tournaments – to reestablish their right to go on making their decisions for them
it’s a trap. bouncing back and forth between the two ensures ti will reaming extremely unlikely that one could ever imagine it would be possible for people to manage their own lives, w/o the help of ‘representative’..
it’s for this reason the new global movement has begun by reinventing the very meaning of democracy.. to do so ultimately means once again, coming to terms w the fact that ‘we’ – whether as ‘the west’ (whatever that means) as the ‘modern world’ or anything else – are not really as special as we like to think we are; that we’re not the only people ever to have practiced democracy; that in fact rather than disseminating democracy around the world ‘western’ govts have been spending at least as much time inserting themselves into the lives of people who have been practicing democracy for 1000s of years and in one way or another.. telling them to cut it out
which would be a good thing.. (to cut it out).. just need an alt that’s legit free.. (i’m guessing i’m the only one that thinks we’re never gotten this life thing right – but – it’s making me think all this history/navel gazing.. is killing us.. even the best us-es of us)
one of most encouraging things about these new, anarchist-inspired movements is that they propose a new form of internationalism.. older, communist internationalism had some very beautiful ideals, but in org terms, everyone basically flowed on we way.. it became a means for regimes outside europe and its settles colonies to learn western styles of org: party structures, plenaries, purges, bureaucratic hierarchies, secret police.. this time.. the second wave of internationalism one could call it, or just anarchist globalization. – the movement of org forms has largely gone the other way.. it’ snot just consensus process: the idea of mass non violent direct action first developed in s africa and india.. the current network modes was first proposed by rebels in chiapas; even the notion of the affinity group came out of spain and latin america.. the fruits of ethnography – and the techniques of ethnography.. could be enormously helpful here if anthropologist can get past their – however understandable – hesitancy, owing to their own often squalid colonial history, and come to see what they are sitting on not as some guilty secret (which is nonetheless their guilty secret and no one else’s) but as the common property of human kind..
anthropology (in which the author somewhat reluctantly bites the hand that feeds him)
the final question.. is why anthropologists haven’t, so far? i have already describe why i think academics in general, have rarely felt much affinity w anarchism..
it’s all a little odd.. anthropologists are after all the only group of scholars who know anything about actually existing stateless societies; many have actually lived in corners of the world where states have ceased to function or at least temporarily pulled up stakes and left.. and people are managing their own affairs autonomously; if nothing else, they are keenly aware that the most commonplace assumptions about what would happen int eh absence of a state (‘but people would just kill each other’) are factually untrue
why then?.. well. a number of reasons..
if anarchism is, essentially, an ethics of practice.. then meditating on anthropological practice tends to kick up a lot of unpleasant things.. the discipline we know today was made possible by horrific schemes of conquest, colonization and mass murder.. much like most modern academic disciplines, actually, including geography and botany, .. not to mention ones like maths, linguistics, or robotics, which still are..
but anthropologists, since their work tends to involve getting to know the victims personally, have ended up agonizing over this in ways that the proponents of other disciplines have almost never done.. the result has been strangely paradoxical: anthropological reflections on their own culpability has mainly had the effect of providing non anthropologists who do not want to be bothered having to learn about 90% of human experience w a handy two or three sentence dismissal (you know: all about projecting one’s sense of otherness into the colonized) by which they can feel morally superior to those who do..
for the anthropologies themselves, the results have been strangely paradoxical as well..
while anthropologists are, effectively, sitting on a vast archive of human experience, of social and political experiments no one else really knows about, that very body of comparative ethnography is seen as something shameful.. it is treated not as the common heritage of humankind, but as our dirty little secret. which is actually convenient, at least insofar as academic power is largely about establishing ownership rights over a certain form of knowledge and ensuring that others don’t really have much access to it.. our dirty little secret is still outs.. not something one needs to share w others..
there’s more to it though.. in many ways, anthropology seems a discipline terrified of its own potential.. it is, for ie, the only discipline in a position to make generalization about humanity as a whole – since it is the only discipline that actually takes all of humanity into account, and is familiar w all the anomalous (deviating from what is normal) cases
well not all.. that’s the problem..
2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b free people
yet.. it resolutely refuses to do so.. i don’t think this is to be accounted for solely as an understandable reaction to the right wing proclivity (tendency to do something regularly, inclination, predisposition) to make grand arguments about human nature to justify very particular, and usually, particularly nasty social institutions (rape, war, freemarket capitalism) – though certainly that is a big part of it..
partly it’s just the vastness of the subject matter.. who really has the means, in discussing, say, conception of desire, or imagination, or the self, or sovereignty, to consider everything chinese or indian or islami thinkers have had to say on the matter in addition to the western canon, let alone folk conceptions prevalent in hundreds of oceanic or native american societies as well? its’ just too daunting
although.. i think the reason that none of us are us.. (rather we are like whales in sea world).. so none of the data is legit to begin with.. is a deeper reason.. this reason (that it’s too much) may be easier on the ears .. in order for us to try something legit different
as a result, anthropologists no longer produce many broad theoretical generalization at all – instead, turning over the work to european philosophers who usually have absolutely no problem discussing desire, or the imagination, or the self or sovereignty, as if such concepts had been invented by plato or aristotle, developed by kant or desade, and never meaningfully discussed by anyone outside of elite literary tradition in wester europe or n america..
so while anthropology might seem perfectly positions to provide an intellectual forum for all sorts of planetary convos, political and otherwise, there is a certain built in reluctance to do so..
then there’s the question of politics.. most anthropologists writ as if their work has obvious political significance, in a tone which suggests they consider what they are doing quite radical, and certainly left of center. but what does this politics actually consist of.. it’s increasingly hard to say.. do anthropologists tend to be anti capitalist? certainly it’s hard to think of one who has much good to say about capitalism.. many are tin the habit of describing the current age as one of ‘late capitalism’ as if by declaring it is about to end, they can by the very act of doing so hasten its demise
but it’s hard to think of an anthropologist who has, recently, made any sort of suggestion of what an alt to capitalism might be like.. so are they liberal? many can’t pronounce the word w/o a snort of contempt.. what then?
as far as i can make out the only real fundamental political commitment running thru the entire field is a kind of broad populism.. if nothing else, we are definitely not on the side of whoever, in a give situation, is or facies themselves to be the elite.. we’re for the little guys..
since in practice, most anthropologists are attached to (increasingly global) unis, or if not, end up in jobs like marketing consultancies or jobs w the un – positions w/in the very apparatus of global rule – what this really comes down to is a kind of constant, ritualized declaration of disloyalty to that very global elite of which we ourselves, as academics, clearly form one (admittedly somewhat marginal) fraction..
what form does this populism take in practice? mainly, it means you must demo that the people you are studying, the little guys, are successfully resisting some form of power or globalizing influence imposed on them from above.. this is, anyway, what most anthropologists talk about when the subject turns to globalization.. which it usually does .. whether advertising, soap operas, form of labor discipline, state imposed legal systems.. or anything else that might seem to be crushing or homogenizing or manipulating one’s people, one demos that they are not fooled, crushed, homogenized; indeed they are creatively appropriating or reinterpreting what is being thrown at them in ways its authors would never have anticipate.d.
of course to some extent all this is true.. i would not wish to deny it is important to combat the – still remarkably widespread – popular assumption that the moment people in bhutan or irian jay are exposed to mtv, their civilization is basically over.. what’s disturbing.. at leasts to me..is the degree to which this logic comes to echo that of global capitalism.. ad agencies, after all, don’t claim to be imposing anything on the public either.. they claim to be providing material for members of the public to appropriate and make their own in unpredictable and idiosyncratic ways.. the rhetoric of ‘creative consumption‘ in particular could be considered the very ideology of the new global market: a world in which all human behavior can be classified as either production exchange , or consumption; in which exchange is assumed to be driven by basic human proclivities of rational pursuit of profit which are the same everywhere, and consumption becomes a way to establish ones particular id (and production is not discussed at all if one can possibly avoid it).. we’re all the same on the trading floor; it’s what we do w the stuff when we get home that makes us diff..
this market logic so deeply internalized.. that say if a woman in trinidad puts together some outrageous get up and goes out dancing, anthropologists will automatically assume that what she’s doing can be defined as ‘consumption’ (as opposed to say showing off or having a good time).. they just assume whatever one does that isn’t working is ‘consumption’.. because what’s really important about it is that manufactured products are involved..
the perspective of anthropologist and the global marketing exec have become almost indistinguishable..
it’s not that diff on the political level.. lauren leve recently warned that anthropologists risk becoming yet another cog in global ‘id machine’.. that has over last decade or so informed earth’s inhabitants (at least all but very most elite) that, since all debates about nature of political/econ possibilities are now over, only way one can make a political claim is be asserting some group id.. w all the assumptions about what id is (ie: that group id’s are not ways of comparing one group to each other but constituted by the way a group relates to its own history, that there is no essential diff in this regard between individuals and groups) established in advance..
marsh label law et al
for the most part, what we call ‘id’s’ here, in what paul gilroy likes to call the ‘over developed world’ are forced on people. .
ie: blacks being of no significance to banker, policeman, dr.. who will/can all harm him.. all attempts at individual or collective self fashioning or self invention have to take place entirely w/in those extremely violent sets of constraints.. (the only real way that could change would be to transform the attitudes of those who have the privilege of being defined as ‘white’ ultimately probably by destroying the category of whiteness itself)..
the fact is though that *nobody has any idea how most people in n america would chose to define themselves if institutional racism were to actually vanish.. if everyone really were left free to define themselves *however they wished..t
*how often.. ie: different everyday.. the it is me ness..
this is black science of people/whales law: we have *no idea what legit free people are like.. beyond racism
neither is there much point in speculating about it .. the question is how to create a situation where we could find out.. t
that’s what we did.. that’s what i’m sitting on.. ie: short findings restate
this is what i mean by ‘liberation in the imaginary’.. to think about what it would take to live in a world in which everyone really did have the power to decide for themselves..t
individually and collectively, what sort of communities they wished to belong to and what sort of id’s they wanted to take on.. that’s really difficult.. to bring about such a world would be almost unimaginably difficult.. it would require changing *almost everything..
and for that.. we have to let go of 1\ deciding which community to belong to.. 2\ and id ness.. at least in any permanent fashion..
we keep trying to focus on who’s gathering first.. and that’s messing with us.. it’s keeping us from hearing the itch-in-8b-souls
if we could let go of that.. and again.. just use dialy curiosity our only id/label – and let that ‘data’ connect/gather us in a space.. everyday a new.. perhaps we could get back/to simultaneous spontaneity .. simultaneous fittingness.. that the dance calls for
once we let go that much.. not difficult .. because we’re working off things/data/whatever that is already in each one of us.. no prep/training/coercing/manipulating needed (all red flags we’re doing it/life wrong)
it also would meet w stubborn, an ultimately violent opposition from those who benefit the most from existing arrangement.
1\ haven’t we seen enough to see that no one is benefiting..
2\ this is why the infra we set up has to be based on something 8b souls are already craving/missing
to instead write as if these id’s are already freely created – or largely so .. is easy.. and it lets one entirely off the hook of the intricate and intractable problems of the degree to which one’s own work is part of this very id machine..
indeed.. black science of people/whales law
let’s let go
but it no more makes it true than talking about ‘late capitalism’ will itself bring about industrial collapse or further social revolution
in case it’s not clear what i’m saying.. let me return to the zapatista rebels of chiapas, whose revolt on new year’s day 1994 might be said to have kicked off what came to be known as the globalization movement .. didn’t call selves anarchists.. were trying revolutionize revolutionary strategy itself by abandoning any notion of vanguard party seizing control of the state, but instead battling to create free enclaves that could serve as models for autonomous self govt.. allowing a general reorg of mexican society into a complex overlapping network of self managing groups that could then begin to *discuss the reinvention of political society
i think if people were legit free.. they wouldn’t care to *discuss the reinvention of political society.. they’d just live/be (i think this issue is a major part of what’s keeping us from us – we think we’re being free.. but that freedom is still framed in doing what we do today.. freer.. not the same thing.. not freeing enough)
there was apparently some difference of opinion w/in the zapatista movement itself over the forms of democratic practice they wished to promulgate
the maya speaking base pushed strongly for a form of consensus process adopted form their own communal traditions.. but reformulated to be more radically egalitarian..
most radical egalitarian: self-talk as data.. let’s try that
some of the spanish speaking military leadership of the rebellion where highly skeptical of whether this could really be applied on the national level.. had to defer to the vision of those they ‘led by obeying’ as the zapatista saying went. but the remarkable thing was what happened when news of rebellion spread to rest of world..
it’s here we can really see the workings of leve’s ‘id machine’.. rather than a band of rebels w a vision of radical democratic transformation.. they were immediately redefined as a band of mayan indians demanding indigenous autonomy.. . increasingly forced to play the indigenous card..
this strategy has not been entirely ineffective.. 10 yrs later.. zapatista army is still there.. w/o having hardly had to fire a shot..
all i want to emphasize is exactly how patronizing, or maybe let’s not pull punches here, how completely racist, the international reaction to the zapatista rebellion has really been.. because what the zapatistas were proposing to do was exactly to begin that difficult work that, so much of the rhetoric about ‘id’ effectively ignores: trying to work out what form of org, what forms of process and deliberation, would be required to create a world in which people and communities are actually free to determine for themselves what sort of people and communities they wish to be..t
this form/infra/org: cure ios city
to start with .. only 33 min of your day under common direction.. rest of day.. up to you ie: 2 conversations
and what were they told.. they are informed that since they were maya, they could not possibly have anything to say to the world, about the processes thru which id is constructed; or about the nature of political possibilities.. as mayas, the only possible political statement the could make to non mayas would be about their maya id itself.. they could assert the right to continue to be mayan.. they could demand recognition as mayans.. but for a maya to say something to the world that was not simply a comment on their own maya ness would be inconceivable..
and who was listening to what they really had to say? largely, it seems, a collection of teenage anarchists in europe and n america, who soon began besieging the summits of the very global elite to whom anthropologists maintain such an uneasy, uncomfortable, alliance..
but the anarchists were right. i think anthropologists should make common cause w them. *we have tools at our fingertips that could be of enormous importance for human freedom.. t.. let’s start taking some responsibility for it
*ie: tech as it could be (tech at our fingertips.. but.. a way not yet tried)