Episode 17 – Activism I

Editorial: Is there a way to change the world without shitposting

In posting the introduction to this episode I receieved a surprising amount of trolling comments with a surprising underlying theme. That by posting questions about activism that I am representing “conventional United Staes of America style passivity, self-absorption and gutlessness in a can — long live lifestyle anarchy!”

Ignoring the traditional troll markers this accusation does make one reflect on its dialectical twin. Riffing off of Andrew X important text on this issue the central critical question about activism is “Is the activist a specialist or an expert in a social change that never happens?”. So I will ask my innocent questions again. Let’s talk about changing the world. Where we have succeeded. Where we have failed. Where we have been found wanting and where and how the world has failed us. We want to change the world but, at best, the world changes us and we make an accounting.

I’ll also be more specific than I usually am, because it entertains me. If we wanted to change the world in such a way as to produce a net positive result for the bulk of humanity for the next 100 years, in my opinion, it’d probably be along these three lines:

1. Climate Change or how do we stop the techno-machine 2. Capitalist immiseration or perhaps more practically, income inequality 3. Fighting surveillance culture ie making it more difficult for the state to surveil individuals

It’s a problem that all three categories of these efforts are defensive, but before we talk about that let’s talk about the third category as it is simplest to accomplish (ie, it’s not as impossible as the other two since it is responding to the most innovative state oppression). As the camera, ip, and geolocation based surveillance that most states are slowly using to curtail individual freedom is relatively new and active in both authoritarian and democratic regimes. Fighting surveillance still seems in the realm of the possible and something that both individuals and collective action can impact. Income inequality on the other hand seems insurmountable. In western countries, especially the US, the diminishing middle class seems to have no way to even articulate its frustration at losing power, prestige, and pointedly the ability to spend money. But don’t get confused: any conversation about debt is a conversation about how to fight income inequality. The easiest way to fight Income Inequality is to fight poverty, as any gain in wealth for poor people is a bigger % of the income gap. Finally climate change seems to have finally engaged the public imagination as something to be concerned about. Obviously there are a number of anarchist concerns here. The first of which is: what is it? Is it rising sea levels, the couple of degree change in temperature referred to as anthropogenic? Is it a migration crisis (since millions could be effected in your lifetime)? Is it about policy or is it existential? As many of us have been inspired by–or at least heard of–an anti-civilization argument that argues that at the very least the centrality of petrochemicals in the energy economy is relevant in rising temperatures, what should we be fighting for? 100% renewables in our life? The end of 19th style industrialism (bye bye china)?

I bring up these three arguments because pretending for a minute that we, as anarchists, have any power to make the kind of change we’d like to see would entail us answering these kinds of questions rather than ones about our interesting but irrelevant ideas about power, the state, or capitalism. Our principles are less important to most listeners than our practical solutions, especially in American culture, but those principles have led us to have interesting answers in the past. Forget voting politics and fighting against it, or who is in the Fortune 50, these three topics (climate, inequality, and surveillance) are probably the ones we’ll be fighting, one way or another, for the next 100 years. Yes they are ephemeral but they about the kind of things anarchists have been talking about since the inception of an anti-authoritarian ideas. It is also true that thought leaders, like Musk or Zuckerburg, will try to co-opt these big heady conversations but their transparency at branding themselves should be their downfall. What could anarchists bring to these big three that is different?

I’ve already said it, the linking of anarchist principles to these three topics should be our central project. This might eventually look like intelligent bodies on the street, in the boardroom, or in other nodal places but it is worth talking a bit about where we are strong and where we are weak. This is why it is so infuriating to continue to have these conversations in the context of activism. Yes, I am totally hostile to all the things I see as activism but that is because the stakes, efforts, and projects are so partial, half-assed, and weak. Even in the past three years as I’ve watched anarchists cleave off to join the DSA or street fights against idiots it is like watching Imagination Regression Syndrome in action. If you face off against idiots guess what you get to be, even if you win?

Activism is the answer to a question anarchists should feel insulted to have to answer. If we want to be limited to just the biggest problems we, as in humanity, are facing right now we have to spread our wings wider, capture more air, and vision than any movement in human history has ever conceived of. But I don’t want to just fight for the climate, against inequality and statist capture of my personal information. I want to attack their ability to know or comprehend me at all. I want to abolish the economy all together. I want an environment that is not an accounting project.

It is great to talk about the specifics of campaigns or just how terrible humans can be but for me the great anarchist project is keeping our heads in the clouds and not on the ground. That is were our feet go. That is where our life is lived but anarchism, the beautiful idea, is about fighting furiously for things that are not even close to possible. Anarchists who fight for the achievable goals of youtube policing fascism, road repair, and anarchist fire teams that aren’t actively burning this world are more of the same. The same immiseration of measuring oppression, fixing big problems with bandaids that are better off destroying than fixing, and mostly wasting human time thinking about solutions where everyone gets along instead of dismantling and creating space where at least some of us flourish.

Notes/Links

Is it good? https://anarchistnews.org/comment/5436#comment-5436
Etienne de la Boetie perspective… https://anarchistnews.org/comment/5458#comment-5458
@news conspiracy theories
seren@ https://anarchistnews.org/comment/5471#comment-5471
Fauvenoir https://anarchistnews.org/comment/5481#comment-5481


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