When one considers historic preservation from an anarchist perspective—how might one approach such a subject?
As one examines contemporary anarchist theory, the trends are toward local collective action and the abandonment of higher technologies (Ludd 2007, Ran Prieur 2005, Cross-Nickerson 2007, Anti-Mass). Anarcho-syndicalist theory is dying or nearly dead. Such trends I am in agreement with and in that light, in such an anarchist world, how might one consider historic preservation?
Presently, there are many professional academics who appear in their critiques to be anarchists but fail to admit outwardly that they are. Typically, they seem only to dive into critiquing capitalism and authoritarianism without proposing how to now live in the anarchist world and what it will be like (Black 2007, Duncan and Duncan 2001, Melnick 2000). Application is a topic in need of addressing.
In certain respects, in a capitalist/authoritarian setting, history itself can be viewed as capital. Environments are maintained or created for economic exchange based purposes. As we approach the full creation of an anarchist world, how ought we approach the topic of history and historic preservation? Absent of ownership divisions and hierarchies of power and authority to guide the keeping of histories and the preservation of environments, such efforts, if even chosen to be followed, fall upon the people themselves and their personal wishes.
In many examples of current preservation efforts we see hierarchies of power and authority forcing a specific vision of the past upon people in certain locations. Such an enforced vision certainly keeps people mindfully in a certain captivation (Debord 1973) and slavery to a vision of how the world is or ought to be. On a certain level, consistency can be comforting as affirmations to our orientation we tend value as being moral (Tveter 2007). On another level, as we move toward a world of total liberation for all, an end to all varieties of slavery and domination, we must consciously abandon such moral orientations in favor of that total liberation as our new orientation. In this paper, before exploring several possible examples of anarchist approaches to historic preservation, let us examine possible circumstances of the future anarchist world.
Let us consider the anarchist city, full of autonomous collectives and both sedentary and wandering individuals, and with landscaping everywhere which is no longer for eye candy or capitalist exchange but is a proliferation of permaculture in which all that you see you can eat or use to build with or make your clothing or create anything you may need to live, all things can compost away and in all our actions we see and know the consequences thereof, and so we are sure that we are not exploiting others or the planet. Such a vision is the conscious collective construction and maintenance of a world in which all are to be able to live with the greatest ease.
Clearly new technologies are on the horizon, brought to us by capitalism, authority, and exploitation. The world of science fiction is becoming non-fiction with the releasing of breakthroughs from black projects and intergalactic relations (Disclosure Project 2008). Signs may point to possible Star Trek, Borg-like melding of human and machine (Red Ice Creations 2008, Watt 2008). With the anarchist luddite rejection of technologies, those which might remain would only be those technologies whose materials could all be found locally or without vast, complex networks. And even if instantaneous travel anywhere on the planet or in the vastness of space occurs, the rareness of such manufacturing and the absence of hierarchies of power could only mean the creation of machines that are meant to last, and travel, though limited, would be freely instantaneous.
Technologies which require vast global networks of capital, such as the automobile and oil industries would be gone. Our feet would make the streets.
Libraries, schools, museums — they hold only what the people share and choose to keep. Knowledge and history may become largely irrelevant as the joy of experiencing living and living together in freedom are the only compass for our lives. If someone or some collective of individuals enjoys the topic of say mathematics, they speak of and share their joy and fascination of the subject, they may keep records of the play which they enjoy through their exploration of it, but nothing is owned, and if they have had enough and decide to burn it all in an act of play, there are no authorities to limit them, for in this world all things can be done as long as harm is not being brought upon others.
There are no rulers of anyone. We only seek to live in the most profound free joy possible. A reason that one might personally or collectively choose to hold on to or pass along to others past knowledge found would be to sustain one’s or a collective orientation in the world, as personal orientation is the only source of morality outside of ownership constructs (Tveter 2007). For additional expoundings about the coming anarchist world see: Anarchism 101.
In this light, let us explore now several possible examples of anarchist approaches to current situations of historic preservation.
The Yosemite Valley
In an article by Melnick (2000), ze talked about how Yosemite Valley was being molded by government authorities to be interpreted and presented to people in a specific way. Ze argued that, instead, the valley should be allowed to be and be interpreted by people themselves and not by any authorities.
Outside ownership constructs, it is merely a location that is physically different than other locations. The greater the perceived difference, the greater the meaning to people (Tveter 2007). When we consider the valley in the vision above, people might live there or pass through it. If a collective of individuals there build a bridge, or divert a river, or burn down the trees, as long as they are not endangering the lives or freedom of others to live, their actions are fine. Historic preservation becomes more or less irrelevant.
And if some people there chose to collectively preserve or maintain a building or burn or cut down some trees so they’d have a view of something that helps them feel oriented, so be it. Orientation is morality. Freedom through anarchism is highest orientation.
If we preserve something it is because we perceive some unique difference about it which is what gives it value in our mind, and because the uniqueness enhances to our orientation in life – which causes us to label it as morally positive in our minds. Such perceptions are unique from person to person, so truly, in an anarchist world without ownership constructs, all our actions really become play and all moralities associated with orientation based on things and ideas dissolve into the concept of freedom without rulers being the singular ultimate orientation.
When one considers a house, as no ones owns any thing (Anarchism 101), if someone maintains a house, it is because it helps orient themselves in life. If people in a neighborhood collectively agree to maintain a certain appearance of the buildings, because it helps them orient themselves in life, so be it (Anti-Mass). If someone in their collective decides to not maintain a structure among them in the way the collective agreed, there is no obligation upon anyone. There is no slavery to anything, idea, person or group.
If they decide to paint their house a purple color which clashes with everyone else, so be it. If they make an addition to their house which is not in the style of others, so be it. When orientation is challenged, people do eventually re-orient themselves. In spite of being potentially uncomfortable at first. The key to embracing this world of total liberation is to understand these concepts of differentiation and orientation, and how they create meaning and morality for us, and then to look beyond them and embrace freedom from oppression.
As everything regarding production and maintenance of things is occurring only locally, people will be using only local materials and things to accomplish their maintenance of the landscape. As one evaluates say a dwelling for how to maintain it, you must evaluate what you or others in your collective body enjoy doing, as well as what you have on hand.
Is someone making paint using some type of oil or other thing they have locally (sinopia.com), otherwise one may have to find an alternative to paint, such as plastering the outside of the house with mud or slime from a pool along the river. You may have to be creative and experiment with what you can find around you.
If there are bricks that need replacing in a structure and no one around is bringing bricks into existence, you may need to try filling spaces with cobb (adobe) or some other material (Bee 1997). The city will likely be a large, local network of collectives which aid each other in making the city function with as little effort put in as possible. There is no money. There is no exchange. Things merely are and we exist among them. We enjoy making things, growing things, harvesting things. They exist. And we enjoy them.
Preservation may merely be a natural extension of simply ease of living, or desire to feel oriented – because you enjoy feeling oriented through the maintenance of the environment in a certain way. So preserve it if you want, or change it if you want to.
As one might conclude now, historic preservation in an anarchist context can certainly occur, but it is guided by the people themselves acting individually or together, and without hierarchies or authority. It can exist, and certainly would, but not in the manner it exists today.
Anti-Mass: Methods of Organization for Collectives. Montreal: Kersplebedeb. Electronic document: http://www.anarchistplanner.org/articles/antimass.pdf
Black, Brian. 2007. “Addressing the Nature of Gettysburg: ‘Addition and Detraction’ in Preserving an American Shrine.” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture. 7,2. Electronic document, http://reconstruction.eserver.org/072/contents072.shtml
Bee, Becky. 1997. The Cob Builders Handbook: You Can Hand-Sculpt Your Own Home. Murphy, Oregon: Groundworks. Electronic document, http://www.weblife.org/cob/
Cross-Nickerson, Jesse. 2007. “On the Neutrality of Technology.” Green Anarchy. 24:28-30.
Debord, Guy. 1973. The Society of the Spectacle (film soundtrack), trans. by Ken Knabb, In 2007. Electronic document, http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord.films/spectacle.htm
Disclosure Project. 2008. http://www.disclosureproject.org/
Duncan, James S. and Nancy G. Duncan. 2001. “The Aestheticization of the Politics of Landscape Preservation” Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 91,2:387-409.
Ludd, Ned. 2007. Ned Ludd’s Diatribes: Whatever the Social Problem, Technology is not the Answer! Melbourne: Anarchist Media Institute. Electronic document, http://anarchistmedia.org/pdf/Ned-Ludds-Diatribes.pdf
Melnick, Robert Z. 2000. “Considering Nature and Culture in Historic Landscape Preservation.” In Preserving Cultural Landscapes in America, ed. Arnold R. Alanen and Robert Z. Melnick, p. 22-43. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Prieur, Ran. 2005. “Seven Lies About Civilization.” Green Anarchy. 21:16-17,21. Electronic document, http://www.ranprieur.com/essays/7lies.html
Red Ice Creations. 2008. http://www.redicecreations.com/connections/more/robots.html
Tveter, Olympia. 2007. Anarchist Urban Planning and Place Theory. Pomona: The Anarchist Planner Collective. Electronic document, http://www.anarchistplanner.org/articles/AUP-for-reading.pdf
Alan Watt. 2008. http://www.cuttingthroughthematrix.com/articles.html