On Discussing Theory

You cannot fix a machine unless you know how it works,
You cannot build a new world out of the ashes
  unless you know how that new world will function itself.
You cannot be sure not to return to the old
  unless you know how the old functions,
  so you’ll not make that mistake again.

Talking with a fellow anarchist the other day, I expressed some frustration that as anarchists we don’t discuss theory enough — when theory is the essence of it all, it is the driving force for literally all of our work. I have oft said to friends, “If people don’t change up here (pointing to my head), then nothing is going to change and stay changed out here (spreading my hands out to the landscape).” The rest of the world flounders because they hardly even bother with understanding theory — it’s all a bunch of meaningless feel-good babble to help them feel better about the oppression around them which they don’t understand. Tripping through words like “green,” “sustainable, “carbon neutral,” “egalitarianism,” “democracy,” and of course “community” and “sense of place” — all without either defining such words or discussing the implications of such words.

As planners of the coming anarchist world, we see through these verbally evoked prescriptions to medicate us into the delusion that new paint and rearrangement of the furniture will make better the capitalist and authoritarian nightmare around us, when it is not the furniture or the paint—but it is the whole structure which must come down.

Without thoroughly understanding the theory or the structure behind the nightmare around us, we cannot together consciously ensure be that such a nightmare will not reoccur.

Action is on the lips of many, but solidifying strength of common theory through conversation with each other, and then teaching non-anarchists through conversation is also immensely essential. Joseph Toscano, an Australian anarchist and radio host, who I don’t happen to wholly agree with in certain respects, proposes that “the 21st Century is the Anarchist Century” — that now is the time for anarchists to come out of the closet, to not only create the world we want, but that we must light the fire in others – to desensitize people about the myth that the anarchist vision is one of violence and chaos, when such a perception is absolutely the furthest thing from the truth. The anarchist vision is the only type of world that can truly sustain humankind with the other life forms on this planet. All other paths lead to our destruction.

When we have poisoned ourselves and the other lifeforms of this world so badly, when we have driven to near extinction all life from this sphere through our exploitation of it all, then as the planet finally heals itself, will we at last learn our lesson? As the last of us writhe on the surface in agony, then will we see the light? If we have not an understanding of the workings of it, of the theory behind it – to pass along from one generation to the next – then what is to stop the nightmare from returning?

We must speak. We must let people know that there is another way. I know in my own life, I am extremely active in a local church near me and everyone knows that I am an anarchist. I am not the only one, but I am the only one who is out, and more of us need to be out. All of those people may see only one or two lights among them, they sense something true in the vision that we share, truth that they don’t have, truth that is difficult for them to wrap their heads around, truth that can take them with us to the next level, that can take us all there.

And it’s a huge leap for a lot of people, it means that they are going to have to start thinking about the consequences of their actions or inactions! Yes, so many are concerned about living more “green,” so many planners and architects too, but in this great transition, unless we want to destroy ourselves, they are going to have to give up their cars, the mountain of pharmaceuticals they take every day, so much of the meat they so cherish with every meal, the great distances they travel for economic and social interactions, the capitalist and authoritarian life all around; they cling to such things, but now, now is the time to leave such things behind. Now is the time to find that monumental alternative in which we will never return to that self-destructive nightmare.

Now is the time for anarchists to speak up, to let their friends and relatives know and understand that the only vision that can truly last is the anarchist vision.

Another question is how does one share this vision with someone who “cannot” survive without with a car, or without blood pressure medications, or a cell phone, or so many other “purchased” cures. Before they can even consider alternatives, they must understand the reasons for abandoning such things. We can get ourselves as local as we can regarding home gardens, permaculture, CSAs, etc., and on a technological side, PERHAPS (and that’s a big perhaps coming from a strongly leaning primitivist perspective) putting up solar panels, purchasing an electric car, utilizing cold fusion and zero-point technologies as they become available – all centering your energy production and usage to the home, but going even more local, our means of medicinally healing the body, transporting the self across distances, creating light and heat for one’s home, repairing one’s home, communicating with friends and family, expanding one’s network of friends and lovers – all of these need in their anarchist fulfillment to come about near exclusively through local means. Now is the time to teach why and how to make that shift.

Some anarchists don’t want to call it anarchy, so be it, but as anarchists we need to be discussing this future, discussing theory behind it, and teaching others of that truly best way. And arguably, we need to call it “anarchy,” to clearly make that theoretical differentiation, so that we will not return to the nightmare. You can teach permaculture classes and have food-not-lawns gatherings til the end of time, but the world cannot change unless we bring such discussions of vision to the forefront of our dialogues, with each other and non-anarchists alike. People must change in their minds to change the world around us, and make no return.


And yet, even if we really ought to be discussing theory a lot more, I also believe that we should not out those who choose to be silent, nor pressure (an authority construct) another to speak, but respect people’s individual paths. This a great challenge, to speak up, but respect the projects others endeavor with. The nihilist in me says, “What the fuck, do whatever, it doesn’t matter,” but, really, I think it is constructive to respect privacy.

In the anarchist community, and there are many who may be involved in personal projects which are destructive to capital and authority. Some projects may indeed consist of violent acts, yes, but from my own experience, only a very tiny percentage are – though, truly, in their destructive capacity, another’s privacy must be considered and respected, which is why usually when I think someone might be an anarchist when interacting with them, I have only on very rare occasions asked if someone is an anarchist, only because it seems self-evident, and why speak of such things. If they desire to be known, then they will exclaim their anarchist positions openly and label such positions as anarchist, not me.

There are many other considerations too. One may be involvement in an organization that is not anarchist and for the sake of bringing about change without drawing attention to themselves, they do not speak openly about their anarchist perspectives – specifically labeling their views as “anarchist.” Some may have older parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, bosses who seem set in their ways and they would rather influence change by gradually introducing anarchist concepts merely through raising questions to them or presenting alternative views – to gently lead them to think about the world differently. Some people plant trees and gardens in their front yards to help people think about living in a very different world than we have now. We are all in diverse situations and must weigh when to be out and when to not. Not everyone wants to be out or can be out. And outing someone may endanger the project in which they are involved.

Still, I think it is increasingly important for us as anarchists to be publically out and strongly integrated into our larger communities. So often it is easier simply to not extend one’s network, but such extentions are one of the strongest forces to aid change. Furthermore, when we do openly take on the, dare I say ‘label’ of anarchist among non-anarchists, it is a position of influence. It doesn’t merely innocently point people in the direction of change, it tells them that, “Hey, this is truly the way to go” and to be clear about it. In the strength of the larger network we have around us of anarchists and non-anarchists alike, it’s putting it right out there in front of them where they can’t ignore it. Yes, there is an elephant in the room, and now people are aware of it so as to now consciously process it.

So many are aware of the iconic image of anarchy as a little girl in a skirt aside some railroad tracks who innocently points toward anarchism, not drawing attention to themselves, but quietly and innocently pointing the way, now is the time to bring anarchism to be conscious in people’s minds, to make the dialogues solid and real. Privacy is important still yes, but to be out can also be very important too.

Existance without judgment

When we consider the great transition we are in, we also not only ought to be respectful of others’ privacy, but also their means to the end. Everyone has their own projects they are involved in, and everyone has a point they are at in coping and living in this nightmare as we transition out of it. People drive cars, they buy things, they medicate to keep themselves alive – physically and mentally, they dress in conforming ways to get by, they eat out at restaurants to spend time interacting with others, we go to work to pay bills. It’s a two edged sword. On one side we’re fueling the beast, on the other we’re helping to bring it down. We need to keep ourselves alive, but we’re in transition – the new world is here, we’re stepping into it right now, nothing is going to stop that; everyone senses and knows we’re in a time of rapid social evolution; the sun is coming up, the horizon is beginning to glow with light.

Something I think is good to remember is that it is so easy to judge, but realize that we’re all doing the best we can. Each of us has both individual talents and difficulties, and we’re all doing what we can to bring about this metamorphosis. But also, now is a time to speak, to share ideas, to share theory, to together solidify theory, and bring about the anarchist world, here and now. Theory is the center of it all, and when we are silent, when we are not clear, it can blockade the truth from coming forth. But when we do finally say “This no more! Only that!”, we call forth the truth into consciousness, and help ensure that we will not walk a path of destruction ever again.

March 5 & 7, 2009