Two days ago, I attended and presented at an anarchist conference at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. I came away from the afternoon and evening of speaking, speakers and conversations both encouraged and discouraged.
The conference was great in that there were so many perspectives and approaches to have deep conversations about, and we had them. I wished people were a bit calmer about it all, but generally, it was a good time. One of the great weaknesses of the anarchist movement is that of having so many perspectives about the end we want, but also appropriate means to that end. For instance, at the conference, there were primitivists, some of whom believed in the violent destruction of capital to bring about such a vision, others of whom did not. Of the anarcho-communists, some believed in the federation concept and in the existence of high-technologies in their ideal end state, others saw federations as impractical and loose collectives as much better. And of course there were those who felt that some degree of abandoning higher technologies was more positive. Also, some people there felt that the means to the end is through being out and sharing our perspectives directly with other people, others there felt to have projects which teach people about life and living as an anarchist, but without using the word “anarchist” in relation to their project was the better means to the end. Some take up projects such as fighting the immigration imbroglio between Mexico and the U.S., others engage in feeding the homeless and destitute, some work as lawyers and advocates against the injustice of inequalities in society, some teach people how to repair broken bicycles, others create websites, others printed zines to teach people about the history of anarchism, its theories, and applications. Suffice to say, there was divergence both in people’s picture of the end result and the means to that end.
Another common characteristic, I think, of many anarchists at the conference and of many anarchists in general is that we do not always have a very clear vision of what the end ideal will be and how it will function. Now is the time to speak clearly of such things and share that vision with others to help each other evolve it together to that ideal end.
All of us share a degree of common values concerning that end vision, what became clear from the conference, is that we need to calmly listen to each others voices, not attack the approaches, and especially not the character of others, but together look at the diverse perspectives in theory and practice and analyze them. If we have a particular vision for the end, we ought to determine as clearly as possible what that vision is and then ask ourselves what are the most effective things I can do to aid in bringing that about. For some it is sitting in trees to save the forest that we might stop our ecological planetary destruction more quickly, for others it feeding hungry people so that others will learn about the equality of all people, consensus, and mutual aid - all central anarchist principles of living together and on this planet in peace.
Two of the most prominent and well know speakers of the night were Keith McHenry (one of the 11 founders of Food Not Bombs) and Derrick Jensen (author of Endgame). McHenry spoke about the globally prolific spread of the Food Not Bombs movement and how it is a starting point for many who learn about anarchist principles and practice.
Jensen was the final one and spoke to the gathering over Skype. There were many there who heartily agreed with hir perspectives, but others who vehemently did not. In some interviews with Jensen, I’ve heard hir referred to as the poet-laureate of the primitivist movement, and is regarded as one of the most brilliant contemporary analysts of current conditions. The final question to hir that evening was from someone who direly opposed many of hir perspectives and, as well, turned their question into an angry attack upon Jensen’s character. Many of us were extremely shocked that anyone would end on something so deeply insulting. The querent said something like, “Prove to me that you aren’t the biggest loser that you seem to be.” Jensen’s response was something like, “I don’t have to prove anything to you.” There were many curse words from both in the exchange, but mentioning specific obscenities will not go anywhere productive in this brief entry about the conference. At other large meetings, too, I have witnessed similar comments that did not further anyone toward clarity of thought and action - though never before have I witnesses this level of public insult.
One thing that is perhaps important to learn as an anarchist is that everyone has their own projects. I know don’t always think that someone else’s project is all that great an idea, but that’s okay, they’re doing what they feel is the best thing to bring an end to ownership, capital, and authoritarianism. Some people take a violent perspective, others do not, some have a vision of a high-technology life of democratic-consensus and federations, others envision a return to a hunter-gatherer society, others seem to have a vision of something in between. But we must realize the core values that bring us together, and realize too that it is not our place to authoritatively attack our comrades, but, really, I think, encourage and aid each other in all our endeavors we feel comfortable with to that great end.
I do not personally advocate taking violent, destructive action, but I can understand why some might. Not to attack their character, but to express my own perspectives on these matters, I have often said that if we do not influence people to change in their minds, it does not matter how many dams and railroad tracks are sabotaged, or how much other infrastructure is destroyed, if the larger society, all the people in general, do not change in their minds, then society will just revert back to the old self-destructive system that they are use to - and then, we will continue on our course to self-annihilation, and to planetary annihilation. Present direct-action against industry and capital may have its place, yes, but it is not the destruction of capital which will save our species and planet in the end - it is the transformation of how we think about life and our relationship with the life and lives around us; then, together we will take down the dams and release the planet from the fetters we have bound it with; it will renew, and together we will help it to do so.
For a planner of the anarchist world soon coming, it is our task to see the visions of the ideal world clearly in our minds, to write it down, to talk about it, to develop new words and phrases to describe the new constructs of relationships that we will have.
Many presenters at the conference were part of action groups, an immigrant rights anarchist group in Arizona, a latino anarchist group in Los Angeles, and Food Not Bombs. With so many anarchists I know not at the conference, but simply living not openly as anarchists, but carrying on their own projects below radar, there is value in what is occurring. I recall at the Los Angeles Anarchist Bookfair in December someone in the punk scene talking about that that arena is one of the first in which people come to learn about anarchism and really adopt it as a way of life and philosophy. The same goes for these other organizations too; it’s getting the word out, and then people can go from there to do whatever they feel is best. The ground swell is insidious and hidden, it is difficult to trace and saturates society from within.
For myself, and I am sure with many others, it is, many times, in our one-on-one interactions which I think are most effective in so far as “conversion” goes - to use a religious term. I have recently had several conversations with someone about polyamory and ze has now told me that ze has recently told a significant entity of hirs that ze wants to be poly. I don’t think that ze is an anarchist quite yet, but I feel encouraged. And I know so many like this, that are now on that learning curve, chewing on the ideas, digesting them, and making such philosophies a part of their lives. When people hear it, and see the freedom of anarchy outside of all the constructs of authority, they cannot help but consider it and be drawn to it.
I’ve attended a lecture and a conference recently at the Claremont Colleges concerning the evolution of Mormon doctrines (see CMSSA). Present Mormon theologians, faced with the actual Mormon history contradicting the history taught in their church’s manuals and leaders, as well as many other doctrinal imbroglios are having to rethink many of their doctrines and reformulate them in the face of a strict authoritarian hierarchy. And their new doctrines are, dare I say, anarchist in their nature. As planners and environmental designers, we are faced with the hierarchies of city and other authorities and of social norms in so many forms - all of which need to be challenged. We are brainwashed in our schools and while working for a city or other entity to believe that this structure of power over the guidance of urban form is “right” and even “righteous” that we are doing a great good, but it is that very structure of power over others and of technical and technological expertise which is alienating the people from their existence and destroying us and our planet (Zerzan 2002).
With the end of ownership and with the end of government - in the world of anarchy, there is right-ness. There is the only true equality and true justice, a world of working together in freedom.
At the conference too, I had a conversation with someone about my presentation and we spoke of the invalidity of anarcho-syndicalism. This is where we work together in collective union-esque ways, on massive scales to accomplish intricate tasks, and as such a high technology society can be maintained. The high technology society, mapped in its finest detail, digitized and regulated down to the molecule is not a truly sustainable society. It is a prison. And it is a nightmarish replacement for a real life of fulfillment and true connectivity with the people around us.
For the urban planner, they tick the hours away, regulating from behind the counter, looking up codes, making “recommendations” to the city council and planning commission. “Staff” they call them, planners are the epitome of a disconnected, unjust system. The authorities that the authorities look to. A nameless void which silently and professionally maintains and upholds capital and most surely the destruction of our world.
Last Sunday at the church I attend (yes, I am an anarchist who is a church goer - it’s a very liberal church, and I don’t believe in God in any traditional sense) the priest gave a sermon asking us all why we, or our society, had not been outraged by the use of torture by the the U.S. government. I would reply, we’re so disconnected from it by distance and technology, social isolation and alienation, endless pacifying drugs, and a controlling, hyper-regulating government that, of course we’re not outraged and in the streets. No one is crying out. The system, the matrix of control, has so many, if not all of us, pinned down just where it wants us, that we don’t even think to do so, nor think that it’ll probably do any good. But some of us do, and we’re all working to bring it down, some by developing new theory and ways of looking at things and sharing those ideas with others (as I do), others by other means.
For the conference, aside from a rather large debacle at the end with one of the keynote speakers, it was a great success of convergence and sharing of ideas. Amid the nightmare, I see light on the horizon. At what point will we let go of government and other authoritative structures, none can say, but now is the time to develop a new vision, to ‘begin with the end in mind,’ to spread, and grow that vision real in our lives with others and with the planet.
April 23 and 28, 2009