On Changing Our World
Effective activism means understanding the nature of our many problems
A core problem with contemporary leftism as it is often pursued is that it has no sense of the boundaries of its project. Casting it in the most reasonable light, it tends to make the entire world and every person's soul its political mission. After correctly identifying thought systems that lead to undesirable consequences, leftists often try to frame their activism in terms of "abolishing patriarchy" or "ending racism". Because they believe these thought systems are at the root of the problem, it is natural to assume an attitude of attacking them.
Much like wars on victimless crimes, these attacks must be directed at people, since the ideas only exist in the mind. Individual human beings are often rejected in totality rather than merely rejecting their bad ideas. After all, individuals are sovereign within their own minds, and there is little power to force the adoption of values onto another (setting aside the countless problems with using force). The only real non-violent sanction one has against the beliefs of another is ridicule and withdrawal, which the left certainly employs often.
The question the alternative left poses to the mainstream and/or orthodox left is not whether these strategies are just - certainly, the defense of free association is a vital liberal tactic for non-violent social discipline. Sacrificing free association utterly endangers liberalism. Rather, its critique centers around the effectiveness of the tactic. Rather than a universal application of leftist ideology to every aspect of life, a lighter touch is suggested - not to let bad ideas and practices off the hook, but to better inculcate values conducive to sustainable social progress.
Happy new year!
I just discovered the RAW Illumination blog that carries on and promotes the philosophy, attitude, and perspective of one of my very favorite authors and thinkers, Robert Anton Wilson. There's a great interview with Douglas Rushkoff on his book "Program or Be Programmed" which I reviewed here. However, this transcription of Robert Shea's speech upon accepting the Hall of Fame award from the Libertarian Futurist Society for the book he co-wrote with Wilson, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, is quite gratifying to me. It provides comfort for the long, hard slog of being intellectually free and curious, not so much as some demonstration of autonomy as a will to self-definition and self-discovery. The final paragraph is powerful:
We say in the novel that the original Illuminati were dedicated to religious and political freedom and that this secret organization somehow became perverted so that in recent centuries the Illuminati had become a vehicle for a monstrous authoritarianism. Thus the myth of the Illuminati is an archetype for every political movement, from Lenin's Bolshevism to Reagan's Republicanism, that has promised people greater freedom while loading them down with more government. People can be fooled in this way because they are not sure what freedom is. Freedom is a word whose meaning has been worn away by overuse, like a coin that has passed through too many hands. We need to be clear about what it means to us when we use it and maybe not use it quite so much, but use other, more precise words instead.
Over the past two to three years, I've engaged in many conversations featuring the appeal to moral principles asserted to be held in common. Some who've known me for a while may notice that over this period I've begun to distance myself from appealing to these moral principles as a basis for my arguments. This has been a rule I've adhered to largely from both my own investigations of my beliefs as well as the influence of Max Stirner's "The Ego and Its Own" (or, as Shawn Wilbur correctly points out is a better translation of the title, "The Unique One and Its Property").
Stirner taught me that abstractions and concepts ("spooks") often rule us just as completely and arbitrarily as corporeal authorities, and that true freedom requires one to break free of all preconceived notions of propriety, convention, and duty. This philosophy is often called "egoism" and is treated by many as a form of nihilistic realism culminating in an almost Nietzschean "will to power". All constraints on the ego are to be discarded in order for the self to express itself fully through its property, its ideas.
This causes understandable concern in many. The search for perfect and complete freedom is framed in terms that are positively anti-social. If adhering to ethical codes or moral laws or legal statutes or social conventions should displease you, why not throw them all out? After all, what makes them all more valuable than your own happiness? And I find this a hard argument to reject without appealing to other spooks.
(This article was originally written for ALLiance: A Journal of Theory and Strategy.)
"If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal," declared Emma Goldman in a ringing indictment of the feeble mechanism by which the state claims to be restrained and directed. Of course, in invoking this quote anarchists argue against counting upon elections to change the status quo. We aren't going to bring about the voluntary society by listening to politicians, casting votes for them, and pressuring them to abolish their own offices. The statist means and the anarchist ends are clearly opposed.
But there's another argument against voting: that by casting a ballot, one registers endorsement of the state and its violence. Advocates of this argument do not hold that you must have chosen the politician who wields power. They disregard personal intent, interests, and any issues at hand. The argument is quite simple: by participating in the election, one is bound to its results. Given the anarchist view of those results - violence, fraud, and lies - one can only conclude that voting makes one an accessory to the crime.