Anarchist & Radical Book Club discussion

Book Club 2011 & 2012 > [March] Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology - David Graeber

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message 1: by Tinea (last edited Mar 01, 2011 04:09PM) (new)

Tinea (pist) At the suggestion of Katie, I added Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology to the 'currently reading' section on the homepage of this group, with a link to a free pdf download.

Any idea how long people would like to give ourselves to read this, if a timeline would be useful? It's about 100 pages. Or if you'd prefer just go ahead and start discussing.

message 2: by Katie (new)

Katie Glanz This is so great! Thank you. I would just need a few days or so, but I certainly understand if others are busy, and would like more time. I would suggest a discussion on March 5th, but would be open to any date really.

Just let me know what y'all think!

message 3: by Tinea (new)

Tinea (pist) It's going to take me longer than that to read the book, at least until Monday the 7th. However it doesn't really matter how timely the responses are since this book doesn't have spoilers to worry about, so maybe once as people start having ideas and reactions just go ahead and bring them up?

message 4: by Francois (new)

Francois Tremblay I'll have to bow out, someone borrowed this book from me so I can't read it with you.

message 5: by Katie (new)

Katie Glanz Millicent wrote: "It's going to take me longer than that to read the book, at least until Monday the 7th. However it doesn't really matter how timely the responses are since this book doesn't have spoilers to worry..."

I'll want to re reread this one too. I should be ready to start discussing on Monday the 7th.

message 6: by Katie (new)

Katie Glanz Francois wrote: "I'll have to bow out, someone borrowed this book from me so I can't read it with you."

If you'd like, you can download it as a pdf here:

message 7: by Miquixote (last edited Mar 05, 2011 03:24PM) (new)

Miquixote I am finished the book. Not sure how the discussion progresses so I will just post my ideas.

consensus democracy vs. compulsion democracy:

Marxists like to argue that consensus democracy simply wears people down until they are 'browbeaten into agreement' and is therefore just as bad. I think that is a stretch. Michael Albert of Parecon says that we need not worry too much about it though as the act of trying things out can provide solutions to the possilbe problems that could arise with consensus democracy. The importance is active participation in political decisions. Perhaps imagining worker's councils as stifling and opressive, as many marxists do, instead of empowering and invigorating is part of the problem.

the parody of intellectual debate in academic circles:

As much as I agree that academic books should be geared towards common people, I also feel that we need to increase our intellectual capacities (or rather intellectual curiosity). Should books be written at a Harry Potter level of intelligence to maximize political participation? I don't think that we need to reduce politics to be about great myths, as Sorel the Mussolini twin does. To reduce intellectual works to inspirational myth is to cater to the false idea that common folk are irrational and fundamentally bad. The question that constantly rises in my mind, and one to which I don't have an answer, is at what point is gearing books to common folk populist in the negative sense and simplifying things too much?

practice vs. theory:

There is an overly false dichotomy that David Graeber ruminates on. That of theory and analysis as being contrary to practice. Or rather as Marxists being theoretical and anarchists being practical. I find opposing strategy to practice as being extremely problematic. Effectively creating the myth of 'smart' people vs- 'active' people.

There is something called praxis, that I wish was underlined more often, by both marxists and anarchists. Practice without theory is just plain stupid. And theory without practice is elitist. Erase the dichotomy and create a dialectic. Anarchists often tend to be anti-theory, anti-vision, anti-strategy to their detriment (like a the Nike 'just do it' commercial), and the marxist coordinator class vanguardism cluelessly and hypocritically unwilling to democratize.

Critique of Zerzan:

Another thing about the book I particulary liked was the critiques of Zerzan primitivism (because the elimination of 90% of the human population is the only way primitivism could work and an anarchist should have moral qualms about that...).

The state as the prime power source:

I do have a quibble though, I am not sure if the anti-state feel here is too heavy. My first question, is why can’t we see the state simply as another power base, instead of entering into monocausal arguments? There are other power bases: the main one being economic, but also ideological and military. The state can be used against the overwhelming economic force or to balance it, as it was somewhat successfully with Keynesianism.

However, one must acknowledge that the state is more often than not sleeping with the economic forces, ovewhelmingly so with neoliberalism's advent since 1980. But I am not sure focusing too much on the state as the central enemy is right…how about having one tactic to make the state more participatory? There is merit to multi-polar attacks on power bases, one of them being gradually eliminating the current political bureaucracy and replacing it with mass participatory politics. The state can serve certain important social functions: for example, state health care should be a fundamental right, at least until it is possible to maintain health in other ways that are not possible yet.

Focussing too much against the state can be a dangerous argument and as monocausal as many econonomic fundamentalists. It is important to remember that the dismantling of the welfare state in the US and other Western countries over the last quarter-century has not led to more opportunities for self-organization and empowerment, but less.

message 8: by Katie (new)

Katie Glanz Hi all,

Very nice start to this discussion. @Miquixote I've picked up on a few of your insightful ideas, and added a few of my own at the end.

Consensus democracy vs. compulsion democracy:

I think Graeber’s insights into Majority Democracy are compelling. Is there a possibility for consensus democracy? Marxists would never think so; they would argue that conflict and revolution are inevitable and “natural.”


I like Graeber’s point that what we conceive of as revolutions are never as wild and earth shattering as we would like to think. Also, I liked his argument that academics have ethnocentrically called western movements “revolutions” but have not recognized nonwestern revolutions as such.

The parody of intellectual debate in academic circles:

I’m not sure that Graeber is arguing for mythologizing Political Theory. I think what he might have in mind is more of a bell hooks/Chomsky style simplification of academic language. This wouldn’t require the simplification of ideas, just the removal of overly academic diction, and an expansion of the debate into non-academic circles. So that the debate is not “taking place in language so arcane that no one who could not afford seven years of grad school would have any way of knowing the debate was going on.” (50) But @Miquixote you’re right, it is very important to avoid belittling people who don’t have similar levels of cultural, economic, or academic capital as most of the people involved in these discussions…

Practice vs. theory:

Praxis…@ Miquixote I agree completely, but I do think that Graeber has some interesting insights into how ethnography (as practice) could really contribute to discourses in Political Theory.

Critique of Zerzan:

I’m not going to pretend that I know very much at all about anarchism. I don’t, that’s why I joined this book club, but having never read Zerzan, and just going by Graeber’s critiques…I don’t think I would care much for Zerzan’s ideas. I mean, isn’t primitivism—the very word—a western patriarchal fetishization of the “Nobel Savage” a la Rousseau??? Gross. OR, maybe this isn’t what Zerzan is all about. I’d love to hear back from people who have actually read his work, because here I am, being an armchair critic.

The state as the prime power source:

I do think that Graeber is valid in his critique of Political Theory’s obsession with “the state.” It’s true that it is very hard for most theorists to conceive of non-state political organizations. This is yet another reason why Political Theory has so much to learn from Anthropological theory (think consensus communities, chiefdoms, tribes, etc…side note-these terms are rife with problematic deterministic/ethnocentric connotations--). (69)

Ok so just a few of my chosen topics/points/critiques
…if anyone wants to jump on any of these:

Political Theory can benefit from the insights of Anthropological theory and ethnography

• Destabilize western dominance of theory
o Democracy was not invented by the west-88
o Philosophy was not invented by the west-97
Comparative Political Theory-possibilities
• There is no break from history- we aren’t “modern” and “others” aren’t” primitive”-46
• Anthropological theory-how to talk about non-states-67

Some Valuable Insights
• Critique of Foucault’s biopower-real power is…real-71-72
• Revolution-mass defection vs. revolution-61/64 Rebellion vs. revolution?
• To maintain order societies choose between the threat of force from a ruling apparatus or a consensus process.
• Democracy-Majority Democracy-exists only with the threat of violence89/91

Some Questions/Critiques
• Where is the reflexivity?
• Anthropology-does it really take into account all of human history?-97, if so…certainly not equally-just look at who the anthropologists are.

message 9: by Miquixote (last edited Mar 07, 2011 06:20PM) (new)

Miquixote Outstanding reply Katie! I might be in over my head here so please take it easy on me...

Indeed I think Graeber has some very interesting insights into ethnography (as practice and theory). It is high time Anarchism and Anthropology are taken seriously in academia.

On consensus democracy vs. compulsion democracy:

I think that the only way for consensus democracy to work would be to change our apolitical culture. Make being political and critical part of being a responsible adult. Thus the importance that education has always taken for anarchists.

On revolutions:

I agree totally that revolutions need not be wild and earth shattering. In fact the less wild, the more likely it will survive. Undeniably non-western revolutions are just as important, some maybe more so, for example the current Arab one is hugely important I think.

On conflict and/or evasions:

I think that we live in a hyper-competitive society and I hope I don’t sound too Marxist when I say that conflict is part of our everyday life - between the haves and the have-nots. Now if too many people were to reject that reality and 'evade' or 'rebel' and create mass evasion, what would happen? I think it would cause mass economic problems and then the defectors would necessarily be hunted down to be put back into their old wage labour, or worse, concentration camps or prison. Some would say that is already happening in the US with the massive African American prison population. Anyways the ‘powers-that-be’ would definitely not give their power away willingly. At that breaking point rebellious anarchists would have to choose for revolution.

I think evading simply hastens the clarity of an inevitably open conflict. Because we are already essentially living out a class war (or if the term 'class' is dated for some, between the ones with mobility and the ones without). This conflict, will be hopefully not violent, but certainly quite, quite likely, if history has anything to say. The Zapatistas do have guns for a reason. They’d be silly not to.

I also believe that history has shown us that non-violence could never stop a fascist (fascists actually get joy from massacring innocent pacifists). But non-violence can be an excellent tactic in democracies (like with Gandhi, who needless to say would have been eliminated without morality by the Nazis).

But all that said you are right that Marxists often do create needless conflicts. During the Russian Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky annihilated the Anarchist Makhnovists. The Makhnovists first tried cooperation with the communists, then they had to defend themselves against their inevitable betrayal and succeeded for some time. They tried running, but they couldn’t hide. The communists practiced power politics. The Maknovists consensus politics. The Makhnovists lost but perhaps only because they didn’t fully realize (perhaps due to the very nature of belief in consensus) how un-resolvable the conflict between authority and consensus is.

Also in the Spanish Civil War, the refusal to truly acknowledge the very real and inevitably deadly conflict between power and consensus was literally the death knell and they had nowhere to evade to.

Evasion couldn’t have worked in Russia, certainly not in Spain, where the only answer short of the nihilistic one (that their destruction was inevitable) would have been a more realistic understanding of the very real conflict that they couldn’t avoid, and a more complete vision and strategy to work around it.

Obviously times have changed…tremendously. The question that rises is are there new ways of evading today that didn’t exist before? Are our options increasing or diminishing? Do we live in more, or less totalitarian societies? Or is just that the types of totalitarianisms have changed into more subtle, nuanced ones?

On the parody of intellectual debate in academic circles:

I was not suggesting that Graeber is arguing for mythologizing Political Theory. That sounds more like Georges Sorel (as Graeber himself mentions). I was merely thinking out loud my own thoughts, as I have encountered many a leftist who still thinks that we need a Great New Myth to save the world.

I really agree with ‘a Chomsky style simplification of academic language: the removal of overly complicated diction, and an expansion of the debate into non-academic circles’. Chomsky would have us learn to be more rational and better critical thinkers. I also agree that one should not have to have 'seven years of grad school” (50). Unfortunately one still needs political knowledge, which doesn't usually just come automatically. The 3rd world often get practical education automatically because they are not protected from the worst of capitalist consequences and real-life lessons, as many of us are (although our protections are diminishing drastically). The only way the 'protected' can become politically literate is to willingly participate actively and that also means theoretically (because I don’t agree with the dichotomy between practice and theory at all, as I mentioned before). Of course, we have no need for the academic charlatans (which does not mean all of the academics are charlatans, after all Chomsky and Hooks are academics.)

That said there is a great danger and fairly common practice of 'academic-bashing’ to such a degree that leads to a sort of discriminatory stance against all academia, and the consequence is nothing less than a far from rigorous theoretical and ultimately practical understanding.

About belittling those with less cultural capital and economic capital:

I am not even sure what cultural capital means...if it just means reading academic drivel that justifies the coordinator class or having access to ‘cultural’ spectacles such as Sony PlayStation and Ipods then there is nothing to look down on others about…

I would rather belittle those with exactly those high levels of economic and cultural capital if they only further their own means with it… I especially propose belittling capitalism and authoritarianism as inhuman ideas and its extremities like the anarcho-capitalists and the neo-liberals, and of course full-on fascists, as well as authoritarian communists who have no qualms about ‘secretly’ massacring ‘ infantile’ anarchists or left-wing communists for pragmatic reasons of retaining the vanguard position.

Critique of Zerzan:

I haven't read Zerzan either. But I have read of him quite a bit and from what it sounds like, you pretty much sum it up great ‘—the very word—a western patriarchal fetishization of the “Nobel Savage” a la Rousseau???’

If somebody wants to demonstrate our ignorance of Zerzan here, please do… (because neither one of us has read him. But, armchair critic or not, I don't see the appeal in reading him, so I am highly unlikely to...)

The state as the prime power source:

I also think it is important to criticize “the state's” role. However I was trying to point out that there are more crucial forces at play, mainly corporate institutions which use the state as a puppet. That said, I am totally pro- non-state political institutions. Inevitably they must be so to retain integrity because the state is necessarily corrupt (but its level of corruption is dependent on how much input the people have in it, in the US that means very little input and high corruption. In many states of Europe, higher input and much better citizen protection). However, leaving state politics completely and abandoning it to the right-wing would literally mean the death and suffering of untold quantities of people (if only from the destruction of the minimal public health care service for the poor.). It is hard to exaggerate the extent of suffering this would cause the have-nots.

On your well-chosen topics/points/critiques:

I agree with mostly all of your ingenious insights but I still find the idea of mass defection problematic. There is already a type of mass defection in elections, where it is common for US elections to get only a 40% turn-out. The ruling elite love it. It is much easier to put out a corporate candidate or elect a Hitler who eliminates all our rights in that case. Or is that what some anarchists want: to fast-forward a real-life dystopia in hopes for shocking the sleeping people’s conscience? On the lack of reflexivity:

Anthropology certainly doesn't take into account all of human history. But it is still a valuable insight to it. Unfortunately anthropologists are biased. But as far as I know, all humans are.

I really liked this book and I really appreciate your ideas Katie. Look how much it has made us reflect! We really need to reflect on the lack of rigor, quality and ethics in our universities.

All refutations welcome!

message 10: by Katie (new)

Katie Glanz Thanks! No, I don’t think you’re in over your head at all! You know what you’re talking about, clearly.
Good thoughts!

Re: On conflict and/or evasions:

I think you’re spot on about rebels and evasion. While I completely respect anarchist theories, rebellion is a difficult concept for me. I think we have to carefully consider who is actually able to rebel. The privileged and educated are the ones who have the ability to start collectives and off-the-grid communities. Try telling a single mother with five kids who is working two jobs that she should rethink her compliance with capitalism…

Also, I think conflict is to some degree inevitable, but I’m just not sure what that would look like now. I think times have changed immensely, and if anything, that we are living in an even more totalitarian society, at least with respect to the regulatory power of norms. Graeber is right, mass media makes it virtually impossible for people to fashion their own identities. “Privileged” people’s agency may not be as physically limited as it once was, but their psychological freedom barely exists at all, and most of the world’s population suffers now from both violent physical oppression AND now, psychological repression. This also means that the bully powers (US et al) will see this violence/conflict—if the media doesn’t fall all over themselves in a completely incompetent manner… More exposure to the realities of physical suffering…what will that do? Anything? I’m not sure.

Re: On the parody of intellectual debate in academic circles:

So, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I certainly don’t think that all academics are charlatans. I would hope not…as that’s where I am headed professionally! I do however , think that constant reflexivity, contextualization, and critical examination should be ingrained practices within all academic circles, but I think you would agree with that.

Re: About belittling those with less cultural capital and economic capital:

Haha, well what I meant by cultural capital was what the most powerful would find culturally relevant—like PBS, the Smithsonian, and Arcade Fire and shit--I’m not at all saying I agree with that definition of culture!

Personally, I don’t think I’m really down for belittling anybody. Maybe I need to summon up some more well placed anger. Seriously though, in my heart of hearts I think misogynists, racists, ect…are just really pathetic. It’s hard for me to feel enough anger to want to ridicule them…BUT educate them YES! Oh, and let’s see how sweet, forgiving, and understanding I am the next time some creeper grabs me at a bar…

Re: Critique of Zerzan:
Yeah…sounds totally unappealing to me too…but yes, if someone has actually read his work and could offer up a defense, please do!

I’ve enjoyed your insights and commentary as well! I’m glad I took some time to reread this one. I just wish I could find that paper I wrote about it as an undergrad.

message 11: by Tinea (new)

Tinea (pist) wow! excited to join in this conversation, just reading slowly.

message 12: by Miquixote (last edited Mar 09, 2011 05:06PM) (new)

Miquixote Katie, you are amazing! You are so patient with this in-touch-with-his anger, long-winded anarchist!

I find it interesting that you have a problem with rebellion... and who can rebel:

The privileged and educated indeed have the ability to start collectives and off-the-grid communities, but they are by far the least likely to do so. Why? Well, because they risk their privileges by doing so.

The single mother with 5 kids working 2 jobs:

I personally think it is obvious that she should be an anti-capitalist (because her situation is certainly at least partly caused by capitalist morality). But is it really her situation that wouldn't allow her to make that conclusion? I would argue that in reality the working class is the most likely to be anti-capitalist, not the privileged class. It is worthy to note that the rich have a very long way to fall the motivation is certainly also there for them to refrain from radicalizing. But the single woman with 5 kids...who doesn’t resent the system in her situation?

Perhaps we should see how much help she is getting from her extended family in raising her kids. Probably not much. How much help do privileged folk get? LOTS. Parents pay for things. Parents pay for virtually everything, no matter how dumb their kids may be (eg. George Bush Junior). Even if they aren’t always there psychologically, the sheer immense amount of material help gives a huge advantage to the privileged class. But let’s face it, even psychological help is difficult to provide when the parent is always working in 2 jobs (in the poor person’s case). That in and of itself should rationally make the single mother with 5 kids reach out for help by the only way that one can in her situation – by being community-oriented. There is a reason why community actually means something for the poor, and nothing for the middle class.

Community oriented is a very rebellious notion these days. The single mother with 5 kids’ so-called compliance wasn't a choice anyhow, she probably imagines she has to do it just to survive. But I would argue that reaching out to the community is a better survival mechanism.

What does conflict look like now?:

Good question. Conflict is almost never very obvious anymore. Part of the reason is that people hate anger so much and conflict is consequently hidden from view.

And rebellion?:

I think that a core emotion of rebellion is anger (as you seem to know). And I think that anger can be a very positive emotion but it gets a really bad rap. A lot of positive thinking psycho-babble, as well as Buddhism and innumerable other types of spirituality focus on how destructive negative emotions are (is it a coincidence that capitalists always talk about the need for positive thoughts too?). As Yoda says 'fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering'. According to Buddhists AND capitalists we simply need to manipulate truth and not worry.

But if I have 5 kids and I work too much and still can’t pay the bills my fear is real! Yoda the capitalist suggests that I am evil because I am not optimistic about my future. That is why the single mother with 5 kids doesn’t join the anti-capitalists…because our ideological brainwashing does not allow fundamental criticism.

The psychologist’s false humility:

There is nothing cockier than a psychologist's bible salesman grin telling us that we should not allow negative energy into our life and that we should live like him charging 70 bucks an hour telling other people how to live their life. No point mentioning that the poor people who need help most can't afford that price...

Why psychology is generally useless:

It is the law of supply and demand: if something is expensive and continues being expensive, it is because it is not in high demand (it is useless). Conversely, if something is cheap and continues being cheap, it is because it is in high demand (it is useful).

Critical = Negative:

Due to huge amounts of educational, social and media propaganda, it is not a coincidence that the very word 'critical' sends negative feelings shooting through nearly everyone. 'You are a critical thinker? Doesn't that mean you are really pessimistic, negative and just plain grumpy?'

I beg to differ, the most positive human is the one that faces terrible truth straight in the eye, fights it, laughs about it, and tells all without due worry about consequence. 'I'll get angry, fight, and call you out, but I'll never make the marginalized suffer'.

Anger is not the enemy, it is the key. It needs to be challenged into progressive movement. Into revolution. The said revolution need not be violent. Self-defense is not violence, but of course it is angry. The marginalized have a right to be angry and have a right to live as well as anybody.

If one is not angry about what is happening in this world, one is simply dead already.

Totalitarian societies:

I agree that we live in an even more totalitarian society than we could have imagined a hundred years ago. That regulatory power of norms is huge, it even makes us hate anger, but without allowing us to admit that hate, because hate is bad too according to Big Brother. The mass media has zombified us. We walk around unfeelingly until someone steps on our capitalist toes, then we massacre them angrily, because passion (of which anger is an integral part) is the flesh we need to survive, even for zombies. Because that is what the real conflict that currently exists demands. with our empty eyes, and empty souls. Then we go back to our dialogue of anti-anger, anti-violence. Because that is what ‘diplomacy’ or harmonious anti-human humility demands.

“Privileged” people :

“Privileged” people have more psychological freedom than we do, as limited as it is. They can afford the false preachers of psychology who almost never get results. The rest of the world that suffers from violent physical repression (as well as psychological repression) could teach us a thing or two about how to deal with psychological repression. And they don't even have the more or less useless psychologists to help them. Have you ever seen how much a psychologist costs?

'What if the bully powers see the violent conflict?':

I am not sure what you mean by this question, 'What if the bully powers see the violent conflict?' By bully powers, do you mean the government or the people? If you mean the government, they are certainly aware of the violent conflict, considering they are the ones who encourage it. If you mean the people, well, violent conflict is one of our greatest spectacles now. If there isn't sex and violence it isn't good entertainment. (Just ask your friendly neighbourhood 'critic')

The media:

The media are incompetent, but it is because they are paid to be. It is very much planned. Perhaps the next read could be 'Manufacturing Consent'...

The definition of culture:

The very definition of culture is another control mechanism. Crap culture gets great reviews. Who is paying these guys? Is it like some FBI agent swoops in and says 'give a good review...or else'. But the truth is that is not necessary anymore, we are our own best repressors now. Repression has been completely internalized in the 1st world. In the 3rd world they still have to resort to physical violence. But when too many people wake up (like they are right now in Wisconsin) watch out what the powers do!

You are going to be an academic!:

Oh, you are going to be an academic! A non-charlatan! How exciting! Go for it! What are you studying? I hope dearly it is not psychology, because you will probably be really angry with me…! If it is psychology, please socialize it, radicalize it!

Re: About belittling :

I see a lot of people reluctant to belittle anybody. I mean what is wrong with belittling a rapist or child molester? Maybe it's okay to belittle a mass murderer? Maybe belittling has its place in exceptional situations? Like anger...

I think misogynists, racists, ect…are really pathetic too. But there are some misogynists and racists that are so far gone and vicious that one needs to be angry about it. One shouldn't always think what would Gandhi or Jesus do. Sometimes one needs to think what would the heroic anarchists of early 20th century do?

On why education is not always the answer:

Some people (namely fascists) don't want to be educated, and they just want to kill, mutilate, maim. That is why Gandhi is not always right. Self-defence is necessary with fascists, who will kill anybody mercilessly. The fascist zombie need not be respected unless he demonstrates humanity.

On sweet, forgiving, understanding people:

Why is that so many sweet, forgiving, and understanding people are nice only until some creeper grabs you at a bar…There are far worse people sitting in your government, but people forgive them at the media's beck and call.

That reminds me of a beautiful friend of mine (by beautiful I mean her interior, as beautiful as she also is on the exterior!)...she is a sweet, forgiving and understanding person. All rare and such important traits. But I saw her angry, very angry. The angriest I saw her was when she saw a blow-up doll in a bar being carried by bachelor partiers. She screamed, yelled, and cried about how awful it was (about the concept of a blow-up doll representing the perfect woman). Because she could relate to the pain and suffering it caused (for some historical or psychological reason that none of us could know she felt very strongly). There was nothing wrong with her anger. Anger serves its purpose. But that was the only time I saw her angry. She was a woman. She had suffered a lot because of the beauty myth. I don’t want to take that away from her. I know she suffered and it was real.. and relevant. It wasn’t crazy, it wasn’t negative, it wasn’t bad.

My question is why does a woman like that reject anger except when it comes to her own equally relevant reasons? Why reject the anger of all the other people who are repressed and marginalized in so many other ways? Racism, classism, homophobia, exploitation, etc. Why not be angry for something that does not perfectly apply to your individual situation? Why can’t we be angry for animals, for nature, because of environmental destruction? Certainly we can all relate in some way to all the various ways of exploitation. Why is anger the evil and not exploitation? How did it get deflected?

Not only that, if we repress anger it may comes out in strange and sometimes even damaging ways.

Calling all Zerzonians!:

Still waiting for a Zerzan defense. Calling all Zerzonians !

The undegrad paper:

Katie I do think sweetness is very, very important! Find that undergrad paper and put it online so we can read it! Graeber doesn't get enough attention.

Thanks for engaging with me! I apologize deeply if I am too much in tune with conflict. May I learn to be more in tune with sweetness, forgiveness and understanding.

Millicent we are waiting for you!


message 13: by Francois (new)

Francois Tremblay Why would Zerzonians be on the Internet? He he he.

message 14: by Katie (new)

Katie Glanz ^Hahaha TRUTH.

This is a great conversation!

Re: The single mother with 5 kids working 2 jobs:

I agree! She would be anti-capitalist, and also would be inclined to rebel against her situation along side others in her class. What I was trying to get at is that she wouldn’t be able to rebel in the –oh let’s go “off-the-grid this week, kind of way.”
I really like your point about the importance of community. I actually think that less privileged classes have more emotional and care-taking support from their extended families than more privileged classes.

Re: Conflict Now:

I think that people’s aversion to conflict and anger plays a relatively small role in keeping the structures of inequality (substructure) hidden. I think that the superstructure (social norms implicit in mass media and in the machinery of the state) play a much much larger role. This superstructure is designed to justify, conceal, and perpetuate capitalism, and therefore misery and inequality. Societal norms like consumer culture and bullshit libertarian ideas of individualism and self-interest are all around us, and they make all of this inequality appear to be normal, justified, and acceptable.

Re: Anger/Psychology:

I think the core of rebellion is anger, and there is nothing wrong with that. I was simply disagreeing with the idea of belittling others. I’m not sure I know where you’re coming from with psychology…but I would actually completely agree with you about psychology! I find that discipline very problematic, especially since it is mostly based on creepy antiquated notions of gendered archetypes.

Re: Critical=Negative

Again, I agree with you whole-heartedly. I actually love most everything to do with critical theory…I saw Dr. Gayatri Spivak speak yesterday and she was incredibly critical of her fellow male panelist, and it was brilliant and necessary! AGAIN let me express that I think anger is wonderful, I just don’t think it should be used incorrectly. Belittling suggests mocking with the intent to lower selfesteem to cause them emotional pain. Wouldn’t a more useful way to critique someone be to poke holes in all of their uninformed/fascist/misogynistic beliefs? This might be a more round-about way of “belittling” someone, maybe that is what you’re saying.

IN SUM-I think anger is important, but only if it comes from/after illumination. Pure anger can come from anywhere, from ressentiment, bad brain chemicals, etc…anger that comes from knowing/learning about/experiencing injustice is justified and highly productive and creative. Anger that comes from inferiority complexes and fear of losing superiority is not.

Re: ‘What if the bully powers see the violent conflict?':

I meant the people, the government is obviously aware. And, good point about violence as entertainment. Also, something I forgot to mention earlier. Americans are unrivaled in their ability to otherize and therefore dehumanize almost anyone outside of their narrow definition of “human.” Judith Butler explains why this is just perfectly in ‘Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence.’

Re: The Media

Sure! Like I mentioned earlier, I have little to no knowledge of anarchist theory…

Haha I am going to be an academic. I will be starting a Ph.D. program in Political Theory next fall. I would never study psychology…I once took a course in psychology and I dropped it after the first meeting. I couldn’t focus on the readings because I kept thinking “this is totally made up shit being presented as truth/fact.” I mean that’s fine, that’s all knowledge is anyway, but most academics at least acknowledge that their ideas are informed by social constructs ie-SUBJECTIVITY. This is like completely missing in psychology…at least in most of what I’ve come across.

Re: On why education is not always the answer:

Why do they want to do this though…? ALWAYS ASK WHY! I’m not saying don’t kill the fuckers-if they are doing absolutely inhumane things, and cannot be stopped otherwise, I’m just saying, it is always important to search for the root of evil/evilish sentiments.

Re: On sweet, forgiving, understanding people:

OH SNAP! This is too good, you completely called me on this! Good fucking point! I was just making a stupid little joke, but you’re right, perhaps this Freudian slip (haha because I know you must love Freud) reveals some serious underlying problematic issues I have with expressing/feeling anger. Maybe your ability to express anger in certain situations is quite noble, while my removed academic rage reflects my inability to become viscerally involved in other people’s suffering…

Perhaps I should think more AND DO MORE about the
suffering outside of my own being.

THANK YOU! Seriously, you are quite insightful.

Yes, Millicent, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

message 15: by Miquixote (last edited Mar 14, 2011 02:03PM) (new)

Miquixote All right! United in saying that mothers with 5 kids should be anti-capitalists, that community and anger are key,…

Some notes… I don't know if less privileged classes always have more emotional and care-taking support, sometimes they are just in extremely abusive relationships (not that privileged aren't often also, and under-reported and under-criminalized...). Sometimes underprivileged people really are all alone and alienated, all the more reason to make community a key.

On anger…

I am super happy, happy, joy, joy to see you agree with anger (of course only when it is done right!) You see, I am not only capable of anger, but joy too! I really feel that discriminating against our emotions, whichever they are, is asking for a monster to take over our unconsciousness. Kindalike repressing the working class, yeah, they will explode one day and we’ll regret it.

We agree on a lot, but I can't agree that people’s aversion to conflict and anger plays a relatively small role in keeping the structures of inequality (substructure) hidden. Why? Because as Chomsky says, ‘repression has now been internalized.’

I agree that the superstructure (social norms implicit in mass media and in the machinery of the state) of course plays a huge role but that superstructure also focuses on how supposedly 'infantile' and 'violent' and 'repressed' the 'angry left' are. Religion for example has often played that role historically (many Biblical interpretations focus on humility and lack of pride, as well as being almost universally against anger, and no mention of ignorance as a sin at all). Of course there is plenty of divine anger and even Jesus got angry a few times…but religion is often selective in interpretation. That said, I do not want to say that religion is necessarily a negative influence (although I do think any ideology has authoritarian tendencies, that is why I like anarchism, because it is too flexible to be an ideology). Religion is not the cause of the oppression though, it is simply twisted to capitalist needs ie. The Protestant Work Ethic of Capitalism. The Zapatistas are a fine example of positive religious interpretation, of an authority from below, of a sort of anarchist viewpoint of Christianity.

Anyways, I think part of the superstructure which justifies, conceals, and perpetuates capitalism, misery and inequality also demonizes anybody who is (justifiably) angry against capitalist ideology and its effects. Anger is only okay if it justifies the current ideological status quo, like the Inquisition and its Holy Anger directed against the Faithless or People of Other Faiths. Hypocritically status-quo lovers look back and say that was an exception to the rule, unable to see the Red Purges at home in the USA throughout the 19th, 20th and now the 21st century.

Societal norms like consumer culture and libertarian ideas of individualism and self-interest are very important control mechanisms but so is the idea that as long as a leader who kills (ie. Obama) does so with charm, maybe he is a good guy. It is amazing that Obama is still being defended by many while the angry leftists (who call out Obama for his crimes) are called extreme.

Why is it that Bush is hated so much more than Obama? Obama is only marginally better than Bush, and he has actually increased the military budget above and beyond Bush. Has Obama done ANYTHING to help the underprivileged? All Obama does is make inequality appear to be normal, justified, and acceptable, but he does do it with a smile and far better diplomacy. Congratulations on murdering women and children without being angry about it! I think that is called psychopathology (if only I believed in psychology, my point might be more relevant…) Fear the man who is always smiling. Beauty is fleeting, charm is deceptive.

About belittling…

I am not always into outright belittling, or mocking, but yeah, I think it serves its purpose, when people go too far...there are ways of doing it that I think work very well, and often far more effective than having serious logical conversations. Ever tried having a logical conversation with an irrational fascist, misogynist, racist? The reason why they are the way they are is that reason does not appeal to them. Humour is often the best way to call them out. It is not necessarily intended to lower self esteem or to cause emotional pain, but the embarrassment that an irrational person gets from seeing ideas that he may relate to being 'mocked' humorously is often superior to out-fencing them head-on and intellectually. For that reason satire is often the most effective way to poke holes in uninformed/fascist/misogynistic beliefs. I think Borat or SouthPark are great examples. Borat brilliantly lampoons patriotism, homophobia, misogyny, and racism. They follow in the same spirit that Monty Python brilliantly lampooned Christian fundamentalism.

On Judith Butler…

I wondered if I should read Judith Butler, or if she was one of those academics who put things too complicatedly..(haha, I think I just invented a word!) I guess I will have to read her now, thanks!

On subjectivity…

Great to hear you are going to be the next academic who means business! And that you understand that good academics at least acknowledge that their ideas are informed by social constructs ie-SUBJECTIVITY. However, I also wonder if postmodernist subjectivity has perhaps gone too far? Chomsky hammers post-modernism for often being anti-moral and being more or less like ‘every opinion is relevant’ and ahistorical (in the sense that all morals are subjective and therefore intrinsically authoritarian). Chomsky and Foucault had a famous debate about it, some of it you can see on Youtube and there is a book of it too.

On Freudian slips…

It is so noble of you to admit your Freudian slip, but I don’t know how noble my occasional anger is…I do tire of the ‘every opinion is equally valid no matter how irrational’ routine that is so common, I hope that doesn’t make me ignoble!…

I am glad that my amateurish insights can strike a chord here or there though…

And yes, Francois isn’t it ironic that primitivists shouldn’t be on the net giving opinions! I hope that doesn’t mean we are doomed to mis-represent them…

Once again, if I am out of line, irrational or just plain stupid, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

message 16: by abclaret, facilitator (new)

abclaret | 93 comments Mod
I'm not sure if I am too late to pickup the book and throw some points on this?...but from skimming a few points.

consensus democracy vs. compulsion democracy

If your infavour of free association, compulsion on democratic decisions is null and void I would have thought. Any decisions made whereby you have to follow up on them, sounds to me a bit autocratic. I remember listening to a lecture by Eric Foner and he made the point the US was to a degree totalitarian state because it defined 'democracy' in such a cast iron way that, it ran the risk of running almost against the prescribed will of the people.

And my understanding of the democratic ethos is that consensus is by its nature undemocratic. The left has put too much focus on majority decision making, and I am not as harsh as I once was on consensus, but its open to manipulation by very minimal number of people involved in the process. In practical terms consensus has a place, but for routine decision making if a consensus can not be reached majority decision making should raise its head.

the parody of intellectual debate in academic circles

In some political circles there is an inability to recognise a target audience and the message is then lost in either sub-cultural or superfluous language. Even groups which aren't that intellectual can fall into this trap. And academia is worse in some respect because theory is espoused entirely as theory. When talk is abstract and prised from action it becomes useless.

message 17: by Katie (new)

Katie Glanz Thanks for the thoughtful replies!

@abclaret- I mostly agree with your thoughts on democracy.

Also, I must say I have a different view on theory. I must say that theory, espoused simply as theory is far from useless. A head in the clouds is needed to generate new more radical and progressive ideas. We need to dream the impossible because we never know ahead of time what is actually possible.


On Anger/Religion/Repression:

I agree that religion is not an inherently negative influence. I think it is simply a way of perpetuating power structures/the norms of the dominant. Of course, as you pointed out, it can indeed be refashioned to overturn/mediate and question these forces.

Obama: I agree, his administration is carrying out some very problematic policies. I don’t feel that administration’s actions are much better than previous administrations’.

It might be important to point out, that not only are leftists called “extreme and angry,” the crazy-ass right tea-baggers are too. Basically, anyone who disagrees with one group’s concept of proper governing/government gets labeled “crazy/angry/wrong.” This is where I think constructive criticism becomes important. If I simply decry those who disagree with me, they will do the same, and we will get nowhere. Constructive criticism leads to discussion, and hopefully, ultimately points of consensus. This might be where we diverge with me going a little more post-modern, you going towards more leftist. While I completely respect your opinion, and agree with you on many points, I am not prepared to say that my view is morally superior to those I disagree with. I do have to amend this here to say that I don’t devolve into contextualizing everything to the point where I cannot hold certain belifes and live a form of ethical life. Honestly, these lines are shifting, as they should be. They require reflection and case-by case examinations. Being an ethical human is a lot of work!

On Judith Butler…

I highly recommend reading her work! You might enjoy Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence-This book actually outlines several of the many ways post-strucuralist concepts can encourage ethical and moral ways of life.

On Postmodernism:

At this point, I’m sure you might guess which side of the debate I lean towards…  That said, I have heard of the Foucault/Chomsky debate, but have never watched it. I’ll have to check it out! But again, Butler does a beautiful job of articulating postmodern morality. Chantal Mouffe also explores the importance of postmodern insights. Liberalism is problematic, and I just do not think that Chomsky does enough to explore this with enough depth. Sure he critiques liberalism, but much of his posturing seems to be in-line with liberalist concepts. (Maybe I am mistaken and have not read enough Chomsky.) Rationalism is dangerous. Also, he does not seem to go into gender issues…this annoys me a bit, but maybe I am just missing times when he has addressed these issues. The more Chomsky I read/hear the less I seem to agree with him…

message 18: by Miquixote (last edited Mar 26, 2011 06:19AM) (new)

Miquixote As always, fascinating ideas and comments!

Here's more of mine, apologies for the length, if I knew how to be more concise I would do it! I swear!

On theory and practice: I think I forgot to mention my favorite book on the subject: Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

On Obama: phew! I was a bit worried we might get into the quagmire debate equating him with ethical, just because he is the first black president. There are still far too many who defend him.

On the tea-baggers...Forgot to mention them, it is amazing how much media coverage those nutcases get. I don't believe the American population is at all on the same wavelength as them as much as the media is trying to portray they are. But you would know that better than me (as I live in Spain now).

I too absolutely respect your opinion Katie, (even if I am more of a leftist!) On that subject: Are you willing to admit you are a leftist? I perhaps incorrectly see many postmodernists as being incapable of defining themselves morally.

I have to admit I have some doubts about post-modernism that I would like to clarify…I think PM is problematic, sometimes highly so (although I imagine post-modernism is diverse in nature, as it claims to be pluralist). But if there is a denial of a the reality of a 'class war' ( a post-modernist usually has problems using the word 'class' in our consumer/spectacle/technology/mobility oriented' world, I imagine some of them would even have a problem equating it into a 'haves' vs. 'have-nots' war, as agonists dislike the antagonist nature of the word ‘war’. They would prefer to acknowledge conflict without being antagonistic. A sort of nod to ‘positive thinking’.)

Agonists (such as Chantal Mouffe) would have us deny the 'antagonist' reality and claim it is clear that any conception of the political which involves a 'celebration' of conflict entails an endorsement of the domination of some portion of society over others. Agonism is evidently and avowedly pluralist in its political outlook (one might mention that anarchism also claims to be, but with much different conclusions, as it at least is willing to 'other' capitalism and authoritarianism). Agonism sees political ‘tensions’ as having an essential place in society, but believes that they should be approached discursively, not in an attempt to eliminate "the other".

So, according to agonists, we shouldn't talk about eliminating 'capitalism' or 'authoritarianism'. It would be unethical. I think this denial of the capitalist reality, which is virtually bringing humanity to the brink of extinction (a very possible near future reality), is absolutely naive and dangerous. But I would argue, as would most leftists, that the antagonistic reality of a class war is real and no changing of narrative will alter that reality.

Also I am a bit confused why one should have a problem with using the terminology of moral superiority. Certainly a peace-loving citizen is ‘morally’ superior to a murder-abiding one? Why the extreme emphasis and horror with the word 'superior'? Because it seems analogous to 'authority'? Should we be against any type of authority, or are we just against irrational and authoritarian authority?

But rationality is dangerous?... More dangerous than anti-rationality? 'I guess everthing is dangerous and a simple alignment of idea of right and particular act is not possible. There will always be a remainder that is part of the ethical issue that cannot be taken into account in a relational world.' That is post-modernism rhetoric and one can see how it can become extremely problematic (and dangerous) because it brings one into relativity narrative quagmire (or for agonists – their idea of pluralism).

If you step out of that quagmire onto what appears to be solid ground (a moral viewpoint based on what appears to you to be a reality), you may be right or wrong, but you still have to make a judgement or we simply stay in the quagmire of anti-judgement, anti-morals, or its inverse which becomes the same in the end – that of embracing all ideologies no matter how exploitative and destructive (agonism). Maybe agonists are not against making judgements and having ethics, but when they argue every morality is effectively an authoritarian and oppressive concept (when it is antagonistic) they are essentially causing the same practical consequence as a Nietzschian philosophy (which is anti-moral and an important element in the development of fascism).

For these reasons, and others, David Graeber writes against academia (because it is caught up in a theoretical quagmire that sinks action-oriented theory, as well as pretty much denying the importance of anarchism (the action-oriented idea per excellence). And the culprits/winners in academia have been overwhelmingly post-modernists. Perhaps Judith Butler is an exception. I dearly hope so for academia's sake. I digress, because I know not of her writings.

I do think though that morals have a lot to do with the world's problems. Capitalists are immoral and we should be antagonistic towards it, even if that means we are blaspheming post-modern fundamentalism by ‘othering’ it. Leftists are at least acknowledging the reality (although many a leftist is of course hypocritical in many ways, myself included). And that of course does necessarily equate with a sense of moral superiority. Agonism, on the other hand, is one of the 'anti-rationality' narratives that deny these types of rational, yet distasteful realities. We are indeed morally superior the moment we acknowledge in thought and in action, the criminal reality of willful enslavement and impoverishment of at least 80% of the world's population (not to mention ravenous animal and environmental destruction). Someone who thinks its okay to impoverish and enslave so that we can get cheaper prices is yes, of course morally inferior and should be treated as authentic criminals (as opposed to criminalizing marijuana smokers or petty theft).

Of course, there is a danger with this type of reality-based and necessarily antagonistic narrative. If our goal for being morally superior is to be superior simply for the sake of being superior in some way, rather than for the undeniably moral purpose of helping the disadvantaged where we can, it is no better than a capitalist ideology/action. This is where it gets complicated because many a moralist is not really a moralist, and is rather an authoritarian pragmatist using ideology as a weapon for social power. I would hope that agonists are not guilty of this and they are rather guilty of 'ignorance is bliss, positive thinking conquers all' fantasies.

Unfortunately, these types of fantasies, will simply cause the exact opposite of what is intended. Denying the antagonist nature of capitalism is an outright denial of reality and will annihilate all opposition by flaking them into a ‘respect all’ stance. It is no surprise this all-embracing naively humble stance is how Obama sells himself. His opinions on how to inspire change, to try to please all, ends up simply catering to the status quo power structure. The only difference between Obama and an agonist is his full knowledge of his manipulative and pragmatic power. Obama is ideal in post-modern A.D.D., anti-history 'let's move forward', and smiley spectacles. The man is an agonist in words and a mass-murdering antagonist in action. The totalitarian figurehead supported by the marketing machine, boardroom, military room, church, senate, media and classroom.

Power politics inevitably bring the philosopher back to Nietzsche. He is even a core influence on post-modernism, curious considering he is also very much a claimed rationalist, whose words betray that he is misogynist, elitist, racist, and aristocrat (all very moral judgements). Like agonists, Nietzsche was unknowingly supporting the very thing he was criticizing. He criticized morality. And ended up helping create totalitarian regimes based on that criticism. His immorality created a new morality. It is impossible to not judge (morally) and neither should we try. Agonists on the other hand embrace all moralities pluralistically. By doing so, they annihilate morals and end up embracing the up-to-date 3rd great totalitarianism, the subtle one (after Fascism and Stalinism).

So does this mean that Nietzsche (and Foucault later on makes similar arguments) was right and that morality is always used as a way of attaining power? We must conclude with an emphatic ‘No’. Or it leads to our current reality of nihilism and narcissism (the very things that we, Lenin, Nietzsche, and post-modernists claim to be against). Post-modernism has failed to do what it apparently aimed for and in fact it can be very well argued that it is one of the most important factors for de-railing anti-capitalist power, due to its ‘pluralistic’ and ultimately futile ethical stance.

That all said the very definition of what is considered 'ethical' is always shifting and is very difficult and confusing to know. There are however some very clear things (like being an anti-capitalist) that are morally yes, superior, of if you prefer, enlightened. However, it is very difficult to define who is a capitalist, and who is not. Partly because actions and words are often two separate things. But as you yourself acknowledge, that theoretical understanding (eg. that severe exploitation is morally wrong) is a necessary thing if one is to understand the complexities of defining right and wrong. And I affirm that we always judge right and wrong everyday, whether we theoretically like it or not.

I will definitely get on to reading Judith Butler, but probably pass on more Chantal Mouffe. Glad to hear they are ethical post-modernists at least. …

On Foucault/ my opinion Chomsky destroys Foucault in the debate. Foucault played the vague, every moral is authoritarian debate too far and exposed his moral (and intellectual) inferiority (sic.)

message 19: by Miquixote (last edited Apr 14, 2011 02:53PM) (new)

Miquixote On Liberalism and Chomsky...he definitely has sympathies for liberalism (classicial liberalism!). But is very important to realize he is not talking about NEO-liberalism. He basically suggests that anarchism owes much to classical liberalism. He even suggests that classical conservatism has positive elements. Both of the aforementioned are not understood well historically and they are not represented accurately. For this it is important to use terms such as neo-con and neo-liberal (which are completely different to the non-neo versions, in a similar sense to how Christian non-violence is warped into The Inquisition). I don't think Chomsky is at all uninformed on the meanings of those terms and does goes into depth beyond anyone I have read. He has made some very insightful studies of Adam Smith (who is almost universally misunderstood as being a neo-liberal and neo-liberals even ridiculously claim Adam Smith as their father figure, something Adam Smith certainly wouldn't agree with).

That said I don't think Chomsky is particularly radical in comparison to many leftists. He would be better defined as a mix of reformist and a revolutionary. He definitely has a practical side (not always a bad thing), something a lot of ‘infantile leftists’ (pardon the Leninist nod, I am not a fan of Lenin!) or pure theoreticians have a problem with. But he is very strong on anti- authoritarianism, something very rare in leadership of 'reformist' or 'revolutionary' left. The importance of Chomsky is his connection to populist and democratic sentiments, as well as his massive influence (I would argue more than any leftist or academic alive). His main contributions are his media and U.S. foreign policy analysis. I would also argue that Manufacturing Consent could very well be one of the most important books of the 20th century. For these reasons and more, I am highly reluctant to be too critical of him.

On 'Rationalism is dangerous'...Curious conclusion for an academic in training. I would be interested in some reading recommendations on why this is so. I could be a tad bit ignorant on the subject.

Yeah, you are right, gender issues don't seem to be Chomsky's priority, I have only heard him say brief comments on gender, although once I heard him give a scathing rebuke of pornography (I think it was to Borat of all people...). That said, I haven't read ALL his works, so maybe he has gone into it.

I agree that gender issues have to be at the core of a leftist theory (alongside at least the following: race, ecology, economics, gay and lesbian rights, labor, vision and strategy, understanding marxism, leninism, anarchism, capitalism, media, participatory economics, international relations, and regional issues). It is important to acknowledge that too few manage the whole boat. And that has a lot to with our education system and media.

I suppose though if you plan on sticking with post-modernism, and since you are planning on being an academic, the odds are you will continue to disagree with Chomsky more and more. It surprises me that you like David Graeber though, who is an anarchist, like Chomsky, and who has come to quite similar conclusions as Chomsky.

Anyways, a pleasure as always, and I do apologize for not being able to communicate more concisely and more interestingly.

message 20: by Tinea (last edited Apr 04, 2011 11:51AM) (new)

Tinea (pist) OK, finally finished this and had time to type some thoughts. You guys had an interesting discussion that I'm not going to get too into because you covered a lot. But I really liked Katie's list of ideas at the bottom of Message 8. Other thoughts:

Re-examining revolution
I read Direct Action: An Ethnography last year and was really into Graeber's style and approach to anarchist theory. He is accessible and grounded in both action and imagination. If you haven't read it, I recommend the chapter on Anarchist Theory that someone put online at Zine

One of my favorite parts of Direct Action was how he teased out direct action as living theory, a focus on the means as an essential part of creating an ends, that whole "new world in the shell of the old" bit. In Direct Action, he was writing about the anti-globalization movement's decentralized, consensus-based decision-making structure as the oft-ignored but essential aspect of that movement-- it was creating the new world within the act of attacking neoliberal institutions. Cool. An Anarchist Anthro had a few quotes that built this up for me, by re-examining revolution:
p. 45
“what is revolutionary action?” We could then suggest: revolutionary action is any collective action which rejects, and therefore confronts, some form of power or domination and in doing so, reconstitutes social relations—even within the collectivity—in that light. Revolutionary action does not necessarily have to aim to topple governments. Attempts to create autonomous communities in the face of power (using Castoriadis’ definition here: ones that constitute themselves, collectively make their own rules or principles of operation, and continually reexamine them), would, for instance, be almost by definition revolutionary acts. And history shows us that the continual accumulation of such acts can change (almost) everything.

p. 60
what Paolo Virno has called “engaged withdrawal”

p. 63
Perhaps existing state apparati will gradually be reduced to window-dressing as the substance is pulled out of them from above and below: i.e., both from the growth of international institutions, and from devolution to local and regional forms of self-governance.

On Foucault
Yeah, I love me some Foucault but definately hell yes to a theory of POWER/IGNORANCE, or POWER/STUPIDITY (p. 71-71).

Borders as capitalist worker-control
the history of capitalism has been a series of attempts to solve the problem of worker mobility—hence the endless elaboration of institutions like indenture, slavery, coolie systems, contract workers, guest workers, innumerable forms of border control
This is not a new idea, but it spoke to recent experiences I've been having with immigration officials and migrant laborers in Europe, and nomadic peoples in East Africa who don't fit into nation-state borders. It ties into the above discussion with Katie and Miquixote about whether or in what ways to oppose states. I agree with the nuance Miquixote brings into Graeber's dismissal of states (like the comment on health care as a right from the state even while opposing state power) but I think it's important to nuance that further. Dealing with the state apparatus as it exists now is a tactic, but in terms of theory and goals, the nation-state system exists to protect colonial and capitalist exploitation and needs to be opposed at the root theoretically and when strategically possible.

The last bit "On Anthropology" really ends strong, about the Zapatistas being written off by much of the academic elite in the world as an single issue identity-based movement, whereas it was anarchists/activists around the world who heard their movement as they presented it: political theory manifest. With that ending, this is a tight, neat package of ideas.

Note on the discussion-- be mindful of the diversity of people here. "Our" culture or "our" society may not actually be shared experiences, geographically, nationally, or otherwise. Best to be specific instead of assuming.

message 21: by Katie (new)

Katie Glanz Sorry it took me a while to get back to the discussion. I would like to say first and foremost that while I do tend towards agonism/poststructuralism I have started to become more interested in anarchism and Marxist theory because I do not agree with the stagnation/lack of action in most poststructuralist theory.

Interestingly enough, I don’t think they are so at odds. I’m not sure how exactly to articulate this, but I do think that conscious reflection and acknowledgement of historical/societal/cultural influences on ideas of “good action” can be combined with praxis. (I will have to check out Freire, I haven’t had time yet)

I guess it’s not interesting to say, but I watched the Foucault/Chomsky debate, and I quite simply think they both make very good points. It’s not inconceivable to think that in the search for personal and group moralities that there is room for action, criticism, caution, and reflexivity. Maybe it is simply a matter of balance? Also, about Foucault and Chomsky, I did mention earlier that Chomsky irritated me with his total disinterest in feminist theory, but the very same criticism can be aimed at Foucault…

As far as how I define myself…hah, Leftist, maybe? I am just not certain that the left/liberalism could ever lay the groundwork for a radically different/ freer way of being. I guess I would be more comfortable not identifying as a leftist... For me the term and its connotations are just too full of western ethnocentricities, liberalism, and rationalism. What about alternatives? Why do so few anarchist thinkers acknowledge the origins of their knowledge and beliefs? If criticism is such a keystone of anarchist thought, shouldn’t there be more breaking apart/tearing down of “traditional” ways of thinking about political action. (Again, haven’t read much anarchist theory, so maybe I am wrong on this) I’m not incapable of defining myself morally; I just choose to use more than one or two words, words that I find heavy with problematic histories. I guess I choose to define myself morally more in the way I live my life and the way I act and feel towards the world/beings in general. I think it would take many words to define this… and since I believe we are inherently shifting/situational beings, I think this “definition” changes quite frequently.

On Class/Capitalism:

I completely agree: “ I think this denial of the capitalist reality, which is virtually bringing humanity to the brink of extinction (a very possible near future reality), is absolutely naive and dangerous.” This is exactly why the very philosophical origins of capitalism (liberalism/rationalism) should be questioned when thinking about alternatives. There are two points to make here.

One-claims to know best what is the best and permanent “good way” for everyone to live and act will inherently lead to oppression, because such claims are always made from a position colored by power.
Two-when searching for better ways of being/co-existing all effort must be made to root out hidden influences.


You suggest that there are two alternatives-rationalism and antirationalism (this is actually one concept-two sides of the same coin) I disagree that morality is inherently anti-morality if it is ephemeral and compassionate. I also don’t think Nietzschian philosophy is inherently anti-moral. But that is a whole other can of worms. (I’m also not saying Nietzsche doesn’t put forth scary and sometimes amoral ideas (he does))

Your thoughts on Postmodernist theories:

What if there is a way to not otherize it, (which would be hard to do ---finding the ‘it’ I mean) but simply draw from these theories what you find useful and break apart the parts that you find problematic?
Another point-fascists, capitalists, misogynists, colonizers etc…they never thought/think that they were/are amoral or wrong. So, claiming to know best can be very dangerous.

On positive thinking conquers all/agonism:

***Thinking conquers all-The status quo, the present, (capitalism) (supported/defended by Obama) is not what I believe in. inaction is not what I believe in. Self-reflexive action and open discourse will inherently involve movement and change. I agree with you about the problems of postmodernist inaction-I myself have no problem rallying for pro-choice legislation, the ERA, etc…but that doesn’t mean that I think that the very language and discourse around this legislation isn’t full of tons of problematic language and ideals.

I take action with knowledge (rather than just action), because the alternative is to do nothing and let power differentials exacerbate. Morality is always power-laden, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any postmodern theorist who would agree that the perfect existence would be one in which no decisions/decisive actions were ever made.

On Liberalism and Chomsky...

Yeah…it sounds like I may not dig most of what Chomsky has to say. It’s funny that he thinks that the very ideals and language from which capitalism emerged could ever bring about a viable alternative…And I’m definitely talking about all forms of liberalism-there are other ways of thinking!!!

Anyway, thank you for this great conversation!

message 22: by Katie (new)

Katie Glanz Millicent,

Thank you for facilitating these discussions! I

haven’t yet read Direct Action, but it is definitely on my list.

“Revolutionary action”-This is great statement about the multiple points of action and the need to recognize multiple sights of liberating action (beyond liberal concepts of the state/nation, etc…)

POWER/IGNORANCE, or POWER/STUPIDITY (p. 71-71). Again, I agree-but the influence of non-governmental power cannot be denied or ignored. It is its hidden nature that makes it so very dangerous!

Nation State-I agree completely with your statement: ,”the nation-state system exists to protect colonial and capitalist exploitation and needs to be opposed at the root theoretically and when strategically possible.” But I would argue that appeals to the state for healthcare, etc…might also problematically reinforce and legitimize the nation-state. That said, I feel that I can recognize this unfortunate reality, while still advocating for welfare and equal rights through all channels. After all, no action will ever end/ materialize exactly as the actor intended. I need to re-read Wendy Brown’s State’s of Injury book. I remember she had some very keen insights about this.

Also, my apologies if I made ill-informed assumptions about the diversity of the group!

message 23: by Miquixote (last edited Apr 14, 2011 03:15PM) (new)

Miquixote Thanks guys for commenting and facilitating, although I think none of my ideas have been engaged with by anyone other than Katie, so will focus on her (sorry Katie!). (By the way, our society meant 'western culture'. Since everyone participating is American, Canadian or British, I admit I assumed it was obvious in the context of the discussion. Apologies if we offended any with our overly homogeneous assumptions.)

Great to hear from you again, Katie. Trying to cross false boundaries and intersect between agonism/poststructuralism and anarchism/Marxist theory, balancing Foucault/Chomsky. Not easy stuff, but kudos to us for trying.

Before I start my brick...I want to apologize in advance for the length..what we have gotten ourselves into is not simplisitic stuff to hash out. And if you are all tired out, no offense taken. I will finish off my ideas though for clarity.

Let’s start with left/liberalism and Chomsky...

If you don’t mind me saying so, I think you are way off the mark on Chomsky. In fact, Chomsky isn’t far off what you are saying. He doesn’t think that ‘the very ideals and language from which capitalism emerged’ could ever bring about a viable alternative…he thinks that one must understand the ideals and language from which capitalism emerged to ever bring about a viable alternative…he harps endlessly about the fact that the specific details of a better, improved society cannot be known perfectly from the past and that we need an open and experimental mentality on what could be, without every ignoring history’s lessons (or as you say, the positives and negatives).

Neither is Chomsky a liberal (or me for that matter). The point is that liberalism was (emphasize past) a very important idea in the development of the humanities, philosophy, sociology,etc. Especially anarchism. The point wasn’t to base a philosophy/praxis on it, it was to do exactly as you suggest: to take the good out of it, instead of black-labelling it because of the pre-conceived and ahistorical notions of the word’s meaning. I agree that language is important, but because of that people also need to understand the historical realities and meanings of text. Language is flawed yet also has a capacity to liberate (Chomsky would be the first to say that, consider his revolutionary studies on language, probably even more important than his political writings). Chomsky likes to use often misunderstood words to turn people’s preconceived notions upside-down. Something many a post-modern subjectivist should like. He also ‘plays’ with the words ‘conservative’, ‘democratic’, ‘freedom’, and many others. Chomsky tries to make us think about ‘words’ far better than anyone I have read to this date, and consequently makes us question western ethnocentricities and its connotations (also important to remember he is of birth an Israelite Jew and consistently against Western imperialist assumptions and language, in both actions and words). The only accurate label that we have put on Chomsky so far is the ‘rational’ one. But to me that is not a problem.

Black-labelling rationalism is from my point of view something now quite popular and incredibly dangerous (as imperfect as rationality may be). One of my main arguments is that post-modernism (and many other ideological populisms) is far too hard on rationalism and tends to be quite irrational in response, over-emphasizing the ‘hierarchies’ that were created by so-called rationalists. But Hitler, Stalin, Nietzsche, and Mao’s most successful and populist propagandas were on irrationalities, not rationalities…. There is no relevant rational or scientific argument for justifying misogyny, racism, state over humanity, community over subjectivity, and the superman idea. Pure reason is flawed when it goes beyond its limits and claims to know those things that are necessarily beyond the realm of all possible experience. It is of course necessary for processing our experience into coherent thought though. The aforementioned propagandas were based on hierarchical assumptions of rational thought, for example social-Darwinism. They are mere emotional manipulations of rational thought.

That said, I do very much like your rational argument that you have to weed the good from the bad from each, so I think we need to do so rigorously. I would say Chomsky is the most important anti-authoritarian academic alive (at least from a rigorous rational standpoint). If one wants to take on his philosophies by all means do so, but one will need to read a lot more of him.

In case anybody hasn’t noticed, this debate is falling into the classic one between rationalism and post-modernism…

Although many post-modernists often at least identify strongly with the Left, we seem to have ‘picked sides’ here. In practical terms, I more or less incline towards anarcho-syndicalism, advocating class-conscious resistance to the concentrated power of governments and property owners. You seem to take a more cynical position, suggesting that there is no means of escaping from power. If I am not mistaken you seem to think the role of an intellectual, instead, is to point out how power operates in order to allow the desired class to appropriate it.

In moral terms, accordingly, I argue that the role of an intellectual is to speak for justice -- for this is what all legitimate political movements seek. You counter that all political movements seek is politics itself -- that is, the members of an oppressed class take to the streets not in order to achieve justice but rather to become society's rulers themselves. This proposition clearly disturbs me. Though I argue that we both have a similar leftist end in sight (although you won’t admit it is leftist), I like to think we should come off more persuasive and humane about the prospects for revolution/change, instead of being too unitary in ‘nurturist’ determinism.

To be clear, I am a self-described rationalist, a philosophical disposition largely rejected by post-modernity after the so-called destruction of Western philosophy by the nazi Martin Heidegger. You seem to be adopting a Nietzschean disposition in your stance with me (although you also assert that Nietzsche’s immoral stances are problematic, and I don’t mean to discount him completely just because he is largely responsible for major atrocities, he is still of major intellectual importance); you reject the assertion that there is a genuine concept of human justice rooted biologically in the human species. Rather, that our knowledge of morality and human nature are always necessarily rooted in social conditioning. Something I find to be highly deterministic and as dangerous as biological determinism. On the other hand, many think that the philosophy of Nietzsche, supposedly put a dent in all forms of socialism, whether democratic, libertarian, or totalitarian. The post-modernist emphasis on Heidegger and Nietzsche is an underrated concern, and I think it gives ammunition to the theory that post-modernism as a whole is a vague yet totalitarian intellectuality. (Another huge issue I have is that postmodernism is far less accessible and more evasive than say, for example, Chomsky's thoughts on politics.)

message 24: by Miquixote (last edited Apr 14, 2011 06:37AM) (new)

Miquixote On anarchism…

Anarchists are famously the most flexible of the so-called political ideologies (but most anarchists would indeed argue that anarchism is not an ideology at all because of its inherent flexibility to alternatives). You ask ‘Why do so few anarchist thinkers acknowledge the origins of their knowledge and beliefs’?....Depends which anarchist you are talking about…there are extremely ‘infantile’ (in the negative sense! Like primitivists) and extremely rigorous anarchists (like Bakunin, the only person I know of that predicted the advent of communism would likely be accompanied by an authoritarian vanguard elite that would smash the participatory side of the revolution). It is in the very definition of the word ‘against all authority’ that causes an incredible diversity, and unparalleled flexibility and respect for participation and subjectivity. Therefore I do think many anarchists ‘break apart and tear down “traditional” ways of thinking about political action’ (your David Graeber is a great example, thank you guys for introducing me to him). Anarchism became very influential because of its unique ability to both criticize and embrace Marxism, sometimes rightly, other times wrongly. Bakunin would be the first to criticize Marx’s actions, but also the first to defend the importance of his work.

In the end, I would argue that anarchism taken as a whole has proven itself to be the most flexible, dynamic and evolutionary idea since the advent of capitalism. On the other hand, post-modernism has contributed some positives too, although taken as a whole I think it is inherently cynical, not to mention often guilty of saying the most simplistic things in the densest prose (not really something akin to empowering the less advantaged). A good mental exercise would be to try to imagine how a post-modernist would have contributed to the many class wars occurring at the beginning of the 20th century (the closest thing to post-modernism we had then was Heidegger and Nietzsche who rightly critique authoritarian communism but couldn’t quite get a hold on the critique of capitalism)... One of Chomsky’s best articles harps along this vein in his classic article ‘On the Responsibility of Intellectuals’. Also post-modernism must take credit with being the leading academic ideology since the advent of neo-liberalism. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these two wishy-washy yet dangerous ideologies came together. But we’ll probably have to agree to disagree on that one also.

On Words…

I definitely agree with you that words are very problematic because of their histories. Anarchism is also an excellent example here since some so-called anarchists were also terrorists. This has caused us a lot of problems defining ourselves as anarchists, whether we are pacifists or not. Unfortunately, if one sympathizes at all with anarchism one has to qualify it. And as of yet, we haven’t invented a word for those who sympathize with aspects of society that the authorities have purged from our ‘positive consciousness’ (through mass media and education) that won’t immediately label us as ‘extreme’. At least if you say you are a post-modernist, nobody knows what that means… This reality doesn’t seem to matter though to people who have pre-conceived notions of words that may or may not have any validity. And a historical consciousness is fundamental to human empowerment against totalitarian ‘mass education’, so we can’t escape the problems of language and logic.

Like you, I think it is wise to define ourselves morally in the way we live and the way we act and feel towards the world/beings in general. But language is a big part of how we live and how we act, it is a huge part of what makes us human. The main problem with this is if our language is communicated and understood correctly. That is probably why we have to read and write such long essays! Indeed we are ‘inherently shifting/situational beings’. I concur that this “definition” of ourselves should change quite frequently, but it doesn’t change the accuracy of the statement in that moment. An avoidance of ‘problematic’ words is much like Big Brother does in Orwell’s 1984: B.B. eliminates the more interpretational terms from language, thus aiding much in destroying subjectivity. Limitations on language are limitations on knowledge.

There is a danger of interpretation of how we are inherently, shifting/situational beings though too, because capitalist and economic reasoning says something similar, but with different ends. It loves defining us as always changing and multi-polar. Their purpose is to smash our subjective/communal dialectic, and create a false dichotomy between individual needs and communal responsibility (much as Nietzsche does). Though we know that language confuses, it is fundamental not to replace it too often with new language that muddles even more (a post-modern tendency).

On how ‘the very philosophical origins of capitalism (liberalism/rationalism) should be questioned when thinking about alternatives’…

what’s next, should we suggest that capitalism doesn’t exist??? Hmm…I definitely have a problem with that…something tells me the status quo loves it when we question reality to such a degree…in that case Guy Debord would roll over in his grave, indeed it appears we live in such a spectacle… (i do recommend The Society of the Spectacle
by Guy Debord)

message 25: by Miquixote (last edited Apr 14, 2011 03:41PM) (new)

Miquixote On ‘best and permanent ways of living and acting…

I certainly don’t think anyone can ever claim to know all about what is the best and permanent “good way” for everyone to live and act’. That said, there are certainly some very safe conclusions to be made that I am sure any human with values will agree on. I’ll give just a few: one needs emotional and physical support in this world. Hysterical obsessions with competition is bad. Environmental destruction is stupid. Sexism and racism are probably not good things either. Murder is generally not a good habit. Hierarchy is pretty much a bad thing. Lack of participation in a real democracy is fairly problematic. Nuclear bombs aren’t good. Neither are guns, missiles, tanks, bombers or billy-clubs. Corporate control of media and education is pretty bad too. We could probably name a lot more.

If I am wrong…do we want to create such an extreme falsely subjective rhetoric (which I think post-modernism has hugely contributed to) that we can’t even acknowledge such basic ‘best and permanent’ ways for everyone to live and act? Of course we could emphasize how often the ‘best and permanent’ claims have been abused... But the current ideological flora and fauna is more along the lines of saying ‘everyone is different and unique’in certain contexts (such as when Western governments support apartheid regimes and dictatorships when it suits their economic needs). As long as you favour neoliberalism, it doesn’t really matter what you believe: Israel’s apartheid regime, international support for Mubarak in Egypt up until the last minute, continuing support for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Of course the fact that leftism is popular in Latin America now is very unacceptable though…. Are traditions that are inherently misogynist and racist ie. many religions, to be respected? Is there a valid moral argument in their favor? To counter this extreme and totalitarian ‘subjectivity’ rhetoric, an anarchist might argue that we do in fact have some ‘best and permanent ways’ that we really endanger our species by ignoring. (for an interesting argument read Mutual Aid: a factor of evolution by Peter Kropotkin)

In conclusion, any of the best and permanent ways to live and act might or might not have anything to do with power. They do not inherently lead to oppression. Some are the very basis of anti-power. That said, people like Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Obama make all types of claims that they are fighting for ‘best and permanent good ways’. History shows that they were lying. Their actions and their hierarchies prove it. Using rigorous and rational research to expose the lies is fundamental. It is important to distinguish between propaganda and our truly ‘best and permanent good ways’.

Therefore, I think we all here have the urge to do what you ask, ‘to search for ‘better’ ways of being/co-existing and all effort must be made to root’. But if we take into account seriously that all best and permanent ways of living are strikes at obtaining power, then post-modernist theory necessarily joins the ranks of all-other ideologies.

message 26: by Miquixote (last edited Apr 14, 2011 05:48PM) (new)

Miquixote Final thoughts on Rationalism:

I must state that the idea that rationalism and anti-rationalism are necessarily two sides of the same coin is false. Believing in God is not necessarily the same in root as not believing in God. Or in other words, just because one is an atheist, does not make one equally as fundamentalist (although it could mean that, it is not necessarily so). The distinction between rationality and irrationality is very important. It is the difference between 1. voting for Obama because one equates the nice feelings one gets from the smile and pretty words with radical change, and 2. voting for him because he is slightly better than Mccain, while knowing full well he is a corporate lackey like every politician or 3. not voting at all (which may or may not indicate critical action). The difference is very important! It is the difference between the citizen who is a ‘critical-thinker’ and the citizen who is a ‘reactionary’. That difference is clearly not as subtle as flipping a coin. And we enter serious narcissist territory by suggesting it is.

What you disagree with… ‘(morality is inherently anti-morality) if it is ephemeral and compassionate’…. I am pretty sure I never said that??? I must elaborate: Morality is actually anti-moral only when it is so inclusive that it allows every possible ideology (when totalitarian ideologies like social-darwinism, capitalism or fascism, are permitted for ‘inclusive’ reasons, despite them being ‘morally’ based they actually eradicate diversity of morals). It is possible (and in fact necessary) to be tolerantly diverse in morals without allowing invasive, pirate or totalitarian morals….(I recommend Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge by Vandana Shiva for more ideas along these lines).

Nietzschian philosophy is obviously inherently anti-moral in the sense that he advocates this type of ‘pirate’ morality, but is certainly moral in the invasive morality sense. I claim that it is impossible to be purely anti-moral, because one necessarily chooses a morality. But if one chooses a totalitarian morality, it commits genocide of other morals, and is thus anti-moral in that sense.
Indeed a whole other can of worms.

on Postmodernist theories:

I like your idea of ‘finding a way ‘to not otherize it’ (which would be hard to do ---finding the ‘it’ I mean) but simply draw from these theories what you find useful and break apart the parts that you find problematic’. That said, there are some pirate minorities that I think must be otherized, specifically the most obvious extreme devastators of humanity, who are essentially pragmatists, bent on power (most obviously Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Mussolini, as well as people who murder for corporate profit (Obama…).

You highlight the main gist of my essay in the following statement, extremely emblematic of what is most problematic and revealing in post-modernism:

namely that ‘-fascists, capitalists, misogynists, colonizers etc… never thought/think that they were/are amoral or wrong.’

Of course, your assumption here is that there are no very basic ‘best and permanent good ways’ of living (even though you contradict this when you suggest we must ‘search for ‘better’ ways of being/co-existing’). To suggest there is something better, there has to be a moral judgement of what is considered to be ‘better’ (an automatic power-play by your argument). Therefore, even by doing nothing you are aiding and abetting the status quo. The ‘politics is power’ argument is consequenty baseless because you are always doing something, and under that logic a transcendence of it is therefore not only useless but impossible. Indeed the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who won’t take sides. I am speaking metaphorically of course.

Anyways it seems you believe that humans are blank slates (as Foucault does). Chomsky, Kropotkin et al would say we do have a genetic component that predisposes us to compassion and justice (but does not determine us). There is a false dichotomy here. Clearly genetic pre-dispositions can be overridden given social alienation or compassion and countless studies have proven it. But to equate the moral justifications of a genocidal tyrant (who was most likely socially engineered) with a relatively compassionate human being (who has overcome social engineering) as ‘nurture’ determinism does is sheer totalitarianism at its most extreme. Not to mention inherently cynical, disempowering and ahistorical.

So, I can only partially agree: that claiming to know best can be very dangerous. Because saying that there isn’t anything inherently human (or what is best and permanent) is the most dangerous idea of all and very, very totalitarian. To emphasize, that is the main point of my argument. For more arguments along just how totalitarian our ‘post-modern democracies’ are, it may be useful to read Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
by Sheldon S. Wolin.

A final word on post-modernism and activism:

It might surprise you to know that I definitely don’t think that any post-modern theorist would agree that the perfect existence would be one in which no decisions/decisive actions were ever made. But that doesn’t change the fact that most of them (as our intellectual leaders) (and virtually everybody else) are not making many decisive actions to better the world, no matter how supposedly profound and transcendent their thoughts/actions are.

And finally, I am sure you won’t agree with me, but I am not sure it is very practical to refuse to define oneself as a leftist… considering that if you aren't a leftist, you are a capitalist… (which I am fairly sure you are not)...And I think one would have to deny a lot of historical facts to claim it is possible not to choose sides here. (I do believe some things are irrefutable, like the existence of neoliberalism…and not all leftists are pulling a power play!) but I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one as well.

It’s been a pleasure (and undeniably hard work)! Here’s hoping that our discussion was decent food for thought.
+I apologize for the length but as Foucault says 'it is a crime to be limited to speaking for just 2 minutes'.

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