Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Two varieties of anarchist sentiment

There are many ways to categorize anarchist groups, and many systems of categorization are in conflict. This will not be covered in this blog post, because not only am I not an expert in the history of internal ideological schisms within anarchist philosophy, but I am more or less uninterested in the politics of anti-politics. Instead, I am categorizing anarchist sentiment more grossly, into two large chunks.

There is one type of anarchist who believes that anarchy is something to be achieved. Maybe it's something that was lost in the genesis of the first state. Maybe it's something that has never been tried, or never been attempted seriously. Maybe it's something that has been tried but has been crushed by statist forces external to itself. The bottom line is that this type of anarchist considers anarchy to be something that isn't, but should be.

There is another type, far less visible. This type considers anarchy to be omnipresent already, at the base of things. All states are structures built on top of anarchy, and obscuring it. The goal of this type of anarchist is not to bring anarchy into being but to make people aware that they have always lived in anarchy, and that this isn't a bad thing. This type of anarchist sentiment is in a sense even more subversive, and even more dangerous to the state. The first type can be pitted against the state in a kind of imaginary war of ideas, and can be manipulated to give statism even more ideological power; the stereotype of a bomb-throwing adolescent lifestyle anarchist is always accepting the existence of the state and by working against it reinforces the sense of its power. A state, however, cannot effectively fight a war of ideas against those who believe the state itself to be imaginary, nor can it effectively be seen to fight against a system of which it is a small part.

For a long time, I thought the second type was extremely rare, rather than merely underrepresented. Today, I saw a quote on the liberationfrequency tumblr:
Anarchy is every time you share a stick of gum. Every time you help someone with their homework, or with their bags. Every time you hold a door for a stranger. Every wallet returned to the lost and found. Every borrowed cup of sugar. Every driveway you helped shovel. Anarchy is people helping people not for the glory but for each other. Anarchy is for the people by the people; not this ballot-box nonsense. Anarchy is you and me... on the purest of all levels.
This is very much the essence of the second type, which I term epistemic anarchy. You could consider epistemic anarchy a subset of voluntarism, but it differs in that it talks about what is rather that what should be.

Keep in mind that this is also a key difference between Gnostic and mainstream Christianity, between Zen Buddhism and several other flavours, and between many forms of mysticism and those traditions that present the same texts and myth systems to mundanes. The difference is between going to heaven if you are good and being good in order to remember that you are already in heaven. The former makes people fairly easy to manipulate, but the latter is more difficult to impart to people. Mystical traditions often actively turn down the induction of people who they don't think are capable of fundamentally grasping the latter, in order to avoid the mutation of their tradition.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. People should be good because they choose to be good. Whether or not that is the natural inclination of man remains yet to be seen. One could take laws as evidence that it is not.