This essay is an understated classic, and deserves to be read more widely as Leftism continues to rear it’s ugly head. As Cascadian bioregionalism continues to make sense to more and more people, let’s remember that we’ve never been “Left” or “Right”, but Autonomous. Ecology and living cultures are the foundations of a free society, not politics and dogma. Let’s not fool ourselves, stay true!
——————————————————————————————————————-“You’ve heard my story about the divisions . . . They always talk about unity, unity; but I always say, if you were the army, and the school, and the head of the health institutions, and the head of the government, and you had your guns, which would you rather see come through the door, one lion, unified, or 500 mice? My answer is 500 mice can do lots of damage and disruption.” — Born In Flames
I am for autonomy. I understand anarchy to be synonymous with autonomy; to live and act upon one’s own beliefs and desires without outside or overriding influences of power; to be self-sustaining; to live within one’s own, or a group’s own, limitations. As a green anarchist, this idea of autonomy naturally flows into my understanding of the concept of bioregionalism; to live within the limitations of our immediate surroundings; to obtain all nourishment and satisfaction from our local area; to be most deeply connected to the specific geography, micro-climate, patterns, plants, and animals (including humans) of the region in which we live. To me, these terms autonomy and bioregionalism can almost be used interchangeably. For me, they are the basis of my anarchist experience. It is for this reason that I become suspicious when I hear anarchists speak of organization. What are they organizing? Who are they organizing? Why are they organizing? I am fighting for a world that doesn’t need organizing, that doesn’t need running, that doesn’t need controlling. Sure, it is helpful to think about how we resist and live together, to be strategic, and to develop relationships with people outside our families, bands, cells, affinity groups, scenes (or however else we group ourselves based on deeper levels of trust, commitment, common goals, and desires), but these relationships need to be organic in nature, not forced and superficial. Any meaningful and honest decisions can only be made in small groups consisting of those who are directly effected by these decisions. For resistance to be liberatory (which I believe is why we resist, and not because of guilt or concepts like justice), we must be directly connected to what we are fighting for. Yes, it is important to learn about and support other struggles, but not as a substitute for our own. The basis for our resistance must come out of our own struggle for liberation, and our support for others can grow from that.
Yes, we can, and need to, work with other individuals and groups outside our own, but doing so in ways which do not sacrifice our autonomy and desires, and not compromising the autonomy and desires of others. We can work on specific or more general projects, we can unite for common goals or events, but again, these connections need to be organic, based on real interactions and honesty, and seen as temporary junctures of interest. Once these relationships are no longer satisfying, effective, necessary, or desirable, we must be flexible enough to accept it and not force interactions for the sake of “unity”. There are also different levels of connection and commitment to each other which may change over time, and it is important to be able to distinguish between true affinity and a nostalgic need to keep things going down a dead end road. The organic dynamics of relating to others can begin to take on a more natural form then the left or “radical” movements are used to, and this will often be met with hostility and misconceptions of a “lack of solidarity”. In fact, by relating to people on more meaningful levels, we are in far greater solidarity (more effective and relevant to revolutionary struggle) than the typical superficial “activist” relationships.
I wish to relate to people as people, and not necessarily in a political way. I think for deeper connections and understanding of one another, it is helpful to transcend politics. Yes, it’s political that some people have control of the land, food, and water, but it won’t be politics which changes that. Too often, the Left has alienated (and in some cases purged, fought against, and even slaughtered) those they see as the “other”, meaning those who do not blindly accept the ideologies, ideals, and morals of the Left or “Progressives” as righteous and “good”. Most people do not relate to the “Left vs. Right” duality. These terms are both part of the same system, and are therefore meaningless distinctions. Both have a long history of supporting their ideological stance with authoritarian, and often state sanctioned, force. I reject both as different faces of the same monster. These terms are irrelevant to anarchists, as we should fight against both. Even dwelling too much in “anarchist” politics has its limitations.
Sure, I like to discuss my feelings about organization or lifestylism among other anarchists and radicals, but to most people, this is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with their everyday lives. There are deeper connections to be made. I find that the most fulfilling conversations I have with people are those about how much they hate their job, the alienation we all feel from each other and ourselves, the toxic world we all live in, the new diseases and drugs that appear everyday, the destruction of the world around us, the fact that we cannot feed or take care of ourselves, that we have lost almost all control over our lives, and the spiritual emptiness we all feel. These discussions only re-enforce my understanding that the human condition has become a miserable one, and we are all entrenched in it, that there are no political solutions to it, that our only hope is to figure out how to connect to a different way of thinking and living. This is my “outreach”. I have no time for the patronizing crap of the liberals, and I have no tolerance for the authoritarianism and vanguardism of the Left (including anarcho-leftism). I have no plans for the “masses”. I hope people have their own plans, and maybe some of us will work together on a few. Maybe we can help to empower each other to take responsibility for our own lives, but it won’t happen by creating the perfect organization or infrastructure.
History, personal experience, and their basic arrangement have shown me that the Federationist and Party models of relating to one another are not liberatory, but instead are usually based on manipulation, coercion, and deception. They often contain representational structures, and despite good intentions, are often hierarchical. Some go as far as to give certain individuals militaristic and commanding titles as “General Secretariat” and “Minister of…”. Ten Point Programs and Platforms tend to be the least common denominator of our hopes and dreams, and to me seem to disturbingly reflect the neo-liberal nightmare I fight against. It seems that some anarchists’ need to “federate” stems from a need to feel part of something larger, to appear larger to others, to validate their perspectives or beliefs, or just the typical leftist ideal of controlling resistance and having their replacement infrastructure already set up. Whatever the motivation, I think it is important to look at these methods of relating to each other and ideas of organization with a critical and wary eye (and this does not even begin to detail the endless list of questions which continue to go unasked by leftists, which are directly linked to that organized and linear mindset, such as technology, division of labor, production, etc). As one who prioritizes autonomy and bioregionalism as vital anarchist perspectives, I feel that strength will not come from a monolithic mass of ideology, but from a multi-dimensional explosion of infinite passions.
“I would prefer to live in peace, but when I looked around me, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Everywhere I looked, the land was being destroyed, Indians were victims of genocide, Third World peoples were oppressed and massacred, people lived in industrial wastelands and womyn were being raped and children molested. I could never live in peace, only quiet – the kind you find in cemeteries”
“I take it for granted that resistance is the natural response to dehumanization, and, therefore, does not have to be explained or justified.”
Violence is implicit in the everyday functioning of industrial civilization. Until this is fully understood, what we see as hope is just a mirage. In the web of life, there is no place to hide from this, at least not anymore. And still, from the day this consumptive cancer manifested, a place to hide became only that: a place to hide. Separation was only an illusion of distance, a dream so beautifully believed in. It is so easy to lose ourselves in the memory of untold generations outside the march of Empire. But here, now, we must only find ourselves there. The present cannot be denied. The present cannot be escaped.
Even if we can keep our own hands clean in the midst of all these ecological and human bloodbaths, our own pacifism acts as a willing accomplice to theses perpetrations. Suffering is facilitated and not alleviated. The illusions are that we can find purity in isolation and separateness, or that we can leave our fellow creatures behind and escape into some kind of personal enlightenment. We can be so afraid of all that we see, although this fear can help us realize that we all want to wake up from this nightmare. Or we can sleep in denial and constantly numb ourselves to all the things that may crack our façade of happiness. But the dance of emptiness and form is not our enemy, nor the ebb and flow of life and death. Our enemies are all the fundamentalisms of mind, the stasis of grasping and aversion brought on by fear. Fear can be a teacher or an enemy, but always one or the other. Its energy cannot be denied, only transformed. A culture of living peace must cultivate a living intimacy with its fears, and this becomes a culture of resistance, fearless in the face of Empire.
One thing Western culture is severely lacking is a sense of balance, but I have found a great inspiration in the intersection of modern Ecology and the ancient Buddhist practice of the Dharma. The Dharma teaches how to walk a middle path, not because it is moral but because it is effective. Here we can see actual peace being inextricable from the ever-present path of resistance. To be ever-present with our reality and the truth of our experience, we learn to resist both grasping and aversion. This is an ever-present active resistance that allows openness and letting go. Letting go of what? Both ideology and compromise, both denial and naivety, both resignation and inflexibility. This path is unyielding.
This can at times sound paradoxical, and by logic it sometimes is. But looking past the form of words we see movement and meaning. It can be like walking a tightrope, requiring sensitivity and mindfulness at all times, with nothing to cling to and no ground to stand on. But to be concise, this is a mental exercise that allows us to stay rooted in the Earth at all times. Rooted in our undying love for Life, rooted in our compassion for all the suffering present in the web of life, rooted in an expansive joy armed with insight and understanding, rooted in the inescapability of equanimity and reciprocity. This is the liberation of the heart that lets us join the fray. The vow of the warrior who hides behind nothing so as to fight the lie that is publicly labeled “Peace.” There is no peace to keep and it’s time to let go of that illusion.
In the context of Empire, true and experiential peace is resistance. But this peace cannot compromise, and it cannot exist in stasis but only through the active alleviation of suffering. Here we find ourselves at war, against our will. To live in this paradox is our liberation. To effectively create conscious autonomous cultures, to simply live a sane life in the face the dominant culture, is to put ourselves on the firing line.
The Earth is asking us to breathe life into the unknown and at the same time remember and honor each step that got us here. And to remember especially the tragic steps, the actions that brought us into this mess. We can honor our collective tragedies like a great teacher, and respect them like great demons that will shape-shift and return if we do not pacify them through cultivating the immeasurable truths of active love and compassion. We need not lose ourselves in an existential quandary, especially when that is exactly where we find ourselves.
It is a mature understanding that love does not imply pacifism, and further, “nonviolence” cannot be understood outside of the context of the ever-present violence of civilization. Yet history shows time and again that militancy is a babbling idol filled only with promises it can’t keep. It promises liberation through self-sacrifice, yet delivers compromise and betrayal as if it were clockwork. Can we not see beyond this? Must we cling to one dogma or another? Let us unequivocally state that we can take refuge in the wisdom of Creation, the perfect understanding embodied in our Earth, even as this wisdom is being clarified through it’s own betrayal. Our current crisis is indeed the exception that proves the rule. There are consequences to forgetting this, and our only true hope, our active hope, is remembering that we are not condemned to this nightmare. We wake up when we choose to.
I am fond of Italian poetry. Here is a classic with delectably poor grammar. From “Il Pugnale”, May 1996
Politics is the art of separation. Where life has lost its fullness, where the thoughts and actions of individuals have been dissected, catalogued and enclosed in detached spheres – there politics begins. Having distanced some of the activities of individuals (discussion, conflict, common decision, agreement) into a zone by itself that claims to govern everything else, sure of its independence, politics is at the same time separation between the separations and the hierarchical management of separateness. Thus, it reveals itself as specialization, forced to transform the unresolved problem of its function into the necessary presupposition for resolving all problems. For this reason, the role of professionals in politics is indisputable – and all that can be done is to replace them from time to time. Every time subversives accept separating the various moments of life and changing specific conditions starting from that separation, they become the best allies of the world order. In fact, while it aspires to be a sort of precondition of life itself, politics blows its deadly breath everywhere.
Politics is the art of representation. In order to govern the mutilations inflicted on life, it constrains individuals to passivity, to the contemplation of the spectacle prepared upon the impossibility of their acting, upon the irresponsible delegation of their decisions. Then, while the abdication of the will to determine oneself transforms individuals into appendages of the state machine, politics recomposes the totality of the fragments in a false unity. Power and ideology thus celebrate their deadly wedding. If representation is that which takes the capacity to act away from individuals, replacing it with the illusion of being participants rather than spectators, this dimension of the political always reappears wherever any organization supplants individuals and any program keeps them in passivity. It always reappears wherever an ideology unites what is separated in life.
Politics is the art of mediation. Between the so-called totality and individuals and between individual and individual. Just as the divine will has need of its earthly interpreters, so the collectivity has need of its delegates. Just as in religion, there are no relationships between humans but only between believers, so in politics it is not individuals who come together, but citizens. The links of membership impede union because separation disappears only in union. Politics renders us all equal because there are no differences in slavery – equality before god, equality before the law. This is why politics replaces real dialogue, which refuses mediation, with its ideology. Racism is the sense of belonging that prevents direct relationships between individuals. All politics is participatory simulation. All politics is racist. Only by demolishing its barriers in revolt could everyone meet each other in their individuality. I revolt, therefore, we are. But if we are, farewell revolt.
Politics is the art of impersonality. Every action is like the instant of a spark that escapes the order of generality. Politics is the administration of that order. “What sort of action do you want in the face of the complexity of the world?” This is what those who have been benumbed by the dual somnolence of a Yes that is no and a More later that is never. Bureaucracy, the faithful maidservant of politics, is the nothing administered so that no one can act, so that no one recognizes their responsibility in the generalized irresponsibility. Power no longer says that every thing is under control, it says the opposite: “If I don’t ever manage to find the remedies for it, let’s imagine it as something else.” Democratic politics is now based on the catastrophic ideology of the emergency (“either us or fascism, either us or terrorism, either us or the unknown”). Even when oppositional, generality is always an event that never happens and that cancels all those that happen. Politics invites everyone to participate in the spectacle of this motionless movement.
Politics is the art of deferment. Its time is the future, which is why it imprisons everyone in a miserable present. All together, but tomorrow. Anyone who says “I and now” ruins the order of waiting with the impatience that is the exuberance of desire. Waiting for an objective that escapes from the curse of the particular. Waiting for an adequate quantitative growth. Waiting for measurable results. Waiting for death. Politics is the constant attempt to transform adventure into future. But only if I resolve “I and now” could there ever be an us that is not the space of a mutual renunciation, the lie that renders each of us the controller of the other. Anyone who wants to act immediately is always looked upon with suspicion. If she is not a provocateur, it is said, she can certainly be used as such. But it is the moment of an action and of a joy without tomorrows that carries us to the morning after. Without the eye fixed on the hand of the clock.
Politics is the art of accommodation. Always waiting for conditions to ripen, one ends up sooner or later forming an alliance with the masters of waiting. At bottom, reason, which is the organ of deferment, always provides some good reason for coming to an agreement, for limiting damages, for salvaging some detail from a whole that one despises. Politics has sharp eyes for discovering alliances. It is not all the same, they tell us. The Reformed Communist party is certainly not like the rampant and dangerous right. (We don’t vote for it in elections – we are abstentionists, ourselves – but the citizens’ committees, the initiatives in the plazas are another thing). Public health is always better than private assistance. A guaranteed minimum wage is still always preferable to unemployment. Politics is the world of the lesser evil. And resigning oneself to the lesser evil, little by little one accepts the totality in which only partialities are granted. Anyone who contrarily wants to have nothing to do with this lesser evil is an adventurer. Or an aristocrat.
Politics is the art of calculation. In order to make alliances profitable, it is necessary to learn the secrets of allies. Political calculation is the first secret. It is necessary to know where to put one’s feet. It is necessary to draw up detailed inventories of efforts and outcomes. And by dint of measuring what one has, one ends up gaining everything except the will to lay it on the line and lose it. So one is always taken up with oneself, attentive and quick to demand the count. With the eye fixed on that which surrounds one, one never forgets oneself. Vigilant as military police. When love of oneself becomes excessive it demands to give itself. And this overabundance of life makes us forget ourselves. In the tension of the rush, it makes us lose count. But the forgetfulness of ourselves is the desire for a world in which it is worth the effort of losing oneself, a world that merits our forgetfulness. And this is why the world as it is, administered by jailers and accountants, is destroyed – to make space for the spending of ourselves. Insurrection begins here. Overcoming calculation, but not through lack, as the humanitarianism that, perfectly still and silent, allies itself with the executioner, recommends, but rather through excess. Here politics ends.
Politics is the art of control. So that human activity is not freed from the fetters of obligation and work revealing itself in all its potential. So that workers do not encounter each other as individuals and put an end to being exploited. So that students do not decide to destroy the schools in order to choose how when and what to learn. So that intimate friends and relatives do not fall in love and leave off being little servants of a little state. So that children are nothing more than imperfect copies of adults. So that the distinction between good (anarchists) and bad (anarchists) is not gotten rid of. So that individuals are not the ones that have relationships, but commodities. So that no one disobeys authority. So that if anyone attacks the structures of exploitation of the state, someone hurries to say, “It was not the work of comrades.” So that banks courts, barracks don’t blow up. In short, so that life does not manifest itself.
Politics is the art of recuperation. The most effective way to discourage all rebellion, all desire for real change, is to present a man or woman of state as subversive, or – better yet – to transform a subversive into a man or woman of state. Not all people of state are paid by the government. There are functionaries who are not found in parliament or even in the neighboring rooms. Rather, they frequent the social centers and sufficiently know the principle revolutionary theories. They debate over the liberatory potential of technology; they theorize about non-state public spheres and the surpassing of the subject. Reality – they know it well – is always more complex than any action. So if they hope for a total theory, it is only in order to totally neglect it in daily life. Power needs them because – as they themselves explain to us – when no one criticizes it, power is criticized by itself.
Politics is the art of repression. Of anyone who does not separate the moments of her/his life and who wants to change given conditions starting from the totality of their desires. Of anyone who wants to set fire to passivity, contemplation and delegation. Of anyone who does not want to let themselves be supplanted by any organization or immobilized by any program. Of anyone who wants to have direct relationships between individuals and make difference the very space of equality. Of anyone who does not have any we on which to swear. Of anyone who disturbs the order of waiting because s/he wants to rise up immediately, not tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Of anyone who gives her/himself without compensation and forgets her/himself in excess. Of any one who defends her comrades with love and resoluteness. Of anyone who offers recuperators only one possibility: that of disappearing. Of anyone who refuses to take a place in the numerous groups of rogues and of the anaesthetized. Of anyone who neither wants to govern nor to control. Of anyone who wants to transform the future into a fascinating adventure.
“And because of our reliance on group thinking, the world is often ruled by the most shortsighted and corrupt rulers; democracy appeals to the lowest common denominator” –Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
“All phenomena are interdependent. When we think of a speck of dust, a flower, or a human being, our thinking cannot break loose from the idea of unity, of one, of calculation. We see a line drawn between one and many, one and not one. But if we truly realize the interdependent nature of the dust, the flower, and the human being, we see that unity cannot exist without diversity. Unity and diversity interpenetrate each other freely. Unity is diversity, and diversity is unity. This is the principle of interbeing.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Politics is the art of manipulating the illusions of separation, while simultaneously maintaining a false impression of individual freedom. A mock war between Individualism and Collectivism is the public face of this of this false reality. Politics itself is not a given, and it’s primacy or inevitability is a deceptive fabrication. In fact, this is the false premise, hidden in plain sight, which must be rejected as the initial step towards healing our global anguish and decolonizing our minds from the lies of civilization.
In truth, the atomized individual in the dominant society is a powerless cog in a collective scheme of production. In contrast, actualized individual autonomy is facilitated by the strength and resiliency of a human-scale community’s self-organization, or, autonomy. It is possible here to make a distinction between Collectivism and genuine human communities. Industrial capitalism is the most successful forced Collectivism the world has ever known, and it’s individualized totalitarian socialism continues it’s ravenous destruction of all the intact human communities that are, to this very day, holding on for dear life. At the same time, those trapped in the belly of this beast must use all of our strength just to maintain our own sanity as we dream our escape.
“We don’t have to surrender our individuality to experience the world as an extended self and it’s story as our own extended story”
I choose to use the word autonomy. I find the word tricky to define or hard to pin down, and hence it has become my ally. I would perhaps even call myself an autonomist, but I don’t want to be mistaken for a Marxist. Autonomy can only be understood through it’s relationships, and while it does not stand alone or exist in isolation, it also cannot be reduced or tied down, least of all labeled and sold. As a concept it is nearly worthless, but as a relationship of lived experience, it is profoundly liberating. A truly free individual human being embedded in a nurturing human-scale community is autonomous, while an individual forced to exist in a competitive economy is an alienated wretch, dependent upon the very system of dispossession and abuse.
A self-organized community, embedded in the living peculiarity of its own bioregion, is in turn autonomous. As we see that it is neither independent of its land base, nor dependent on an economy outside of itself, we see the necessary divorce to be made within the false marriages of dispossession: dependence and independence interpenetrate each other. The realization of interdependence provides both liberation and refuge. And here we can see the history of civilization as a war between allies.
But the emperor has many different clothes to wear, and it doesn’t matter if he wears them or not. The fundamentalisms of Capitalism and Marxism have resulted in these self-same systems of domination and exploitation, and both are rotten to the core. Each offers the misnomer of Independence, while crushing it’s noble spirit. No doubt a new wardrobe is being made by the civilized at this moment, and it is imperative that those of us who are to remain awake stay weary of Fall trends.
“Just because you do not take an interest in politics, does not mean politics will not take an interest in you.”
The concept of “anti-politics” begins from political consciousness, an understanding of the tangled web that this social order uses to keep us entrapped, constantly recuperating our energies if we struggle within it’s context. Anti-political action means that we chose the battleground, refusing to play a rigged game. This way of resistance is constantly reinventing itself in the constant effort of rejecting recuperation, moving beyond resistance to the direct dismantling and abolition of structures and systems of domination and exploitation, both material and social.
If we define politics as the dispossession of our individual autonomy, and following that community and bioregional autonomy, then the reapropriation of our lives and land base consists of the abolition of politics. True, politics is so evident in modern culture that it can be readily observed within the interpersonal dynamics of a family sitting together for Christmas dinner or at a meeting of radical activists. But when we begin to see that even the two-faced, passive aggressive, cynical selfishness endemic to our daily lives as behavior that we can choose not to participate in, we begin to see politics itself as a disposable phenomenon.
Now, to confuse the values of anti-politics with apolitical pacifism or narcissistic magical thinking is completely disingenuous. The game of politics itself is an enemy of the dispossessed, while political consciousness remains simply an anatomical understanding of our enemy to be employed deconstructively. Anti-political action simultaneously requires reclamation and the regenerative healing of both individual autonomy and community self-sufficiency. The abolition of politics is a two way street of deconstruction and creation where the ends of action are embedded in the means of action. The more our energies can be withdrawn from political engagement, the more these energies are liberated for autonomous self-organization and direct action.