two cheers for anarchism - notes and quotes


Lacking a comprehensive anarchist worldview and philosophy, and in any case wary of nomothetic ways of seeing, I am making a case for a sort of anarchist squint. What I aim to show is that if you put on anarchist glasses and look at the history of popular movements, revolutions, ordinary politics, and the state from that angle, certain insights will appear that are obscured from almost any other angle. It will also become apparent that anarchist principles are active in the aspirations and political action of people who have never heard of anarchism or anarchist philosophy.

what is anarchism? some descriptions:

cooperation without hierarchy or state rule

tolerance for confusion and improvisation that accompanies social learning, and confidence in spontaneous cooperation and reciprocity

preference, in the long run, for the honest mistakes of the working class over the wisdom of the executive decisions of a handful of vanguard party elites

freedom, and anarchism vs libertarianism

democracy is a cruel hoax without relative equality

virtually every major successful revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew, a state that in turn was able to extract more resources from and exercise more control over the very populations it was designed to serve

Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice; socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.

disruptive and disorganized

Chapter 1: The Uses of Disorder and “Charisma"

Fragment 1: Scott’s Law of Anarchist Calisthenics

thousands upon thousands of acts of insubordination and evasion create an economic or political barrier reef of their own

Fragment 2: On the Importance of Insubordination

Quiet, anonymous, and often complicitous, lawbreaking and disobedience may well be the historically preferred mode of political action for peasant and subaltern classes, for whom open defiance is too dangerous.

It makes no public claims, it issues no manifestos; it is exit rather than voice. And yet, once the extent of desertion becomes known, it constrains the ambitions of commanders.

desertion is a lower-risk alternative to mutiny, squatting a lower-risk alternative to a land invasion, poaching a lower-risk alternative to the open assertion of rights to timber, game, or fish

Fragment 3: More on Insubordination

The job of trade unions, parties, and even radical social movements is precisely to institutionalize unruly protest and anger

To the extent that our current rule of law is more capacious and emancipatory than its predecessors were, we owe much of that gain to lawbreakers

Fragment 4: Advertisement: “Leader looking for followers, willing to follow your lead”

charisma is a relationship; it depends absolutely on an audience and on culture

If a politician lives or dies largely by huge donations designed as much to shape public opinion as to accommodate it, he or she will pay less attention to rank-and-file supporters. A social or revolutionary movement not yet in power is likely to have better hearing than one that has come to power. The most powerful don’t have to learn how to carry a tune.

Chapter 2: Vernacular Order, Official Order

Fragrant 5: Vernacular and Official Ways of “Knowing”

Vernacular measurement is only as precise as it needs to be for the purposes at hand

Fragment 6: Official Knowledge and Landscapes of Control

examples of official ways of knowing replacing vernacular ways of knowing:

National standard languages have replaced local tongues. Commoditized freehold land tenure has replaced complex local land-use practices, planned communities and neighborhoods have replaced older, unplanned communities and neighborhoods, and large factories and farms have replaced artisanal production and smallholder, mixed farming. Standard naming and identification practices have replaced innumerable local naming customs. National law has replaced local common law and tradition. Large schemes of irrigation and electricity supply have replaced locally adapted irrigation systems and fuel gathering. Landscapes relatively resistant to control and appropriation have been replaced with landscapes that facilitate hierarchical coordination.

Fragment 7: The Resilience of the Vernacular

Fragment 8: The Attractions of the Disorderly City

Fragment 9: The Chaos behind Neatness

We are all prone to the error of equating visual order with working order and visual complexity with disorder. It is a natural and, I believe, grave mistake, and one strongly associated with modernism. How dubious such an association is requires but a moment’s reflection. Does it follow that more learning is taking place in a classroom with uniformed students seated at desks arranged in neat rows than in a classroom with un-uniformed students sitting on the floor or around a table?

Fragment 10: The Anarchist’s Sworn Enemy

Reading group discussion on chapter 2 -- extra notes

Chapter 3: The Production of Human Beings

Fragment 11: Play and Openness

One could say that its designers were radically modest about their knowledge of what was on children’s minds, what they would invent, how they would work, and how their hopes and dreams would evolve.

Fragment 12: It’s Ignorance, Stupid! Uncertainty and Adaptability

a static concept of efficiency is that it ignores utterly the way in which the efficiency of any process that involves human labor depends on what those workers will tolerate

Fragment 13: The Gross Human Product (GHP)

What if we were to ask a different question of institutions and activities than the narrow neoclassical question of how efficient they are in terms of costs (e.g., resources, labor, capital) per unit of a given, specified product? What if we were to ask what kind of people a given activity or institution fostered? Any activity we can imagine, any institution, no matter what its manifest purpose, is also, willy-nilly, transforming people.

public school

Universal public education is, of course, designed to do far more than merely turn out the labor force required by industry. It is as much a political as an economic institution. It is designed to produce a patriotic citizen whose loyalty to the nation will trump regional and local identities of language, ethnicity, and religion

Fragment 14: A Caring Institution

Fragment 15: Pathologies of the Institutional Life

The implications of a life lived largely in subservience for the quality of citizenship in a democracy are also ominous. Is it reasonable to expect someone whose waking life is almost completely lived in subservience and who has acquired the habits of survival and self-preservation in such settings to suddenly become, in a town meeting, a courageous, independent thinking, risk-taking model of individual sovereignty?”

an urgent task of public policy is to foster institutions that expand the independence, autonomy, and capacities of the citizenry. How is it possible to adjust the institutional lifeworld of citizens so that it is more in keeping with the capacity for democratic citizenship?

Fragment 16: A Modest, Counterintuitive Example: Red Light Removal

Reading group discussion on chapter 3 -- extra notes

Chapter 4: Two Cheers for the Petty Bourgeoisie

Fragment 17: Introducing a Maligned Class

What [petite bourgeoisie] all have in common, however, and what distinguishes them from both the clerk and the factory worker is that they are largely in control of their working day and work with little or no supervision.

Fragment 18: The Etiology of Contempt

why do the bourgeoisie get hate?

Fragment 19: Petty Bourgeois Dreams: The Lure of Property

many people are drawn to buying land

The secure “middle peasants” with the steady wherewithal to celebrate these rituals were not only the most influential villagers but also the models to emulate and aspire to. Falling far short of this standard was to become a second-class cultural citizen.

contract farming

What is perverse about this system is that it preserves a simulacrum of independence and autonomy while emptying out virtually all of its substantive content. The subcontractor is an independent landowner (and mortgage owner), but his workday and movements are nearly as choreographed as those of the assembly-line worker. There is no one immediately breathing down his neck, but if the contract is not renewed, he is stuck with a mortgage as large as his shed. The agribusiness in effect transfers the risks of landownership, of capital on credit, and of managing a large workforce—a workforce that would demand benefits—while reaping most of the advantages of close supervision, standardization, and quality control that the modern factory was originally designed to achieve. And it works! The desire to hold on to the last shred of dignity as an independent property owner is so powerful that the “farmer” is willing to forfeit most of its meaning.

Fragment 20: The Not So Petty Social Functions of the Petty Bourgeoisie

And while it is true that the petty bourgeoisie cannot send a man to the moon, build an airplane, [...], the capacity of huge firms to do such things rests substantially on their ability to combine thousands of smaller inventions and processes that they themselves did not and perhaps cannot create. This, too, of course, is an important innovation in its own right. Nevertheless, one key to the oligopoly position of the largest firms lies precisely in their power to eliminate or swallow potential rivals. In doing so, they undoubtedly stifle at least as much innovation as they facilitate.

Fragment 21: “Free Lunches” Courtesy of the Petty Bourgeoisie

shopkeepers are unpaid social workers, providing brief but amiable companionship to their steady clientele. “Unpaid” is, of course, not quite right, inasmuch as their prices were surely higher than at the larger outlets; the shopkeepers understood implicitly that the smiles and pleasantries they offered were one way in which they built up a steady and loyal clientele and hence their business.

One final fact is worth noting. A society dominated by smallholders and shopkeepers comes closer to equality and to popular ownership of the means of production than any economic system yet devised.

Reading group discussion on chapter 4 -- extra notes

Chapter 5: For Politics

to be read

Chapter 6: Particularity and Flux

to be read

terminology I looked up while reading