Comedy and the Cathartic Decline of Agency

June 14th, 2022 by scholium

The Anvil Review just posted an essay of mine on self-deprecating humor and the limits of agency and ideology.

Memoirs of cowardly anarchists

August 24th, 2021 by scholium

There aren’t enough memoirs and biographies of low-key anarchists. Where are the writings of homebodies, sympathetic professionals who bankrolled anarchist newspapers, and anarchists who worked and raised kids all day? What do we know of anarchists who experienced fear more easily than their peers, and had to contend with it on a regular basis?

Certainly there were and are hundreds of us who don’t feel strong and assertive, who are not drawn to spectacular, brave actions, and thus who struggle with our identity as anarchists. Yet we don’t ever read about them.

Maybe this is because biographies or memoirs about revolutionaries must be exceptional or exciting. Readers are interested in moments of courage and revolt. What publisher would put out a memoir of some person who merely hung out with friends, worked on campaigns, and occasionally did illegal stuff but not really? And a more pointed question, what person fitting that description would view their experiences as important enough to write about?

But perhaps we don’t encounter these stories because the anarchist milieu valorizes courage and so-called “will” over all else. Maybe those of us who are more afraid or aren’t drawn to risky action are ashamed, and thus don’t talk about it openly. Nobody wants to be remembered historically as a coward.

It’s a bummer, because it would be useful for many of us to see the ways that less bold anarchists lived and what they struggled with. We could compare our lives with theirs, find ways they dealt with similar things we do, and perhaps feel less alone in the world. One positive way that anarchy resembles religion is that it offers us a lineage through which we can look back at ancestors and forward to future generations. Through this lineage, we can have a sense of belonging, be inspired by those before us, and act in the present knowing that future anarchists will look back to us. Belonging is a strong motivator, making us feel less alone and more powerful in the world.

But if many anarchists don’t see those like them in the past, how do we feel worthy of the label anarchist and its lineage? When we just hero-worship the “willful”, what range of behavior are we limiting our respect to? Is anarchy reserved only for the badass and extreme?

I get the sense that there’s an unspoken ranking among anarchists for how one came to the Beautiful Idea. The best reason to become an anarchist is because one is a “willful” rebel, someone who was always in revolt since childhood and eventually found a political tendency that exemplified their natural way of being in the world.

Somewhere down the ranking are those of us who came to anarchism intellectually, discovering it in college or through activism. Turning to anarchism involved a realization that it matched our values and answered questions related to a social struggle, personal crisis, or campaign in our lives. We might have been shown by anarchists that the root of the social problem we were dealing with was capitalism and the state, leading us to investigate anarchism.

At the bottom of the ranking are those who were friend or lover to an anarchist, saw the scene, and “converted” because they liked what they saw. We anarchists dislike “followers,” so we disparage this latter type.

Social struggles, countercultures, milieus, and any relation between people at all benefit from the presence of different habits, proclivities, and desires. Anarchy would be better off if it was relatable to more peoples’ lives. And it would be more relatable if, rather than only hero-worshiping a canon of badasses, we accepted and made room for a wide range of people.

Getting Pushed Around by the News

February 13th, 2021 by scholium

As information technology penetrates deeper into our lives, the news cycle increasingly takes center stage in the public mind. Because we always carry little internet machines with us, we get news beamed to us at all times. In social media, where we go to socialize, we are bombarded with articles, reactions, and news-related memes. In text group and loops, our friends and family share articles with us that stirred some emotion in them, hoping they will do the same for us. Everywhere we go, there is no escape, we are followed by the news.

The omnipresence of the internet brings the news cycle into daily life. One needn’t have a TV nearby, wait for a predetermined time, or open up a bulky newspaper to get the news. And unlike in the past, we receive it now in real time. This drastically changes our phenomenological experience. Instead of waking up, working, socializing, eating, consuming the news, and pre-sleep leisure, one’s day is littered with vicariously living through uprisings in Hong Kong, trembling at the latest far-right show of strength, and feeling self-righteous outrage at mentally unstable suburban moms doing things our subculture currently finds disagreeable. The news bleeds through all other time.

Activists and radicals have made tracking and responding to the news cycle our starting point. It is seen as irresponsible, apathetic, privileged, and ineffective not to. When something we don’t like is in the news, there is an implicit call to run in and try fixing it. Some believe that we can stop whatever heinous development is at-hand. Others give lip service to “building power” through struggles and protests they know are doomed from the start. Whatever our level of cynicism or belief, we share a priority to respond to novel situations documented by the news. Read the rest of this entry »

Will a New Wave of Squatting Begin as Retail Goes Under?

May 9th, 2020 by scholium

An essay I submitted to It’s Going Down was just published. I used parts of The Hollowing of Anarchy: Gentrification to write it.

Technocracy and pandemics

April 29th, 2020 by scholium

In her 2016 book Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, science journalist Sonia Shah writes a chapter on flaws in the WHO’s global system for disease surveillance. Since pandemics mean a halt to the economy and capital accumulation, we will likely see business pressure applied on governments for new solutions to contain the spread of pathogens. Those involving Healthcare IT and surveillance seem to require the lowest cost and least amount of systemic change, and therefore are possibly on the horizon. This could mean a drastic reduction in privacy and freedom.

While she doesn’t put it this way, these flaws can be summed up as reliance on privilege, human judgement, and voluntary action. The current system uses a chain of reporting. When clinicians encounter symptoms that seem like a worrisome disease, word passes upwards through a series of health officials until it reaches the WHO. Problems arise within the first step of this process, which entails the infected person going to a clinician. Many people cannot afford to see a doctor, understandably don’t like to, or lack access. Even if they go, medical professionals are often in a rush and make misdiagnoses. Since many serious infectious diseases share symptoms with less serious and more common ones, it is likely that clinicians make the more common diagnosis. But even if this system functions as it should, it is not fast enough. Shah writes that epidemics grow exponentially, while our responses to them only linearly. Read the rest of this entry »

Some notes on the spread of morality and sacred cows

May 17th, 2019 by scholium

Humorless, self-righteous, intolerant, cringe-worthy. Ten years ago these words would have aptly described the Christian Right. Their very serious allegiance to silly ideas like God and patriotism made them an easy target to mock and troll. But now, said labels bring to mind awkward privilege confessions and the moralistic tone of social justice-oriented Leftists. What’s happened in such a short time to cause this total reversal? Read the rest of this entry »

The Hollowing of Anarchy: Gentrification

February 22nd, 2019 by scholium

Anarchy can differ from other anti-capitalist ideologies in being a lived practice. If anarchy is the end goal, then it must be the means as well. This often turns out looking like working as little as possible, living communally with friends, getting by using scams, and experimenting with social relationships. Unfortunately, these more interesting and liberating tendencies based in subverting daily life are receding as gentrification closes off possibilities for living cheap in the cities. What remains in the U.S. anarchist space is activism. Lacking this daily life component, anarchy slides back into leftism. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hollowing of Anarchy: Exhibition Value

January 20th, 2019 by scholium

… just as early industrial capitalism moved the focus of existence from being to having, post-industrial culture has moved that focus from having to appearing.” – Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

Walter Benjamin developed the concept “Exhibition Value” in his 1935 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” To say something has Exhibition Value means that there is a perceived value or benefit resulting from exhibiting it. The more people that see it, the better. The opposite of Exhibition Value is Cult Value. Byung-Chul Han contrasts the two in his book, The Transparency Society:

…they must be displayed in order to be; cult value disappears in favor of exhibition value…

Cult value” depends on existence, not on exhibition. The practice of locking sacred items in an inaccessible room, and thereby withdrawing them from visibility, heightens their cult value…

Bare existence has no meaning as far as exhibition value is concerned. Whatever rests in itself – that is, remains what it is…possesses no value. Value accrues only insofar as objects are seen. (Han, Byung-Chul. The Transparency Society, Pg. 9)

When Exhibition Value is present, it threatens to take over an object’s existence. Properties seen as threats to increasing Appearance are cast off, and properties seen as promising more Appearance are put in their place. Read the rest of this entry »