Some notes on Cathy Reisenwitz’s, “Why Facebook Should Embrace Polyamory”

by on July 17th, 2014

Cathy Reisenwitz

Also see my interview with Cathy, here!

You can find Cathy’s article in question, here.

As much as I like that new gender options are becoming available through Facebook, I do get nervous when people put their eggs in a basket. When they try to rely on these social media networks for defining them or helping them define themselves. To a certain extent I don’t think that’s necessary and I don’t want people to think that they need these things to define themselves as who they feel most comfortable with. That should come more from their individual selves, friends, loved ones and so on more so than any one social network.

Which isn’t to say that these social networks should be seen as unimportant or that the fact that more gender identity has been allowed isn’t great because it definitely is. I just think there’s some nuance to be had here in any case.

I feel similarly with the poly community and it trying (or its allies trying) to get more mainstream recognition of it. On one hand I understand the appeal and definitely agree that polyamory should be better understood. At the same time, I feel like there are also benefits to being considered culturally deviant or even criminal to some extent. It breeds distrust of the current system and encourages groups to act out for themselves and what they love rather than what the system tells them.

That doesn’t mean I want everyone to be regarded as criminals. But again, nuance is needed and I think the struggle (for example) for queers getting more gay marriage is, as the historian Thaddeus Russell has suggested, a fairly big blow to the history of the Gay Liberation movement.

“People assume that to be faithful, you have to be monogamous…”

Yeah, definitely agree. There’s apparently no way one can see other people without their significant other’s consent and happiness involved.

To be faithful, you have to be honest. Faithfulness is measured in degree based on the couple. The faithfulness is not to the individual. It’s to the contract that you’ve made to that individual.” The idea is that as long as you’re open and honest with your partners, and they’re comfortable with the terms of the arrangement, you are faithful, no matter how many people you sleep with.

I totally agree with this. Though I am less interested in strict contracts than loose, fluid verbal agreements. I don’t like feeling leashes on me, well…

So instead of promising yourself to your partner, you’re promising to obey the rules you’ve decided on with your partner.

I want to agree and caution that “obey the rules” can be fine in some circumstances but shouldn’t be taken de facto okay either (not that you were saying this). Plus I value my partner more than I value social agreements. So if they endanger themselves via some foolish rule I may be tempted to disregard their rule. Especially if it may hurt them.

I guess another way of possibly expressing this is relationship anarchy. Which I’ve only read a little bit about admittedly. But it sounds like something worth investigating at any rate.

Polyamory, a subset of ethical non-monogamy, refers to multiple concurrent sexual relationships, and is generally differentiated from open relationships by long-term, emotionally involved, and/or committed “secondary” relationships. Some poly relationships involve hierarchy, with primary, secondary, (and so on) relationships. And some are non-hierarchical, with no partner being more important than the other. In some poly relationships, “metamours,” as partners of partners call each other, have romantic relationships. In others, partners either don’t know about each other (Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell) or remain friendly but not romantically involved.

I really like this definition!

The main arguments against polyamory center around whether…

Although I know this is a bit of a cop-out I loathe the institution of marriage and don’t want children (I don’t loathe children though!). So this main argument against polyamory isn’t all that interesting to me, personally. I am skeptical of this concern nonetheless.

But the concern is certainly warranted, especially because as Cathy pointed out…

However the studies also revealed some drawbacks, particularly “the discomfort of having partnerships between adults dissolve and the resulting emotional trauma for children who may have been very attached to a departing partner.

Of course you could say this is true for any family. Would it be more potent in a bigger family? That’s definitely possible. I can’t deny that.

Conservative columnist Jonathan Rauch makes an interesting case against polyamory when hepoints out

The Reason article that Cahty links (that sadly doesn’t work) is really its own separate article due to how much I could go on about it. But by god is it terrible.

Why I am Not a Communist, by Karel Čapek

by on May 29th, 2014

Nick’s Notes: This article is not by an anarchist but I like it for its anti-communism and the way it is written. And most importantly it is hard to find online. So I figure I will make it a bit more accessible. That is the anarchist thing to do!

Karel Čapek

Why I am not a Communist (December 1924)

Karel Čapek

Translated by Martin Pokorny

This question appeared out of the blue among a group of people who were normally inclined to do anything else rather than to busy themselves with politics. It is certain that nobody among the present would raise the question “why I am not an Agrarian”, or “why I am not a Social Democrat”. To be no Agrarian, by itself, signifies no definite view or life belief; however, to be no communist means to be a non-communist; to be no communist is not a simple negation but rather a certain credo.

For me personally the question brings relief, since I have been under great need, not to start polemics with Communism, but rather to defend myself in my own eyes for not being a communist and why I cannot be one. It would be easier for me if I were one. I would live thinking that I contribute in a most intrepid way to the redemption of the world; I would think that I stand on the side of the poor against the rich, on the side of those in hunger against bags of money; I would know what to think about this and that, what to hate, what to ignore. Instead, I am like a naked man in a thorny bush: with my hands bare, not covered by any doctrine, feeling my impotence with respect to helping the world and often not knowing how to protect my conscience: If my heart is on the side of the poor, why the heck am I not a communist?

Because I am on the side of the poor.

 

*

 

I have seen poverty so painful and undescribable that it has made bitter to me everything I am. Wherever I have ever been I ran from palaces and museums to see the life of the poor, in the humiliating role of a helpless spectator. It is not enough to see and it is not enough to sympathize; I should live their life, but I am afraid of death. This biting, inhuman poverty is not borne on the heraldry of any party; as for these terrible slums with neither a nail to hang oneself nor a dirty rag to lay on, communism tries to reach them with its cry from a careful distance: the social order is to blame; in two years, in twenty years, the flag of the Revolution will unfold, and then –

What, in two years, in twenty years? Are you capable to admit so indifferently that one should live like that even two more winter months, two more weeks, two more days? Bourgeoisie that cannot or does not want to help here is a stranger to me; but equally strange to me is Communism that, instead of help, brings the flag of the Revolution. The final word of Communism is to rule, not to save; its gigantic slogan is power [moc], not help [pomoc]. As Communism sees them, poverty, hunger, unemployment are not unbearable pain and shame but rather a welcome reservoir of dark powers, fermenting by lots of anger and resistance. “The social order is to blame.” No, rather all of us are to blame, whether we stand over human poverty with hands in our pockets or the flags of the Revolution in our hands.

Poor people are no class, they are precisely the declassed, excluded and unorganized ones; they will never dwell on the steps to the throne, whoever sits on it. The hungry ones do not want to rule but to eat; with regard to poverty it is indifferent who rules; the only thing that matters is how we, human beings, feel. Poverty is neither institution nor a class, it is a disaster; looking for an appeal to immediate humane help, I find only the cold doctrine of class rule. I cannot be a communist because its morality is not the morality of help. Because it preaches abolition of the social order [rad] and not abolition of the social crime [zlorad] that is poverty. Because if it wants to help the poor at all, it does so conditionally: first we have to rule and then (perhaps) it will be your turn. Unfortunately, not even this conditional salvation is guaranteed by the writ.

 

*

 

Poor people are not a mass. A thousand workers can help one worker in his struggle for existence; but a thousand poor people cannot help one poor to get even a piece of bread. A poor, hungry, helpless person is absolutely isolated. His life is a history for itself, incompatible with others; it is an individual case because it is a disaster, though it is similar to other cases like a rag to a rag. Turn the society whichever side up, the poor will fall to the bottom again, most often joined by others.

I am not a scratch of an aristocrat but I do not believe in the value of masses. After all, nobody, I hope, maintains seriously that masses will rule; they are just a material instrument to attain certain goals; they are simply political material in a much harder and more ruthless sense than the party-members of other colors are. It is necessary to press people into a kind of shape so that they become a mass material; it is necessary to give them a uniform made out of certain cloth or certain ideas; unfortunately, one can seldom take the uniform made of ideas off after eighteen months. I would begin to respect communism deeply if it came to the worker and told him honestly: “There´s something I ask of you but I do not promise you anything; I ask that you be an item, a unit, a material for me, just as you are an item and material in the factory; you will obey and remain silent, just as you obey and remain silent in the factory. As a reward, you will one day, when everything changes, remain what you are; you will fare worse or better, whether this or the other I cannot guarantee; the order of the world will be neither more generous nor kinder to you, but it will be juster.” – I think that most workers would quite hesitate to accept this offer – and yet it would be supremely honest, and who knows whether for highly moral reasons it might not be more acceptable than all offers presented so far.

To feed poor people with promises is to rob them. Perhaps life is easier for them when you paint fat geese on the willow for them;1 but in practical respets, today just like one hundred years ago the sparrow in one´s fist2 is better than a pigeon on the roof3 of the government building and a fire in one´s oven is better than the red cock on the rafters of palaces which are, moreover, much less numerous here than what would think a person who is being forced to accept class consciousness instead of one´s own eyes – since, apart from a few exceptions, we are, as to life standards, a not very well-off nation, a fact one usually fails to mention. Usually one says that the poor have nothing to risk; but on the contrary, whatever happens the poor are those who risk the most because if they lose something they lose the last bit of bread; with the poor´s bread one should not experiment. No revolution will be realized on the backs of a small number of people, on the contrary – it will be on the backs of the highest number of people; whether it is war or currency crisis or anything else it is the poor who bear the earliest and heaviest consequences; quite simply, there are no limits and no bottom to poverty. The most rotten thing in the world is not the roof of the rich but the roof of the poor; shake the world and then look and see who it is that has remained in the rubble.

So what is to be done? As for me, I do not take much consolation in the word “evolution”; I think that poverty is the only thing in the world that does not evolve but rather just grows chaotically. But it is not acceptable to postpone the issue of the poor until the establishment of some future order; if they are to be helped at all, one has to start right away. It is open to doubt, however, whether the world of today still possesses sufficient moral means for that task; communism says it does not; well, it is just this refusal in which we differ. I do not mean to say that there are enough perfectly just people in this social Sodoma; but in each of us Sodomites there is a bit of the just and I believe that after some sustained effort and some substantial waving of hands we could agree on quite decent justice. Communism says, however, that an agreement is excluded; apparently it doubts the human value of most people as such, but of that thing I will treat later. The present-day society did not tumble down when it brought about some or other protection of the unemployed, aged and sick; I am not saying that it is enough but the important thing for both the poor and me is that that much has been possible to do today, on the spot, without irritated waiting for the glorious moment when the flag of the Revolution will unfold.

To believe that the issue of the poor is the task of the present and not of the upcoming order means, however, to be no communist. To believe that a piece of bread and fire in the oven today is more important than Revolution in twenty years is the sign of a very non-communist temper.

 

*

 

The strangest and least human element of communism is its weird gloominess. The worse the better; if a biker hits a deaf granny it is a proof of the rottenness of the present order; if a worker sticks his finger in between the wheels of the machine, it is not the wheels that will mash his poor finger but rather the bourgeois, and will do so with bloodthirsty pleasure. Hearts of all people who for some or other personal reasons are no communists are beastly and repulsive like an ulcer; there is not one smittereen of good in the entire present order; whatever is is bad.

In a ballad of his, [the communist poet] Jiri Wolker says: “In your deepest heart, you poor, I can see hatred.” It is a horrible word but the curious thing is that it is completely improper. At the bottom of poor people´s hearts there is rather an amazing and beautiful gaiety. The worker by the machine will crack a joke with much more enjoyment than the factory-owner or the director; construction workers at the site have more fun than the building-master or the landlord, and if there is a person singing in a household then it is definitely more often the maid wiping the floor than her mistress. The so-called proletarian is naturally inclined to an almost joyful and infantile conception of life; the communist pessimism and melancholy hatred are artificially pumped into him, and through unclean pipes. This import of desperate gloom is called “the education of masses towards revolutionarism” or “strengthening of class consciousness”. The poor, having so little, are being bereft even of their primitive joy of life; that is the first payment for a future, better world.

The climate of communism is ghastly and inhuman; there is no middle temperature between the freezing bourgeoisie and the revolutionary fire; there is nothing to which a proletarian could dedicate himself with pleasure and undisturbed. The world contains no lunch or dinner; it is either the mouldy bread of the poor or the gorging of the overlords. There is no love, for there is either the perversity of the rich or the proletarian conceiving of children. The bourgeois inhales his own rottenness, the worker his consumption; thus, somehow, the air has disappeared. I do not know whether journalists and writers have persuaded themselves to believe this absurd image of the world or whether they consciously lie; I only know that a naive and inexperienced person, such as the proletarian usually is, lives in a terribly distorted world which really is not worth anything else for him than to be undone and uprooted. But since such a world is just a fiction, it would be very timely to undo and uproot this ghostly fiction, for instance by some revolutionary deed; in that case, I am enthusiastically supportive. There is no doubt that in our tearful valley there is far too much undescribable disaster, excess of suffering, not quite enough well-being and very little joy; as far as I am concerned, I do not think I am inclined to depict the world in too rosy colors but whenever I come across the inhuman negativity and tragic of communism I feel like shouting in an appalled protest that it is not true and that in spite of everything it does not look like this. I have met very few people who would not deserve a crumble of salvation for an onion; very few of those onto whom the Lord, being just a little sober and generous, could spit fire and sulphur. The world contains much more narrow-mindedness than real vice; but there is still sympathy and trust, friendliness and goodwill enough so that one cannot break the stick over the world of humans. I do not believe in perfection of either present or future humankind; the world will become a paradise neither by persuasion nor by revolution, not even by annihilation of the human race. But if we could somehow gather all the good that is, after all, hidden in each of us sinful human beings, then, I believe, one could build on this a world kinder yet than the one so far. Maybe you will say that it is just a simpleton´s philanthropy; well yes, I do belong to those idiots who love human beings because they are human.

It is very easy to say that, for instance, the forest is black; but no tree in that forest is black, rather it is red and green, because it is simply a pine or a fir. It is very easy to say that the society is bad; but go and find some essentially evil people there. Try to judge the world for a moment without brutal generalizations; after a while, there won´t be a grain left of your principles. One premise of communism is an artificial or intended ignorance of the world. If someone says they hate Germans I would like to tell them to go and live among them; in a month´s time I would ask them whether they hate their German landlady, whether they feel like cutting the throat of their Germanic radish-seller or strangling the Teutonic granny who sells them their matches. One of the least moral gifts of human mind is the gift of generalization; instead of summarizing our experiences, it simply strives to supplant them. In communist papers you cannot read anything else about the world but that it is worth nothing through and through; anyone for whom opinionatedness does not represent the peak of knowledge won´t think this quite sufficient.

Hatred, ignorance, essential distrust – this is the psychical world of communism; a medical diagnosis would say that it is pathological negativism. If one becomes a mass, one is perhaps more easily accessible to this infection; but in private life, it is not sufficient. Stand for a moment next to a beggar at the corner of the street; try to notice who are the pedestrians that most likely spin out the penny from their pockets; in seven cases out of ten they are people who live themselves on the border of poverty; the remaining three cases are women. In all probability, a communist would deduce out of this fact that the bourgeois has a hardened heart; but I deduce something more beautiful, namely that the proletarian has usually a soft heart and is substantially inclined to kindness, love, and dedication. Communism with its class hatred and resentment wants to make this person a canaille; the poor does not deserve such a humiliation.

 

*

 

The world of today does not need hatred but rather good will, readiness to help, consensus and co-operation; it needs a kinder moral climate; I think that with a bit of simple love and sincerity one could perform wonders. I defend the present world not because it is the world of the rich but because it is also the world of the poor and then also of those in the middle, of those who nowadays, ground between the mill-stones of capital and class proletariat, maintain and save, with more or less success, the largest part of human values. I do not really know those proverbial upper ten thousand, thus I cannot judge them; but I have judged the class which is called bourgeoisie in such a way that it has brought me the indiction of dirty pessimism. I say it so that it gives me more right to defend, to a degree, those to whose failures and crimes I am certainly not blind. Proletariat cannot substitute this class but it can enter it. Despite all programmatic swindles there is no proletarian culture; nowadays there is on the whole no folk culture either, no aristocratic culture, no religious culture; all that is left of cultural values depends on the middle class, the so-called „intelligentsia“. If only proletariat claimed its share in this tradition, if only it said: Okay, I will take over the present world and manage it with all the values that are in it – then perhaps we could shake hands and give it a try; however, if communism pushes forth by immediately refusing, as useless camp, everything that is called the bourgeois culture, then goodbye and farewell; then everyone with a bit of responsibility starts to take into account how much would go wasted.

 

*

 

I have already said that real poverty is no institution but a disaster. You can reverse all orders but you will not prevent human beings from strokes of bad luck, from sickness, from the suffering of hunger and cold, from the need of a helpful hand. Do whatever you like, disaster presents human beings with a moral, not a social task. The language of communism is hard; it does not talk of the values of sympathy, willingness, help and human solidarity; it says with self-confidence that it is not sentimental. But this lack of sentimentality is the worst thing for me, since I am just as sentimental as any maid, as any fool, as any decent person is; only rogues and demagogues are not sentimental. Apart from sentimental reasons you will not hand a glass of water to your neighbor; rational motives will not even bring you to help and raise a person who has slipped.

 

*

 

Then, there is the issue of violence. I am no spinster to make the sign of the cross whenever I hear the word “violence”; I admit that sometimes I would quite enjoy beating up a person who produces a series of wrong reasons or lies; unfortunately it is impossible because either I am too weak to beat them or they are too weak to defend themselves. As you can see, I am not exactly a bully; but if the bourgeoisie started to shout that they go hang the proletarians then I would certainly get up and run to help those who are being hanged. A decent person cannot side with the one who threatens; whoever calls for shooting and hanging disrupts human society not by social revolution but by offending natural and simple honesty.

People call me a “relativist” due to the singular and apparently rather heavy intellectual crime that I try to understand everything; I spend my time with all doctrines and all literatures including negro tales and I discover with a mystical joy that with a bit of patience and simplicity one can reach some agreement with all people, whatever their skin or faith. It seems there is some common human logic and a reservoire of shared human values, such as love, humour, enjoying good food, optimism and many other things without which one cannot live. And then I am sometimes gripped by horror that I cannot reach agreement with communism. I understand its ideals but I cannot understand its method. Sometimes I feel as if I spoke a strange language and its thought was subjected to different laws. If one nation believes that people should tolerate each other and another nation believes that people should eat each other, then this difference is quite pictoresque but not absolutely essential; but if communism believes that to hang and shoot people is, under certain circumstances, no more of a serious matter than to kill cockroaches, it is something that I cannot understand though I am being told it in Czech; I have a terrible feeling of chaos and a real anxiety that this way we will never agree.

I believe till this very day that there are certain moral and rational chuttels by means of which one human being recognizes another. The method of communism is a broadly established attempt at international miscommunication; it is an attempt to shatter the human world to pieces that do not belong to each other and have nothing to say to each other. Whatever is good for one side cannot and must not be good for the other side; as if people on both sides were not physiologically and morally identical. Send the most orthodox communist to handle me; if he does not knock me down on the spot then I hope I will reach personal agreement with him on many things – as long, however, as these do not concern communism. But communism principially disagrees with the others even in points that do not concern communism; talk with communism about the function of the spleen and it will tell you that this is bourgeois science; similarly there is bourgeois poetry, bourgeois romanticism, bourgeois humanism and so on. The firmness of conviction that you find in communists in every detail is almost superhuman: not that the conviction were that exalting, rather that they do not get fed up by it at the end. Or perhaps it is no firmness of conviction but rather some ritual prescription or, after all, a craft.

But what I especially regret are exactly proletarians who are thus cut off from the rest of the educated world without getting any other substitute than the attractive prospects of the pleasures of the Revolution. Communism shuts down a cordon between them and the world; and it is you, communist intellectuals, who stand with colorfully painted shields between them and all that is ready for them as the share for newcomers. But there is still a place for the doves of peace – if not in your midst then above your heads, or directly from above.

*

I feel lighter after having said at least so much, though it is not all; I feel like after having confessed. I do not stand in any herd and my argument with communism is not an argument of principles but rather of personal conscience. And if I could argue with others´ conscience and not with principles I believe it would not be impossible at least to understand each other – and that, by itself, would be a lot.

1 I.e., when you promise something attractive but irreal.

2 I.e., the lesser but real reward.

3 I.e., the bigger but illusory reward.

The Case of Woman vs. Orthodoxy, by Voltairine de Cleyre (1896)

by on May 8th, 2014

(With thanks to the now out of use Voltairine de Cleyre Tumblr)

The Case Of Woman VS. Orthodoxy -Voltairine de Cleyre (1896)

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

Thus descended the anathema from the voice which thundered upon Sinai; and thus has the curse gone echoing from away backthere in the misty darkness before the morning of history rose upon men. Sorrow, sorrow, sorrow—and oh! how many million voices wail, wail endlessly.

“Sorrow is my portion and pain is my burden; for so it was decreed of the Lord God, the Lord God who ruleth and whose creature am I. But oh, the burden is heavy, very heavy. I have been patient; I have borne it long; I have not complained; I have not rebelled; if I have wept, it has been at night and alone; if I have stumbled, I have gone on the faster. When I have lain down in the desert and closed my eyes and known no more, I have rebuked myself. I have remembered my mother, and been patient and waited, waited. But the waiting is very long.”

This is the cry of the woman heard in the night of the long ages; ghostforms flitting through the abyss, ghost-hands wrung in the ancient darkness come close and are laid upon the living, and the mournful cadence is reintoned from the dead by the quick, and the mournful, hopeless superstition which bound the hearts and the souls of our foremothers, lengthens out its weary chain and binds us, too. Why it should be so, why it has done so for so long, is one of the mysteries which a sage of the future may solve, but not I. I can see no reason, absolutely none, why women have clung to the doom ofthe gods. I cannot understand why they have not rebelled. I cannot imagine what they ever hoped to gain by it, that they should have watered their footsteps with tears, and borne their position with such abnegation. It is true that we are often offered explanations, and much force may be in them, but these explanations may serve only to account for the position. They do not account for woman’s centurian acceptance of, and resignation to, it. Women are, we know, creatures of their environments, the same as are men; and they react on their environment in proportion to their capacities.

We know that women are not now, and, with some few tribal exceptions,probably never were, as strong as men are physically. But why in commonsense sorrow should therefore be their lot, and their husbands should rule over them, and why they should uncomplainingly accept this regime, is one of the, to me, incomprehensible phenomena of human history. Men,enslaved, have, to speak expressively, “kicked”—kicked vigorously, even when the kicking brought to them heavier chains; but we have never, till very recently, had anything like a revolt of women. They have bowed, and knelt and kissed the hand which smote them. Why? Notwithstanding all of its pretensions to be the uplifter and the glorifier of women, there ever has been, there never will be, anything for them in orthodoxy but slavery. And whether that slavery is of the sordid, gloomy, leaden, work-a-day sortor of the gilded toy-shop variety, whether it be the hard toil and burden of work women or the canary-bird style of the upper classes, who neither toil norspin, the undertone and the overtone are still the same: “Be in subjection;for such is the Lord’s will.” In order to maintain this ideal of the relation of master and of subject between men and women, a different method of education, a different code of morals and a different sphere exertion were mapped out for women, because of their sex, without reference to individual qualifications. If a horse is designed to draw wheels because it is a horse,so have women been allotted certain tasks, mostly menial, because they are women. The majority of men actually hold to that analogy, and without in the least believing themselves tyrannical or meddle-some, conceived themselves to be justified in making a tremendous row if the horse attempted to get over the traces.

That splendid old veteran of Freethought, George Jacob Holyoake, in a recent article, one of a series running in the Open Court, has pertinently observed that the declaration that thought is by its very essence free is an error, because as long as speech, which is the necessary tool of thought, is not free, the intellect is as much hampered in its effort to think as a shoemaker without tools is in attempting to make a pair of shoes. By this same method, viz., the denial of the means of altering it, was the position of woman sustained, by subordinating her physical development to what was called delicacy, which ought to have been called by its proper name, weakness, by inculcating a scheme of morals which made obedience the first virtue, suppression of the will in deference to her husband (or father, or brother, or,failing these, her nearest male relative) the first deduction there from, by a plan of education which omitted all of those branches of knowledge whichrequire the application of reason and of judgment, by all of these deprivals of the tools of thinking the sphere was circumscribed and guarded well. And by the penalties inflicted for the breaking through of these prescriptions,whether said penalties were legal or purely social and voluntary, the little spirit which was left in woman by these limitations was almost hopelessly broken. It is apparent, therefore, that if in all these ages of submission have hopelessly accepted that destiny, if they have never tried to break these forbidding barriers, they will not do so now, with all of theiradded centuries of inheritance, unless the relentless iron of circumstance drives them across. (Later, it will be my endeavor to show that this iron is already pressing down).

It may not be flattering to have this conviction thrust upon us; but it may be less disagreeable if I explain what I mean. In former times, when people trod upon the toes of gods every time they turned about, moral ideals and social ideals were looked upon as things in themselves descended from on high, the gift of the gods, Divine patterns laid down without reference to climate, to race, to social development, or to other material things, matters of the soul without relation to bodily requirements. But now that gods speaking the tongues of men have vanished like vapors at sunrise, it is necessary, since it is evident that morality of some sort exists everywhere,of very different sorts under different conditions, to find some explanation of these psychic phenomena correlated with the explanation of physical phenomena. For souls are no longer perceived as monarchs of bodies laying down all manner of laws for the bringing into subjection of the physical members, but rather soul, or mind, or whatever name may be given to the psychological aspect of the bundle called an ego, is one with the body, subject to growth, to expansion and to decay, adapting itself seasonably to time and to circumstances, modified always by material conditions, intimately connected with the stomach, indissolubly related to the weather, tothe crops, and to all other baldly commonplace things. In contemplating this revised version of the soul one will, according to the bent of one’s nature,regard this view as a descent from spiritual heights, rendering things coarse and gross, or, on the other hand, he will see all things clothed in the gloryof superb equality, he will not say: “I am sunken to the indignity of a cabbage,”but “this common plant is my brother and the brother of things greater than I, serving equally well his part; there is no more or less, smalleror greater; Life is common to us all.”

Now, therefore, upon this basis, the basis of the perpetual relation between physical foundations and ethical superstructures, it is seen that if this be an acting principle now, so it has ever been, and will be as long asmind and matter constitute reality. Hence the ethics said to have been delivered by Jehovah upon Sinai was truly the expression of social ideas compatible with the existing physical conditions. Not less so the ethics of bees, of ants, of birds, and of the Fiji Islanders; and not less so the ethics of to-day, which, despite the preservation of the outward shell of the decalogue,are indeed vastly changed.

The conclusion to be drawn from the foregoing in regard to the status of woman is this:—Material conditions determine the social relations of men and women; and if material conditions are such as to make these relations impossible of maintenance, they will be compelled to assume others. This is the explanation of the expression, “driven across the barriers.” What no amount of unseasonable preaching can accomplish material necessity will force even in the face of sermons to the contrary. Not that I undervalue the service of the advance guard, the preaching of new thought. On the contrary, the first and best of praise is due to the “voice crying in the wilderness.” And I say that such a voice is the first faint vibration of the world-soul in response to the unease of world-body created by the shifting of conditions,—whether it so proclaims or not, whether it cries wisely or not. I say that those who call for the breaking of the barriers will always precede the general action of the masses; but I add that were it not for the compulsion of material necessity the preaching would be barren. What I wish to express in order to illustrate my point clearly is, first, that the orthodox view of the ethics of woman’s relations and her social usefulness was a view compatible with a tribal organization, narrow geographical limits,the reign of muscular force, the necessity of rapid reproduction; second,that those conditions have given place to others demanding an utterly different human translation.

Before the invention of the means of transportation, when, according to the story, it took forty years for the Israelites to explore a tract some 300 miles in length (though one may perhaps venture to credit them with better time than they credit themselves with), when, at any rate, a high mountain was a serious obstacle and a good-sized river a natural boundary for tribal wanderings, people were necessarily very ignorant of the outside world. Within the limits valuable pasture and farm lands were debatable grounds, debatable by different tribes, in terms of hue and cry, of slingshot and arrows, and other such arguments. War was a constant condition, the chief occupation of men. Now we who are evolutionists know that those tribes and species survived in the world which obeyed the fundamental necessity of adaptation; and it is easy to see that with a rapid rate of mortality and anon-correspondent rate of increase a tribe must have rapidly gone to the wall. Any nation which might have put its mothers up in battle would have been weeded out simply because the part played by the mother in reproduction requires so much longer a period than that played by the father. To produce warriors—that was the chief purpose of a woman’s existence! Nothing in herself, she became everything when regarded as the race preserver.Therein lay her great usefulness; and in reading the sometimes nauseating accounts of the behavior of women in ancient times in Judah, the phase of human development in its entirety should be borne in mind. The mothers of Isaac and of Ishmael, Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah, the daughters of Lot, should never be viewed from the standpoint of nineteenth century morals, but from that of the tribal organization and the tribal necessities, which forced upon them the standard of “Multiply and replenish the earth” as the highest possible conception of conduct.

Yet, singular to observe, co-existent with this very ideal and with the very polygamous practices of the patriarchs, are found records of the most horrible punishments inflicted upon women for the breaking of the seventh commandment. As may be seen in the story of Tamar and Judah, the punishment to be inflicted upon her was burning alive, though nothing is said of Judah’s. The Talmud has many accounts of tests by “the bitter water” for women, while men were subjected to nothing more than a fine. (Bitter water was simply poisoned water; the innocent were supposed not to be injured, the guilty to fall dead in the market-place, exposed to the public gaze.) Nevertheless, such was the stringent necessity for rapid reproductions that women defied danger and instinctively continued to fulfill that race-purpose, though the law of Moses, already codifying the conditions of peace (not as yet existent), recognized war and its accompaniments as transient, and giving place to a stricter moral behavior.

As I said before, I do not perceive for the life of me what the women saw in all of this for them; I don’t see why they should have been interested in the tribal welfare at all, or in the dreary business of bearing sons for other women’s sons to slay. But since the war-environment was the one underwhich they were born and reared, since no other purpose for them had ever been thought of, by either the dead or the living, it is not surprising that they did not see matters at all as I do. Nowadays, that the majority of English and of French speaking peoples at least see that the requisite ethics is the limitation of population within the means of subsistence, these direct descendants of the Judaic ideal are subject rather to a jest among the enlightened of their own race. Thus Zangwill, in the “Children of the Ghetto,” puts this speech in the mouth of one of the Jewish grandmothers: “How is Fanny?”inquired the visitor. “Ah, poor Pesach! He has never done well in business! But blessed be He. I am soon to have my seventh grand-child.” How fearfully potent is the force of heredity may thus be seen, since to this day these women walk through your streets, wan, faded, humped, distorted, hideous women—women all bone and jaw and flabby flesh, grotesque shadows from the past, creatures once trim and beautiful, but whose beauty went long ago to fulfill the order of the Lord of Sinai.

The primal division of labor is thus seen to have been one of sex. The business of men was to fight, of women to produce fighters. To men were the arts of war; to women were those of peace. Later in the time of Solomon, when material conditions among the Jews had already altered, we see the effect of the continuance of this division beyond the epoch which created it. Already monadism has been abandoned; and the settled mode of life has been begun. The conditions of war, though still often maintaining, bore no comparison to former prevalence; and the aforeward warrior was hence frequently idle. Was it thus with woman? Oh, no,

Men may come and men may go,
But she goes on forever

With her work.

Listen to this delectable account in Solomon, said to be the opinion of King Lemuel concerning a truly blessed woman; behold how her duties have gone on increasing. ’Tis the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs; and let no one with an appreciation of the humorous miss it. It begins rather inconsequently with something about wine-drinking, and runs into the question at issue in the tenth verse; just why, no one is able to understand. It bears no relation to what has preceded it. Here it is:

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.”(You’ll be convinced of that before you’ve done;—diamonds either.)

“The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.” (They don’t generally need much of that if Lemuelmeans the sort of “spoil” which most modern husbands get.)

“She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.” (That’s in general; what follows is specific.)

“She seeketh flax and wool, and worketh willingly with her hands.”(So much for clothes; victuals now.)

“She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth food from afar.” (Goes where she can get it cheap, of course.)

“She riseth also while it is night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.” (Careful that they should not overeat andget sluggish. It is well to keep the girls tolerably hungry if you want them up before daylight.)

“She considereth a field and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.” (Trades, too, see?)

“She girdeth her loins with strength and strengtheneth her arms.”(Nowadays she’d do that with a bicycle instead of a plow.)

“She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her candle goeth notout by night.” (That means that she works all night, too; for she wouldn’t burn candles for nothing, being economical.)

“She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.”(The woman is all hands!)

“She stretcheth out her hands to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.” (Hands again!)

“She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.” (How Mephistophelian the whole household must have seemed.)

“She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.” (The woman must have had forty days in a month and thirteen months in a year.)

“Her husband is known in the gates when he sitteth among the elders of the land.” (I thought that he’d be up somewhere about the gates! I thought that he wouldn’t be having much to do but to sit with the elders! I thought that he’d not be stopping about the house much!)

“She maketh fine linen and selleth it, and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.” (I should think that she might send him around delivering.)

“Strength and honor are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come.” (There is certainly not much chance for her to rejoice in the time which has already come.)

“She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” (Verily, I should have expected her to be shrewish.)

“She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” (This paragraph was unnecessary; we had reached that conclusion before.)

“Her children arise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.” (Well, in all conscience, ’tis as little as he could do; and heought to do it well, since there is a deal of fine rhetoric usually going about among the elders and around the gates; and he has plenty of leisure to “get onto it.”)

“Many daughters have done virtuously; but thou excellest them all.”(“Sure.”)

“Favor is deceitful and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth theLord, she shall be praised.” (That is to console her for getting ugly with all of that work.)

“Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.” Oh, thou who hast bought and planted and reaped and sold, spun and woven and girdled and clothed, risen and travelled and gathered and given, borne all, done all, ordered all, saved all, we will “give thee of the fruit of thy hands,” and prate about it up at the gates! Verily, verily, the woman is far above rubies.

But alas for Lemuel and for Solomon, conditions then were also mutable. And perhaps a friend of mine who has expressed herself upon this passage, is right in her judgment that, as men never exalt a thing until it is beginning to wane and to vanish away, therefore it must have been that this sort of woman was on the decrease before Solomon began to repeat Lemuel. It does not lie within the scope of my lecture to trace the economic development which multiplied the diversion of labor, creating classes having separate and conflicting political interests, which will continue to clash until the process has either, by being pushed to its extremity,destroyed itself and reaccomplished independent production, or until some more correct political solution be found than any at present existing. What I wish to observe is merely that up to the dawn of the Revolutionary period this manifold splitting of humanity’s occupations did not affect the primal division of the complementary labors of the sexes. Within the limits set by the original division, however, classes did arise. Among women these classes were principally two; the overworked drudges of the poor, andthe pampered daughters of wealth. Is it not possible to say whose condition was the most lamentable. For to both was still maintained by preacher, by teacher, by lawyer and by doctor the old decree: “Thy husband shall rule over thee.” Of the latter class there were but few previous to the Revolution. The rugged condition of pioneer life in the New World afforded small opportunity for the growth of a purely parasite class; that has arisen since. But in the Old World the women of the landed aristocracy, as likewise those of the developing mercantile class, constituted, though not a majority, yet a good percentage of the whole sex. So large a portion, in fact, that a whole stock of literature, which might have been labelled, “The Gospel of Jesus specially adapted to the use of society women,” arose and flourished; preachers busied themselves with it; doctors wrote scores of verses on the preservation of the beauty and the delicacy of the lazy; rhetoricians frilled and furbelowed the human toy by way of exercising their art; lawyers rendered learned opinions upon “lovely woman”—they all took their turn and they all did her a bad turn. The entire science of life, as laid down in this literature for these women, was to make husband-traps of themselves. Their home training and their educational facilities were inline there with. Nothing solid, nothing to develop or even to awaken thelogical faculties, everything to develop the petty and the frivolous. The art of dressing, the tricks of assumed modesty, the degradation of intellect by continually curbing and straining it in to fit the patterns of God and of his servants—that the servant said that is was God’s pattern—such was the feminine code.

About this time there arose the inevitable protest which conditions were bound to force. It was all very well for the dumb drudges and the well-fed toys; but society has ever between its extremes a middle product which fits in nowhere. This is recruited from both sides, but, at that time mostly from the upper classes being squeezed down into the ranks of the non-possessors. There were women, daughters of the formerly well-to-do, incapable of the very laborious life of the lowly, unable to reascend to their former superior position; upon these were forced the necessity of self support. Most of them regarded it as a hard and bitter lot, and something tobe ashamed of. Even literature, now considered a very fine source of support for women, was then a thing for a woman to keep still about if she engaged in it. The proper thing to do was to lay hold of an honorary sort of husband, support one’s self and him, and pretend that he did it. So disgraceful was social usefulness in woman! Such was the premium on worthlessness!

Now, out of this class one who did not do the proper thing, one who protested against the whole scheme arose,—the woman whose name many now delight to honor as the author of the “Vindication of the Rights of Women,”—Mary Wollstonecraft. One of her biographers, Mrs. Pennel, states that she was the first woman in England who openly followed literature as a means of livelihood. (It is worthy of note that Mr. Jonson, heremployer, was one of the Freethinkers of the time, Paine’s printer, as well as Mary Wollstonecraft’s.)

Nowadays the idea conveyed by the expression, “Women’s Rights” is the idea of casting a ballot. Then it meant the right to be treated as serious beings having some faint claim to comprehension. The orthodox code never had, never has, admitted, and never will admit, anything of the kind until it is forced to do so. It is not surprising, therefore, to know that this woman was not orthodox. She found out that if ever a woman expected to have rights she must first pitch the teachings of the priests overboard. And not only priests, but their coadjutors, men of the scientific “cloth” indeed,who see that priestcraft is all wrong for them, but all right for women—men who hunt scientific justifications for keeping up the orthodox standard.

For a long time the seed sown by the author of the “Rights of Women” lay on seemingly barren ground; and the great prophet of the coming woman was, as usual, maligned, travestied, hissed and hooted, save by the select few. The reason for this is now apparent. Conditions had not so far developed as to create a class of women having none to depend upon except themselves; there were only sporadic specimens here and there, thence the old traditions fortified by the ancient possibilities remained firm. But now that the irresistible tide of economic development is driving women out of the corner wherein they lay drifted for so many thousand years, the case is different. And I, for one, bless the hour when a stinging lash drove women forth into the industrial arena. I know that it is the habit of our labor reformers to bewail the fact that men can no longer “support their wives and their daughters”; it is held up as the chief iniquity of the capitalist that he has broken up the poor man’s family life; the “queen,” poor tinsel queen, has been taken from her realm, the home, into the factory. But while I credit the capitalist with no better motive than that of buying in the cheapest market, I bless him from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot for this unintentioned good. This iron-shod heel has crushed the shell of “woman’s sphere”; and the wings will grow—never fear, they will grow. No one will accuse me of loving the horrors of modern society, no one will suppose that I want them to continue for one moment after the hour whenit is possible to be rid of them. I know all of the evils resultant to woman from the factory system; I would not prolong them. But I am glad that by these very horrors, these gigantic machines which give to me the nightmare with their jaws and teeth, these monstrous buildings, bare and many windowed, stretching skyward, brick, hard and loveless, which daily swallow and spew out again thousands upon thousands of frail lives, each day a little frailer, weaker, more exhausted, these unhealthy, man-eating traps which I cannot see blotting the ground and the sky without itching to tear down, by these very horrors women have learned to be socially usefuland economically independent—as much so as men are. The basis of independence and of individuality is bread. As long as wives take bread from husbands because they are not capable of getting it in any other way, so long will the decree obtain: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee,” so long will all talk about political “rights” be empty vagaries, hopeless crying against the wind.

There are those who contend that once the strain and the stress of commercialism are over, women will resume their ancient position, “natural,”they call it, of child nurses and home-keepers, being ruled and protected.I say, NO: the broken chain will never be re-forged. No more “spheres,” no more stops or lets or hindrances. I do not say that women will not be nurses and home-keepers at all; but I do say that they will not be such because they have to, because any priest so reads the ancient law—because any social prejudice checks them and forces them into it rather than allowing full, free development of natural bent. I say that the factory is laughing at the church; and the modern woman, who grasps her ownself-hood, is laughing at the priest. I say that the greater half of the case of Orthodoxy vs.Woman is won—by woman; through pain, and misery, and sweat of brow and ache of hand, as all things worth winning are won. I don’t mean that nothing remains to be done; there is as much in pursuing a victory as in winning it in the first place. But the citadel is taken—the right of self-maintenance—and all else must follow.

From the aforetime sterile ground the seeds are springing green. This is the season to pluck life from the tombs, the time of transfiguration when every scar upon the earth changes to glory, when before the eyes of man appears that miracle, of which all traditions of resurrection and of ascension are but faint, dim images, figures passing over the glass of the human mind, the projection of man’s effort to identify himself with the All of Nature. This miracle, this blooming of the mold, this shooting of greenpeas where all was brown and barren, this resurrection of the sunken snowin tree-crowns, these workings, these responses to the knocking of the sunlight, these comings forth from burial, these rendings of shrouds, these ascensions from the graves, these flutterings, these swift, winged shadows passing, these tremolos high up in the atmosphere,—is it possible to feel all of this miracle and not to dream? Is it possible not to hope? The very fact that every religion has some kind of symbolic festival about the returning time of the green, proves that man, too, felt the upspringing in his breast—whether he rightly translates it or not, ‘tis sure that he felt it, like all organic things. And whether it be the festival of a risen Christ, or of the passage of Judah from the bondage of Egypt, or the old Pagan worship of light, ‘tis ever the same—the celebration of the breaking of bonds. We, too,may allow ourselves the poetic dream. Abroad in the April sunlight we behold in every freedom-going spark the risen dead—the flame which burned in the souls of Hypatia, Mary Wollstonecraft, Frances Wright, Ernestine L. Rose, Harriet Martineau, Lucretia Mott, that grand old negress, Sojourner Truth, our own brave old Lucy N. Coleman, and all of the beloved unknown whose lives ingrafted on the race what their tongues spoke. We, too, proclaim the Resurrection.

Deconstruction and Reconstruction in Shrek

by on April 2nd, 2014

A poster for the movie

Deconstruction and Reconstruction in Shrek

Analyzing Shrek? Really?: Really Really!

A common refrain when analyzing popular media (especially media like animation which is mostly associated with children) is to accuse the analyzer of elitism. The accusations mostly center on the analyst being some sort of elitist who wishes to push their ideological or “worldly” values on everyone else and take the “fun” out of the movie. Further, they’re discrediting themselves, the movies and their audiences by subjecting themselves and others to their foolish ways. It just doesn’t make sense to spend so much of our time thinking about things we weren’t meant to think about in the first place.

Now, there’s a lot going on here with these sorts of arguments and I want to say in the interest of fairness that I can see where this sometimes comes from. Often when we want to enjoy the magic of something and someone just comes up to us stone-faced and explains everything in such detail that nothing is a mystery anymore, things might then seem stale.

In fact, this sort of thing reminds me of how some people contest that things like science stifle creativity or imagination and the like because it demystifies the universe and what goes on in it. But I think as with the science example the thing about explaining things (no matter the method) is that it never really closes the book. Often times explanations can lead us to wanting more from the person explaining. For more preludes and conclusions and most importantly (at least in terms of story) everything that happens in between that defines these two thing and links them together. In other words neither science nor analysts of movies take away the magic. They can sometimes lessen the enjoyment for others but the “magic” is never really lost. And in the best case scenario it can actually be deepened and enriched.

Explaining any one or three of these things in various ways isn’t inherently harmful to our psyches. Sure, sometimes spoilers can ruin our days or some jerk can walk up to us and explain who really killed JR from Dallas and take away our train of thought or thought process about the mystery. But these things are momentary and the people who take those things away from us can just as easily give us a lot more if we put our minds to it. Taking the example of a mystery being solved for you and without your permission can certainly be a troubling thing and not something I think should be the tone analysists should stick to.  But even in this worst case scenario I’d contend that there’s still plenty to be had by thinking about how other people figured it out. What did you miss? What did they get? What would be useful to pay attention to in the future? And where’s the nearest 2X4 so I can wack that guy who ruined the mystery for me?

All of these questions (particularly the last one in this case) are important ones to ask ourselves and sometimes they won’t be asked unless we get a good kick in the butt. But nevertheless that’s not what I think someone should do if they want to explain. If you’re watching a kids film and want to enjoy it as just that and ignore the themes that it brings out, that’s fine. There’s nothing really wrong with enjoying entertainment for its own sake. But at the same time I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to grapple with themes and ideas that these pieces of entertainment give us so long as we try to make it an edifying and positive experience. And we can do that by first respecting those around us and not reinforcing the macho-elitist mindset that some may accuse us of. I think one of the important things for that is to speak our own language. To analyze something I don’t think you need to use ten academic words per second. I think that, in a lot of cases at least, you’re just as fine using your own language. And if that means being a little wordy then that’s fine too, as long as it’s genuine.  For me, that’s the important thing.

But more to the point, I’m of the opinion that when we do look into movies that seek to give children and adults some amount of pleasure and critically and culturally succeed in some respect that they’re of particular note. Shrek is just one good example of that. And there’s plenty of themes and ideas to go around. In this short essay I’ll just focus on a few though. First and mainly I want to focus on Shrek’s greatest achievement as a piece of cinema which is reconstruction and deconstruction. Then I want to focus on the themes of identity and acceptance and how Shrek deals with these themes in a fairly satisfying way. Finally I want to address the ways that Fiona is used as a character in the movie and how it works and why.

“That’s what all the other knights did!”

Upon re-watching Shrek, I instantly noticed that Donkey, Fiona and Shrek were all archetypes or certain members of the theater’s audience. Donkey was for the children, obviously. He was constantly cracking jokes, typically either not grasping the situation or trying to make light of it to deal with it and he was very loud and chatty. And while the film is a comedy and Eddie Murphy’s character couldn’t be called comedic relief per se’ because of that he’d still probably be the most deserving of such a title. Fiona was the classical section of the audience. Those who still really loved and cherished the traditional fairy tale roles and stories and would’ve been reacting the same way as Fiona does when she is first rescued. Then there is Shrek. Shrek to me refers to everyone in between. Those people who don’t really buy the fairy tale stuff or do in their hearts but can’t manage to. The Donkey types in the audience typically will get the heart of it (at least somewhat) but won’t grasp the larger picture and the Fiona types will be too wrapped up in the heart of it to see how silly it can be from a logical standpoint. Shrek then stands as a middle ground for these two viewpoints and deconstructs both sides of the discussion in both funny and interesting ways.

One of the most apparent and immediate ways that Shrek deconstructs the genre of fairy tales and the expectations of the audience is being a slightly amoral character who would probably normally be the villain in a traditional fairy tale. He lives in a secluded, smelly and small swamp and is a huge monster that constantly scares people and lives a private life. He clearly wouldn’t be the hero in most fairy tales. But he immediately becomes more relatable as we see his everyday routine and what he does with himself. He eats, he showers, he warns villagers to run after he shouts at them (the typical villain would not do this) and so on. This makes Shrek first and foremost a very powerful deconstruction of one of the biggest tropes in fairy tales: the monster is the bad guy. And that’s sort of funny when you realize that most fairy tales are made up of monsters and the only real differentiation between the one and the other is the morality of their characters. And whether they’re ogres or trolls or whatever is more so incidental than anything else and Shrek himself is a great example of this fact.

To further humanize Shrek he’s given a much more naïve, friendly but often times not as seemingly in-the-know friend in Donkey. Donkey and Shrek both complement each other well because of how obviously different they are from each other. This is not only made apparent but constantly highlights in the movie for great laughs.  Shrek is more realistic, cynical and private while Donkey has more of his heads up in the clouds, wants friends and is fairly happy-go-lucky most of the time. In this way Shrek is able to easily use Donkey as a caricature of some of the faults that fairy tales have in them and deconstruct them in often pretty witty dialogue that can also keep children entertained. I don’t mean to imply, however, that no children would get Shrek’s humor. I am of the opinion that children can be a lot smarter (and often times are a lot smarter) than some parents or adults give them credit for. Given that I think it’s more of a spectrum than an absolute declaration of all children being the character of Donkey, I am working with archetypes and approximations not hard and fast rules.

Further, once Fiona is introduced she immediately reminds the audience (if they haven’t figured it out already that is) that something is terribly wrong with the way this is working out so far. Shrek isn’t handsome, he’s not hard working, he hasn’t earned the title of knighthood from any honorable authority and he certainly hasn’t slain any dragons. All of this leads to one of the biggest deconstructions in the entire movie. When Fiona finds out that Shrek hadn’t slain the dragon before he rescued her she exclaims that the situation isn’t right and that he wasn’t doing it the way the other knights had done it Shrek responds:

 “Yeah, right before they burst into flames!”

As he says this as they pass a skeleton of one of the other knights who had done what Fiona would have wanted Shrek and Donkey to have done.

Here we see the ultimate deconstruction of the fairy tale myth for it shows the logical fallacy of trying to outpower a dragon with simply some armor and a sword. Instead trying to outwit the dragon via either cowardly sneaking around it or trying to just avoid it all together seems like a much more rational way to do it. After all, the point is to rescue a human being. What does slaying the dragon matter besides some bravado of machismo? If there’s any worth in it Shrek would  laugh at it and say that getting his swamp back from Lord Farquaad was what was important, not risking his life just so he could “heroically” slay a dragon. And when you look at the track record of anyone else who tries, which would normally be a boon to the hero for his litany of reasons for trying against his “mighty foe” Shrek uses this as a perfectly reasonable reversal. This reversal of Shrek’s not only deconstructs the over abundant trope of the hero’s journey but also reestablishes his own journey in its stead: the journey of the more logical and less fantastical.

Because, of course, if Shrek was just deconstructing things like fairy tales and all of the typical tropes, ideas, concepts and themes that typically come out of such things than Shrek wouldn’t be a very fun movie at all. But when you add Fiona and Donkey as characters who can both help in and fill the other sides of the discussion and hence balance out Shrek then the movie makes a lot more sense and is a lot more enjoyable as a result. Without Donkey, Shrek would just be a brooding lonely creature who’d scare other people away and would just live alone. And without Fiona, Shrek may have Donkey but he still would only grudgingly accept the world outside him and accept the idea that he can find happiness outside himself. Fiona is the one who helps Shrek reconcile those fairy tale dreams he has in his heart with reality. Because the reality is that sometimes people aren’t who they say they are but sometimes that’s okay.

Identifying Identity in Layers

Another one of the themes that Shrek deals with is the issue of identity and acceptance. These two issues make up some of the pivotal things that help Shrek reconstruct the fairy tale world around himself in a more positive light. Without the proper handling of these issues Shrek would once more fail as a movie because it would leave us for nothing to take with us, only things for us to remove. But instead Shrek helps us understand ourselves not only in relation to ourselves also to others and how we should be accepting of others and look for friendship where acceptance can be found.

Acceptance is one of the biggest parts of the relationships in Shrek. Without Donkey’s initial acceptance of Shrek  as not just a “big, stupid, ugly ogre” but someone deserving of friendship because he went out of his way (though probably for the sake of convenience than an invitation for friendship)  to protect him. Although this is somewhat naïve because Shrek’s heart wasn’t exactly in the right place for Donkey to invite himself into Shrek’s life, Donkey’s methods of friendship with immediate acceptance work great with Shrek in the future because that’s what Shrek specifically needs. Shrek comments again and again in the movie how he’s typically seen as scary or ugly or nothing but someone who they should be afraid of even though people don’t even try to get to know him. It’s no wonder then that Shrek is for much of the movie grumpy, cynical and only barely clinging to the ideals of the fairy tale story that we might normally associate with this sort of movie.

Fiona on the other hand goes through a rollercoaster of acceptance and lack thereof. She is at first very accepting of Shrek but not because he’s an orgre but because he’s her rescuer and through fairytale rules that makes him automatically acceptable even if he’s a bit unorthodox. But Fiona reveals the folly of this sort of trope when she demands to know what Shrek looks like and Shrek knowing better than this fairy tale trope attempts to decline. Fiona however gets her wish and Shrek takes his helmet off which causes an instant switch in Fiona’s mood as she declares upsettingly that he’s an orgre and that this is all wrong. She then attempts to fulfill the logical extension of this kind of logic against monsters in fairytales by preferring to starve (it’s not stated explicitly she’d starve but I can’t really imagine Fiona would be able to survive long, especially with the dragon so close) than go with Shrek and wait for her true rescuer. This changes the dynamics of the relationship and Shrek reverts back to the typical monster role of the kidnapper. Shrek even affirms this role rather explicitly when Robin Hood and his Merry Men try to “save” Fiona from him. But of course the audience knows better and Robin is instead made quick work of by Fiona herself (and we’ll get into that soon).

Fiona’s ogre form that happens after sunset is another big part of identity and acceptance in the movie. It’s a big part of contention for Fiona herself who thinks she’s nothing but an ugly creature which just shows that Fiona still has, in the end, chosen to internalize the tropes and ideas that most fairy tales traditionally say about “creatures” like her. Throughout her adventure with Shrek and Donkey it is seen at various points that part of who Fiona is is her ogre personality. The belches she does in the forest, as well as the killing of the bird through singing…and then…killing its young… (Seriously, that’s some pretty messed up stuff when you think about it…) and eating traditional swamp food with Shrek. All of these things and more suggest that the ogre part of her is a legitimate form of her identity but because she has internalized the typical fairy tale ideas of what beauty is and is not she cannot accept this about herself. Donkey tries to convince her otherwise in their talk in the shed before Farquaad comes but it’s of no use. Shrek, mishearing the conversation as slights against him gives up on his then obvious romantic attraction to Fiona, having been rejected once more.

From here we have what Doug Walker, better known as the Nostalgia Critic, calls the “misunderstanding” trope or “liar revealed trope”. This is where something is either misunderstood or misheard and the characters have to spend some time being depressed (usually) before figuring out it was a misunderstanding, clearing up the misunderstanding and moving on with the plot.

To Walker’s this is often times a huge waste of time, doesn’t move the plot forward in any meaningful way. And Walker finds himself constantly frustrated with the fact that most of the time these things could be solved by just telling the truth but for some reason this either doesn’t happen immediately or sometimes not for a long time. Thankfully Shrek only falls pretty to this trope a little and while I agree with Walker that this trope is overplayed I don’t think Shrek overly-abused the already overly-abused trope just for the sake of showing the consequences of being rejected. And while the scenes were fairly pointless, the constant linking up of pictures to characters was a really nice touch and kept me engaged and interested even if I sympathize with Walker’s critiques of this trope.

In the end of course, Fiona reveals to Shrek what she really is, he accepts her while Farquaad doesn’t and Donkey and the fire-breathing dragon (who turned out to be a female fire-breathing dragon) appear to be dating as well. In all of these relationships acceptance is an important thing here too with Shrek telling Fiona that she is beautiful in his eyes when she’s an ogre. This leads to a probably over-simplified but good enough conclusion to the arc of identity and acceptance in the movie. Going back to the themes of deconstruction and reconstruction and tying it into acceptance and identity Shrek has done such a good job with Fiona that he replaced her fear of herself with acceptance of herself. And this is a fairly powerful message, especially for people who don’t believe in themselves or how they look. It’s not an especially new viewpoint and even the way it’s presented probably isn’t that unique either but what matters to me at least is that it works.

 Stopping the Music: A Quick Analysis of Fiona in Shrek

First and most importantly we see Fiona kick the pants off of the “damsels in distress” trope in some ways and reinforce them in others.

At first she certainly not only reinforces them but goes as far as to talk like she is living in such an era where that was still the norm. And as I said before she immediately accepts Shrek with very little disregard to who he may be on the inside and rests her acceptance solely on the fact that he rescued her and nothing more.  And also as I said before she then immediately rejects Shrek after he reveals his true identity as an ogre. This reveals the inherent one-dimensional aspects of the trope of the damsel in distress. The fact that Shrek may have been a bad guy should have been enough to deter Fiona from immediately throwing herself at Shrek. But instead she disregards this mysterious man who she knows nothing about, knows neither his motivations nor his origins and doesn’t even know his name for the first few minutes of being rescued (by which time she’s already made some moves on him).

But this is just at first. Within time Fiona carefully peels back the “damsel” persona and seems fully capable to live by herself without Shrek or Donkey if that’s what it takes to find her “real savior”. This may not be an exact cry for independence but at least it shows Fiona is willing to deal with the hand she’s dealt and deal with it in a way that’d require significant physical and mental will on her part. I think that this shows at least a partial growing of her as a character which is only further sped up by the forest scene where she trashes Robin Hood and his merry men single handedly. Shrek is immediately impressed and Fiona nonchalantly replies that she had plenty of time on her own to develop the skills necessary to survive. This once again throws a big wrench in the gears of the damsel trope. After all, why wouldn’t the damsel train themselves with that much time to themselves so they ensure they aren’t captured again? It sure would be nice to see Peach or Zelda pick up some classes…

Fiona not only acts confident the whole time she’s wailing on her captors but remains cool about it the whole time and afterwards, like it isn’t a big deal. And this is a key thing right here because it shows an attempt at normalizing the conception of damsels being a pretty silly concept and the notion of women being able to fend for themselves given the right circumstances just like anyone else. It also develops her character further to see her in action (which she seemingly doesn’t put to good use in the climax, but then to be fair although Shrek gets off a few hits he’s ultimately powerless too and it’s ultimately Donkey and the dragon’s time to shine) and taking an active role in shaping where she goes in her journey and ultimately deciding to go with Shrek. Whether it’s because the music was just annoying or because she saw something in both Donkey and Shrek (and more so Shrek) this movie certainly had its moments of giving Fiona her time to shine.

Are you a believer?

Ultimately the aim of Shrek is reflected in the song at the end, “I’m a Believer” by Smash Mouth (and originally by The Monkees): trying to make you believe.

Believe in what? Well mainly it seems to be in yourself, in who you are, not who others say you are. I think it’s also trying to teach us understanding that there are layers to all of us and not just the prejudgments that people sometimes make about us because how we appear on the outside. It’s about looking for friends in the places that we feel the most accepted and cared for and not in the places that are disingenuous or dangerous for one reason or another. And finally it’s about recognizing other people in the same way we’d like to be recognized and not just instantly and forever stamped by bad judgments. Ultimately Shrek helps promote positive messages from both reality and fairy tales and brings the best of both worlds to the audience. This is a big part of why I think Shrek works so well as a movie. Shrek isn’t perfect and it certainly has its problems but overall I think it really succeeds where it needs to and makes it so you’re hard-pressed to dislike the characters you’re supposed to like and vice versa.

If Shrek’s goal as a movie was to make me think that fairy tale movies can still work while adopting some post-modern realism (or perhaps its cynicism) then consider me a believer.

Don’t You Think That It’s Boring how People Analyze Pop Stars?

by on March 3rd, 2014

Lorde

Don’t You Think That It’s Boring how People* Analyze Pop Stars? 

A Response to Thaddeus Russell on Lorde and her “Attack” on the Pleasures of the Poor

*This is a reference to Lorde’s song Tennis Court

What’s in a Lineage?

Lineage denotes a linking that is not necessarily of our choosing. Being linked to something biologically and socially doesn’t necessarily add up to the intentions that typically go on with most of our day to day existence. So when claiming someone has a certain ideological lineage it can especially get tricky. In this case it is when the individual in question and the things they believe and individuals and beliefs of the past intertwine in some interesting and important ways. But do these interstices really make for a clear cut case for a “lineage” being continued?

This question is especially interesting within the context of Thaddeus Russell’s article “The Progressive Lineage of Mackelmore’s And Lorde’s Attacks on the Pleasures of the Poor”.

The first thing you should do is notice the wording. Both Lorde and Mackelmore are attacking the pleasures of the poor. They aren’t giving light-hearted ridicule or self-indulging to any extent. Nor does it sound very likely that they have anything else but bad intentions in mind. When you see the word “attack” in the context of how someone approaches a subject you are thinking about hammers and nails, us and them and so on.

And so it goes with Thaddeus’ article. On the whole I agree with Thaddeus that the left (if we can include progressives in this category that is) are largely anti-consumerist. For example, because I run a site against work I am often looking for articles by people about work who are talking about how it sucks. And often for these people it goes back to the issues of money, how the poor spend their money, materialism, consumerism and more. There are exceptions but they seem to be outliers most of the time.

Given this I can definitely where Thaddeus is coming from. Unlike many of the commenters on Reason I think this is a worthwhile article not only to write but it is on a topic and in such a way that should be kept on being done. So kudos to Thaddeus for that.

But his examples in this particular article, Lorde and Mackelmore seem to fall short of a good case.

Due to relative interest in one figure as opposed to the other I will chiefly focus on Lorde in this article and leave Mackelmore for others to defend if they so choose.

It should be noted that as a fan of Lorde and her music I am biased but I am using that bias here to hopefully dig more into what is actually going on with Lorde then I think Thaddeus figured out.

“Royals” as a Single

My case at its simplest and least complex is just a look at “Royals” as a single and nothing more. There is no context of the larger album to look at. Nothing to notice about its commonality and thematic tones and settings. And certainly no lyrical similarities and overarching messages to send to the listener.

Because both Thaddeus and I detest the left’s inatuation for being Ventriloquists for the Powerless or more generally speaking for others when there is little evidence they actually feel that way, let’s take a host of interviews, quotes, analysis and more to see what we can find.

The first thing to note is in a biography from FasterLouder.com which calls itself “definitive”.

In it, the author Duncan Grieve interviews Lorde and at one point she says:

“I mean, I was 15 when I wrote that song,” says Ella, a little sadly. “I wasn’t thinking about anyone’s cultural aspirations. I was being a bit silly. I don’t know. I can understand [the response] now, and it’s probably not my place to even comment on it. It’s just one of those kind of uncomfortable grey areas.”

Her age is certainly a factor. As Lorde says herself the transition from 15 to 17 was momentous and much has changed for her in those two years. But why would Lorde have been considering those cultural factors when that wasn’t what she was writing about?

Thaddeus is correct that Lorde’s inspiration came from hip-hop and thus the aspirations (or infatuations) of many African-Americans. One point keeping in mind though is that a lot of the hip-hope Lorde listens to (like Kayne and Drake for example) are people who are already rich and who are relishing their wealth as status and not as a consumer good.

But even so, what were Lorde’s intentions? According to Lorde herself the song is meant to be “lighthearted” and taken as a “humorous” jab at a lot of the normality that we take for granted within the hip-hop genre and its display of wealth being the way to figure out whether you are actually worth something or not.

But at the same time Lorde is making these light-hearted jabs and remarks Lorde continues to listen to hip-hop and adore it. She has spoken well of everyone from Kayne West (and has also covered his song, “Can’t Handle My Liquor” as well as used his song “Dark Fantasy” as an inspiration for her song “Bravado”), Nicki Minaj and Kendrik Lamar. She speaks of wanting to work with Kayne and in a recent Reddit Ask me Anything thread highlighted a video of Minaj talking about double standards in agressiveness with relation to the sexes. So even if Lorde sees problems with hip-hop as it stands she clearly still has a big vested interest in it.

It is also helpful to note that “Royals” isn’t all about hip-hop music even if a lot of it is aimed there. The main chorus names “gold teeth”, “diamonds on your dimepiece” and other things commonly associated with modern hip-hop. But it also talks about tigers on a gold leash, trashing hotel rooms, private jets and so on. So the song isn’ just a critique of hip-hop but of the larger cultural obsession with power, status and commodities.

And that’s a key word right there: obsession. Notice how in “Royals” Lorde says “we aren’t caught up in your love affair“? To me this signifies an emphasis on the unhealthy obsession some people have with commodities not with an interest in it per se’.

Another important line to suggest that Lorde isn’t in any meaningful sense “attacking” the interests of people who want commodities is her line, “we’re driving cadillacs in our dreams”.

This is right in the middle of the chorus and could potentially signal a few things.

One of these being that just dreaming about wealth is good enough for Lorde and the other people she is talking about (more on that in a bit). It could be that even though she isn’t obsessed with it in the ways she thinks others are she still wants it or desires it somewhere deep down in her heart (more on this later as well). Or perhaps it’s something else altogether. Either way this is an important line that I think puts a dent in Thaddeus’ argument.

What is also worth noting is that Lorde herself says the song was not meant to be anti-consumerist. And we can argue about whether her intentions in the end change the consequences of the song or what you get out of it. But in the end her intentions about the song matter and to speak for her and insinuate that this was her message anyways at this point could be a show of ventriloquism on anyone’s part.

It’s true she thinks some things in modern hip-hop are “some bullshit” and she felt she needed to say it. But that doesn’t mean her saying it only means that her song could be construed as an attack. And look at Lorde herself. Does it look like she’s against buying things? Lorde is very much into fashion as a personal pastime and I doubt you would see her scolding others for doing much the same. Again, it seems to come down to obsessions and over-exuberance rather than a clear cut matter of principle. Hence why Lorde herself admitted in retrospect that this is a “grey area”.

Another grey area is what the song in the end means by itself. Some will say it screams of a privileged white girl from a foreign country talking up her ass about cultural matters she doesn’t understand. Others will say it is a cry against US imperalism. Still others will say it’ perpetuating or not perpetuating racism, whatever else it may mean. Most have adopted it as an anti-consumerist song and as Thaddeus points out the New York Times believes the song to be a “deeper” song and given the title of their article on Lorde a class conscious one to boot!

So which is correct? In the end I have a few solid conclusions about Lorde though I don’t claim that it’s the final word by any means or that my interpretation couldn’t be off.

But as a single I believe Lorde’s song is: Not racist, not about US imperalism, not about consumerism and not about bashing the poor for wanting the riches the upper class has.

To me, the song represents a cold distance. A distance between how some people view the world and how others actually live it. Lorde speaks of growing up in a postcode she isn’t proud of in a rough neighborhood. The video of “Royals” is notably mundane. It’s just boys fighting and talking and laughing and being themselves. Lorde does nothing but sit around and appear in the music video every once in a while (which is intentional) and all and all there’s no grand story to tell. It’s just life and it’s just life from a point of view that has a realistic take on the division between fantasies and lived realities.

Which means Lorde isn’t telling us to stop consuming, she’s telling us to stop fantasizing, obsessing and distancing ourselves from reality. Instead we should recognize our current conditions and ask ourselves that if we want more (“we drive cadillacs in our dreams”) at what cost do we do it? Obsessions have their cost and they have their price and taking away the mundane and “boring” parts of life or ignoring them can’t make them any better.

Thankfully Lorde put the record straight and I believe we’re all the better for it.

Royals as a Song in “Pure Heroine”

So far I’ve only countered within the context Thaddeus used. And to that extent I don’t think it’s enough because in my opinion treating Royals as just a single with no overlapping message with the other songs on Lorde’s album “Pure Heroine” is a big mistake.

First, who is the “we” and “everyone” in Royals that Lorde is talking about? Thaddeus may be tempted to say that Lorde is just speaking for the dis-privileged but as I’ve pointed out, Lorde wrote this when she was 15 and was certainly not wealthy at the time. She had no real money coming in from her deal with Universal at least none that I am aware of.

So at least, within the context of the song she is speaking from a dis-privileged position as it is. But this point hardly counts for much when you realize it’s fairly easy to see who she means when she says “we”. Who does she feature in the Royals video? Is it everyday people in New Zealand? Does she try to speak for the working class of New Zealand or try to focus on them in even the slightest? No, not in the least.

The only people Lorde seems to be concerned with are a few young boys who are fighting each other, riding buses and having a good time just being themselves. But who are these boys?

Lorde explains:

“this song means a hell of a lot to me, and to others, and i guess what i tried to do is make something you could understand. a lot of people think teenagers live in this world like ‘skins’ every weekend or whatever, but truth is, half the time we aren’t doing anything cooler than playing with lighters, or waiting at some shitty stop. that’s why this had to be real. and i’m at that particular train station every week. those boys are my friends. callum’s wearing a sweater that used to belong to me.”

Though even if you hadn’t read this or hadn’t listened to the rest of the album it seems obvious due to some of the lyrics:

And I’m not proud of my address,
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy

My friends and I we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We didn’t come from money.

These lyrics in particular highlighting not only who may be in the video but also what the larger environment is. Other songs in the album also reference “my boys”,

From Tennis Court:

And my boys trip me up with their heads again, loving them

From Team:

Now bring my boys in
Their skin in craters like the moon

Another thing notable about all three of these songs that feature Lorde’s friends in the lyrics is that all three of them are also the singles she chosen. Not to mention the music video for Royals and Team both focus on boys Lorde’s age. In the latter case I don’t know if they are actually her friends but in Royals she has made it clear that they in fact are. In Tennis Court she is the sole focus of the video after scrapping an earlier and as of now unreleased or recovered version of it.

This makes sense when we see that her influences are the things that immediately and heavily impact her.

As far as place or location which is something not many pop artists typically concern themelves Royals makes it clear Lorde is discussing New Zealand or somewhere in it. She isn’t discussing macro situations or the situation in the poor neighborhoods of the US. She is talking about how distant her reality is from what people talk about in songs sometimes. Given that she holds a fairly solid grounding and position to say what she does.

Other songs like, “400 Lux”, “Team”, and “White Teeth Teens” all reveal tiny bits of the people, popular ideas and so on that make up Lorde’s place. That she isn’t talking about America for the most part and even the stuff on pop culture, hip hop and obsessions with material goods are spoken of as if she is more so puzzled and baffled than upset. Lorde isn’t class conscious she is suburb conscious.

And finally, what is Lorde’s actual relation to materials and products?

Given her interest in fashion as I’ve mentioned earlier I don’t think she’s actually anti-consumerist. Then again she says says as recently as a few months ago that the only “ridiculous” thing she has bought is a queen size bed. And Lorde has consistently noted the irony that Royals has made her money, given her plenty of royalties and now affords her the privilege to buy the things she mocks.

But I think her basic idea of commodities come from her song Tennis Court:

Because I’m doing this for the thrill of it, killin’ it
Never not chasing a million things I want
And I am only as young as the minute is full of it
Getting pumped up on the little bright things I bought
But I know they’ll never own me

Lorde celebrates hedonistic impulses and buying products, but just not letting her become obsessed or be “owned” by them. What being “owned” by them actually means is never explained but I think we can probably assume Lorde is fine with the poor buying stuff to their heart’s content. So long as they recognize the reality of the situation versus the fantasy of others.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly to Thaddeus the lines about “being queen” are ones that I interpret as another lighthearted jab against traditional notions of power and status. That would make sense why she frames it as a “fantasy” and talks about it in Royals. Trying to claim that this is somehow a real desire on her part in line with historical progressive paternalismm (which is a real thing) seems like grasping at straws to me.

As she says in Tennis Court:

Baby be the class clown
I’ll be the beauty queen in tears
It’s a new art form showing people how little we care (yeah)
We’re so happy, even when we’re smilin’ out of fear

Everything’s cool when we’re all in line for the throne
But I know it’s not forever

Her constant denigration of status and power in society makes it unlikely she has any interest in being a queen or even sees much value in it.

And she even says in White Teeth Teens:

I’ll let you in on something big
I am not a white teeth teen
I tried to join but never did
The way they are, the way they seem is something else, it’s in the blood
Their molars blinking like the lights, in the underpass where we all sit

Lorde doesn’t consider herself a part of any group that is better than others. She feels so distant from people who view themselves like that so as to think that they are biologically something else entirely compared to her. Sure, maybe in the past she tried to get in but it certainly hasn’t proved successful and in the end she doesn’t see to want to be involved anyways.

One of her single, Team is all about an outsider’s perspective of the cliques and social power that goes on within society and the strangeness of it all. Not the uniqueness of it or the glamour or the ways in which it may help someone. She doesn’t think it is pretty or important, she mostly sees it as an outsider: perplexing, disorientating and not inviting.

Her song “Glory and Gore” is a really harsh look at how the life of people who are “queens” live. They are constantly desperate for attention (“Dropping glasses just to hear them break”), fighting each other (“we’re the gladiators”) and not really in control of anything the whole time (“We let our battles choose us”).

But hey maybe after getting one million sales Lorde doesn’t need to have any interest in commanding.

The people have already chosen.

New and Old

by on March 3rd, 2014

It has been forever and a day since I’ve even touched this website (or at least it feels like that in internet time…). But I was gonna add something to it today and then just decided to go all out and fix up the pages, my blog roll, the social media and so on.

Here’s the scoop:

I am mostly using this place for final versions of my essays (though sometimes essays will have multiple final versions due to one being proper presentation length and another being a much longer and comprehensive version). I don’t mean “final” in some silly Platonist sense so it’s always possible these essays may be republished and re-edited in the future or something. It’s just not likely in most cases.

The best I can really suggest is monthly posts of an essay by me (with this month and the following ones being exceptions most likely) or just something that really speaks to me in a given month.

Other than that you should probably go to abolishwork.com to see what I am up to these days if you are looking for semi-regular blogging. Or else connect with me on Facebook.

In Praise of Blind Giants (A Response to “Why I am no longer an Anarchist”)

by on March 3rd, 2014

An Introduction to a Re-Introduction

This is an unfinished response to my friend Scott back in April of 2012 which I never completed due to giving up on the notion that I would convince him and the mutual agreement that we were not getting anywhere.

The reference to “blind giants” (which I never got far enough to work it in) was a reference to Voltairine’s passage here:

Remarks of that kind rather destroy the white streak of faith. I lose confidence in the slipping process, and am forced to believe that the rulers of the earth are sowing a fearful wind, to reap a most terrible whirlwind. When I look at this poor, bleeding, wounded World, this world that has suffered so long, struggled so much, been scourged so fiercely, thorn-pierced so deeply, crucified so cruelly, I can only shake my head and remember: 

The giant is blind, but he’s thinking: and his locks are growing, fast.

Scott has since become a self-described anarcho-communist and feminist and has deleted the blogs I was originally responding to.

I have not cleaned up this response, fixed many of the mistakes or revised information save a few words here and there. This article is old, unfinished, probably has mistakes and in other words should be taken more as a historical piece than an active contemporary one.

Re-Introduction

So for those who may have missed it or just want to get caught up my previous response and the post that kicking things off are both available to be read so you know what’s going on.

For the record Scott hasn’t much convinced me that anarchism is “impractical” and I’ll continue to believe that people who make this argument against anarchism lack a sort of imagination. In the end, despite their like for sometimes using bottom-up meas of organization along the principles of voluntarism and other principles the state is ultimately the answer to them. Insofar this is the case for Scott is to the same extent that I disagree with him on these matters.

Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates having voluntary organizations replace the state. Obviously there are going to be difficulties in doing something like this and to expect it to even come in our lifetime is a foolhardy move. But that doesn’t make the theory irrelevant or impractical or whatever Scott seems to want to suggest. The basic principles of anarchism can still be applied within our decentralized social-relations on either a small group setting or an individual setting, Occupy Wall St. of course being an excellent example of this to one extent or another. The decisions were made on a consensus basis (I’m not sure why Scott says “They were majoritarian.It worked well for the most part.”) with the open participation of all of those who wanted to. Now I’ll certainly concede that I’m sure #OWS used majoritarianism when they had to but both Scott and I should know that the basis or typical way of trying to go about things was through consensus. After all that’s what direct democracy is about to begin with.

Before I get started addressing Scott’s arguments for his principles (and not even all of them but just the ones that particularly stick out to me as problematic or worth responding too) I just want to address something he said beforehand:

Nick is indeed correct that my basic political principles as laid out were not very comprehensive.I’m not so sure what he asks of me.If he seeks my blueprint for a just society I can’t give him that.I also have no given definitions of anarchist and statism because I believe Nick has given sufficient ones and both are reasonably well understood enough in general society to not warrant laying it out.

What I asked of Scott was basically what he’s given me after this: a further elaboration on his positions and why he thinks the way he does. So that’s been taken care of. But his point about definitions is confusing and let me explain why. It makes no sense to me why Scott would say that anarchism is “understood well enough in general society” given that most people in “general society” would probably see anarchism as synonymous with chaos, destruction and disorder. This “definition” of anarchism runs completely counter to what I defined anarchism as last time around (which was, to sum it up, merely a political philosophy against the existence of rulers). So I don’t know why Scott believes that nor does he explain why he thinks that. Perhaps the “general society’ in Britain are that much different from the American one I live amongst…but I doubt it.

And it also makes no sense in the context of “statism” because most of the “general public” doesn’t even know the word let alone have a definition for it! Compared to saying this about anarchism Scott actually has a case since at least most people are at least vaguely aware of the term anarchism and some of what it may include in its ideas (even if they’re typically very much off-base) but do most people even know the word statism? I’m not so sure about that. If Scott has some evidence to the contrary then I’m certainly willing to hear him out but otherwise these statements (and thus why he didn’t define his terms) doesn’t make much sense.

One last thing before I take Scott’s principles on:

The reason I call myself a pragmatist in politics is that I do not believe the end goal of a better society can be known ahead of time and neither than the means to achieve such a society be known except as we go along and figure within the reciprocal relationship what ends and means to work for.I do however think we can say what society would be better than the existing one based on comparison.Indeed,even anarchism would be better than the existing status quo.

It sounds to me (and I could be wrong) like Scott is saying somehow as a “pragmatist” he has some sort of ideological monopoly on these tactics but that’s clearly untrue. I doubt he actually believes this but I think it’s worth pointing out that just because you have a position on something and give it a label doesn’t mean you somehow have some sort of monopoly on the ideas therein. Again, I’m not sure that Scott actually believes that but I just think it’s helpful to point that out in general either way.

But as it turns out I have no big problem with what Scott says here and that’s probably because this is such a general statement without the particulars filled in. I agree with Scott that things need to be a gradual process of working things out among those relationships we create and advance throughout our lives. For me that means making each relationship as “anarchistic” as possible so people (whether consciously or not but hopefully more and more consciously as time goes on) start really living without the state and other oppressive institutions. They start recognizing that while they still certainly need things like security, roads, rules, self-regulation and so on they don’t need it from a state and instead form their own voluntary associations based on these needs. That’s a long process and it’ll be a tricky one for sure but if people can start realizing that the state is what needs them and not the other way around then it might just work.

But why would they start thinking this? Again, it’s about doing and making it look possible within your own life as much as is possible. Scott more or less wants to do the same thing with his own vision of society I imagine and so does anyone else who wants to see society changed in some way. The big difference between me and Scott are the extremes to which we want to change society and see it as desirable that it be changed. How likely is it that this change will come? I don’t honestly know. It doesn’t look like it’s coming any time soon and if this is what gets Scott’s hopes shot then I can’t say I completely blame him. But again I don’t know that this is a failure of anarchism so much as it is a failure of the “general public’s” lack of genuine interest into what the state is, what anarchism and so on. I’m not saying that with this things would magically be better (there’s no silver bullet for me and same goes for Scott I’m sure) but I think it might lead to improvements because I think people would start realizing how messed up the state is.

What history of this do we have happening? Plenty. For one thing when the Vietnam War was found out to be a fraud and the raft denounced more or less as slavery by the New Left and the libertarian movement at the time this led to huge protests against the government. The Watergate scandel led to more mistrust of government, as did the Contra incident under Reagan, the scandel with Bill Clinton made the “mystique” of the leader of the state fade away into a joke for a time and the primaries in the 2000s between Bush and Gore showed how rigged the system was to plenty of people. None of these things of course got us to anarchism and it’d be silly to think they ever will. But cumulatively these things can (and do) add up to further and further mistrust of the state until people get tired of the whole thing and start building things on their own. These things don’t even necessarily have to be explicitly anarchist to have a real benefit for society and I’m sure Scott will agree that the more control people have over their own lives the better. But of course there comes the kicker: I say they need much more control than Scott seems to think they need.

Let’s move on to Scott’s principles.

Addressing (some of) Scott’s Principles

Agreements/Neutral

I’m not interested in taking on all of Scott’s positions because we do actually have quite a bit of similar goals. But again it’s to the degree that we differ in our ends that really matters and in some cases our means are different from each other. Let me start however by where I agree (more or less) with Scott:

.For example,I view society as always having a certain amount of unavoidable debate and conflict.This leads to the conclusion in my mind,that we can never eradicate the right for example and that there is never any final victory for socialism or anarchism or any political philosophy.
Furthermore as already mentioned, my pragmatism simply means I do not believe in apriori ahead of time blueprints of a best society nor how to achieve it.This is all being worked out in a comparative global dialogue and debate which never ends.

“cooperativism” by which I mean I am in favour of democratic institutions which can operate on more local scales and be more inclusive.These include co-operatives of all kinds,mutual banks, Friendly Societies,credit unions etc.

“market socialism,” by which I mean I favour more local cooperative institutions such as Mutualism propose

“social democrats are too moderate,too pro-capitalism.”What I mean is they are too uncritical of the faulty values inherent in the system of Capitalism as an embodiment of those values.They do not favour democracy enough in some cases and favour a bureaucratic top down technocratic society.

All of these I either agree with Scott on for the most part or the disagreements are just small enough for it not to really matter. There are a few things that I’m neutral one which isn’t to say I don’t have things to say on them but that I’d rather focus my attention on other things. Here are those things I’m going to stay neutral on (and again not for a lack of having anything to say about them but simply feeling the need to): “democratic socialism”, “green politics” and “Marxist thought”.

Finally I do have things to say about Scott’s “Reformist” values and his idea that “anarchists are extreme and unreasonable” I’ll now take a good chunk of time in trying to argue against these values or ideas in the hope that Scott will at the very least question them in their veracity. I don’t have a huge hope of somehow convincing him but I do hope to stir up the pot a bit so to speak and hopefully get him questioning his presumptions. I know he certainly got me to do the same on my own (to one extent or another) on matters of atheism and anarchism before and with these recent posts so I think the same can be done for him from me. Let’s see what happens.

Disagreements: “Reformist”

Scott describes the reformist value as just a value that doesn’t seek a “revolution” and he elaborates by saying,

While I do not believe the Whig view of history with society steadily improving, I do seem some improvements in current society over past societies.I believe this is the best we can hope to achieve.I see a complete overthrow of the current system as unlikely to occur and near impossible to achieve(especially in a peaceful manner)

I don’t think the dichotomy Scott sets up here is very fair because it excludes what I’d call a “gradualist revolution” from the equation. This, for me, takes the best ideas of revolution (a militant idea that something must be done as soon as possible to change things) and the best ideas of gradualism (but we must make sure the right time is picking with care and precision) and it’s something I support. I know that it looks like the two are irreconcilable but I think that’s a mistake and I’d instead suggest that the idea of revolution and the idea of gradualism can actually compliment each other pretty well.

I say this because a revolution of values, of existing structures and so on can be a gradual process at the same time. As Proudhon said,

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State.

-Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

This is clearly a gradual process of change but through a very radical and dare I say it…revolutionary lens of what society must become if we are to keep progressing in the world. The dissolving, submerging and disappearing of the political or governmental systems in place is certainly a revolutionary end but it’s done through gradualist lens or means of reducing, simplifying and decentralizing as well as suppressing bit by bit (or “one after another”) “all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State”.

I think that such a strategy would’t necessarily need violence (or at least certainly not as much as directly confronting the state as the French or American revolutionaries did) but it may require self-defense. And so the revolution probably won’t be entirely peaceful or be entirely violent. But of course Scott will just say it doesn’t matter what it is because it’s not going to happen because these aims and ends are unrealistic.

First, it should be remembered that these aims and ends are a process and no anarchist who undertakes such an idea of progress thinks for one second (unless they’re fantasizing) that it’ll all happen at once or that it’ll even happen in their lifetime, should they be living now. With those expectations out of the way you certainly then would want to dissolve, submerge, suppress and otherwise thwart the values of the state and counter with your own values in your own social-relations. Another good way to think of it is this:

The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another… We are the State and we shall continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community.

― Gustav Landauer

The process then is gradual while the aims are revolutionary.

Second, how will this work in practice? How do we create these alternative relations with others? Well again, here’s where my convergence with Scott in his so-called “pragmatism” come into play. I agree that there’s no a priori way we’re gonna do this or that there’s some magic bullet or that somehow the movement will constantly win win win the whole way through without a hitch. No, the process will be messy (as life tends to be more generally speaking anyways) and the end result may not be what I even want it to be. That being said I do think if we take time and care to choose our tactics wisely (such as agorismn, direct action, dual/counter-power and education) then we might just have a chance.

Third (and finally), this may still be too vague for most people. Perhaps they have no faith or hope in these strategies I’ve laid out or talked about before or the principles I hold so dear (Liberty, Equality and Solidarity) and perhaps my assurances that all of this is for the betterment of mankind is in vain. Perhaps after all of this they are not convinced of the whole thing and decide that, in the end, the state is the ultimate end. What then? Well the best I can hope for is that through the way I choose to live my life and in as much as I live out my principles and it benefits me and others around me that I care about that they’ll be compelled to at least give it a try. At a personal and emotional level I hope the same happens with Scott because I, again, feel like you can be an even better person with the right direction guiding your good-intentions. This isn’t to say I’ll somehow do all of the good in the world and Scott won’t do any (and it indeed could end up being the opposite when all is said and done) but just that I think certain principles have an easier time getting you to self-improvement and improvement of your environment then others.

Let’s move on to more of his reformist values or ideas:

There is resistant to change as it is with reform, so there would be violence opposition to revolutionary change.This is likely to come from those who are vehemently hostile to the anarchist project.

Well first off this assumes that the revolutionary change must be all or nothing or happen over-night or happen without considering those who are in the society at present. I think we’re both in agreement that any such revolutionary strategy would be a DOA sort of thing an so I certainly don’t suggest such a tactic any more than Scott does. Instead, I once again suggest to Scott that by changing our every day social-relations (where we have the most impact of course) and trying to make them as anarchistic as possible we are, in our every day lives, pushing against the state. This is a very important point and I don’t think it’s really necessary to see why this is practical because it’s probably the most practical strategy possible. Why do I say that? Because everyone believes in this strategy. Scott believes as much when he said earlier that,

The reason I call myself a pragmatist in politics is that I do not believe the end goal of a better society can be known ahead of time and neither than the means to achieve such a society be known except as we go along and figure within the reciprocal relationship what ends and means to work for.

In other words those “reciprocal relationships” are the same interpersonal relationships that I’m talking about and the same sort of relationships anyone suggests if they want change. They first want to test their values in their inter-personal relations to see if it’s even tenable in such a decentralized situation and of course if it’s not then it’ll hardly work on the group scale let alone the scale of a small community or higher.

My experience has been that my values are not perfect (what a surprise!) but they seem to work just fine with most people I engage with. They’re always going to be mixed but my anarchist values have never really damaged an important relationship in my life and usually increases the value I derive from my relations with other people. On this basis alone I can say that I’ve felt comfortable enough to take it to a larger level which is a small group.

The basic principles of anarchism are based on voluntarism, equality of authority, freedom of association and liberty of the individual (which necessarily translates into the liberty of collectives). How have these values worked for me in small groups? Again, mixed results. It heavily depends on the people I’m dealing with but on the average I seem to be able to find people who (consciously or not) largely accept these values and aren’t even anarchists. This seems to suggest to me that everyday anarchy does exist if only in a minimal and unconscious way most of the time.

Apart from that I’ve only had three times when I’ve had the chance to apply these principles among a small community which was Porcfest 2009-2011 which really helped me see how an anarchist community might function and organize. Yes, a lot of the people there were minarchists or anarcho-capitalists but for the week (or a little bit less) that these events lasted there were hardly any big disputes or rights (that I’m aware of) that weren’t taken care of. The community came together for three years in a row (last year having over 1,000 people!) and seemed to really flourish from my perspective and largely based on a lot of values I hold.

So again, I think the practical side of anarchism isn’t really that much up for debate, at least not in my own life. I don’t think the values are perfect or somehow can’t be improved or something like that but I think that overall they’ve worked for me and my life and I’m certainly willing to defend principles that have led to so much self-improvement and fulfillment. And so if the strategy is, as I’ve outlined it, a very inter-personal and bottom up strategy it seems as if Scott and I have more in common than he’d like to admit (or maybe just that he has seen) and that it’s mostly how far we want to push our principles that is the real difference here.

The last bit for the reformist values is this:

Anarchism seems to assume a guaranteed level of values which will always remain.This is very unlikely.There is no guaranteed values,they must always and everywhere be fought for.There is no guaranteed successes, no irreversable achievements.It’s all up for grabs and all in need of being bought for.At the same time,there is aspects of political society which are in certain cases considered beyond debate in reasonable circles such as the very existence of the NHS in the UK.

I’m not sure why Scott believes this (and he doesn’t explain why he believes it either or why anarchists must necessarily believe it, further muddying the waters for me) but I completely agree that (if anarchists believed this) it’d be a very untenable position. Thankfully anarchists don’t assume that there must be some guaranteed level of values forever more and most (from my experience or if you’d prefer just speaking personally…) seem to think that society will keep improving past anarchism and it’ll keep going on and on. Progress doesn’t stop just because we think it should or because we’ve had ourselves a “victory” of sorts of the state. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance as Thomas Jefferson famously said and that means that we must never stop moving forward.

On the other hand it does mean while we’re going forward to keep an eye on certain principles and keep them in mind as we go along. For me those principles are the principles of liberty (that is, liberty of the individual), equality (equality of political authority and decision making), solidarity (a culture of mutual-aid and networked support when needed) and that keeping an eye towards these things, while it certainly doesn’t ensure success makes it quite a bit likely. But I don’t think that these values are ever going to be guaranteed or that they’ll last forever. It will be a sad day indeed when humanity can’t think of a single way forward past where we were and I simply don’t think such a time will ever come. I feel as if my comrades will agree with me here and thus you’ve strawmanned us.

Lastly Scott says,

To simplify: I do not consider revolution necessary,desirable or achieveable.

I’ll try to take this on each part at a time:

1. Necessary – Yes, a revolution is necessary but why? Well we both agree the current state of affairs are horrible and not worth keeping and it is only through keeping a revolution of sorts in mind (at least!) that we keep on wanting to change it and change it some more. The whole concept of a revolution is changing the fundamentals/essentials/nature/core of the currently existing system and replace it with something else. You and I both agree that the current system is far from ideal (and I’d say things much stronger than that but I’ll bite my tongue for now) but we obviously disagree on what’s necessary to change it. But I’ll try to make a quick case for you why revolution is necessary.

If we’re both against the current way of doing things then suffice it to say one of the least helpful things will be to try working within the existing paradigm of values and thoughts that run counter to ours and try to make such people better. What might be more helpful is starting where we can get some support (for me its other anarchists and single issue groups and for you its probably something similar minus the anarchist and put in your most favorable group). The reasons why we wouldn’t want to work within the current paradigm of values and ideas are pretty simple: we’re against them and running with them while trying to change them simply isn’t a good way of doing about change. Instead we need to focus on agreements we already have (whether single issue or more broad or nearly the same in political identity and so on) that way we don’t undercut our own values in our pursuit to see our values get out there and better society. This takes a revolution of ideas and thoughts eventually when you get down to it and simply trying to change the current of the stream that runs counter to our desires from the get-go I feel makes us stand on less firm ground to make substantial actions. We’ll be too busy trying to focus on reforming the “other’ then focusing on ourselves and those we care about. And such an approach doesn’t seem that practical to me.

2. Desirable – If we want to change society then it seems awfully desirable to have a huge change in values and ideas. Indeed, this is actually a point you’re constantly making against the anarchist and why you’re so skeptical of our position to begin with. You realize that the ideas we have and the ideas that are most popular in society are constantly at odds with each other and trying to resolve this conflict is impractical. But again, you misunderstand the anarchist position. We’re not trying to end the conflict of human values and ideas in society but rather let this conflict be free and harmonious insofar as it is a peaceful exchange of ideas within the context of mutually-beneficial and voluntary arrangements. To do this we have to uproot society from where it stands and if you thought such a radical change was necessary then you’d think (as I do) that revolutionary ends are the best hope moving forward. They’re certainly not the only one and nor are they perfect by any means but I merely contend they’re one of the best and nothing more.

3. Achievable – This is the kicker of course and something I probably can’t convince you of. If I haven’t convinced you by now then I’m unsure how I can ever really convince you of the case of anarchism or anyone else in your particular situation. But that just further convinces me that I need to achieve as much anarchy in my own life as possible and keep striving towards that. Only by doing that can I make it seem like a revolution is not only necessary, desirable but it is also achievable.

“Anarchists are extreme and unreasonable”

Scott says,

What I mean by this is that they are too unwilling to seek to improve the political system that already exists.

This is a true statement…but only to a point and really depends on what Scott means by trying to “improve the political system that already exists”. For example, some anarchists I know voted for Ron Paul here in America because they thought if he got elected he could repeal the drug war, end the wars and so on and so forth. Now Scott and I both probably agree that this was a pipe dream but they certainly wanted to try to improve the political system as it already exists…just within the political system itself. But of course all anarchists seek (to one extent or another) to improve the lot of society within the political system of government that exists right now outside the system and I’m unsure how Scott could deny this. Indeed, Scott actually admits that this isn’t the case later on:

I was unfair in saying all anarchists do is act as skeptics.I forgot to mention the innumberable ways they improve the lives of the worst off in the here and now.I commend them for that.

(emphasis mine)

So Scott simply can’t say this is why he thinks that anarchists are unreasonable and so on because he even admits that it isn’t true himself! Obviously there’s a difference between seeking betterment in the here and now through the political system or against it but either way anarchists do seek to change the political system. It’s just a matter of whether they want to do so within it or outside it and cause it to cave-in like that. Kevin Carson has even outlined a sort of “political” program for anarchists so maybe that’ll give you more confidence in our abilities to want to help people in the here and now.

I’ll move on to this,

While I admit how horrible the status quo is that need not imply it is inherently so.I consider that anarchists may have confused a lack of democracy up to now with the idea of the inherent injustice of statism.

There’s no confusion going on here from the anarchist’s point of view. We don’t see the lack of democracy (read: people’s control over their own lives) as a bug in the current design of the state but a feature. We think that the state is rooted in moral illegitimacy through the money it takes, the people it kills, the indoctrination it does to children and so on and so forth. These have always been features of the state and were always intentionally created for the benefit of the state. So anarchists don’t see it as a bug that a lack of democracy is in the system but a feature. Again, this comes from the anthropological aspect of anarchism from people like David Graeber, Franz Oppenheimer, Harold Barclay, James C. Scott and others. We didn’t just “make up” the idea that the lack of autonomy in government is a feature but got it from several different people who have come up with various similar conclusions: the state is historically illegitimate as it is presently and forevermore illegitimate.

We can certainly dispute whether this is true or not but you can’t dispute (at least in my mind) that the anarchists have some pretty good evidence on their hands from multiple sources that point towards you seeing the state as ultimately legitimate as wrong-headed.

Next, I want to address what you say here,

I see the state as merely an organization which brings together society for collective decisionmaking(Politics) and enforces those decisions.

This definition flies in the face of the definition I laid out before (“a community of people who have successfully managed to claim a monopoly on force (or violence) within a geographical territory.”) and Scott doesn’t even try to defend his position on why the state should be defined as such as opposed to my definition which I find a bit troubling. Not only that, but the definition is non-historical (as I’ve already pointed out through the uses of Weber, Oppenheimer, Scott, Barclay, Graeber, etc.) and therefore doesn’t have any legitimacy either way.

The state isn’t an organization that brings society together it’s a community of people that declare that they have the authority over the rest of the community of people and says they claim as much for their own betterment and security. The enforcement of such decisions is part of the monopoly on violence that this community of people (“state”) have over the geographic region that they exist in and is a fundamental part of what constitutes the state. But thinking of it in such narrow terms like this is not only non-historical and flying in the face of the classic Weberian definition but, again, there’s no real reason that Scott gives why we should prefer this definition over the other one I’ve made with the backing of people like Weber and company.

So even if we could accept Scott’s definition (for whatever reason) we have no real good reason to, at least, as of right now. I’m open to hearing Scott out and seeing why his definition is somehow superior to my own but for right now I’m simply not seeing how such is the case.

Next up is this:

I consider anarchism unreasonable not because of it’s belief in a stateless society (though I will come to that in short order) but because in it’s seeking such a goal it tends to ignore problems which are occurring now.A stateless society is an abstraction when we need quick and thoughtful ideas on minimizing global warming NOW.

Well this has already been dealt with and as I’ve already pointed out Scott later contradicts himself when he says,

I was unfair in saying all anarchists do is act as skeptics.I forgot to mention the innumberable ways they improve the lives of the worst off in the here and now.I commend them for that.

(emphasis again my own)

So I’ll just leave it to Scott to explain this for me.

Scott next talks about why he thinks the belief in a stateless society is unreasonable (because he questions how possible it is to get there and whether it’s possible to ever have a non-state like entity to begin with…though those sounds like the same claim only slightly reworded to me…but whatever )and recaps his case for the first part as such:

But to recap, I question how possible it is to overthrow the state, wage labour,bosses,landlords,the capitalist market economy and the like in one strike.

I think this quote of Scott’s is more proof he’s not actually too well read on anarchism and I don’t mean that as an insult I just mean that as a neutral observation. I say that because the only people who might actually think like this and who would consider themselves anarchists are insurrectionists and even them I’m not sure they’d say as much but maybe. Outside of that who is Scott referring to? Different anarchist schools of thoughts have different strategies (and some don’t even think an overthrow will even ever happen or needs to happen to begin with!) and so this certainly isn’t a position I’m well aware of that’s even remotely widely held. It’d be nice if Scott could source his claims or try to back them up with some references to why he has this idea of anarchism but until then I can only suggest that he do a bit more research before making claims like this.

Although I’d like to add that even if Scott can find some sources to back up this position I see no reason why or how such a position must necessarily speak for the anarchist in general. Perhaps there’s some school of anarchist thought (besides the insurrectionist or syndicalist with the general strike) that believes this but if there is I’ve never seen it in my few years of being an anarchist and reading about it. I’m open to being proven otherwise however.

For what it’s worth I know that personally speaking I don’t think it’s possible to do all of that in one strike because (as I’ve already mentioned) I don’t believe in magic bullets against whomever. Also, not all anarchists are even against all of those things in a normative or would use violence against such institutions. I’m not sure if that makes them illegitimate anarchists in Scott’s opinion (though I’m unsure how much they’d care what he thought if he doesn’t even consider himself an anarchist to begin with but that’s another matter either way) but either way not only is Scott’s position here a strawman of…well most of the anarchists I know but it’s based on certain oppositions that one doesn’t even necessarily have to have to be an anarchist in my humble opinion.

So again, I don’t find Scott’s reasons very compelling to even be skeptical of anarchism let alone disregard it as a viable political philosophy and its ends as desirable.

But I’m not about to for a second discount my friend Scott, I know he has much more to say on this so I’ll continue to hear him out:

It seems so highly unlikely to happen or be achieveable that I see no reason to throw my weight behind supporting it and it’s this that others believe about anarchism too.If you believe bosses are inferior to how you wish them to be then you seek to reform.I see it as almost inconceivable to eradicate them completely ,though I do share that as a distant ideal e.g. Co-operatives with workplace democracy and worker self management.

Well, a few things in response to the first sentence.

I agree with Scott that that’s unlikely to happen or be achievable…but then that doesn’t matter since that idea Scott talked about isn’t one I’ve really ever seen among the anarchists. It’s more about building up a bottom up gradual change in society with revolutionary ends and through radical means. That can take many different shapes under many different sizes and among many different flag colors (if you like that sort of things) and so the characterization given by Scott here is certainly unfair in my opinion. It basically boxes the anarchist in a small area of tactics (when it actually belongs somewhere much larger) and then points out the obvious: that the box is too small! The anarchist is probably inclined to agree with you Scott but that’s only because you have put them there to begin with.

Anyways, my apologies to Scott if that’s overly-belaboring the point but I just want to make it clear where I stand on that and where I think a lot of other anarchists would stand as well.

The second part about how Scott see it as “almost inconceivable to eradicate them completely” in relation to things like bosses and so on is also (another) a strawman of the anarchist position. We don’t want to “eradicate” (Scott’s choice of terminology here makes it sound like we want to kill them…and again besides some of the insurrectionists I’m not sure who wants that or if even they would actually do that should “the time come” for it) all of the rulers. I’m not so sure bosses will ever disappear and a lot of the more left-ward anarchists I’ve seen typically admit that people might still be bosses even in their ideal world and people might submit to them even with the alternatives present but that they find that unlikely. I tend to agree with them myself being a left-libertarian and all but I don’t think that means bosses are going to go away. It’s more like they’re going to be heavily de-emphasized in a truly freed society, or at least my ideal conception of it.

Next up Scott says,

I see all of the above* as so deeply embedded within society that a clean break between the current system and an anarchism system is such a large break that it is unlikely to be achievable and unlikely to be favoured.

(*By “all of the above” Scott means “…the state, wage labour,bosses,landlords,the capitalist market economy and the like…”)

Again, you think a break from all of these things is “unlikely” but that doesn’t mean much all by itself. What reasons do you think these things are so deeply embedded in society? Because people want these things? The only way this could be a good argument against anarchism is that if you could somehow prove that these things like the state, bosses and so on are actually somehow uniformally desired by the society but not only can you probably not prove that but it’s obviously false.

The sheer fact that people can realize that these things aren’t the best things for them in this current society and have as long as this society has existed shows that there will always be people who disagree with this idea and will dream of a better world and will constantly work towards it. Maybe that new world will never happen and maybe (at best) the amount of how much this stuff is embedded in today’s society and seen as necessity will become further and further reduced as time goes on. And if that’s all I can get then perhaps that’s something all by itself worth struggling for.

But besides all of that the major reason why you think the break is unlikely is because you have a misperception about what the break is to begin with from the viewpoint of the anarchist. So even if what I wrote above is wrong or not good enough for you your position still isn’t that tenable due to other more problematic things that have already been pointed out.

Even slower “builing within the shell of the old” tactics cannot wipe out the existing
system merely compete with it.

Well actually the competition itself is supposed to eventually make it so those competing institutions and associations gradually replace the currently existing ones due to the masses realizing more and more the lack of necessity of the state and its exploiting cohorts. Whether it can do this or not is something that’s still to be determined but it seemed to do the trick when it was tried in Catalonia when the proper revolutionary spirit had already been fostered for quite a while. It certainly wasn’t perfect or anything like that but the general IWW idea was more or less used so that a new society could be built within the shell of the old.

At very best,as is my goal, they can hope to dominant side by side with it and prove more popular. As such I do not consider the “shell of the old” slogan to be contrary in any sense to my goals.It is a reformist slogan to me.

Well it may be that way to Scott here but he’s wrong in his interpretation of how the IWW’s even themselves meant it. The IWW wanted to build new worker’s associations within the shell of the then-existing capitalist economy so that they could eventually overthrow it. This is clearly a revolutionary end and though it’s done through gradualist lens that makes it nonetheless revolutionary in my eyes.

Now I want to address why Scott thinks there is a lack of a chance of a stateless society going to happen. He tells us that he used to see a stateless “…would involve a community coming together to decision on a course of action then implementing it.I favoured direct local democracy with as wide an inclusion as is humanely possible.” and I’m certainly not against such a vision of anarchism for what it’s worth. But what Scott says next is puzzling to me,

Regardless of the fact that this is more democratic,vastly less hierarchical and vastly egalitarian it is nonetheless a state!
How so? While this democracy would allow for disagreement and aim to resolve conflict it may at times not be possible i.e. regardless of the modifications to a proposal a person or group still may not agree with it.Now in the choice of whether to built a new hospital or not, both cannot be done.
Some group or individual is going to be dissatisfied and have a choice which is not there own carried out.

I simply don’t understand how not everyone being happy with the decisions the organizations they are a part of makes something a “state” because that’s what Scott seems to be suggesting here. I don’t know how organizations that basically…act like organization (i.e. in non-perfect ways) somehow make them a state in any sense of the word that’s been used by anyone…ever. So Scott has to explain to us how the fact that democracy wouldn’t solve every single problem in the world somehow makes the organizations that have this direct democracy a “state”. Suffice it to say whatever “critics” Scott is talking about certainly don’t understand how a state works or what it looks like and I’m displeased that Scott would buy such a ridiculous argument.

Furthermore, I’ve already argued for a fairly typical conception of the state in sociology and in politics and Scott has done nothing thus far to even try and rebuke this definition of the state and put forth his own. He said earlier that he doesn’t think the definitions are very important but I once again must disagree and say that this is exactly what happens when we take a non-precise approach to a debate like this. Definitions are important to help us explain an identify what we’re even talking about to begin with and I simply don’t understand what Scott is talking about or how it has any relevance to any coherent theory of what a state looks like.

Even within the glorious grassroots direct democracy of the Occupy movement this type of thing occurred ,as I can personally attest to.For organizations this is not so bad, any member(s) are free to leave if unhappy.But for a society,that’s just not possible and so you are forced to put up with what has been chosen.

Wait, why is this so? Why does Scott simply assume people must “put up with what has been chosen” in an anarchist society? Even in today’s society where you a part of, let’s say a book club, that you don’t like you’re free to leave it and it may not always make you happy (so does that make the book club a state…?) and join another book club that may be competing for members. What is wrong with this scenario? What makes this a “state-like” situation? There’d be plenty of options for the person in an anarchist society so I just don’t see why the person who is unhappy must be “forced to live with it”. They can obviously just vote with their feet and move to another community because, after all, anarchism doesn’t prescribe for only one community in it and I’m not sure why Scott would seemingly assume as much.

Anarchism, as I understand it, would be advocating a wholly decentralized society right down to the individual and then right back (from the bottom up) to neighborhoods, communities, townships and so on. I doubt anything larger than a big town would really be necessary but there’s no way to be sure until we get there of course. But not matter what the size is I think there’d be plenty of choices to be had so one wouldn’t be just simply SOL when it came to organizations or communities that would happen. It’s even more baffling to me because (although to a much lesser extent) the same choices exist even now so why Scott thinks they’ll just be de facto forced to choose what they don’t want is even more confusing.

Continuing on,

You may ask well why do we have to go with a majoritarian model.Can’t we have an unanimous one? Well in some cases but even in localized cases it can break down.On a large societal wide scale it just would not work.The two sides in a question of war could never resolve their differences.There is a large number of questions like this that would never be sorted out and decisions have to be made somehow.

Somehow I’m not impressed by Scott’s “scathing” intellectual process here to be wholly convince that “human relations are hard and thus we need a state to make them easier” because if history is any indicator (and it typically should be) then the state, as a centralizer and an organization that abstracts relations between people it typically makes things tougher for people and not easier. That said, I’m sure that alone won’t convince Scott otherwise so I’ll say quite a bit more about this I suppose.

First off, yes, social-relations can break down…but so what? This point by itself doesn’t prove anything except (once again) things aren’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean we need a state (and it doesn’t mean we don’t need a state either of course but Scott’s obviously trying to prove that we do so he should be making a stronger case then just stating a problem and automatically going to the state) so what exactly is the point of pointing this out for Scott?

Second, Scott says that, “On a large societal wide scale it just would not work.” but he never even defines what he even means by that or why this is (again proving why definitions are important…) or gives us good enough reason to believe such a thing. So if things can break down in one on one relations does that mean one on one relations can’t work in small decentralized groups? Small communities? Big communities? Clearly not. Just because things don’t work perfectly doesn’t mean things can’t eventually work themselves out among the masses. I can’t tell if the reason why Scott thinks otherwise is just a lack of faith in people or an artificially high amount of faith in the state. Either way he gives me no good reason to think this and I can think of at least a few reasons off the top of my head why this isn’t true either way (though that depends on what Scott means by “a large societal wide scale” to begin with).

For one thing, what “a large societal wide scale” if it refers to something like the size of a nation/country, state or even a city or city-state isn’t obviously the point of anarchism to begin with. We’re not trying to basically rebuild back up the state-controlled society we just disbursed down to the individual, we’re looking to build back up self-organizing communities that organize around the principles of decentralism, equality of authority, voluntarism and others. This would obviously preclude any sort of “large scale” attempt at enforcing some uniform way of organizing on society since we, as anarchists, want a plurality of values, legal institutions and so on.

For another thing, again, looking back in history we can certainly see that to one extent or another there have been communities that to one extent or another have existed and functioned. If these don’t meet Scott’s standards of “a large societal wide scale” (and they probably don’t) I’m still not really worried because his standards may just not be something I, as an anarchist, am too interested in meeting to begin with.

Finally, Scott says that a “number of these questions” would never be resolved (though never explains why that is…) and thus a decision must be made (again implying a state is necessary) but this falls under the same problems as before. The statements by themselves simply aren’t enough in of themselves to prove that anarchism isn’t workable or that we need a state (or that we don’t) these are just problems that people have always been wrestling. That doesn’t mean they can’t be solved and it might just mean that the way of trying to solve these problems (like the state) could’ve been the problem all along. I’m not gonna make a huge case about that being the case here but merely suggest that at best Scott is just stating an obvious problem that the anarchists agree is an issue (i.e. human relations) but it’s not like we have no answer to it.

Let’s now return to more of Scott’s opinion on people’s role in organizations in anarchism,

So in returning to my point, someone or some group is going to have a decision forced on them that they did not directly consent or agree to except by their agreement ,acceptance and involvement in the procedures of decisionmaking(this is not meant to imply a comparison with voting in represensative democracy).This shows that the sense in which government is a monopoly on enforcement of decisionmaking cannot be avoided.If a decision affects the society in which you live,even if you disagree you cannot remove yourself from being involved in the consequences of the decided result of that decision making.

So again, we just have a lot of question-begging from Scott about why any of this is. Why would someone have a decision forced on them? Can they not vote with their feet? Does the organization in the anarchist society somehow have a monopoly on decision making? How? Wouldn’t that completely contradict anarchism’s intentions? How did it get there to begin with? Why can it not be gotten rid of? And so on on and so on. Simply put a lot of Scott’s problems with anarchism should be much more laid out and well-defined if he hopes to actually make me start being worried about the the prospects for anarchism in the future let alone for it as a good political philosophy.

Addressing Scott’s Counter-Arguments

I just want to address one thing real quickly before we get started…

Anarcho-Capitalists have claimed the solution to this is competiting agencies of decision making yet all this would likely result in is a society of civil war ,of competiting privatized mini states

A few things:

1. Scott knows this already but just for the folks playing at home who aren’t aware, I’m not an anarcho-capialist. Thus I’m not gonna defend the statements here as per defending anarcho-capitalism or whatever.

2. I don’t think this is a specifically made anarcho-capitalist claim for starters. This is basic anarchist line that competing agencies over law or whatever would encourage more diversity in an anarchist society. Anyone from social-anarchists to anarcho-capitalists could talk about the benefits of having “competing agencies” pending on what they meant by that. Yes, I’m fully aware the social-anarchist would probably regard cooperation as superior to competition or whatever but they’re arrangement of many different cooperating agencies that give people more social power more or less amounts to the same thing in my view.

3. Even if I’m completely wrong about all of this, this is, suffice it to say a huge claim from Scott and probably requires at least a few sentences of explanation of why he thinks this is so. But yet again we find Scott just question-begging. Hopefully we get something more substantial in his counter-arguments.

Responding to Scott’s counter-arguments

For sake of clarity, I’ll be giving both what I said in my last post and Scott’s response. Although this will be adding a bit more content to this response (as if it doesn’t have enough already…) I feel like it’ll keep the context more precisely so it’s worth the trade off. Scott starts off with this,

Nick argues “We don’t care if anarchism is impossible or if it isn’t, what we care about is limiting oppression as much as we can. Now and forevermore.”
But if it’s impossible then it’s a naive goal to aim for.This is different from peace where we accept there will never be world peace but aim for as vast a reduction in violence as is possible.Anarchisms,like Nick aim for a society based on specific values.If that society is not achievable then it’s vain to aim for it.You can’t do it but don’t expect anyone to join you in it.
I too favour limiting oppression as much as is possible.I always have done regardless of my politics and though it is a hugely contested topic,I think most of humanity do too.

First, “But if it’s impossible then it’s a naive goal to aim for.” ignores the obvious idea here that anarchism is as much a means as it is an ends (if it’s an end at all that is) and that means that trying to get to anarchism through a process of anarchist-like means actually improves life as we go along. And thus even if anarchism is impossible it’s going to keep the same sort of pace that Scott mentions about peace. Namely that, “we accept there will never be world peace but aim for as vast a reduction in violence as is possible” which in anarchist terms would mean “we accept there will never be a world completely without rulers but we aim for a vast reduction in violence as is possible”. I’m (personally) pretty comfortable with such a goal even if it’s not what I’d ideally want. That aside, I do think the goals of anarchism are practical in the long (long long long…long…) run otherwise I’d find it hard to justify anarchism. But even if I didn’t I could imagine still finding pretty good reasons to justify accepting it as my political philosophy.

Next, “If that society is not achievable then it’s vain to aim for it.You can’t do it but don’t expect anyone to join you in it.” is something that I think (again) misses the point of seeing anarchism as much a part of a means as an ends. If we’re putting anarchism not only into the future but in the present and basing the present also on the past (to the extent that we don’t romanticize the past or get stuck in it or too dependent on it) then that means we’re going to get progressively better regardless of how impossible our final “end” (assuming there even is or if there was that it’s even desirable) actually is. I hope that all makes sense.

I’ll skip the next part since I already know that “I just question whether it can occur on a wide scale.” and move on to,

“I find that when people say that ideas like anarchism are “impractical” or “utopian” they really just means it’s such in regards to their own desires. For instance even the minarchists wishes to have some security or services provided by the state and thus desires (whether they realize it or not is inconsequential) some organization has power over others. Obviously these base desires are at their core fundamentally opposed to the basic desires of anarchists and so to the minarchist this just proves the “unworkability” of anarchism. In reality, all it proves is that the minarchist does not appreciate personal freedom as much as they’d like to think. This isn’t to insult the minarchist (though I’m fairly sure some may take it as such) but just to point out what I honestly think of the same situation.”

I see where Nick is attempting to go with this but it seems more like a mis-direction and insult than a valid argument.Anarchism is impractical to my desires because I approach politics from a different place.That’s not disputed.Here is ignored what I have said above, that power never ceases to exist just operates in different forms from dictatorship to direct democracy.Anarchism just favour what they claim is statelessness but’s more like the most idealistic optimistic naive democracy imaginable.

I want to address this first, “I see where Nick is attempting to go with this but it seems more like a mis-direction and insult than a valid argument.” I’d said directly in the quote that it wasn’t so much as an insult as a personal observation and furthermore it’s just one based on my own anarchist beliefs on what personal freedom is as compared to what minarchists believe. But sure, if Scott wants to take it as an insult I suppose he can take it as such but it’s more or less for me the truth. People who think they need the state but still say they support freedom and accuse others of being “naive” are hypocrites in my (obviously anarchist) opinion. I don’t think this is so much a “mis-direction” and an insult as much as it is my own personal observation and way of making a snarky response to people who call anarchists naive. It tends to grate on your nerves being constantly called “naive” when the person who thinks that probably thinks one of the most historically destructive organization can save us all.

Scott says, “Here is ignored what I have said above, that power never ceases to exist just operates in different forms from dictatorship to direct democracy.Anarchism just favour what they claim is statelessness but’s more like the most idealistic optimistic naive democracy imaginable.”

I don’t see how I’ve ignored there that power never ceases to exist and that it just operates in different forms (indeed in my previous blog post I explicitly say, “For anarchists the problem is not that power exists but that it is concentrated in the hands of the few at the detriment of the many. Anarchists see that power should instead be dispersed among the people and through this process it should displace those who are the rulers.”) and maybe I’ve ignored it here (as Scott is claiming) but I fail to see how that matters if I’ve recognized this elsewhere.

And actually I don’t think I have ignored it as I re-read it and I think Scott has simply mis-read me. I wasn’t claiming that just because the anarchist has a better position on personal freedom in comparison to the minarchist (in my view) doesn’t necessarily mean that I think the anarchist position is that “power ceases to exist” in an anarchist society. That doesn’t necessarily follow at all and what I instead meant was that I just see the position on power being much more widely dispersed (and hence accountable in my opinion) is much more preferable to the power-structures the minarchists support. And (again, in my opinion) the power-structures that the minarchist support (while significantly better and hence more preferable than almost most people in the world) is still too centralized and based on hierarchy and unnecessary bureaucracy and so on. But this doesn’t de facto make the anarchist position that “power ceases” in an anarchist society and instead it’s just what I stated in my previous quote that,

For anarchists the problem is not that power exists but that it is concentrated in the hands of the few at the detriment of the many. Anarchists see that power should instead be dispersed among the people and through this process it should displace those who are the rulers.

So I hope that clears things up.

“Similarly Scott does think (in summary from my own perspective) that the state is a much more reliable and secure way of defending the most disadvantaged from the evils of capital and modern-industry.”

I recognise it’s not perfect or even close.It’s certainly far from the ideal or even a minimally desirable society.We must work from the bad we have to something better.You can’t move from terrible to brilliant in one step.That’s not possible.Furthermore health ands safety regulations and laws against at-will-firing where they exist are vast improvements over their lack in the past.

And in fairness to Scott I will now formerly recognize that he recognizes this as well but I must disagree that “We must work from the bad we have to something better.” and that opposing the state means I must support the idea that you can “…move from terrible to brilliant in one step.That’s not possible.”. However, I’ve already gone out of my way to a pretty large extent earlier on to distinguish myself from such a ludicrous strawman that Scott constantly relies on in his post to denounce anarchism as a “practically useless” idea. Here, Scott is just doing the same thing again and since I’ve already dealt with this I won’t doddle on it anymore.

What I do want to address is the reformist idea (though it doesn’t necessarily have to be reformist…it’s just how it plays out like that with Scott in his particular conception of it) that “We must work from the bad we have to something better.”. Now to be clear I sort of agree with this idea generally speaking as a concept but I also disagree with how Scott specifically applies it.

I don’t think it’s really viable to work within a system that constantly promotes values and people that promote those values that undermine our own beliefs and trying to put them in practice. Doing such a process (especially for supposedly “long-term” solutions) just doesn’t seem like a practical solution for either Scott or myself or really anyone. In fact I’d suggest to almost anyone that parliamentary politics isn’t the way you want to affect change and instead it’s through community organizing, individual changes in your own life, in your small circles (family, friends, lovers, etc.) where you can really have a big effect. And even then the effect you’re gonna have (even in the long-term) might not be that much. Such being the case I have little to no hope in trying electoral politics, getting the “right” politician elected or getting the “right” policies put in.

But let’s take Scott on his own (highly theoretical…and that’s coming from an anarchist) grounds. Let’s say we get just the “right” candidate with the “right” policies in the “right” situation (and I hope it becomes as obvious to the reader as it does to me immediately how the chances of this alone happening is slim to none) what then? Do we try to get them elected? I guess so. But how long would that last? Even if all of the people in congress were these “right” people then you probably wouldn’t need congress/parliament and the same goes for the majority because that’d point to the culture being such that you can do pretty open and free community organizing in pursuit of your ends. So even if all of the right conditions for electoral political means to be efficient and work well that’d just mean the superior options (direct action, education, dual power, etc.) are all going to be that much effective.

How does it seem to fair otherwise? Well statistically speaking voting doesn’t seem to matter much. And I’ve done a series on the morality and practicality of voting before that I think addresses these concerns pretty well at any rate. As well as two articles which can be found here and here. So I’ve already talked about the impracticality of “working with what we’ve got”. And unless Scott is referring to something else besides relying on politicians to liberate himself from capitalism (and I have my doubts) then I think I’ve addressed this so-called “practical” strategy enough by now.

The last part is this,

You can’t move from terrible to brilliant in one step.That’s not possible.Furthermore health ands safety regulations and laws against at-will-firing where they exist are vast improvements over their lack in the past.

The first sentence is Scott trying to set up a dichotomy but it’s a pretty clearly false one. The choices aren’t either “work within the system or try to get what we want tomorrow!” and I think that’s clear for anyone to see wih just stating explicitly what Scott is doing here. Scott may think that somehow anything else is silly (but then he clearly says that moving in one step is silly so that wouldn’t make much sense either it seems to me) but if so he hasn’t proven it here (or elsewhere really…).

The second sentence is merely asserted without any proof but I suppose there’s good enough reason to believe it’s true without it being backed…but it’d still be nice. In any case he’s got no good leg to stand on even if he’s right. Sure, some things can get better under a state and certain things can be better underany system but that doesn’t make the system de facto legitimate. And to suggest it somehow is is a big leap in logic that I don’t think Scott can justify. There’s simply no good reason for me to believe that (even if Scott is right) that it means much besides the fact that the state eventually gives the proles and bourgeois some bread crumbs here and there for not revolting. Ok, so what does that prove? Not much if you ask me.

Taxation: Is it theft?

Here Scott and I go back and forth on the idea of taxation and whether it’s actually morally legitimate among other things. This is gonna be another big section so keep that in mind.

It starts off like this:

Scott: “The majority consider taxation to be justified, an acceptable price to pay for gov intervention.They do not view it as theft.”

Me: “How does Scott know this? Based on some of the Ramussen reports in the US I’ve seen (here, here and here) it doesn’t look that promising. Furthermore, what does he base this on? I know he lives in England so the Ramussen reports in the US don’t have much bearing perhaps where he lives but what about the riots in England? I’m pretty sure that shows “a little” discontentment with the establishment at large in some way does it not? And again, what does it matter even if Scott is right? Scott repeats the fallacy that many people who support the state does:”

Scott: “Most people you talk to will tell you this.It is a widely argued for point from statists.Furthermore it is generally demonstrated in action too.Except from libertarians and anarchists,there is no political opposition to taxation as a concept in of itself just opposition to KINDS of taxation or uses of taxes.”

These so-called ‘points” don’t prove anything. People believe in unicorns, a girl believed she was a vampire and others have believed they’re wear-wolves. The point being that these things by themselves don’t prove anything. Just telling me it’s theft or having millions of people tell me it’s not theft makes no moral difference. There’s no point in telling me that up is down and down is up when that’s simply not the case. You can point to a dog and tell me it’s a cat and a million other people can tell me that too but they’re gonna be wrong. So what I’m getting at here is that the truth is not as socially contextual as Scott wishes it was.

Now, that’s not to say that the truth of something doesn’t at all depend on social context or whatever. It’s just to say that truth isn’t so flimsy as to be based as much as Scott seems to be suggesting. Scott seems to think social-context is one of the most important (if not the sole indicator) of what determines truth. But the veracity of things doesn’t entirely just depend on social-concentions and can often be proven wrong over time. For instance the idea that the world was flat was held by millions of people but turned out to be pretty factually wrong as time goes on. But make no mistake about it: The veracity of something definitely relies on the context, environment and people around it and so on. But again I must stress that it simply doesn’t make 2+2=5…even if the party says it does and the proles believe them.

“Except from libertarians and anarchists,there is no political opposition to taxation as a concept in of itself just opposition to KINDS of taxation or uses of taxes.”

A lack of opposition doesn’t prove anything really. I’m sure on the plantations where the slaves were there weren’t slaves revolting all the time and times where it was “peaceful” and people were cooperative. Does that make slavery right? Let’s say that a plantation owner somehow gets his slaves to get accustomed to the hardships of the work and the environment in which it takes place and they get comfortable there. They stop protesting against the obvious moral wrongs that are being committed there…what then? What will Scott say to these slaves? That because they all seem to hol similar social-conventions and beliefs and don’t actively oppose the master they must support him? That it must be legitimate? Scott’s premises are absurd.

Not only that but Scott seems to be limiting the conception of people’s struggles to meet his own (in my opinion unrealistic) standards. Now, to be clear, I think it’s fine thinking some sort of lack of opposition counts for something but not how strong of a case that Scott is proposing here. Scott’s case here is simply too strong and amounts to, “because people don’t show active opposition to the current system” it is in some way legitimate. But even taking this out of the US and to where Scott lives in the UK I can think of evidence off-hand. For example the riots that took place against the government, the police and the system in general. Regardless of the means or goals by the various individuals who did something like that that’s some pretty damn active opposition even if it’s not very effective in correcting wrongs (or so it seems at any rate).

So Scott’s measurements fail either way.

Scott: “Theft is socially defined.Theft is only theft if it’s considered unjustified or unjustifiable. The “taxation is theft” argument misses the point that the majority do not see taxation as theft.”

Me: In point of fact it is Scott and other people like him who make (I’m sorry to say) prime facie ridiculous arguments like this that miss the point. The law of gravity doesn’t become null just because a bunch of people come together (or a couple hundred, or a couple thousand or…) and decide it is. You have to actually prove why it’s unjustified or whatever. You can’t just saying a group of people (who agree with you) ”

Scott: “The point has been missed. The law of gravity is something different from what it’s defined as by society.It’s based on repeated observation and prediction(though undeniably peoples perception of it influences how it is conceived of) Theft is a socially defined concept.If society at large does not consider it theft then it will not be viewed as such though of course they can be wrong and someone else can come along and make a stronger argument on why it should be seen that way. ‘Taxation is theft’ arguments have so far failed to achieve this.”

“The point has been missed.”

Pay attention to this line because Scott is going to constantly claim this without (in my opinion) actually giving enough time to trying to prove such is the case. He’s gonna be claiming it a lot so keep that in mind as I try to prove him wrong.

“The law of gravity is something different from what it’s defined as by society.It’s based on repeated observation and prediction(though undeniably peoples perception of it influences how it is conceived of) Theft is a socially defined concept.”

Wait, how does this make it different? Isn’t the idea that something is “theft” or not also based on repeated observation and prediction (to one extent or another anyways?)? How do they exactly differ? Does Scott mean to suggest that no observation or prediction goes into the defining of what property and theft are? Surely not. So what then? There seems to be no discernible case that can be drawn from this case as far as I can see it.

If they’re not different then Scott might be tempted to ask me, “how are they the same?” well my case isn’t that saying something is “theft” is the same as saying “that’s theft!”. One is more obviously observably than the other and thus subject to better predictions (hint: it’s not the “taxation is theft” argument) but that doesn’t make the other argument useless or completely dissimilar. If we look at the actions of governments and their agencies (for the US it’s the IRS, dunno what it is in the UK and I won’t look it up ’cause it’s just an aside anyways) and see how they do things if you refuse (aka they’ll seize your property, or shoot you or whatever) then we can see the whole thing is more predicated on the threat of force then not.

How many people does Scott think would actually pay their taxes if they didn’t have the threat of violence to compel them to? Don’t you think they’d spend it elsewhere to improve their own lives and others they care about? This makes any sort of “consent” prima facie suspect at best and at worst completely unreliable. But Scott may protest and say that the fact that people wouldn’t pay into the system just proves things like the “free rider program” but all it really proves is that people don’t like paying into systems that are too complex and bureaucratic to have them really aware of where their money is going.

The people who’d pay are the people who want the system to still do what it does and the other people (again) would most likely spend it for their own benefit and other people’s benefit. Why? Because this is typically what people do with their time to begin with or at least that’s what my experiences have pointed me towards. I’d actually be much more in favor of people choosing what policies they want to support with their own money rather than being forced to pay for it all with or without their explicit approval of what’s going on.

Scott may also object and say that the IRS has never actually used the threat of violence or force to back up paying taxation or there are no cases of this stuff actually happening. And even if Scott was right it wouldn’t matter because behind every law there is an amount of violence behind it to enforce it.

Now, that doesn’t make it de facto legitimate/illegitimate (which is why I’m not claiming taxation is illegitimate just because there’s violence involved) but it does raise suspicions in my mind (and others) about how genuine the so-called “consent of the majority” is actually being given. Again, just because violence is used in a process that doesn’t necessarily mean things are wrong. But it does point to a possible problem (which is all it really can do in my opinion…) which is that the consent involved in the process may be (to some extent or another) manufactured by the people who have the guns.

Extrapolating on “Manufactured Consent” via Gary Chartier’s “Conscience of an Anarchist”

There in fact is no way that consent can be satisfactorily proven. You can’t prove it through voting, immobility (not moving from the state’s supposed legitimate borders), “fairness” towards the state (or the other tax payers for that matter) or accepting state-based benefits. None of these things satisfactorily proves that the “citizen” has given any sort of meaningful consent to the state.

It’d take far too long for me to explain all of this is why (though Gary Chartier does it pretty well in “Conscience of an Anarchist” in the first chapter which is worth checking out) but I’ll try to briefly go through it using Gary’s logic as my basis.

1. Voting as Consent:

First off it’s not clear how voting in general for a position is going to be a clear case of consent to a state when you have a nation-state. In other words, you have such a complex system that the people under it hardly understand it or recognize all of its mechanisms or what they do or how they work and so on. This knowledge problem of course works both ways since the politicians and CEOs and other leads of highly centralized and bureaucratic and hierarchical organizations have a tough time dealing with all of the information that must be handled on a day to day basis.

Second, voting for one candidate as opposed to another is not a convincing basis to prove consent to the state. Plenty of people (as I’m sure Scott is aware) vote for “lesser evils” or vote because they feel “there’s no alternative” or whatever. But both of these positions (a pretty widely held position to some extent or another in my experience) certainly don’t seem to prove much of anything if anything at all. It certainly doesn’t prove that I want a band of thieves in my community just because I pick the nicer of the two candidates does it?

2. Immobility as Consent

Now Scott and others like him may claim simply not moving from the geographic area the state has under their control. But this argument fails too. For example, what does it prove exactly that I stay in Nashua NH with my grandmother as of now? Not much. Does it prove that I like the state being here or have consented to it? Did I get a state-license because I approve of the state? There doesn’t seem to be any necessary connection between these actions on one hand or the other.

In fact, if you looked at the student debt I have (which, although only is in the thousands is still pretty crippling for me since I am so poor without the support of my grandmother) you can see that I am more or less homeless and have no home to go to. I don’t stay in Nashua NH because I love the government of Nashua or of New Hampshire in general but because I lack the economic independence to do anything else. What do I need to do to get such independence? Get more involved in state programs like food stamps as well as get a job (which is typically from a corporation, a state-privileged organization among other things) and all of this makes it seem like I “like” current society. But does it prove it? I’m not convinced it does.

And even if I’m a minority case (though I have my doubts about such a proposition) and everyone (or even most everyone else) was different that wouldn’t prove the state is legitimate. Why? Because there needs to be some clear cut or at least somewhat clear case that the state has consent. But even if you can prove that (and I don’t think you can) so what? That doesn’t make the state legitimate, it could just as easily mean those people like and support the state because they’ve been tricked into thinking it does the best at providing services X, Y and Z. But of course because the state (as you admitted) in its present form prevents alternatives organizations existing through the various regulations, permits and other barriers to entry as well as perpetuating dangerous cultural norms about authority and power.

None of this proves that the state has some legitimate basis to create an obliation towards others to accept just by its mere existence or others explicit consent. And you saying “the majority accepts it so you should too!” just begs more questions than it answers them.

3. Consent as Required by Fairness

Instead of these two arguments perhaps you think that it’s simply not fair to withhold my taxes to the state. But why would this be? I’d argue (as Chartier has) that there’s no good reason to think as much. Sure, you might have some reasons here and there about social-context and whatnot but these don’t seem to really fly under the pursuit of truth for me and instead fall pretty flat. To see why such is the case here let’s consider for a moment the idea of trying to assume what’s under dispute, in this case it’s the state’s authority.

Saying it’s not fair for me to give consent because the majority have and, for example you might say something like, a “tyranny of the minority” is not better than the majority or that individual choices shouldn’t have so much effect on majority opinion and the work they’ve done and so on. But again, I must protest and say that the idea that the majority has actually consented is again being assumed here and as I’ve been saying I don’t think it’s been successfully been proven that people do consent to it.

As Chartier says,

And the argument assumes, again, exactly what it’s supposed to prove. If the state really were a cooperative enterprise in which we’d all chosen to participate, an if we’d consented to a set of ground-rules including majority rule, then it would be unfair to opt out of those rules just because they led to outcomes we didn’t like. But the question is precisely where we have agree to the ground-rules. Many of has haven’t.

4. Consent as Required by Accepting Benefits

The last argument I’ll take on that has to do with dealing with the so-called “consent of the governed/majority” is the idea that if we accept benefits from the state we have some sort of obligation (or put another way it’s only fair for us to obey it) to obey it (and consequently pay it taxes, etc.). But as Chartier says this argument “seeks to prove entirely too much”.

Chartier immediately knocks down the central reason for this claim being made (AKA proving the validity of the state and thus the validity of obeying its edicts) by saying that it really only proves (if it proved anything) that I have some sort of basis on the principle of fairness to pay for the services I am clearly benefiting from and using for my own benefit. That wouldn’t mean, for instance, that if I take those food stamps that I should somehow also be obligated to pay for the wars that are going on. Those are two different services for one thing and for another Scott would probably agree that it’s not exactly clear how I’m benefiting from the war as opposed to the food stamps.

Another problem with this argument is that it doesn’t even prove that I owe obligations to the state based on the food stamps. Why? Well as Chartier points out I have a pretty reasonable fear that if I don’t pay for the services I don’t want that my property may be seized or I might be thrown in jail or something else entirely. And based on that there’s no good reason for me not to take some benefits and not feel too guilty if I skimp on paying the state back because it’s more or less forcing me to pay for services that I don’t want to exist. I have no good reason to feel obliged to the state under this analysis.

And accepting those benefits as Chartier also points out doesn’t mean a necessary endorsement of the state either. Again, due to the problem of a possible manufactured consent from the state’s monopoly on violence and the use thereof on things such as taxation it’s not really clear that someone endorses the state just because they accept the benefits from the state. And as Chartier points out even if you do owe the state for “voluntarily” receiving benefits this would in no way clearly prove you have some sort of general obedience to the state.

Lastly, and, as Gary suggests this muddies the water even further, even if you do accept benefits and owe compensation to the state this wouldn’t make any sense. This is because the state isn’t the one that funds it (strictly speaking). It’s the taxpayers who pay for these services to be provided and so maybe (maybe) you owe them something (and those that pay the most especially) but this says nothing of the state which is what was contested about to begin with and not the taxpayer.

5. Possible other reasons for consent?

Although Gary doesn’t bring up any other reasons to deny the supposed “consent” of the governed he seems pretty convinced by now (as I am) that there’s simply no good reason to believe we owe some sort of obligation to obey the state. We simply have no good reason to think of our relationship to the state having to do with any sort of duty because there’s no clear (or eve somewhat clear) way of telling us that it has some legitimate basis to claim such an authority to begin with. So where does this lead us? Towards rebellion as best as we can do it. The rebellion might differ in grounding principles or through the various types of rebellion that happen and the end game that is desired but rebellion is nonetheless the only option. If the government has no real authority to say we have an obligation to obey them then we must seek our own duties and obligations (if they exist anywhere) elsewhere.

For some (like Scott maybe) this just means reformism (or “increasing democracy”) but for me it means having the fullest democracy possible. Scott, I’m sure, will object and say that it’s still a state but I think I’ve already demonstrated there’s no good reason to think that in general. And to add to that he certainly doesn’t give us a good reason.

Continuing on with the Discussion on Taxation and Other Issues

“If society at large does not consider it theft then it will not be viewed as such though of course they can be wrong and someone else can come along and make a stronger argument on why it should be seen that way. ‘Taxation is theft’ arguments have so far failed to achieve this.”

So reality depends on stronger arguments? I suppose that makes sense but then if that were true then I’d think the anarchists would’ve “won” by now. ;)

But in any event Scott is right to say this to some extent or another. But I’m not so sure the “taxation as theft” arguments have failed…and Scott doesn’t try to prove it here. But in this case I can’t complain because Scott actually did another blog post on this subject. I won’t (for the sake of both of our sanities) respond to this blog post. But I read most of it (and the links) and I’ll just say I wasn’t impressed and that I’ve heard these arguments (like I’ve heard Scott’s arguments) before. So they’re nothing new.

Also the “taxation is theft” argument can come from many different perspectives and angles and I don’t think Scott or the guy he links to three times does either. But no matter.

To continue,

Scott: “They do not see taxation as on the same level as a robbery of a bank or a mugging of your wallet despite analogies which make that comparison. They see taxation as taking wealth to pay for what they perceive as the benefits of government.”

Me: “Do all people consider all of the functions of government a benefit?”

Scott: Of course not. Hence why I argue for increased democracy.

Well sure, but that just points to the current illegitimacy of government which (thankfully) we can at least agree as much on. But even more than that my point was that it can’t be solved simply through trying to reform the government to be more “people orientated” (indeed a system based on ill-gotten privilege, wealth and so on can never be anymore “people orientated” then food from fast-food can be “health orientated”) and instead we have to uproot the whole system itself. If we’re gonna have more “people power” let’s go all the way eh? But I know you don’t think it’s gonna be “people powered” for one reason or another in any case.

Next Scott actually makes the “Consent as required by Fairness” argument:

Scott: “You could say well I don’t accept that. To the majority this is considered to be trying to free ride on government benefits while not paying for them.”

Me: “I couldn’t care less.”

Scott: – exactly why I am not an anarchist.You should care.It’s trying to get something for nothing, a concept anarchists and libertarians alike generally oppose.It’s like taking advantage.

This is pretty much the verbatim argument from “fairness” (and partially the arguments from benefits as well) and it fails as I’ve already pointed out. But what’s worth addressing here is his claim that “trying to get something for nothing” is something libertarian and anarchists are against. My reply would be that this assumes what is being disputed (a typical occurrence in trying to prove the state’s legitimacy in my experience). That is, Scott is assuming that I have some obligation to obey the state and give them my money and that if I don’t I should feel guilty even though that’s exactly what’s being disputed to begin with. Basically Scott is relying on a faulty (slightly rephrased) premise to try and make up for his faulty premise. It’s not a convincing type of argument logically speaking.

He says I’m “taking advantage” but of who? Certainly not of the ruling class who already have much more wealth then I’ll probably ever see in my lifetime and hardly follow their own rules if history is anything to be judged by. They clearly don’t feel any obligation to the rules or to follow them if they can get out of it, so why should I? I only don’t source those objections because I’m sure Scott will agree with me that the rich have the ability (and use it from time to time if not frequently) to “cheat” the system. But am I cheating the state? Well this concern has already been dealt with and I’m still not convinced I am. The taxpayer? Well maybe if their money was coming in voluntarily and it wasn’t a manfcatured sort of consent (at best) and I had agreed to the ground rules before hand in some meaningful way but neither can be proven in any clear way as I’ve pointed out multiple times so it can’t be them. Who then? It appears no one is being taken advantage of except me, Scott and everyone else by the ruling class.

Next up, Scott explicitly admits that the state will use violence against communities that try to operate outside its jurisdiction and try to get other people to join in direct competition with the state. This more or less admits the immorality of the state. If the state was such an obviously legitimate organization (at the heart of it) then it wouldn’t need to use force. But of course Scott says it wouldn’t be “necessary”. But let’s get to the quotes and examine that claim:

Me: “Well you may have no issue with that but what does that matter? Do you think government is going to just allow a separate community to try to be self-independent and want to extent this independence to other spheres?”

Scott: “No,they likely won’t.Though you’re free to attempt it.If there was more democratic participation this scenario could be avoided.”

First off, how “free” is someone who has a reasonable expectation that they’re liable to be killed if they attempt something? What sort of freedom is this? Scott in the past has talked about meaningful notions of freedom but where is such a notion here? Nowhere to be found it seems to me.

His second part is somewhat laughable to me as an anarchist. If it’s true that with more democracy states would stop trying to forcibly prevent people from being self-independent or starting up their own organizations that provides the same services that the state does then it has ceased to become a state in my eyes. Why? Because the state no longer has a monopoly on things like law, defense, roads and so on. If making it more democratic allows such a scenario to not be “necessary” then this either means that the state won’t use violence against seperatists. But it could also mean that people are so satisfied with this “new democratic state” that they don’t want to leave. Up until now I admit I was presuming the former but now I shall take on the latter approach.

On one hand this sounds at first glance to be a better situation but it’d very much contradict what Scott said earlier,

While this democracy would allow for disagreement and aim to resolve conflict it may at times not be possible i.e. regardless of the modifications to a proposal a person or group still may not agree with it.Now in the choice of whether to built a new hospital or not, both cannot be done.
Some group or individual is going to be dissatisfied and have a choice which is not there own carried out.

So it doesn’t seem like a scenario like I talked about in its base form (secession) would stop or there’d be any reason even according to Scott’s own logic so in both senses this argument of Scott’s either makes no sense or is actually a sort of pseudo-case for anarchism. This is because Scott is (more or less) expressing his appreciation and desire for a “state” in which such conflicts wouldn’t happen which would mean that states would more or less stop operating as they’ve always historically acted. Which would basically mean a sort of pluralism in communities that are decentralized, less based on bosses, rulers, capitalism and more based on the principles horizontalism, voluntarism, decentralism and direct democracy.

If that’s not anarchism then that’s gotta be something at least in the ballpark…

But enough of that, let’s get back to the “taxation” business…

Scott: “Theft is only considered theft if the taking is considered unjustified taking of someones stuff against there will but if the person whose being taken from consents and thinks it’s justified then it is.”

Me: “The problem with this idea is that concepts don’t just legitimately become another concept just because you want it to. You can try to rationalize the highway robber all you want but what he is is still what he is whether you try to picture him as a unicorn or not.”

Scott: Nick,you’ve again missed the point.If I take a cd from you without asking that can be considered borrowing and if later I ask you if that was okay you could say yeah sure,you’re fine with borrowing.Or I could take it and you could consider it theft.It’s all about perspective and how you define the situation and how convincing an argument can be made for the ethical claim.There is no inherent theft weaved into the fabric of reality like natural law theorists claim.That’s trying to objectify your beliefs onto the universe itself.

“Nick,you’ve again missed the point.”

Second time. Keep score now people.

“If I take a cd from you without asking that can be considered borrowing and if later I ask you if that was okay you could say yeah sure,you’re fine with borrowing.Or I could take it and you could consider it theft.It’s all about perspective and how you define the situation and how convincing an argument can be made for the ethical claim.”

The problem with “considering” certain things is (as Scott has previously admitted) that people can be wrong about their considerations. So, in this example Scott says if he takes something without my permission it could be considered “borrowing”…but that’s a perfect case of a consideration being wrong. If you take things without my explicit permission then I think almost anyone would agree that’s theft. But lest I be accused of using more or less your argument against the “taxation is theft” arguments I shall attempt to break it down a bit more than that.

So it’s more than just “a lot of people would reach the same conclusion” of mine. The methodology of reaching such a conclusion is also important and so I suggest we should go over that too. My own methodology here is that because the CD is mutually agreed to be mine to begin with (hence I own it) it is my item to exclude you from unless I say otherwise. But assuming I’d just let you borrow it is risky, especially if you don’t have any good reason to think as much.

In the situation given it’s not clear that you have a good reason to think I wouldn’t mind it. The fact that I didn’t think it was theft later on isn’t realistic because I probably would have considered it such. I’d expect you to respect my exclusionary privileges given to that CD and the fact that you did not give me such respect is liable for me to have feelings of being cheated or stolen from.

Finally, I don’t think it’s all about how strong of an argument you make. I’m sure people can make “strong cases” for genocide or intervention in foreign countries or whatever. But that doesn’t alone make their ehtical cases valid. All it really means is they’ve gone through a process of thinking about it that may or may not be out of your reach of dealing with. You can process the information to some extent or another but not to the extent that you can disprove what they’re saying. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right just like the fact that people aren’t “hanging politicians from the guts of the last priest” (or however that quote goes) means that people don’t have something against the system or desire change.

That said, I do (as I’ve said before) think the social-context is very important to better figuring out ethical discourse and what actions to choose and why. I just disagree the extent of the emphasis Scott is putting on here.

Next Scott says,

“There is no inherent theft weaved into the fabric of reality like natural law theorists claim.That’s trying to objectify your beliefs onto the universe itself.”

Well I wasn’t really claiming some “inherent theft weaved into the fabric of reality”. What I’m actually trying to convey is that your positions put too much of an emphasis on people’s beliefs and observations and so on without recognizing that conclusions aren’t valid for just the sake of the methodologies used but also for what the conclusion is all by itself even without the methodology. So basically I’m arguing for a sort of consistency of methodology and conclusion that might help us get closer towards truth…or at least make us less wrong.

For example, I’d say that murderers who kill for no good reason are actually in a way better than those who kill for revenge because the first murderer is actually consistent in that it doesn’t seem likely (to say the least) that any sort of useful ethical system would promote killing other people and then try to justify it through something. The other murderer actually had the intellect and moral reasoning to try to go through the motions and still look like a good person. But trying to look good towards killing someone when that’s not gonna make you look very good is a pretty stupid (and inconsistent) methodology to solving problems.

Anyways, in any case I’m not a huge fan of “natural rights” either Scott so you can bet that whatever my position on this is, it’s a bit more nuanced then what you’re trying to make it sound…

Let’s move on to some other discussions,

Scott: But the more reasonable reply is this:- the state is more a caretaker of roads etc than owner.It carries out the peoples will with our money.It’d be expensive and time consuming for us to do it ourselves.”

Me: So less-costly roads means moral problems mean little to nothing I suppose. ”

Scott: “This is what society chooses.You are free to attempt upkeep of roads etc yourself in some cases.”

Once again Scott assigns way too much importance to what “society” chooses. A group of individuals deciding to do something only has as much legitimacy as those individuals who make it up. If those individuals who make it up cannot kill or steal than neither can the group which is just the sum total of those individuals. I’m not sure how you could really argue that a whole (the group) somehow has more rights than the sum of its parts (the individuals that make it up).

Indeed, as Voltairine de Cleyre says,

[A] body of voters can not give into your charge any rights but their own; by no possible jugglery of logic can they delegate the exercise of any function which they themselves do not control. If any individual on earth has a right to delegate his powers to whomsoever he chooses, then every other individual has an equal right; and if each has an equal right, then none can choose an agent for another, without that other’s consent. Therefore, if the power of government resides in the whole people, and out of that whole all but one elected you as their agent, you would still have no authority whatever to act for the one. The individuals composing the minority who did not appoint you have just the same rights and powers as those composing the majority who did; and if they prefer not to delegate them at all, then neither you, nor any one, has any authority whatever to coerce them into accepting you, or any one, as their agent…

Not to mention the whole “in some cases” part of this. So what about the other cases? You’re going to use the state to prevent me from doing so? Or is the state going to do such? If I’m not posting any harm to other people (and I don’t see how offering alternatives in a non-governmental fashion is somehow de facto providing a big enough risk for other people that violence is necessary or how you could prove it is). And in any case the simple fact of the matter (for me) is that delegating so much power to a group of individuals and then letting them have a monopoly on such privileges is a disastrous formula.

And no, it doesn’t matter how “democratic” you want such a group to be. Because they certainly will not want to be more democratic (if by democratic you mean more directly self-powered by the people involved in the process instead of the representatives, aka direct democracy). Why would they? What good reason have you given me (let alone the rulers who are above you!) to have their power be lessened? Through their own political system no less! Maybe I haven’t either in my short life thus far but that’s because I know that I probably won’t.

I don’t have hope for them Scott and you do and hence our lines of communication will go out to different parties. And so that means that I don’t particularly care if the rulers really care about my arguments or not because they’re irrelevant and not the target audience to begin with when I want to get things done. I target the people I care about, myself and those others who I think may best be suited to join the causes I support. The rulers of this society I live in fall under none of those categories suffice it to say.

Let’s move on from these points,

Me: Are the wars my will? Were the bailouts the American people’s will?”

Scott: The state does not always do what some people want.I have argue this above and said it’s pretty much an unavoidable problem with statism.The goal is to make the most convincing arguments so that it does not do radically horrible things that people do not want e.g. fight wars for oil or empire.
That’s an obvious point you skip over into a strawman ad absurdum of my position.

It’s actually not so obvious to me that we must simply deal with statism along and your goals are not my own so why would I accept that point anyways/ My goal isn’t to make “convincing arguments” towards the rulers of society but to make sure they’re disempowered to the consequential benefit of the people. I have no hope (as I’ve said before) with trying to reason with the rulers. People can try if they want to but I personally don’t have much hope in it. I don’t think many anarchists do. But then you’re not an anarchist and I guess you didn’t understand this basic point.

It’s not a “strawman” or whatever Scott wants to portray it as. Scott’s positions are absurd and I can prove as much. For example: If oil companies get a majority of the people behind them and convince them that wars are good for all of them and benefits them then what is Scott to say? That it shouldn’t be viewed that way? Why? The majority of the people accept it and that makes it as much right?

The Voltairine de Cleyre Collection Roundup

by on May 30th, 2013

With the completion of the Voltairine de Cleyre Collection (at least for now…) I’d like to round up the links so it will be easier for people to find where they are located on this site and elsewhere.

You can look up the collection itself if you search, “Voltairine de Cleyre Collection” and you can see the individual parts of it.

The First Mayday – Introduction
The Fruit of the Sacrifice
November 11th
November Eleventh
Our Martyred Comrades
The Eleventh of November 1887
Memorial Address
November Eleventh, Twenty Years Ago
The Defiance of August Spies

You can check out the second project I did individually here:

Gates of Freedom (text version)
Gates of Freedom (audio version)

All of these posts will eventually be published on my blog, The Anarchist Township, my facebook notes and the Voltairine de Cleyre Facebook page notes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the work of Voltairine de Cleyre and are interested in more. The best way to do that is to stay up to date with the Voltairine Facebook page.

The Gates of Freedom, by Voltairine de Cleyre (Audio Version)

by on May 26th, 2013

The Gates of Freedom, by Voltairine de Cleyre

by on May 24th, 2013

Gates of Freedom is probably one of Voltairine’s least known essays even though it’s probably one of her longer and more important ones. This essay is in much the same spirit of her classic essay, Sex Slavery but instead of talking about the general phenomenon, here Voltairine mostly focuses on arguments that justify this phenomenon. Add to that specificity a further specificity with it being about scientific arguments and not legalistic or theistic and you’ve got much of this essay. Past that Voltairine has a few notable passages, one imagines the life of a wife under later 19th century marriage and the terror and dread she routinely feels with a life that isn’t hers but her husband’s. Another passage laments the role of religion in women’s mind and the role religion has generally played in reinforcing women’s oppression at the hands of men. Add to this numerous references to Voltairine’s dislike of “natural rights”, references to Story of an African Farm and generally dispelling pernicious sexist and supposedly “scientific” ideas at that time and you’ve got a powerful essay filled with much of Voltairine’s inspiration for opposing the oppression of women.

The Gates of Freedom (26)
[Address delivered before the Liberal Convention at Topeka, Kan., March 15, 1891.]

“They have rights who dare maintain them.” This is my text. And the purpose of my lecture is threefold. First to state the facts concerning the actual of [sic] status of woman in relation to society as a whole-what position she really holds in human economy. Not, mind you, what classes of men regard her, not how “she is considered by the law,” not what she herself imagines, but the bald fact of what she is. Second-to show upon what ground we demand certain “rights” in protest against conditions, which, however necessary they may have been in the past evolution of the race no longer satisfy the demands of a higher civilization.

And lastly-to point out the gates through which woman must pass to freedom.

What then is woman? Property! Since the days when Proudhon uttered his famous sentence, “Property is robbery” (27) the word has had an ugly sound in the ears of those who aim to realize the ideal glory of humanity. And I have no doubt that there are those among you-men- whose hearts have outgrown your heads, whose aspirations rise higher than your inheritances, who clothe hard facts with sentimental fancies, as ivy clothes the ruin, some of you who will feel outraged at me that I should declare this ugly actuality-that woman is property. But facts are facts and stubborn things; and it is better to face a fact, staring it in the teeth, than to shield your eyes until you run against it unaware. Certainly there is no one to whom this truth is more unpalatable than to me-a woman. I remember well the lingering indignation that I felt when I read in the first issue of a scientific quarterly, The Monist, an article on “The Material Relations of Sex,” by no less a person than the noted evolutionist, Prof. E. D. Cope, proving the existence of property in woman beyond the possibility of cavil, and, what was worse, held up this condition of hers as an ideal in perpetuity, to cease following after which was for the race to virtually commit suicide.

It is very aggravating, (though perhaps I had better not admit it or the Cope’s [sic] will sneer “emotional sensibility-to be aggravated by a fact, womanish”) in other words it is mildly annoying, after one has success- fully disposed of a mumbling theologian, or an artful doctor of laws, to then have a scientific man appear upon the scene, and, with all the dis- passionate gravity of intellect, proceed to prove that the theologian and the lawyer were right. The worst is, that while priest and law draw their arguments from faith and prejudice, the scientist always backs his up with facts. This was what most chagrined me in the article to which I refer. There is no denying Prof. Cope’s facts, the only thing which is left is to dispute his conclusions.

What then were those facts? Learn, O you mothers, for what and to what you are bringing your daughters to the world, educating them to adorn themselves with all the graces of person, of intellect, and of morals! And learn what position it is you yourself hold, in this world which never tires of singing the glory of motherhood! Says Prof. Cope, (after speaking of the struggle of man against nature) “Woman, considered by herself, is subject to identical conditions. Her needs are the same, and her environments the same. But she is not so well endowed as man to supply the one or to meet the other. Her disabilities are of two kinds, physical and mental. The physical are: first, inferior muscular strength, and secondly child-bearing. The latter means more or less incompetence for active work at monthly periods, or several months of gestation and lactation, and some years care of children. The mental disabilities are: first, inferior power of mental co-ordination; and secondly greater emotional sensibility which more or less interferes with rational action.” After expatiating upon her resultant inability to cope with man in the competitive struggle for existence, (to which expatiations I shall refer later on,) he proceeds:

“But Nature has supplied a most effective remedy. Woman, not being of the same sex as man, sup- plies a necessity which is almost universal, so that she is placed if she exercise reasonable care, in a position better than that of man in rela-tion to the struggle for existence. The antagonist of man, his fellowman, is eliminated from the list of the antagonists of woman, and that is an advantage which cannot be overestimated. Not only is man removed from the field as a competitor, but he becomes an active helper in resisting the forces of nature. More than this, he is willing, under the circumstances, to divide with her what he extracts from both man and nature. Were these the only benefits which woman derives from man they would constitute a sufficient reason for the usual preference she displays for his protection rather than for a life of independence. But she is herself possessed of a sex interest which is satisfied by such a relation. Not only this but her love of children constitutes a further inducement which is highly effective in bringing about her customary relations with man.” . . . [ellipses in original] “The support and protection given to woman by man, is, then, clearly rendered as an equivolent [sic] for the services she renders him (28) in the capacity of a wife. It is universally implied, if not distinctly stated in the contract between them, that she shall not be the wife of some other man, and that the children she bears shall be THOSE OF THE MALE PARTY TO THE CONTRACT. “(Emphasis mine.)

I wish that every word of these two sentences might plough deep furrows where they fall upon your woman’s hearts. I wish you to understand clearly their full significance, realizing what this scientist means by “your services as a wife.” He has so worded his sentences as to leave no doubt that the marriage contract is an agreement of man to protect and support woman in return for the gratification of his sexual appetite, and the bearing of children for him, not for her.

What is it then to occupy this position, this enviable position, if we are to credit Prof. Cope, in which the “antagonist of man, his fellow-man is eliminated”: this honorable position of wife to which the wise, wise editors of the silly correspondence columns of society journals continually point young girls as the grand desideratum of courtship; what is it to be a woman? To be property! To be sure, you are a little higher kind of property than the rest of man’s effects; the chattel-slave was a little higher kind of property than the planter’s horse. You supply a somewhat more “universal need” than carriage-driving or even corn-planting. Hence you are somewhat dearer property. Nevertheless you are treated with upon exactly the same basis as the rest of man’s live stock. You are housed, fed, clothed, “protected,” loved (for men pat even their dogs’ heads at times) in return for-what? The superintendence of Man’s home, and the definite paternity, care and education of Man’s children.

Young girls! If any one of you is contemplating marriage remember that is what the contract means. The sale of the control of your person in return for “protection and support.” The sad part of it is, the majority of women think it is all right. I have heard it from the lips of young girls, who, unwitting the meaning of their own words, talked earnestly of disposing of themselves to the individual most likely to house and clothe and protect them best. I have heard well-educated, bright, intelligent girls express themselves complacently concerning the fact that they were of no earthly use in the world save to adorn the display counters of the matrimonial market, where he who came to purchase might choose them. And I have turned away in disgust that they could be content to thus sacrifice their individuality to, as Prof. Cope says, display “her usual preference for man’s protection rather than for a life of independence,” turned from them in contempt only to go among the self-supporting working girls and find the same old sickening story. These regard with envy their idle sisters, as occupying the true position of unmarried women; and they, themselves, look forward to the same ultimatum; the day when they will no longer compete in the struggle for an independent livelihood, but be wedded, and supported, and protected, and bear children, for some man!

Worse than this prattle of girls, I have heard it from the lips of young married women whose dream of love has changed to ashes in a few short months; I have heard them helplessly accept the burden, so much heavier than they had dreamed, and despairingly say: “It is the lot of women. I am housed, fed, clothed, and protected. It was for this I surrendered the control of myself; and if my husband wishes me to have children I must bear them.” “Ah!” said one woman to me, a woman who, though married but five years, had already borne three children, “it seems to me when my husband approaches me (29) as if my heart would turn to stone. But I suppose I can do my duty by him. “Her duty! Saddest of all, I have heard from the lips of white haired grandmothers who had gone down into the cold winter of woman’s sacrificial existence, this same old lie, that the burden of indignity, and misery, and very martyrdom which Man puts upon this chattel which he houses, clothes, feeds and protects, is inevitable; and there is nothing for her to do but bear it-patiently. It is needless to repeat the justifications, the flimsy tinsellings, with which men cover up the facts concerning woman’s position in relation to themselves. Even Prof. Cope degrades the intellect of his readers by assuring them that it is a much-to-be-coveted position, after distinctly proving Property in Woman. When those individuals who wish to protect women have dressed the truth in draperous adjectives of superlative falsity, such
as “too high, too pure, too ethereal, too angelic,” etc., ad nauseam, it is, to one who looks with clear eyes at this diaphanous vision which they would have us believe the image of ourselves, far too much like a stage angel, rising, not upon wings, but on a trap. (30)

I say right here, candidly, that as a class I have nothing to hope from men.* [*Author's note: I have been criticised for this remark as "too sweeping." I said then, and I say now, "as a class."] No tyrant ever renounced his tyranny until he had to. If history teaches us anything it teaches this. Therefore my hope lies in creating rebellion in the breasts of women. And when I am discouraged it is never because of the attitude of men, since that is always to be counted upon; but because of the apathy, the passivity, the can’t-help-it-ness, or the religious slavishness of my own sex.

I say religious slavishness because, with a very large percentage of women, the idea of her “lawful subjection” to man is a profound religious conviction, the result of a superfine theological deduction strong along through the Scriptures from Genesis to the Epistles beginning with “Unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrows and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee”; and concluding with, “Let the woman learn in silence with due submission, for the man is the head of the woman even as Christ is the head of the Church.” It is true that the major portion of Christian women, who believe the Bible, but don’t read it, know very little of those sentences; either they have never heard them, or, having heard, have simply lent to their reading the mechanical service of their ears, letting the sounds slide out as they slid in. Nevertheless this curse ascribed to Jehovah, and this command recorded by Paul, sank deep into woman ages ago-deep into her unconscious nature; that part of her which lies below the domain of intellect, but which in its dark, unknown soil ripens the germs of all her action. (31) Submission has become a part of woman’s moral instinct. It is characteristic of woman, that what she believes, she lives; it becomes her. In this way the opinions of Messrs. the Gods, (32) sanctified by much prayer, burning of tapers and smoking of incense, have made the ideal of wife- hood uncomplaining slavery.

Now why should it be otherwise? If the Law sanctions, and Religion sanctifies, and our ancestors were satisfied, and a large portion of humanity is still satisfied with this condition of affairs, why do we complain? This brings us to the second consideration, viz.: upon what grounds is our protest offered? And in answering the question I appeal from Prof. Cope to Sociology. (33)

Now the first decision of Sociology is, that the very fact that a question is being agitated, the very fact that any considerable number of individuals, members of a class, or race, or sex, are, in popular vernacular, “kicking” about something, protesting against class, or race, or sex condition, is proof that the time for change is ripening. It is proof that this especial form of social growth is no longer adapted to the environment; that through many throes of death and birth the old idea of justice is dying, and the new is being born. All progress is marked by this transition from content to discontent, from satisfaction to pain, that is to say, from unconsciousness to consciousness.

Now justice is progressive! It does not follow that justice of one age is justice of the next. On the contrary the burden which our ancestors bore in no wise (34) fits our shoulders; yet that is not to say it did not fit theirs. If Humanity, in its upward course must needs pass through the pack mule stage of development, that is no reason to curse it on the one hand, nor insist that the race shall continue as pack mules on the other. I insist on this point of the progressiveness of justice, first because I do not wish you to think me a metaphysical dreamer, holding to the exploded theory that “rights” are positive, unalterable, indefinite somethings passed down from one generation to another after the fashion of an entailed estate, (35) and come into existence in some mysterious manner at the exact moment that humanity emerges from apedom. It would be quite too difficult a matter to settle on the emerging point. I insist on the progressiveness of justice, because, however fierce my denunciation of pre- sent injustice may be, I none the less recognize it to have been the justice of the past, the highest possible condition so long as the aspirations of the general mind rose no farther-a part of invincible Necessity. And, last, I need the admission of the progressiveness of justice in order to explain my text, and prove my assertion that, however necessary the slavery of woman may have been, it is no longer in accord with the ideals of our present civilization.

In what consists the progress of justice?

Sociology, (36) putting its finger upon the movements of man in the past, viewing him in all the various stages of his social development, as the naturalist examines the petrifications of rocks and traces back the lineage of a country’s flora or fauna, deduces from its carefully gathered facts this conclusion: Social progress consists in a constantly widening sphere of activity to individuals, and, of necessity, a corresponding diminution of the power of one individual, or set of individuals over others. That is, Sociology confirms what ’93 (37) proclaimed; Science applauds the Red Flag, (38) and carries as its banner the motto of the Commune: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

Gradually, one after another, various forms of slavery, such as feudalism, chattelism, monarchism, have disappeared, or are disappearing. (Between you and me I think Republicanism is going along with them). Gradually Destiny, God, Law, Adaptation, whatever you choose to call this glorious fact, has “put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted them of low degree.” (39) Yet, through it all, every inch of the ground has been disputed, and not one iota yielded up until those, upon whom had come the vision of greater liberty, a fore taste of “rights,” had “dared maintain them,” and through great struggle, risen to the dignity of a higher order of existence. It is in contemplating this struggle that we, who cry for the abolition of woman’s slavery, receive our inspiration. It is in remembering that always before the coming of a “new dispensation” voices must cry in the wilderness, birds beat broken wings before the storm, that we take up our task, certain that where we lead or are driven “by the might of the inward must,” (40) others will follow. It is in realizing the vastness of humanity, the sublimity of the new ideal, the insignificance of “self,” that we forget pain in our endeavor to arouse this slumbering soul, that it may conceive its rights and dare maintain them. But to the application of the deduction of Sociology, we say, if social progress consists in a constant tendency towards the equalization of the liberties of the social units, then the demands of progress are not satisfied so long as half society, Woman, is in subjection. If men are enjoying all their own “rights” and some of ours as well, that is not equality-that is privilege and spoliation. That is to say, the old conception of justice must give place to a new one, because Woman through a dimly roused consciousness, is beginning to feel her servitude; that there is a requisite acknowledgement to be won from her master before he is put down and she exalted to-Equality. This acknowledgement is, the freedom to control her own person.

You can have no free, or just, or equal society, nor anything approaching it, so long as womanhood is bought, sold, housed, clothed, fed, and protected, as a chattel. We upon whom the gray light has dawned, (41) whose perceptions are no longer locked in the dull sleep of base content, we point you to our weary sisters who week after week, month after month, till years have dragged away, rise early in the morning to go through the discouraging round of petty duties which must be done just so often, every day, and all day long-often borrowing from the night the hours of sleep that she may finish some little thing the value of which will never be known, never even counted-less than a cipher.

We point you to her sitting tonight perhaps, with folded hands at last, sitting alone by the firelight, after the long harassing day of little tortures, that wear the soul as pin-points gingerly pressed against the flesh wear the body, trying in the silence, to learn, (not from her husband-he’s at the lodge) but from her own poor unknown soul, this helpless chrysalis, which faintly stirs within her. Trying to learn if this is a fair bargain, a just thing, a righteous thing, that she should give the labor of her hands all these years, continually put in the background all her own desires and wait, wait, wait-till, from long denial, aspiration dies, and she is left an uncomplaining clod of clay, vested with the awful patience of despair. Sitting there, in the light of the fire, looking forward to this utter desolation of spirit, which is creeping upon her as surely as time is creeping upon eternity; looking forward to the time when her husband shall have grown so far beyond her intellectually that he will pity her-Good God! pity her, at the same time that her company is irksome to him because of her “inferior powers of mental co-ordination,” sitting there in her dumb sorrow, bleeding to death inwardly, silently asking herself, “Is this justice? Is it equality?” Perhaps then she remembers the small beds up stairs with their glowing, health kissed sleepers, (perhaps a smile flits over her face as she dreams, followed by a spasm of reproach that she should, even by by [sic] a thought, begrudge them the life, the strength they have taken from her-those beloved children.) But after that comes the bitter remembrance, they are not my children-they are his. That, too, was part of the contract, that I should bear children for him, care and educate them for him. It was what I was to do in return for food, clothing, shelter and protection. They are not my children, any more than the calf men sell for veal, belongs to the cow.

After all-did she want them? When they were born, well, yes-she would not have them die. But before that, would she have chosen, voluntarily, to go through these years of martyrdom? Even for them? So many and so close together that to no one could she give the care requisite to really devlope [sic] its nature? Terrible question! And the pang that goes with it, quivering outward to a visible shudder, till she shades her face from the firelight! The thought: “to which of them, unconscious, sleeping, trusting, am I the traitor? To the first and second in cheating them of their higher training by dividing my care with the fifth or sixth; or the fifth and sixth in deeming their existence a burden. Any- way, how could he decide what it was possible for me to do. How?” And so the bitter reverie goes on, concluded, no doubt, by a self-accusing start when she hears her husband’s hand upon the latch, and remembers that she has not put his slippers by the fire.

We point you to this picture because it is not an extreme case. We do not show you the awful slavery of wifehood among the bitterly poor; we give no overdrawn example of a large family, no instance of horrible cruelty such as would be easy to give, such as our divorce courts teem with, but which it is a penitentiary offense to discuss in plain terms in a liberal paper. We give only the pathetic facts of the ordinary woman’s life; and we say the social contract between man and woman is an unjust, unfair, unrighteous contract-a contract which does not square with the law of equal freedom. We say this is the reason why there should be a radical change in the present relation of the sexes; and this brings us to the discussion of what most properly comes under the title of the lecture, The Gates of Freedom.

Clearly, if this contract which stipulates that there shall be protection and support from man in return for child bearing, rearing, and nursing, and home-making on the part of woman, if this contract is to be annulled, and woman to become a free individual, then certainly she must be self-sustaining; that is to say, become an industrial competitor with man.

“But,” says Prof. Cope: “It is self-evident that any system which looks to a career for woman independent of man, such as man pursues, is abnormal and injurious to her interest.” For, “It is evident that were woman of the same sex as man, that is, were she simply another kind of man, she would soon be eliminated from the earth under the operation of the ordinary law of the survival of the fittest. This need not be through any agencies different from those now actually in operation among men under the ordinary circumstances of peaceful trade. And such is often the actual history of male men who possess marked feminine characteristics. It does not follow from this, that some women might not sustain themselves apart from men, in agriculture, trade, and the professions. This is especially possible where the struggle is not very severe; but in the cases which exist few are really independent of male assistance, which has furnished the capital, either of cleared land or money or as an appointing power. The general result, as above stated, is self-evident from the facts.” (Italics mine.)

I know there is a large class of sentimental reformers who hope to “enact” universal harmony, repeal the law of centrifugal force, and make facts to suit theories, to whom the mention of the word competition is like “flaunting a red flag” etc., and whose comprehension of the woman question is about as deep as their understanding of socialism; I know these persons will be ready to supplement the position of Prof. Cope with a scheme of State organization which they call co-operation, whose motto instead of being equal liberty is equal slavery, and one of whose intents is to make woman dependent upon “the State” instead of upon a husband. Their argument is very specious. It runs like this: One of the most important and necessary services is rendered to the State by woman, viz: race-reproduction. Every mother therefore deserves the sup- port and protection of the State. O tempora! O mores! (42) Proteus (43) reappears! Again to be protected and supported! And her children to belong to-whom? The State!

With all due respect to the intentions of my sentimental friends, let me say that any scheme which proposes to pay women for being mothers, is a degrading thing to her; and I care not whether it comes from Prof. Cope or Edward Bellamy. (44) We have declared war-a few of us-and we accept no such treaty; we will be satisfied with nothing less than that maternity shall be put beyond the necessity of price-dependence. This means that we intend to be industrially independent; that we consider ourselves perfectly able to compete with men in a free field, and when our battle is won, as won it will be some day though none of us will live to see it, the body of woman will be her own, and husbands must meet their wives on the proud footing of equality.

But Prof. Cope says that in that case we shall die off the face of the earth under the operation of the law of the survival of the fittest, we are an inferior kind of beings who must necessarily go to the wall in the fierce competition for the means of existence; our services would not be in demand; we should be continually out of work! How ill squares this pronunciamento of the scientist with the laboring-man’s protest: “The women are taking our places.” Haven’t you heard it? Haven’t you heard how in the New England factories, one after another the male weavers have disappeared and the “women have taken their places.” Haven’t you heard how in the shoe factories of Philadelphia and New York and Boston shoe-workers are out of employment because in the fierce com- petition for places women have learned to work cheaper and live cheaper than men.

I’m not defending this suicide of the giant Labor which takes place when the people combat each other for the chance to serve masters. But I am taking Prof. Cope on his own ground, and showing that even were this present horrible throttling of free competition by monopoly to go on, this “cut-throat competition” of handicapped laborers, there is quite as much likelihood that “men would die off the face of the earth” as women. I have mentioned textile manufactures and shoe- making; add to this hatting, tailoring, shirt-making, glove-making, book- binding, thread manufacture, in which the number of women out-number the men three to one (and it would be easy to make the list longer); and you will perceive that in these cases under the law of the survival of the fittest, men have been obliged to succumb. Do you tell me “man furnished the capital?” Bless my soul, why don’t you say that of the men whose places they took! No! “Man” didn’t furnish the capital. But certain individual men, by means of a masculinely instituted law, have stolen the capital which both men and women produced. I don’t think we owe them any particular acknowledgement of inferiority on that account; unless, perhaps, an inferiority of rascality.

Inferior! Yes I am willing to admit that in certain things we are inferior to men. Also in certain things, men are inferior to crocodiles. For instance, their teeth are not as long and savage; their mouths are hardly as capacious. The time was when the mastodon trod through might geo- logic forests, king of the earth, the fittest to survive. The forests are gone, the environment is altered, the mastodon has disappeared. In strength he was superior to man; but the demand for strength gave way before the development of brain. The age of the dominion of muscular force is past; in the language of Oliver Schreiner, “the age of the dominion of Nervous Force, has cut the band of Inevitable Necessity with the knife of Mechanical Invention.” It doesn’t require a great body nor a powerful arm in order to engage in the productive labor of the day. No terrible amount of power is needed to press an electric button, or turn a screw. I have seen a most splendidly developed muscular negro (45) breaking cobble stones at $1 per day, while a white-handed delicate girl was operating a typewriter at $1,000 a year. I do not pretend to say that these rewards were just; but that if you will instance muscular strength I must show that the greatest rewards of your own economic system are not for muscular strength. Dexterity and skill are the requirements of the age. It is often urged, as proof of woman’s inferiority, that she is not able to “bear arms. I don’t think any of us feel very bad about this. I think the majority of enlightened women regard war as a barbarism, and the phrase “bearing arms” a sinister satire on modern christianity. Nevertheless if it comes to that Gens. Grant and Sherman (46) could have learned a lot from Sophia Perovskai. (47) The dreadful science of modern warfare teaches that there too, it is skill, not numbers, not muscular strength, which counts. No longer the forced marches, the masses of foot and horse, the unwieldy movements of a thousand, or a hundred thousand men. No! A single figure in the darkness, a flash, a blast-and the work of an army is done!
Was the figure man or woman?

Such is the progress of mechanics and chemistry, and with their further development we may look for a race of people constantly degenerating in muscles and strengthening in nervous power. So the first objection is invalid. The second is that woman labors under an irremedial physical disadvantage in that she must bear and train children. Regarding the periodical “unfitness of woman for active work,” I hardly think it worth while noticing. The thousands upon thousands of actively employed women toiling ten hours a day year in and year out in our factories and shops disprove that. It is the exception, not the rule, that there is any discontinuance of work on that account.

Regarding the bearing of children, while we have not sufficient evidence to prove that it can ever be a purely painless affair, universally speaking, yet recent experiments in sanitary science go to prove that a moderate amount of exertion during gestation is not only uninjurious, but rather beneficial; and by far the greater part of the suffering incident to maternity is due to ignorance, improper diet, improper dress, uncongenial surroundings and sexual slavery to a husband.

Yet, withal, this physical disability, even as it is, need not prove the perpetual barrier to independence which Prof. Cope would make of it. For in the future society, the future, which even while we speak is beginning to shape and glow among the mists that seethe up from the cauldron of change, in the future society the price of independence, either for man or woman, will not be what it is today. In the future society, under the operation of the same inexorable law which scientists constantly invoke, the isolated home and its entire economy will have passed away. Division of Labor and Socialism will have entered the household. Not only will there be economy of time, labor, and adapt- ability so far as washing, ironing, cooking, sweeping, dusting, sewing, patching, darning and dish-washing is concerned, but it will also be learned that not every woman should give her energy to a species of hen- with-one-chicken raising of a child because she happens to be its mother. It will be learned that while one woman may be a very good mother, it does not follow that she is a good nurse or good teacher; that there can be no greater curse to a child than to take it for granted that because a certain man and woman were its progenitors, that therefore it must submit to their method of nursing, training and education no matter how utterly incompetent they may be. I am a perfect rebel to this idea. I know that it is quite possible to love one’s parents, even to revere them; and yet be so thoroughly incompatible with them that both love and reverence may be worn out by the constant friction of tendency and repression. I believe that more children are ruined by their fathers’ and mothers’ misunderstandings and general incapability than would be safe to enumerate.

And I look forward to the time when the selfishness and the narrowness engendered by the individual home and individual training, the freaks of character born of this blundering of incongruous natures upon one another, as a day golden in the skies of children no less than women. What do I mean? The socialistic nursery where women and men who succeed in reaching the natures of children, who recognize their task to be one worth learning well, making a specialty of, not an addenda to some other life work, will be employed as teachers are employed in colleges. No one today doubts that for by far the largest portion of our children, the educational institution is a much more serviceable instrument than a private tutor. No one imagines any more that every mother should teach “reading, writing, and arithmetic,” to her children. That work has gone into more competent hands. So it will be with the nursery. Is this shocking? Yet it is true that I mean just this-an economy of mothers. It is true that I believe no more pitiable waste of life attends our present social system than the unnecessary and mischievous waste of child-nurses!

Anyhow, whether it is shocking or not, whether I advocate it or don’t, this very thing is already growing up in your cities. I know of more than fifty cases where women have found it better to enter the lists of industrial competition, and engage for their young babies the care of others by nature much better fitted for the task. And these cases I know from no special investigation on my part. They came under my notice in my daily life in a large city.

Thus Socialism disposes of the physical bars to independence. We are now to consider the mental disabilities. These are, says Prof. Cope, “first, inferior powers of mental co-ordination, and second greater emotional sensibility which more or less interferes with rational action.” I admit these things. But given equal opportunity, and the same environment which developed the present intellectual superiority of man will soon develop the intellectual equality of woman. We are inferior in these things, because we have never had the chance to be equal. See! My left hand is less dexterous than my right. Why? All my life long I have been doing most things with my right hand. I button shoes with the left; in that particular work it is the more cunning of the two. So with men and women. Men are exceedingly awkward about those things to which they are not accustomed; so are we. But as the left hand may grow to do the same things that the right does, so we too shall learn, as soon as opportunity is free and we have had time to adapt ourselves to the conditions of self-dependence. Mind you, I never expect men to give us liberty. No, Women, we are not worth it, until we take it.

How shall we take it? By the ballot? A fillip for your paper rag! The ballot hasn’t made men free, and it won’t make us free.

By advocating the destruction of any and every barrier, the abolition of every law whereby the sources of wealth are held out of use;-in other words by advocating the complete liberation of land and capital. By holding in view the ideal of a society so organized that two hours labor per day would be more than sufficient for the needs of the day. By insisting on a new code of ethics founded on the law of equal freedom; a code recognizing the complete individuality of woman. By making rebels wherever we can. By ourselves living our beliefs. “Propaganda by the deed” (48) is the favorite expression of the revolutionist. We are revolutionists. And we shall use propaganda by speech, deed, and most of all, life-being what we teach.

My liberty is dearer to me than any slavery of silk. My individuality is worth all the opprobrious epithets, all the gall and wormwood, it has ever cost to maintain it; and not because it is I, but because of the truth which I live.

O Woman! When I think of all the ages you have waited-waited!

When I think how man has asked of you everything, every desire born of his selfishness, accepted of you every sacrifice, taken from you ruthlessly even your few dear hours of peace, as the Rich, who have appropriated it all, strike from his hand the Beggar’s crust, for pastime; when I remember how he has studied and achieved at your expense, while you drudged patiently to win time for him, till all your hopes lay white, and still, and stiff, within your breast; when I remember the arid, barren, unchanging days that come afterward-and then-death in the desert! (49) -when I remember it all, and think of it all, it seems as if my heart had turned to tears, and they-were frozen. And then, in my dreams, I see the figure of a giantess, a lonely figure out in the desolate prairie with nothing over her but the gray sky, and no light upon her face but the chill pallor of the morning. And I see her looking upward and whispering: “How broad it is! It is cold and dark and frowning; but it is broad-and high!” Such will be your figure, O Woman, such your words in the day of your emancipation.

In the day when you break from your cell, this warmed, round cell, whose horizon- wall is your children’s life, whose light is your husband’s eyes, whose zenith is your husband’s smile. Better the pitiless gray of the clouds than the white ceiling of a prison; better the loneliness of the prairie than the caress of a slave-born child; better the cold biting of the wind than a Master’s kiss. “Better the war of freedom than the peace of slavery.”

“Gates of Freedom” on C4SS Media.

Footnotes:
26. See pp. 96-102. Source: Lucifer 8.35, 8.36, 8.37, 8.38., 8.39, 8.40, 8.41 (Apr. 10, 17, 24, May 8, 15, 22, 29, 1891), Labadie Collection, University of Michigan Library.
27. See part I, chapter 1 for de Cleyre’s debts to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), especially her metaphors of theft.
28. Typos in the original render this as “sor the services she renderi him.”
29. I.e., sexually.
30. I.e., a trap door that brings the angel up through the stage floor, but the word is of course also a pun here.
31. Theories of the unconscious were in circulation in psychological discourse, but de Cleyre’s use of the term most often refers to evolutionary theory.
32. “Monsieurs les [name]“: polite form of reference in French-but for humans, not gods, in which case it would be ostentatiously irreverent. De Cleyre, who believes in no God or gods anyway, thus uses it with double sarcasm. 33. A new science in the late nineteenth century, associated with Darwinism, new conceptions of the term “social,” and a new focus on the possibility of scientifically improving “society”-also a newly inflected word (see Riley chap. 3). Subsequent references to “the pack mule stage of development” and Humanity’s natural “upward course” (i.e., upward evolutionary course) reflect popular misconceptions that Darwinian evolution implied progress. Cope was a theorist of evolution (although Lamarckian); hence, perhaps, her choice of evolutionary theory as a way of hoisting him on his own petard.
34. In no way.
35. A late-nineteenth-century audience would recognize the reference to entailed estates (typically a way of protecting a male line of descent) as a subtle joke about the assumption in most natural rights theory that the heir of these natural “rights” is by default male.
36. The new “social science,” a term that implied not merely study of society but study with a view to improvement.
37. Revolutionary France in 1793.
38. Symbol of the Paris Commune of 1871, a short-lived revolution with anarchist characteristics (see introduction to sec. 2).
39. Luke 1:52.
40. From a poem by Gerald Massey (see chap. 3).
41. Undoubtedly a reference to the “gray dawn” at the tragic climax of Schreiner’s Story of an African Farm (see chap. 3)
42. “0 times! O manners!” from Roman author Marcus Tullius Cicero.
43. In Roman mythology, a son of the sea god Neptune, noted for his shape-changing ability. The allusion implies that in centralized versions of socialism, as opposed to anarchism, the husband, patriarchal “protector” of the wife he exploits, shape-shifts into the state, which plays the same role.
44. Edward Bellamy (1850-1898), author of the widely read utopian novel Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1888), which de Cleyre here criticizes for its centralized version of socialism.
45. The lower case negro is not, in this period, a sign of disrespect; the move to capitalize it came later; see Hornsby (135); Harley (236). The use of lower case for Christianity, however, is surely intended as a sign of deliberate disrespect from an atheist, in a freethought newspaper.
46. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union forces in the Civil War; William Tecumseh Sherman, Union general famous for his devastating march through Georgia.
47. Sofya Perovskaya, member of the Russian revolutionary group Narodnaya Volya, which planned the 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II. Perovskaya was hanged.
48. See chapter 2 for the meanings of this complex term.
49. Reference to Schreiner’s figure of the woman in the desert (see chap. 3).