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


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 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 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.


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


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.

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).

The Defiance of August Spies, by Voltairine de Cleyre

by on May 22nd, 2013

In the final speech Avrich collected in The First Mayday, Voltairine explains why August Spies and the martyrs all alike held the traits of the common-man and why this is an admirable trait. She goes at length admitting many so-called “faults” of the common-man but then reversing the dialogue and conversation and showing it as a result of the existing “order” at the time. I captured the “common-man” section here. Voltairine concludes by telling us that in studying the martyrs we may not only learn from them but also learn how to live and, if necessary, how to die.

The Defiance of August Spies
Delivered in Chicago, November 11 1910.
Manuscript, Labadie Collection, University of Michigan.

‘If Death is the penalty for proclaiming the truth, then I will proudly and defiantly pay the costly price. Call your hangman! Truth crucified in Socrates, in Christ, in Giordano Bruno, in Huss, in Galileo, still lives; they and others whose number is legion have proceeded us on this path. We are ready to follow.’

I think the soul that in those words breathed its indomitable conviction to the man about to sentence him to death, and twentythree years ago today stepped from the summit of Chicago’s Calvary out upon the pathway of Great Ghosts, had in the moment of their utterance a greater vision than the narrow court-room, lined with human hate, the damning jury, and the bitter-lipped Judge. I think that in that superb moment of defiance, the doomed man looked far through the girdle of faces, the girdle of stone, the girdle of time, and the girdle of death, and saw the immemorial procession whose ‘number is legion,’ marching, marching unflinchingly up the human via dolorosa, and fell into line with them, and went upon the path with the rhythm of immortal footsteps in his ears, the sounding of immortal echoes in his brain.

The figure that he and his comrades saw before them – towards which they marched, into which they were soon to merge— the figure and the face upon the Hill of Sacrifice – was it the figure and the face of Christ? of Bruno? of Galileo? or that of the forgotten man lost in some unknown fight of yesterday? Was it not rather the great face that Swinburne saw, and cried as he saw:

O sacred Head, O desecrate,
O labor – wounded feet and hands,
O blood poured forth in pledge to fate
Of nameless lives in divers lands:
O slain and spent and sacrificed
People, the gray-grown, speechless Christ.

Aye, I think that was the vision of the time-old slaying of the common man—the man who has stood up to question the masters as to their handling of the world.

Far they were common men, who had risen to ask why the common wealth, and thecommon things of the earth, were not the common use and the common upbuilding of life? And they spoke in the common speech that was easy to understand, and as it was said of Christ ‘the common people heard them gladly.’ They stood on the street-corners and spoke the gospel of self-salvation-the gospel of direct expropriation of natural and social wealth, which by the operation of existing law has become the possession of a limited class. And that was their crime—that they had told the people to act directly, and not through the intervention of political powers, which could never be trusted. They had told the people that the cause of their involuntary idleness, and the inadequacy of their wages to buy back their products, lay in the system of property, entrenched behind the moral law of the Church and the force-sustained law of the State, but more than all behind the ignorance, the humility, the dog-like submissiveness of the workers themselves, who cringe and kneel and kiss the hand that smites them, believing in their own slavery. They had tried to waken in these cowering souls some consciousness of their true condition, some sense of what changes they might make in it, some question why starvation and privation should exist, some vision of a society wherein it did not exist, some realization of who is the enemy, some desire to dislodge that enemy from his seat of power, some knowledge of how their Would-be Saviors in political ranks buy and sell, and cheat them, always, some resolution to depend no more upon roundabout salvation from someone overhead, but upon their own direct, united action.

This was their crime: let no one every suppose that it was less than this. The historians of this affair, willfully or ignorantly—I believe in most cases willfully have taught the generation that has risen since that the five men done to death by the State of Illinois 23 years ago were executed because they had been proven guilty of conspiring to throw a bomb at a meeting on the Haymarket. But this was never their crime, as those who managed the trial very Well knew; the bomb was never anything to Grinnell and the men whose tool he was but the excuse whereby they might crush the movement of the laboring people towards direct revolutionary action. In his speech demanding their execution, the State’s Attorney came openly out, dropping the technical lies upon which the prosecution was supposed to be based, and plainly said: ‘Anarchy is on trial.’

That was the one truthful word he said: Men were to be hanged, not because they had thrown a bomb, or had aided, abetted, or suggested that any one else throw it, or had even known who threw it; but because they had said, ‘Workingmen, you can never live as men, working at will, and commanding the result of your work, until you socialize wealth—disregarding the law which robs you of it; brushing that law aside as a dead letter. And know that when you are ready to do this, force will be used against you; be prepared to use force in return.’

Now from the standpoint of the possessor, such speech is always a crime; and of this crime they were really guilty. The social revolt that they were dreaming of, the social overturning which would have ‘put down the mighty from their seat and ‘exalted them of low degree,’ was in the eyes of the Masters of the world a crime beside which the Haymarket bomb was like the snapping of a pop-gun in a boy’s hands. A world full of people not one of whom was hungry! not one of whom was naked! or shivering! or ill-sheltered! or idle against his will! Wherein they themselves could no longer have the power to say this man ‘work’ and he works; or ‘Stop’ and he stops; or ‘This is mine; you maybe need it and I do not; but it’s mine; touch it and you go to prison!’-What! they should no longer have the power to starve any one! to freeze any one! to clutch the wealth they do not need! What then would become of Civilization! Ruination, disorder, chaos would follow!~—Oh, to be sure, men might put such things in pretty books if they liked, print them in gold and blue on deckle edged paper, and bind them in fancy leather—give them to their friends, and dawdle over them before an after-dinner nap! It would while away an hour! But talk them to the common people, the people who might listen to it seriously, the hulking brutes who might take it into their heads to act—Oh, there could be but one answer to such a criminal against the public peace: ‘Away with him: Crucify him, crucify him.’

The terrible common people! The ‘sewer-rats,’ they called us, then—rats that had been driven into their holes! The common people, who bear the burdens of the world, but are not to stretch out their unlovely hands to take the thing that they have fashioned; the common people who are so rude, and so indelicate, and so incapable of fine feeling, and so unable and unworthy to enjoy the art and the glory of life; the common people who are not fit to come among sensitive souls where high ideals are discussed because they are dirty, and coarse, and low. O yes: it is always dangerous to talk to us.

I remember-yes as if it were yesterday though it is twenty years ago, and more—the memory rankles yet of the delicate disgust of a would-be reformer who came to me saying ‘Some striking miners came to the club last night, and really they smelled.’ No doubt they smelled, and the choke-damp, of the eternal night of the mine and all that the mine means—the grime, the body-reek, the unwashed clothes, and vile food, the vile tobacco, and the viler whiskey—no doubt they smelled of it all—that is how coal is paid for—by the common man who mines it! Creature of all disgust is the common man to those who do not pay the price for their little niceties.

He is dirty! yes, he is dirty—very, very dirty; the vomit of the engine and the fire-pit is on him; the grease of the machine; the splatter of the gutter and the distillation of the sewer; the ashes of the city dump heaps, the slime of rotting refuse; every parasite and every germ that ever crawled and spilled its venom on humanity has crawled upon him; just as there is no foul and filthy hole above or underground into which it has not crawled.

Yes, he is dirty.

He is hulking and ill-shapen and ungainly. Yes. His figure is unhandsome; he has crept on it too much—crept into vicious places Where Life stared Death in the eyes and both clutched at him—~and sometimes he left a piece of his body in Death’s fingers; when his shoulders bend together you go through a narrower aperture; when your right arm swings all day doing one work, you become onesided; when familiarity with the machine breeds contempt your boss is in a hurry you feed your fingers to the machine sometimes; when you wait the pleasure of bailing iron, it occasionally explodes and peppers you with sparks, and leaves something that looks like leper spots upon the skin. Yes, the common man is ill-shapen, and deformed, and unhandsome.

He is diseased with vile, unnamable diseases. O yes: he has sweated in our social slaughter-pens till every vein ran fire instead of blood, and then in raging thirst he has drunk—drunk evil drinks that filled him full of alcoholic indifference and villainous lusts. And he has infected himself with the taint that has taken him to the hospital, a thing for the worms to feed on before he was dead. Yes; all that, all that.

He is coarse, and loud-mouthed, and dull-eared, and squint-eyed— and his speech is loathsome. Yes: he is coarse; he is the digger in the dung-heaps; the dung-heap doesn’t make people fine but it has to be dug.

Yes: he is loud-mouthed; he speaks across the roar of engine and growling wheels, above the sound-chaos of the city streets— he speaks of Work, loud-sounding work, in coarse work tones, as men speak who have to do with imperative, primal activities.

Dull-eared: O yes; sometimes he cannot distinguish a preference between a symphony orchestra and the slash of a rip-saw; the saw has trained him, not the violin.

Squint-eyed‘? Yes: he has squinted at micrometers in the semidarkness of the shop till he cannot open his eyes Wide any more; he has squinted at gauges till his sight is narrowed to a gauge; he has squinted down the throat of red-hot furnaces, till he has singed the very nerve of sight; dazzled and blinded, he drops his lids, and looks at the green World outside, and sees it with a wide red flare over it— the burnt-in image of the furnace throat reflected.

His speech is loathsome. Yes, very loathsome. Full of coarse and obscene images, vulgarities for which he does not blush, boisterous curses and vapid laughter. For the worst of all the robbery that has been done upon him is that his soul has been robbed away too; and if the beauty and the strength of the body have been twisted and malformed and sapped away, so too dimmed down the light of the Inner Man-that-might-have-been till it is but a faint spark glimmering through a junk-heap of broken possibilities, twisted and perverted passions.

Yes, the common man is all that—rough, uncouth, misshapen, dull, vulgar, vapid, unfit to grace a social festivity, to bow and scrape in a dance-salon, or carry a lady’s fan.

But also—but also, he has dug, he has mined, he has burrowed, he has tunneled, he has blasted, and smelted, and forged, he has ploughed, and planted, and gathered, and piled, and shipped, and fetched, and carried; he has built—and torn down, and rebuilt, and cleaned and scoured and repaired; he has woven, and cut, and sewed, and clothed; andMan’s world cannot stand without him - not for a day, not for an hour. Without the dancing master and the fancarrier, it still could spin right merrily; without the miner and the farmer and the ‘sewer-rat’ – never.

And seeing this, and understanding this, and feeling all the Wrong and shame of our disinheritance – both of the body and the mind – it happens sometimes that a figure steps from the sullen .or indifferent ranks, and a voice arises crying in the wilderness. And this too is the Common Man; the man who is something more than all this rest I have been saying; for he is also the man who goes to unbury his fallen comrade when the mine crushes him, though he knows the chances to save are few, and the chances that he also will be crushed are many; the man who goes down into the sewer-gas to save his reeling companion, and falls by his side; the man who springs into the jaws of the sea to save from it what stranger he knows not, and drowns together with the stranger; the man who thrusts a heedless fellow-craftsman from a danger-track, and is ground to pieces for his generosity; and. the Man-who-cries to all these weak, atrophic, opiated souls: ‘Comrades, it is wrong. The earth is as much ours as theirs – those people who are shutting us out from its free use. The conquests of the dead are as much ours as theirs – those people who claim them as their sole inheritance and will not let us use them. Life can be arranged otherwise. We do not need to be hungry because there is too much food, nor shelterless because we have built too many houses, nor naked because we have made too many clothes. We do not need to be idle because some one has made so much profit, that it pays him for us to be idle. We can all work, and all have leisure to straighten our backs and unbend our muscles and train our brains. We can do this thing; and we can do it ourselves; and we alone can do it. No one can do it for us; no one will do it for us; no one should do it for us. If we are great enough to make these things we are great enough to use them, great enough to manage their making and their dividing; and if anything is made by us now, which we in freedom would not make, the labor of which is too costly in human life for free men to make, then let those who wish to use it, make it; or let it not be made. The purpose of society should be to enable men to live more freely and more fully than in single combat with nature; the purpose of work should be to build the workers’ lives – not to rack, enslave, and destroy them. Come then, announce your will to be free men, to take full hold on life, and make it yours. No longer be the ball for politicians to toss back and forth; they will all betray you. Be your own Saviors.’

So our comrades cried, a quarter of a century ago – and like the self-forgetting swimmer, died for it.

And they too were common men. For this, likewise, is among the sacrifices that are laid on them – that now and again they go up to Golgotha.

They went, these five men, ‘proudly and defiantly’, believing in no after reward, knowing there would never be any justice done to them; but hoping and believing that their deaths would bear their message farther and wider than their lives had done.

In Waldheim you may read the stone-cut prophecy: ‘The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.’ There it stands, a death-defying conviction, waiting its fulfillment  And whether the years be many, or whether they be few, till the people waken and take their own, the surety waits.

Farther and wider indeed the words have already gone; the breath over the gallows blew them on all the winds of heaven. And men remember and commemorate tonight in London, in Berlin, in Paris, in Rome, in Madrid, in Barcelona (seething Barcelona), in Melbourne, in Cape Colony, What an American commonwealth did on on this day, 23 years ago—lined itself together with the tyrannies of Europe, proved government to be What our comrades had said (always and ever a tool of the propertied class no matter what its form) and did men to death by false witness, an acknowledged prejudiced jury, and a hangman-judge—not for anything they had done, but for what they had said, in the name of what some one else had done.

All over the world their words are repeated. But still the day of awakening seems far off; still the people with their ox-like eyes look patiently on at their own undoing While the yoke remains upon their necks. And their deliverance taking seems far away. Maybe it will come sooner than it seems; there are sudden darkenings in the social sky at times. In the meantime, ‘lest we forget,’ and lest our enemies think that we forget, we keep the hangman’s day-*the day they make corpses of men whose will in the world had been to make it a better place, the day they baptized the cause of human freedom once again with blood.

Through the receding years I see the ghost figures rise—the luminous face of Adolph Fischer shining while crying ‘This is the happiest moment of my life,’ the mutilated lips of Louis Lingg yet whispering ‘Hoch die Anarchie,’ the homely sturdy resolute features of Engel saying ‘Long live Anarchy,’ the ringing prophecy of Spies, and the clear, sweet voice of Albert Parsons pleading till the moment I of strangulation ‘May I speak Sheriff Matson. Let me speak. O Men and Women of dear America,

We never knew what he wanted to say. The figures pass along—others and others rise behind them—and later—here in the 20th century-the great figure from the ditch of Montjuich(21)—he, too, done to death for the word of liberty in the name of the deeds of others.

How many more are to pass into that dusky column of the Martyr-Ghosts? Very, very many yet. There will be no end, till there is an end of the belief that ideas can be killed by killing men, or an injustice made acceptable, a dissatisfied people by putting a mailed hand upon the crier’s mouth. Until then the lot of the rebel will be to speak and to die for it. So we keep the 11th of November that we may remember what was done, what may be done again, and if the lot comes to us that we too may know how to die.

(21) Fransisco Ferrer, the Spanish anarchist educator, executed on October 13, 1909

November Eleventh, Twenty Years Ago, by Voltairine de Cleyre

by on May 14th, 2013

Throughout most of this speech Voltairine recounts a recent article on the subject of the Haymarket Affair and both gives it limited amounts of praise and a lot more harsh critique where she thinks it deserves it. She points out that she didn’t believe Lingg’s lover at the time gave him the bomb and it’s of historical note that that’s because she knew that Dyer D. Lum had actually been the one who had smuggled it in. This was later revealed by Voltairine de Cleyre’s son, Harry de Cleyre after her death. Voltairine begins this speech with a reference to the events twenty years ago and towards the end references the never-changing fact in her mind that the martyrdom did much more good for the movement than not.

November eleventh, Twenty Years Ago
Delivered in New York, 11 November 1907.
Published in Mother Earth (New York), November 1907.

A peaceable meeting of protest against a murderous attack of the police on strikers, a meeting already half dispersed because of an approaching storm; an unprovoked attack by two hundred police upon the remnant of the meeting; a sullen glow in the air, a dull and angry roar, wounded and dying police and citizens, terror and consternation, bewildered faces and flying feet, a panic-stricken city full of the savagery of fright! So passed the 4th of May, 1886, into history.

A wild and insane spirit of revenge, a determination to hang somebody, as many as possible, a crystallization of that determination in a conspiracy theory which would drag in those whom the police and the partisans of Old Order most dreaded, a vicious resolution to use every method, every trick no matter how shameful, to bring eight men to the gallows; to deceive and inflame the public mind, to twist the law, to admit prejudiced jurors, to suborn perjury, to rule out every fair-minded person from a chance of influencing the trial in favor of the accused, to convict at all costs and to hang, that was the task the social powers set themselves; and they fulfilled it; and with the hanging of their victims the curtain went down upon the tragedy, and the 11th of November passed into history.

There was a comedy played afterwards — a comedy in which the victimizers became the victims, and paid over thousands of good round dollars to their servants, the police, for protecting them from conspiracies which were hatched in the police stations. The comedy lasted about three years, and was very funny to the policemen who divided the spoils. It, however, has not passed into history; it was thought better to preserve the memory of it by oral tradition.

The tragedy however is written; it is in the school histories of the country, and every child who studies the administrations of the presidents learns about it; and this is what he learns: that in the year 1886 there were many strikes and labor troubles; that there was a small but dangerous class of people in Chicago, called Anarchists; that at one of their meetings a bomb was thrown, killing a number of policemen, and several of the Anarchist leaders were convicted of conspiring to throw it, and hanged.

All up and down the land millions of school- children learn that paragraph, with such additional embellishments as their teachers see fit to provide, and the half-truth and altogether lie of it, goes on killing the souls of the murdered men as once the scaffold killed their bodies. Only — long ago the preachers told us — souls cannot be killed; and in spite of all the malice and the injustice and the ignorance and stupidity that have heaped and are heaping outrage on their memory, the conquering voices of the dead men rise, and the conquering spirit that animated them in those days of bitter doom, the spirit of love and faith in human possibility triumphing over all oppression and suppression, slowly makes its way;

Twenty years have died upon their graves since they died on the gallows; and venom and spite and fear, most venomous of all, have had their say. Yet other voices sometimes have spoken; great lawyers have said it was a shame; and General Trumbull tried the judgment, after Gary had thought it necessary to defend it (20) and John P. Altgeld said and did a thing or two. And now, after twenty years, a man of different stamp has spoken, and a great conservative magazine has published his say. Appleton’s Magazine for October contains an article entitled ‘The Haymarket and Afterwards,’ by Chas. Edward Russell, a newspaper reporter for the NY World in 1887; and though there is much misinformation therein (when did a newspaper scribe ever neglect to furnish misinformation), the general intent is plainly to do justice to the memory of the murdered men. I do not know whether this Mr. Russell tried to do anything to save them while they were yet alive; I have never heard that in all these twenty years he tried to tell the world the truths he has told here. But it is something that at last he has spoken and said that the conspiracy charge was conceived in a spirit of revengeful fury; that the working out of it was intrusted to a man afflicted with delusions, who arrested every person that spoke defective English as a direful conspirator, and extracted confessions to suit his purposes; that the methods of the trial were ‘unusual’ (surely Mr. Russell did not choose a harsh word there); that, ‘so far as the record goes, the bomb might have fallen by accident, or been hurled by a lunatic, or by somebody that never heard of the accused men.’

Very grateful I am to Mr. Russell for his tribute to the beauty and magnanimity of Albert Parson’s character. Very glad I am that he has told the readers of Appleton’s how till the end, till the very last, Parsons could have saved his life had he complied with the formality of the law and signed the petition to Gov. Oglesby, but that he would not do so, because he would not desert those others whose lives could not be saved.

What he does not add is this: that Fischer and Engel were willing to sign the petition if he agreed to it; not that they hoped for themselves, but hoped for him; but he, knowing they could not be saved, said, ‘Then every night in Joliet upon retiring and every morning arising, I should be haunted by the thought that I had made cowards of them in vain. No: I shall die with them.’

Not grateful to Mr. Russell am I for his contemptuous rating of Adolph Fischer, and his miserly recognition of the abilities of Spies and Schwab and Fielden; yet one cannot quarrel with another’s impressions so long as there is no malice in their statement, and I let that pass. But when it comes to Lingg, then all at once the fair man disappears, and the sensational news artist, the descriptive magician we all learned to know so well twenty years ago, comes to the surface. Under his prestidigitation the human being disappears, and a monster stands before you, clothed with ‘abnormal strength of body and capacity of mind’; a slim boy of twenty-one becomes a ‘secret, wily, resourceful and daring conspirator,’ ‘a wild beast,’ ‘a modern berserker,’ ‘the least human man’ he ever knew, ‘a formidable’ creature, pacing ‘up and down the jail corridor,’ with ‘a lithe, gliding and peculiar step,’ etc., etc. The more I read, the more forcibly became the contrast between this Lingg of Mr Russell’s conceiving, and the Lingg painted by a good, kindly German lady who used to take the prisoners something to eat sometimes. One day he said to her, ‘I was dancing in my cell last night. They had a ball over there somewhere, and I heard the music, and oh! I did so want to be there and dance.’

Inhuman desire on the part of a youth of twenty-one. Had Mr Russell seen him dancing in his cell, he would probably have read abnormal physical or mental something-or-other into this pathetic attempt of a caged young creature to pass the lonely hours of a prison cell.

But the reason for Mr Russell’s peculiar visions, concerning Lingg, is that he feels nearly certain that Lingg made the Haymarket bomb, Lingg conceived the slaughter of the police, Lingg founded the Lehr and Wehr Verein, Lingg was the only Anarchist of the seven, Lingg was – everything in short, except the bomb-thrower. The latter was, he says, Rudolph Schnaubelt. He does not give his reason for these opinions, he simply makes assertions.

Now as to the Lehr and Wehr Verein, it was not founded by Lingg; he was a member, but not the founder nor suggester of it. In the second place, the Lehr and Wehr Verein had nothing to do with the Haymarket bomb. It would be rather ridiculous to suppose that a society composed of some hundreds of people, organized to maintain its civil rights because of the ballot-box frauds which had wrested their political victory from them, should be led by the nose by one man, and he a mere boy. In the third place, I do not believe Lingg made the Haymarket bomb, for the reason that he pointed out the differences between it and the bombs he did make; and while I do not think he was superhuman, either mentally, physically, or morally, I think he was an exceedingly courageous man and an honest one; and I do not believe he would have resorted to any petty subterfuges before the court. I think if he had done that thing, he would have said so, as boldly as he did say other things. There was no want of candor in his speech.

Mr Russell’s confident identification of the bomb-thrower is probably based on the letter written by Schnaubelt taking the responsibility for the act, which may or may not have been true. A lot of fairy stories always arise around a mystery of this kind, and between one man’s imagination and another’s, the mystery gets so elusive that even shrewder guessers than Mr Russell find themselves at sea and adrift I believe that the matter will remain a mystery as it has remained for twenty years. Capt Black has said, in a statement printed in the life of Parsons, that in his last endeavors to secure a reprieve for the condemned men, the effort was made on the ground that he had reliable assurance that the bomb-thrower would deliver himself up and prove that he was a stranger to the accused and that they had no complicity with him. The reprieve was not granted, and our comrades being slain, I can see no motive for the bomb-thrower’s ever revealing his identity. A masked and silent figure, he has passed across the world, and left his mark upon it. What does it matter now who he was; it was not one of the eight men whom the State punished for it.

There are other legendary matters in the article, things positively untrue; but they do not greatly matter; the public may believe that Lingg’s sweetheart gave him a bomb to kill himself with, if it likes. I do not. The public may believe there were precisely fourteen Anarchists, believers in the use of physical force, grouped together in Chicago. I take the statement with—salt. The public may believe the statement that the police behaved with conspicuous courage in the face of the bomb, and ‘did not falter’; that ‘they closed up their ranks, drew their revolvers, and began to fire upon the dumbfounded people who fled in all directions.’ I should not, myself, have thought it required conspicuous courage to fire upon dumbfounded and fleeing people. Moreover, I have been told of a gentleman who being wounded in the leg by some splinter of the bomb, sought refuge in a closet to whose friendly shelter six policemen had fled before him. They begged him ‘not to give them away.’ The position may have been undignified and not altogether heroic, but I do not blame those six policemen.

But all these things matter little now. What matters now is that the world shall know how and for what our comrades died. Mr Russell says: ‘The world of men outside our ceuntry seems to have accepted the belief that the defendants were tried on the charge that they were Anarchists. It may be well, therefore, to recall that they were tried merely on the charge that they were accessories before the fact, of the murders of Mathias J. Degan and others.’

The world outside our country thinks very correctly that our comrades were tried for being Anarchists and hanged for being Anarchists; over and over again the State’s Attorney repeated that ‘Anarchy was on trial’; his final appeal was: ‘Hang these eight men and save our institutions. These are the leaders; make examples of them.’

Well they made the example. They murdered these men, not because of evidence that they had conspired to murder Degan, but because they preached the gospel of liberty and well-being to all, and an end of institutions which enslave the many to the few. The men are dead; twenty years are dead; but the strange doctrine that they preached is not dead, nor ‘stamped out,’ nor forgotten; the doctrine that there need be no poor and forsaken in the world, no shelterless, no freezing ones, no craven and cowering ones, biting the dust for a crust and a rag, no tyranny of masters nor of rulers; that all these are not, as we have been taught, necessary, but only ignorant and foolish; that life may mean wide opportunity and rich activity for every human being born; that mankind has only to conceive its own possibilities, cease preying upon itself, and combine its powers for the conquest of the earth, for toil to become easy and fruitful a thousand-fold, so all may have the good things of the earth; and more than that, may have free time to learn what really are good things, to modify its barbarian tastes, to escape from the vulgar ideals imposed upon it by its dead past and its slavish present, its stupid pursuit of valueless things, begotten by this profit-making system of production, free time to partake of its heritage in the triumphs of science, which only too often remain barren in the studies of great thinkers, unfruitful because of the lack of the practical genius of the common man, or worse, become the instruments of further robbery in the hands of power. This is strange doctrine; men die for preaching it. And yet another stranger doctrine, though really it is as old as man himself, that these things are to be won, not by entrusting power to legislators, but by the direct dealing of the sympathetic support, finally by complete socialization of the sources and means of production. If in the final struggle, as a measure of resistance, force became necessary, then use it. For saying these things our comrades died; the Haymarket bomb was only the excuse for silencing their tongues.

Well the tongues are silenced; but now ‘the silence speaks,’ as the prophet voice foretold. Still from the prison earth in the shade of the gallows tree, there springs the blossom of human hope, the bloodroot blossom, the blossom with the wax-white face and the red, red root. Strange it should grow always there. Lilies from black mud, and hope, the highest hope, from the carmined stone of sacrifice. Yet thousands pluck the blossom, and hold it to their hearts; and the ideal of our dead waxes in the eyes of the living. And eyes meet eyes, and the light of them crosses the seas and the boundaries of the nations; and the dream grows, the dream of the common fraternity of humankind, and the equal liberty of brothers. And Greed and Tyranny and Patriotism, dividing man from man, making them strike foul blows against each other these weary thousand, thousand years will die—hard~but they will die; for they are of the past, the dead; and the new world, our world, the nationless world of free men, belongs to the living and the future.

(20) A reference to Matthew N. Trunbull’s The Trial of the Judgement (Chicago, 1888)

Memorial Address, by Voltairine de Cleyre

by on May 5th, 2013

Here, Voltairine recounts why the act that the martyrs did was noble and uses several biblical verses and references throughout to (ironically) prove or add to her points (this was a favorite rhetorical device of Voltairine’s throughout her writings). The end of this speech and the notation of “the judgement” reflects Voltairine’s continuing belief of the “fated fruit” of the established “order” at that time.

Memorial Address
Delivered in Chicago, 10 November 1906.
Published in The Demonstrator (Home Colony, Wash.), 5 December. 1906.

Blessed are they who die at the floodtide of hope, in the strength of the youth of the spirit, they whose memory among men was fixed at the hour when life pulsed high and full and the task they had set themselves to do seemed worth the doing.

To be stricken at the moment when being is richest, and so to remain forever an image of unconquerable youth and faith through all man’s future, yes, that was Worth the bitter waters of martyrdom; and so he knew and felt who, facing his agony, called through the door of doom, ‘This is the happiest moment of my life!’(15)

To have known but two things, work and poverty; not to have known two things, rest or ease; and still through all one’s darkness to have searched and found at last the light of liberty the light of a living faith in living possibilities; to have preached that faith and been done to death for it, and still to have gone to the gallows firm and unshaken, and with one’s last voice still to proclaim that hope for other men that was to reconquer youth, and cease at the moment of greatest faith and greatest fortitude. And so died he, whose last words were ‘Long live Anarchy!’(16)

To have felt oneself a prophet of the great storm (17), to know that the price of one’s cry is a scaffold, but that after the awful moment of strangulation is past, one’s bones shall preach from under one’s burial-stone more powerfully than one’s living tongue; that so one’s work remains active and persistent till the history of oppression shall have faded from the human mind, as he did surely know who said, ‘The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today’ — yes, those hours of exaltation were worth years of ordinary life.

To have stood at the summit of moral greatness and renounced the possibility of life and freedom in the end, choosing to take no iota less than one’s whole right, and rather than that to give all; to have loved the common people unto the last, and died with a dear, loving,tender appeal to them upon one’s lips, leaving those words as the pulse of one’s heart forever —— that was to die a supreme death; and so died he whose last breath said: ‘Let the voice of the people be heard!’ sculptured by death they stand upon their gallows pedestal, and behind them the mutilated face of that heroic boy still whispering with his torn and shapeless lips, ‘Hoch die Anarchie!’

And whenever a blaze from the storm they foretold streaks across the world, it reveals the Chicago gibbet, its prophets standing thereon, just as they stood nineteen years ago, unshaken and ‘ unaltered.

Had the vindictive terror of the bourgeoisie been satisfied with a smaller sacrifice, who knows? Our comrades might have grown weary and worldly wise like other men, and in a little while their words and their deeds been forgotten. But nothing but death sufficed, and they who smote out the fire of life at the full heat smote only to scatter; live sparks flew in the wind and kindled everywhere; and, though there is nothing but ashes in the five-fold grave, there are flaming memories from world’s end to world’s end tonight.

In the light of those memories we meet ‘lest we forget,’ and lest you forget who did this thing. You would be glad to forget, and believe that Anarchy was strangled nineteen years ago, and ‘the rats driven to their holes.’ But long ago you learned that Anarchy was not strangled, nor the movement of the working people; and sometimes you fancy you hear the rats gnawing. And in your terror you want to strangle again; for not yet have you learned the lesson that ‘men die but principles live.’(18) This night they sit in an Idaho jail, three men, accused for the same reasons and by the same methods as those used in Chicago.

And if in the end Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone (19) go free, it will not be because you have an intentto do justice, but because your artifices will have failed.

For organizing war upon your system of slavery these men are obnoxious to you; and you seize upon an anonymous act of violence to accuse them of conspiracy! It is ever the coward’s word; and small wonder you impute it to others, in view of the miserable lies and tortures you resort to, to extort confessions of conspiracy from weaklings whom your cruelty drives mad. Well, this time you have overshot the mark. But you will not learn by it. So long as teachers rise up to teach the reconstruction of society without you, so long you will do them to death, imprison, persecute somehow, until the working people in mass declare an end of your privileges.

Until then you will continue to pass all manner of stupid and hysterical laws, such as the Illinois conspiracy law, and the New York criminal anarchy law, under which at present eleven persons, most of them under twenty years of age, are now indicted, for the crime of of having attended an Anarchist meeting, and who, such is the elasticity of this law which leaves the definition of the offense to the judge’s discrimination, are liable to be sentenced to ten years imprisonment, not for having said anything, but for having heard someone say something.

But though you do all this, in the end the reckoning will be paid. You will burn it in, and brand it deep into the sluggard brains of the people at last, that their brothers are to be hunted down and killed for trying to liberate them; You will have taught them the lesson of cruelty; and they will show you that they have learned it.

‘For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be meted back unto you again, and heaping full.’

It is very still at Waldheim. So still you may hear the falling leaf. And nothing moves under the ground. But in the silence you can feel the gathering of the judgment.

(15) Fischer’s last words.
(16) Engel’s last words.
(17) A reference to Spies’s, ‘We are the birds of the coming storm.’
(18) A quotation from Parsons.
(19) Charles H. Moyer, William D. Haywood, and George A. Pettibone, accused in a famous labor case of 1906-1907 of having murdered Frank Steunenberg, the former governor of Idaho. Tried and acquitted.