The problems of opinions & wealth

Sep 1st, 2011 by aragorn in personal

I want to wrap up my out loud thinking about my time in Europe (I’ve been back for three weeks but it doesn’t feel like it since I am now traveling so much) with some conclusions but first some thoughts about other problems that feel specifically American but perhaps are more general.

US radicals are right to criticize ourselves for American exceptionalism. The idea that the US is at the center of the world has, sadly, been how all of here in this forsaken place have been raised. Our Civil War was a fight over big principles. So too was our entry into WWII. The Cold War was noble, just as our struggle against (whom again?) racism which we won with civil rights legislation. It is useless to argue against these facts with most people in this country. We honestly believe it, on the right and on the left.

This is why most anarchists wish a pox on both of their houses and why we have such a hard time finding ourselves out of the mess of liberalism, false oppositions, and the belief that somehow we are truly and goodly on the side of… right. We are not, of course. Not just because no such thing exists but because this belief is so shallow, so deeply uninformed, that it exposes itself all the time for being a matter of faith not of reasoned thought1. But we are from this primordial ooze and it is in us, like it or not.

Americans are opinionated. They have strong opinions about politicians, Muslims, the flag, recycling, soy, parking, taxes, etc, etc. The radio waves are filled with people who have a lot of true emotion wrapped up in every detail of mundanity. If there is any possible way to turn an issue into a simple one, stripped of context and complexity, Americans will do it and fight any comer.

Sadly this particular American trait still appears in those residents of this country who are the enemies of the country itself. American anarchists are filled with stupid fucking opinions2 and that world wants to hear them. This is particularly true if they never plan on doing anything real (material, outside of their heads) with them.

Perhaps this is related to the strangeness around American wealth. Most everyone I met in Europe was quite open and honest about how much money they had, made, and came from. In the US this is almost never the case. Experientially anarchist milieus always riff poverty with the primary difference being (in my experience) that Americans are broke but have enough money to eat out at restaurants whereas Europeans only eat street food (like €2 souvlaki) if they eat out at all. But the silence around money & origins is one of the creepiest things I run into time and time again with people around this place.

I don’t think this is entirely because all of my comrades are secret princes and princesses waiting for their trusts to vest before they return to their castles in the sky. I think that the flip side to wealth isn’t just poverty but shame. We fear association with our associations.

But everything is not bad in this home of mine. This land of fear, hate, wealth, and moralism. The reason that I am glad I left here for three months was because I could see from a distance, for the first time, that there are things that I love about the people I know and places I am from. Our eclectic vitality isn’t sharp but hacks through most things just the same, only requiring several swings. I am not more hopeful about the future but I have a lot more ideas about how I want to practice anarchy with my mongrel pack. Now to find them.

1 Not that I am a particular fan of reason but I do react to the religious devotion to God, whether it is called J-dog or Amerika, with something… cold and calculating. But I already covered this.

2 Opinions in this context means not facts, not defensible positions, but habitual simplistic perspectives that actually interfere in critical thought.

3 Comments

  • At my age, I no longer give a fuck what anarchists think about my income. The fact is,I’ve had very little for the past decade, after sacrificing much of my career years to support the anarchist movement. Now, I’m trying to live more comfortably and there is nothing wrong with that nor is it incompatible with anarchism. I still run a radical anarchist website every day, like I’ve been doing for nearly 17 years. My commitment to a more anarchist world is still there.

    I’ve drawn different conclusions recently about one of the significant things that I think holds back American anarchists. U.S. anarchists are too timid, of course, but part of that is caused by experienced activist anarchists who’ve withdrawn from the movement(s). Most of them grew tired of dealing with dysfunctional people who used movement groups and projects as their private toilet to dump their problems on other people. We need to do a better job of keeping the crazies, flakes, drug abusers, rapists, and fucked up people out of the movement. This starts by not being nice to everybody who shows up at our meetings and projects. Tell problem people to get the fuck out.

    Fuck them!

  • hahahahah – Mr. perfect takes the stage! Grantz on your 17-year legacy! With the amount of “crazies, flakes, drug abusers, rapists, and fucked up people” you’ve apparently dealt with – one might think you’re a therapist. Except, y’know – you don’t have that sort of humble understanding of other people’s problems that comes with the trade and if you were a therapist, 17 years would be chump change. Apparently you don’t have the same problems as some others: BRAVO! Now that you’ve got some age on your belt you can perform the pendulum swing back to the adolescent “tell problem people to get the fuck out” position. Pig.

  • Good conversation-starter here, Aragorn!. It is silly how caught up anarchists are with class background. It’s essentially the “I’m more prole than you!” argument that I’ve seen pretty frequently. I’ve often seen anarchists with a middle-class [1.] background either flat out deny it, or avoid the conversation. I think a lot of anarchists are scared of earning a decent living due to how they’ll be perceived by others in the milieu. It’s really ridiculous. I don’t see how earning a decent wage/salary [2.] is somehow incompatible with opposing domination, authority, and oppression. It sort of smacks of moralism: it’s the anarchist-as-ascetic thing.

    When it comes to my wage slavery/compulsory work, I’m a healthcare “professional,” and I make a decent (emphasis on “decent”) living. This by-no-means softens my radicalism. If anything, it enhances it, knowing full well that white supremacy, patriarchy (I’m a socially constructed “man”), disablism, and my middle-class background gave me massive amounts of privilege that excludes others from the same sort of affluent existence. This strengthens my view that most of this shit needs to be dismantled. However, I don’t think it means that I should live some kind of voluntary lifestyle that prohibits me from maximizing desire in real-time. Making a decent living certainly helps with this.

    But holy shit… the U.S. anarchist milieu is fortified with enough moralism to make any Evangelical Christian blush; whether it’s what I eat, drink, where I buy things, how I raise my children, how I get healthcare, etc, etc, I feel the presence of a U.S. anarchist lurking somewhere, wagging their finger at me for making the “wrong” choice in one of these departments. I personally think this sort of moralism that leads anarchists to critique personal behavior and consumer choices is liberal baggage.

    @ Chuck: “Tell problem people to get the fuck out.”

    Of course people who sexually violate others in anarchist communities need to “get the fuck out”; however, I like that anarchism appeals to marginalized folks — whether people who may have mental illness, substance abuse problems, or are otherwise “lumpen.” An anarchist community [3.] might be a better place for some of these folks to heal than the fucked up industries that prey upon them — whether it’s drug rehab institutions, profit-driven healthcare institutions, the Prison Industrial Complex, or mental institutions.

    I think that’s one of the cool things about the history of anarchism: unlike Marxism, there’s always been a place for drop-outs, freaks, lumpens, peasants, criminals, and other people who were chewed up and spit out by the wretched societies of their respective epoch.

    [1.] I realize that the term “middle-class” is problematic. It’s basically a space occupied by proles and small-business people alike, but arguably has more to do with culture than a certain income bracket. University-educated usually has a lot to do with this title. Whatever it is, it damn well comes with a great deal of privilege. However, this doesn’t mean anarchists should be denying their middle-class background.

    [2.] Earning a good income, too, is certainly something that comes with a great deal of privilege. Entire communities are excluded from such opportunities, e.g., racialized communities. But it seems to be more of a disservice to make ourselves seem more “prole” (whatever the hell this entails) than the next anarchist. What’s next, will we start wearing suspenders and overalls — maybe hardhats?

    [3.] “Anarchist” “community” is a fully-loaded phrase if there ever was one. Here I’m referring to a community that is genuinely anti-authoritarian: non-hierarchical, non-oppressive, and bases their existence on voluntary collaboration and mutual aid and solidarity. This seems like a much healthier environment than many of the so-called “healthcare” environments I’ve been in.