As a way to remember Arargorn!’s writing at the first anniversary of his death, and using the ongoing “Constructing Anarchisms” workshop as a prompt, let’s discuss how each of us would make Aragorn!’s anarchism «our own».
As an author Aragorn! troubled many of the complex unresolved issues, tensions and contradictions that were being dragged into the 21st Century as part of the centuries long baggage of anarchist traditions and of stories of resistance from different traditions. In his work he addressed many difficult questions and topics considered taboo by others, which attracted and willfully provoked polemic and controversy, compelling others to discuss and engage in these points of conflict, leaving behind not only a body of texts, but also many podcasts and interviews in which he spoke, namely The Anews Podcast’s TOTW segment, The Brilliant, and Anarchy Bang. How would we each pen an outline for a syllabus based on his ideas that would help us incorporate them into each of our own personal anarchism, whether as agreements, stepping stones, or interesting disagreements?
Going through the list of his texts that are readily available on the Anarchist Library, here’s an initial attempt to find some concepts around which one could organize discussion. I encourage you to add your own favorite quotes or links under each of the concept headers, as well as add your own concepts list. This is not at all intended to be a definitive “reader”, far from it, but to encourage many readers to take on the unfinished task of articulating a coherent anarchist engagement with the existent by way of re-examining recent anarchist history and developments in anarchist thought as expressed by this contemporary author.
“Active Nihilism – As foretold by Raoul Vaneigem in Revolution of Everyday Life, “There is no consciousness of transcendence without consciousness of decomposition.” The active nihilist sees in the unknown future and despair at our current situation, a call to arms. An active nihilist finds energy, a will to act, in the hopelessness of the conforming, rigid, asphyxiation of our society. Meaning is found in approaching the void rather than in the false knowledge of what is on the other side of it.
Nihilist Anarchism – We are not drifts of snow moving through reality. Things have happened. Choices have been made. These choices can be evaluated, not from a timeless doctrine but from a human scale. By this human scale the size, the scope, of the choices made is beyond comprehension. This being the case, and as the desire of conscious bodies is to understand, a frame of reference to begin to impact the world can be based on one of two options. Either shrink the world that you desire to understand and touch or assert yourself onto a world gone mad in such a way as to transform scale. Institutions, ideologies, systems, schools, family, capital, government and revolutionary movements have all developed beyond the body. Nihilist anarchism isn’t concerned with a social revolution that adds a new chapter to an old history but the ending of history altogether. If not revolutionaries then possibly epochanaries, for the transformation of society without a positive program.
Philosophical Nihilism – The answer to the existential question about what is knowable is, nothing.
Passive Nihilism – If the future is unknowable we are confronted with a choice. When all we know is terror many stop making choices. People break. If you have ever been confronted by the alarm clock and just shut it off and pulled the cover over your head you know passive nihilism. The pain of resisting, of being the false opposition, or the purged, justifies a thousand no’s. A million. The passive nihilist no longer has hope that their participation is necessary for the world to keep spinning.
Existential Nihilism – An existential nihilist remains at an impasse regarding a variety of core issues. If we cannot know anything then how can we make choices? When Nietzsche talked of nihilism this is what he was referring to. The trajectory of Western thought leads to unknowable questions and paralysis.
Strategic Nihilism – Revolutionary programs deserve the snickers that they get. The idea that yet another manifesto (YAM) or mission statement or action plan is going to make the tired activism of a new generation smells less of the death it wraps around its neck is ludicrous. Strategic nihilism argues for a new approach to social transformation that resembles the burning of a field rather than building the new world within the shell of the old or one last push by the working class to seize the means of production. An approach that concerns itself with exactly what the forms of social control are and their suppression falls far astray from models of recruitment, education, progress, or the crossed fingers that the next riot will be the Big one.” – from “Anarchy and Nihilism: Consequences”
“What Nihilism provides then is an alternative to the alternative that does not embed an idealist image of the new world it would create. It is not an Idealist project. Nihilism states that it is not useful to talk about the society you ‘hold in your stomach’, the things you would do ‘if only you got power’, or the vision that you believe that we all share. What is useful is the negation of the existing world. Nihilism is the political philosophy that begins with the negation of this world. What exists beyond those gates has yet to be written. […]
Here is where nihilism can provide some new perspective. A definition of nihilism could be the realization “that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility.” This exposes one of the greatest idealistic flaws of modern activism: The articulation of the specific world-to-be as a result of your actions does not guarantee that world’s creation. […]
Nihilism can provide you a suite of tools. The first is deep skepticism. Every action, every meeting, is filled with politicians-in-waiting who are easy to discern, with their plastic smiles and fluency with ‘the process’. A strategic nihilism allows its practitioner to see these types for what they are; and the ability to do with them what is necessary by your analysis, and not theirs.
The second is a new eye towards history. Whereas before it may have been easy to get caught up in the details of the who’s, when’s and why’s of the Paris Commune, now it is easy to see the failure in the partiality without getting bogged down in the specific halfmeasures. Time devoted to arguing how many angels dance on the head of a pin is time away from the pursuit of anything else.
Finally, a strategic nihilist position allows for a range of motion heretofore not available. The ethical limitations of ‘doing the right thing’ have transformed movements for social change. From pacifists and ethicists who sanctimoniously wait for the club to fall or the strength of their convictions to shatter capitalism, to adherents of the Vietnam-era form of social protest, it is clear that the terrain allowed by morality is bleak and filled with quagmire. Armed struggle groups, who led non-existent masses toward their better world have shown similar failure. If these are not the models that frame your conception of change, you are free to make moves on a chessboard that no one else is playing on. You begin to write the rules that those in power are not prepared for. You can take angles, you can pace yourself, you can start dreaming big again, instead of just dreaming as large as the next demo, action, or war.” – from “Nihilism, Anarchy, and the 21st century”
“The suicide bomber is the muse of our time. They do not inspire us to sing of freedom, justice, and dignity but of consequence.”
[…] Terror – The primary modality of class society, whether it is by violence, hunger, or the threat of the elements. If every object, person, and moment is for sale, if there is nothing outside, then there is abject terror. When living is a contemptible act, it is terror. What is the opposite of this?” – from “Anarchy and Nihilism: Consequences”
“To defend acts of ‘terror’ would be to choose to spend an endless period of time debating points of history, philosophy, and values — to what end? I am not convinced that lashing out against the State in media savvy public displays of violence has much connection at all to dismantling it. If I knew that it did, I would use this opportunity to beg your action along this line, or at the very least to ask you to tape me up for my run at the prize. Moreover I am suspicious that what is being presented to me as reality isn’t the half of it.
I may not be a believer, and will not be a beneficiary either way, but I also do not think that the conclusion to this ‘total war’ is going to be anything like we suspect it is going to be. Revolutionaries, of every stripe, have been remarkably, consistently, wrong about the consequences of their behavior. What I do believe is that the radical action taken by a very few individuals today strike more awe in me than terror. The cognitive, spiritual, and a-humanist leap taken on a train in Madrid, much like the one taken by 15 hijackers in 2001, has more value to add to an understanding about what a revolutionary practice is going to look like in the 21st century than a 1000 black blocs or a million demonstrations against the state and for the cameras.” – from “Nihilism, Anarchy, and the 21st century”
“I am an absolutist about humor. I think humor is always appropriate, and it is a central part of what I think it means to be a human in a monstrous, horrific, and unassailable world. I think the funniest people in the world are the oppressed sitting around the kitchen table laughing at the futility of it all. I emulate that experience when I do my humor well. I used to put this into practice universally and suffered a great deal for it (the easiest examples involve being pilloried by the users of the news wire I used to run). I imagine over half of my self-described enemies exist only because they realized at some point that they were the butt of a joke (or ten).
I am exhausted by the hostility of others towards my sense of humor or towards humor in the context of Serious Anti-Authoritarian politics. I am currently re-assessing how I can be funny without the nasty consequences. I have looked into stand-up comedy as a possible solution to this problem, but I am not sure I have the talent to be successful at it. Improv seems more up my alley, but I have not found the time to find a way that would feed me. The internet is such a great platform for comedy while being an even better platform for misunderstanding and acrimony.”- from “Laughing at the Futility of it All: An Interview with Aragorn!”
“All can be boiled down to a simple maxim: radicals have no chill. It’s a big turn off that I have spent most of my adult life resisting, while at the same time being utterly captivated by. Recent writing on the topic has finally inspired me to write this but it’s been due for at least a decade as I’ve changed around these issues… as I have gained chill.” – from “Whatever-Veganism”
“Politics is a word that increases in complexity the more our world does. It means at least three different things which overlap in meaning, but also conflict with each other. The first is the classic war by other means and entails the manipulation of social relationships involving power and authority. The second is the feminist-influenced and commonly used “personal as political,” which implicates oneself and one’s actions in consequences in the larger world and in other people’s lives. Finally the third addresses the assumptions that go into both the previous two definitions.
The idea of anti-politics is to break out of politics (as defined above) by calling into question their presumptions. As Wolfi Landstreicher puts it, being anti-political means being “opposed to any form of social organization — and any method of struggle — in which the decisions about how to live and struggle are separated from the execution of those decisions regardless of how democratic and participatory this separated decision-making process may be.”
Anarchists who embrace anti-politics as a useful way to critique current events point to activists who work 60 to 80 hour weeks for non-profits in the name of political action, who police their own behavior but especially that of those around them — far more effectively than even surveillance society is willing to — in the name of “anti-oppression work,” and who evoke a world of danger — of general strikes and insurrections — but who almost always end up engaging in pale reflections of those situations: marches, protests, and hope blocs.” – from “Have You Heard the News?”
Second Wave Anarchism & Post-left
“[T]he second wave line follows something started in an essay by John Moore (who I still consider a greatly under-appreciated anarchist) published in the Anarchist Studies journal as “Anarchism and Poststructuralism.” I am probably drawing the line more crudely than John did, as his goal seemed more scholarly than mine (he was referring to feminism’s phases and the article is about Todd May’s anarchist contributions). My motivation is to talk about how today’s anarchism has to be understood through the Situationist International (SI).
I have made this argument elsewhere, but I think the SI provide the best, most cruel, anarchist criticism of the first wave of anarchists. An anarchist who has not read chapter 4 of Society of the Spectacle (especially parts 90-94) and come away changed vis-à-vis the questions of revolution, timing, and politics is probably not capable of working with people in a contemporary context. I think these questions are central, even if they are not easily answered.
But there is an issue of framing here. I consider myself an ex-post-left anarchist (aka an anarchist) and am aware that post-left anarchists have also attempted to frame contemporary anarchism in their own image. I agree with them as far as their point goes (i.e. that there are issues with leftist understandings and tactics) but have serious issues with what appears to be their unstated assumptions about what that means. To whit, post-left means primarily a practice of criticism full stop, which means some version of egoism. What I like about a discussion that starts with the periodization of the second wave is that it is not doctrinaire (outside of citing the influence of the SI and the events of Paris 1968) and has plenty of room for post-anarchists, post-left anarchists, insurrectionary anarchists, green anarchists, etc. to breathe without the finger wagging of Black Flame-type criticism (i.e. that they are not real by Black Flame’s historically-fixed definition).” – from “Laughing at the Futility of it All: An Interview with Aragorn!”
“The answer I now give to this question is that anarchism is the start to a conversation. As someone who loves that particular conversation, I use the word freely, contradictorily, and in public places. I continue to find the implications of words – words spoken out loud, not hidden behind word-processing software – to be bracing. The power of saying “I am for a Beautiful Idea called anarchism” out loud still makes me feel something –something akin to how I felt at a punk rock show (where my politics did originate), something not jaded. […] For me, the daily life of anarchism is one of conflict, of taking responsibility for the people you disagree with by being in that disagreement (versus pretending it does not exist), by not suffering fools, by honoring my hostility, and by being willing to admit when I am wrong.” – from “Laughing at the Futility of it All: An Interview with Aragorn!”
“In this essay there has been no definition of anarchism itself other than to acknowledge the inadequate definitions that have preceded us. In addition, the positive anarchist principles are an inadequate beginning to an anarchism of today; they are the elegant principles of another time. If anarchism is to face the challenging times ahead it must become the mongrel beast born of the disparate parts of its stately and negative origins. It must become capable of recognizing the complicated relationship between living in the world and against the world, and instead of erring in the direction of liberalism or asceticism. Anarchism must never become a contract between anarchists and a society that doesn’t exist, and it should never be a settled question. Anarchism is conflict without compromise, without rulers, and with the choice to engage with the world on our own terms. The fight is more important than the outcome.” – from “To Dance With The Devil”
“If anarchy does not have a road map then we (as anarchists) are free to work together. Our projects might not be of the same scale as the general strike, or even the halting of business-as-usual in a major metropolitan area, but they would be anarchist projects. An anarchy without road map or adjectives could be one where the context of the decisions that we make together will be of our own creation rather than imposed upon us. It could be an anarchy of now rather than the hope of another day. It would place the burden of establishing trust on those who actually have a common political goal (the abolition of the state and capitalism) rather than on those who have no goal at all or whose goal is antithetical to an anarchist one.
An anarchy without road map or adjectives does not ignore difference but instead places it in the context that it belongs in. When we are faced with a moment of extreme tension, when everything that we know appears about to change, then we may choose different forks in the road. Until that time anarchists should approach each other with the naïvete that we approach the world with. If we believe that the world can change and could change in a radical direction from the one traveled the past several thousand years then we should have some trust in others who desire the same things.” – from “Anarchy Without Road Maps or Adjectives”
(New Old) Green Anarchy
“For us green anarchism predates the term and is a way to talk about our politics (anarchist: no state, no exchange relationships, and a vigorous critique of daily life) and our spiritual life (green: earth-based, concerned with cycles not progress, not moral). For us green anarchism does not begin with a set of bearded European men but in the conditions of Turtle Island (North America). The turtle (Hah-nu-nah) is the earth, and is our life. A green perspective worth its name begins with the story of how humans came to this place. A place that was doing just fine without us. It begins with the stories that composed a social reality that was disrupted by visitors who have long outstayed their welcome. Black Seed hopes to be a place where those stories are remembered and shared.
A green anarchism set thusly in clay is about the direct experience of hearing a story, of being part of the continuing story. It prefers the face-to-face and the immediate. It does not process its relationship to small things (like the whole of nature) through the specialized jargon sets of the Western metaphysical project. Not biology or botany. Not anthropology or sociology. Not a history or historization of real living people. It can include the stories of those warriors engaged in the infinite war against the Great Black Snake of capitalism and the state, of colonization and genocide. It can also include the stories of our lives here on this Earth now. Those of us who live in the shadows of the Grey and the Black (cities, asphalt, and concrete), who root about in the weeds and offal of the shit-city, who survive.
This new old Green Anarchism, this elder god of many origins, is about survival in a world-not-of-our-creation, how to face its end, and how we would rewrite its story if we were to start over. To be clear, these are three approaches to a body of ideas we are calling Green Anarchism but we are only using that term to be generous about our own origins (and not because we think they are the best or most accurate terms to describe what we are talking about). In point of fact this new old Green Anarchism will be unrecognizable to others who have used and copyrighted the term. It attempts a base in and orientation towards Turtle Island (and not Ymir, Gaia, Yggdrasil, eight pillars, bhu, etc) and acknowledges its metis or amalgamated characteristics. This is not an exercise in a new geographical puritanism but in holding a position in a world that seems to have accepted a kind of postmodern pastiche that leaves out every individual experience.” – from Black Seed—An Old Green Anarchy
“That impossible task set I share with you is the closest thing I would put forward as a recommended practice. A world-weary rebuilding of the very reasons we should do things together at all. A practice I am myself incapable of participating in because I have been broken by the same things as you. My mind is no longer limber enough to learn a new language. My heart is too scarred to do something so honest with a group of new people and too experienced to do it with the monsters I surround myself with (for other reasons). To go deep enough to subvert the conditioning and violence of this world is just impossible enough that I can imagine the kind of person who would attempt it but I have no idea what will result, even in a best case scenario.
I dream of free actors who live without fear. I imagine words that speak beyond comprehension. I imagine the same goals that I have expressed lived by people who care for one another, who laugh at the empty sociability of our era, who are the anarchy unleashed unto the world. I imagine connections to the world that I am not capable of. This impossible set of conditions and potentials is why a nihilist animism appeals to me at all. It names capabilities I don’t have in a world I can’t imagine living in. That’s all one can ask of oneself.” – from “Nihilist Animism”