Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Going on Vacation

Tomorrow, around 11:30 I will be departing my beloved Upstate New York for a two week vacation/preparation for fieldwork with my father in Turkey. By Friday, I'll be wandering about Istanbul looking for goat kebobs. However, I have made preparations to make sure that this blog (and my other York Staters) will not go unattended: a half-dozen posts have been prepared and saved. My good friend and co-blog-editor Natalie will be releasing them one at a time to keep things fresh. Obviously, though, I will not be responding to questions or comments until the 16th. See you in a few weeks!


Changes to Comment area

Thanks to a message from my friend Joe, I realized today that only Blogger members could comment on my posts... something I didn't notice as I'm a Blogger member (obviously). This has been altered so that anyone can comment and until I have a problem with spam, I won't moderate the comments. I apologize and didn't mean to squelch anyone's voices, it was an inadvertent mistake.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The State, Capitalism and Freedom

Author's Note: Drizzten, the owner of the "Libertarian Anarchist" Blog Magnifisyncopathological and I have been debating the nature of freedom, anarchism and the best path for society through our blogs. This is my latest response. PS: Is this size font and format a bit easier read? -J

I have spent several days thinking about your response to my earlier posting, chewing it over at work while I made powdered mashed potatoes and in the car as I listened to Bruce Springsteen. After all of the thinking is done I feel that I may have come to the heart of our disagreement and it lies in our interpretation of oppression, power and the State. Many questions were raised in your discussion and I have decided that instead of responding, point by point, to each of your statements, I will instead focus what I think is the bigger theoretical difference. However, if you want me to focus more specifically on a point, you have but to ask. I have decided to divide my comments into two sections, the first is my disagreement with your interpretation of the State and the second is your grouping of freedom with capitalism.
The State
For good reason you decry the awesome power that is concentrated within the State, but to see it’s monopoly over force and its laws as the source of oppression is to have a shallow understanding of the nature of oppression. Let me give an example. Currently, many gay men and women are struggling for the ability to be married; in this struggle they are supported by many Libertarians, Liberals and their ilk. At the same time, many social Conservatives are working to create laws to prevent their marriage. If the sole source of oppression came from the laws of the State, there would be no violation of human rights until a law was passed. However, we know that in the West there has been a de facto (as opposed to de jure) of same sex relationships for centuries and that, despite the lack of laws preventing it, same sex marriage was completely prohibited. In fact, the law (and thus the power of the State) was only necessary when there was debate and the formerly unspoken rule was challenged.

What I hope this example explains is that oppression and the violation of personal freedom do not emanate from the State, but that instead the State is a manifestation of a wider culture of oppression. The State and its monopoly on force only become necessary at that juncture where the oppression is challenged.

When we understand that it is a worldview that we oppose, not an institution, we can begin to see that this culture of oppression has many manifestations, of which the State is the most obvious. However, it is present in all of our societies relationships and institutions whose purpose is to gather wealth (and thus power) into the hands of an individual or select group of individuals. It is the culture of hierarchy and elitism that gives rise to the great organized crime syndicates of our era: the governments and corporations. You are simply fooling yourself to believe that a corporation is based upon or even works to aid economic freedom or human rights. The corporation serves a single master: profit. Since wealth stands for power, corporate profits of dollars translates into the concentration of influence and the ability to compel. Because profit is god, the Capitalists support those who allow them to seek it, whether they be American Capitalists, Chinese Communists or German Fascists. Business elites or governmental elites are still elites and it is the existence of their privileged class that is the problem, not the flavor that they come in locally.

Drizzten, your focus upon the State and its laws distorts the nature of oppression. Even if there were privately funded schools, no laws on motorcycle helmets and tattoo artists and even if there were no health codes, oppression would continue because the removal of offensive laws ignores the heart of the problem and distorts the problem so that we are blind to its other expressions. Furthermore, to say that the best way to move to a free system is to dismantle these parts of the government through action within the government (the repealing of laws, etc) is to in fact reinforce the power of the government.

You ask me, Drizzten, how I can balance the needs of individual freedom with collective equality. I do not believe that perfect equality or freedom will ever been seen in my lifetime. However, I believe that as we free our minds from the culture of oppression and help others, who are willing, to do the same, what will emerge is a society that is simultaneously freer and more equal. Because the culture of oppression is fundamentally intertwined with the concentration of power, to attack one is to undermine the other. I do not seek to force equality upon the world, that is the path of fools, but instead to cut down the weed that starves it of life.
Capitalism and Freedom
You speak of freedom, but the only example that you have are the Western countries and Japan as being the “most free.” By this, I suppose you mean that they are the most Capitalist. You point to these developed states and hold their position up on a pedestal; while they are not perfect, living in one is certainly better than living in Cuba or China.

Part of my disagreement with you is in the way that you atomize each state. Each state, in your interpretation, is separate, unique, independent. The borders between them are important and delineate real things. Once again, this type of thinking only works to reinforce the importance of the state in our minds, to make it seem inevitable and “real.”

On the ground, however, while nationality is important, our world becomes ever more interlocked every day. When I lived amongst Mayan peasants in the Yucatan jungle (which was the furthest from the power of the state that I had ever been… much more so that in “freer” Upstate New York), the cost of their food and necessities was constantly rising and they were helpless to understand why, much less do anything to change it. The reasons, when one left the jungle village, were global in nature, related to giant agri-business corporations and international trade agreements.

What I am trying to say is that one cannot atomize the world into States, to look at the beautiful lives in one without looking at the others. Today, the West is fat because the Third World is emaciated. It is because of the Third World poverty and oppression that we have cheap clothes, cheap food, cheap oil; we are part of a global system. We are able to have beautiful forest preserves because clear cutting has been exported; we are able to put heavy metals in our computers because our computer waste is exported.

Putting up our model as the proper one also ignores the broader human experience. I said above that the place where I saw the liberty and equality best expressed was a Mayan peasant village. I suggest that anyone who wants to understand freedom must be wiling to look at examples from out of our own society and our own time. The pre-colonization Nuer of what is today Sudan, the Zapatistas of modern Chiapas (Mexico), the Basques during the Middle Ages and the Highlanders of New Guinea are all good places to begin an exploration of how people can organize themselves in a society without the need for a state. In all of these examples, we find a correlation between social equality (freedom) and economic equality (a “classless society”). And yes, they do “let individuals create and trade in markets,” if by markets you mean with each other as they see fit (even moreso than in America), but that is only one small part of the freedom that these people enjoy. When you equate Capitalism in America (or other similar states) with freedom, you do a disservice to freedom and ignore the broader nature of the world.
I look forward to the comments not only of Drizzten, but to all of our readers: the Anarchists, Libertarians, Capitalists, Socialists and others. What is your opinion of the State? What is the root of oppression? How do we oppose it?

-By Jesse

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Silent Oppression

Freedom and liberty are subtle concepts. The most obvious oppression of one’s freedom, through violence (whether by the state or otherwise), is easy to decry. However, if we are to simply end our understanding oppression as being derived from violence or the threat of violence, we will end with a shallow conception that misses many of the most powerful forms of repression.

As a student of anthropology, I am well aware that the majority of taboos and norms are “invisible;” worn like a second skin, our daily lives are governed by innumerable rules that are so ingrained, powerful and omnipresent that we never recognize their existence, unless we accidentally violate them. What I am referring to here are the small things that inextricably govern our lives: the rules on who steps aside for who on the sidewalk, the timing of pacing while walking beside someone, the tempo of speech and how it conveys meaning and so and so forth. The existence of this type of rules is inevitable
[1] in human society and not necessarily a bad thing. If we want to talk to each other, rules of tempo and turn taking must exist and if we want to be able to walk down the street, rules for pacing and stepping-aside must exist. Imagine dropping a Amazonian Indian into a busy New York sidewalk and you can perhaps begin to comprehend the potential for confusion caused by a lack of knowledge of these silent rules. We are taught these rules unconsciously by our parents and fellow humans from the moment we are born.

The problem emerges when we move beyond the simple rules of daily interaction and place them into the incredibly complex framework of human society. Concepts like wealth, power, race, blind obedience, gender and privilege become encoded into the rules of our daily lives and through this subtle system hierarchy and oppression become encoded into our lives. What emerges is a type of oppression that is harder to recognize and even more difficult to extricate than the more obvious forms of oppression that one can pin upon a person’s threat of violence against another person.

In the classic text 1984 by George Orwell, the society depicted is consciously altering its own language to remove the ability to even contemplate resistance to the state, much less formulate a concerted attack, intellectually or physically, against it. If their mission were completed, there would never again be a need for the threat of violence by the state to keep the populace in line; yet, I think that no one would question that oppression was involved, oppression more profound and terrible than mere violence. This type of oppression does not shatter the body but castrates the mind before freedom can even be conceived.

Let us move beyond literature, where even the finest example is still a fiction, and get a bit closer to home. Today in America, the values of materialism, egoism, competitive ruthlessness, aggression and authoritarianism have become part of that second skin: largely invisible and considered to be normal. While questioning is still possible here,
[2] the framework for discussion, the very words that we use to formulate our resistance, is tainted by these oppressive values. This prevalence of subtle thoughtways polluting our ability to resist has best been shown by feminists who have spent decades revealing how our spoken language, physical communication, social structures and rules of interaction all favor a patriarchal system. If we are to talk coherently about oppression in America, or beyond, we cannot simply limit our analysis to the overt use or threat of, violence and move beyond a persuasion-force dichotomy.

So, how does this all relate to anarchism and the pursuit of a free society? For one, it undermines the possibility for Utopia and instead argues that freedom-lovers must instead be involved in a never-ending search for oppressors, both silent and overt. It also argues against a purely political philosophy of anarchism that looks to the removal of the state and other hierarchical organizations as a solution to the problem of oppression. If the minds of the people are encoded with the values of hierarchy, violence and authoritarianism, than idealists can overthrow as many governments as they desire, but new ones will constantly rise in their place. Anarchism must instead become more profound and seek out the very roots of oppression, the place where it has coiled itself around the base of our brains. This doesn’t mean that action against the overt forms of oppression is not meaningful or important, only that proponents of true change must look deeper and be satisfied with victories that are slower, subtler and more difficult. Of course the other alternative is to be battling literal tyrants eternally, only to find that they come back stronger after every battle.
-By Jesse
[1] While these types of rules must exist for society to function smoothly, the actual makeup of the rule can vary incredible between societies and societal subgroups.
[2] Perhaps I am an optimist, but I believe that resistance to oppression can never be completely wiped out and that liberty is the natural state of human affairs. I hope that there is something in our minds beyond what they can touch, but I do have my worries.

A return response

Drizzten has responded to the comments I made in my previous response. I will ponder is questions and reply in a day or two when I have determined the best answers to his questions. If you have any comments of your own to either my or Drizzten's posts, don't hesitate to make a comment or to email me.


PS: I'm working to fix some of the non-functional links on the right-hand side of the blog. Hopefully I'll get them figured out tonight.

Monday, May 22, 2006

"yeah I'm for peace, but..."

In the days leading up to the opening of the latest Iraq War, I was a member of the “Anti-War Coalition” at my University. Like a thousand similar groups across the country, we were a “big tent” organization that held many philosophies: anarchists, vanguard socialists, democratic socialists, liberals, Christian Pacifists and even a lonely libertarian. The organization involved itself with local rallies, traveling to national protests, student education, etc, and everything was going quite smoothly until we took to writing our formal constitution.

The sticking point is probably a strange one to the outsider: it was the name that brought out the passions that had been simmering under the guise of cooperation. Despite many early suggestions and a number of proposed compromise names, the conflict boiled down to whether we would continue being called the “Anti-War Coalition” or would change out name to the “Peace Coalition.” For readers who are not experienced with life out here in the Left, it is apparently little things like this[1] that have deep philosophical importance in the “Progressive Community.”

The instigators of the name debate were a number of members who held a philosophy, which I will call Tranquil Reflectionism, that is best summed up in the bumper sticker: “Be the peace that you seek.” The holders of this philosophy are pacifists who seek to create a world of peace and harmony and believe that the first step to ending global violence is to bring their own minds and bodies into a state of peace and harmony. The second step, of course, is to make their organizations mirrors of their own internal state of tranquility. This is where the conflict starts.

Their problem with the “Anti-War Coalition” was the use of words “anti” and “war,” which both have negative and violent meanings. “Peace” on the other hand was a name that reflected the harmony they sought. Of course, this was a symbolic struggle, the real question was whether our “Big Tent” would now take a philosophic stance in alignment with pacifism and Tranquil Reflectionism.

Needless to say, as the debate wore on tempers flared on both sides[2] and the exchange became heated. For those of us in the Anti-War Camp, which I was a member of, we felt that our organization was being stolen from under our feet and turned to serve a philosophy that we disagreed with. Granted, we all had different reasons to disagree with it based off of our own personal viewpoints, but that was the beauty of the organization. We all wanted to stop the coming massacre and were willing to cooperate to do it, but not to serve someone else’s personal mission for spiritual equilibrium. In the end, the Anti-War side won the day, perhaps because we had a young fellow named Dave with us who could (and still can) outshout an entire motorcycle gang.

Tranquil Reflectionism, however, did not die with our victory and is certainly not limited to my little Upstate SUNY campus. Today, the Big Tent has collapsed across America and the movement in opposition to the Iraq War has become controlled, except in a few pockets, by a single ideology. Attend a rally in Tempe, AZ, and the “Peace Police” tell you which chants and signs you can carry, where you can stand and what you can wear. The only acceptable slogans are the “peaceful” ones and confrontation is to be avoided at all costs. Attend a peace council in Rochester, NY, and you’ll find that it’s full of white folk who love Ghandi and put all of their hopes on getting the UN to intervene in Iraq. Once upon a time, these meetings were full of all of those groups that I mentioned above in my Big Tent, plus more, and reflected society in general. Today, for some reason those folk don’t feel comfortable in the movement and no longer feel that it belongs to them.[3]

The Tranquil Reflectionist movement presents an inherently impossible and completely ineffective model for social change. There first inherent flaw became obvious when they dropped their peaceful composures and argued back at our fateful meeting: in a place where human beings are able to express their opinions there will inevitably be conflict. We can never create the model of perfect harmony in our organizations and perhaps not even within ourselves without also killing dissent and freedom of thought.

Secondly, Tranquil Reflectionism takes the flaws in society and places the responsibility for them upon the head of the activist. “If society isn’t peaceful,” it claims, “the reason for it is because you (the activist) aren’t at peace.” I have seen dedicated activists drop out of their good work entirely because they weren’t “at harmony” and had to perfect themselves before returning. Of course they never came back. Perfection seems to be always out of reach for the average human, just as utopia seems to be always just beyond the horizon for human society; to insist that the activist attains the first before even contemplating the second is the place her down the path to failure. Furthermore, this philosophy is, in itself, a reflection of capitalism’s hyper-individuality and it’s emphasis on personal change and effort as the only path to a better life. It reinforces apathy, rampant egoism and activist burnout.

Finally, to insist upon tranquility is to ignore the plight of those whose lives are constantly subject to the violence of the state and the capitalist system in order to keep them down; it is thus a class- and race-biased philosophy. While the use of violence against objects and, especially, people, is always a hotly debated subject, the need for aggressive action should not be. When the Man pushes you down in the mud, to not look up and spit in his eye is a crime to your own dignity and humanity. To quote “We Want Freedom” by the hip-hop artists Dead Prez:

“Yeah, I'm for peace/But I'll kill ya if ya fuck with my moms or my niece/See we all want peace, but the problem is/Crackers want a bigger piece/Got it where the niggas can't get a piece/That's why police get stabbed and shot/Cuz a nigga can't eat if the ave is hot.”
Perhaps the Anti-War faction was over-zealous in the repulsion of the Peace faction, because, after all, our Big Tent should have been big enough for even a Tranquil Reflectionist to find room. I regret many of the actions that we took in those heady early days of activism, when we made it all up as we went along and every challenge appeared to be something new to the face of the earth. While today I would suggest to my past-self a response with more tact and diplomacy (probably better than shouting, we need to save that tactic for dealing with Nazis and the Minutemen, not our misguided allies), I do not regret following my gut on that day and rejecting outright a philosophy of self-repression and ineffectual distraction.

-By Jesse Harasta

[1] For instance, I once saw a national congress break apart over the issue of consensus versus majority vote. At the time I was somewhat naïve and didn’t see it for what it was: a power struggle between the International Socialist Organization (an authoritarian group) and the anti-authoritarians for the heart of the student movement. Today I’m ashamed to say that I sided with the ISO and helped to drive out the anarchists.
[2] A bit ironic for the Tranquil Reflectionists, eh?
[3] However, resistance doesn’t even die here. I remember sitting in a peace council preparing to protest the arrival Dick Cheney. Most of the suggestions at the meeting came from a group of old white Quaker women who had been running “the peace scene” in the city for years, through a dozen wars. Half-way through the meeting, the representative of the local homeless person’s organization, Poor People United, rose to speak. A large, striking, black man in a leather jacket, he denounced them all as ineffectual, ignorant and basically racist. Perhaps he was a bit harsh on the grannies, but after his speech, the room became alive again and people who had been silenced before now felt free to express their own opinions and ideas. While the plan to have the city’s homeless barricade themselves under the conference center and fight the police with homemade weapons to demand heated shelters to sleep in during the winter fell through, the plan to have folk in powered wheelchairs blockade the main doors did work… Cheney and his local fan club had to sneak in the servant’s entrance while we controlled the front gates for a day.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A response to another blog

Like many out there, I occasionally put my own name into an Internet search engine, just to see what pops up. The other day, while trolling through the Google listings “Jesse Harasta” I saw a link to a blog discussing a letter I wrote to the editor of the Press and Sun Bulletin (out of Binghamton, NY) in response to an earlier letter entitled “Capitalism Makes Lives Better.” In my letter (which the paper edited, shortened and named “Capitalism isn’t All Good”), I said that the earlier letter had been naïve in its assumption that unregulated the story of Capitalism was “a loving, blissful stroll through history.” His original post is here.

The author of the blog, a fellow named Drizzten, responded to my comment by accusing me of wanting to bring down the oppressive power of the state as a solution to the problems caused by capitalmism. “In wanting to fight slave labor, he wants to enslave people to the state.”
Now, granted, the published letter was very short (and even shorter than the original version I sent to the paper), but I felt that Dizzten had misrepresented me and made a gross misinterpretation of my beliefs. Graciously, however, he agreed to post my response to his comments and, if he feels the need, post his own rebuttal.

Like Drizzten, I believe in the inalienable liberties of human beings and believe that the state is one of the greatest sources of oppression in the world today. Daily, I am horrified and disgusted by the concentration of power in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals. These days, we are bombarded by news reports of warrant-less wire tapping, secret prisons, systemized torture and limitless detentions; the naïve (primarily Democrats in this case) seem to believe that this is merely the product of the current Bush Administration, but in fact the power of the government and especially the power of federal executive and bureaucracy have been growing continuously for decades. Democrat and Republican, all of the administrations and Congresses wage wars (the ultimate abuse of centralized power), increase secrecy and gather power to themselves. In my mind, the destruction of New Orleans was a powerful symbol of the misplaced trust that Americans have put upon uncaring, centralized bureaucracies and the disastrous effects that it can have (for more discussion on this, check out
this essay on my blog).

However, the government is not the only source of centralized power in the world today and, especially in places where the central government is weak such as the Third World, corporations and private enterprise have become just as oppressive and even more unaccountable. What difference does it make to the young Chinese girl laboring incredible hours if she works for the central Communist government or if she is in one of the “free market zones” and works for a Western company?

By its nature, Capitalism is an economic system that works to concentrate wealth in the hands of the ruthless. Since wealth is a stand-in for power in our society (with wealth you have the power to do things you normally wouldn’t be able to), this is as much a concentration of societal influence as a Presidential mandate. And in our modern era of business-government cooperation, the line between economic and political power has been blurred into non-existence.
So what are we to do about it? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer as we have learned that so-called populist revolutions are too often rooted in the rhetoric of government and centralized leader-worship and serve to replicate the oppression they sought to remove. Our path instead is a much rockier, foggier one: to shape a society of equals (in every sense of the word: economic, social and political) out of the society of inequality. To do this, we should focus upon the local, on building our communities and creating organs of truly democratic expression. Will a perfectly equal society ever be achieved? I doubt it, but I believe that we will find that as we move closer, each step that we take will loosen the grip that authoritarianism has upon our minds and hearts and improve our lives and communities.

Drizzten, thank you for allowing me to respond with comments to your earlier post, I apologize for the length, but I feel that sometimes (like in a letter to the editor) complex ideas can never be given justice in a few lines.

-Jesse Harasta

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fighting Mad!

I thought this article on Jeff "the Snowman" Monson, an anarchist who happens to also be a combatant in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, was quite entertaining. Here's a quote from Monson about his beliefs:

“I’m not some sort of conspiracy theorist, I’m not talking about how the government is trying to hide UFOs. I just want to do away with hierarchy. I’m saying that our economic system, capitalism, is structured so that it only benefits a small percentage of very wealthy people. When I was traveling in Brazil, they had us staying at a really posh hotel. Outside the hotel there was a mom sleeping on the sidewalk with her two kids. That’s when reality hits you. What did that woman ever do? Who did she ever hurt?”

Be proud and keep on telling the truth Jeff!


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Technical Update

I'm still fiddling around with this website, trying to get it to look the way I prefer. I would enjoy hearing your comments on the look. The most obvious change is the background photo and I think it deserves a moment of description.

The photo is of the "Pumphouse Pagoda," the last building remaining (notice the field of rubble that surrounds it) in a brownfield that once held the headquarters and factories of the Endicott Johnson Shoe Company in Johnson City, NY. The Pagoda for me is a poignant symbol for several reasons. The Pagoda itself was constructed by EJ Workers out of industrial waste: broken bricks, pieces of machinery, old worn tools, etc. Its use was pumping water for cooling the factory factory and for moving water about the pool in neighboring C. Fred Johnson Memorial Park. The pool and the factories are now gone but the Pagoda abides. I have a bit of poetic side and this spot reminds me of the spirit of Upstaters and our will the perservere which is why I think it is an excellent backdrop for this blog.

-by Jesse

Monday, May 01, 2006

Happy May Day!

As part of my May Day personal pledge to reengage the world of activism, I have launched this website. We live in exciting times: the world stands on the edge of a knife- on one side is freedom and on the other repression. We must all stand for what we believe and I hope that I can again do my part.


Mission Statement

As the inaugeral post for this new blog, I thought I might explain what I mean by saying I am "an Upstate Anarchist" and what ideas and values are going to inform all subsequent postings. The first part of the title "Upstate" is simple: I am from Upstate New York (Johnson City/Binghamton, to be more exact) and am concerned largely with life in this region. I also edit a cooperative blog (York Staters) completely dedicated to Upstate life and I plan on dual-posting on occasion, when the article is appropriate to both audiences. I may sometimes reflect on national and international issues, but always from the perspective of a born and bred York Stater.

It is, of course, the title of "Anarchist" that raises eyebrows. When I tell a new friend that I am an “anarchist,” I usually receive something of a mixed response. Those possessing little experience with the Left often respond with surprise, dismay and even fear (this nice boy that they knew as a fiddler and a whole-grainy vegetarian cook actually covers his face at night and blows things up!); others, with more knowledge of the Left usually treat this statement with sadness or disappointment, thinking of my beliefs as akin to those found in cultish Marxist groups. There is an incredible amount of innocent confusion and calculated disinformation about Anarchism in American society, much of it tied to the fact that anarchy and Anarchy are two related, but different words.

Little “a” anarchy is a lack of control; it’s the word we use to describe panicked crowds, post-coup Haitian slums and meetings where everyone is talking. Big “a” Anarchy, on the other hand is an ethical philosophy with a rich tradition. Proponents of Anarchism believe that their philosophy is the path to the most meaningful human relationships, meaningful human lives and meaningful human societies.

So how is Anarchism different from Marxism, which is more familiar (if also misunderstood) in mainstream America? In practice, Marxism tells its adherents that by following their leaders, and themselves acting as leaders for the ignorant working class, they will someday destroy Capitalism and create the Marxist Utopia. Anarchism, on the other hand, is a world-view, a set of values that guide action, not a distant, mythological goal. The Anarchist “utopia” appears every time people gather together as true equals and share in each other’s company. By following her values, the Anarchist is able to set up guideposts to aid her negotiation through life’s constant ambiguities and problems; there is no set guidebook or sacred position paper to Anarchism; it, like life, is something we muddle through all the while hoping for the best.

So what are these values? Or, I suppose the better question is, what is my interpretation of these values? In the film Moulin Rouge, a totally un-Anarchist source [1], there are a handful of “Bohemians” (read: “hippies”) setting up a play. Depicted as naïve dreamers, they espouse the Four Bohemian Virtues: Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love. In their satire, the authors of that film have inadvertently summed up what I believe are the most important Anarchist values. To fully explain what I mean, I will touch upon each in turn.

Truth. The Anarchist thrives upon the Truth, for we believe that the forces of oppression and violence gain strength through lies and secrecy. Many of us report our “conversion” to Anarchy as a revelation of the Truth of our society and it’s foundation in repression, fear and dishonesty. I myself remember vividly the February night I cried on a hill outside my freshman dorm as I looked into the windows and saw the chain of desolate lives and blood leading to it. We believe that Truth is on our side and that the more we shout it from overpasses and Internet screens, the more powerful the forces for Beauty, Freedom and Love are; continuous questioning, even of Anarchism itself, is a vital part of our philosophy. To quote Emerson's famous 1838 speech to the graduating class of Divinity College: "Speak the truth, and all things alive or brute are vouchers and the very roots of the grass underground there do seem to stir and move to bear your witness." There is an old German protest song that I think of whenever I ponder the value of Truth: Die Gedanken Sind Frei (Our Thoughts are Free):
“Die Gedanken sind frei/My thoughts freely flower/Die Gedanken sind frei/My thoughts give me power/No scholar can map them/No hunter can trap them/No man can deny/Die Gedanken sind frei!…
And if tyrants take me/And throw me in prison/My thoughts will burst free/Like blossoms in season/Foundations will crumble/The structure will tumble/And free men will cry:/Die Gedanken sind frei!…”
Beauty. To me, the saddest distortion about Anarchism is the idea that we destroy for destruction’s sake. My Anarchism certainly seeks to eliminate the sources of suffering in our world, but its our celebration of beauty that I identify with. As a group, we love nothing more than to plant gardens, paint murals and rehabilitate beautiful old buildings. We seek to protect beauty and to create beauty. At the same time, we reject outside standards of ‘beauty,’ especially those created to sell us something. Anarchists have found beauty in ruined factory buildings, the screaming voice of a punk singer and the imperfect yet fantastic bodies that life has given each us. Anarchism has a long history of celebration of natural phenomena as beautiful: flowers, trickling cricks (that's an Upstate word for a creek), sagging breasts and hairy bellys and amazing natural processes like the growth of a child or the reclamation of paved land by colonizing plants.
As an example of the importance of Beauty in Anarchism, I turn once again to pop culture: the character “V” from the comic book
V for Vendetta [2] is an Anarchist who, in a repressive Fascist society, gathers up beautiful things, ranging from recordings of simple love songs to ancient paintings to sappy movies in his underground lair in order to protect them. In the film remake of the comic, V ask the character Evie to dance, she is surprised and inquires whether he has time for dancing, considering that it is the day of his revolution. He replies: “A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.” I can’t better sum up the Anarchist love of Beauty.
Freedom. It is here more than any other place that Anarchists separate themselves from other Leftist movements. We believe that all humans have inherent dignity, all humans are equal in value and all humans deserve to be free. All Leftist movements proclaim these basic values, but only in Anarchism is there a striving to actually put this concept into action, to bring it to its logical conclusion: complete egalitarianism. Anarchism rejects hierarchy, the idea that one person is more important than any other; we have no revered (or vilified) leaders and no hero-gods; we do not trust technocrats or self-appointed geniuses to make our decisions for us. Instead we govern our communities by discussion, compromise and consensus. “Anarchism is the revolutionary idea that no one is more qualified than you are to decide what your life will be.”[3]
All Anarchists are equal and free actors and with this comes a deep responsibility. This is different from the “Freedom isn’t Free” garbage that Fascists and Patriots use to silence dissent to repression and militarism. Inherent in living the free life is the need to take control of one’s own life and one’s own decisions. “Freedom isn’t easy” ought to be the Anarchist slogan because with freedom we lose the ability to blame leaders and to explain away our own inactive, soulless lives. Anarchism, however, gives us the tools to free ourselves, to take responsibility for our own liberty. It is an invigorating way to view the world.
Love. At their heart, Anarchists love people. While it is true that Anarchists, as a group, make the best lovers,[4] we have extended love beyond the boundaries of sex just as we have extended sex beyond the boundaries created by society. We have a “joie de vivre,” a joy of life, that makes us endeavor to having loving, equality-based relationships with everyone whose willing to do the same. We simply love life, whether it’s a eating a well-cooked dinner with friends, hitch-hiking across the countryside of southern Spain just to see what’s out there, or playing a mournful tune on a fiddle. Many Anarchists expand this circle of living beyond simply our actions with other humans: we love the animal world (it’s of no coincidence that many Anarchists are also vegetarians and vegans) and the incredible interconnected ecosystem that maintains life. At the same time, we reject the hollow loves that Capitalist society encourages: the love of power, wealth, unfeeling sensual distraction, fetishistic materialism and unhealthy beauty.
Anarchists value communities based upon trust, truth and compassion, but seek always to extend this feeling to all that accept their love. In many ways, I've always viewed Anarchist love for their communities and the weak and voiceless world as akin to that of a mother bear or some other protective animal. We are a tender lot (I once heard us described as “Quakers who swear a lot”) but are terrible defenders of our beloved when roused to anger.
While it is certainly true that Anarchists have burnt down McMansions, broken the windows of Nike Towns, killed a President [5] and fought wars against Fascists, Theocrats and Technocrats, it is wrong to categorize our philosophy as an inherently violent, destructive one. It is without doubt that we will endeavor to destroy the forces of oppression and suffering in our world, but at it’s heart, Anarchism is a constructive philosophy that seeks to build a new world through everyday action, through the generous application and careful pondering of truth, beauty, freedom and love. That is the difference between anarchy and Anarchy, between Anarchy and Marxism and between living a life and simply abiding until the time comes to die.

-By Jesse

[1] In much of Western history, the Bible was the shared document of all people of European descent: politicians, writers and common folk peppered their speech with Biblical quotes, allusions and metaphors. In our era, for better or worse, young people often communicate in quotations and references from popular culture, especially Hollywood films. This I have no problem with, provided it is done conscientiously. I have a friend in Spain who makes a living by tearing apart discarded electronics components and using pieces to make beautiful jewelry. A carefully selected film reference can be like those bits of detritus: torn from the materialist junk of society, cherished for their hidden beauty and recycled for the dual causes of art and enlightenment.
[2] Who is an Anarchist in the original comic book and a Liberal in the movie. Such sadness.
[3] From the Crimethinc Collective’s pamphlet “Fighting for our lives: An Anarchist Primer”
[4] This comes from a having relationships based upon equality and Freedom, a fetish for telling the Truth to their partners and burning desire to create Beauty.
[5] This was Leon F. Czolgosz who killed William McKinley at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. In his wonderful paean to Leon (entitled “Leon”), Stanley Jenkins writes: “Oh Leon! Leon. You laid the president down. And you shot the president down. Just tell me this. Just tell me this one thing. How does it feel to have a face Mr. Czolgosz?” How is that for a footnote detour into the obscure?