To My Critics: My Own Peculiar Albatross

Under different circumstances, I would not have brought this issue up so early in my blog, and perhaps would never have brought it up, but the recent mention of me on The Solecast has made me think it is necessary to lay this issue to rest once and for all. My hope is that I will never have to comment on it again, but will be able to reference this blog entry and the podcast links associated with it to any and all future critics.

I was alerted to the mention of my publication Backwoods in the December 13th, 2019, episode of Solecast entitled “A Conversation about Desert w/ Alfredo of Occupied Southwest Distro” by a frequent correspondent of mine who expressed amusement at the continuing unfolding (over five years now) of subcultural micro-drama over statements I have made related to the ITS/RS (usually translated from Spanish to English as Individualists Tending Toward the Wild/Wild Reaction) phenomena and the way these are usually taken with a total lack of nuance or sympathy.

To be clear, I have no ill-will toward Sole. In fact, we have lightly corresponded in a friendly manner and have friends in common – from what little I know of him, he seems by all accounts to be a solid guy. I am not familiar with his oeuvre but have no reason currently to think he is a bad faith actor, and I do not believe he maliciously threw me under the bus. In fact, he has invited me to speak on his show, and I will probably soon take him up on the offer. Even so, I had to sardonically grin at the fact that he apparently felt it necessary, even as he positively referenced my writing, to disavow me as a human in a circumspect manner, which I assume is all but obligatory in the It’s Going Down/CrimethInc./Submedia/Channel Zero milieux. I will unpack this in the following entry, though I will save his apparent grievances with my use of the term “slavery” for a future entry, since it needs its own, full discussion.

To further ensure clarity and good faith communication, I will clarify here that Sole made no explicit mention of ITS/RS in carefully distancing himself from me, but his vague referral to the fact that I was a somehow controversial figure leaves little doubt in my mind that that is, at minimum, to what he is referring.

I feel I already have made my position on the ITS/RS phenomenon exhaustively, even ridiculously clear, but I am a creature of the Eternal Present, who lives in a world of five-second talking points, mass illiteracy, and thoroughgoing lack of nuance. Thus, I have been heavily criticized for supposedly endorsing or at least apologizing for ITS/RS and their policy of “indiscriminate attack,” not only by goofball anonymous Internet commenters but by well-known personalities in the subculture like the anarcho-primitivists John Zerzan and Kevin Tucker as well as William Gillis of Center for a Stateless Society. None of these absurd claims could ever meet my simple, oft-repeated challenge of ‘Find me one, single quote from anything I have podcasted or written that can justify the claim that I endorsed eco-extremism or championed their policy of indiscriminate attack.’ Not one of my critics could ever do this, but that did not stop them from persisting in manufacturing pointless, fractious drama – whether this was motivated by purity spiraling, Manichaeism, pointless scene-feuding, or la drama pour la drama is unclear to me.

Zerzan, who was the most frequent high-profile critic, and I have since made amends, and I have no quarrel with him – in fact, we had a recent productive conversation on the audiozine Oak, which I understand will be published soon. That said, I responded to Zerzan’s criticisms of me exhaustively in episode 91 of The Brilliant. Tucker has (as far as I know) assiduously avoided discussing me since I published my small-book-length critique of anarcho-primitivism, Corrosive Consciousness, after having previously personally informed me that his strategy of dealing with critics is to entirely avoid discussing them. I address the eco-extremist issue within the book as well as offer other criticisms (I since completely disagree with the nihilist-existentialist positive view put forward by me the book, see my previous blog post opening this blog). The worst and most dishonest critic, however, has been Gillis, whom I will address in a moment.

By episode 41, January 2017 of The Brilliant, I unequivocally said that eco-extremism was not an anarchist tendency – this was on top of previous instances of Free Radical Radio in which I had criticized the tendency and had, again, never endorsed it. My great and terrible crime had been to say two things, which I will reiterate here, and with which I still agree:

  1. Given that the eco-extremists were previously green anarchists, it is interesting, relevant, and valuable for current anarchists to learn about them and to understand why they shifted to a terroristic, misanthropic mode of being.
  2. The anarchists with Marxist and/or insurrectionary tendencies – that is, those who advocate for an abrupt, violent overturning of the current order – are, depending on their particular political orientation, more or less hypocritical for condemning a set of groups who have committed violence that has injured or killed a relatively small number of persons when the sudden insurrection-cum-revolution advocated by these anarcho-communists or insurrectionary anarchists would almost certainly result in the death and injury of enormous numbers of people. I suggested that they consider what their ethics around violence really are.

None of my critics has specifically responded to either of these claims with the exception of #2 being addressed by Gills, who, as a brief aside in condemning me in a full-length feature on his defunct podcast, vaguely referenced a partial admittance of the fact that perhaps some people during his fantasized revolution would not be reached by medical first-responders in time, as though only some small number of unfortunates would unintentionally be allowed to die by all those involved in overthrowing the existent, a response so shallow, cursory, and unserious that I find it difficult to believe that he himself could truly think what he is saying without considerable cognitive dissonance.

In episode 50 of The Brilliant, in June 2017, I responded with neurasthenic exhaustiveness to the meandering-yet-malicious critique given on episode #4 of Gillis’ podcast Horizontal Hostility, no mean feat given that it was 92 minutes almost entirely devoted to how apparently awful Aragorn! and I are. By then, I had already written a piece called “Revolutionary Dissonance” for Black Seed #5, which would be published a few weeks later, which reiterates in detail the two points made above while also specifying, yet again, that I in no way endorsed ITS/RS’s analysis or actions.

As I emphasized in my podcast response, these critics from Horizontal Hostility, quote literally nothing, not one single line of writing or podcast episode or timestamp is referenced. Instead, strawman after strawman is erected and knocked down. I find this kind of citationless critique not only dishonest and cowardly in that it evades a real intellectual clash in favor of battling one’s own sockpuppet, but also incredibly disrespectful to one’s audience. The audience is not only misled and kept from the real debate, but they are further denied the opportunity to look up the original sources themselves without having to do some digging. There is nothing either intellectually or morally honest about behaving this way.

Indeed, this criticism was so goofballish and hackneyed that, within the same episode, William Gillis claimed both that Aragorn and I had previously claimed that we had problems with the exo-extremist analysis but applauded the fact that they were at least doing something actively, and that we were for the eco-extremism analysis and yet against their actions, separated by about 45 minutes in the podcast. You cannot make up this sort of nonsense. This obvious self-contradiction, both arms of which are false (since I have clearly critiqued and rejected both the analysis and the actions of the eco-extremists, both in writing and in speech), demonstrates that Gillis is either sufficiently incompetent as to not actually know what I believe or even notice what he himself says across the space of 45 minutes and is instead merely hyperventilating in public, or that he is a bad faith actor who is deliberately throwing shrapnel to see what sticks – or, perhaps, some combination is the case. Does he really disrespect his own audience so much that he thinks they are too foolish or ideological to notice this contradiction, or does he not notice it himself for the same reasons?

Moreover, I have shown throughout everything I have done in media that I am obviously against the commonplace shut up and do something approach to anarchism – indeed, the most consistent criticism of The Brilliant podcast during my stay there was that Aragorn! and I were armchair intellectuals who lambasted everyone who was attempting real action – so the idea that I would cheerlead eco-extremists because At Least They’re Doin’ Somethin’ is laughable.  My consistent refrain since the Free Radical Radio days has been, as opinion polls in the U.S. clearly show, that there is plenty of discontent toward the status quo, but that people are very misguided and confused in how they express it.

To put icing on the cake, the Horizontal Hostility cast of pseudo-liberationists engaged in reprehensible smearing. They attempted to associate Aragorn! and me both with an apparent schizophrenic who, among a whole hodgepodge of ideologies, called himself a nihilist and also committed a random stabbing incident against people who intervened in his alleged harassment of Muslim women on public transportation – after all, the absurdity of these slanderers goes, we all advocated nihilism. They further connected us with a then-recent communiqué by ITS advocating indiscriminate attack and therefore, de facto, random murder. They implied Aragorn! and I would somehow support both of these actions, and they even had the audacity to call us straight-up quasi-psychopaths in the last statement of their show.

How either Aragorn or I could possibly be seen to endorse random stabbing (ostensibly racially/religiously motivated, but it is hard to say since this person appeared to have no coherent ideology whatsoever, probably due to his schizophrenia) or indiscriminate attack is left entirely unexplained, precisely because it is entirely inexplicable; it was not an intellectually sincere critique aimed at bettering anarchism, but only a moronic slur directed at a worldview that they either struggle to understand or are intentionally misrepresenting. 

I have never had either the gall or desire to claim any theoretical opponent of mine is depraved, murderous, or psychopathic, even when I think their ideologies necessarily imply oppression and violence, both because I do not claim to have the ability to read minds and because I believe in the realism and importance of logical fallacies and therefore the fact that personal smearing is a fallacious distraction from the issue of whether a given idea is good or bad. I actually believe that logical coherence and intellectual honesty matter, and I bellieve my record of engaging with critique and critics shows this fact. I don’t viciously smear people whom I have never met simply because I disagree with them, because I consider doing so to be dishonest, cowardly, malicious, and generally destructive to human decency and intellectual discourse. I don’t avoid citing people and strawman them. When you cannot honestly debate, when you cannot cite or quote your opponents, and when you cannot even keep your own arguments straight across the course of an hour, you resort to vile, dishonest, incoherent slander.

Predictably, the same personage of William Gillis had occasion to outdo himself around the same time in writing with his essay On No Platform and ITS. Gillis slightly lessened his previous ambiguous dishonesty and/or incompetence by at least quoting one brief passage of my piece, but he failed (deliberately or not) to even remotely display my main points with his extremely decontextualized quotation. Gillis is untroubled by any scholarly concerns of trying to honestly steelman your opponent before critiquing them. 

Worse yet, in a remarkably slimy manner, he followed my decontextualized quotation immediately with an entirely imaginary, hypothetical quotation of mine (complete with quotation marks) referring to people criticizing opponents of ITS as “cucks.” He then momentarily self-identifies as a “cuck” a few sentences later in positioning himself as opposing me. Gillis appears much more concerned with cuckery than I, as someone who has never used that word in even one single instance of my hundreds of hours of podcasting and many thousands of words of published writing. To be fair, Gillis never explicitly claims that I used this language, but by engaging in this mind-reading in which he imaginatively put words in my mouth, using quotation marks immediately following an actual quotation by me, a careless or gullible reader might come away with the impression that I actually referred to, or might believably hypothetically refer to, critics of ITS with the alt-right shibboleth of “cucks.” I can reasonably confidently speculate that it was precisely Gillis’ intention to indirectly associate me with the alt-right by using this language, which he must know is tantamount to unpersoning someone in post-2010, heavily Woke/Antifa-influenced anarchism in which moral panics and denunciations are common. 

When Gillis posted his essay on the forum anarchistnews.org, I responded exhaustively in the comments section (now lost to time on anarchistnews.org). The response was largely similar to the above and so does not bear repeating in what is already a long post about petty drama from either ideologically blind or dishonest people with whom I already lament having to deal. I cited the fact that he had not responded in any way to my systematic response to his previous podcast criticism. He similarly responded not at all to my lengthy comment. In spite of his willful unaccountability to engagement, this essay of Gillis’ is still available in full form on his website. Given that Gillis chose not to respond to either my critical response to his podcast or his writing – in both of which I pointed out his bad faith misquotes or misinterpretations of me – I have to conclude (in spite of not knowing him at all personally) that he is an unserious critic motivated by brute, realpolitik ideological concerns and pointless scene-infighting rather than intellectual and ethical concerns of improving American anarchism and moving us all toward freedom and dignity.

Having considered this issue now at length, I do not see anything that should leave room for lingering doubts here regarding either my personal ethics as regards eco-extremism or my circumspection in responding to my critics.

What ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Really Mean

Invocations of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are extremely common in political discussions. Typically, they are deployed as hopelessly vague terms of abuse or goofy indications of team loyalty, unfortunately including among anarchists, libertarians, and other radicals.

I have argued for years that these terms are so broad and multifarious in their usage that they have been bleached of almost any meaning and should be abandoned by sensible people interested in coherent dialogue in favor of a multi-dimensional political grid. Naturally, this objection is rarely heard, and I am often nonetheless pressed to answer where I stand on Left versus Right.

My usual response is to say that the Left versus Right spectrum is not merely accidentally incoherent, but deliberately so, in that its constant usage in mainstream discourse is a form of divide et impera by the power elite that is simply the next level up from the Democrat versus Republican binary. Many people recognize the latter as a bullshit choice, but nonetheless maintain that Left versus Right is a real and natural split – in my view, it is instead meant to get the politically active masses to play team sports that the power elite can regulate and broker, making all of the Little People compete with, direct invective at, and even physically assault one another rather than their wise overlords. Divide et impera is the oldest power game the elite have, and it has worked extremely well for millennia.

If I am pressed further, perhaps with a “Yes, that’s fine and well, but we all know there are real differences among these people all the same – they aren’t fighting over nothing, even if they are encouraged to fight.” There are indeed differences, but why should those be mapped with a division based on 18th-century French politics? The etymology of Left and Right is literally a reference to the French Revolution, during which attendees of the National Assembly gathered to the right of the president to indicate their support for the ancien regime, while those on the president’s left indicated their support of the Revolution. Is there really anything consistent in these groupings from that very specific time and place to today, anywhere on the planet where these terms are used?

Perhaps, but it is not usually what it is said to be. It is sometimes said (even on Wikipedia today, which can be taken as an indication of pseudo-democratic, establishment consensus opinion) that being on the Left is about valuing egalitarianism, while the Right necessarily values one or more forms of hierarchy that are seen as legitimate. This is sometimes true but ultimately points at changeable surface qualities rather than fundamentals – and it is hence easy to find counterexamples: the various State Communist regimes of the 20th and 21st centuries were or are assuredly ‘Left’ in some broad form, yet it would be ridiculous to claim that these did or do not possess crushing, parasitic hierarchies. And the various strands of Right-libertarianism or Right-anarchism are far less hierarchical than almost all forms of Leftism, even if they almost always maintain the legitimacy of meritocratic “natural elites” (Hoppe) or certain more or less voluntary or organic traditional hierarchical structures like the family or religious organizations.

Another frequent false claim is that the Left/Right spectrum really measures the ineradicable tension between equality and liberty. There are again immediately apparent problems with this notion, the most obvious being that, while certainly sometimes in tension, equality and liberty are not necessarily always at odds with one another: the cancerous growth of a State on a human population tends to decrease both equality and liberty, as it produces a rapacious power elite who hoard wealth to enrich themselves while removing civil liberties to squelch dissidents. Secondly, just as the Left is not ultimately but only circumstantially about politico-economic equality, so it is the case with the Right and liberty. Many moderate conservatives in the modern West are willing to legislate against personal liberties in favor of protecting traditional moral values. And the Fascist regimes of the 20th century enormously subordinated individual liberty to State and Nation (it is sometimes argued that Fascism is actually an oddball offshoot of Marxism and therefore more appropriately placed on the Left – I think this contention has considerable merit, but in my view it is best to consider Fascism a Left/Right hybrid and thus still exemplary of certain Rightist values. I will write more on this in the future).

If we grant that this distinction has any meaning, then, what is it? Having dismissed the above politico-ethical distinctions, I believe we can now show that the real differences between Left and Right, and the reason that people tend to group themselves in these camps across widely differing times and places, is the disagreements are not in political or ethical views per se, but in ontological and metaphysical views. These differences are at least three-fold. 

The first and second differences concern questions of human nature. The paleoconservative scholar Paul Gottfried has suggested – correctly, in my view – that a core tenet of Leftism, whether held consciously or not by any given adherent, is that the differences we observe among human beings (in abilities, in quality of life outcomes, in beliefs, etc.) are primarily (or even, at the outer limits of Leftist ideology, entirely) the result of social and environmental conditioning rather than inborn constitution of some kind. Right-wingers, correspondingly, tend to believe that the inborn character of people (be it conceived of in material, spiritual, volitional, or other terms) matters more in whom they ultimately become. This elegantly simple observation of Gottfried’s is sufficient to explain how vastly different views like an anarcho-capitalism that wants to abolish all States and a Neo-Reactionism that wants to restore hereditary monarchies are both recognizably ‘Right-wing’ – one justifies difference on nothing but merit, the other on royal blood or divine right, but both believe different people are entitled to different social outcomes because difference is real, natural, and just. Gottfried’s point also helps to illuminate, as another example, why so many Left-wing people, no matter how much they may disagree with each other about political or economic questions, will unite in being averse to the concept of heritable IQ, since it suggests the existence of potentially ineradicable, socially important, and objectively measurable natural differences in ability.

The second question of human nature, related to but nonetheless separate from the first, is what the Chicago School economist Thomas Sowell called the “constrained” versus “unconstrained” visions of humanity, which he outlined in detail in his 1987 book A Conflict of Visions. The “unconstrained” vision is utopian, believes in the essential good of humanity, and strives for the perfectibility of the human creature and the social order. Thus, Rousseau believed man was born free but chained by society, the Soviet ideologues postulated the coming of the morally perfect “New Soviet Man”, and John Zerzan maintains we need only throw off all domestication in order to arrive at an Edenic communion with nature and one another that is our natural birthright. Conversely, the “constrained” vision is essentially tragic, views the human as a fallen creature who irremediably tends toward corruption, and believes society can never be perfected, but only carefully steered to keep the worst at bay. Thus, Hobbes referenced the Roman proverb homo homini lupus (“Man is wolf to man”) in describing human attitudes toward strangers and foreigners, René Guénon lamented that all of the efforts of ‘progress’ in technology and democratization were Icarian misadventures, and Murray Rothbard excoriated the legitimacy of the State primarily in terms of moral hypocrisy relative to natural law. The widely divergent conclusions of these thinkers are rooted in a common premise on a single issue.

The third and final difference, I will contend, is purely metaphysical and often unarticulated. Consciously or not, every person has to answer essential questions that implicitly undergird the answers to all more derivative questions: What is the relationship between the human mind and the world it seems to encounter? Are the boundaries between ideas clear and objective, or are they fuzzy and indeterminate? Do transcendental entities inform the world, or are we making it up as we go? 

Roughly speaking, one can be a realist or a subjectivist on a number of core issues. On the one hand, we have moral realism, a teleological Nature, a Platonic view of concepts as actually-existing things, and an epistemic optimism that sees human beings as essentially capable of knowing the world. And, on the other hand, we have moral relativism or nihilism of some kind, a belief in Nature as aimless and accidental, an instrumental view of concepts as personal or social constructs, and an epistemological skepticism that doubts whether so-called knowledge is more than a set of pragmatic fictions. Again, roughly speaking, we have a Traditional metaphysical view on the one end, a Modernist view in the middle, and a Postmodern or nihilistic view at the other extreme. 

As an aside, it is worth noting in case it is not obvious that none of the above are fully binary choices. We thus have phenomena like the famous (but frankly rather dull) Chomsky-Foucault debate in which two Leftists’ argument turned on the fact that Chomsky was a moral realist and an essentialist about certain aspects of human nature, whereas Foucault indulged in the nihilistic epistemic and moral conclusions of postmodern deconstructionism. And of course there are hybrid characters like Renzo Novatore, who very obviously had an unconstrained Rousseauvian desire to destroy all social chains as quickly as possible, but who also maintained a Nietzschean personal elitism that scorned the avolitional slavishness of the NPCs of his day, be they bourgeois or proletarian. 

It has been a personal irony for me, as someone who considered himself to be on the far-Left beginning as a teenager, to have realized in the past few years that I actually come down decidedly on the Right on all three of these questions. This three-fold schema also helped me to understand why the ‘Post-Left’ tendency in anarchism, in spite of breaking with anarcho-leftism on so many ethical and strategic questions, nonetheless has a dyed-in-the-wool leftism about it when it comes to certain questions.