Decentralist Anarchy versus World Domination Anarchism

“Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?

I do not believe it can be done.

The universe is sacred.

You cannot improve it.

If you try to change it, you will ruin it.

If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

-Laozi, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 29

The recent kerfuffle over the Bernie Sanders campaign field organizer defending gulags, coerced ideological reeducation, and mass executions in the name of revolution caught my attention last week. I do not find the way it will be used as a scandal in the political horse race either very interesting myself nor particularly important for radicals in general, but I do think the event is highly relevant for anarchists in terms of conceptualizing just what victory precisely looks like to us and just what means are both conceivable and righteous for getting there.

The field organizer, Kyle Jurek, identified himself and at least several others with whom he has been organizing in Iowa as anarcho-communist in their views. In the case of at least Jurek, we have the common case of being, shall we say, rather light on the “anarcho-” and comparatively generous with the “communism.”

I can only speculate about the toxic mixture of ressentiment, Manichaeism, and alienation that would lead someone to fantasize about gunning down ostensibly evil people on the beach en masse as part of the realization of their political agenda, and I certainly do not believe most self-identified anarcho-communists (or left-anarchists more broadly) consciously hold secret totalitarian desires. I do, however, believe that a great many radicals are so accustomed to being the perpetual underdogs with very limited political influence that they have not thought through what they would do if they really started winning. What would we do if the current Leviathan states receded, collapsed, or were forcibly broken apart? Opportunities for freedom would emerge, but there would still be millions of people in this region, and billions worldwide, who disagreed with us about a great many things (even more than we already disagree with one another). This piece, of which I was made aware recently by a correspondent, aptly summarizes the quandary: Because Killing Them All Is Not An Option

Although I have my usual gripes about this or that phrasing in the piece, I think it cuts to the heart of the issues well enough, and I appreciate very much its frank, challenging tone. Going a bit further, I would emphasize that it is not only a question of means but of ends: an anarchic world will not be mono-cultural, but instead massively polycultural, with differential cultures developing out of organic, voluntary association in symbiotic relations with their differential landbases and/or differential nomadic patterns.

Conversely, I have started using the cheeky term ‘World Domination Anarchism’ (WDA) to describe self-identified anarchists who either explicitly or, more typically, implicitly conceive of victory as looking like an entirely globalized society that is, somehow, still anarchist. Often, the argument that a WDAist makes against the above conception of radical decentralization and the creation of thousands or even millions of micro-cultures is that, inevitably, some of these will develop authoritarian or otherwise undesirable cultural tendencies and thus become many tiny tyrannies. Often some kind of stirring but shallow rhetoric is involved here, to the effect of ‘If all are not free, then none are.’

While I think WDA is usually motivated by mostly good intentions, there are so many troubles with the idea that one struggles where to start. How such a unified global culture could be sustained without a vast bureaucracy and enforcement mechanism to monitor, punish, and/or contain deviants is unthinkable. And if you have that, you already have a state. 

But there is even more obviously a question for the WDAist of what cultural norms could be deemed most liberatory. I am not at all an ethical relativist, but there are preferences for relational, social, sexual, economic, religious/spiritual, dietary, and other norms that can be pursued separately, voluntarily, and with mutual non-interference agreements. If we wanted to homogenize all of these mores, how could we decide which among them ought to be the best and only, and, further and more nerdishly, what ethical framework (deontology, consequentialism, natural law, virtue ethics, muh feelz) would we even use to decide among them, when people cannot even agree on the latter?

I do not consider any of the above to be a stunning and brilliant new take on things – many people have articulated these views before I even came to them, such as in the very notable book bolo’bolo. But I say them again because, sadly, this sort of view is considered highly controversial. In fact, I was told only last week in an unfriendly e-mail occasioned by my previous post that it’s “uncontroversial that you [Bellamy] are controversial,” no doubt in part because of the above, for which I have already been accused of ‘defending ethnonationalism’ by the more splenetic in the North American anarchist subculture. What is instead uncontroversial in North American anarchism is being willing to stop at nothing to achieve World-Wide Wokeness forevermore, even if it means foreseeable but unacknowledged rivers of blood: we will have anarchism when everyone submits to our will.

I will stop here and give a good firsthand example of this thinking in a future post, because this is already getting long and my blog is supposed to be an exercise in shorter-form writing – and also because I am supposed to be packing to go out of town but instead chose to drink a beer and write this post.

Aletheia: How and Why I Was Wrong About So Much, and the Purpose of this Blog

I have found a new humility. 

It was almost four years ago now that I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to this new place I have grown to love. It has been said that urban radical subcultures have a tendency to degenerate into ersatz religious cults or milieux for furnishing an extended adolescence for social misfits and eccentrics, and, from my small experience, that is true. But they are also spaces in which one, if conscientious, can learn quickly. As I moved to the Bay at the age of twenty-five, I was a self-identified anarchist who was passionately committed to living out my values, but I had a terribly naïve and incoherent worldview, in part because I had so few people in my life who could challenge my beliefs with anything other than mainstream boilerplate that I was perfectly capable of deconstructing.

But in the Bay Area, where I lived for three and a half years, I was suddenly around numerous anarchists for the first time in my life. Many were as young and foolish as I was, and many were thinly-veiled communists who would reveal themselves to be ultimately more authoritarian and hateful than normal people; but I was still able to learn from so many who were wrestling with a similar mix of enormously passionate visions, existential angst, and strategic confusion. Moreover, there were older anarchists who had shed many illusions, and, from them, I was able to do what every generation of healthy, pre-postmodernity humans has done: learn from the accumulated wisdom of elders. 

I was at various times doing urban activist organizing, working with the publishing house Little Black Cart, doing the podcasts Free Radical Radio and later The Brilliant about once per week, participating regularly in protests that frequently became riots, living in group houses, and earning my income in the grey economy – in short, I was pursuing a kind of archetypal urban anarchist lifeway. Whatsoever its shortcomings, idiocies, and indulgences, it was an interesting set of experiments that I mostly do not regret. Every month was a seething boil of new ideas, activities, people, irritations, and challenges, all of which forced me to repeatedly reevaluate my beliefs about what I was really for and against, what was possible and desirable, and what was a meaningful and valuable way of living. 

Toward the end of my time there, from just before my departure from Free Radical Radio and through my internship with Little Black Cart, I had sufficient hubris to believe that I had more or less arrived at what would be my set views philosophically. I knew that North American anarchism had been poisoned by Leftist ideology, especially the currently reigning Woke variant, and I felt very secure in what seemed to be a perfectly purified anarchism that drew from Nietzsche, Stirner, the Post-Left anarchist milieu, and the green anarchist critiques of technology and agriculture. 

The stereotype of someone who falls in love with Max Stiner’s perspective is that they wield a Maslow’s Hammer: they call everything they dislike ‘reification’, as though doing so were an unstoppable refutation of any point. While I do not think I was ever that bad, I did push a quite extreme form of epistemological skepticism and moral nihilism. I thought of enlightenment as a series of purgations, consisting of one illusion being discarded after another. In my formal education at undergraduate university, I had come to realize that my unexamined scientism, metaphysical materialism, and political left-liberalism were rank nonsense, and the years following university seemed a continuing illumination via disenchantment. Eventually, I thought all that was real and true was the singularity of the absolutely distilled existential-phenomenal moment and the actualization of its liberated desire. 

In truth, I was playing a kind of intellectual hide-and-seek with myself. I believed, on some level, my values were correct and true and lived as if they were – but I knew I had no metaphysical framework with which to argue that they were anything other than subjective preferences, and so that was what I said I believed. I acted as if truth was real, objective, and discoverable – and even despised postmodern relativism – but I felt it was impossible to justify rationally this view. And I knew in my heart that my anarchism was not merely political, social, and economic in its dimensions, but also aimed most of all at a transformation of consciousness and the feeling-toned fabric of life – but I felt this even as I inveighed viciously against any talk among radicals of “spirituality”. In sum, I took the Death of God seriously, as Nietzsche and Stirner had, and as most bien pensants moderns do not.

As I wrote my polemical Corrosive Consciousness, which expresses the zenith of this line of thought, I started feeling an immense tension in myself. I felt weaknesses in the worldview I was presenting, though I could not rationally grok what they were. In retrospect, I see it as a conflict between dianoia, discursive rationality, and noesis, the superior faculty of the intellect that allows for immediate, intuitive apprehension. I struggled to finish writing it (which accounts for its admittedly very unedited nature). By then, I had begun having experiences of a felt presence of which I could not make sense but which seemed immensely important.

It would happen to me during periods of being alone outside for hours, when I was either doing gardening or walking through the woods. In retrospect, I can see that these were spontaneous meditative episodes of a sort; but as I had no meditation practice at the time, I did not conceive of them this way. I would be struck by a feeling of being enveloped in a kind of enormous, abstract sentience – sometimes it would feel like the sensation of being observed, and other times it was far more emotional, so much so that I would be abruptly be moved to tears from a sense of beauty.

As with everything in my life, I tried to interpret these experiences philosophically. As a committed Stirnerian-Nietzschean hyper-atheist and as someone with an aversion to sentimentalism, my temptation was to interpret as simply resonating with contact with the nonhuman ecological world. But the recurring episodes resisted this interpretation through the nature of their character, which seemed somehow qualitatively beyond, beneath, or above the organic world. I learned around this time that I had Lyme Disease and genuinely wondered for a period whether I was experiencing some side effect of neurological damage, but I later had to dismiss the hypothesis when I realized the timing was wrong.

I was able to talk with a few friends about the experiences and was eventually led to return to studying metaphysics in a serious way. Much of my insistence on the hyper-hygenic existentialism to which I had been clinging for years was that it gives primacy to immediate subjective experience – that is, consciousness – even as it resists essentially any inference beyond that pure conscious experience. What I had foolishly ignored is the potential of building a fully fleshed-out philosophy beginning from direct experience and first principles. This path of inquiry – which engaged my reason, emotion, imagination, and intuition all at once – led me quickly to panpsychism, then metaphysical idealism, and finally the Perennial Philosophy.

Realizing the genuine existence of the Absolute (or God, Brahman, Tao, the One, etc. – names name It not) is the most significant event of my philosophical journey, even more so than having become an anarchist, since the latter is confined to the ethical dimensions of life. The implications are enormous in terms of the origins and places of value, the meaning and purpose of life, the possibilities and kinds of knowledge, and the implications of suffering and death. When I open the door to step outside now, I do not feel I am stepping into either a world of matter and energy or an absurdity of Sisyphean existentiality – instead, I see a symbolic manifestation of thought.

My tendency is toward intellectual hubris. In social gatherings, I tend to think I know more about politics, science, human nature, and philosophy than the vast majority of people and furthermore tend to think that I have better reasons to believe I genuinely know what I think I know. But I was wrong about almost everything for the majority of my intellectually conscious life thus far, and I now struggle, in spite of myself, to be more humble, careful, and provisional in what I say and think. Hence, I now have a blog, which lends itself to short, frequent updates and quick feedback.