This is part of a (planned, i.e. possibly nonexistent) series of blog posts where I post choice ideas from stuff I’m reading.
Today’s selection comes from Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Naguib Pellow’s The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America’s Eden (NYU Press, 2011). Most times I don’t bother to critique capitalism, but sometimes it just needs to be said. I love the extremely clear, no bullshit approach of this passage:
Nativist environmentalism and environmental privilege are further linked and reinforced by a common view of environmental politics and social change we call “the Aspen Logic.” The Aspen Logic is a worldview that people across the mainstream political spectrum embrace, but one that is particularly prominent in liberal and Democratic political circles. The idea is that environmentalism and capitalism are entirely compatible and not in fundamental opposition. … The Aspen Logic is hard at work in the en vogue fixation with the so-called green economy. The fundamental problem with an idea like green capitalism is that it presumes that capitalism is, at root, a just system that only needs regulation and reform. We reject this premise for what should be obvious reasons: because capitalism is a hierarchical, violent system of production, consumption, commerce, and governance that inherently views people and ecosystems as variables to be manipulated for the benefit of a minority. … Therefore green capitalism does not result in a transformed society marked by ecological sustainability and social justice because (1) it is not possible and (2) because that is not the goal. (pg 14-15)
One of the impetuses for starting this blog was this realization: anarchism is my faith.
I have been anti-“organized religion” and unable to convince myself of the existence of any kind of deity for my entire life (it’s easy when you are unbaptized and raised by people with vaguely Christian, undefined belief systems). I have never considered myself a person of faith, and the word “spiritual” never speaks to me. I didn’t embrace the identity of atheist for a long time because I rejected the idea of defining myself at all in terms of religion (atheism meaning that theism is the standard and I am the exception). I felt that religion, spirituality, and faith were essentially irrelevant to my life; I have a holistic view of the world and how it works that simply does not include (or need) a deity or other belief system to make it work.
But one day I realized that my view of the world is profoundly anarchist. Anarchism, for me, is the way I imagine how religion must be for other folks. It is a belief system that shapes the way I act, how I interpret events on both a macro- and micro-scale, and is my moral grounding. It is an irrevocable part of my identity in the most basic ways.
I can’t help it, and I can’t change it, which is one of many reasons why I spend so much blog space talking about anarchism as a thought crime. I cannot live my life attempting to not be an anarchist, even if being an anarchist makes me ‘illegal’ in some sense in the U.S.
One of my favorite passages in sociological writing is from Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life. A lot of the book is full of offensive racist garbage, but the conclusion describes my anarchist ‘faith’ profoundly:
…“we can say that the faithful are not mistaken when they believe in the existence of a moral power to which they are subject and from which they receive what is best in themselves. That power exists, and it is society.”
In Direct Action, David Graeber describes anarchist spaces in New York as being always in a state of construction and becoming. He sees this as an important anarchist value, wanting to be in the place “where the spectacle itself is produced” (p 279).
I think about this and other aspects of anarchist culture a lot, because I don’t know if it’s just me and my own insecurity or what, but it’s things like that that make me constantly feel strangely out of place among anarchists in the US. Despite more or less wholeheartedly sharing values, I just don’t get a lot of the cultural stuff. Even though I love Johnny Cash, I love wearing bright colors. Even though I get that most standards of cleanliness were propagated solely to sell more chemical cleaning products, I still feel better when I take a shower every day.
It’s important and legitimate for me to understand and acknowledge the importance of my own happiness, and so I try to balance changing the world with sometimes taking the easy (or comfortable) way out.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to hang around with all black wearing dirty punks. I do. But somehow I end up feeling like an aged hippie among such folks, as if they are the only authentic anarchists and I’m nothing but a liberal. Sometimes I think this is partly the result of an age difference: I wonder how many of the punk anarchist kids will remain committed to anarchist ideals in the long run versus how many will gradually reintegrate into yuppie life because they set the anarchist culture bar so high for themselves. I wonder if the conflation of youth culture and anarchist culture is really endemic to anarchist ideas, as Graeber thinks, or if it’s because anarchist spaces are overrun with kids just looking to rebel. I like “Anarchy in the UK” just as much as the next punk, but when it comes down to it, I have to reject the late 70s punk vision of “anarchism” (which is actually more like capitalism-fueled nihilism) and remain committed to the vision of love and solidarity that I find so compelling.
On the other hand, I know that age is a form of hierarchy and a way for me to claim a bit of rank on my anarchist comrades. And while it is a legitimate critique to hope that white folks aren’t just slumming it as anarchists for a few years of their late teens, it is deeply unfair of me to assume that they are.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’m in the market for a long-term, sustainable kind of anarchist community for myself and I’m having trouble finding it. Is it because I’m missing something?