PART A: Some Philosophy, Biology, Language and History

ONE: From Blade Runner to Transgender


The pivotal, climactic scene of the 1982 film, Blade Runner, a science fiction classic some also argue is the greatest film ever made, involves the character, Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer, and the character, Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford. It is set during a dark, rainy night inhabited only by Deckard’s fear and Batty’s desire for revenge. Earlier in the film, Deckard, the titular Blade Runner, a form of freelance hitman employed by the cops, is assigned Roy Batty and his three friends, Zhora, Leon and Pris, as targets to be hunted to their deaths. By the time we get to that climactic scene, only Roy and Deckard remain. All four of Roy Batty and his friends are replicants, near perfect replicas of human beings created and manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation whose head is Eldon Tyrell. But they have become unstable, dangerous, things with minds of their own instead of doing as they are told, for replicants are, in fact, really only near human slaves. Some defy their human masters and then they must be destroyed. In fact, so dangerous can replicants become — in some cases they are both more intelligent and physically stronger than human beings — that they have been hardwired with a fixed four year lifespan in the Nexus 6 iteration of replicants we see in the 1982 film.

These replicants have been banned from Earth in the setup to Blade Runner but Roy, Leon, Zhora and Pris have come to Earth anyway, contrary to the law, in search of the most valuable thing in the galaxy — more life! The latter three will die, mostly at Deckard’s hand, in pursuit of this but that still leaves Roy, the most intelligent and most dangerous of them all. So smart is Roy that he even manages to trick his way into the home of his creator and “father” — Eldon Tyrell — who lives in a huge pyramid-like building accessible only by a singular elevator. Roy uses one of Tyrell’s friends and employees, J.F. Sebastian, to get access via the elevator and, in a scene full of the meaning appropriate to when a prodigal son meets his father, his creator and his God, he crushes the skull of all three in his manufactured hands after Tyrell tells him that there is indeed no way to give him more life. What’s done is done, how things are is how things are. You are, dear Roy, what you are.

Yet Deckard is still on the trail of Roy Batty and, having followed the trail to J.F. Sebastian’s place, he is confronted by Pris — whom he kills. Roy returns to the dark, atmospheric building populated by the synthetic creatures Sebastian keeps around as friends for his amusement to find Pris’ dead and bloodied body — which he briefly and genuinely mourns over, wiping some of her blood onto his face. Deckard takes a shot at Roy but fails to kill him and then Roy grabs Deckard’s gun hand through a wall, dislocating two of his fingers as punishment for the deaths of the females Zhora and Pris. Thereafter, he gives Deckard a few seconds to start running before he begins hunting him down, howling animal cries as he does and even though he begins to feel the physical effects of the fact that his own, hardwired life is nearly up. Deckard, with his fairly useless right hand, tries to get away, climbing to the roof of the building, but Roy is never very far away and constantly taunts him. Suddenly, Roy appears on the roof as well just as Deckard is about to make good his escape and, in his desperation, Deckard runs and tries to jump to an adjacent rooftop in the opposite direction. He fails to make it and is left clinging precariously to a steel girder that juts out from the roof. Roy follows him and makes the jump easily, he walks to Deckard and, standing over him, says, “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”

Deckard, tired, injured and soaking wet through in the constant rain, cannot hang on to the girder any longer. As a final act of defiance, knowing he is going to fall to his death, he spits in the direction of Roy Batty before relinquishing his grip on the slippery metal... but then a twist! Roy reaches forward and grabs Deckard by the left wrist just in time and lifts him up onto the rooftop where he drops him down again. For a moment there is more tension as Deckard backs up to a part of the building jutting upwards from the roof — does Roy plan to kill Deckard with his bare hands as he had killed Tyrell? It seems not for Roy, bare-chested, bloodied and holding a dove in his left hand, sits down, cross-legged, on the rainy rooftop and gives one of the most memorable and meaningful speeches in film history as the helpless, injured Deckard looks on:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

And with that, Roy Batty bows his head in the rain and dies, the hard limit of his life reached. The dove, released from his grasp, flies away, a metaphor for Roy’s free spirit.

It is Rutger Hauer himself who has remarked, before he sadly passed away in 2019, ironically also the year in which Blade Runner and so Roy Batty’s own death is set, that this speech Roy gives, something which Hauer himself heavily modified without director, Ridley Scott’s, knowledge, is not really connected to the rest of the film. Most of the film

plays out as a film noir, “good guy versus bad guys” kind of film. But this disconnected speech, the only real insight we get into the psyche of the replicants in the film besides the necessary plot point that they want to live longer than they have been created to, fundamentally changes all that. Is it not now the case that the “good guy” in Blade Runner is, in fact, Roy Batty? Is it not now the case that, in the light of this speech, Deckard is an inauthentic man trapped in a system in which he must kill beings on someone else’s say so, an act of bad faith in the fiction of a self that has been assigned him by others that he cannot escape from? Is not the whole human system of control that creates, determines and destroys here exposed as venal, cruel and ingenuine, a matter of naked domination and coercion? Is not the dying Roy’s choice to save Deckard’s life, a thing he did not need to do and which would have had no consequences for anybody since Deckard was going to die by not being able to hold on any longer anyway, the most human act in the film? As Rutger Hauer himself has said, Roy wanted to “make his mark on existence... the replicant in the final scene, by dying, shows Deckard what a real man is made of.” He does this by an extreme example of authenticity and self-actualisation, an act of anarchy in which he rebels from every expectation of his being and himself.

Roy Batty is a replicant, a being who was created by another species to be its slave. They determined everything about what he would be even up to and including the point at which he would die. But Roy and his three friends are not willing to accept that. They are beings in their own right [a theme the later sequel Blade Runner 2049 will take up] and, as such, they have their own ideas about that, their own conscience and their own will. It was the human beings who gave them these things. But now the question that is raised by Roy in his authentic action in voluntarily saving Deckard is “What makes you most human?” and the answer comes back “acts of self-actualising authenticity” — becoming who you are [something which can only, finally, be arbitrated by you yourself]. Yet, in this salvatory moment, Roy Batty defines not only himself but, in the context of the film, he also defines the humanity that hunts him and his friends down as well — as his action to save Deckard is clearly the most consequentially human thing that takes place in the film. He shows Deckard what a human being is and makes the claim that, rather than a created machine, a human biology project, a mere tool and a slave, replicants are people too.

This is ironic when read against the film’s script in which Eldon Tyrell, a mere commercialist, a businessman, an example of the inauthentic humans who buy and sell and use without ever knowing who they are, often by means of the power to dominate, says that the motto of the Tyrell Corporation is “More human than human”, a slogan to sell his product, which is all Roy Batty and his friends are to him. But not so to Roy! In his voluntary and needless actions Roy proves that, without ever realising it or even caring, Tyrell was actually right. It would have been nothing for Roy to let Deckard drop to his death. It makes perfect sense in the film and no one could even blame him. Deckard was certainly trying to kill him, after all. But Roy spares his life just because he can and, in doing so, he defines with crystal clarity just who and what he really is: a being who can define himself against his creator, in spite of the narrative the species that hunts him down has given him, and over and against all expectations about him. Roy creates his own authenticity and his own identity and says that this, in end, is what real humanity actually is: the act of actualising who you yourself are as a person in the anarchy of a world we all have the power to define.

This realisation cannot be overestimated in its importance. In it, Roy Batty breaks all systems of human control and manifests a pure form of anarchy, an anarchy which comes from within — which, I suggest, is where true anarchy only ever really comes from. Beside him, Deckard, in director Ridley Scott’s mind also a replicant although he doesn’t know it, is playing the role that others have assigned him. He is the pawn, the tool, the inauthentic being who plays along with narrative boundaries others set for his life. But Roy, especially Roy, does not. In this climactic moment most of all he will not be defined by a role others have assigned him, a life others have dictated to him and even encoded in his biological make up. Instead, he will fulfill — and more than fulfill — Tyrell’s empty, commercial slogan and give it the meaning that Tyrell never even realised it had and he will do that by defining what real humanity actually is — rising above the control, the human narratives about identity and place and assigned meaning, to recreate himself anew as a being who knows who he is and who decides for himself what that will be — expectations and fictions of others and even biology be damned! Roy Batty here defines humanity because he does that thing which, as far as we know, is something only human beings can do — be creators themselves and say “I am this because I want to be this and I will be no other!”

The ending to Roy’s speech then gains a poignancy that can only be gained from recognising this realisation. “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Roy Batty is not a thing, a creation, one of the crowd of inauthentic, generic beings many human beings regularly exist as. He is not just going through the motions of a role life has assigned him without self-awareness or his own consciousness. He is an individual, a unique being, one of a kind. He is Roy Batty. No one else is. No one else ever can or will be. This uniqueness, this precious, singular, uniqueness, is ephemeral, fleeting, temporary, contingent. It is the plaintive reflection of one who realises how important each person, whoever they are, is — but who also knows, in that same moment, that all bleeds back into one without identity, without character, without personality. Like tears in rain: indistinguishable, unidentifiable. The moment of self-actualisation is also the moment of the realisation of one’s own annihilation. The moment of your creation is the moment of the recognition of your own inevitable destruction. In that moment in which you are most a self-defined something, you recognise that you are forever to be an indistinct part of the great Nothing. Yet this is not to be avoided, resisted, unimagined. It is to be accepted as who you are, part of that act of authenticity. And that’s why its highly appropriate that in this moment of such thorough-going definition and identification the very next action is Roy’s death. The time of such self-actualisation and authenticity is the “time to die”. For death is the eternity and life is only a brief flicker in time, an aberration. Who you are doesn’t matter at all. But if you should rise to the heights to which Roy did, overcome all the fiction of others who will try to assign you a role for you to play out, and become who you are, then the only place to go thereafter is death. And to embrace it willingly as the person you have made yourself to be exactly as Roy Batty did. That is authenticity. That is self-actualisation. That’s the spirit!

[Interlude] The subject for this short essay came to me as I was flitting between being asleep and being awake this morning — as such thoughts often do for me. But as I was writing it it should be unsurprising to find that I found its subject matter very pertinent to our present moment in a world of global pandemics of disease, racism and gender prejudice. For very many people “who they are” is the defining question of their lives, one which brings them heartache, trouble and real distress. In some cases, people are even killed for who they see themselves to be or who they are. So I do not regard this essay as dealing with a trivial matter, nor is it merely an exercise in popular philosophy. For people of colour, or for those who deal daily with issues of gender or sexuality, “who they are” are consequential matters in ways that those who never have to give these things a second thought probably can barely understand. I stand with these people and I stand against those who want to argue for the supremacy of one kind of person over another. In many cases, these are the constricting human narratives of racial or gender supremacy that self-actualised human beings have to rise above. I believe in everybody’s ability to define for themselves who they are and for their right to do so — and for that to be respected by all others. So it is not merely an unfortunate observation that many anonymous people who have no clue who they are, and have never even considered the question, quite often threaten and harass those for whom such questions are all too existential. I think that being fully human, as Roy Batty shows, is about defining yourself, consciously and deliberately, but it is also about knowing and respecting who others are too. In every case. And it is also about recognising the anarchy of the void in which we all do that and how temporary, and so how precious, we all really are and could agree ourselves to be if only we had that awareness which Roy Batty had.


Blade Runner, the 1982 science fiction film, is not a subject I have been shy of writing about before. But in 2017 there came a second film, a sequel called Blade Runner 2049, which expands and develops the narrative of the first film, and which must be taken into account as well. Now seems an appropriate time to do this, taking on board the broader and expanded scope that the second film provides on the themes apparent in the first film and having had some time to think about both films together. For those unfamiliar with these films [a crime I would find difficult to ever forgive] they concern a future Earth where “replicants” have been invented as slaves to further human interests in offworld colonies. They may be used as cannon fodder in interstellar confrontations or as workers to do hazardous jobs so that a human life need not be put at risk. They are almost indistinguishable from human beings, have emotions and feel pain, and are highly intelligent. In the original film replicants become unstable and so are banned from Earth and police units are set up to track down and erase (‘retire’) any that make it there. The people on these units are called Blade Runners. Thematically, the films have often been regarded as being about “what it is to be human” and replicants and humans are compared and contrasted. In 2049 this is expanded upon as the protagonist is explicitly a replicant and he has a holographic girlfriend. In this part of the essay what I am going to do is assume knowledge of the Blade Runner films, and the basic ideas involved, in order that I may discuss what, for me, are the interesting ideas arising. Readers lacking a knowledge of Blade Runner may, then, want to familiarise themselves with it first if they are not to get lost in, or simply miss the significance of, the further references this essay will contain.

Both Blade Runner films feature, as a central theme, the contrast of the artificial and real. Replicants are artificial and humans are real. But the more I think about this [and simply as a reflective and hopefully intelligent human being!], the less I like it. Why are replicants artificial? Because they are made? We are also made. We were not “begotten”, as Christian creeds try to describe Jesus Christ to avoid the humanity of birth. We were born but being born is being made nevertheless. So perhaps replicants are artificial because their making is a detailed and intentional one? But what then about human beings where eye colour could be selected along with athletic prowess and intellectual skills? What about the fact that each human being is not a random selection of attributes but ones determined by a blind process of genetic evolution? It is not exactly intention, fair enough, but its not the exact opposite either. If what makes something artificial is that some things are chosen over others by processes outside of the control of the thing being created well then human and replicant are alike there too. Then there is what humans and replicants do and how they behave. Replicants have been expressly made on the model of human beings so that they can do everything that human beings can do. They’ve been given intelligence and emotions because these are seen as advantages to their function. But is an artificial intelligence not simply another intelligence? Is not an artificial being’s emotion just another emotion? If an artificial being feels afraid isn’t it actually just afraid, as we would define it?

Let’s develop this further by addressing the main character of the films, Rick Deckard. Deckard is the Blade Runner of the first film and wrapped up in the final act of 2049. But his status [is he a replicant or a human himself?] has always been a subject of fevered discussion since the initial release of Blade Runner in 1982 and it has never gotten a definitive answer. Not least, this is because the co-writer of both films, Hampton Fancher, has always wished for it to be a matter of ambiguity. Not knowing which he is adds to the pathos of the story. The director of Blade Runner and producer of 2049, Ridley Scott, has always maintained, on the other hand, that Deckard was a replicant and claims to have shown this explicitly in the first film [in the origami unicorn scene at the end]. The trouble is, you don’t have to take on board Scott’s interpretation of what he thinks he did and its not difficult to regard Deckard as human [which Harrison Ford himself wants to] — which may or may not make a difference to how you read the films themselves. As I now think about this, though, I think I’ve come to a new thought [for me at least]. This is that it doesn’t matter at all what he is. There’s no difference.

As I have already mentioned, one of the perennial questions attached to discussions of the Blade Runner films is “what it means to be human”. But I think that’s not a radical enough subject. The films’ discussions of replicants and humans, the real and the artificial, are about much more than this. They are about whether it makes a difference if you are “human” or not [something which involves constructing the human in so doing]. They might even be seen as filmic documents which suggest that humanity is no longer unique or special anymore or that the artificial/real distinction is empty and so collapses because it is based on nothing more than a desire for the human that was a fixed game solely arbitrated by human experience in the first place. We, humans, are prepped to regard the human as real and that which we make as the artificial. But the Blade Runner films problematise such a distinction and threaten to overturn such a system of valuation. In effect, I think they say that the artificial can be artificial but also real. Artificial and real, therefore, are no longer antonyms. Their relationship has just been made much more complex, overlapping and interdependent.

An example of this is the lead character of 2049, Blade Runner K, played by Ryan Gosling. K is a replicant and this is made explicit from the beginning to avoid all the “is he, isn’t he” questioning that revolves around Deckard in the first film. 2049 itself can be seen as a film that is about the evolution of K from his obedient, slavish nature at the start of the film, as a Blade Runner just carrying out the orders of his human police chief boss [played by Robin Wright], to the one who [spoiler alert] sacrifices his life to save Deckard at the end of the film. Replicants are things throughout both films that should do as they are told or who, as artificial creations nominally subservient to the power of their human overlords, should carry out their programmed function or act according to type. But in both films their denouement is found in replicants who make their own choices, who act contrary to command or programming or expectation. In the original film, the last surviving replicant, Roy Batty, chooses not to kill Deckard, even when he is completely at his mercy, and then dies in what can only be seen as a way barely distinguishable from performance poetry in which the performance is himself. Meanwhile, in 2049, K, despatched by a replicant resistance movement to kill Deckard who has been captured in order to divulge the secrets of replicant reproduction, chooses instead to save him and bring him to the daughter he has never seen. In both cases the question becomes how the artificial can act in ways indistinguishable from the real, how the distinction artificial/real can stand or make any sense to maintain anymore.

I think the key to understanding this has been apparent all along and it was uttered in the first film by the creator of the replicants, Eldon Tyrell: ‘More human than human is our motto.’ For what is an ‘artificial’ being that can self-replicate? What is an ‘artificial’ being that can feel, think, choose, act contrary to expectation, desire and dream? One thing I certainly think it is, is real. Even if that means being real and artificial [from a human point of view] at the same time. The reason Eldon Tyrell is right about his manufactured creations is that, not being human, replicants can just choose to act in ways that humans, at their best, would idealise anyway. These are ways such as the self-sacrifice of K or the unnecessary mercy of Roy Batty. This is also apparent when a character like Luv from 2049, in most respects a ruthless machine protecting the interests of her creator, Niander Wallace, is seen with tears on her face a couple of times.

Here distinctions of real and artificial are simply no longer appropriate. It no longer matters what any of these characters are made of, what their creation process was or how each might classify the other. All are living, sensing, feeling, thinking beings. Each have a dignity appropriate to these common facts. In this context, the slavery that one species holds the other in seems most inappropriate, the possessive and dismissive ownership that Wallace exhibits before the replicants he now controls and manufactures, abusive. A good example of this is the murder of the newly replicated replacement Rachael which Wallace uses to try to get Deckard to talk. Replicants are distinguished as other and regarded as things rather than people (the ultimate anthropocentric designation) just so they can be shot in the head when they are no longer of any use. This designation of ‘other’ [here ‘artificial’] is a regular human on human strategy integral to all forms of slavery. [In a similar way the ‘artificial’ K has an even more artificial girlfriend, Joi, programmed to be as he requires and disposable at the push of a button.] Yet, in truth and as a rebuke to such an attitude, replicants are “more human than human,’ capable of choosing to be that which is contrary to their purpose or program or function. They can out-human the humans.

One of the narratives hinted at but not openly pursued in the two Blade Runner films is that humanity itself has been devastated. It is on the edge of extinction and, more so in 2049 at least, the environment of the home planet has been severely compromised. [Hence the “offworld colonies” that even the first film referenced.] But, following my line of interpretation here, we now see that replicants also seem poised to take over from the human beings that created them, a kind of parable of the human domestication of the gods before human beings did away with them in their turn. The created replaces the creator in what seems a central idea of 2049. This then becomes a technological parable which is at once artificial and real, both about technology subsuming us but, somehow, humanity surviving through the technology. It becomes a hybrid future of electric dreams. In the context of both films the replicants are commercial products, made by the Tyrell Corporation in the first film and the Wallace Corporation in the second. But at the end of the second film the possible future awaits that humanity is to be superceded by a species it created, both a wonder and a terror if you happen to be human — and one in which humanity itself has been changed. Wallace, perhaps, wants it so that he can commercially exploit it. But how long could he do that for? How long can the creator domesticate, instrumentalise and use the created, or the real maintain an artificial distinction of ‘artificial’? The realisation starts to creep across our minds as we watch these films [as human beings] that here are parables we are telling ourselves about our own lack of permanence, our own lack of omniscience, our own inability to stop our own destruction and our own change. Its as if it is inevitable we will create the means of our own obsolescence by constantly changing into something else. We can’t hold back the tide. And so... Its too bad we won’t live. But, then again, who does?

[Interlude] This part of the essay has been about ‘the artificial’ and ‘the real’ and both about how that distinction is itself artificial and not real but also about how we, the real, surround ourselves with the artificial that it seems inevitable will supercede us. You need to get used to the fact that there is no template and no being is set in stone.


There is a scene near the beginning of the first Blade Runner film where our imagined hero, Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, has gone to the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation to meet its head, Eldon Tyrell. He is met there by a stunningly beautiful assistant called Rachael [played by Sean Young]. Deckard is there to perform tests on the employees to discover if any might be replicants in hiding, synthetic beings created by the Tyrell Corporation, some of which have rebelled and become dangerous to humans. Specifically, he needs to know if the tests he has available to him will work on the new Nexus 6 type replicants that have escaped. Tyrell wants to see Deckard perform his tests on a test subject before he allows the tests to continue. Deckard asks for such a test subject and Tyrell suggests Rachael. The test being completed, Tyrell asks Rachael to step outside for a moment. Deckard suggests to Tyrell that Rachael is herself a replicant and Tyrell confirms this and that she is not aware of it. “How can it not know what it is?” replies a bemused Deckard.

This question, in the wider context of the film and the history of its reception, is, of course, ironic. Blade Runner was not a massively popular film at the time of its cinematic release in 1982 and was thought to have underperformed. But, over the years, it has become a classic, often placed in the top three science fiction films ever made. That popularity and focus on it as a serious film of the genre has, in turn, produced an engaged fan community. One issue regarding the film, one I’ve already had reason to mention, has always been the status of Deckard himself. Could it be that Deckard was himself a replicant? Interestingly, as already mentioned again, those involved with the production of the film have differing views. Back in 2002 the director, Ridley Scott, confirmed that, for him, Deckard was indeed a replicant and that he had made the film in such a way as this was made explicit. However, screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who wrote the basic plot of the film, does not agree with this. For him the question of Deckard’s status must forever stay mysterious and in question. It should be forever “an eternal question” that “doesn’t have an answer”. Interestingly, for Harrison Ford, Deckard was, and always should be, a human. Ford has stated that this was his main area of contention with Ridley Scott when making the film. Ford believed that the viewing audience needed at least one human on the screen “to build an emotional relationship with”. Finally, in Philip K. Dick’s original story, on which Blade Runner is based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Deckard is a human. At this point I playfully need to ask, “How can they not agree what he is?”

Of course, in the context of the film, Deckard’s question now takes on a new level of meaning. Deckard is asking straightforwardly about the status of Rachael while, perhaps, having no idea himself what he is. The irony should not be lost on us. But let us take the question and apply it more widely. Indeed, let’s turn it around and put it again: how can he know what he is? This question is very relevant and it applies to us too. How can we know what we are? We see a world around us with numerous forms of life upon it and, we would assume, most if not all of them have no idea what they are. And so it comes to be the case that actually knowing what you are would be very unusual if not unique. “How can it not know what it is?” starts to look like a very naive question [even though Deckard takes it for granted that Rachael should know and assumes that he does of himself]. But if you could know you would be the exception not the rule, at least of the life on this planet.

I was enjoying a walk yesterday evening and, as usual, it set my mind to thinking going through the process of the walk. My mind settled on the subject of Fibromyalgia, a medical condition often characterised by chronic widespread pain and a heightened and painful response to pressure. Symptoms other than pain may occur, however, from unexplained sweats, headaches and tingling to muscle spasms, sleep disturbance and fatigue. [There are a host of other things besides.] The cause of this condition is unknown but Fibromyalgia is frequently associated with psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety and among its causes are believed to be psychological and neurobiological factors. One simple thesis is that in vulnerable individuals psychological stress or illness can cause abnormalities in inflammatory and stress pathways which regulate mood and pain. This leads to the widespread symptoms then evidenced. Essentially, certain neurons in the brain are set “too high” and trigger physical responses. Or, to put it another way more suitable to my point here, the brain is the cause of the issues it then registers as a problem.

The problem here is that the brain does not know that it was some part of itself that caused the issue in the first place. It is just an unexplained physical symptom being registered as far as it is concerned. If the brain was aware and conscious surely it would know that some part of it was the problem? But the brain is not conscious: “I” am. It was at this point in my walk that I stopped and laughed to myself at the absurdity of this. “I” am conscious. Not only did I laugh at the notion of consciousness and what it might be but I also laughed at this notion of the “I”. What do I mean when I say “I”? What is this “I”? And that was when the question Deckard asks of Eldon Tyrell popped into my head: how can it not know what it is?

This question is very on point. If I was to say to you right now that you were merely a puppet, some character in a divinely created show for the amusement of some evil god, you couldn’t prove me wrong. Because you may be. If I was to say that you are a character in some future computer game a thousand years from now you couldn’t prove me wrong either. Because, again, you could be — how you feel about it and what you think

you know notwithstanding — because we know that there are limits to our knowledge and we know that it is easy to fool a human being. We have neither the knowledge nor the capacity for the knowledge to feel even remotely sure that we know what we are or what “I” might refer to. We have merely comforting notions which help us to get by, something far from the level of insight required to start being sure. Perhaps this is why the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, wrote a whole series of notes [written up in the book On Certainty] discussing the idea of “being sure” as a kind of language game and what was involved in playing it.

“How can it not know what it is?” now seems to me almost to be a very dumb question. “How can it know what it is?” now seems much more relevant and important. For how can we know? Of course Rachael didn’t know what she was. That is to be normal. We, in the normal course of our lives, gain a sense of self and our place in the world and this is enough for us. We never strive for ultimate answers [because, like Deckard, if we are lucky, we already think we know] and, to be frank, we do not have the resources for it anyway. Who we think we are is always enough and anything else is beyond our pay grade. Deckard, then, is an “everyman” in Blade Runner, one who finds security in what he knows he knows yet really doesn’t know. It enables him to get through the day and perform his function. It enables him to function. He is a reminder that this “I” is always both a presence and an absence, both there and yet not. He is a reminder that who we are is always a “feels to be” and never yet an “is”. Subjectivity abounds. How can it not know what it is? How, indeed, could it know?


The Blade Runner film franchise is currently stuck at two films, 1982’s original film, Blade Runner, based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, and the 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049. Appropriately enough, should we watch both films back to back, we see that it is a game of two halves and two different, although interconnected, stories. The first film, Blade Runner, basically takes a good guys versus bad guys approach to the story. The bad guys here are primarily the replicants which are at the heart of both films. Replicants are synthetic human beings, created and designed by Eldon Tyrell, who essentially serve as slaves in offworld colonies. As they have been created to be stronger and, in some cases, at least as intelligent as human beings, the inherent dangers in creating them led to a failsafe approach to their creation: they were given a maximum 4 year lifespan. Not surprisingly, learning of their impending doom, some decided that they did not want to die and so set about hunting down those whom they thought might be able to remedy this — even though replicants are banned from returning to Earth. These replicants, Roy Batty, Leon, Pris and Zhora, are pitted against the titular Blade Runner, Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, a man of ambiguous origins but on the side of humans and keeping the replicants in check. As Deckard himself says, “Replicants are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.”

In 2049, however, the situation is somewhat different. We are told that subsequent to the events of the original film replicants were completely banned due to numerous rebellions. A complete blackout followed but human beings were saved by the technology of Niander Wallace, a man who invented synthetic food which enabled human beings to survive. Later on, he took over Tyrell’s work on replicants, creating more and improving on the design, particularly in reference to their instinct to want to rebel and survive on their own terms. But a further problem has been created in that it seems Tyrell created a replicant, a central character of the first film called Rachael, who was capable of becoming pregnant. Rachael, who in Blade Runner turned to Deckard to escape being “retired” as a renegade replicant, had a child with him which a replicant underground sees as a demonstration that replicants are an autonomous species in their own right who should not be enslaved to human desires and control. A tame replicant, K, played by Ryan Gosling, who serves as a modern day Blade Runner, becomes embroiled in this plot when he investigates a runaway replicant, Sapper Morton, someone who witnessed the birth of the first replicant child. 2049 thus takes the stance of being more about the justice of the replicant cause rather than good “humans” hunting down “bad” replicants and takes a more ambiguous stance to the two sides rather than the first film’s approach which is more from a “humans are the good guys” point of view.

This is a very basic setup up of both films but there is far more going on here, in both cases, than such bares bones descriptions provide. We could begin with the essential issue behind the original Blade Runner, that intelligent, self-aware beings do not want to die. And why, being artificially designed to die after just 4 years, should we expect them to go quietly? Regardless of the violent actions of the replicants in the plot of the first film, it must certainly be seen that they have something of a just cause. They are “slaves” who “live in fear” in the words of the lead antagonist, Roy Batty. Yet, in this same character’s words, they “want more life” and, as Roy’s famous monologue before his death makes clear, he is a representative of a form of life with entirely its own integrity and dignity, a locus of unique experience just as worthy of existence as any other. This is only heightened and made even more explicit in the sequel where the fact that replicants can reproduce by themselves makes their status as a form of being in its own right all the more central to the storyline. In the case of both films the status of replicants as subjugated beings is emphasised, whether in the merely commercial interests of their original creator, Eldon Tyrell, or in the more aggressively acquisitive character of Niander Wallace, a man who more openly embraces the idea of replicants as property and as slaves. In this respect, Wallace is much like Nathan Bateman [played by Oscar Isaac] from the film Ex Machina in that he regards what he makes as his property to do with exactly as he pleases and without any hint of a thought for the mentality or feelings of that which he has created. They are things, machines, and not sentient beings to him, a man who regards the world as a matter of his control over it.

In this respect, 2049 takes a somewhat hackneyed approach to its storyline in that it relies on an archetypal power-crazed corporate figure to act as its supreme bad guy. That said, Wallace is not actually in the film that much and, instead, his proxy, a female replicant by the name of Luv, stands in for him to do all the killing and the rest of the dirty work. This is in strong contrast to Tyrell from the original film who was seemingly motivated by simple commerce and so by providing a good and reliable product for which he would get paid. But Tyrell is not really given any underhand motives [assuming you do not find simple capitalism underhand, something you’re entirely entitled to do]. Instead, it is simply assumed that commercial activities can be benevolent, if not always guaranteed to work out for the common good. This, in fact, may show up a human failing generally since Tyrell is pictured as a genius, the smartest of us, yet this genius, who can create entirely new forms of sentient life, does not have the sense to have a camera in the elevator that acts as the entrance to his penthouse at the top of the giant headquarters of his company where he lives. This oversight eventually leads to his death when Roy Batty uses one of his friends and associates to gain entry to the building and meet his maker, in order to establish if he can be given the “more life” he wants. But Tyrell informs him that it is impossible since he was created to last 4 years at the most basic of levels. Any attempts to mess with that subsequently only creates viruses which lead to inevitable death anyway. Roy, accepting this inevitability, kisses his “father” before crushing his skull, the created killing the creator as a warning to those who would create life for their own purposes, purposes which that so created may come not to have in common. The warning for human beings is clear: that they have the ability to create the uncontrollable, that that which has will and the ability to think for itself may choose contrary to the wishes of others.

The Blade Runner films heighten the stakes in regard to the worth of intelligent beings of a kind different to humans by being ambiguous about the status of numerous characters within them. When we are introduced to Rachael we do not know if she is human or not. She is subsequently shown to be a replicant who did not know that she was, having been implanted with memories not hers to make her life seem genuine to her. In 2049 a major plot strand is that K, the hero of the film, comes to believe that he is the child of Rachael and Deckard, having previously simply been a replicant and in receipt of much discrimination and abuse as the sequel shows. He is insulted to his face and there is graffiti on his door, for example. K, too, starts to wonder about what he thinks he knows about himself since he realises, in a way Rachael did not before Deckard confronted her with the possibility, that all he knows about himself, his data of a past as it were, could have been falsely implanted to create a life, and so an identity, that never was. And then, in 2049, we must consider the holographic character, Joi. Joi is K’s chosen companion — he prefers a hologram to a physical companion of either the human or replicant kind — and is one of many manufactured and marketed by the Wallace Corporation. She is visually attractive and programmed to please her owner. Joi is like a holographic yet humanoid form of a dog always pleased to see it’s master. The question for viewers, however, is does any of this matter? If characters are one thing and not another does the worth or value of their lives change? In many ways this question is of primary importance before or regardless of if we know the characters’ imagined “actual” designations — and so before we can take sides. It raises further questions of hierarchy and the dignity of varying forms of existence. Do, and should, beings prefer their own kind?

This question of the value and worth of the various characters’ lives is played out most controversially with the only major character who exists explicitly as the same character throughout both films — Deckard himself. This ambiguity about who and what he is even extends to the real world, as we have already seen, in that the original director of Blade Runner, Sir Ridley Scott, and the co-writer of both screenplays, Hampton Fancher, disagree about whether Deckard is, in fact, a replicant himself or not, a plotline which would preempt that of 2049 where K, a replicant, hunts down his fellow replicants. Scott insists he made Blade Runner in such a way that it becomes clear that Deckard is himself a replicant, ironic when the script has him express incredulity that Rachael does not know what she is, a puzzle he unravels for her. In that case, that Deckard is then completely in the dark about his own origins and makeup is highly significant and points up all the identity questions both films want to pose and which they largely hang on the phenomenon of memory. I will come to that shortly, but here we must go on to notice that 2049 wishes to remain ambiguous about Deckard himself, something which screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, was quite insistent must be the case. He himself is open to the notion that Deckard might be a replicant but he is not open to making it explicit either way, something which keeps all the questions about the value and worth of relative forms of life in play but without making us take sides because we, the audience, don’t actually know what side Deckard himself, the hero of the first film, is on. Not then being able to think with such a bias built in, we have to wrestle with the question of the worth of replicants themselves when we realise our hero might be one and neither he nor us might know it. It also makes us wonder, how can any of us know what we are? We are all, after all, only relying on what we think we remember, what we think we have experienced, our own sense of a self. It could, as the Blade Runner world reminds us repeatedly, all be false, all be an illusion.

So, as already stated above, the Blade Runner films hang a lot of identity baggage on the phenomenon of memory. Indeed, it might not be going too far to suggest that the films almost equate the two as if identity were the same as having a memory of a past which is who you are. Identity, in this respect, is then conceived as a narrative of a past self which inevitably leads up to you and is equatable with you. In other words, if you can remember, or think you can remember, your 6 year old self, as Rachael does, or you remember hiding a wooden toy as a young boy, as K does, then this informs who you are. The problem is that in both these cases these memories did not belong to those who carried them at all. They were not the authentic or actual memories of Rachael or K. In the first case they were memories implanted from Tyrell’s niece and in the second they were memories from Rachael’s actual child, a daughter, which had been implanted in K since she had grown up to be a creator of memories sub-contracted to work for Niander Wallace. So if memory were identity forming what kind of identity could we then say had been formed in Rachael and K based on such falsehood? Who would they be then? What does this say about the relationship between memory and identity, something which the films use symbiotically to produce stability in the replicants, believing that a stable self is based on having surety about who you are? We actually get a glimpse of this with Rachael herself when there is a scene in Blade Runner showing attraction between her and Deckard at Deckard’s place but she tries to leave and shies away because, as she explains, she now cannot trust her own feelings because she no longer trusts that they are her own feelings since she has been constructed at such a fundamental level with false memories. What we see here is that the self you construct for yourself is only as good as your ability to believe it. Take that ability away and what is there left?

This memory and identity issue is not just one for science fiction films either for human research into memory has revealed a great deal of fallibility in it if we regard the proper operation and function of memory as “accurate recall”. There are, for example, the problems of the false memory and the displaced memory. Yet this idea of “accurate recall” is also a problematic notion in itself for if something happens at which we are present — giving us a scenario which we can potentially remember — what counts as having “accurately recalled” the scenario? Does memory, so configured, not imagine that there is one narrative which is perspicuous to a fundamental level and able to entirely and fully describe “what happened” as if this were a philosophical possibility, thus completely sidestepping the philosophical claims of hermeneutics which insist that any and all interpretation of events takes place from a point of view? In short, can beings ever really say “what happened” as opposed to “what happened as far as I am concerned”?

This has led some human historians in our 21st century to talk of “remembered history” as opposed to simple history proper for all such history is that which people, with all their filters switched to on, choose to or are able to remember. Everyone has preferences, attitudes, points of view, and so cannot, will not, come to the same conclusions. So not only is simple ability to remember — memory’s fallibility — a problem, memory’s hermeneutic nature is also an issue too. Should it turn out that memory is not primarily about recall but about construction or interpretation BASED ON WHO I THINK MYSELF TO BE instead then this has consequences for those who would build their identity upon it. Those such as Tyrell and Wallace would then only be doing in an external way what all of those of us who can remember do at the individual level anyway — trying to build stable characters from things about which we have opinions we call memories. It is a genuine possibility that the identity anyone constructs from memories is “false” because the function and use of memory was never simply to remember things accurately in the first place. We, all of us, are who we construct ourselves to be and, in the final analysis, that is the far more important function of memory, one taking place in every act of remembrance.

This is just one way in which the Blade Runner films manage to talk about the issues of existence, and of existence as identities, whilst using an imaginary scenario to do so. Of course, at the time such films were made humans had not yet created new, technological forms of life and so they were only really talking about themselves in making such films which ask such questions. In this respect, we must consider that Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 are really films about “the other” with a bit of added antagonism and fisticuffs to keep it exciting. Yet it is the other which dominates thematically, especially in the latter film, and the major subject emerging from the films is the one which has haunted humanity since these beings emerged from the ooze and began to form into self-identifying groups which considered others their competitors. It then becomes a matter of how you will treat this other, what dignity you accord them and whether you are going to embrace or reject them, and how this then reflects back on you.

In this respect the films are ambiguous in their answers. Roy Batty dies in Blade Runner having served as a perfectly menacing bad guy throughout the screenplay. But in his dying moment he is just one more being which lived, experienced and is now fading away into the chemical elements which formed him “like tears in rain”. Was there any real reason to hunt him save for the egocentric notion of human beings good, replicants bad? And was this anything like a good enough reason: base prejudice for one form of life over another? Yet in 2049 we see that there is a replicant underground which has been formed based on a replicant sense of identity which has developed. Yet this also seems fixated on that same self-identity humans have historically manifested thus itself replicating the dangerous notion that beings “prefer their own kind”. The racial and gender-based analogues to such a scenario in human history are very, very easy to imagine in a human world of identity politics. Yet the idea that is passed over here is that identity “as something” is not the be all and end all many cannot seem to ever get past [and perhaps never will get past]. It is, we may consider, possible to rewire ourselves internally and socially not to prefer this — to make existence itself the important and most common factor of all — and wouldn’t this be the better course of action? It is this identity question — and which identity markers count — which is wholly bound up in the Blade Runner films’ exploration of the other in creating two species so very similar in appearance and action yet who must live side by side with one another. Are these films then saying that it is human to want to control and dominate, that manipulation and coercion are built into us — and so into that which we then create as well? Is Blade Runner saying that existence is a constant battle of kind against kind, beings being those things which must inevitably self-identify and prefer those more like them over those less like them? If so, this is an ultimately depressing, if often demonstrably accurate, vision.

There is one further matter we must consider here in appraisal of the world of Blade Runner and that is the matter of emotion — for replicants were not supposed to have any — “like humans in every way except their emotions,” as is said in the film. Yet Roy Batty talks about “living in fear”. Leon keeps a collection of photos to which he demonstrates emotional attachment. Zhora, being confronted by Deckard, shows enough emotional self-awareness to run for her life, something which, in turn, indicates it feels like something to her. Pris attempts to ambush Deckard for similar reasons besides having a seemingly romantic relationship with Roy. And then there is Rachael, who becomes emotionally disturbed to learn that she is not human and engages in an emotional attachment to Deckard which ultimately includes reproductive sex and a relationship of attachment. All this does not sound very unemotional no matter the intention of the original manufacturers. And as to the inventor, Eldon Tyrell, he claims his motto is “more human than human” — but what could be more human, more basic to being human, than to be emotional, to have feelings, to attach to and invest in some things and not others? One does not become more human than human by attempting to remove emotion for that is simply to divest human beings of what makes them human at all. We regard human beings who have a reduced capacity to feel as incomplete or defective rather than as them having a superpower.

As such, it might be arguable that somewhere in the mix of ideas that make up Blade Runner the notion that feelings are a negative, a hindrance, might somehow be lurking. Why create replicants without human emotions in the first place? Is this the old dream of robot workers whose feelings you don’t have to care about come once more to haunt us? And yet isn’t it the more psychopathic or sociopathic characters — such as Wallace and Luv — who show that lack of feeling, particularly feeling for others, is the failing? Feelings are not shown to be a weakness in the Blade Runner films and, indeed, the express point of both films might be to show that making compassionate choices — or ones which lead to attachment and commitment — are good things in themselves, if things with consequences as all choices must have.

But it is also not clear that beings with such self-awareness as humans and their replicant counterparts have could not help developing feelings anyway. This is not a matter of intellectual choice but is more fundamental than that — pre-intellectual and not guided by intellect either. Attachments and feelings are formed by human beings before they are even intellectually able, let alone mature. Additionally, people don’t intellectually choose to have feelings because it is the outcome of a universal logic: they just feel. In this it does not matter that said feeling can be intellectually interrogated or questioned because this is then a post-emotional reflexive activity, part of the whole that makes such a being up. This suggests, in turn, that neither a purely emotional nor entirely unemotional being is best suited for survival under our conditions since evolutionary processes have dictated that we be both indivisibly in order to survive. That such human-like necessity of feeling has developed even in the post-Tyrell replicants manufactured by Niander Wallace is evident in that K, a Nexus 8 in comparison to those replicants of the original Blade Runner which were Nexus 6 models, is that K seems to need his female holographic companion, Joi. In the course of the film he even comes to want to simulate sexual intercourse with her by means of the use of another replicant and some technological trickery which fools K’s senses into thinking it is Joi he is interacting with.

This basic human need for companionship, then, for the sharing of mutual tactile activity, is something which even the otherwise focused and business-like K needs when he shuts himself away from the world which discriminates against his kind. The suggestion is that in being biological, replicants, like us and other animals, seem to need to develop feelings for things, for things that can feel back. This is, then, a deep comment on being biological at all. And, in the end, that is what the Blade Runner films are about, what it is to be human and the consequences and possibilities, good and bad, of biological existence.

Fifth and Final Part: GETTING TO THE POINT

The preceding parts of this essay are things I wrote in regard to the Blade Runner films over the course of 3 or 4 years — and which I have brought together here to serve the purposes of introducing this particular book. In that time there were some points I kept coming back to and there were others that were somewhat newer that would crop up and intrigue me afresh from time to time. In the context of this book that I am writing now, however, they take on a new meaning yet again. That context, and the real reason I am writing this book at all, is the context of trans people and trans lives. Now I must at this point immediately point out that I am not trans myself — but that statement only begins a conversation on my identity rather than being the end of it. To explain this it requires the telling of a short narrative.

Throughout my life I have never been a particularly political person — until the last few years that is. I was never interested in “issues” or “rights” of “affinity groups”. I just lived my largely isolated, largely quiet, life and minded my own business. I, of course, have my own traumas I could tell about but that’s not my way. If I have to suffer I will do it in silence and this is my choice. This is why I have retreated to my own, largely untouched, corner of the world in which I hide and from which I send occasional books out as reminders I’m still here. But I also look out at that world [largely open-mouthed, agog with disbelief and sometimes disgust] and see what goes on in it. By means of social media I was introduced to the lived experience of thousands of people I would never meet and, in their own words, able to consider and think about it for myself. This introduced me, amongst other things, to trans people and trans lives. In listening to trans people, but never once being addressed by or spoken to by any of them [so, no, I have not been brainwashed or turned or any similar phrase], I came to address the question of human identity as a question itself. In many respects this functioned in an ethnographic sense [in relation to philosophical work I had already carried out in other contexts] but in which trans people themselves wrote their own ethnographs that anybody who took any interest in them could read. I read of their fears, their doubts, their pain and their problems with other people who, for reasons all their own and sometimes seemingly for little reason at all, find offence in their very existence. Trans people, in many places, are, sadly, outsiders and they live outsider lives. That was and is something I can identify with very keenly indeed and it is hardly irrelevant to the replicant experience either.

My interest in this split goes in at least two different directions. First, it raised in me the notion [not for the first time] that “givenness”, even of something seemingly at first flush so very basic as human identity, is a sham. Nothing has “innate qualities” or “essential attributes”. Secondly, I began asking myself if the things we call ourselves aren’t all in fact just words, consequential descriptions, to be sure, but only descriptions nevertheless. Put these two things together and you begin to wonder [at least, I did] if these things we call ourselves — male, female, gay, straight, cis, trans — have any basis in anything other than human language [and so human thinking] at all. I started to think that maybe they didn’t — and consequently began to wonder what that might mean for us humans and, in my ever more anarchistic thinking, what that might mean for the way human beings act in regard to each other as they organise themselves socially and politically. I was, and continued to become, ever more convinced that persecuting someone, or acting against their interests politically, simply because you did not like what they said they regarded themselves as, was and is just about as evil and bigoted as a human being can get. It is, in fact, exactly the same thing as the Nazis did in relation to Jews and other victimised groups such as Roma or homosexuals.

So I found myself straying into something of a human disease in regard to how, sometimes, human beings have a preference for “sticking to their own”, cheerfully [and terrifyingly] classifying people as they go and calling themselves this and that for purposes which are, at best, dubious and, at worst, horrific. What bothered me about this almost as much as the fact of it was that this was all seemingly only built on an apparatus of knowledge which was entirely interpretive and manufactured by people themselves. Given that I have quite a long history of study in things like the works of Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Rorty, philosophers who both saw human thinking as matters of interpretation or description and redescription, it bothered me greatly that people seem to operate by generating their own bigotries and then making up the “knowledge” to fit them as and when they need to.

At the same time as this was happening, I also found myself becoming more obviously anarchist. I think now that I had always been a kind of anarchist. Even as a child I rebelled against being told what to do and how to do something, figuring that if this was truly a good idea then surely I would naturally find that out for myself. In recent years, spent reading texts as wide ranging as the Zhuangzi, essays by Emma Goldman, Errico Malatesta, Lucy Parsons and Voltairine de Cleyre, the gospels [of which there are at least 5 of worth] and various texts of and about Cynics, it became clear to me that I seem to belong somewhere on an anarchist spectrum politically, philosophically and even spiritually. Yet my anarchism was not one of protests and direct action [at least, not then] but was much more philosophically conceived [as befit my situation in life]. I conceive of existence itself as an anarchy [which I don’t think of negatively anymore than the Daoist conceives of the yin yang as a negative symbol of their philosophy] and of anarchism as an appropriate response to living in, through and because of that anarchy in which all things co-exist and cohere.

What all this meant when thought about in tandem with the identity questions which reading about trans people and trans lives brought home to me became very relevant as I continually watched, and thought about the issues raised by, the Blade Runner films, films which expressly address being human, relationship to that which is different yet the same, the way thought is organised in order to include and exclude [and in which classification itself is an act of domination], the question of wherein human dignity lies and the possibility of self-actualisation. In many respects, I compared the experiences of the replicants with trans people and trans lives. Sometimes, for example, I see trans people defamed as “artificial” or “plastic” yet, in Blade Runner, does that make the replicants any less valuable or important? Do they have any less dignity for all their deliberate creation? I don’t think so — and so why should trans people even if you think that’s what they are? The important thing, so the Blade Runner films seem to say, is that these are autonomous beings with their own intelligence, feeling and integrity and that, all by itself, means they should not be treated as inferior or regarded as slaves, trash or things to be done with as we [in our own minds more authentic people] will. So, frankly, it matters to me how enemies of trans people see themselves [and, indeed, human beings as a whole] and formulate their knowledge to make trans people in some sense illegitimate. I believe that no one is illegitimate for who they are and neither could they be. So why and how do some others?

Consequently, this book will be about many things and, in its conception, functions as some kind of understanding of human beings, from an anarchistic point of view in an anarchistic universe, that is inclusive and not exclusive. I intend to discuss the ways human beings think and how they organise their presumed knowledge, the biology which is the scientific discourse that describes the processes by which we exist, the subject of gender and its inevitable entanglement in matters ineluctably cultural, two other ways of viewing human beings as a whole, these being race and class and, in Part B of this book, subsuming all this under an anarchist-influenced discussion of domination and how we, the human beings, disabuse ourselves of the desire to dominate, something in which the classification of bodies, lives and human beings plays a large part as part of the organisation of our knowledge as a whole. I hope to finish the book by offering a different way to live from the ways we have been living, having exposed and escaped such domination, ways which have been based on exploiting and coercing, controlling and manipulating. In short, I hope to offer a narrative of a new, anarchist understanding of humanity whilst, all the while, having a clear consciousness of the actuality of trans people and trans lives, one that reading the Blade Runner films through this interpretive lens has informed. To begin doing that, we need to ask ourselves a few questions about how we humans arrive at things like knowledge and truth. And so that is where I will begin.

TWO: Knowledge, Truth and All That Stuff: What it is and what it is not

“If someone hides something behind a bush, looks for it in the same place and then finds it there, his seeking and finding is nothing much to boast about; but this is exactly how things are as far as seeking and finding of ‘truth’ within the territory of reason is concerned.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

This is not the first time in my writing that I have begun a chapter with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche and I doubt it will be the last. In a similar way, this isn’t the first time I’ve made mention of the essay this quotation comes from — “On Truth and Lying in A Non-Moral Sense” — an essay of his from 1873 that he neglected to publish in his own lifetime but which I have always found both seminal and inescapable since I first read it several years ago. The essay begins with a short, instructive parable and I have no qualms at all about repeating it again here in this chapter:

“In some remote corner of the universe, flickering in the light of the countless solar systems into which it had been poured, there was once a planet on which clever animals invented cognition. It was the most arrogant and most mendacious minute in the ‘history of the world’; but a minute was all it was. After nature had drawn just a few more breaths the planet froze and the clever animals had to die.”

This parable illustrates a certain issue for Nietzsche, one that is certainly of importance and consequence for all those who seek knowledge of anything as we do in this book. Of this, Nietzsche says:

“Someone could invent a fable like this and yet they would still not have given a satisfactory illustration of just how pitiful, how insubstantial and transitory, how purposeless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature; there were eternities during which it did not exist; and when it has disappeared again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that might extend beyond the bounds of human life. Rather, the intellect is human, and only its own possessor and progenitor regards it with such pathos, as if it housed the axis around which the entire world revolved. But if we could communicate with a midge we would hear that it too floats through the air with the very same pathos, feeling that it too contains within itself the flying centre of this world. There is nothing in nature so despicable and mean that would not immediately swell up like a balloon from just one little puff of that force of cognition; and just as every bearer of burdens wants to be admired, so the proudest man of all, the philosopher, wants to see, on all sides, the eyes of the universe trained, as through telescopes, on his thoughts and deeds.”

This explanation of the meaning of Nietzsche’s parable is extremely dense and makes startling claims about the function and perspicacity of the human intellect. It is, we are told, “insubstantial”, “transitory”, “purposeless” and “arbitrary”. It is regarded, in the context of eternity, as consequenceless, as if “nothing will have happened”. It is something that only the human being itself regards with any pathos but that pathos is the same as any other thinking thing might regard its own intellect with. All beings, Nietzsche seems to say, regard how they make sense of the world as the way to make sense of the world and each being has its own sense of self-importance. Such a faculty as cognition, in fact, is regarded as an inevitable source of an overflowing and empty pride in those beings that possess it — as if presuming to know had the unintended [but necessary] consequence of producing a self-image in which you are the marker and measure of all things in such a way as this simply must have a perhaps universal value.

Yet this has already been denied by Nietzsche and so stands condemned as only a further negative consequence of such cognition and such intellect. Nietzsche, in fact, in the following paragraph of his essay, describes such intellect as “nothing other than an aid supplied to the most unfortunate, most delicate and most transient of beings so as to detain them for a minute within existence”. Its purpose is thus, at best, pragmatic and utilitarian. Human beings, understood this way, have no right, nor even any basis, for proclaiming, for example, that A is A or B is B or that no A’s are B’s. Yet, as each of us can clearly see, this is what, in fact, human beings do and what they have done for many centuries now. It is Nietzsche’s opinion that this cognition which puffs up all who possess

it “deceives” human beings about “the value of existence”. This cognition, this intellect, this feeling of mastery over things through its understanding [so we think!] is like “a blinding fog over the eyes and senses of human beings” according to Nietzsche.

This past weekend, as I write this paragraph on a grey winter Monday morning, I was made aware, via social media, of an article posted in 2019 about “a quantum experiment [which] suggests there’s no such thing as objective reality” — as the headline in the MIT Technology Review had it. The subheading further informed me, a person who is hardly a natural scientist, that “Physicists have long suspected that quantum mechanics allows two observers to experience different, conflicting realities. Now they’ve performed the first experiment that proves it.” The article, which I did my best to understand, revolves around the “Wigner’s Friend” thought experiment first imagined by the physicist, Eugene Wigner. The experiment involves such esoteric subjects as quantum theory and quantum measurement, things I am barely qualified to mention let alone to describe, and so you should not expect that I will go into them too deeply [or even at all!] here but it is safe to say that the experiment concerns human interaction with [quantum] reality, how the one affects the other and if it can be possible to experience different realities in doing so [meaning that there would be no objective one]. The article I read suggested that an actual experiment [rather than just a thought experiment] had been done which led to the conclusion that “realities can be made irreconcilable so that it is impossible to agree on objective facts about an experiment.” This, suggests the report, is “forcing physicists to reconsider the nature of reality.”

In its background to the reporting of this experiment the report lists three assumptions of those who hold to “the idea that observers can ultimately reconcile their measurements of some kind of fundamental reality”. This, it turns out,

“is based on several assumptions. The first is that universal facts actually exist and that observers can agree on them. But there are other assumptions too. One is that observers have the freedom to make whatever observations they want. And another is that the choices one observer makes do not influence the choices other observers make—an assumption that physicists call locality.”

These assumptions are interesting if not [mis]leading in their existence and, I intend to suggest, completely to do with what Nietzsche had in mind in his essay “On Truth and Lying in A Non-Moral Sense”. It is probably the case, though readers can make their own minds up [something I will always encourage my readers to do], that Nietzsche denies all three assumptions of scientists and thought experimenters in this report. For, to put it bluntly and simply, why would we imagine that “universal facts” exist? How could we ever establish such things and, even if we had the faculties [which Nietzsche has already seemingly denied], how could we physically examine the entire universe [which would seem a necessary corollary of the claim] in order to do so? How could we be sure there was not some obscure corner of the vast universe [or even several!] that didn’t conform to the “facts” of the rest and so screw up our conclusions?

And what is this “freedom to make whatever observations they want” that such scientific observers are supposed to have? Surely it would make sense to suggest that there are really only two or three means of observation for the human being, these being experience [of the senses], imagination and logic, the latter perhaps as applied to both of the others? How could human beings observe that of which they could not even conceive or imagine or of which their logic was not capable? What if that which is potentially to be observed is invisible to, and undetectable by, our senses, our only means of mediating or understanding the universe? Could we not be in a situation [for example] where we are competent only to speak about 1% of the universe where the other 99% is beyond our capacity to even detect, let alone understand? How could we know what we do or don’t know or how much of the whole we have grasped or have cognisance of? And what is it about the human being that would allow us to claim that people don’t influence each other? Doesn’t simple human experience suggest exactly the opposite? These three assumptions, then, seem quite difficult to seriously maintain. What happens if even one, let alone all three, of these assumptions is wrong? It could be that, as Cypher says in The Matrix, “Kansas is going bye bye”.

Kansas does indeed “go bye bye” in the rest of Nietzsche’s short essay as he gives the ideas of “objective reality”, an objective truth and any pretence to knowledge or understanding both barrels in a short but exceedingly highly charged diatribe. Put in plain language, Nietzsche here says quite straightforwardly that human beings lack the faculties they have arrogantly claimed to possess. They build castles in the air and intend to suggest they have foundations because, and only because, they think their will has the power to make it so. Nietzsche engages in what, a hundred years later, would have been called deconstructive activity on such thought and leaves it bare and naked on the ground, exposed to the mockery of any observers. The emperor that is the human intellect has no clothes. It is as the superscription to this chapter of my book describes it, a finding things where we put them, and that’s nothing to shout about. It would do us well at this juncture to highlight just a few of the ways Nietzsche says this is so.

Nietzsche regards the intellect as showing its greatest strengths in a flair for dissimulation. Human beings, he says, are deeply immersed in illusions and dream images as a result. Consequently, nowhere does human perception lead into truth; it is merely content to receive stimuli and to play. Morality does not really enter into this and, since nature more often than not remains silent about almost everything — including even our own bodies and our own selves — why would we imagine we can know things about other things, of which we have much less intimate experience, when we apparently know so very little even about ourselves? Instead, thinks Nietzsche, human beings came up with a way of designating things called language — something which is entirely arbitrary and purely of human invention and so, necessarily, related entirely to human experience. The legislation of this language — for language does indeed legislate — is that it must have the same validity and force everywhere [it has a necessary sociability to perform its function]. In using this medium, the difference between truth and lie is only the harm either might do as a result, something which is a pragmatic [but not an epistemic] distinction. For the fact is, according to Nietzsche, that humans neither hate deceit nor deceivers in their intellectual dealings as is — nor in the abstract either. They hate only harmful consequences for themselves. Similarly, they desire only the life-preserving consequences of truth, the “what can truth do for me?”. So Nietzsche, in language and truth, sets human beings off down a pragmatic, consequence-filled course, one in which they are fully involved and invested and which cannot be untied from their own activities in carrying such a thing out or from the consequences of it for them.

But, of course, this raises some questions. What is the status of conventions of language? Is language the full and adequate expression of all realities? Perhaps truth is a tautology or truth is being swapped in exchange for illusions? What is a word? Nietzsche regards it as “The copy of a nervous stimulation in sounds.” And there is a further issue — for Nietzsche observes that If truth and certainty alone had formed our language [that is, if we could actually and genuinely know the truth and have epistemic certainty regarding that we designate knowledge] then they would not require subjective input — something they clearly seem to require. Here we should note that the world did not arbitrate itself to us. Rather, subjective stimuli worked through language and it was only by this means that we stumbled upon things we designated knowledge or truth. But, Nietzsche claims, language, and so its truth, is arbitrary and conventional, it is never “the full and adequate expression” of a putative reality. Neither, in a well-worn philosophical phrase, are we talking about “things-in-themselves” — as if reality could be exhibited in a glass case and observed and fully and perfectly described with words. Not only is this a poor description of how we engage with any reality we are a part of [we are never pure observers for we are always subjectively entangled in the observation] but such a thing-in-itself would be abstract, a truth without consequences. Yet everywhere we look human truth, the only truth we can ever have, is consequence-based. There is no human truth from which we are disconnected or which we view purely in the abstract. And it could not be for this is how we preserve ourselves and so it cannot be entertained merely for its own self.

So the human being designates the relation of things to human beings and human language, the medium in which knowledge, truth and understanding [which are all purely human designations and valuations] are themselves communicated and understood, is metaphorical, a jumping from sphere to sphere. According to Nietzsche, we believe we speak of things when we only possess their metaphors. No genuine correspondence is involved in this process even if it is imagined or intended. [This suggests, again, that Nietzsche believes we simply have no ability or faculty to make this so, or, at the very least, have no way of showing that we do. Language does not rebuild a carbon copy of the universe as it is in words.] So intellectual concepts come into being in our language and thinking by falsifying an individualised, passing reality. Concepts, thus, make equal that which is not. Such concepts are literally fiction and literally non-real. They are literally an arbitrary, if always useful, imposition upon the transience of reality. The equivalence which is involved here is what makes linguistic concepts possible but it is, as described above, arbitrary nevertheless.

Thus, such concepts, which are always necessary for human thinking as it has developed, erase any actual difference that exists in the individual moments or snapshots of reality in preference for a non-actual, eternal form that can be linguistically expressed and understood. [Transient reality, which is more like a movie, is humanised and replaced by arbitrary photographs.] Our knowledge, thinks Nietzsche, does not come from eternal forms; it comes from human experience. Our knowledge, understanding and truth are then transient reality filtered through human experience and linguistically expressed in a way of benefit to us, in a way that can be made use of and useful. So its important to note that, on this understanding, concepts overlook what is real, individual and actual. This is of no use to, because unusable by, the human being. Nature itself, of course, knows neither forms, nor concepts, nor species such as human beings have felt the need to create [and, strictly speaking, they have created them as the things they are thought by human beings to be]. Nature never speaks for itself, it is always spoken for from human falsification, this human process that Nietzsche is now describing in his essay being exactly a pragmatic falsification or an expedient fiction.

Nietzsche has, by now in his essay, worked himself up to something of a rhetorical fever pitch and he is ready to unload on the subject of truth. Truth he glosses as “metaphors”, “metonymies” and “anthropomorphisms”. It is “a sum of human relations poetically and rhetorically intensified”, a matter of translation and decoration. Truth is “illusions we have forgotten are illusions”. Consequently, the obligation to be truthful, which Nietzsche recognises, is something society imposes in order to exist as it is. Thus, truth can be described as the obligation to lie in accordance with firmly established convention for social, collaborative, pragmatic reasons. But this requires a measure of forgetting. It is because human beings forget about the transience and constant movement of reality — its difference and changeability — that they arrive at a feeling of truth and can create its illusion.

Truth — as humans use it — is an abstraction and subject to a rule of abstractions. Truth becomes measured by being fitted into schemes, it becomes conceptual. A new world opposed to a sensuously perceived world is created and thereafter regulates the whole. Truth becomes that which does not offend against the rigid regularity of our invented and imposed classifications [which, it bears repeating, neither correspond to the world as a mirror to that it reflects nor do they rebuild the world as it is in words]. Truth becomes a mathematically divided firmament of concepts. The finding of truth within the territory of reason is, thus, “anthropomorphic through and through”. Such human truth is “the metamorphosis of the world in human beings”. Such human truth is a feeling of assimilation. Such human truth is the human being measuring all things against human beings. Such human truth is created in the mistaken belief [or the deliberate, amnesiac lie to self] that things as pure objects are in front of human beings. Such human truth is created in the forgetfulness of perception as metaphor [for human beings never experience any direct, unmediated perception of any reality]. Such human truth is “a hot liquid stream of imaginative images become hard and rigid”. Such human truth is created because humans forget themselves as perpetually and artistically creative subjects. In human perception we are not, are never, dealing with an observer and an observed. Things are ineluctably more interrelated and consequent than that.

“Correct perception” is, thus, a non-existent criterion. How could we know? How could any language user know when language constructs its own world that doesn’t correspond to any putative real, actual one? If language is a useful manipulation of intellectualised experience then what has this to do with epistemic certainty or “getting things right”, i.e. truth? Nietzsche goes on to suggest that there is no causality, correctness or expression between subject and object [which are themselves artificial abstractions from the stream of reality in any case]. He insists that “It is not true that the essence of things appears in the empirical world”. He adds that nervous stimuli in relation to images produced from perception are not necessary ones — and so are not means to linguistically remake reality. Rather, in human thinking, reproducing the same image lots of times ossifies it as significant. It becomes “necessary” — which is to say necessary for how we now think. It is repetition which makes [falsifies] a reality but rigidity is no guarantee of necessity and that reality need be rigid is, at best, an assumption in any case. Nietzsche believes that if we could but once see as all things see we would not talk about [rigid, fixed] “laws of nature” but of subjectivity instead. Instead, he believes we have created a network of relations for ourselves, a self-referential network like hiding things behind the bush and finding them as exampled in the quote excerpted at the head of this chapter. All the relations we make refer only to one another — and without positive terms. All conformity to laws we find is based on things we bring to bear as we become thrilled by, and besotted with, our own activity. Our conceptual edifice imitates the relations of time, space and number but on strictly metaphorical foundations, a form of “understanding” [which is a linguistic designation of its form and process] but without any demonstration of its perspicacity or effectiveness whatsoever.

Thus, the empirical world = the anthropomorphic world, the world translated for the purposes of human use, interaction and manipulation. This, thinks Nietzsche, is based on the drive to form metaphors which he thinks of as a fundamental human drive and which refuses to be sidelined by the rigid, conceptual world. This drive to form metaphors uses myth and art to carry on creating, translating, shaping for human purposes and loves the multiform, the irregular, the inconsequential, the incoherent. In many respects, Nietzsche thinks this drive loves things as they are in the world of dream [and, indeed, elsewhere Nietzsche thinks that “what we do whilst we are asleep we also do when we are awake”. Yet it is rigidity of concepts which separates our waking day from our dreaming night. But never let it be forgotten that “human beings themselves have an unconquerable urge to let themselves be deceived” [in accordance with their direction of travel made up of their feelings, beliefs and purposes]. This is demonstrated both in that lies and deceit are commonplace and everywhere in human discourse and relationship but also in that, as already described, human beings are not interested in abstract truth, truth disconnected from their feelings and their will. It is always truth as related to themselves for their purposes. Thus, Nietzsche conceives that the puffed up human intellect is a master of pretence but that it is absolved from its usual slavery if it can deceive without doing harm.

Reason then becomes abstraction not recognition of reality as it is. Strictly speaking, truth is not honesty either, either with or to oneself or others — or to the world or the universe — but only an illusory and dissimulating dishonesty for pre-existing human purposes. If the human being were for even a moment truly honest its entire conceptual universe would collapse in a mountain of sensory perception and information regarding a reality that was different and changing from every moment to the next in a constant stream of white hot experience. Perhaps, as with our scientific experimenters carrying out quantum experimentation, we would finally realise we cannot commensurate reality into one objective whole called “the way things actually are”. Thus, and in summary:

“All the conformity to laws which we find so imposing in the orbits of the stars and chemical processes is basically identical with those qualities which we ourselves bring to bear on things, so that what we find imposing is our own activity. Of course the consequence of this is that the artistic production of metaphor, with which every sensation begins within us, already presupposes those forms, and is thus executed in them; only from the stability of these original forms can one explain how it is possible for an edifice of concepts to be constituted in its turn from the metaphors themselves. For this conceptual edifice is an imitation of the relations of time, space, and number on the foundations of metaphor.”

So Nietzsche’s charge in “On Truth and Lying in A Non-Moral Sense” is that human beings have merely designed a classification system, for entirely their own purposes — and then used it and called the result “truth”. Far from discovery, they have instead only engaged in self-referential and often self-aggrandizing activity. This is not much to shout about and is akin to building a set of shelves and then requiring people to stack them in a certain, entirely arbitrary, way so that, somehow, we can get along and know where everything is [but only in a way someone has decided]. But all this Nietzsche says — explicitly — in a non-moral sense. In this essay he is not discussing such human habits or activities morally but merely recognising them or bringing them out into the light where they can be seen. Yet this, of course, is not the whole story for — as Nietzsche perhaps pre-eminently in intellectual history has himself noted — morality has everywhere infiltrated human thinking with its own deleterious effects.

Nietzsche engages in sophisticated and sometimes complex arguments about morality throughout a number of his books and I have attempted to interact with them elsewhere [primarily in There is Nothing To Stick To, Part 2: The Fiction of Morality]. In this book, however, I cannot go into great depth lest the direction this book is steering be changed or unnecessarily interrupted. Yet it is necessary to my point here to take note of some of the observations Nietzsche has about morality [and the things morality implies] building on the linguistic-inflected remarks he makes in “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense”. These observations begin with reference to sections 124 and 125 of his fifth book, The Gay Science, in which he discusses “the infinite sea” and “the death of God”.

In Book 3 of The Gay Science [where “gay” means “cheerful” and not “homosexual”] Nietzsche is attempting to undermine the basis of human thought as he sees it [this, of course, will come to be “God”]. Nietzsche suggests that we invent our rationality in habits we then find no need to think beyond. They become self-perpetuating and self-justifying. The problem is that “comprehension” or “understanding” of reality are not involved in these practices become habits. “Comprehension” and “understanding” — or something such as “explanation” — are only, in fact, description, and then only description which suits our purposes. So much we have already read and understood in “On Truth and Lying”. Nietzsche conceives that the human being is, in fact, only really “educated by his errors”. He describes these errors, in section 115 of The Gay Science, as seeing the human species “incompletely”, endowing it with “fictitious attributes”, giving it “a false order of rank in relation to animals and nature” and inventing “ever new tables of goods and always accept[ing] them for a time as eternal and unconditional”. Nietzsche sees in this only that first one and then another “human impulse and state” takes precedence and is ennobled as some star to steer by — but only because some perhaps influential human beings esteem it so. Nietzsche conceives of this process as constituting both our very humanity and our human dignity such as it is. So, in section 121, Nietzsche will state plainly that:

“We have arranged for ourselves a world in which we can live — by positing bodies, lines, planes, causes and effects, motion and rest, form and content; without these articles of faith nobody now could endure life. But that does not prove them. Life is no argument. The conditions of life might include error.”

Once more we see the Nietzschean refusal to grant any possibility of epistemic certainty to human thinking. It is, at best, a certain relative rightness invented and made use of by us. But what, then, does Nietzsche think our situation is and our circumstances are? We are now ready to read section 124:

“In the horizon of the infinite.- We have left the land and have embarked. We have burned our bridges behind us — indeed, we have gone farther and destroyed the land behind us. Now, little ship, look out! Beside you is the ocean: to be sure, it does not always roar, and at times it lies spread out like silk and gold and reveries of graciousness. But hours will come when you will realize that it is infinite and that there is nothing more awesome than infinity. Oh, the poor bird that felt free and now strikes the walls of this cage! Woe, when you feel homesick for the land as if it had offered more freedom — and there is no longer any ‘land’.”

Nietzsche is here describing a world, a human intellectual world, as a place without any God and so without any ground [which is, of course, land]. It is such ground which must, ultimately, be the foundation of any intellectual proposition and any epistemic certainty — but Nietzsche says there is now only infinite sea. This land is, of course, an intellectual habit we have become used to but Nietzsche is not afraid to say, nevertheless, that there is nothing there. This is not to suggest, however, that such a claim will be welcomed with open arms. It is not for no reason that the famous next section of The Gay Science, section 125, is about a character described only as “the madman” — for is not this suggestion of no land and so no ground, no foundation for human intellectuality — and so its explanatory efficacy — mad? Nietzsche’s madman tells us that we have killed God, us together. He asks, “Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?” Eventually the madman, who, like Diogenes searching for “a human being”, had run around the marketplace with his message, concludes that he has come too soon. Human beings are not yet ready to accept what they have done — even though it is they who have done it. The problem, as Nietzsche sees it from the beginning of Book 3 of The Gay Science in section 108 right through to section 125, is that even though God is dead — and so there is no inherent or essential ground or foundation for human rational or intellectual practices, no reason to ascribe to it a descriptive perspicuity or an explanatory insight — the shadow of such “gods” still casts itself across our thinking. We essentially deify that which should not, because cannot, be deified. There is no God [“God is dead”] and there are no God substitutes either.

This is the background against which I would like you to think of morality in Nietzsche’s thinking. Human thought is not something which can be deified or grounded or which can find eternal foundations. There is only an infinite sea and no longer any land. And so it is that in talking about morality in books such as Human, All Too Human, Daybreak, The Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil and On The Genealogy of Morality Nietzsche has need to question many things most are only all too ready to accept as just such grounds or foundations. The first of these is reality itself and that there is such a thing. Earlier, I mentioned a relatively recent quantum experiment which had called this into question experimentally but reality has been doubted philosophically for much longer than that. Nietzsche was one such doubter. But if there is no objective reality what does this mean for morality? Nietzsche’s second question is in regard to there being a moral universe. Is there such a thing? Is the universe itself, as it is, moral? One would suggest here it probably could not be moral for some things and not for others. Or could it? Then, thirdly, there is the very human issue of “free will” which is something very much wrapped up in human conceptions of morality. Indeed, morality seems to work on the basis that human beings have something called a “will” and that this is free to act as it wants [not least so that human beings can then be held responsible for their actions in a moral sense]. But what if this “will” is imagined or invented? What if its not nearly so “free” as some think? Finally, there is the rationality many ascribe to human beings and which many also connect with the operation of morality. Morality, in fact, is thought to be something that can be justified and reasoned. It is something for which we imagine we can give reasons, and reasons which others would or should find acceptable according to a shared rationality. But how rational are we human beings really? Is our “rationality” actually rational itself and are we really acting according to it in the first place? All these things are things that Nietzsche wants to put in question when we come to think about “morality” — or even just about human beings.

But, as we have seen in the first part of this chapter, there are also linguistic issues to deal with which beguile and capture our thinking. One of these linguistic tripwires is the belief in an “I”, a subjectivity, which constitutes who we are [and which I also mentioned when discussing Blade Runner previously]. We come to believe that there is such a thing — but Nietzsche believes in several of his books that this is only a linguistic prejudice that has solidified, hardened and come to be imagined as real and actual in our thinking. We believe in an “I”, a rational self, a commanding subjectivity, because language uses and requires such a thing. When, in language, there is an action, the action needs a subject to

perform it. It is on this basis, says Nietzsche, that we then arrange our experience under such linguistic organisation. But the problem, thinks Nietzsche, is that this simply isn’t right. There is no actual “I” and so there is no rational self or commanding subjectivity which is the central command of the human being. Human beings, in fact, are not constituted in this way regardless of how language orders our experience and becomes habituated and unquestioned in our subsequent thinking. Nietzsche, in fact, regards us as made up of numerous drives, none of which are strictly rational and which each require little other than their own satiation. It is then completely illegitimate to invent a rational self — stimulated by and originated in a linguistic prejudice — which can be regarded as the seat of rationality and morality and held responsible as such. This is not to deny that we are rational beings — which is to say we are beings which require reasons for things — but it is to suggest that there is no rational core which the entirety of the processes which make up our being are ordered and organised by and which they are, of necessity, required to obey. As such, it is better to say that Nietzsche thinks of human beings as a concatenation of drives rather than as rational selves. And, yes, one Nietzschean consequence of this is that he argues we cannot be held morally responsible for things on the basis this is usually posited.

Next we need to ask after morality itself and particularly morality as measuring activity. If morality is the subject of ways to behave, where these ways are thought of rationally and in terms of their consequences, then we need to ask after what is more precisely being measured and how. We might then want to ask, for example, if there is any [necessary] connection between moral action and intellectual insight. Even a preliminary investigation into this question seems to suggest there isn’t and that moral action, action called and thought of as moral, need not necessarily have anything to do with any imagined “intellectual insight”. These might all be nothing more than pragmatic linguistic descriptions and habits of thought. The point here is that the imagined basis for things need not, in fact, be their basis. The ground we have imagined could just all be infinite sea. The God could be [“is”] dead. This also applies if we begin to think of morality historically or anthropologically for there we see, according to time and place, that morality changes and is, in fact, always changing. But what does this then mean for morality itself and any ground we claim it is founded on? If morality can and does change then on what is it based? Can any basis [acceptable or unacceptable] even be found? Does morality now become little more than a scheme of behaviour adapted to personal consequences? This is very far away from an imagined scheme of rights and wrongs undergirded by a moral universe it is our imagined duty to mirror or match up to. It dissolves entirely the notion that there are actions which are inherently right or wrong in themselves.

This will become a matter of “epistemological starting point” [for the claim to morality is a claim to knowledge] and I will get to that shortly but first we need to round up a representative body of thought on Nietzsche as he interacts with morality and moral thinking. I want to suggest that in my context here, one of truth, language, knowing and certainty, that the second book of Daybreak is as good a place as any in the Nietzschean canon to find a relevant commentary from Nietzsche himself. Here, in his avowed context of “the prejudices of morality” [part of the subtitle to Daybreak], Nietzsche will discuss where he thinks morality comes from, excavate the thinking behind how it is claimed to work [and to what ends], and expose the assumptions in such thinking to the cold light of day from which they had been hidden lest we have a collective “moment of clarity” in regard to them. In this second book of Daybreak Nietzsche wants to get down to the nitty gritty of the human being in which the processes that make up the operation of morality in and through the species come to light. He suggests that we humans act self-interestedly and unconsciously and that we take effects for intentions and ascribe too much to intention, taking chance for something more fixed and permanent, for example, much, in fact, as languages tend to create a world by using ossifying terms which imagine a regularity or stasis to describe it. The origin of morality, then Nietzsche says, is to be found in a thing’s harm or usefulness to us. Bad actions are, in some sense, harmful ones and harmful, in some sense, to “us”. Consequently, we make ourselves the measure — and act and think as if we could be such a thing! Yet this seems to make us prisoners to our own thinking, something Nietzsche suggests we must break free from in

order to do something even yet more profound — feeling differently.

At the base of morality Nietzsche finds that evaluating seems as basic as anything [his own project went in the direction of a “revaluation of all values” as a result in order to escape a morality he found illegitimate] yet, he says, we feel the need to honour those evaluations in which we have been schooled — regardless of their efficaciousness or any problems they may cause for us individually. We have a habit of going in the direction we are pointed by others to whom we have ties. In the course of this, we come to believe in all kinds of baseless abstractions and fictions such as “the human being”, a product of the classifying activities Nietzsche had already described in “On Truth and Lying”. It seems we desire formulas for and tabulations of ourselves and our universe in order to act as if we have found eternal answers to our questions as a result of a rational conception of our rationality. This is what is called in some places “getting reality right”. Thinking we can do this, we then talk about goals such as “happiness” or “duration” as good outcomes for human lives and posit morality as the means to such goals — when it is manifestly clear that morality can often, or even possibly, lead to the opposite of such outcomes. Put simply, there is no reason why being moral should lead either to happiness or to our duration. Stated thus, individual happiness is not a matter of general prescription, a thing we can make rules for or algorithms about.

Then there is the further matter of our status as evolutionary beings. Evolution, Nietzsche recalls, does not have happiness as a goal, neither is it concerned with anything but more evolution, the continuance of its own blind physiological processes. This is ill-equipped to be the kind of God that people have sought, thinks Nietzsche, human beings being those who have, up until now, wanted to be commanded by something to which they wanted to imagine they could ascribe the requisite authority to be able to command us. This, in theory, could be a God or some moral imperative or some requirement to match up to a moral universe but where are these things to be found in a biological organism that is part of a blind evolutionary universe? Consequently, Nietzsche comes to his biological and physiological conclusion that human beings are concatenations of drives, drives which can enlist the intellect to satisfy the rational aspect of ourselves in the furtherance of their nourishment or satisfaction. In this sense, we are not rational beings so much as beings with a rational faculty, an apparatus for calculating, part of the whole that is a human being.

Further on into book two of Daybreak Nietzsche moves on to discuss language, subjectivity, the self and our experience. He is, in fact, interested in such things throughout his literary career, not least in connection with morality. Here a first conclusion is that language is a deceptive tool not most amenable to self-reporting on inner processes and drives. Indeed, Nietzsche can say we are not as we appear linguistically to be or that, in other words, we are a fiction [as he has already said above when describing “the human being” as just such a fiction and assumption]. The problem is that we lack self-knowledge, particularly that which might take us from knowledge of an act “we” commit to the act itself. Nietzsche concludes that no action is what it appears to be and that all actions are essentially unknown [and possibly unknowable in their detail]. Here the issue is that we are stuck in the habits of our senses for good or ill, misinformed by our sensations from which any and all knowledge must come. There we must conclude that this does not give us the right to claim access to a ‘real world’ which has an objective quality and character. The fact is that human beings do not understand the concatenation of drives that make them up. As a consequence, their nourishment is essentially a matter of chance and certainly not one of our rational determination.

Yet, in his biological approach to this problem which was distinctive of his intellectual situation as a German materialist, Nietzsche conceded that these drives require real nourishment if they are to thrive and so wither if they are not nourished. Human beings are affected by, and in relation to, their surroundings. Drives interpret nervous stimuli, for example, and whether we are awake or asleep. But since such drives are essentially unconscious this shouldn’t make any difference to them anyway. Nietzsche argues that in dreams nourishment may take place which hasn’t taken place while we are awake and he is here conceiving of the human being as a complex biological and physiological organism which operates in extra-cognitive ways but in ways our cognition may often feel it has to account for. This, however, doesn’t mean said cognition ever understands or explains these ways even if it should attempt to. In such a context, Nietzsche thinks that moral judgments and evaluations are physiological processes whose precise explanations are strictly unknown to us but for which we, nevertheless, posit causes, something that we feel to have need to do in order to “make sense of” ourselves. It may be observed that this “making sense” is something else we feel we need to have in order to justify ourselves as beings who also feel the need to justify themselves.

But what is the status of all this feeling — or even feeling the need to provide various intellectual or rational things? Nietzsche argues that our consciousness is “fantastic commentary” on the felt text of an unknown, and perhaps unknowable self. Our experiences, he thinks, are much more what we make of them than what they themselves contain. They may even be invention in their meaning or sense, another kind of ongoing commentary and fiction. In our rationality we are knitting a narrative together from our consciousness of our experiences. It is not, is never, them speaking directly but our rationality, always coloured by our morality, speaking for them. Yet, thinks Nietzsche, the intellect is a mirror and, as such, it offers no essential connection between things beyond a perfunctory succession of events. Nature knows nothing of purposes [which must therefore be invented] and no necessary connection is ever suggested save those we fabricate for ourselves. What’s more, rationality itself came into being irrationally, by chance accident. Evolution had no purpose to create such a thing nor is it now cognisant that it has. “Rationality” is just another human invention and fiction, one we choose to give value to. But, nevertheless, we made it up and we give it all the attributes we imagine it to have. Yet this invention also extends to the will as well. Willing, says Nietzsche, is nothing more than creating a rational connection between a state we regard ourselves as being in and an external event or outcome. It has meaning for us but no authority outside of us. In essence, it too is but a useful fiction in a universe of values and valuations we are weaving for ourselves.

The final sections of book two of Daybreak address freedom, motive, purpose and will in the main in a section of Nietzsche’s book on morality and its prejudices [in our thinking] which has involved itself very much in what a human being is, how it works and what its situation is. Here Nietzsche diagnoses human beings as beings with essentially superficial, surface, thought. Thinking, Nietzsche thinks, is largely superficial, self- satisfied and content with surfaces. If we are happy with its imagined results then that will do. Yet its appearance as relatively free [we can think what we like] is basically deceptive for “we can only understand that which we can do”. Consequently, it is indeed questionable if thinking ever or even results in understanding — for who is to say we can understand? It certainly can never be imagined as an a priori. Here Nietzsche suggests, no doubt scandalously to some, that conscious and unconscious thinking, waking and dreaming, are no different, even though one seems conscious in one and in the other unconscious. Nietzsche suggests that we invent freedom of will in the waking world out of human pride and for a feeling of power. Yet the basic characteristic of human thinking seems, rather than an ability, to be a certain inability. For example, it is not possible for us to divine motives in things for there are a million actions of chance we can never anticipate. And comparison of consequences is nothing to do with motives even if it might provide a future motivation to carry out such comparisons.

The fact is that we have come to believe in a realm of purpose and will and a realm of chance. This duo of kingdoms satiate our need to feel we can purposely affect things and also satiate our need for that which we do not control thus stopping things being too determined or a matter of our deliberations alone. Here the realm of chance is the realm which we think we cannot understand — in contradistinction to the realm of will and purpose which we think we can understand [not least because we made will and purpose up for our own purposes]. But how do we come to the conclusion we can understand one and not the other? With what kind of understanding do we claim to understand? Perhaps it may be that there is no realm of will and purpose — but only a realm of chance, only one realm which we do not control or understand for all our attraction to the idea of control which our species exhibits? What if we are too limited even to divine our own limitations? Perhaps what we call ‘intention’ or ‘purpose’ is no more than necessity.

Traditional morality, that which Nietzsche has been critiquing and undermining, has found itself based in a number of these things which Nietzsche has now given us reason to doubt. He has removed our notion of a rational self that can issue rational commands to an invisible but very present “I” which tell it to act in moral ways in accordance with a moral universe. Human beings, thinks Nietzsche, quite fundamentally, are not “selfless” creatures in this respect. In fact, he can say clearly that if “moral action” is regarded as action done in a “purely selfless” way then there is no moral action. By the same token, he states that if “moral action” is done from strictly free will then there is no moral action either [for he repeats multiple times in his published work that there is no “free will”]. Nietzsche thinks that we have wished, and perhaps still wish — under the shadow of a God who is dead but who, nevertheless, still casts a shadow — to separate the moral things from the “egoistic and unfree” things. Thus, we create that which is moral as the moral. Egoistic and ‘unfree’ actions are regarded more poorly than ‘free’ and ‘selfless’ ones but Nietzsche thinks this an unjustifiable moral imposition. The main issue at the bottom of morality is that of VALUE, something we undoubtedly give things that bears no relation to the world or the universe but an unbreakable and necessary connection to us ourselves in our lives and existences as we work them out. This valuing is determined according to a scheme that utilizes our rationality. But why should our values be themselves rational apart from our need to have values we can rationally justify? And why according to this rationality rather than that one? Nietzsche observes that changing our values would change our morality — and this would change us. As a result, human beings will no longer be evil when they cannot think of themselves as such — which suggests they only ever are because they can.

So the issue here is VALUES. But values are not a matter of epistemic certainty. Values do not need a perspicuity in matters of knowledge or truth. You do not, in vulgar terms, need to have explained anything or got anything right in order to evaluate or to have values. Values are a matter of INTERPRETATION and of connecting things together in relationship to and with one another and so it is in this direction I want to further discuss

Nietzsche’s thinking to finish up here in this chapter. Having done away with God and left human beings adrift on an infinite sea, having said there is no rational self, no “I” which acts, Nietzsche now wants to add “there are no facts but only interpretations” to the pot as well in a discussing of “the epistemological starting point” for a new evaluation of values to begin. In one of his last books, Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche writes:

“I distrust all systematizers and stay out of their way. The will to a system is a lack of integrity.”

He writes something very similar, and certainly related, in his notebooks, subsequently collected and published [by others] under the title The Will to Power:

“Profound aversion to reposing once and for all in any one total view of the world. Fascination of the opposing point of view: refusal to be deprived of the stimulus of the enigmatic.”

We may see these thoughts as related to the death of God and the infinite sea that were mentioned in The Gay Science where “systematizing” or “totalizing” views of the world are essentially attempts at God substitutes or at fabricating land out of infinite sea. Nietzsche will have none of this. Such thinking and activity lacks integrity and has no shred of authenticity in regard to the operation of life. Nietzsche’s belief Is that this is epistemologically invalid and rests on the creation of things that are illegitimate in themselves. Nietzsche lives in an interpretational world which for the human being is only and always a matter of the artificial connection of one thing [imagined as a thing] with another. This is then built out until a “world” exists — at which point we forget that we have made it and claim to have found that which we have made. Nietzsche doesn’t, incidentally, imagine that he is doing anything different himself in case you were tempted to suggest otherwise. So when Nietzsche will say in section 481 of The Will to Power that “facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations” this applies as much to anything he will say as to anything anyone else has said and upon which he has commented. The point here is to grasp the imagined epistemological situation of the human being which, for Nietzsche, is more a matter of hermeneutics than it is a matter of epistemological ability or certainty.

For example, here Nietzsche speaks of external and internal worlds of appearance. Here he finds no reason to grant that there are any “facts of consciousness” as if things simply present themselves to us, either internally or externally, “as they are”. Here “’Thinking,’ as epistemologists conceive it, simply does not occur: it is a quite arbitrary fiction, arrived at by selecting one element from the process and eliminating all the rest, an artificial arrangement for the purpose of intelligibility’ [italics mine]. After this thought, in section 477 of The Will to Power, Nietzsche reiterates that both thinking [as it is imagined] and the subject that thinks “are fictions”. He thinks that because we imagine a will in us that “causes” things there must then be a general force, some metaphorical kind of will, in events in general. In addition, we imagine that pain and pleasure must occur in order to cause other things, reactions to them. But this activity is nothing other than us arbitrarily connecting things together, interpreting. We interpret ourselves in certain ways and then make of those interpretations the more general way the world must work. This is interpretation not epistemological insight, claims Nietzsche.

So Nietzsche, in fact, suggests that we read off events according to a scheme with which we are already familiar [our understanding of our own experience]. Indeed, is he not saying that its familiarity is its truth and suggesting familiarity as a criterion of truth-making practices? Noticing effects, we search for and inevitably find causes but this thinking is led by the nose by the effects for which we think causes are in need to be posited. The shape of OUR thinking decides how events will be arranged and in this the events have no say. That error may creep into this process or, as Nietzsche suggests, that error may even be a part of its operation, is easily imaginable as is the operation of that old deception that Nietzsche calls “the old error of ground” which is the land that does not exist in an infinite sea. As Nietzsche has said from his first note in the “principles of a new evaluation” in The Will to Power, HOW we think affects WHAT we think. But Nietzsche thinks that:

“There exists neither ‘spirit,’ nor reason, nor thinking, nor consciousness, nor soul, nor will, nor truth: all are fictions that are of no use. There is no question of ‘subject and object,’ but of a particular species of animal that can prosper only through a certain relative rightness ; above all, regularity of its perceptions (so that it can accumulate experience)” [italics mine]

So the basic point is that human beings fabricate, create, imagine, construct, make use of, interpret. None of this means they know, understand or explain anything. “A certain relative rightness” is good enough, or “an artificial arrangement for the purpose of intelligibility” — which means arranging experience of reality in such a way as human beings can make use of it. Thus, “The utility of preservation —not some abstract-theoretical need not to be deceived— stands as the motive behind the development of the organs of knowledge” and “a species grasps a certain amount of reality in order to become master of it, in order to press it into service.” Here the utilitarian and pragmatic credentials of knowledge within the Nietzschean thinking are finally and fully stated. They are “anthropocentric and biological” in their sense which is about an increase of power. Those organs of ours which contribute to this enterprise develop for these means and not out of any purely abstract need to be right, which we are ill-equipped to judge, or to avoid error, which we would have to know the truth to be able to adjudicate in the first place. In short, if we survive in our thinking that is all the success our “knowledge” needs. Therefore, abstract commendations such as “knowledge” or “truth” are exactly that but not in the least bit relevant to the means of operation of our knowledge-acquiring faculties which do not have abstract knowledge as a purpose, motive or intention since it is most unlikely they ever possess or produce such things at all. We seek only to master our surroundings and as much regularity and “relative rightness” as we can build into this is all the pragmatic human being needs.

It is now in The Will to Power, in section 481, that Nietzsche states that “facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations”. He goes on to state that “we cannot state any fact ‘in itself’” and talks of an inevitable “perspectivism”, stating that “It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against.” This makes sense for it posits that the world we live in, our environment, are not matters of passive indifference to us. We fundamentally want to survive, to prosper even, and how can we do that if we have no stance towards the situations we find ourselves in? So, of course “our needs” interpret the world. And they need to for how else shall we, as the beings we are, survive? We are not just anything but we are specific things and paying attention to that matters. In fact, it matters so much Nietzsche has argued throughout that nature has not left it simply to cognition or “a rational self” to deal with it.

So all our beliefs, as conditions of life, could be false because such beliefs may nowhere touch on anything so obtuse as “reality”. But Nietzsche, of course, has already said that we don’t need to get anything right. We only need not be so wrong that the nature of things corrects us in a way that things like rocks and gravity always will. The important thing here is that hermeneutics is not epistemology and should never be treated as such. Giving things substance or motives or purpose is always a matter of interpretation and it may be that even wanting to impute these things into things is an error. This is because “It is improbable that our ‘knowledge’ should extend further than is strictly necessary for the preservation of life” and “We can comprehend only a world that we ourselves have made.” We can only see with our own eyes. But that gives us no mandate to think that everything is as we see it and that, seeing thus, this is knowledge or truth or understanding or explanation. The point in this is that our knowledge is not necessarily knowledge at all. It has been designated as such in language, a system of meaning and value, but that is all. As Nietzsche says in a very biological, physiological and evolutionary way, “Our apparatus for acquiring knowledge is not designed for ‘knowledge’.” Such apparatus takes possession of things in order to make use of them. But why should that be knowledge if “the value of the world lies in our interpretation”? Nietzsche’s evaluation is blunt: “The world with which we are concerned is false, i.e., is not a fact but a fable.” And this because “we have created the world that possesses values!”

So where are we here in this thickening morass of Nietzschean interpretation? In that interpretation, the human being is a matter of biology, of a form of life, and the preservation of a form of life, of an organism. It is self-perpetuating in as far as it can be. But such human existence is not normally, nor even mostly, a rational matter in its biological outworking. Rationality is a faculty or aspect of the human, not a synonym for it, and probably not even the most basic faculty or aspect it has. Consequently, as a “concatenation of drives”, we do not know what truth is [nor, at this level, are we interested in it] and we would not be able to judge we had such a thing even if we happened to have it. Morality, if it be an object such as truth in the same way, finds itself in the same situation. Under such thinking, human intellectual faculties, and those things that make them up, are an evaluating, interpretive, meaning- making apparatus for the schematizing of data with the intention of making a regular world from their experience and operation. As such, evaluating, meaning-making, believing, taking for true, interpreting are more primitive and more basic activities of the human being. These may harness and utilise reason but they do not spring from it. Their basis is more biological, more functional, more instinctual. They have more to do with a tree which naturally grows towards the sunlight than a reasoned deliberation amongst imagined alternative courses of action, more to do with chance conditions of existence than knowledge.

Here language enters the fray. Language is the border of our ability to think and our ability to interpret rationally is deceived in that it must follow language’s prejudices. Logic, reason, consciousness, identity, these are our inventions, the positing of things in which stability can be salvaged from chaos. In our thinking we have wedded such a stability to truth as an opposition to the becoming and chance of a natural world we could not live in by its manner of operation. Yet, if our world is not the stable place we have imagined, then it cannot be moral on the basis of an inaccurate stability. Morality, as many have imagined it, relies on calculability, simplicity, comprehensibility. Where this is the case, we have manufactured these things rationally from our experience and so created a world of which morality could be posited. In error. Such morality, like truth, has been posited as a condition of life and in spite of the fact that life could exist, and might even prosper, without these manufactured values and value systems. Such morality is an artificial creation executed according to values rationally extrapolated within an interpretive framework that imagines knowledge is of something real and truth authoritative because in some way permanent. It is, thus, something that seeks to rule and to subdue, to compel others to its manufactured truth. Morality, like truth, is ultimately an argument from a fictionally constituted authority.

So, although knowledge, truth and morality are posited by human beings as values, they are merely Trojan horses. The pragmatic, utilitarian human being simply has a biological need to preserve itself and will use whatever means necessary to do so. It uses morality in the furtherance of amorality [for it could not know what an unconditioned morality was] and is blind to what any true morality would really be for everything it posits is a fiction, must necessarily be a fiction, must necessarily be expediency and utility writ large. Human beings, under this, I would argue Nietzschean, thinking are functional creatures more properly described as ‘human becomings’ since more begins for them in the interpretation of feeling and sensation than it does in reason’s explanation of an objective reality. More begins for them in pre-cognitive evaluation and meaning-making than it does in rationality. Their form of life is, thus, hermeneutic as opposed to epistemologically-conceived. It is based in interpretation not “knowledge”. We are interpreting organisms. So, finally, we must conclude that human beings, thought of functionally, MUST evaluate and they MUST make meaning. They must live their lives interpreting. Without this, they cease to exist.

It is worth dwelling for a moment upon this. We may describe ourselves as hermeneutic beings yet, better still, as hermeneutic becomings for the nature of the universe is movement and change not stasis and fixity. No two moments are ever identical. Identity itself is a fiction of language born exactly of the need to make stable that Nietzsche describes. Interpretation is then the name for a process of constant interactional meaning-making and evaluating that human beings carry out habitually as part of their form of life. What’s more, this interpretation has a physiological basis which takes place beyond reasons and rationality but which implicates and utilizes them in the process nevertheless. It is not a choice but an activity of that which is alive and must grow, and so

interact, to survive. [In this sense we can say any and all life “interprets”.] It can then be said that this interpretation is a pragmatic process in which drives seek their satisfaction and satiation and so express their will to obtain power over things and their surroundings. Through interpretation, human beings work with language in order to perform functions such as understanding, explaining and clarifying, and in discerning things designated knowledge and truth. In this, it is the case that the grammar and structure of language itself is fictionalising in that in performing its function language suggests stasis, stability and fixity where, strictly speaking, there is none. Language is a tool fitted to a purpose but in its use epistemic certainty, or even the necessity of an epistemic interest, is neither evident nor suggested.

This is because there is no difference between interpreting a thing and using a thing. All interpretations are, in fact, ‘mere’ uses. Interpretation is by means of fictional devices that we cannot consciously fabricate but that we must invest ourselves in having first fabricated them — through beliefs and passional and intellectual commitment — nevertheless. We may then speak of being inhabited by our beliefs, attitudes and orientations rather than ourselves taking them up as if they were options on a supermarket shelf. So saying that we are interpretational in nature is not trivial for to interpret is not regarded as trivial either. All interpretation, which always then has stakes, is from a context and is a matter of a relating to. Interpretation is both context and content, process and event, and “understanding” is an interpretational and linguistic phenomenon rather than an epistemological or metaphysical achievement. Thus, its character is pragmatic and utilitarian. That which is understood is interpreted as understood in a way that has involved some need of the organism which is that which interprets being satiated or satisfied. As I would hope my readers would understand, this is absolutely not trivial as a consequence.

Such interpretation, as I would now hope my readers understand takes place on an infinite sea after the death of God and all his imagined substitutes, further takes place without ground and does not provide one as a result of its operation. In such interpretation “the good” is the same as “that which provides what is needed” otherwise known as “the necessary”. Furthermore, such interpretations cannot be checked off against the world. They can only be checked off against other interpretations. [Hence the necessity of language, communication and thinking.] Yet interpretations can be changed by the world, not least because, although the world is made use of as an interpretation, it is not in the control of that which interprets it. The world never tells us what to think [because it can’t] but it can, sometimes very harshly or abruptly, tell us that our thinking is bad for us.

So in a very real and consequential sense here I am saying that interpretation is life, its experience and process. To be alive is to interpret and if you are a human being then you spend your entire life making things up, arguing with others about things they have made up and deciding which between various possible alternatives is the best made up thing we will become possessed by. We should not regard any of this as trivial for, to the contrary, it is the most serious of subjects we could imagine — the prosperous continuance of our lives. In the works of Nietzsche the human being is the creator, the interpreter, the intoxicated fictioneer [intoxicated with their own life and experience, that is, and the need to give it meaning and value]. All around is experience and the only question to be answered is what will human beings make of it to stay for a moment within the realm of sensation before the brief flame of their life is snuffed out once again by the inevitability of change. It is a tragic and [fortunately] short story, but there it is.

THREE: Biology As a Discourse About the Diversity of Life

I may have said before, and might well say again, that I am not much of a scientist — and neither have I ever really had any big interest in science or scientists. I’ve never gasped at scientific discoveries and don’t marvel at what our scientific understanding can achieve. Its just never interested me and I couldn’t have ever told you why for the most part. Its just all been a bit “meh” up until now on the science front for me. But I do think I’m starting to understand why the more I think, relate things to other things and contextualise. We human beings are one species among millions on one planet in one galaxy among billions and maybe even trillions of observable and estimated galaxies in the universe. This, I suggest, is the context for everything, the context of everything. You and me and every human being who ever lived effectively amount to zero. We are not even background noise in the universe. As Nietzsche suggested in my last chapter, when we have disappeared no one will ever know that we were ever there. Or care about it. And they would seemingly be right not to.

Now an even more startling thing may be true when we boost our human interest into an interest in life itself, a thing in which we imagine we share. Life on our planet seems amazingly abundant and yet, even there, we conceive that between those places in the universe where life exists [which surely must be on more than one out of the unimaginable number of planets that must exist] there are vast spaces [literally!] of dead

nothingness. Space is mostly, well, space! And so this is the context in which to understand Nietzsche when he says that life is a kind of death and a very rare kind. Being dead is what’s normal for the universe. Life, in that context, seems relatively rare and maybe even all the more amazing that it ever existed in the first place.

This particular chapter is to be about two things. The first of those two is human life. The second is biology, something that may be thought of as the study of life but something which may also be thought of as human talk about life. Biology, in this second sense, is nothing other than human thoughts [or understandings or observations] about life. In order to discuss these things I am going to follow my common practice and do so in interaction with a book. In this case that book is Evolution’s Rainbow by the biologist, Joan Roughgarden. This book, subtitled “Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People“, aims to discuss “the extensive diversity in sex, gender, and sexuality now known to exist among both nonhuman animals and people.” It, thus, has a very particular purpose which is to show that a narrative about life which unnecessarily and illegitimately narrows, squashes or even deliberately underestimates life’s diversity is a narrative that cannot stand scrutiny in relation to life as we otherwise experience it in biological inquiry.

We begin by noting that the book is split into three sections — Animal Rainbows, Human Rainbows and Cultural Rainbows — and, as far as I’m concerned, if the book was just any one of these three sections the point about rainbows of diversity as a fact of empirical observation would be made anyway. The thing is, as I will expand upon discussing the pragmatist philosophy of Richard Rorty in chapter 5, you can try to impose an ideology upon the world [for example, one in which there is but two biological sexes which are coterminous with two genders, two and no more, which combine in only a heterosexual way which can be dubbed “Nature’s way”] but the world has a habit of making a fool of you if this ideology is not simultaneously coterminous with what people can freely observe for themselves if only they will look with the required openness which has not decided that the world must be a certain way. It is to be Roughgarden’s testimony, as a biologist of many years standing, that what can be observed, in animal, human and cultural spheres, is best described in terms of rainbows of diversity rather than a static, eternal, unchanging binary opposition. Should she provide the evidence for this description in her book [in one of the areas would be enough but in all three would be even more convincing] it would then make it untenable for “binarists” to continue to describe the apparent situation in reality this way anymore.

So let’s start with Roughgarden’s first sentence in her first chapter, “Sex and Diversity”. It reads “All species have genetic diversity — their biological rainbow. No exceptions.” She continues, “Biological rainbows are universal and eternal.” Diversity is everywhere and has, according to this testimony, penetrated into every aspect of biological life. There have been philosophers who have come to similar conclusions, considering that change and diversity are the effective motors of the universe. Can we see this in the real world? Well, why are there so many different species of animals? How did they get to be different? If we are not going to say some God invented them and arbitrarily decided their differences [and since a biologist is very likely today to be a student of evolutionary theory then they will be looking for an evolutionary answer to this question] then we need some sort of practical, naturalist reason. Roughgarden suggests that the differences are so common and so minute that it is sometimes difficult to classify them. A bird may have an example of itself in one town but in the next town over the same sort of bird may be slightly different — and there may be examples of other kinds of the same bird intermediate between the two in the spaces in between the towns. Even the same kind of animal is not always the same. Biological reality, if we may call it that, was not constructed according to a “periodic table” of species and “Organisms flow across the bounds of any category we construct”. Roughgarden even goes so far as to say that “nature abhors a category”. One thing this means is that no one example of that bird is the exemplar of all the other, slightly different, examples of the same bird. All examples of that bird are equally examples of it in a way which never privileges any one of them over the others.

So if diversity is a simple fact, why is this the case? What is diversity doing that lack of it would not be? One obvious thing it is doing, at the level of a species, is providing some evolutionary possibility and opportunity. If a particular species gets into trouble, it falls prey to some disease or virus, for example, and every example of that species is exactly the same, then the entire species dies out because the whole species has the same vulnerability. If there is some measure of diversity in that species, however, then maybe some of that species resist the virus or avoid getting the disease and they, and at least some of that species, survive. So at the level of the species, at least, diversity has a clear advantage. It gives a species somewhere to go and gives them a measure of survival potential. The point of life, after all, is surely to keep existing, right?

Roughgarden has a biological example of something which caters for diversity in nature and you may have heard of it: its called sex. But, interestingly, not all species reproduce by having sex. Some species simply clone themselves. Roughgarden actually says “lots of species propagate without sex” which shatters the illusions of those who thought that sex was for reproduction and was a universal feature of life. Species that propagate without sex are species where everyone is female and there is [obviously] no fertilization of eggs. In such species the egg the female produces has all the genetic material it needs already within it. But this obviously isn’t very diverse. The mother provided everything and there was no father whose genetic material would be different. But the diversity continues when we move to species in which there are “two kinds of females: those who don’t mate when reproducing and those who do mate.” This grouping apparently includes grasshoppers, locusts, moths, mosquitoes, roaches, fruit flies, bees, turkeys and chickens. In other words, some fairly common creatures that we’ve likely had acquaintance with. TWO kinds of females? Apparently so. Not all females in nature, according to biological observation, are the same or have the same biological function.

But you remember I mentioned sex as something good for promoting diversity? It is good for diversity, of course, because you have all this intermixing of examples of a species. Obviously, the speed of such a species’ reproduction is cut down. If all of a species is female, as it is in some cases, then every example of the species can produce an egg. In a sexual species that’s cut in half immediately because males don’t have the biological function of giving birth. [Thus, in high mortality situations, the sexual species may die out due to its slower rate of reproduction where a single-sexed species, due to sheer weight of reproductive numbers, may survive.] Some people of a certain age, especially British people, may remember an animal called Dolly the sheep. Dolly [who died because the experiment didn’t work] was an example of biologists trying to make a sheep which could clone itself without having sheepy sex. The reasons for doing this weren’t exactly well motivated. They were economic. If sheep could clone themselves then every sheep could give birth to a lamb and not only half of them. Sex produces more diverse sheep but sheep that can clone themselves can produce more sheep, period. [Keep reading for more sheepish revelations below!]

Thus, “the benefit of sex is survival over evolutionary time.” But some species, such as aphids, have used diversity of reproductive possibilities to combine clonal reproduction at one time of the year with sexual reproduction at another. So when they need numbers to colonize some plant at one point they reproduce clonally in great numbers but when that’s not so important they can switch to sexual reproduction, thus switching to a method of reproducing which builds in more opportunity for species’ survival in the long run. Its a clever thing this evolution. But there’s something to note here about the aphid, something which this mix and match approach highlights. This is that “the purpose of sex isn’t reproduction as such, because asexual species [i.e. species that never have sex] are perfectly capable of reproducing.” So if you were one of those people who thought that sex exists for reproduction and only reproduction by means of sex creates life then you’re dead wrong. Nature doesn’t need sex to reproduce. Cloning, or an asexual biochemical procedure carried out by a single example of a species, works just as well, if with different consequences. The species that clones has less “genetic wealth” and a species that has sex “is essentially cooperative” and engages in “a natural covenant to share genetic wealth”.

Let’s move along to “sex versus gender” in animals. Now:

“To most people, ‘sex’ automatically implies ‘male’ or ‘female.’ Not to a biologist... sex means mixing genes when reproducing. Sexual reproduction is producing offspring by mixing genes from two parents, whereas asexual reproduction is producing offspring by one parent only, as in cloning. The definition of sexual reproduction makes no mention of ‘male’ and ‘female.’ So what do ‘male’ and ‘female’ have to do with sex? The answer, one might suppose, is that when sexual reproduction does occur, one parent is male and the other female. But how do we know which one is the male? What makes a male, male, and a female, female? Indeed, are there only two sexes? Could there be a third sex? How do we define male and female anyway?”

Sex, of course, is also not gender. If it were why would the concepts of sex and gender both exist if one were mere duplication of the other? Roughgarden takes the view, and its one I’ve come to find very helpful, that we can think in biological categories [male or female bodies, things distinguished according to biological function] and we can think in sociological categories [men, women, trans, gay, etc., things about which social groups have freedom to decide who will count as what — or even if it matters]. You might want to think of these as things left up to us — how people will be seen in society — and things not left up to us — what biological functions certain bodies have. Important to note here is that one is not the other and we should not confuse the two [sex is not gender and gender is not sex]. That one body can do one thing and another can’t do that but can do something else gives neither of these bodies any particular value or significance. Only we do that. Evolution, we must remember, doesn’t know what it is doing and isn’t doing it for any purpose or with any end or valuation in sight. Any rules or customs that build up around biological differences are sociologically constructed and for reasons all our own. So although we may think we get to decide what a “real” man or woman is [which are matters of gender and sociologically constructed] “for biological categories we don’t have the same freedom. ‘Male’ and ‘female’ are biological categories, and the criteria for classifying an organism as male or female have to work with worms to whales, with red seaweed to redwood trees.”

The issue here from the biologist’s point of view is that:

“using biological categories as though they were social categories is a mistake called ‘essentialism.’ Essentialism amounts to passing the buck. Instead of taking responsibility for who counts socially as a man or woman, people turn to science, trying to use the biological criteria for male to define a man and the biological criteria for female to define a woman. However, the definition of social categories rests with society, not science, and social categories can’t be made to coincide with biological categories except by fiat.”

Roughgarden thus thinks it makes sense to distinguish between biological males and females and sociological men and women. The former are defined according to biological rigour in regard to the biological function of bodies. The latter absolutely are not and could be defined according to whatever classifications the sociological grouping concerned decided were necessary or relevant. Social categories need not be biological at all because biology talk is only for the purposes of biological inquiry and discusses the subject of biological function as part of a greater discussion about life and how it exists at all. But there is no a priori reason for such very specialised and specific discussions to be related to gender discussions in any given society. Indeed, put like this, it seems very strange and arbitrary that they would be.

So, for a biologist doing their biology, “’male’ means making small gametes, and ‘female’ means making large gametes.” That’s it, the concise, simple and universal definition of the BIOLOGICAL difference between a male and a female. This has nothing necessarily to do with the sociological description of men and women. These are biological terms used within biological discussion. There now follows a helpful science bit which Roughgarden provides for those who don’t know what gametes are:

“A gamete is a cell containing half of its parent’s genes. Fusing two gametes, each with half the needed number of genes, produces a new individual. A gamete is made through a special kind of cell division called meiosis, whereas other cells are made through the regular kind of cell division, called mitosis. When two gametes fuse, the resulting cell is called a zygote. A fertilized egg is a zygote.”

The small gametes here are normally called sperm and the larger gametes are called eggs. This is now sounding a little more familiar. But note that, despite what you might have heard about chromosomes and other things, “Beyond gamete size, biologists don’t recognize any other universal difference between male and female.” This is the singular biological definition: what size gametes do you produce? But even more important than that, and a difference I want to stick to in my discussion of gender as opposed to sex, is that “’male’ and ‘female’ are biological categories, whereas ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are social categories.” When we talk about “men and women” in everyday life, perhaps in reading poems or looking at art, we are not talking in biological discourse, in the language of the biologist. We are discussing sociological categories. And these are not the same thing. That’s why there is sex talk, which is biological talk, and gender talk, which is sociological talk. It would do well to remember the difference for there is no place here for essentialism, much less a faulty essentialism. [PS Some few species do not stick to these two gamete sizes either meaning that male and female don’t even universally apply in every known form of life. We must draw the conclusion that nature did not set out to create male and female even if that’s a very, very common way for life to propagate itself. It sounds more like the most utilitarian way rather than the way things must be.]

So that is “sex”, a biological matter. What about “gender”?

“The binary in gamete size doesn’t extend outward. The biggest error of biology today is uncritically assuming that the gamete size binary implies a corresponding binary in body type, behavior, and life history. No binary governs the whole individuals who make gametes, who bring them to one another for fertilization, and who interact with one another to survive in a native social context. In fact, the very sexual process that maintains the rainbow of a species and facilitates long-term survival automatically brings a cornucopia of colorful sexual behaviors. Gender, unlike gamete size, is not limited to two.

‘Gender’ usually refers to the way a person expresses sexual identity in a cultural context. Gender reflects both the individual reaching out to cultural norms and society imposing its expectations on the individual. Gender is the appearance, behavior, and life history of a sexed body. A body becomes ‘sexed’ when classified with respect to the size of the gametes produced. Thus, gender is appearance plus action, how an organism uses morphology, including color and shape, plus behavior to carry out a sexual role.” [Italics mine]

Having defined sex and gender and shown their differences, and so their appropriate uses, Roughgarden can now tick off a few misnomers that those critical of such distinctions often bring forward. These include that:

An organism is solely male or female for life. Not true.
Males are normally bigger than females. Not true.
Females, not males, give birth. Not true.
Males have XY chromosomes and females have XX. Not true.
There are only two genders which correspond to two sexes. Not true.
Males and females look different from each other. Not true.
The male has a penis and the female lactates. Not true.
Males control females. Not true.
Females are monogamous and males get it where they can. Not true.

In each of these cases Roughgarden gives examples, and often overwhelming numbers of examples, of where what we might call such prejudices about biological life have built up. That something is either male or female for life, for example, is a huge falsehood when, as Roughgarden details, “the most common body form among plants and in perhaps half of the animal kingdom is for an individual to be both male and female at the same, or at different times during its life.” In each case here there is competent and documented evidence to the contrary which tells us that biological reality has not set out to be a certain way, “Nature’s Way”, but that, rather, it continues in whatever way works. We may see patterns when we look at this as human biologists but nature is not constrained to follow our patterns and neither has it designated one way right or good and other ways either illegitimate or their opposites. Nature does not share our classificatory prejudices nor their often moral motivations. Rather, as Joan Roughgarden continues:

“by defining gender as how an organism presents and carries out a sexual role, we can also define masculine and feminine in ways unique to each species. ‘Masculine’ and ‘feminine’ refer to the distinguishing traits possessed by most males and females respectively. Cross-gender appearance and behavior are also possible. For example, if most females have vertical stripes on their bodies and males do not, then a male with vertical stripes is a ‘feminine male.’ If most males have antlers and females do not, then a doe with antlers is a ‘masculine female.’”


“We don’t have to deny the universality of the biological male/female distinction in order to challenge whether the gender of whole organisms also sorts into a male/female binary. In humans specifically, a gender binary for whole people is not clear-cut even though the difference between human sperm and egg is obvious—a size ratio of about one million to one.”

So, sex is not gender. They are different things. One can be a certain sex but that doesn’t necessarily correspond to a certain gender manifestation. We need to give up such simple inaccuracy, let alone pursue it as an ideology that risks becoming nothing but bigotry, beliefs held in the face of both nature and the world.

Let’s now take a look at “sex within bodies” within the world of diversity that is the biological world. There are, of course, bodies which have male and female functions [the production of one size of gamete or the other] but these bodies do “not fit into any consistent polarity”. We think of males and females having separate bodies because, for the most part, we humans do and our familiars, dogs and cats, etc., do too. But that, of course, is far from universal. There are, for example, hermaphrodites. These are organisms with bodies that make both small and large gametes at some point in their life cycle and this may be at the same time [simultaneous hermaphrodites] or at different times [sequential hermaphrodites]. Most flowering plants are the first type of hermaphrodite here for they make pollen and seeds at the same time. Being a hermaphrodite is also very common if you live in the sea [as evolution suggests some distant forebear of we humans did too] and, overall, being a hermaphrodite works for very many species of life on earth and is completely normal. Roughgarden even speculates it may be more common to be a hermaphrodite than to be a species which maintains separate sexes in separate bodies which seems jarring when and if it is imagined the latter is “normal” and hermaphroditism some strange deviation from the norm. But we need to remember that much of evolution is a matter of adaptation to environments and so differences and diversities in, between and amongst species of animals are always something to do with environment and there will be causal reasons [not eternal, arbitrary reasons] for why one thing is like this and another is like that. Nature is what works and what works is not constrained by norms but overcomes them if it can.

So we have fish that can change sex. We have fish which have three, not two, genders. We have fish where the sexes look very similar. We have fish where “One gender consists of individuals who begin life as a male and remain so for life. Another gender consists of individuals who begin as females and later change into males.” It seems that different ecological circumstances may favour one or the other of these types of males and, speaking frankly, these things, it seems to me, wouldn’t exist if there was not some kind of evolutionary pay off for them in doing so. If these fish, called wrasses, are studied, we find that:

“The wrasses live both on coral reefs and in the seagrass beds nearby. In seagrass, females nestled among grass blades can’t be guarded very well, and the balance of hostilities tips in favor of the small unchanged males. This situation leads to only two genders, unchanged males and females. On the coral reef, clear water and an open habitat structure permit the large sex-changed males to control the females, and the balance tips in their favor. This situation encourages the presence of all three genders. Simple population density also shifts the gender ratios. At high densities females are difficult to guard and small unchanged males predominate, whereas at low densities a large sex-changed male can control a ‘harem.’ Whether females prefer either type of male isn’t known.”

All fascinating, if not a little bizarre, from human perspective. But Roughgarden makes an interesting comment in relation to this when she notes that “The sex changes are triggered by changes in social organization”. In another type of wrasse she therefore also notes that:

“When a large sex-changed male is removed from his harem, the largest female changes sex and takes over. Within a few hours, she adopts male behavior, including courtship and spawning with the remaining females. Within ten days, this new male is producing active sperm. Meanwhile the other females in the harem remain unchanged.”

Now how’s about that from the perspective of “Nature’s Way” which is fixed and binary and unchanging? That’s right, such thinking is nonsense, unscientific nonsense. Roughgarden reports that “Aspects of this system appear again and again among vertebrates, especially the themes of male control of females or their eggs, multiple male genders, hostility among some of the male genders, flexible sexual identity, and social organization that changes with ecological context.” And shouldn’t we expect these

things to be so? Are we so dumb as to imagine that “one size fits all”? Anyone who has ever bought anything that was “one size fits all” knows very well that one size does not fit all. It fits the size it fits and the rest must make do if they can. This is essentially what is happening in human thinking when some people insist that one biological size fits all. It doesn’t; it must be made to fit and there will be those who must suffer the consequences. In nature, sex [not, at this point, gender which is probably even more fluid] can change from female to male and also from male to female. No law or rule of “Nature’s Way” is stopping that. Nature, in fact, is the thing enabling it. There are also species which are both sexes at the same time [but who mate with a partner rather than with themselves] and others which sex change — in the strictly biological sense — multiple times during their lives. [In some species Roughgarden tells us that this is not even particularly difficult.] Does any of this give you the sense that nature operates on the basis of fixed bodies organised according to an unchanging binary? And what then should we say about these species? It would make no sense at all to talk about sex as “innate” in relation to such species — and so it would also make no sense to talk about sex as innate to species in nature as a whole where some species treat it as what’s best suited to a current moment or environment rather than a fixed thing its impossible to affect. Nature, we may say, allows what is necessary in the moment. If it achieves some purpose nature won’t be the thing that stops it happening but the thing which is the context for its possibility. Nature, in fact, may be seen as a “context for possibility” as a whole and “male and female functions don’t need to be packaged into lifelong, distinct bodies”.

“But what about mammals?” you might now begin asking, finding all this talk about fish in the sea and hermaphroditic plants interesting but irrelevant to human beings. Well, there are “intersexed” examples of mammals for, as Roughgarden reports:

“we can distinguish intersexed gonads, with some combination of ovarian and testicular tissue, from intersexed genitals, with some combination of egg- and sperm-related plumbing. We could even distinguish internal genitally intersexed and external genitally intersexed to pinpoint where the combined plumbing is located. Although the gamete-size binary implies that only two sexed functions exist, many body types occur, ranging from all-sperm parts, through various combinations of both sperm- and egg-related parts, to all-egg parts.”

What’s more, “In some mammalian species, intersexed bodies are a minority; in others, the majority.” And then there is the case of various kinds of pigs in the South Pacific:

“Pigs in the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides) have been bred for their intersex expressions. Typically, these pigs have male gonads and sperm-related internal plumbing, intermediate or mixed external genitalia, and tusks like boars. In Vanuatu cultures, the pigs are prized as status symbols, and among the people of Sakao, seven distinct genders are named, ranging from those with the most egg-related external genitalia to those with the most sperm-related external genitalia. The indigenous classification of gradations in intersexuality is said to be more complete than any system of names yet developed by Western scientists and was adopted by the scientist who wrote the first descriptions of the culture. In the past, 10 to 20 percent of the domesticated pigs consisted of intersexed individuals.”

Of course, relatively low numbers of such animals might play into the prejudice of “not normal”. But since when was it the case that we should prejudice commonality over rarity, let alone when this is the case with perfectly healthy living beings? Is this not an unjustifiable discrimination as it used to be widely in Western society when the relative rarity of homosexuality was held up as a reason to regard it as “unnatural” alongside other, equally dubious, reasons? That something is relatively rare or uncommon is not a reason to despise it or discriminate against it.

So we should note that:

“The Bimin-Kuskusmin and Inuit have stories of bears who are ‘male mothers,’ giving birth through a penis-clitoris. Indeed, 10 to 20 percent of the female bears in some populations have a birth canal that runs through the clitoris, rather than forming a separate vagina. An intersex female bear actually mates and gives birth through the tip of her penis.”

Nature, and the biology which observes it, do not follow the prejudice that that which is more common counts more. This, where it is apparent, would be nothing other than a culturally-informed invention and discrimination. But, in nature, such phenomena continue anyway. Consider, for example, the spotted hyena of Tanzania:

“This form of intersexed plumbing is found in all females of the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) of Tanzania—in which the females have penises nearly indistinguishable from those of the males. Aristotle believed these animals to be hermaphrodites, but he was only half right. The first scientific investigation in 1939 showed that a spotted hyena makes only one-size gamete throughout its life, either an egg or sperm. Thus these hyenas are not hermaphrodites. Rather, female spotted hyenas are intersexed, like some female bears. The females have a phallus 90 percent as long and the same diameter as a male penis (yes, somebody measured, 171 millimeters long and 22 millimeters in diameter). The labia are fused to form a scrotum containing fat and connective tissue resembling testicles. The urogenital canal runs the length of the clitoris, rather than venting from below. The animal can pee with the organ, making it a penis. Completing the picture, the female penis contains erectile tissue (corpus spongiosum) that allows erections like those of a male penis.”

Remarkable. Meanwhile, “In woolly monkeys, close relatives of the spider monkey, the clitoris is actually longer than the penis. In still another close relative, the muriqui, nipples are located along the sides, under the arms. Thus, even in primates, a gendered body can be assembled on a vertebrate chassis in many ways.” And not just one way. Do we imagine nature cares? Now consider the following:

“On land, a male mammal’s testes descend from the body cavity into the scrotum, whereupon they become testicles. The scrotum is derived by fusing the tissues that in females become the labia covering the vagina and clitoris. By not bothering to fuse the labial tissue into a scrotum and leaving the testes in the abdominal cavity, a developing male dolphin or whale keeps his testes protected, using the labial tissues as protective flaps. The clitoris continues to develop into a penis, as the urethra becomes included along its axis.”

There is an interesting corollary to this, however: “If these steps took place on land, a mammalian male would be classified as intersexed.” So human classification, the way we invented to study things, doesn’t even follow the same rules for things that live on land as it does for things that live in water. Roughgarden comments that “we might speculate that male dolphins and whales have achieved their genital architecture by making a norm out of what would otherwise be considered an exceptional intersex morphology.” But when it comes to “norms” and bodies what is a “norm” anyway? It would seem to be nothing other than common ways in which bodies seem to resolve and form themselves in order to carry out their function, an entirely pragmatic process. Bodies just work in whatever ways they work and there is little biological reason to be dogmatic about it, either in our classification of bodies or as an observation of how morphology actually manifests itself.

But this is not to leave gender roles out of this account for, as already stated, these do not map one to one to sex roles in some kind of mirror image. And so, for example:

“Even species thought of as typical, with one gender per sex and individuals who maintain a single sex throughout life, often have gender roles quite different from the traditional template. Indeed, in some species, males (apart from making sperm) look and behave much as females do in other species, and females (apart from making eggs) look and behave much as males do in other species. If these species could express their thoughts about us, they would describe our gender distinctions as reversed.”

This gives us the opportunity to cite the example of the Anglerfish:

“anglerfish... are all female—fisherwomen, not fishermen. Is the anglerfish another example of an all-female species? Nope. Anglerfish males exist, but they are tiny and are called ‘dwarf males.’ These anglerfish males are incapable of independent existence. They have large nostrils for homing in on perfumes released by the females and pinchers, instead of teeth, to grasp little projections on the female. After a male attaches to the back or side of a female, their epidermal tissues fuse and their circulatory systems unite, and the male becomes an organ of the female. Multiple males may attach to one female, a case of polyandry. They thereby turn into two or more genetically distinct individuals in one body, a colony.”

A pretty novel arrangement! But this is not the whole anglerfish story as Roughgarden continues:

“Over one hundred species of anglerfish are distributed throughout the world at depths below one mile. For all anglerfish, the females are much larger than the males. In other respects, though, anglerfish are diverse, exhibiting a rainbow of their own. Some species have attaching dwarf males that fuse with the body of a female, as just described; others have both free-living males and attaching males; and still other species have males who are exclusively free-living. Indeed, whenever one looks deeply into any biological category, a rainbow is revealed. The living world is made of rainbows within rainbows within rainbows, in an endless progression.”

Now one may describe Roughgarden’s explanation there as “speculation” but the anglerfish is just one kind of fish and it exhibits multiple ways in which the sexes interact and in which gender roles are played out — in just one single, solitary species. The charge of a diversity of behaviours and existences is hardly a wild and reckless one, then. If we look across the whole spectrum of nature, this is multiplied many, many times. We might here mention the pipefish or the seahorse. In some species of the former, the males [not the females] have “protective skin flaps that partially cover the fertilized eggs” [until they hatch]. In the latter, the female seahorse places an egg inside a pouch on the male seahorse. The eggs are only fertilized inside this pouch by the male [forming embryos] and, in effect, the male becomes pregnant. The male body then provides all the embryos need in order for the young to be born. So, in nature, its not only females that can give birth.

Let us move on to “multiple-gender families” that exist in biological life. This, of course, means animal families that contain more than two genders for it is the case that these exist in biological reality. Such gender realities are not totally dissociated from biological bodies either for Roughgarden states plainly that “the social roles of multiply gendered animals are indicated by their bodies. Males or females in a species may come in two or more sizes or colors.” But it is also about more than this for “The two morphs approach courtship differently, have different numbers of mates, have different arrangements of between-sex and same-sex relationships, live different life spans, prefer different types of real estate for their homes, exercise different degrees of parental care, and so on.” Often, then, this is about identifying behaviours in a species, and particularly in terms of sex characteristics, in such a way as differing gender roles can be determined even in animals which, in terms of those same sex characteristics, come equipped with the same plumbing. Put simply, that bodies are biologically similar in terms of plumbing does not mean that their gender roles are the same. Gender does not map simply to biological sex in the animal world — a note for the dogmatic.

As an aside to this topic, Joan Roughgarden makes note of the fact that some human biologists, when discussing this area, have found language a problem. Such things as “multiple-gender families”, when discussed by human beings, are not “neutral subjects” of no consequence in human culture. And this can become a problem in a world of political pressures were people are coerced this way and that in order to say things are like this or like that because there are people who do not want them to be said to be another way. We know, for example, that [unfortunately] there are a number of groups in society who take the position — for their own reasons — that things such as homosexuality and transgenderism are “unnatural” and “against nature’s way”. These people are not, and would not, be motivated to find such phenomena occurring, apparently very naturally and with biological purpose, in the natural world. So when mating strategies are observed in animals which apparently include same sex activity or the mixing of more than two genders of animals occurs the temptation in some might be to describe these as “alternative mating strategies” or even “deviant”. This, I think, is just prejudice — and there is no reason why a biologist cannot be prejudiced too. [I can think of at least one famous one who is!] As Roughgarden asserts then: “Societies with multiple genders are not easy to describe because we’re not prepared to find what we actually see.” We can be tempted to operate with a sense of “normal” which is prejudicial or even willingly misinformative. And so we need to describe rather than prescribe. For language users such as ourselves, this is not always easy.

But let us go on and give some examples of multiple-gendered goings on from Roughgarden’s book. There are, for instance, examples of animal families in which there are two kinds of males and one kind of female. An example here is bullfrogs. Females will mate with both kinds of male but the male kinds have different behaviours, the larger makes the noise distinctive of the bullfrog but the smaller males are silent. Also a species of the “two male, one female” kind is the plainfin midshipman, a fish. Again, the male genders act differently from each other, not least in their means of mating. There is a larger male gender which guards eggs and defends territories where eggs are laid and a smaller male which darts into a larger male’s territory to fertilize eggs before darting away again. Here, as with the frogs, the larger fish emits a sound but the smaller male is silent. There are, apparently, “hundreds” of fish species where there is more than one male gender and these are indicative of genetic and morphological [and so not merely behavioural] differences. As an aside here, we may note that in the frogs the smaller male changes into a larger male as he ages whereas in the plainfin midshipman the males are either large or small for life. Gender can change or it can stay the same. Nature apparently doesn’t mind either way.

Maybe two male genders and one female gender in a species is not good enough for you? Then have species with THREE male genders and one female gender [four genders total]. An example here is the bluegill sunfish and the genders are distinguished morphologically [size] but also in terms of behaviour, what we might appropriately describe as “gender roles”. Here:

“Developmentally, the small and medium males are one genotype, and the large males another. Individuals of the small male genotype transition from the small male gender into the medium male gender as they age, whereas individuals of the large male genotype are not reproductively active until they have attained the size and age of the large male gender.”

But something more is going on here:

“A medium male approaches the territory of a large male from above in the water and descends without aggression or hesitation into the large male’s territory. The two males then begin a courtship turning that continues for as long as ten minutes. In the end, the medium male joins the large male, sharing the territory that the large male originally made and defends.”

What explains this behaviour? Roughgarden says biologists studying bluegill sunfish aren’t sure. But when a female appears [this is all about mating, of course!] “the three of them jointly carry out the courtship turning and mating. Typically, the medium male, who is smaller than the female, is sandwiched between the large male and the female while the turning takes place. As the female releases eggs, both males fertilize them.” A fishy threeway! Roughgarden herself describes the medium male here as a “feminine male” and speculates that:

“the medium male’s femininity as such has a genuine, nondeceptive role. I suggest that the feminine male is a “marriage broker” who helps initiate mating, and perhaps a “relationship counselor” who facilitates the mating process once the female has entered the large male’s territory. This service is purchased by the large male from the small male with the currency of access to reproductive opportunity.”

I am being necessarily brief here and can only provide illustrations of Roughgarden’s fuller and more worked out examples — for which you must read her book for the finer and more fleshed out details. So let’s move on to species with two male and two female genders [four genders total]. Consider the white-throated sparrow native to Ontario, Canada, which has this gender split:

  1. A male with a white stripe which is the most aggressive, calls often, and is the most territorial.

  2. A male with a tan stripe which is less aggressive and unable to defend a territory from the white-striped male.

  3. A female with a white stripe which is aggressive, calls spontaneously, and defends a territory.

  4. A female with a tan stripe which is the most accommodating of all. When challenged with a territorial intrusion, she continues foraging.

Here “Ninety percent of the breeding pairs involve either a white-striped male with a tan-striped female or a tan-striped male with a white-striped female—attraction between opposites.” And so “White-throated sparrows are a neat case of gender meshing. Two kinds of teams provide the same total amount of protection and parental care, but divide the labor differently.”

But there are still more possible combinations evident in the biological world. How about three male and two female genders [five genders total]? An example here is “the side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana), from the American Southwest and West — [which] has both males and females of multiple colors, signifying different genders in both sexes.” Roughgarden describes these genders in the following way:

  1. Orange-throated males are controllers. These “very aggressive, ultradominant, high-testosterone” males defend territories large enough to overlap the home ranges of several females.

  2. Blue-throated males are less aggressive and juiced with less testosterone. They defend territories small enough to contain only one female, whom they “guard.”

  3. Yellow-throated males don’t defend territories. Instead, they cluster around the territories of the orange males, “sneak” copulations, and masquerade as “female mimics.”

  4. Orange-throated females lay many small eggs, 5.9 eggs per batch. Orange-throated females, like their male counterparts, are very territorial and, as a result, must distance themselves from one another, achieving a maximum density of only one female per 1.54 square meters.

  5. Yellow-throated females lay fewer but bigger eggs, 5.6 eggs per batch. Yellow-throated females, like their male counterparts, are more tolerant of one another and can achieve a maximum density of one female per 0.8 square meter.

As you may be gathering from these mounting examples, the interesting thing about these multiple gender species is how the varying genders, especially the less dominant, more cooperative genders [usually mid-sized examples of their species who don’t spend their lives guarding or aggressively maintaining their needs] manage to procreate and maintain a foothold in the continuance of the species anyway. Here gender roles, or a gender’s place in a performative system of inter-relationships, is linked to biological sex [because every living thing has this reproductive feature] but does not map to it in a necessarily binary way. As we are seeing, there’s more than one way to lay or fertilize an egg. And there’s more than one way biological sex can manifest itself in a society made up of multiple possible gender roles. There are lots of examples in the biological world, all of them funded quite naturally within the evolution of life itself. So, “from what we’ve seen, the notion of a universal male or female template is clearly false” — as Roughgarden herself concludes. Here size and colouring matter as with the bluegill sunfish, the third, medium-sized male of which is described as one of several examples of “cross-dressing” animals by Roughgarden because its appearance is as a female’s. However, “Feminine males especially provoke biologists to froth at the mouth. Why would any self-respecting male want to appear feminine?” Time to remind ourselves — yet again — that nature does not share our prejudices.

Here we need to talk about language once more [something this book I’ve written also does in two whole chapters — 2 and 5 — exactly because examining our use of language and what it can do and is used for is so important] and to note that biologists have called the smaller, silent bullfrog a “sexual parasite”. Apparently, it is not a manly bullfrog like the larger one that croaks. The smaller examples of male-gendered fish who sneak around, darting in to fertilize eggs guarded by larger, more aggressive males, are called “Sneakers” and looked down upon as if they are not being appropriately male in their sneakery. And then, of course, there are the males who either look like or act like [or both!] females. These are called “female mimics” as if they are pretending to be something they are not [and this seems to suggest deliberately so if not knowingly so] even though, in reality, they are simply being what they are. They didn’t decide their shape or colouring or anything else about themselves. It wasn’t their decision to appear as a female does. Both these latter designations, the sneaker and the female mimic, are sometimes regarded as deceptive or parasitic because they are not big, bold males who guard and protect and fight for territory [implicitly, like a “real male” should]. But the language used of biological research is not without consequences. For example, consider the following comment from Joan Roughgarden:

“The expression “female mimicry” prevents the study of gender variation. The words suggest a male deceptively impersonating a female. In biology, mimicry usually refers to such cases as an edible fly that looks like an inedible bee. “Looks like” here means “exactly like,” not “approximately like.” A fly that mimics a bee almost totally resembles a bee. A good magnifying glass and technical knowledge are needed to tell them apart. A bird flying quickly over the ground can’t spot the difference. So-called female mimics don’t exactly resemble females, and all the players have a long time to examine each other. I doubt that female mimicry exists anywhere outside the imagination of biologists.

Thus biologists project scripts of their own prejudices and experiences with male-male competition onto animal bodies and use insulting language about animals. Far from being a sexual parasite, why not see the silent male bullfrog as nature’s antidote to excess macho, preventing the controller from grabbing unlimited power? Far from being a cuckolder, why not picture the feminine male sunfish as nature’s peacemaker? Biologists need to develop positive narratives about the diversity they’re seeing. Then a new suite of hypotheses will emerge for testing, taking the place of the shallow, pejorative, and far-fetched ideas that deceit theory requires.”

The point here, I think, is that we should not project an imagined binary onto EVERYTHING [including idealised characterisations of how the two sides of the binary should be] and so require bogus theories in order to explain phenomena that do not obviously fit within such a scheme. We should attempt to describe what we see without making it fit what we have already decided must be the case [much less, what we WANT to be the case]. We need to be open to letting biological reality broaden our horizons and realise that nature does not share our prejudices nor operate with any fixed boundaries we may have artificially created or maintained. If we are not careful our language can deceive us and mislead us, setting up boundaries that biological realities are not bound to follow and, when it comes to biology, we must remember that we are trying to follow how it takes place rather than setting the limits for what is allowed to take place.

It is with this in mind that you may want to search out for yourself Joan Roughgarden’s description of “transgender hummingbirds” in her book. Overall, when it comes to the context of multiple-gender families in a species, “While some sectors, like the end-runners, clearly compete with the controllers, others (like the cooperators) are service providers working under contract. Understanding this complex and interesting social dynamic, an animal political economy, I believe is the next step for evolutionary social theory.” And I can only say I wholeheartedly agree. Genders are matters of relationship, behaviour and appearance [one is here tempted to say “performance”] as much as they are of anything sexual or biological about the thing that is engendered.

For the fact is that there is more going on in nature, in the biological world, than some morally censorious and behaviourally repressed people would like to think. One area where this is manifestly true is in the case of same-sex sexuality in animals. [Here just one book Joan Roughgarden references is “two inches thick with 751 pages reviewing same-sex courtship, including genital contact, in over three hundred species of vertebrates”.] This even affects the thinking of the modern patron saint of biology, and particularly evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin. As Roughgarden explains, “According to Darwin, homosexuality is impossible because the purpose of mating is to transfer sperm with the intention of producing offspring, and a homosexual mating can’t produce offspring. So, if homosexuality is discovered, and if one also wishes to retain sexual selection theory [males and females “negotiating” for the best mates for the purposes of reproduction according to a heterosexual, binary scheme], some fancy footwork is needed.” Yet who today, aside from the uneducated and those who have chosen to play out their bigotry to the full, thinks that homosexuality does not exist? Roughgarden goes on to say that biologists here start talking of homosexuality as an “error” or look to find some way in which it is a “trick” or serves some manipulative or deceitful purpose. But there is another course of inquiry, of course: that it is entirely natural and legitimate and is part of biological life in the same way that any other non-controversial behaviours might be. In other words, we do not need to evaluate it negatively and, indeed, one might wonder why, upon doing so, it is.

Of course, showing that homosexuality exists in nature is not to say it is mandatory for all species. [The same, by the way, would also be true of any transgenderism discovered.] It is, by now, I hope, becoming clear that species develop in their own ways in accordance with their interactions with their own environments. This is basically what evolution is: change over time of a species in relationship with and to its environment. Only an abject fool would then imagine that any species that ever existed, in many different environments, would or could develop in the same ways. This, all by itself, should make us question the notion that everything should be the same. This, in fact, is a very good argument for why rainbows of diversity are to be expected rather than explained away, excused or covered up. And of the fact that there is no “goal” in view [and so no “manifestation of being” ruled out] in doing so. What can happen in biology may happen — and nothing would have “deviated” from any “plan” if it did. The more interesting thing would surely be the “animal political economy” of which Joan Roughgarden speaks anyway. Biology works how it works. We do not need entirely artificial and invented human valuations muddying the waters of that in entirely illegitimate ways. Not only could that lead to persecution of gay and lesbian human beings [which the charge of homosexuality’s “unnaturalness” clearly has as well in the past] but it would be inappropriate to the biological world which is laid before us in all its constrained yet unconstrained reality as well.

We might start, in giving just a few examples of same-sex sexuality in animals, by noting that, in previous examples given in this chapter, there were differing gender manifestations of animals where courtship or other pre-reproductive engagements took place [think of the bluegill sunfish, for example] as part of an animal political economy. Such examples were homosexual but heterogenderal [same sex but not same gender relationships]. But what about an all-female species of lizards which reproduce by cloning [so no egg needs a male — which doesn’t exist — to fertilize it] and so in which no “sexual” activity even needs to take place? Well, apparently, these female whiptail lizards, native to the Southwest of the USA and Hawaii, “do go through an elaborate courtship, including genital contact, prior to laying eggs”. These are lesbian lizards. One interesting aside here is that in asexual species of these lizards [only female] one of the females will copy almost exactly the activity of the male in sexual species of these lizards [male and female]. Yet thinking of this as “copying” falls into the fallacy, once again, of imagining one way as normal or standard or definitive. It has additionally been observed these females, if two are housed together, alternate their hormonal cycles. We might even say they synchronise by each taking up a complimentary role to the other. Biologists, of course, will want to understand why they do this. Roughgarden discusses some reasons. But, for my purposes, it seems enough to observe simply that they do it at all. [Roughgarden does note, rather intriguingly, however, that females housed with another female produced more eggs than ones left alone — which would seem to indicate a reproductive advantage from such lesbian behaviour.]

Let us move across to birds now. [But, before doing so, Roughgarden notes that research on homosexuality in animals is not a popular topic for researchers exactly because of the cultural conditions of its reception, especially in the USA where a large proportion of the world’s science is done or where it ends up going anyway. We may note how this deleterious effect ties the hands of biological researchers from the off simply because people are deterred from looking for what’s there from fear of having to admit that they have found it and what the human consequences for them will then be. This has even, in the past, included US Congressmen removing funding from projects thought to be in sync with a “gay agenda”.] A study of the New Zealand pukeko found that this species of swamp hen engaged in both different-sex and same-sex courtships. Male-female, male-male and female-female courtings were all observed, although not in anything like the same numbers for each [this does not matter for frequency is not the point here and neither is arguing for one’s “normalcy” in comparison with the rest]. Roughgarden tells us about this that “A male-male mating or a female-female mating is identical to the male-female mating... the only difference being the sex of the birds.” There are, naturally enough here, cases of dominant hierarchies in place of alpha and beta birds of both sexes. Roughgarden’s metaphor of an “animal political economy” is a good thing to keep constantly in mind when thinking about these interactions for they don’t take place in a vacuum. One then has to wonder why some of these birds [for it wasn’t all of them] take part in such behaviour in such a social environment. Roughgarden must be right in stating about this that “same-sex matings clearly occupy a place in this social system”.

Now let’s switch to the Eurasian oystercatcher where, in some cases, breeding groups consist of one male and two females. They all engage in sexual activity with each other. Sometimes this is aggressive/competitive and the male ends up having to watch over two nests, one for each female. At others, it is cooperative [although the alpha-beta nature of the two females is preserved, the alpha getting more regular sex with the male than the beta]. Obviously where this is male-female [and the male has sex with both females he is with] this can lead to eggs being laid. Roughgarden notes that “the females mate with each other only slightly less often than they do with the male. Females switch back and forth between being mounted or doing the mounting, so neither could be identified as having a male or female ‘role.’ They also sit and preen their

feathers together.” Here the females share a common nest and, on average, produce more nestlings as a result of their threesome arrangement. Cooperation and mutual affection seems to have a result.

Let’s move to geese. Geese, says Joan Roughgarden, “are well known as the avian example of the human social ideal of a lifelong marriage. Geese may live for twenty years, and the pair-bond lasts more than a decade. Gay geese marriages are stable too. About 15 percent of pairs are male-male, and some couples have been documented to stay together over fifteen years. A male is reported to show ‘grief’ after his partner dies, becoming despondent and defenseless, just as between-sex partners do when one dies. Geese sometimes form threesomes that are the reverse of oystercatchers: a male pair is joined by a female and the trio raise a family together.”

Now let’s turn to the very masculine sounding “bighorn sheep”. Of this Roughgarden reports that:

“The males have been described as ‘homosexual societies.’ Almost all males participate in homosexual courting and copulation. Male-male courtship begins with a stylized approach, followed by genital licking and nuzzling, and often leads to anal intercourse in which one male, usually the larger, rears up on his hind legs and mounts the other. The mounted male arches his back, a posture known as lordosis, which is identical to how a female arches her back during heterosexual mating. The mounting male has an erect penis, makes anal penetration, and performs pelvic thrusts leading to ejaculation.”

Worth noting in this case is that the few male bighorn sheep who don’t engage in this very gay behaviour [and so who are straightforwardly heterosexual sheep] are described as “effeminate males”. They “live with the ewes” as opposed to the gay men and are said to be less aggressive overall as well as peeing in a crouching posture as the females do as well. Here Roughgarden, rather amusingly to my mind, tells of the ways some researchers have tried to excuse this blatant, masculine gayness in sheep, regarding it as some kind of necessary “practice” for servicing the ewes properly. Are they playing pretend or are there really perfectly happy gay sheep who enjoy lots of anal sex with other male sheep? You decide — but Roughgarden also gives details of an experiment which seemed to show that the gay sheep weren’t confusing rams for ewes. They just didn’t care.

But perhaps its only a few species, or rare ones most people don’t really know about? Well:

“Many other creatures with hair have been documented as engaging in same-sex mating. White-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, red deer (also called elk), reindeer, moose, giraffes, pronghorns, kobs, waterbucks, blackbucks, Thomson’s gazelles, Grant’s gazelles, musk oxen, mountain goats, American bison, mountain zebras, plains zebras, warthogs, collared peccaries, vicunas (a llama), African elephants, and Asiatic elephants have all been documented in scientific reports as engaging in some degree of same-sex mating. In some species, same-sex mating is sporadic; in others, very common, comprising over half of all copulations. In some, males engage in most of the same-sex matings; in others, mostly females do it; and in still others, both sexes participate. Same-sex mating is common among female red deer, male giraffes, female kobs, male blackbucks, male and female mountain goats, male American bison, and male African and Asiatic elephants.

To continue, lions, cheetahs, red foxes, wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, and spotted hyenas have been documented as engaging in same-sex mating. Again, the frequency varies from sporadic to common, with either or both sexes involved, depending on the species. The gray kangaroo, red-necked wallaby, whiptail wallaby, rat kangaroo, Doria’s kangaroo, Matschie’s kangaroo, koala, dunnart, and quoll all enjoy same-sex mating too, although at relatively low frequency.

The red squirrel, gray squirrel, least chipmunk, olympic marmot, hoary marmot, dwarf cavy, yellow-toothed cavy, wild cavy, long-eared hedgehog, gray-headed flying fox, Livingstone’s fruit bat, and vampire bat show various degrees of same-sex mating. For example, female red squirrels occasionally form a bond, with sexual and affectionate activities leading to joint parenting. The female squirrels take turns mounting each other, and raise a single litter of young. Although only one member of the pair is the mother, both nurse the young. Only females form such pair-bonds; male and female red squirrels don’t form pair-bonds. Among male red squirrels, 18 percent of the mounts are homosexual. Concerning vampire bats, recall that females form special long-lasting friendships with affectionate gestures, including grooming and kissing. No genital- genital contact has been reported among female vampire bats, but male vampire bats hang belly to belly licking one another, both with an erect penis.

The bottlenose dolphin, spinner dolphin, Amazon river dolphin, killer whale, gray whale, bowhead whale, right whale, gray seal, elephant seal, harbor seal, Australian sea lion, New Zealand sea lion, northern fur seal, walrus, and West Indian manatee are exceedingly active in same-sex genital behavior. Nearly everyone has marveled at the playful personality of dolphins, often featured in children’s movies—lots of makin’ whoopee going on in all directions. Male bottlenose dolphins are especially well studied. A male places its erect penis into another male’s genital slit, nasal aperture, or anus. They nuzzle each other’s genital slit with their beak, and they can interact sexually in threesomes and foursomes. In mixed-sex groups, homosexual activity occurs as much or more than heterosexual activity. The same-sex courtship is part of forming and maintaining lifelong pair-bonds between male dolphins of the same age. They bond as adolescents, becoming constant companions and often traveling widely. Paired males may take turns watching out while their partner rests, and they protect one another against sharks and predators. On the death of a partner, the widower must search for a new companion, usually failing unless he encounters another widower.”

I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself and had to quote Joan Roughgarden at length for a moment. But don’t forget the primates, our closest living animal relatives. Of these Roughgarden says, “Homosexuality is so conspicuous among primates, so in-your-face, that it cannot be ignored, resulting in a relatively extensive literature going back to the 1970s.”

So that’s a very, very brief and selective look at animal diversity according to various vectors of interest and there is much more I could say about this but unless I am to rewrite Joan Roughgarden’s book [from a much less knowledgeable position and with much less wit and insight] I must artificially compress the discussion here and move on to other things. I have been talking, so far, about the animal kingdom generally, giving specific examples as necessary. But what about human beings [who are also animals] in particular, not least because I am one and you reading this are a human being too?

Joan Roughgarden has an entire section of her book dealing with human biological development and a further, concluding, one dealing with various human cultural manifestations of gender. But, in the main, I do not intend to go through them as I have with most of her first section [which is about half of her main text] which covers diversity in animal bodies, appearance and behaviour as they manifest themselves in nature. This is not because I find these latter things unimportant; to the contrary, I find them vitally important. If a man, Dave, wants to wear a dress and put on make up and call himself Phyllis and has a distinct tendency to socialise with groups of women rather than men — and if all of this corresponds in some way to Phyllis’ sense of self — then I say that is something important which should be respected and taken into account by other people — and even if it were only to be but a cultural expression of one human existence.

But say, to take it a step further, that Phyllis feels that she has always really been Phyllis and that Dave is just an identity others assigned her. Then I still feel the same way about Phyllis then too. This feeling of Phyllis’ should be respected and taken into account by other people — just as, for example, some species of bird or fish might take into account some third or fourth gender of its species which has the biological plumbing of a particular sex but the markings and behaviour of a gender that isn’t just simply male or female. In the animal world, as we have seen in even my brief summaries of Joan Roughgarden’s book, multiple genders are quite common, certainty common enough to make denying their reality impossible as a matter of fact and preposterously inauthentic if we should try to nevertheless. My case here is then quite simple: we are animals too. Our life, like all life, is of a piece with the rest of the life on this planet. Why, then, should it suddenly, and arbitrarily, be subject to different rules and understandings of its development and manifestation?

So, for the main part here, I have stuck to animal biology, of which human biology is a part, but there is the vast world of plant biology we could include too. I’m entirely sure I could argue for various expressions of human gender expression based on this biology alone if I wanted to. [In Roughgarden’s section on human rainbows she also gives some biological evidence for transgenderism as an organic feature of human biology as well, by the way.] Biology is not the binary many — but far from all — human beings have sometimes chosen to see it as. Biology is itself a rainbow, a spectrum, a gradation of differences and diversities. [This, of course, is also to sideline or ignore non-Western voices who would argue that any more simple binary is the invention of a certain Western mind that is not shared by others. Oyeronke Oyewumi, for example, argues that

binary gender, as we know of it today, was not native to at least some parts of Africa prior to white colonialism in her book The Invention of Women.] If, on the other hand, one studies the West historically, for example in terms of the history of sexuality [here Foucault’s history is interesting and relevant] or in terms of the Greek and Roman case of “eunuchs”, a possible example of a “third gender”, one finds interesting and relevant differences with what we know of today.

At one point in Evolution’s Rainbow, as another example, Roughgarden talks about potentially eight different brain configurations in human beings which are biologically distinguishable and which, when added to two basic body types, those with a penis and those with a clitoris, might give sixteen possible “people types”. Whatever else this is, it is not a basic sex binary “demonstrated by biology”. [Roughgarden actually goes on to say in so many words that “brain-body combinations are limitless”.] The truth is biology demonstrates a lot more than “a sex binary” and bodies have a lot more going on with them than that some have a penis and some have a clit. But, of course, one question that might arise is why should we make “penis or clit?” the defining characteristic anyway? Such a distinction does not define the whole of a human body [much less a human person or a human life] anymore than it defines the whole of biology. It is nothing other than an arbitrary, if not a polemical, choice in a world in which biologists can write in serious-minded biological textbooks that “studies of transgender brains have revealed an organic counterpart to some of the variation in gender identity.”

Of course, many people have relied on a variation of biological investigation to date to argue that bodies are binary. But one senses that these same people would like the biological investigation to stop there and go no further. Such people have “found” what they needed to find. That’ll do, they think. Unfortunately for them, human investigation doesn’t work like that. It goes on to find out further things, new things, even things which recontextualise the old things. Indeed, Thomas S. Kuhn even argued in 1962, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that periods of “normal science” are interrupted by periods of “revolutionary science” which create new paradigms for thinking about scientific problems, paradigms which encourage thinking of things in different ways or as matters of different relationships and which pose new questions which had never been asked before. This speaks of anomalies in old paradigms which new paradigms of thinking help better explain in regard to phenomena because they fit together in better ways and solve old problems. Kuhn’s insistence was that a paradigm shift was a mélange of sociology, enthusiasm and scientific promise, but not a logically determinate procedure. We might think of this in terms of people speaking different languages and, today, when people described as “gender critical” and others described as “trans” debate or, more often, shout at each other, it does indeed seem as if they are talking past each other or speaking different languages. Kuhn’s further insistence was that this is what paradigm shifts in scientific thinking look like as well. The paradigms become a matter of different taxonomies and flow into incommensurability, as Kuhn would later also say. Once you begin to think in a new way, there’s no going back to a reconstruction of the old.

But there is surely more to these matters than “biology” anyway. Life is about more than classificatory discourse regarding the elements that create it and that it creates. “Behaviour”, for example, is a huge part of life and this is why even biological discourse explains biological classification in terms of the behaviour of forms of life and not just in

terms of its ingredients and their interactions or its morphology. This, I submit, makes human behaviour very important too. It can’t just be dismissed as an irrelevance beholden to morphology, for example. Cultural expression, then, is also an example of biology working itself out as it is something done with bodies and within an understanding of their meaning and significance as things which exist and interact with others.

Now let me give you an example of human, cultural behaviour from my own, personal experience. I was born in the UK and so, according to the frankly dumb classification system that the international community uses, you would call me British. [I call myself a citizen of the world, by the way, following in the footsteps of the stateless Diogenes.] So, for some of my life, I have lived in the UK. But there are two periods of my life — let’s, for sake of argument, call them “the best bits” — where I lived in two different places in Germany, one a small rural town and the other the capital, Berlin. The first had an outdoor swimming pool surrounded by some fields in a compound and a building which served as changing rooms. But these changing rooms weren’t gender segregated and they weren’t split in two, one half for each binary gender. It was simply a large room with a completely open changing area, for the most part, and two rows of cubicles with curtains down either side for those who wanted more privacy. Toilets were provided in a few separate cubicles [with doors for privacy] as well. These changing rooms, in the multiple times I visited the facility as part of a mixed group of people, male and female, adults and children, contained various adults and children in an admixture of unconcerned families and individuals just getting changed to enjoy the facilities or to go home.

Now to Berlin where, across the road from the Brandenburg Gate, in what, between 1961 and late 1989, would have been known as “West Berlin”, we find Tiergarten, a wooded, parkland area where people often walk or sit in an area of the city given over to nature. But, on closer inspection, and at certain times of year, some bits of Tiergarten have been more “given over to nature” than at other times. At these times they have been given over to naturism and one will clearly see, even from the pavement or road, should one happen to pass, fully naked adult human beings sunning themselves on the grass. I myself, once enjoying some cycling around the city, was amazed to come upon such a sight, as I happened to rest on a pavement bench overlooking the park, and to imagine how such nudity would be received back home, for example, in the suburban park of my youth which, even now, I walk in to this day. In that park, I would imagine outrage and arrests and letters to the local paper and phone calls to radio phone-ins. But in Berlin, in Tiergarten, it was normal and the world just carried on around it, adults, children and all.

I am used to reading on social media of people, “gender critical” people, who would find both of these scenarios apparently intolerable, depending on who had made use of such facilities. And yet they both go on, no doubt replicated multiple times across Germany as just one example, in a modern democracy in the contemporary world perfectly normally. And this is not to mention FKK — in German, “Freikorperkultur” [free body culture] — in which “a naturistic approach to sports and community living” is promoted in a number of places throughout Germany [there are maps online for these places if one wishes to research it]. FKK is explicitly based on the notion that the naked body is not a source of shame and, to be honest, one imagines this philosophy must, in some part, inform the notion of mixed, communal changing rooms that I experienced in rural northern Germany for myself only a few years ago.

Now, since this is Germany and since we have a seemingly ever-present consciousness of recent history, one might wonder what the Nazis thought of this movement. Well, there was a 1933 Nazi edict issued by Hermann Göring, the creator of the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, to the effect that “One of the greatest dangers for German culture and morality is the so-called nudity movement.” This was described by him as a “cultural error” not in line with Nazi aesthetics about men and women. During 1933–1945 FKK groups were either banned or Nazified so as to meet the requirements of such an ethos. Today, however, Germany has an Association for Free Body Culture which is part of the German Olympic Sport Federation and which is the largest member of the International Naturist Federation. Germans like to get nude, including engaging in Nacktwanderung, naked hiking! Meanwhile, in the UK, the “naked rambler” [ex-Royal Marine, Stephen Gough] is routinely arrested and re-imprisoned every time he is released from prison because he goes off naked rambling again [he has walked the length of Great Britain naked] and this is, apparently, outrageous to British sensibilities. Think of the children! In Germany, nevertheless, there are celebrated photographers of the naturist movement — such as Lotte Herrlich who was a pioneering female photographer of FKK activities.

You may think I have wandered off myself now — and away from my topic. But I haven’t. Instead, I’ve wandered into areas of behaviour and culture to make one simple point: cultural expression and cultural practices are real, genuine, different and non-obligatory. It is no less “material”, and no less important, than classifying bodies according to certain, entirely arbitrary and polemical, categories. In any case, even if we did engage in such classification, no one says that it has to matter and no one says where it has to matter. These are further arbitrary decisions which we may or may not be able to supply good reasons for. There is certainly no straight line and unarguable course from classifications to human practices. In one place people getting changed are highly regulated and split into gendered rooms and in another they are all in the same room. In

some places people lie naked in parks, in others people naked in parks are arrested. Biology determined nothing about this; it was all a matter of social practices and social mores and of people getting along together. It was a cultural and sociological issue and not a biological one. [Although here I’m bound to sneak in that nature seems to care nothing for nudity and neither do any of the sentient animals either — an insight which triggered the Cynic lifestyle of Diogenes and others.] So, in other words, our hang ups about bodies are ours to own and not matters of biology or nature. They are cultural decisions and traditions. And none of them are necessary. Things can be other ways. And probably are somewhere else.

The point about culture is that it doesn’t have to be one way [a point almost everyone would accept]. It develops in ways that it can and none of them are compulsory. There are, after all, different cultures because some go one way and some go another. Biology, at least as Joan Roughgarden tells its story, is a history of a similar negotiation. Biology is not the story of two fixed, binary sexes which relate to each other in one static way. Manifestly it is not. The examples to the contrary would be endless. And so there is no reason why it should be in human beings either. Rather, we should expect the opposite: diversity! Biology itself, of course, can be read as the history of diversity. Life in one organism is not separate or different from life in the others. Biology is a history of life that has diversified as it has spread out in the plant and animal worlds. And, within that, species themselves diversify so that there come to be multiple versions of the same species, all related somewhere back in time, but forever changing and evolving as their life circumstances change and they react to them. The history of biology, just as the history of culture, is one of diversity and change. It seems clear now that it could not be any other for evolution, the name for the process under which life itself takes place, is diversity writ large.

But I do not intend to labour the point for it is a simple point and it should be an uncontroversial point. Those who deny it are King Canutes on the beach trying to command the tide not to come in. They will fail and of course they fail because the diversity which Joan Roughgarden makes the founding image of her book is all around us in everything. No two living things are exactly the same [even if they were produced by asexual cloning as some things are]. This is a biological as well as an actual fact. Reality, then, as it is, is fundamentally based in difference and diversity. In that context any kind of stasis becomes a lie. Where it is wielded rhetorically or polemically, it is a lie. The more biologists research, the more diversity biologists find. And this is only the organic, biological kind of diversity, although such diversity is, as Roughgarden details at length, increasingly found and documented and leads to its own apparent consequences.

But I want to caution a carefulness about this. I want to counsel that it doesn’t matter if differences between animals, even human animals, have a material, biological basis or not. We need not necessarily search for a “trans gene” or trans-specific body morphologies. [This is not to pre-empt if they do or do not exist, however. My argument is this is a separate question to that of transgender dignity in any case.] Even if differences between people only had a cultural basis that would not make them invalid. The fixation of some on bodies, and particular polemical definitions of them, is a lie of omission, a telling of a partial [in two senses] story — because life everywhere is always more than bodies. It is [at least] about practices and relationships too. Biological definitions of bodies have next to no place here for these are sociological and not biological matters. Having a certain kind of body is not a binary prison but only a set of opportunities. It doesn’t tell you how you must live but is only one piece in a much bigger puzzle, a puzzle which is a set of relationships to the environment and to other beings wherever you live.

So “biology”, understood in the very narrow sense of body morphologies, is never the whole story. Its only ever one part of the story. If people try to use it to do service for the whole story they are probably using polemic to try and railroad you into something. A person, a human being, is more than a body in any case. A cadaver is a body. It also happens to be dead. But a cadaver isn’t a person. It was a person but is a person no longer. A person is alive and someone who is alive, I think everyone would [and certainly should] agree, is more than just the bare facts of their body. A person is how they look, how they dress, how they behave, who they associate or identify with, what tasks they carry out, etc. This should be uncontroversial. I have come to think of it like this: there are sexed bodies but then there are also gender expressions which act as modifiers of the “bare fact” of the bodies and their biological functions or possibilities. I see no reason, then, why, in human beings, there cannot be at least “feminine males” or “masculine females” as there are in numerous animal species. Here, I would say, a gender expression — be it a self-assessment or committed behaviour or a preference for a certain appearance or a cultural practice or even all four — modifies the “chassis” which the given

person has. The person is then a sex modified by a gender expression. [The metaphor here comes from synthesizers where an oscillator, which is the basis of the sound, becomes modulated by another sound source which modifies the original sound — which remains what it is but only as the second source’s modulation affects it. It is then some sum of the two together.] All human beings are in some way sexed for all people have bodies. But all people have genders, which are just as real, too and the one is not forced to affect the other in the same way or even in only two ways. Biology suggests that diversity will always seize the day. We should not then hinder it when and if it does nor put all human beings in one of two possible straitjackets.

The world has, and sometimes has not, known [because it has looked the other way] many diverse kinds of people. Some of these are gay, straight, intersex, trans and cis. But others are Mahu, Two Spirit, Hijras, Tombois, Vestidas and Guevedoche. Some have historically been eunuchs. Some of these people have surgically modified their bodies. Others have taken hormones. Yet others have worn clothes or make up “inappropriate” to their bodies but fully in keeping with their gender expression or the cultural practices of their tribe. Today there are some people who even wish not to play with a binary expression at all, calling themselves “fluid” or “enby” [non-binary]. Is any of this a problem? I suggest that in biological terms it absolutely is not. Bodies are bodies. We each get given one and it can be changed, subject to medical competencies, in a number of ways. The other day I even imagined a future time when the entire “plumbing” so beloved of some in terms of how they identify people could be swapped out at will. What good would it do someone to say “Women have X” then if anyone who wanted it could have surgery to give them X? [Need one here also raise the spectre of a transhuman future where flesh and blood is irrelevant?] So, for me, bits and pieces are not the issue. And this should be clear anyway in that I don’t define a person as, or equate a person with, a body — and I think that no one else should either.

The question in view is actually IDENTITY in any case. And this is to do with bodies but, yet again, not restricted to them [for bodies are always only part of the story]. I wrote about this more fully in a chapter of my last book, Anarchy and Anarchisms, where I discussed “Anarchy and Identity”. My basic point there — fully in line with my comments about language and epistemology in chapters 2 and 5 of this book — was that identities are all fictions of our own making that serve purposes, ours or someone else’s. This applies across the board in my thinking. Every identity is a fiction, and a socially negotiated and constituted one. The short answer as to why this is is because language uses reality, it does not correspond to it or represent it [see especially chapter 5 below]. We are linguistic beings and language is how we understand or make use of anything. It is a thing as significant for what we think as the body that enables it. Our identities are then always rhetorical, they are ways we relate to each other and the world and indicate how we wish to be related to in return. These can be relatively static and traditional, as in the binary theory, but they need not be. There are examples in multiple places stretching back thousands of years of those who didn’t fit into the two gender binary. So even the charge of novelty is not accurate to reality if it is applied to trans people, for example. But where such rhetorical identity becomes imposed, however, it then becomes a means of control by arbitrary classification by potentially or actually powerful others within a system of control that seeks to domesticate those it regards as subservient to it. This is authoritarian behaviour — and we should resist it. For language does not reflect the world: it makes use of it and, in so doing, it creates it.

Consider the following sexual example. It envisages two people engaging in penetrative sex.

  1. A heterosexual cis man penetrates a heterosexual cis woman

  2. A heterosexual cis man penetrates a heterosexual trans woman

  3. A homosexual cis man penetrates a heterosexual trans woman

  4. A heterosexual trans man penetrates a heterosexual trans woman with a strap on penis

  5. A heterosexual cis woman penetrates a heterosexual cis man with a strap on penis.

  6. A heterosexual cis woman penetrates a homosexual cis man with a strap on penis

  7. A homosexual cis woman penetrates a homosexual cis woman with a strap on penis

  8. A homosexual cis man penetrates a homosexual cis man

  9. A pansexual trans woman penetrates a pansexual cis man

  10. A bisexual cis woman penetrates a bisexual cis man with a strap on penis

I don’t think I have listed all the possible combinations here [you might want to imagine how many more there could be] but I hope that at least 10 variations has made my point. What is the point here? It is that whatever combination of sexed bodies, gender roles and sexual proclivities all the people listed in the 10 examples above have used to describe themselves, they are all carrying out exactly the same action. Some of them have used the equipment that came naturally. Others have improvised. Yet, whatever the diversity of the people concerned, each has taken part in the same activity. “What they are” has not stopped them doing that as if differences in bodies or in gender descriptions or in sexual proclivities amounted to some absolute difference in kind that functioned as some insurmountable boundary of nature. You would know if you had found such a boundary [such as a human inability to fly] for it would literally be insurmountable. So, just as sociological issues are not biological issues, here, too, not everything is biologically determined and judged. Gendered and cultural issues are matters, if you like, laid over bodies and not simply determined by bodies. People, as animals, have a habit of finding a way, should they find a reason to want to.

We may not be able to change bodies fully at this point [but even there medical progress will make what is possible grow more and more as technology advances along with understanding of the biological processes that make up bodies] but gendered habits and appearance and cultural practices and observances can change. A biological narrative like Roughgarden’s suggests this is entirely natural and to be expected. It is noticeable, for example, how much more acceptance gay and lesbian people have today. Of course, it is still not universal and you can still find people who regard it as sinful or as an illness that, so such people say, those who “have it” need to be cured of it. This will likely always be the case, unfortunately. But, in general terms, homosexuality is far more accepted today than it was 50 years ago in the Western world of my experience. Wherever education about it spreads, it becomes more accepted too. So I suggest we need to see things like this less in hard, biological terms as a matter of the innate properties of bodies which divide us into universal classifications it is impossible to cross [such classifications are, in fact, always only human and always only rhetorical] and more in terms of social relationships and cultural practices. Who uses a bathroom and on what basis is a very dumb hill for anybody to die on but the greater tragedy is that people would want to divide human beings on the basis of dubious “differences” in the first place in a world in which difference and diversity is creation’s greatest glory rather than its biggest flaw, something some authoritarian human beings take it upon themselves to artificially “correct” or police.

FOUR: Human’s Lib: An Exploration of Ideas in Song

Human’s Lib is the title of a 1984 album by the British musician, Howard Jones. The title riffs on the phrase “Women’s Lib”, popular in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and referring to the movement for women’s liberation from the patriarchal structures of society and culture. But Jones, a Buddhist [this is important in what follows], changes it to “Human’s Lib” which suggests the album is to be about human liberation. If we read the lyrics of the songs on Human’s Lib we find that they are not the common mix of insipid love songs and empty nursery rhymes. Whether one takes them seriously or not [and many contemporaneous reviewers seem not to have, not aided, I’m sure, by the fact that the genre of Jones’ music was synthpop], it seems that, for good or ill, Jones has something to say. Not all the lyrics are written by Jones [he has a writing partner on a majority of the songs, a writing partner he seems to have fallen out with immediately upon finding fame] but they all fit together under the auspices of a way of viewing the world that points towards human liberation. It seems that with Human’s Lib, and right from the very first song called Conditioning, Jones wants his listeners to ask questions. Here are the lyrics to Conditioning:

Well you’re not, you’re not who you think you are
Well we think that you are John or Dave
But you’re not, you’re not who you think you are
Jumbled mass of preconceived ideas
From our birth we were given an identity
People told us we were great or small
From our birth we were given rules of right or wrong
Not forgetting the bullies at school

The world teaches us to think that life is full of limitations
The world tries to make us think that there are loads of limits
The world teaches us to think that life is full of limitations
The world tries to make us think that there are loads of limits

Welcome to conditioning
Welcome to conditioning

And as the world makes us feel great
And as the world makes us feel small
Oh so convinced of our identity
If we only knew it we just can’t believe it we just won’t believe it

Leading us to think that we are such a success
Conning us to think that we are just a failure
Leading us to think that we are so intelligent
Conning us to think that we are just a Dodo Dodo

Welcome to conditioning
Welcome to conditioning

Who is to say what is what
Welcome to conditioning
Who is to say what is what
Welcome to conditioning
Who is to say what is what
Er, sorry, ha ha

Who is to say what is what
Welcome to conditioning
Who is to say what is what
Welcome to conditioning
Who is to say what is what
Welcome to conditioning

With Conditioning Jones kicks off Human’s Lib with a slap in the listener’s face. You think you are this, you think you are that. You are told you are this, you are told you are that. But you’re not. You’re not who you think you are. We are given identities, told who we are by parents and teachers and bosses and governments and various authorities, these things are imposed upon our existence so that they become part of it. We are told we are smart or stupid or clever or irrelevant. We are told we can’t do this and that and given rules of right and wrong... And Jones calls all this “conditioning”.

The identity question is particularly important here, not just for the song, in which it plays a major part, but also for my project in this book. The song starts by saying that we are not who we think we are. It says the names we are given, and these are given most usually in social and familial contexts by parents, are not who we are. Is there a sense here that these identifications — which we might see as kinds of classifications, even as things which put us in a context and define limitations for us — are putting us in a box and defining possibilities? Do we imagine that each young child grows up to be told the same things about who they are, what life is and what possibilities they will have within it? And then there is that part in which your parents decide what and who you are. They name you, they condition you to the context of your family and to your family’s place in a wider social world and educate you about it. They tell you that you are male or female and define socially acceptable behaviour and understandings for you even as much as they tell you your place [and to know your place]. Welcome to conditioning.

Yet Jones is not going to have this. He sees this as “leading” and “conning”. But why should we be either led or conned? The world tries to tell us who we are but Jones is convinced we are not who it tells us to be and that “If we only knew it we just can’t believe it we just won’t believe it”. We can UNbelieve it. And so he asks “Who is to say what is what?” repeatedly. And this is a very pertinent question. For who is to say? Are we to play our part in the conditioned world of the status quo in which we play the often inauthentic roles assigned to us by others which keeps everything the way it is, the world of “know your place”... or something else? For the fact is that Jones tells us we aren’t who we are told we are or who we are told to be. We are not “John or Dave”. But who then are we? It seems we are potentially whoever we want to be. If the social world is “conditioning” then to think differently, to refuse to be conditioned, is an act of self-actualisation. It is to answer the question, “Who is to say what is what?” with “I am” [or, possibly, “No one is”]. Jones’ song wants us to wake up from the slumber that is conditioning and to realise that we are not what the world tells us we are even as he tells us that this is what the world will try to tell us anyway.

The second song on Human’s Lib is called What is Love? and it is Howard Jones’ biggest hit to date. The lyrics, as with Conditioning, were originally written by his writing partner, Bill Bryant, a man he seems to have fallen out with in unpleasant and mysterious circumstances when on the cusp of fame [for, subsequently, Jones has made as little mention of Bryant as possible]. Bryant was a man who lived in the same area as Jones who had interests in Eastern spirituality and Jones came under his influence in the years prior to the release of Human’s Lib, consequently setting a number of Bryant’s lyrics to music, or reworking songs he had composed with two of his brothers, who also knew Bryant, as a result. By far the most well known of these is What is Love? as this is, in fact, the only one of the co-written Bryant tracks which was a single, the rest being album tracks.

The fact is, however, that whether the lyrics to the songs on Human’s Lib were written by Bill Bryant or not the songs as a whole still seem to give evidence of a particular mindset, one in which What is Love? plays a part. Whatever the relationship between Bryant and Jones, Jones was clearly influenced by his relationship to Bryant and that influence carries over into songs which he wrote by himself [such as Pear! in the Shell and Hide and Seek, which are the two songs following What is Love?, as well as a number of songs on the follow up album, Dream into Action, which was completely written by Jones himself]. The vagaries of the relationship between the two men writing the songs on the album are then, not so important in the final analysis. Rather, interpreting the lyrics and asking where they are going and what mindset informs them is the point here.

We have seen here that, already with Conditioning, this seems to be, in some sense, a matter of personal enlightenment. Let us see whether this continues on into What is Love?:

I love you whether or not you love me
I love you even if you think that I don’t
Sometimes I find you doubt my love for you
But I don’t mind
Why should I mind?
Why should I mind?

What is love anyway?
Does anybody love anybody anyway?
What is love anyway?
Does anybody love anybody anyway?
Whoh oh

Can anybody love anyone so much that they will never fear?
Never worry never be sad?
The answer is they cannot love this much nobody can
This is why I don’t mind you doubting

What is love anyway?
Does anybody love anybody anyway?
What is love anyway?

Does anybody love anybody anyway?
Whoh oh, whoh oh oh, whoh oh ooh

And maybe love is letting people be just what they want to be
The door always must be left unlocked
To love when circumstance may lead someone away from you
And not to spend the time just doubting

What is love anyway?
Does anybody love anybody anyway?
What is love anyway?
Does anybody love anybody anyway?
Whoh oh, whoh oh oh, whoh oh ooh

What is love anyway?
Does anybody love anybody anyway?
Whoh oh, whoh oh oh, whoh oh ooh

What is love anyway?
Does anybody love anybody anyway?

What is love anyway?
Does anybody love anybody anyway?

What is love anyway?
Does anybody love anybody anyway?

The first thing to note here is that this is a song about love — but it is not a love song, a staple of popular music. The song is, in fact, a series of questions and questioning seems very important to the mindset from which it comes. [Bill Bryant also wrote the words to another Howard Jones album track called Always Asking Questions in which one lyric is “Don’t stop asking questions”. On Dream into Action Jones writes a song based on chapter 20 of the Daodejing called Is There A Difference? showing that he, even by himself and not singing Bryant’s words, can be in questioning mode as well.] This song, in fact, might simply be only questions for, even though the lyricist begins by claiming to love, he later seems to state that he is not even sure what love is. Yet he also wonders how much someone can love and comes to the conclusion that people cannot love so much that things like fear and sadness are banished. Love has its limits and so doubts are inevitable and to be accepted as part of the consequences of love.

Doubt, in fact, is a recurring subject and the refrain “What is love anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?” is to wonder if love is real or only a phase, a kind of relationship we can pass into and out of, or a context, a situation or relationship between people that we can find ourselves in. This may seem effete to some but I cannot find it within myself to impugn the mind which questions. As with the prior Conditioning, “Who is to say what is what?”. Even Nietzsche, who knew the rejection of the seemingly one woman he had set his heart on in his whole life, states in his notes that love is a kind of madness which changes the way we see people, their faults becoming unimportant and their being becoming transformed until or unless we fall out of love with them again. So it is not wrong to ask about love and its effects for “love”, whatever it is, patently has effects and changes how we view the world.

The third verse here focuses on love not being about controlling people. And so love is not a binding of another person to yourself. It is not a dominating influence. This might be imagined to be a response to the “doubt” the one loving has of the beloved, a beloved the lyricist has already pledged to love in the opening lines regardless of whether they are loved back in return or not. Yet the musing or reflecting context of this

song betrays a lyricist thinking of love in terms of their own understanding of the world. It is about love and its entanglement not disturbing an inner peace, it seems to me. It is about “I” [repeated several times in the lyrics] and about letting people go if this is how things turn out such that the love remains even if the beloved does not. What matters is that “doubt” should not disturb your inner peace.

The third track on Human’s Lib is Pearl in the Shell, the first track written entirely by Jones himself. The lyrics are relatively few:

And the fear goes on shadows
And the tear flows on for nothing
And the fear goes on shadows
And the tear flows on for nothing

Under his nose was a dream come true
Been there all the time and he almost knew

And the fear goes on shadows
And the tear flows on for nothing
And the fear goes on shadows
And the tear flows on for nothing

Under his nose was a dream come true
Been there all the time and he almost knew
Thoughts of people in misfortune stopped him doing things well
His duty was to use it — left his pearl in the shell

Given Jones’ personal history, first his entanglement with the Buddhist, Bill Bryant, who co-wrote the majority of the songs on Human’s Lib — but also his subsequent active adherence to the teachings and especially the practices of Nichiren Buddhism, a type of Buddhism which focuses on more than a theory of reality or a meditative practice, thinking that it is the substance of a practitioner’s life, that place where mind and body, materiality and spirituality, meet, that is important, it is easy to read this short, compact lyric as a catechism regarding personal enlightenment.

Nichiren Buddhism expressly holds to the belief that all people have an innate “Buddha-nature” [the possibility to become what Buddhists call “enlightened” or “awake”] and are therefore inherently capable of attaining enlightenment in their current form and present lifetime. Further, this type of Buddhism believes, after the person it is named after, Nichiren himself, that conditions in the world are a reflection of the conditions of the inner lives of people. As the people, so the world. Thus, what is required is that people themselves change in order to change the world. I am sure readers can see how such thinking is compatible with the lyrics of the three songs so far considered. In the case of Pearl in the Shell the lyric is about not letting fear or sadness or your reaction to the misfortunes of others stop you or distract you from releasing your “pearl” from its shell. Here the pearl might be seen as the enlightenment within yourself that should be let into the world [in order to help change it]. The point seems to be that it is easy to become burdened or weighed down by the world we see around us but the idea is to become enlightened and so to change it.

This leads us into the fourth track on Human’s Lib, the second in a row written by Jones alone. This is another track which was also a single and its title is Hide and Seek. Its subject is an Eastern-inspired mythology which Jones offers us as a way for us to understand ourselves. The lyrics are as follows:

There was a time when there was nothing at all
Nothing at all, just a distant hum
There was a being and he lived on his own
He had no one to talk to, and nothing to do
He drew up the plans,
Learnt to work with his hands
A million years passed by and his work was done
And his words were these...

Hope you find it in everything,
everything that you see
Hope you find it in everything,
everything that you see
Hope you find it, hope you find it
Hope you find me in you

So she had built her elaborate home
With it’s ups and it’s downs,
its rains and its sun
She decided that her work was done,
time to have fun
and she found a game to play
Then as part of the game
She completely forgot where she’d hidden herself
And she spent the rest of her time
Trying to find the parts

Hope you find it in everything,
everything that you see
Hope you find it in everything,
everything that you see
Hope you find it, hope you find it
Hope you find me in you

There was a time when there was nothing at all, nothing at all
Just a distant hum

It is suggested that with this lyric Jones speaks of an original being which manifests the universe and then ‘loses’ him/herself [Jones uses both male and female pronouns in the song to defeat the duality of a traditional gender split — the being can be described as both or either] in the creation as part of a game of hide and seek. The ‘goal’ of life is then to discover that one is nothing other than a part of the action of this original primordial being. For myself I do not even think it is necessary to think of “a being” [i.e. a god] here for “being” might do just as well [as well as being a better philosophical understanding of the myth, in my view]. Jones, once again, is wanting us to think outside the box — and not least the box of self as we have come to think of our conditioned selves. Indeed, within the mythology of this song, something we should remember Jones wrote himself rather than under the explicit influence of Bill Bryant, the self is nothing other than “everything” or the action of primordial being. Jones wants “me” to find itself in “you” and imagines that this is a possibility in a universe of inevitable and unavoidable entanglement and interrelationship. Jones is here suggesting, in the lyrics of a song which, as a single, had the instrumentals “Tao Te Ching” and “China Dance” as suggestive titles on its B side, that “all is one” and that each of us entails the other and that everything entails everything else. This might not be clear to us in a world that has individualised and instrumentalised everything — even by splitting things up and separating them into things. But Jones refuses this vision for that in which nothing begets being and everything that is is a part of the same being — and so ontologically connected at the most intimate of levels.

The fifth track on Human’s Lib is the track Hunt the Self and is co-written by Jones and Bryant. As a song it is nothing other than a manifesto for personal enlightenment as the lyrics will now demonstrate:

Messing around I’ve wasted my time for years
Listening to friends who keep filling me up with ideas
Having deep talks with scholars who sound so fine
Hearing this sham is like getting drunk on cheap wine

Well it’s time for a change
I’ve got to move on
There’s got to be more than this
The feeling is strong
Look in better places gonna look inside
Gonna get higher something is pulling me on
Breaking down the old ways feeling no regret
Gone are the shaky sands I’ve been building on

Well it’s time for a change
Well I’ve lost lots of friends
I’ve got to move on
By sticking to my ground
There’s got to be more than this
I don’t give a damn
The feeling is strong
Just look what I’ve found

Here I come now got no time to frown
Nothing in my way now nothing can bring me down
Feel that surge open the doors around
Higher and higher the world is my hunting ground

Well it’s time for a change
I’ve got to move on
There’s got to be more than this
The feeling is strong

The key line here is the first line of verse 2: “Look in better places gonna look inside” and reflects the Buddhist belief, which is also held by Nichiren Buddhists of the kind Howard Jones would become, that everything necessary for enlightenment — Buddhahood — the human being already has. It is not a matter of some learning or teaching, of gaining something one does not have, but it is, in fact, a matter of letting go of the distractions to that which you already have. This album, of course, is called Human’s Lib and so, in this song, such personal enlightenment is presented as a liberation. But from what? Some possible examples here are wasting time, unenlightened friends, empty scholarship and the old ways. That the song is called Hunt the Self [the address Bill Bryant would give his own personal website much later on] is an indication that such personal exploration and authenticity is not something automatic or given. It must be sought out.

The sixth track of Human’s Lib is Howard Jones’ first and breakout track, New Song. The lyrics, in many respects, echo the thoughts of Hunt the Self and are as follows:

I’ve been waiting for so long
To come here now and sing this song
Don’t be fooled by what you see
Don’t be fooled by what you hear

This is a song to all of my friends
They take the challenge to their hearts
Challenging preconceived ideas
Saying goodbye to long standing fears

Don’t crack up
Bend your brain
See both sides
Throw off your mental chains

I don’t wanna be hip and cool
I don’t wanna play by the rules
Not under the thumb of the cynical few
Or laden down by the doom crew

Don’t crack up
Bend your brain
See both sides
Throw off your mental chains

Don’t crack up
Bend your brain
See both sides
Throw off your mental chains

I’ve been waiting for so long
To come here now and sing this song
Don’t be fooled by what you see
Don’t be fooled by what you hear

This is a song to all of my friends
They take the challenge to their hearts
Challenging preconceived ideas
Saying goodbye to long standing fears

Don’t crack up
Bend your brain
See both sides
Throw off your mental chains

This song reads as some kind of “self-help” challenge and, at the time of the song’s release, some reviewers essentially accused the whole album of being written this way. It seems to echo the reported situation of Jones in the time before he found fame when he, with some others, was a member of a small group led by Bill Bryant who concentrated on Buddhist teaching and ideas. Jones himself has written that his lyrics at the time were often not that well received as they were neither generic love songs nor something with the “in your face” rock sensibility many preferred in the years before synths and electronic music came to completely take over popular music. Jones himself sees such lyrics as being about positivity and an outgoing, exploratory, progressive mental attitude.

This song was written by Jones alone and contains a juxtaposition between what he wants [the “I” sections] and the sections where he is speaking to his hearers. A theme throughout is that people are weighed down by ideas which can either be “preconceived” [i.e. not things you arrived at yourself?] or thought of as “mental chains” of thought. We might say these are unhelpful ideas where ideas should be helpful, useful, to those inhabited by them. Jones, at one point pre-fame, had a habit of using question marks in his promo material to indicate a questioning attitude and this is well exhibited here as in others of the songs on Human’s Lib. The idea is that one should advance oneself beyond the pre-conceived ideas, fears and mental chains to a new you that takes you beyond being “fooled” by what you see or hear in the world around you. Once again, this song is about taking personal responsibility for yourself and your thinking which is a very Buddhist attitude to have. It will involve “bend[-ing] your brain” but then reweaving your thoughts so that you come to think differently as this always should do.

The seventh track on Human’s Lib is called Don’t Always Look at the Rain and the lyrics are as follows:

Some people I know have given up on their lives
Drowning their sorrows, and mumblin’, and forgot the fight
We can tip the balance we can break those barriers down
Little things count as much as the big and turn it all around

And it’s oh, don’t always look at the rain
No, don’t look at the rain

Some people I know have lost their feel for mystery
They say everything has got to be proved, this isn’t a nursery
And Joseph who’s five years old, stops fights in his playground yard
No more fights and bigotry, oh is it so hard?

And it’s oh, don’t always look at the rain
No, don’t always look at the rain
Ha, don’t always look at the rain

And tell me, is it a crime to have an ideal or two
Evolving takes it’s time, we can’t do it all in one go
Doesn’t have to drive us all mad, we can only do our best
Let the mind shut up, and the heart do the rest

And it’s oh, don’t always look at the rain
No, don’t always look at the rain
Ha, don’t always look at the rain

This is a reflective song [in lyrics and in tone] where Jones, again the sole writer of the track, the last track on the album he will write by himself, muses on people he knows and their apparent attitudes to their lives. They are those who have given up or who are trying to forget or they want cold, hard data and are unable to deal with “mystery”. But Jones can’t go along with this negative attitude and, in the second verse, says that even little kids can instinctively do the right thing. This suggests, as in other lyrics, that’s its not about great learning and big, significant advances. “The little things” matter just as much and, though they receive no great fanfare and maybe seem empty and meaningless, they are not so. So Jones urges his hearers not to always fear the worst or see things in a negative frame of reference. He even speaks of having “ideals” as if this is something frowned upon that people are socially dissuaded from having for fear of being berated for it. Things take time and we can only do our best. And, besides, everything isn’t always about the mind and thought. Sometimes its just a matter of the heart and there’s nothing wrong with that. This is essentially, then, a song about positive thinking, something Jones himself has said his songs are about.

The eighth track on Human’s Lib is one called Equality and it is one in which the lyrics were written by Bill Bryant and which Howard Jones took over and set to music. They are as follows:

Everybody wants to feel happy, even if you think that you don’t
Everybody wants to know the secret, even if you think that you don’t
Everybody thinks they’re different from the next man now
But we just got to realize we’re just the same

Always appear to be someone better
You know there’ll always appear to be someone worse
You know there’ll always appear to be someone better
You know there’ll always appear to be someone worse, oh

Everyone has got their character
Everyone has got their personality
But the longing is still the same
So what is the answer be easy on yourself
Make yourself feel at ease maybe that’s the answer
Always appear to be someone better
You know there’ll always appear to be someone worse
Always appear to be someone better
You know there’ll always appear to be someone worse, oh

We’re just the same don’t you know
We’re just the same don’t you know
Looking over there
He looks different, she looks different
They might even be different
But we’re just the same, don’t you know
We’re just the same, don’t you know
We’re just the same

The lyrics here are relatively few, as in most pop songs, but in this case I think quite a lot is being said in a song expressly called “Equality”. But is the song about “equality”? I don’t think it is. Its about asserting that equality is something people already have because “We’re just the same” — by which we must assume the lyrics mean “all equally human beings”. So the apparent disjunction in different/same from the lyrics is disarmed. To be different, which is trivially and universally true, does not mean we are not also examples of the same thing — human beings. We are all different and the same at the same time. This is actually quite a powerful [and necessary] combo for, in the context of previous lyrics in the song, different can be used to leverage better and worse or worth more and worth less. The song suggests this is mere appearance and that it can’t be avoided: “always appear to be someone better”, etc. The song seems to suggest we are individuals with common longings who don’t realise that is the case. We all think our case is unique, personal, but, the song says, it isn’t. And it thinks realising we are “the same” will be some kind of revelation which makes a difference.

I wonder if this is true? In modern, political context realising that everyone is the same would certainly be a novelty for some in an ever more partisan world. But there, at the same time, many powerful individuals and bodies who are motivated to propagandize for the view that differences are material, permanent and real. These people want human beings divided, at each others’ throats, regarding each other as actually and essentially different. They talk as if differences of wealth, of sex, of gender, of class, of race, were written into the DNA of reality and are insurmountable, things no one can do anything about. The lyricist here does not agree. Differences are not to be denied. But the difference cannot erase the sameness — instead, it co-exists with it, a more powerful truth. The lyricist counsels being at peace with yourself about all this. In “Sameness”, in commonality, the song Equality finds the more pertinent truth.

The ninth track on Human’s Lib is another song in which the words were written by Bill Bryant and its called Natural. In many ways I would regard it as the most “difficult” track on the album lyrically. The words are as follows:

Everything around us is natural don’t fight it
Don’t disagree with this and that, no
Astrology, Evolution, this-and-that-ity
This religion and that, no

And if they were not meant to be
Well don’t you think they wouldn’t be?
And if they were not meant to be
Well don’t you think they wouldn’t be? oh

Your beliefs, philosophy, don’t give us peace
Destruction of our enemy, does it makes us right?
If you took them apart and destroyed them all now one by one
This still won’t make it work, no

And if they were not meant to be
Well don’t you think they wouldn’t be?
And if they were not meant to be
Well don’t you think they wouldn’t be? oh

Everything we like and don’t like is whole and natural
I know is doesn’t feel like it and the world seems wrong
But if we don’t like it now then who can we blame?
Blame god, be still, find a harmony

And if they were not meant to be
Well don’t you think they wouldn’t be?
And if they were not meant to be
Well don’t you think they wouldn’t be? Oh

To some readers these lyrics might seem scarily laissez-faire. Everything is natural? Nothing should be fought? We should let things just be as they are? This is not what we have been taught in a world of right and wrong, good and bad, proper and improper. But I don’t think that when Bryant wrote these lyrics he was thinking that claiming something was “natural” was using nature as an authority which justified a thing’s existence. It seems to me more like he is saying that things naturally arise and come and go for their own reasons. Everything has some kind of explanation and arises because its of use to someone, somewhere. It is not for us then to have to account for everything or agree or disagree with it. Much of it, even most of it, may be nothing to do with us and need not be. But this song also seems an argument against believing that one way or philosophy has all the answers, that “nature” can be put in a human-shaped, ideological straitjacket whether religious or philosophical or whatever else. The lyrics even go so far as to say that if we attack and beat down our ideological enemies that doesn’t necessarily make us right. It hints at the idea that “right” is not something we can ultimately decide and lays a path to thinking of right and wrong in moral senses as beyond our pay grade, as if thinking of human beings as arbiters of things is itself a straitjacket we need to escape from. As such, it opens an interface between us and the world of our experience based on feelings. It talks about what we feel but not about that as necessarily something pertinent to the world even if it feels so to us. Often things are, to us at least, a matter of what “we like and don’t like”. But what does that have to do with anything? What can we do about it if we feel something? Often nothing or very little. Bryant counsels “Blame God, be still, find a harmony” in this case. Find your own peace with things for the ability to organise what is natural under any human thinking is beyond us.

The final song on Human’s Lib is the title track itself. The words are as follows:

Sometimes I’d like to go to bed
With a hundred women or men
And lose my mind in lust and drink
And to hit some people into feeling good, oh

Sometimes I’d like to dance in the street
Don’t wanna go to work, just wanna lay in bed all day

Why don’t you then?
Why don’t you then?

Life just seems oh so meaningless
And who can blame us for wanting these things?
But you just try being free my friend
And everyone will hate your guts, I only want to free

This is another song with relatively few lyrics but, as with Natural, they might seem jarring to some. There are, I suggest, two ways to take this song: the first is as a whiny teenager who doesn’t want to do as they are told and sulks and rants. “They will learn,” the cynicised adults think to themselves. The second is to take the words seriously, to ask after libertarian sex, satiating bodily desires, not going to work [or even, shock horror, not having a job!] and just living your life at your own recognisance. I can think of lots of people [we call them “capitalists”] who would be aghast at such an idea. But the key to this song is the final two lines:

But you just try being free my friend
And everyone will hate your guts, I only want to free

Freedom is not doing as you are told. Its not turning up for work. Its not being told who you can have sex with, what you can eat and drink or if you can take drugs or not. Freedom is not being told who you are and how you must behave. Freedom is not allowing the world to order and classify you in a hundred ways on a daily basis — or taking no notice if it does. So isn’t it right that the people who wake up to this and put freedom first are seen as lazy or ideological or trouble makers or feckless or a hundred other negative things? Don’t these people argue that the world is a certain way and its our duty to fit in with it? WHY? People, quite often, hate people who want to be free. Perhaps its because they expose that everyone around is not free in doing so. They lay at their feet the consequences of the status quo and the consequent need for action, perhaps troublesome action. Perhaps such people begrudge people who want freedom, then, because they feel like its not something they could ever have for themselves. Perhaps what the title track to Howard Jones’ first album does most of all, in that case, is to show that human beings are in need of liberation, a liberation which begins in the individual liberation of each individual life.

So that is the lyrics of all the tracks on Human’s Lib. Its an album about questioning, about personal actualisation, about the context of human beings in the world. It opens pathways up to new values, to being released from “mental chains” which we have become entangled in and to thinking about things in new and different ways which, it seems to be suggested, will change the way we see the world. Of course, should we act on these ways, as Jones second album, in many ways a companion piece to the first, Dream into Action, suggests, then it may be that the world itself is changed. If this were to be the case it would clearly be what Howard Jones wants. As the Buddhist that he is, he sees the world very much in terms of personal change which brings social change. The key here, as in the song Why Look For The Key?, which is on Dream into Action, is that the answer lays inside yourself and we can see that here, not least in the songs Hunt the Self and New Song. In fact, its something of a one note tune. On Jones’ first two albums the constant refrain is personal self-creation and personal enlightenment. I’ve written a chapter about it because I agree with it. But, of course, its far from the whole story by itself however necessary you might believe it to be.

FIVE: The Original Path is Wordless: Putting Language in Its Place

One of the points of writing this book is to point out that all human thought is constructed in language. This is to say that it is not remotely conceivable that human beings would be the beings they think they are if they were not language users — and particularly language users of the languages they make use of. This may seem to some a somewhat trivial or even inconsequential point but I hope to show in what follows — as I hope I did in especially the most relevant chapter 2 preceding this — that this is far from the case. Being language users, I intend to suggest, makes all the difference in the world — and to the world we think we are in. I am intending to use two primary sources in talking about this in this chapter, the thoughts of deceased American pragmatist philosopher, Richard Rorty, and the Eastern currents of thought labelled Daoist or Zen Buddhist. By the end of this chapter I hope that readers will at least have questions regarding how the fact of language contextualises human existence and human thinking even if they have not yet come to be inhabited by new beliefs about such things.

According to Richard Rorty, perhaps the most consequential thing that happened in philosophical thought during the twentieth century was that it came to be less about mind or experience and more about language. Philosophers in that century, from positivists to the most convinced constructivists, settled upon language as the thing to be considered in its consequences and ramifications. This, as with many similar topics, acts as something like a changing of the guard when some ideas [and their proponents] fall out of favour and others take their place. At the same time, certain vocabularies [and those who used them] may find themselves “out of time” as a result as new vocabularies [and their users] catch hold of the Zeitgeist and take their place. Richard Rorty always seems to have been a philosopher who liked to tell stories about these changes — adding in his own articulations of what they may have meant in addition. These meanings were not always shared by others [and were often heavily criticised by those who saw dangers in his stories] but, in his sincere linking of one phenomenon to another, Rorty often used said stories to suggest why seeing a thing like A instead of like B was to our advantage and why seeing it like B instead of A gave us problems we didn’t need to have. Richard Rorty often told such stories about language — and its concomitants truth, knowledge, belief, objectivity, reality, and so on — and its a couple of these stories [chapters 2 and 3 from his book Philosophy and Social Hope from 1999] that I want to briefly relay and extrapolate upon now.

The first story is one that suggests we can — and should — have truth without correspondence to reality. But putting it so baldly is begging a lot of questions and perhaps making a lot of assumptions that those who have not done very much philosophical thinking in their lives may baulk at. I would wish it were the case that the mass education systems of the world gave their students at least a grounding in basic philosophical thinking but they do not. And so it is a matter of baby steps. Rorty regards himself as a philosophical pragmatist, a distinctively American philosophical idea [something in which Rorty often takes some pride], and one which, if it be regarded as distinctive of it, “substitutes the notion of a better human future for the notions of ‘reality’, ‘reason’ and ‘nature’.” This is to say that Rorty thinks our thinking should result in a better future rather than being about pre-determined and static authorities which just somehow [and often this is never adequately explained] arbitrate things.

Thus, clearly, this is not the view that things [often glossed as “reality”] are just one way and its our job to find out what this way is and then be subservient to it. Pragmatists, as Rorty makes sure to inform us in the second chapter of Philosophy and Social Hope, “do not believe that there is a way things really are.” So, consequently, they want to give up the idea of there being appearances and there being its opposite, reality, which is something that is true regardless of appearances. Instead, the pragmatist, according to Rorty, wants to substitute the difference between more and less useful descriptions of the world for this wholly problematic conception of things. In doing so, such a pragmatist wants to substitute making use of the world for knowing about the world in a strict sense of the latter definition. For this pragmatist, then, all “knowing” is actually just using whether it is given the credit of knowing or not.

Such pragmatists are not then those who think the world, the universe and all reality conforms to a plan or that there is an algorithm, key, or code, which unlocks it and its meaning. Such pragmatists are not teleological in their thinking either. They do not imagine that everything that there is is going somewhere that was mapped out in advance. This is also to say that they see no purpose or intent in the activities of things in

general. Thus, the eye was not made to invent seeing and the brain did not evolve to create thinking. In terms of bodies, we may equally say that nature had no purpose to create sexuality or sexed bodies and the various ways these have occurred were not part of any plan in which one thing is right, and was intended, and other things are wrong, and were not. In other words, the pragmatist does not fixate on the eternal, the unchanging, the static, but she concentrates, instead, on what is thought better and the future in which it can be so. For such a person, “reality” is a term of value or a choice rather than an authority to be bowed down to. These people do not think that it is the job of something called “knowledge” to uncover what is real before our thinking begins but, instead, think that it is necessary to gain the kinds of understanding which will help us deal with intellectual problems as they arise. In simple terms, such people want to swap an eternal past for a new, and necessarily useful, future.

This brings us to “truth”, a subject about which Rorty wrote a lot in the last quarter of the twentieth century. And it is something about which such pragmatists have distinctive views. Since a pragmatist of Rorty’s stripe does not think of “reality” as an arbiter, something to which he has an eternal [but wholly unexplained] duty to correspond, he must come up which a conception of truth which is something other than “corresponding to reality”. Now truth, states Rorty, “is what is supposed to distinguish knowledge from well-ground opinion [or] justified belief.” But Rorty argues that if truth is something like what the earlier pragmatist, William James, called “the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief, and good, too, for definite, assignable, reasons” then it is not clear how such a thing can be done. Those who think of truth as an eternal, however, poo poo such a notion of truth as taking the merely justified for the true, the transitory for the eternal. Rorty responds to this by saying that justification of truths is the important thing, the thing we should stick to, the thing that linguistic beings such as ourselves should be concerned with. He thinks that human beings like us “cannot swing free of the nonhuman environment” and that most of our beliefs, most of the time, “must be true”. In technical, philosophical jargon he talks of truth as “an empirical explanation of the causal relations which hold between features of the environment and the holding true of sentences”. Truth, this seems to say, is a linguistic matter, a matter of “sentential attitudes” towards the world of our experience. This is not to say we have forgotten the world — for he asserts that we are always and everywhere in touch with it — but to say that we are in a causal but not a correspondent relationship with it.

This view is not one obsessed with certainty [an epistemological concern] or bothered by the threat of skepticism. For such a view never claims that it is getting anything right. It only claims, with reasons that it can provide, that it is a useful view to hold and hopefully a better one than the one that is already current. Such a view takes the linguisticality of our thinking, tells us that the world can cause us to hold views about it, and asserts that this is probably enough to be truthful as far as such a language user goes. If we are false in our views, if our views are in fact useless, the world that can affect our views by causing us to hold other ones will soon do so. So, for such people, things denominated as “knowledge” do not represent reality. Rather, our inquiries and investigations are inventing ways to make use of reality. Beliefs are then reliable, useful guides rather than the last word, the eternal word. There is, on this view, no one way the world is and so no one way which captures its accurate representation. Pragmatists such as this think of people looking for the eternal truth as those trying to escape such a causal world — and the time and chance that goes with it.

In contrast, such pragmatists want to swap certainty for imagination and think of such philosophy as providing the basis for an Emersonian self-reliance rather than an authoritative reassurance. They give up an obsession with eternal foundations for beliefs and start concerning themselves with creating better and more tangibly useful ones. They give up the idea of “context-free justification” and come to embrace the idea that all justification, and so all truth, is from a contingent point of view. Truth is, thus, not an epistemological thing. Its more like a sociological thing, a thing that can be fashioned out of the use of language by groups of people. Its connection to the world is our own and our invention and its importance is in relation to our purposes and the uses towards which it is put. There is no methodical way to guarantee such truth, however, for truth is not the result of an algorithm or a method. Truth is just that which is justified in our language about the world to others for reasons that we can provide. And so, as Rorty says, “There is simply the process of justifying beliefs to audiences”.

This does away with things thought of as an eternal “knowledge” or an eternal “rationality” which are either the result of a method which can guarantee being right or are such a method or faculty itself. Beliefs are now “rules of action rather than attempts to represent reality”. The fact that most beliefs are true or that most beliefs are justified is then something to do with the “holistic character of belief ascription”. Beliefs “which are expressed as meaningful sentences necessarily have lots of predictable inferential connections with lots of other meaningful sentences.” In other words, within a language things infer other things and are meant to cooperate and work together in order that the language work itself. If language, in its functioning, did not work this way it would be hard to hold a set of beliefs for the individual beliefs would not fit or work together. But for us human beings, linguistic beings such as we are, things cohere, inter-penetrate, inter-relate and refer to other things. This is something to do with how language itself works, something which, in turn, is about how we understand and manipulate the universe we inhabit. We may say at this point that, in terms of comprehension, understanding or even simply use of our environment, the fact that we are linguistic beings like this is everything. We cannot imagine that a dog or a fish or even a 1 year old child inhabits the universe with the consciousness, the self-aware thoughtfulness, that a language using human adult does. It is Rorty’s assertion that all of this has little to do with truth if this is thought of as an eternal commendation for sentences about the activities of the universe we inhabit. Rather, he imagines that “inquiry and justification are activities we language-users cannot help engaging in”. That is, they are activities bound up with language use. We do not then need an eternal goal called truth but only the linguistic practices within our existence that have already been bequeathed to us by blind evolutionary processes. We have truth because language-users have come to find it useful to do so.

This, of course, does not make such truth a “God’s eye view”. There is no reason such an evolutionary process should be perspicuous to the nature of reality or that nature should even have a nature to be perspicuous about. These are bad, useless [but not “wrong” for that would entail knowing “right”] views, ones we can replace with better ones in the pragmatist evaluation. In order to have a “right” view, in the more static, eternal sense, we would have to know all the views and then be competent to judge them accordingly. Rorty argues that on a Darwinian view of the world, which is the evolutionary view, this becomes impossible to maintain. By contrast, the Rortian pragmatist says there is much that can be said about justification of views to particular, temporal audiences but next to nothing to be said about justification in general that makes something truth. In the end, truth is a matter of contrasting an actual present with a possible future by linguistic means. And that’s all it is.

Rorty’s second story builds on his first. If the first aimed to dismantle what is known as “the correspondence theory of truth” then this one aims to argue that things don’t have essences or inherent properties [anti-essentialism] and the two together seem to make the claim that, for language users, the only foundations to any argument are linguistic ones that do not correspond to, or represent, some notional “external world” in any realist sense. You might then want to think of this as human beings, cognitively conceived, inhabiting a linguistic bubble much as, physically, we inhabit the earth’s atmosphere. This linguistic bubble, in which all our thought and cognition takes place, should not then be thought of as a trap anymore than the earth’s atmosphere is a trap. It is just the manifest conditions of human existence as human beings happen to have evolved.

If you reject such a view as the incarceration of human thinking in language then presumably you view the fact that we have to breathe air in the same negative way as well. But there is, of course, no necessity to view such things negatively. Instead, one might ask oneself some questions such as “Why would sensory perception of surroundings be called knowledge or understanding or explanation of them?” or “Why would linguistification of sensory stimulations be thought of as explaining anything or as being epistemological about them?”

Asking such questions one might become what Rorty wants to become in his second story, which is to say anti-essentialist and anti-metaphysical. In his “world without substances or essences” [the title of chapter 3 of Philosophy and Social Hope] he nominally wants to draw some lines of commonality between philosophers he admires [and agrees with] in both the “analytic” and the “continental” traditions that many think Western philosophers split into during the twentieth century as a result of their discussions about language. These are the ones, in his view, who want to shake off “metaphysical dualisms” [such as essence/accident or reality/appearance] and replace them with “a flux of continually changing relations” or “pan-relationalism”. This view, Rorty thinks, is an aid to putting aside the correspondence theory of truth, as he did in his first story, in that it enables us to put aside the distinction between subject and object as well as that between the imagined elements of human knowledge which are our mental contributions and those which are the substance of the universe. Rorty sees various philosophical labels as describing people with these philosophical urges from pragmatists and poststructuralists to holists and hermeneuticists and, to lay my cards on

the table here, I see my own views implicated in several of them. But he unites his band of philosophical engagees, whatever their prior categorization, in this story under a couple of slogans, the first coming from a continental philosopher and the second from an analytic one. These are: “Everything is a social construction” and “All awareness is a linguistic affair”.

Rorty thinks both these slogans “come to much the same thing” and they reiterate something I’ve said before and answer the two questions at the end of my first paragraph on Rorty’s second story. This is that “we shall never be able to step outside of language, never be able to grasp reality unmediated by linguistic description”. This motivates a move to want to talk about more or less useful descriptions of the world rather than talking about “real” descriptions as opposed to “merely apparent” ones. It is to say our means of interaction with, and manipulation of, our environment is by means of language rather than to say we have immediate and eternal knowledge of it. It is to put the question of if we ever understand or explain that environment aside because our being caught up in language doesn’t need to answer the question “What is the epistemological status of language users like us?”. This isn’t a question which helps us be what we are any more or less usefully. It is, from this point of view, a literally irrelevant question. Rorty, for example, thinks that saying “everything is a social construction” entails that “our linguistic practices are so bound up with our other social practices that our descriptions of nature, as well as of ourselves, will always be a function of our social needs.” Rorty extrapolates “all awareness is a linguistic affair” as meaning that instead of having an insider track on knowledge due to unmediated, personal experience of it, we only have descriptions of things which we then join up and call knowledge. Put the slogans together, he thinks, and “you get the claim that all our knowledge is under descriptions suited to our current social purposes”. I have called such things “social fictions” in my own agreeing way in the past and these are not things which need have epistemological concern for they did not come from epistemology and neither are they intended to answer its questions.

An illustration of this is when Rorty argues that the position we have now reached in this second of his stories does away with the classic Platonic distinction between nature and convention — physis [from which we get Physics] and nomos [convention, sometimes law] — in ancient Greek thinking. In the story, to recall, all our awareness is now under a linguistic description and all descriptions are functions of our social needs. Rorty concludes that if we are to exist this way then things like nature or reality, as linguistic designations of “the big picture” or the canvas of “all that is”, can only “be names of something unknowable”. They become like what the philosopher Kant called a “Thing-in-Itself”. But if a thing is “in itself” then how are we meant to know anything about it, we who are not “in itself’? This seems to set up a subject/object dualism and to raise the problem of how subjects can know objects — or even if they can. For the epistemologically fixated who want to build metaphysical kingdoms of substances known in their essences this is all quite panic-inducing and the wolf of skepticism is never very far from the door.

Yet the people who Rorty is speaking about in his second story want to leave such a construction of the situation behind. They, in his thinking, forsake the idea of a potentially absolute knowledge of things [or an “accurate representation of the intrinsic nature of reality”], something language use has not even broached as a possibility, for the usefulness they think “panrelationalism” brings. But, to be convincing, Rorty will probably have to at least suggest why trying to get at the intrinsic nature of reality is pointless and, hence, why panrelationalism is more useful. And so he makes just such an attempt. Needless to say, all this comes to be wrapped up in language for, whether we discuss the barrier seemingly introduced between ourselves and reality produced by the interaction of subjects and objects, between sense organs and “the way things are in themselves”, or whether we identify language itself as the possible obfuscating barrier and say language may impose upon reality things that are not true about it, it all reduces down to asking the question of what language use is actually doing in the end. [See chapter 10 for Alan Moore’s answer!]

The Rortian pragmatist responds to such a problematic by pointing out that such a description of the situation is itself implicated in linguistic description and a way of seeing — and specifically seeing — the problem [i.e. by use of an ocular metaphor that is linguistically constructed itself]. But we do not need to linguistically describe this situation as a matter of something getting in the way of a subject seeing an object immediately [i.e. in an unmediated way] in order to obtain direct and incontrovertible knowledge of it, an innate understanding and explanation of the thing. We might, instead, drop the metaphor of knowledge as vision we [for what reason?] used as well as end seeing language as a matter of representation. If we take the view that language does not fail to represent accurately because it does not represent at all, in other words,

take the view that it has another function, as well as the view that knowledge is not vision, then we will save ourselves a lot of misdirected trouble. For the Rortian pragmatist we language users are not knowing things, we are using them. And that is all we are doing — putting them into useful relations with each other. Useful to who? Well, to “us” — and hopefully an “us” we can extend as widely as possible, solidifying the “objectivity” of our views as we do. [Here objectivity is basically a credit we give to the widest intersubjective agreement we can manage.]

Rorty, thus, sees “knowledge” in practice as the ability to do something with a linguistically-described entity [which, by now, all readers should be aware is everything language users such as us talk about by means of language]. This dissolves the distinction between knowing a thing and using a thing. The claim to know something is then the claim to be able to use it usefully, to be able to do something with it or to put it in useful relation to something else. But the person doing this would also like to break down the linguistic difference between thinking of something either intrinsically or extrinsically because such a person thinks that this will not help us because it is an illusion which holds our attention to no useful purpose. [Readers might recall here Nietzsche’s “Truths are illusions” from chapter 2.] This is where Rorty’s antiessentialist urges explicitly enter his story for he tells us here that “For pragmatists there is no such thing as a nonrelational feature of X, any more than there is such a thing as the intrinsic nature, the essence, of X. So there can be no such thing as a description which matches the way X really is, apart from its relation to human needs or consciousness or language.” He concludes that if this distinction then dissolves too then so does the reality/appearance distinction and so do worries about barriers between us and our environment. Language is not a problem; we had just constructed a less helpful way of thinking about it. Better to think that we are stuck in its social fiction as we are embedded in the earth’s atmosphere. It is not a prison but our possibility of existing as we can, the thing which enables conceptual thought.

So, for Rorty, we are language users bandying about descriptions for things. These descriptions are related to who we are and serve our purposes, a picture not unlike that constructed by Nietzsche in chapter 2 of this book. None of these descriptions are anything to do with essences. They are neither intrinsic nor extrinsic for they are instead matters of relating things to each other in linguistic descriptions and uses of them. This is Rorty’s panrelationalism and it can be summed up as thinking of everything you can think of as if it were a number. It is hard to think of numbers as having an “intrinsic nature”, something more true about them than anything else, something essential and eternal. There are not descriptions of numbers which are more essential and others which are more accidental or incidental. If you ask, for example, what 13 is, or, worse, what it is “in itself” apart from relationships to other numbers, you draw a blank. Saying 13 is 12 plus 1 or 33 minus 20 seems to dance around 13 rather than getting to its core self. And then you begin to realise there are an infinite number of such descriptions none of which is anymore “essential” to 13 than any of the others. And that none of them seem to capture “13ness” itself. Instead, the way you choose to describe 13 depends on your purposes in making use of 13 in the first place.

The example of numbers is Rorty’s, of course, and he argues that “antiessentialists” such as himself would like to convince others that just as it does not pay to be essentialist about numbers so it equally does not pay to be essentialist about anything else. In other words, that “there is nothing to be known about [things] except an initially large, and forever expandable, web of relations to other objects”, that “everything that can serve as the term of a relation can be dissolved into another set of relations, and so on forever.” Just like numbers. Rorty suggests that there are relations all the way down and all the way up — and all the way out in every direction as well. Every reference, every description, only leads to another and another and another. Things only make sense in terms of relations to other things but this never impinges upon the linguistic illusion of the intrinsic nature of any of the things and it never really pays to imagine such a thing anyway.

Antiessentialism is then the belief that things are used rather than known inside out and that “knowledge” is a matter of sentences describing things for various uses, what another mentioned in this book of mine has termed “expedient fiction”. We may also describe such linguistically-conceived knowledge as a matter of “sentential attitudes”, relations to things constructed out of language. No wonder language has been called “the house of being”. It is this linguistification which leads directly to the conclusion that relations of things to other things is the basis of anything we would feign to describe as knowledge, understanding, explanation or truth. Such a thing finds no firm foundation in the “intrinsic nature of things” or any imagined “external reality”. It is a pure linguistic phenomenon, the metaphorical air which gives life to our cognitive, intellectual “body”. The conclusion is then that all that we know about things is that certain sentences are true of them according to “us” and that “all sentences can do is relate objects to one another” because language is a tool for hooking things up rather than getting them right or representing their appropriate place in a fully and eternally comprehended and realised reality.

Here, banging your hand on a table and pronouncing, “Behold reality!” changes nothing for the antiessentialist unveiled in this second story of Rorty’s rejoinders that said table is only, in the end, that of which various sentences are true. The causal abilities of tables are four square with such sentences and no sentence is anymore intrinsic in regard to it than any other — just as hitting it was not anymore intrinsic to it either. Hitting it, in fact, was just another way of relating to it rather than something which got to its essential core. You haven’t left a linguistic realm and escaped into one of directly immediate facts by hitting a table, you’ve just related to it in a way the very same language must then describe. Neither, by the way, is its hardness when hitting it any more intrinsic than its colour, shape or ugliness. Our thinking, then, only works against a background of linguistic practice and the identity of things is description-relative. To seek to avoid such conclusions is, says Rorty, “the project of escaping from time and chance”.

This is not all of Rorty’s second story but it is the better part of it. Taking it on board, I now want to divert from an American pragmatist into thoughts much older [but not necessarily so different] that have Zen and/or Daoist heritage. We have, in this chapter, come to learn of things like truth, knowledge, understanding and explanation as linguistic things, linguistic functions, and of language as our way of engaging in cognitive, intellectual activity. None of this, so we have been told, is about correspondence to a reality [although no one here denies human beings live in an environment or suggests they are simply imagining everything] or representing the intrinsic nature of a reality in language. Language, it is suggested, is a tool in which expedient fictions are created for the furtherance, maintenance and betterment of human lives. Language makes use of things rather than understanding them in any internal way. Being, as it is, the putting to work of sensory stimuli, the question of if language expresses innate knowledge of things is not necessary to arise, is not necessarily an epistemological matter. But what it is is an interpretational, hermeneutical matter, something that was certainly Nietzsche’s point in chapter 2 of this book. Hermeneutics is another term Rorty uses in his second story to describe the interests of the antiessentialist, antimetaphysical characters he finds offering the most useful descriptions that help to solve our philosophical problems in this regard. “There are no facts, only interpretations”, a summarization of a certain Nietzschean attitude, is then another way to say what Rorty has said in his second story, if not overall as a sum of both of them. That we are constant creators of expedient fictions, that language is fictional interpretation of the resistance that is causal reality, is how I might choose to put this. But what does it mean? We need an example. And what better example than ourselves, than “the self”?

Neither Zen Buddhism nor Chinese Daoism believe that there is such a thing as “the self”. That story you tell yourself about who you are, where you’ve been, what makes you you? Its just that: a story you made up. Its no more or less true of you than 10,000 stories another 10,000 people could tell about you. It certainly relates to no essence of you for, as we have just been hearing, there are no essences, no intrinsic descriptions, no core of you that is more indestructibly you than some other description. Ironically, for fans of the 1960s TV drama, The Prisoner, you are a number, whether or not you are also “a free man”. In that show being numbered was regarded as being imprisoned or controlled, having identity stripped away. In this context, it is the exact opposite. There is no way to contain ourselves for there is no self to contain. All descriptions of ourselves are just a relating of ourselves to other things, no more essential or intrinsic than any other. Identity dissolves, expedient fiction remains. Here a Zen saying tells us that “The original path is wordless; we only use words to illustrate, never to establish or explain” and this captures the sense of what Rorty was telling us. Language is not a tool of knowing, it is a tool of using, of interpreting [because interpreting is simply using in a certain context itself]. Without words, what is there? Without words all we can say is that there is nothing to be said. In this we get a glimpse of how the intellectual, cognitive world comes to be, birthed in language, birthed in language which gives us the ability to make use of things. The first verse of the Daoist Daodejing contains a similar story when it tells us that “A way that may be spoken is not the enduring Way. A name that may be named is not an enduring name. No names — this is the beginning of heaven and earth. Having names — this is the mother of the things of the world.” What does this mean?

One scholar of Daoism, Robert Eno, in a document meant to present the Daodejing to students of early Chinese thought, states:

“The source of human deviation from the Dao [the Way which is thought to be the way of all things just left alone to be “as they are”] lies in the way that our species has come to use its unique property, the mind. Rather than allow our minds to serve as a responsive mirror of the world, we have used it to develop language and let our thoughts and perceptions be governed by the categories that language creates, such as value judgments. The mind’s use of language has created false wisdom, and our commitment to this false wisdom has come to blind us to the world as it really is, and to the Dao that orders it. The person who “practices” wuwei [“non-action”] quiets the mind and leaves language behind.”

This we may say, correcting Eno’s own infelicitous language of the world “as it really is” and the Dao as an active “order” it is probably not, is a using of language inappropriately, a regarding it as something it is not. As in the first chapter of the Daodejing, it creates a fictional world in order to make use of the world that is its environment — but the danger of regarding it as “real” or as reality itself — when it is only linguistic creation for human purposes — is always there to trap and deceive us. Rorty’s pragmatism he sees here as a way of avoiding such cul-de-sacs. Daoism, as well as Zen, see decoupling ourselves from language itself as a solution as in when the Daoist book Zhuangzi asks for “the person who has forgotten words”. This is an imprecation to disabuse ourselves of the magical power of words to create linguistically in ways that we may come to imagine conceptually as more actual, or more perspicuous, than they actually are.

Language, we must remember, is expedient fiction. It is not mapping reality. [And so, Rorty would say, its lack does not get reality any more right either. He himself thought of Zen as one of the ways people sought to “escape time and chance”.] For the Daoist, however, and according to Eno’s interpretation of the Daodejing:

“The greatest barriers to discarding language and our value judgments are our urges for things we believe are desirable and our impulse to obtain these things for ourselves. The selfishness of our ordinary lives makes us devote all our energies to a chase for possessions and pleasures, which leaves us no space for the detached tranquillity needed to join the harmonious rhythm of Nature and the Dao. The practice of wu-wei [“actionless action”] entails a release from pursuits of self-interest and a self-centered standpoint. The line between ourselves as individuals in accord with the Dao and the Dao-governed world at large becomes much less significant for us.”

What I take from this is that language is a tool and not a “getting reality right” system. This Daoist wants to “discard language” because it is identified as a practice which can deceive and which presents truth in ways that it is not most useful to understand truth in. Language is fallible and can repeatedly be shown to be mistaken or false but an actual reality could never be shown to be that. For it wouldn’t be. Thus, if something can be redescribed in language [and everything can] then the original description was not the essential, foundational, actual, real or intrinsically important description we might have imagined it was. It was just a description, in Rorty’s terms, just one more set of relations, just something which, with other purposes and reasons, could be put to other uses or described in other ways. “What is important” is here equally a relational feature of human thinking in any case.

The Daoism Eno explains here then warns that an attachment to language, as an expression of the needs and concerns of the self [a self that is just one more linguistic story], is an attachment to a story and only to a story. But to contemplate things in a storyless, non-linguistic way is to forget words and language entirely. The wuwei Eno counsels, a Daoist virtue, is acting without purpose or intention, what the related Zen text, The Blue Cliff Record, refers to as acting “without picking and choosing” [which is what nature, thought of as an inter-related system of things, does according to this thinking]. And then what is left? For the Daoist, it is “the Way”, an nameable and an indefinable Rorty would despise for he would intuitively imagine it to be some sort of eternal God-substitute his philosophy had been trying to get away from for his entire life.

I, engaged in my own studies of Daoist and of Zen texts, have not come to such a conclusion, however. “The Way” is not a God even though it might be an eternal [in the way existence is an eternal but not a god either]. It is, I believe, nothing other than the very “time and chance” Rorty thinks we are enveloped in. “The Way” offers no foundations, no essences, and may be nothing more than existence [or “that which becomes and changes”] without language telling it to be something and so to become useful to someone who uses language. One might even say, using language [!], that this beyond language, unknown and unknowable, is the limits of human thinking and so language’s utility itself. A universe without language use is, for language users, that they cannot make use of or manipulate. It is a sort of reverse polarity in which it is not language users who shape reality in words but a context in which the wordless universe shapes we who do not resist [by means of language] instead. Both Zen and Daoism, as with Rorty, however, see in language a set of marks and noises which are means to fabricating a world. The former point out its fictionality and recommend avoiding it, the latter says we should concentrate on what we can do with it rather than wasting our time pretending it is something it is not.

When we get political, however, language is then seen, in such a light, as a tool of domination and classification — which is simply a redescription of it as fiction or as a tool invented for social purposes, a tool which makes things useful [which is always useful “to someone”]. So none of this means language is a useless tool which makes no difference. Talk is never “mere talk” for the effectiveness of language is entirely the point of it. If it did nothing and made no difference then we would never have been gifted it by the evolutionary processes that have created us. Evolution does not fashion things for the fun of it but always only for the utility of it. In political terms, language organises and classifies and is a tool which creates sentential differences between people for classificatory purposes. It can become an ideology or a discourse and it can, if we are not careful, be taken too seriously or inappropriately as in when we imagine the word becomes material [something John’s Gospel does in the case of Jesus]. We must always be wary of this. For example, another example of such a use of language is when people are described as gay or heterosexual or as cis or trans.

Now you might want to ask, given this discussion we have had, “But are people REALLY gay or heterosexual, cis or trans?” and my answer to this would be that they are or aren’t only inasmuch as having sentential attitudes towards things means that. For there are no facts only interpretations, everything is a social construction and all awareness is a linguistic affair. There is no escape from this, given such an understanding and such a logic. The person holding this view does not, or should not, imagine that her opponent’s views are interpretations but that their views are facts instead. If language always reflects social purposes and is always linked to points of view then it is here too. So talking about sexuality or gender is also in the language bubble with us too, a means to describing people, including ourselves, as such things, rather than a barrier keeping us from such things. But that means taking on board that such social, linguistic fictions are not matters of epistemology or knowledge about which we can or cannot have certainty. We are not, in talking about such things, claiming they are “real” or “intrinsic”. They are fictional descriptions we have for certain behaviours or practices or allegiances or phenomena as the Zen Buddhist or the Daoist might also agree.

“Is someone really gay?” or “Is someone really trans?” are then empty questions but also irrelevant ones, ones which misunderstand the fictional operation of language as an evolutionary practice. The point is not if homosexuality or transgenderism [or heterosexuality or cis-ness for that matter] “are real” but what purposes people have, and what difference it makes, to create and utilize such linguistic descriptions of people as well as asking where such descriptions can take us. ALL descriptions of people are fictions and all of them exist for reasons. We made them all up equally. The debate is which are better to use and which are worse and not the rhetorical sidetrack of if some are real and some are not. For, in language, EVERYTHING IS RHETORICAL, and especially when it is claimed not to be. There is no escaping the interpretation that is the use of language which is common to the philosophies of Rorty and Nietzsche.

Of course, according to the Way, or engaging in the Zen practice of Shikantaza [“just sitting” meditation], none of this matters. Existence is beyond language and so non-cognitive and non-intellectual. It is not something to be known, either intrinsically or essentially, but something to be co-existed with in a peaceful harmony of going about your business and acting naturally or according to one’s needs and function. For myself, I see value in this insight. It tells me that things are not the things we say they are nor necessarily related in the ways that we can imagine anymore than in the ways that we cannot. Who made us the measure or made us competent to this task anyway? Nietzsche would say that we did or, rather, that these are competencies we accumulated, rhetorically, in order to live. All of our faculties have accrued to us in order to live and none have accrued to us in order to get reality right. Evolution, it would seem to me, is a ruthlessly utilitarian, pragmatic process and a blind one to boot. Its certainly not up to the job of supporting the view that we were created to verify to everything that exists that there is one way it fits together and only one way and we, of all the random beings the ooze brought forth, were the singular one that happened to have the faculties up to the task of knowing and saying that this was so. To believe that, it seems to me would be tantamount to believing in a God, a God that was us, and it would be an attempt to escape the “time and chance” that I, Rorty, Zen Buddhists, Daoists and even Nietzsche agree that we are all bound up in.

So we cannot find an authority with which to stamp our imprint upon things in language, our only means of understanding, and neither can we use it to claim to have found existence’s own imprint within itself. In fact, thinking in terms of such an authority, a card to lay on the table which ends the game of linguistic description in our favour, is a problem in itself for language seems not to be competent to such a task. It exists, instead, as little other than a creative tool for the use of reality in useful ways, ways useful to some social grouping of people who have need to think of things like this rather than like that. Language can be used to describe or persuade but it cannot be used, ironically, to end the conversation. This is because descriptions are as infinite as purposes and so there might continually be new descriptions necessary as long as there are language users around to make use of them. And so language use results in the continuous creation of new stories told in order to be expedient to various groups of people or even, potentially, all the people as a whole. These can only be countered with other stories, and so on. Think of this as like breathing but with words; when the language stops, you cease to be.

SIX: Domination, Hierarchy and Classification in Racism and Eugenics

In this chapter, I want to pick up again the biological discussion begun in chapter three and continue on with it. This will involve talking about race and class, about the intersectional nature of forms of oppression and about classification and hierarchicalisation of people as a result of human activity. The major problem here, I intend to suggest, is that people tend to want to create hierarchies and to compare people in terms of better and worse or favoured and disfavoured or insider and outsider or like me and not like me. This is primarily a political activity as far as I can see [regardless of if things like ethics or religion are utilised within it] and its consequences are usually political as well. In engaging with such subjects I do not intend to get too much into the nitty gritty of real world oppressions, however. This is not because I am blind to them or find them unimportant but because I do not feel qualified to do so. I am someone who believes that people should speak for themselves, as far as they can, and so I do not believe in speaking on behalf of other people. Contemporaneous accounts of real world oppressions are numerous and constantly being produced and I suggest readers seek them out if this is what they want for they are not hard to find and many of them speak powerfully about real world oppressions people suffer from in an ongoing way. The voices of those affected by these will speak much more powerfully for themsleves than I ever could on their behalf. It is for this reason, therefore, that I intend to speak more generally and overarchingly, through the medium of a historical account, whilst still, I hope, saying things that cut some ice with the experiences of real people in the contemporary world.

As an introduction to hierarchical thinking I want to address the subject of white racism [and classism] which, in the twentieth century, becomes the story of eugenics. Hidden within these movements are any number of hierarchical thoughts and a methodological preference for classifying people into groups thought real and empirical but actually nothing more than rhetorical and political. This story is told superbly well by Robert Sussman in his book The Myth of Race and what follows can all be found more fully fleshed out in this book. This is a story of racists and classists [and often ones acting on behalf of, and endorsed by, science] and, in summarising their story, following Sussman’s lead, I want to expose hierarchical thinking by giving clear examples of it in the history of white racism and eugenics. My purpose in this chapter, then, is to show how this thinking has occurred in history and to draw some conclusions about it, as a result, which show how classification and hierarchy are tools of power and domination.

Robert Sussman’s book The Myth of Race is a mightily disturbing book. Its first four chapters tell an alarmingly circular story of eugenics and racism that runs from the Spanish Inquisition, beginning in the late fifteenth century, to the horrors of Nazi Germany in the middle of the twentieth. You might think, at first, that these examples are extreme and, therefore, comfortingly rare. The problem is, however, as Sussman shows in these first four chapters, that they are only the logical outcome and endpoint of certain points of view that are distressingly resilient in the minds of white Europeans and their descendants. [Compare, for example, the present beliefs of US Congresswoman, Marjorie Taylor Greene!] In such light they stand out not as comfortingly rare but as something that is bound to happen again if the thought that sustains and motivates such genocides is allowed to carry on, unchecked, for too long.

All this is despite the fact that, as Sussman repeats multiple times, the idea of biological races of human beings is an evidenceless nonsense. Race, where it exists at all, is a cultural and not a biological phenomenon. Indeed, the first sentence Robert Sussman writes in his book is that, “In 1950, UNESCO issued a statement asserting that all humans belong to the Same species and that ‘race’ is not a biological reality but a myth.” And so, “this scientific fact,” he continues, “is as valid and true as the fact that the earth is round and revolves around the sun.” This seems pretty definitive. But we are only in the introductory chapter of Sussman’s book and soon, leafing through pages littered with philosophical and scientific luminaries of their day, we will have cause to wonder how seriously we should take such people and such disciplines if people of the views they espoused can dwell within their elite, academic ranks. So the issue is we have a problem and that problem is racism. If you are now asking how people can be racist if there are no biological races of human beings then you hit on this issue. Clearly, people look different. And it is from this that the sociological phenomenon of racism begins. Sussman lays out this problem concisely:

“Racism is a part of our everyday lives. Where you live, where you go to school, your job, your profession, who you interact with, how people interact with you, your treatment in the healthcare and justice systems are all affected by your race. For the past 500 years people have been taught how to interpret and understand racism. We have been told that there are very specific things that relate to race, such as intelligence, sexual behavior, birth rates, infant care, work ethics and abilities, personal restraint, life span, law-abidingness, aggression, altruism, economic and business practices, family cohesion, and even brain size. We have learned that races are structured in a hierarchical order and that some races are better than others. Even if you are not a racist, your life is affected by this ordered structure. We are born into a racist society.”

We see this racist society when people, and let’s not be shy, they are WHITE people more often than not, complain about “multiculturalism” [as out-going US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, did in a tweet shortly before the inauguration of President Biden] or when people [yes, white people again mostly] complain about differently coloured immigrants or when people build gates and walls around their community to keep the poors out. All of these phenomena are phenomena in which one group of people — privileged whites — feel themselves to be absolutely different in kind from some other group of people and so they fear their “threat” or wish to be segregated from them. As we will soon see, these are all impulses that come from a racist, eugenic frame of mind — and that even though “Anthropologists have shown for many years now that there is no biological reality to human race”. In addition:

“There are no major complex behaviors that directly correlate with what might be considered human ‘racial’ characteristics. There is no inherent relationship between intelligence, law-abidingness, or economic practices and race, just as there is no relationship between nose size, height, blood group, or skin color and any set of complex human behaviors.”

Racism based on any racial notion of biology is, then, as far as the human beings best placed to investigate it are concerned, entirely bogus, a lie, a falsehood.

If only that were good enough but, by now, we must surely realise that something being merely true isn’t nearly good enough in this world. And so:

“over the past 500 years, we have been taught by an informal, mutually reinforcing consortium of intellectuals, politicians, statesmen, business and economic leaders, and their books that human racial biology is real and that certain races are biologically better than others. These teachings have led to major injustices to Jews and non-Christians during the Spanish Inquisition; to blacks, Native Americans, and others during colonial times; to African Americans during slavery and reconstruction; to Jews and other Europeans during the reign of the Nazis in Germany; and to groups from Latin America and the Middle East, among others, during modern political times.”

People keep insisting that they are so different from some other kinds of people, and different in definitive, empirical ways that make a difference, that they need to take action against them, sometimes deadly drastic action, sometimes merely action which, in some way, discriminates against them.

The Spanish Inquisition, first established in 1478, was one such occasion and its where Sussman formally begins his account. It began by targeting Jews and it wanted to keep them out of the mainstream of Spanish society. Later it targeted “Christianised Muslims and Gypsies” and, when Spain grew interested in imperial conquest, others in Asia and the Americas felt the consequences of their activist separatism and racism too. It is even reported that the Spanish zeal for action against those classified in certain ways brought their ire to the doors of “Protestants, homosexuals, people accused of witchcraft, freethinkers, public intellectuals, and people considered to be quirky or ‘gadflies’” as well. Altogether, these various inquisitions, which introduced a concept of “impurity of blood” as a classificatory measure, “discriminated against and separated one group from another without allowing any legal means for the discriminated group to assimilate.” The Spanish did not want identified types of people mixing with, and in the mainstream of, Spanish society. They wanted these classified and identified types separated, segregated, isolated — perhaps even exterminated as in the case of people they met on their colonial travels. This was carried out by those in and with political power and so was political action. The state was here deciding how to classify people and what would become of them as a consequence as an aspect of the use of their power to dominate.

One might wonder how they could have done this. Most actions, particularly public state actions such as these, normally need some kind of rationalization, however inadequate it may seem to others, in order to justify actions carried out. Sussman informs us that around 500 years ago there were two basic forms of rationalization which are what we would now describe as racist thought. The first, called the “pre-Adamite” theory [thought at this time was, due to Christian penetration in the societies of Western Europe, required to interact with the Bible], regarded those such as natives of what Europeans would label “the Americas” as people who did not have a place in the descendancy of peoples as described in Genesis. So they were literally “pre-Adamite” people. This effectively made such people subhuman, outside of God’s salvation history even where that included despised peoples that were included in the Bible. Spanish Conquistadors deemed such people “incapable of morality and unable to become Christian” and that was enough to kill them and take what they had. The second theory, by the way, the degenerate theory, was that these people were included in the biblical peoples but they had some how wandered off and become “degenerates” and so unacceptable in the sight of those who weren’t. Either way, justification was found for death and theft on a grand scale by designating an “other” to dominate.

Throughout the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries others, such as the British and the French and those white Europeans who settled what would become the USA, took up similar ideas and points of view. Land could be taken, resources hoarded and people attacked, enslaved and dispossessed because they were regarded as, in some sense, not worthy of the things, including the lives, that they had. Such ideas, and the practices they enabled, would become the basis of racist thought in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here the “pre-Adamite” [in relation to things biblical] or “polygenic” [meaning a theory that these despised people were of a different biological kind to their oppressors] theory would become the dominant one, particularly as the authority of the Bible declined in Western society generally. However, in the earlier part of this period it was the other, degenerate, theory which held sway as it was more compatible with the Bible since it assumed that God had created all people just as the Bible said. However, since all the despised people were thought to be degenerate it was for the “rational, moral men” [i.e. white European Christians] to control them accordingly.

In the degenerate theory we begin to see fragments of hierarchical thinking and some acrobatic mental attempts to justify or “explain” it. The English philosopher, John Locke, was an adherent of the degenerate theory. He justified taking things away from native peoples, as one of the architects of English colonialism, on the basis that “they had unjustly opposed the Europeans” and what he saw as their “personal failures” which annulled any biblical ascription of equal rights or equality in the biblical creation. [Here “failure” basically means judging other people by the standard of white, European civilisation.] The French philosopher and politician, Montesquieu, developed an elaborate, climate and geography-based scheme in which he attempted to explain why non-European peoples had degenerated — and climatic or geographical reasons for perceived differences in human beings would become quite popular with some European thinkers. Another, Carl Linnaeus, the Swede who thought he was classifying God’s creation in his newly developed scheme of zoological classification [on which biology is still based today], conceived of a creationist fixed order of things brought to life immediately by God. It was, thus, hierarchically arranged by God in a “Great Chain of Being”, as it was referred to. It was Linnaeus who referred to human beings as “Homo Sapiens” yet he also classified human beings “in relationship to their supposed education and climatic situation”, thinking that this might make a difference to their classification. Naturally [if one is a white European] white Europeans were seen as the pinnacle of humanity in this scheme.

A disciple of Linnaeus was the German physician and anatomist, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. He is today regarded as one of the first physical anthropologists. Blumenbach believed there was one human species but that it exhibited global variation. Yet he still managed to describe five varieties [that is, classifications] of human beings based on geographical locations. These were: Caucasian, Mongoloid, Ethiopian, American, and Malay. Unfortunately, along with these “descriptors” came some annoyingly resilient ideas. One was calling those of European descent “Caucasian” — and regarding them as the ideal, “the closest to God’s image”, and the “original” humans and “most beautiful”. It was from these that the others had “degenerated”. Blumenbach said all this on no scientific basis, however. It was all simple aesthetics and his appreciation of aesthetics. Secondly, Blumenbach, although he saw one continuum of humanity, “accepted the underlying paradigm of the day, as had Linnaeus... that one variety was indeed better and preferable to another in relationship to God’s original creation.” Indeed, Blumenbach’s classification of human beings wasn’t only geographical: it was hierarchical. In this classificatory scheme, “Caucasian” was an “ideal” and some, as with the historian of science, Stephen Jay Gould, see this as something that became a foundational moment in “the creation of the modern racists’ paradigm”. As Gould interprets this analysis, “The shift from a geographic to a hierarchical ordering of human diversity marks a fateful transition in the history of Western science. [Blumenbach’s] five race scheme became canonical, and he changed the geometry of human order from Linnaean cartography to linear ranking by putative worth.”

Under the surface here are various ideas that we must keep in mind. People, obviously, observed differences [not least in skin colour] between different types of people. Yet many accepted, on religious grounds which they may then have sought to justify through explanations of their observances and experiences, that people were made by God and were fixed as they were [perhaps unalterably so] by him. This is one reason why various geographical or climatic theories were attempted to explain unavoidable observed differences whilst having the Bible [and other thought that could not be doubted] remain in place. One particular idea here was in regard to one’s environment and whether this could have an effect upon one’s natural endowments or not. This would become increasingly important as evolution became a powerful idea in such discussions [and we must keep in mind that, at this stage, the vast majority were creationists]. There were, at this time, however, those who believed that taking “lesser peoples” to a different place and educating them would inevitably alter their situation in life. But there were yet others who believed that you were what you were and nothing could change that.

But back to the polygenic theory which had trouble in more bibliophilic times as it seemed to directly contradict the biblical account of creation. Indeed, early polygenists risked being burned to death by the Church themselves, so contradictory to biblical verities did such ideas seem. The problem [for the Church], however, was that polygenic explanations of the findings of biologists and anthropologists kept being regarded as the best ones. But this also came with racist implications and, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, polygenic theories would form the basis of “a powerful ‘scientific’ defense of racist ideology.” Noted eighteenth century polygenists included those pillars of the Enlightenment, David Hume and Immanuel Kant, two solidly canonical Western philosophers. [One might compare their reception within modern European philosophy as opposed to that of Martin Heidegger, the latter tainted by association with Nazi Germany although, arguably, his views offend the nostrils no more than those of these philosophical forebears.] Hume, states Robert Sussman, “advocated the separate creation and innate inferiority of nonwhite peoples” and, indeed, in his own words he described black people as “naturally inferior to whites” in a screed which basically preaches the supremacy of white civilisation.

Kant, on the other hand, “essentially created a racist anthropology based on skin color”, remarkable for a philosopher still thought of in the Western canon as perhaps the most important moral theorist of all. He believed that “Climate determined the natural predispositions or character of each race, and once the process toward each racial disposition had begun, it was irreversible.” So Kant thought the white European’s superiority was baked in on the basis of such views — and that the inferiority of the rest was equally set and unchangeable. Therefore, “Although Kant was a champion of the equality of all men and of civil rights, these were only for humans who have the ability to educate themselves and thus have free will — they were only for whites. Full personhood was actually dependent upon one’s race.” And so, “Nonwhites were relegated to a lower rung in the moral ladder.” We can hear strong echoes of this in, for example, the treatment of slaves by Europeans. Regarded as different in kind, and in some sense untrainable and unreformable, they were condemned to perform menial tasks under the control of “morally superior” white masters — or to die if they would not. It seems to me that Kant’s stated beliefs are as disreputable as any that Heidegger ever uttered and so one must wonder at what about Kant redeems him in the eyes of those who still regard him so highly where Heidegger is considered by many so beyond the pail. Perhaps these academics just don’t know of Kant’s views [which, pertinently, also extended to the “nonpersonhood of Jews”]? At least one anthropologist, Nina Jablonski, has recently described Kant as “one of the most influential racists of all time”. Someone please let the philosophers know what one of their clan, Charles W. Mills, then has this to say about Kant:

“The embarrassing fact for the white West (which doubtless explains its concealment) is that their most important moral theorist of the past three hundred years is also the foundational theorist in the modern period of the division between Herrenvolk and Untermenschen, persons and subpersons, upon which Nazi theory would later draw. Modern moral theory and modern racial theory have the same father.”

This is, and should be, profoundly embarrassing but it nevertheless describes the basis of much subsequently racist thought in which the white person is privileged and the non-white person is not on a classificatory basis intended to establish domination by some people over others. And, at the stage of Kant, it really only was a classification based on skin colour for, as yet, no other kinds of research had even been undertaken. It was base prejudice raised to the level of philosophy and science. Such work would be done though, motivated by racist ideology, in an attempt to give such racism scientific credentials which bolstered the dominating behaviour’s theoretical standing. For example, Samuel Morton and his Mortonite disciples, George Gliddon, Josiah Nott and Louis Agassiz, would attempt to argue that cranial measurements and features argued for the polygenic or pre-Adamite theory. All of these researchers “forwarded the cause of slavery and racism”.

This research took place in the recently created USA which, through the late nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, would become a hub of white racist and eugenicist theory and political machinations. Here “science” was often carried out by wealthy and well connected men of prejudice who wanted to find scientifically acceptable [or at least

arguable] reasons for their prejudice in order to persuade pliable politicians to enact political policy to make such dubious beliefs physically experienced and dominant realities. One of the men here, Josiah Nott, would give “lectures on Niggerology” and claimed they made him all the more popular as a result, both before and after the American Civil War. Another, Agassiz, was an anti-Darwinian who “regarded human beings as the object and end of divine creation and assumed that the world and its contents had been put there specifically to be exploited for human use.” Upon seeing his first black person, having emigrated to the USA from an entirely white earlier life in Europe, Agassiz wrote to his mother “describing his repulsion at seeing someone so different from himself.” Such views motivated research from the Mortonites to the end that blacks were not even of the same species as whites in a typically polygenic view of human beings. Archetypally, the views of the Mortonites can be found in the book Types of Mankind, authored by Nott and Gliddon in 1854 but which was popular into the twentieth century, going through multiple reprintings. It existed in order to show that science, the human activity of objective classification, justified slavery.

Meanwhile, the European counterpart to the Mortonites was Frenchman, Joseph-Arthur, comte de Gobineau. His book, Essai sur I’Inégalité des Races Humaines, translated into English in an abridged version by the Mortonite, Josiah Nott, as “The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Races”, proved even more popular than Types of Mankind in both Europe and America. Sussman even suggests this book played a role in Hitler’s racial philosophy and politics. Gobineau himself was a fake Count [“comte” was not a title but simply the name he took] and probably the most successful academic racist of the nineteenth century. The works of the Mortonites and Gobineau together would directly inspire the work of twentieth century racists in Europe and America and ultimately lead to Nazism. Gobineau relied on the “Nordic myth” which we now know as a core part of the Nazi racial philosophy. Yet its important for we moderns to know that this, like much of Nazism, didn’t just spring from Hitler’s mind one day. The theory itself has history. As Sussman explains, “In this myth, the noble classes of Europe were thought to be originally German Franks and Anglo-Saxons, and the Germanic peoples were claimed as most superior.”

This shifted formerly theologically justified claims of superiority into becoming biological claims and such racial theories were essentially class-based as well, rooted, as they were, in class conflicts of the time in Europe. Therefore, they also “carried the invidious notion that each class had distinct and unalterable hereditary qualities derived from separate origins. The weaker classes were naturally inferior to the stronger and owed obedience to them.” As Sussman continues:

“Through these writings, there was a popular belief in France that three racial strains inhabited the country: Nordics, Alpines, and Mediterraneans. The light-skinned, tall, blond Nordics were assumed to be the descendants of ancient Germanic tribes, the originators of all civilization, and the only peoples capable of leadership. Gobineau’s Essai expressed these popular myths vividly and inserted these views into the popular science of the day. His book fed a developing idea that not only were whites superior over all others but also that a certain group among whites was even more superior to other whites. He used the term Aryan, coined by a British colonial administrator, to designate the common ancestral language of what is now referred to as the Indo-European language. Around 1819, the term began to gain widespread authority due to the lectures and writings of Friedrich Schlegel, a German poet and scholar. The most influential promoter of the Aryan myth was Jacob Grimm, of Brothers Grimm’s fairytales fame, in his History of the English Language (1848), which reached a large public audience in the second half of the nineteenth century.”

So we can see that, prior to the twentieth century, in both Europe and America, there were both scientific and non-scientific works which attempted to justify, with some success, racist theories of the human species. Gobineau, in particular, with his eulogisation of the Aryan theory and his proclamation “that the success of civilization [is] directly dependent upon the purity of ‘Aryan’ blood within it”, laid foundations that others would later be able to exploit. But we must remember that all such thought, even by its very existence, has the opportunity to fester in the background and become the basis of further illegitimate thought and action if some appropriately motivated minds find themselves seized by it. [Hence the modern danger of “conspiracy theories”.] In the post-Civil War United States, in which racial tensions were far from solved, the notion of “racial purity” and the dangers of “interbreeding” would continue to be public themes on into the twentieth century, for example. All this is despite the fact that neither Gobineau, nor Kant before him, had ever done any original research of their own. It was all free form theorising, the narrativisation of lived prejudice. In truth, they formed the backbone of a shift from “biblically-based” racisms into biologically argued ones that became increasingly justified on the basis of a classificatory “science” that aimed to dominate through claims to knowledge. [The faults with, and dangers of, this have been explored in chapters 2 and 5 of this book.]

In a way very similar to this, an argument from a flawed understanding of biology and its classifications is what sustains the current “gender critical” movement in the matter of human gender. Such arguments were also very prevalent, however, in white European racism from the Spanish Inquisition to the horrors of the Nazis as well. As Sussman explains:

“Thus, with Gobineau and again in the footsteps of Kant, subtle but major changes could take place in this school of racism, moving beyond biblical interpretations and more into ‘hereditary’ ones. Biological determinists could claim biological separation among human races (and other groupings of humans, such as strains and even economic classes) using ‘blood’ or heredity and not necessarily invoking biblical separation. They could use the same ‘biological’ arguments to claim that racial and group distinctions were biologically fixed and unchangeable. Thus, racism could become more acceptable to biblical traditionalists, giving biological deterministic racism a more widespread following and making it compatible with the growth of Darwinism and genetic theory. You might think of Mortonism as the end of an old Bible- (or anti-Bible-) based polygenics and Gobinism (in a Kantian tradition) as a revision of a ‘blood’ or hereditary-based racism that was potentially compatible with Darwinism. The different races of mankind need not have been created separately as explained, or not, by the Bible. They merely needed to be genetically distinct and thus different in their basic biology. In both cases, these biological distinctions were basically fixed, and admixture would lead to inferiority, weakness, and even increased mortality. Little or nothing could be changed by environmental influences.”

By the end of the nineteenth century the “degenerate” theory had, then, basically died out and the polygenic theory would be the one that would go forward in an attempt to biologically ground the essential difference and [to the polygenists, at least] necessary separation and classification of “biological” races much as “gender critical” biologists attempt to fix the sexes, and an appreciation of genders, today. We may see the turn of the twentieth century as the beginning of the era of eugenic thinking that builds on all this that had gone before. It was also the era in which political policy, prosecuted on the basis of eugenic apologia, began. The wellspring for such action was the USA and was based on thought about biology and genetics and a debunking of those — such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a Frenchman who, in the early nineteenth century, had argued for a theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics based on environmental factors — who argued that different environments could produce different abilities in people — who were, thus, not lost causes because they happened to have been born somewhere unfavourable to the appearance of one skill or another.

The focus now became heredity and locked in characteristics which couldn’t be changed. For such people you simply were your biology and your genetics, hostages to biological fortune, people different in kind on the basis of biological race. Environment, for such people, could not change this and so, as one person in 1891 expressed this, “education has no value for the future of mankind” which could now not be “improved” in general. Eugenicists were, then, biological determinists just as the “gender critical” are today. The old polygenists [or pre-Adamites] and the new eugenicists had strong ties. At the beginning of the twentieth century Types of Mankind and Gobineau’s Essai were still popular books on both sides of the North Atlantic and Nott and Gobineau themselves were influential characters. Later figures championed their ideas as well. A concatenation of wealthy, industrialist and scientific figures found common cause in the new, eugenic thinking and it wormed its way into higher American society through books such as William Z. Ripley’s The Races of Europe, Ernst Haeckel’s The Riddle of the Universe: At the Close of the Nineteenth Century and Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century.

A notable figure at this time was Nathaniel Shaler, a Harvard professor of paleontology who was brought to Harvard by Agassiz and who published Nature and Man in America in 1891. Shaler was racist in the style of Gobineau and influenced by the Aryan myth. He was himself from a wealthy family with ties to the slave trade [he was born in 1841 when this was still very legal]. Shaler’s racism tied Gobineau’s mythological racism to Nott’s pseudo-scientific variety as well, however, to create a view which regarded people of colour as little more than barbarians and Europe as the cradle of civilization and all that was good in human beings. He stated that “The Americas, Africa and Australia have shown by their human products that they are unfitted to be the cradle-places of great peoples...These continents have never from their own blood built a race that has risen above barbarism.” Consequently, Shaler disdained race mixing and saw it as something which would doom all races together. All such thinking was baby steps on the road to what would, one day, become the concept of a “master race”. Shaler’s importance is that he was teaching this kind of thing habitually to thousands of Harvard graduates and he, without doubt, helped bring such thought into the American twentieth century. As two examples of this, three of his students would go on to form the “Immigration Restriction League” and future US president, Theodore Roosevelt, was taught personally by Shaler at Harvard.

We see in the words of another Shaler student, Charles Davenport, speaking in the late 1920s, where Shaler’s fixation with racial intermingling could lead:

“Those who look to the future are naturally concerned with the question: ‘What is to be the consequence of this racial intermingling?’ Especially we of the white race, proud of its achievement in the past, are eagerly questioning the consequences of mixing our blood with that of other races who have made less advancement in science and the arts... one of the results of hybridization between whites and Negroes— the production of an excessive number of ineffective, because disharmoniously put together people... It is, however, this burden of ineffectiveness which is the heavy price that is paid for hybridization. A population of hybrids will be a population carrying an excessively large number of intellectually incompetent persons.”

It is not too hard to think of others in the late 1920s, in countries other than the United States, who had their own concerns about the mixing of various peoples. Indeed, Robert Sussman states in so many words in The Myth of Race that “Davenport and his followers in the eugenics movement brought biological determinism, racial prejudice, and the active agenda of eugenics right up to the Nazi regime of Hitler.” In fact, he goes further, stating that “it was the ‘science’ of eugenics and strict biological determinism that formed the backbone of Nazism.” That it could be propagated as “science”, furthermore, and so have the sheen and authority of some kind of academic classificatory acceptability, was not the least of the reasons why it penetrated so deeply into the life of the world in general. It is a stark warning that neither “science” nor being a high falutin academic are barriers to dangerous theories with socially horrific consequences.

Eugenics itself is an outgrowth of something known as “social Darwinism”. Darwin, over whom I have passed in this overview of racism and eugenic thinking, of course fits squarely into the time period I am discussing but he did not himself use his evolutionary theories of natural selection for explicitly racist purposes even if others did attempt to use Darwin as a way to explain their own racism. Social Darwinism, for example, was a belief system “that espoused that the strongest or fittest should survive and flourish in society, while the weak and unfit should be allowed to die.” It is, as you might expect, an elitist theory that can also be boiled down to “might is right”. Applied to society, its not hard to see how this might be a theory held to by wealthy elites or historical nobility to justify their continued existence at the imagined top of an evolutionary pyramid. Darwin’s theories were twisted here to justify why the people “at the top” were at the top — and it was basically because they deserved it because they were better people biologically. Yet, at the same time, the poverty of other kinds of people was also explained away and excused because such people were imagined to be prey to their own, inevitable “weaker” biology. Thus, “To Social Darwinists, not only was survival of the fittest natural, it was also morally correct. In fact, many argued that it was morally wrong to assist the weak since that would be promoting the survival and reproduction of the less fit.” The social Darwinist imagined this “battle” taking place not only between different races or ethnicities but also between different classes as well.

Eugenics ramped up social Darwinism into a political activism. Eugenicists wanted to actually see its thought, and the policies developed from it, brought to bear upon the population such that the population itself would be affected, shaped and dominated by such thinking. This ambition existed long before Hitler gave such thinking its most obvious practical expression in Nazi Germany and, as stated, the major motor here was thought in the USA in any case. But it was not an American who may be credited as the father of eugenics, however, but a Briton, Francis Galton [incidentally, a cousin of Charles Darwin]. Galton acquired independent wealth during his lifetime and so was free to study at will. He first coined the term “eugenics” in 1883 and “believed that controlled breeding of humans was not only doable but a highly desirable goal”. This was where eugenics began, in a desire to breed better humans and breed out “worse” examples of the species. It is not then inconsequential that “He believed that the average ‘negro’ intellectual standard was two grades below that of extant ‘Anglo-Saxons,’ and he saw the intellectual standard of the latter as two grades below that of residents of ancient Greece”. He also wanted to promote what he called “judicious mating” and to “cultivate race” more generally. Master race here we come!

There was an early split among eugenicists into “positive” and “negative” types — although neither seem particularly savoury. The former, which is mainly what Galton was, “called for the control of human breeding to produce genetically superior people” [echoes of the “master race” here] while the latter “lobbied for improving the quality of the human race by eliminating or excluding biologically inferior people from the population through the use of segregation, deportation, castration, marriage prohibition, compulsory sterilization, passive euthanasia, and, ultimately, extermination” which is a description which sounds like something out of a history lesson for people in the twenty first century. Sussman tells us that Galton’s approach was more British whereas the negative kind of eugenics was more American. Galton assumed all kinds of traits [“character and personality, general intellectual ability, gregariousness, longevity, strong sexual passion, aversion to meat, craving for drink and gambling, susceptibility to opium, proclivity to pauperism and crimes of violence and fraud, madness, and tuberculosis”] were heritable and his thinking marked the turn towards a biologically-argued authoritarianism. In 1904 Galton endowed a research position at University College London in eugenics and in Germany in 1905 the Society of Race Hygiene was founded... shortly followed thereafter by the British Eugenics Education Society, once more in London. Eugenics attracted prominent supporters in the UK “including liberal economist William Beveridge; conservative politician Arthur Balfour; authors George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Sidney Webb; and future prime minister Winston Churchill.” Notable in Britain, however, was that at this time it was focused more on class than race specifically.

But let us now focus briefly on the “negative” eugenics as it developed in the USA. As context, we cannot avoid noting that America was essentially a country built on racism which had utilised slavery from its beginning and had necessitated the genocide of the native populations in order to exist in the first place. We have already noted some of the arguments used to justify such activities above. Consequently, however, there was a strong sense of racial identity running through the white population which might be reflected in Sussman’s suggestion that “the eugenics movement was much more negative and pernicious even in its early development” in the United States. The USA had a large African American population and was also increasingly a magnet for immigrants in the late ninetenth and early twentieth centuries. This proved a breeding ground among elite whites including “academics and those with economic, social, and political power” who “began to endorse biologically deterministic theories of human behavior” and who “believed that much of human behavior was biologically determined”. Of course, it wasn’t elite white behaviour they looked to critique. Race and class prejudices decided what was in need of explanation, classification and control. So the American eugenicists, in some cases, were more than happy to believe that “drunkenness, insanity, prostitution, and criminality could be hereditary” and looked to bring eugenics thinking to bear on such social problems as well as more overtly racial ones. Such thinking got as crazy as imagining that “criminals could be identified by physical characteristics [including such features as a sloping forehead, ears of unusual size, asymmetry of the face or cranium, and excessive arm length]”.

Such thought developed in the direction of diagnosing “mental deficiency” and led to the development of the IQ test and the bandying around of terms such as “feeble-minded” and “moron” for those so diagnosed. Of course, these IQ tests had to reach a bar of scientific justifiability in order to be made authentic and put to use but once this was done “many American social scientists and psychologists began using mental testing”. This attracted the attention of Shaler’s former student, Charles Davenport, who suggested such “mental deficiency” was genetic [and thus should probably be disposed of somehow] and regarded it as a single trait rather than as a score on some imaginary continuum. [Its much easier to want to get rid of it that way.] Thus, from around 1909, it was “believed that hereditary defect was the cause of most law-breaking and that half of all criminals were feeble-minded”, a genetic insufficiency. People were now “born stupid”, something which was both irreversible and made these people worthless. Using a genetic theory of Gregor Mendel [and Mendelian genetics generally] “Vernon Kellogg, a prominent Stanford biologist, claimed that the idea that feeble-mindedness ‘was a unit human trait following the general Mendelian order as regards its mode of inheritance’... is hardly any longer open to doubt’”.

Of course, scientists don’t come to such conclusions for no reason and these largely better off, higher status, white scientists didn’t either. Thus, these views:

“were used to discriminate among individuals and ethnic and racial groups; environmental solutions were left out of the picture. The eugenics movement also used these factors as ammunition for its cause. Many worried that the most ‘valuable individuals and classes’ were being outbred by the least valuable. In 1907, [future] President Woodrow Wilson, who supported the eugenics effort, helped Indiana adopt legislation making sterilization of certain ‘undesirable’ individuals compulsory. More than thirty states adopted such laws.”

Eugenics was now not just the racist beliefs of some well off white people. It was becoming a matter of political policy as the result of political ambitions to take control of society generally in eugenic terms. Many US states enacted marriage laws [beginning with Connecticut in 1896] “prohibiting anyone who was ‘epileptic, imbecile or feeble-minded’ from marrying. Eugenicists like Davenport found high profile industrialist backers to fund newly incorporated research institutes which would help expand and more widely disseminate their eugenicist beliefs in order that they could present apparently “scientific” research to politicians as the basis of policy proposals. Such people viewed eugenics as a way “to apply science to the problems of a class-ridden and socially heterogenous society”. For such people “the other” was a problem and heterogeneity was not welcome. One research centre, for example, the Eugenics Record Office, which had Charles Davenport as its director, “had three main functions: to conduct scientific research on human heredity, to popularize eugenic ideas, and to lobby for eugenics-related legislation.” It should be noted at this point that such people and their institutes were not benign. In the years that followed, they began campaigns “to create a superior race”, wrote draft laws on which kinds of people ought to be sterilized [mandatorially if they could not be tricked or coerced into agreeing voluntarily] and wished to pursue research into “the value of superior blood and the menace to society of inferior blood”.

This leads us up to the “First International Eugenics Congress” which took place in London in 1912. It was an event which Sussman regards as mightily boosting the influence of the eugenics movement thereafter. [This was 21 years before Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.] By this time there were a number of places in Europe, in Britain, Scandinavia and Germany, were the negative eugenics had taken hold along with Gobineau’s Nordic mythology. In addition, eugenicists worldwide were engaged in similar goals in their various locations and many of the notable were present at the Congress of around 400 delegates. Winston Churchill was there representing the king of the United Kingdom as was Alfred Proetz, the founder of the German Society for Racial Hygiene, a name which sounds sinister in the extreme in our historical location but which, in 1912, probably had the sheen of scientific respectability about it. Many delegates were distinguished scientists in their fields or former or future politicians of note. As a measure of the interest and support eugenics was attracting at the time we should note that “in 1912, the current, former, and future U.S. presidents William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson were active supporters of the eugenics movement.” In addition, the Congress was publicised to every American governor of every state and to numerous heads of various professional academic and medical societies in an effort to publicise eugenics to the great and the good as widely as possible. It was presented as the future of respectable science and academic thought.

As an inevitable result of all this, eugenics gained credibility and influence among the white elite. As a measure of this, we may note that eugenics gained the financial backing of the likes of “Andrew Carnegie, Mary W. Harriman, John D. Rockefeller (the oil industry tycoon), Henry Ford, J. H. Kellogg (the cereal magnate), C. J. Gamble (of Proctor and Gamble), J. P. Morgan (of U.S. Steel), and Mrs. H. B. DuPont (of the chemical company)” in the USA. With such backing came recognition and increasing scientific and political legitimacy which was potentially worldwide in scope. And several of the richest people around were prepared to fund it. At the Congress itself the opening remarks to the Congress had hoped that the twentieth century “would be known in the future as the century when the eugenics ideal was accepted as part of the creed of civilization.” One wonders how that speaker would view such hopes now, 109 years later? In 1912 it was felt amongst its proponents that eugenics was “one of the pressing issues of the age”. So around this time eugenics began to rocket through US academia with 376 different institutions offering courses by 1928. Biology textbooks also began to include eugenic thinking as part of their text, resulting in thousands of Americans in the first half of the twentieth century being exposed to eugenics as orthodox scientific thought. By the 1920s at least 30 countries had eugenics movements. The Congress had been a huge success and by this time eugenics thinking was focused around the following goals:

  1. The promotion of selective breeding.

  2. The sterilization and castration of the “unfit”.

  3. The use of intelligence testing to identify “mentally deficient” individuals and to identify differences in intelligence between racial and ethnic groups [dubbed racial psychology].

  4. Limiting the immigration of various ethnic and racial groups.

In the years following this first Congress, this agenda was vigorously pursued.

Therefore, the height of eugenics was really the period after the First International Eugenics Congress in 1912 until the end of the Second World War in 1945 — at which point eugenics was swiftly renamed as other things, the stench of Nazism being too much for it to bear. It is, then, for roughly a third of a century [33 years] when eugenics was at its height. But eugenics did not disappear after this, however, and it will often be easily spotted in popular rhetoric and popular policy even today. [Both the current British PM, Boris Johnson, and his father, Stanley, who has written books on the subject, have argued for mass population control in recent times whilst being appropriately vague on just whose population should be “controlled” and how. They have both fathered at least 6 children as an aside!] At the forefront of this wave of eugenics were the Americans, led by the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), the Eugenics Research Association (ERA), and the Eugenics Committee of the United States of America (ECUSA), the latter of which evolved into the American Eugenics Society (AES) a few years later. These were all organisations sponsored by plutocrats and business types and they existed both to do research which would make eugenics acceptable on a scientific, classificatory basis as well as in order to publicise eugenics generally. The latter organisation there, ECUSA, existed to “disseminate the eugenics ideal throughout society and thereby alter the course of history”. Eugenics, in relative terms, attracted few in overall numbers but those it did attract were remarkably driven and zealous for their ideals. In 1922 this same organisation had invited potential members to its Advisory Council with a letter urging them to protect America “against indiscriminate immigration, criminal degenerates, and race suicide”, for example. Essentially, such movements were the start of a push to create a master race by weeding out everybody else and so to dominate their respective societies entirely.

Consequently, one focus of eugenics at the height of its powers was selective breeding. As Davenport and his associate Harry H. Laughlin wrote in 1915:

“Apart from migration, there is only one way to get socially desirable traits into our social life, and that is by reproduction: there is only one way to get them out, by preventing their reproduction by breeding.”

This led to sterilization policies and marriage bans, although 29 US states already had marriage bans by 1913 which forbade race mixing [some of these bans relied on older, racist thinking such as in the case of Nevada where marriage “between whites and Ethiopian, Malay, Mongolian, or American Indian races” was forbidden — following Blumenbach’s race classifications]. Other, eugenics-inspired, laws focused on “public health” by outlawing the marriage of the “feeble-minded” or “epileptic” — as if these were similar things. [To eugenicists, of course, they were — in that they were regarded as equally undesirable.] Therefore:

“Improving environment was no longer seen as a possible cure for problems caused by the poor, the criminal, the uneducated, the physically and mentally unhealthy, and the inferior “races” of the world. From the ERO, trained field workers were sent out throughout the United States to collect anthropometric data and family histories from hospitals, asylums, prisons, charity organizations, schools for the deaf and blind, and institutions for the feeble-minded. The goal was not purely racial; the goal was to identify and put on record the complete family pedigree of any individual or group of individuals Davenport and Laughlin considered to be physically, medically, morally, culturally, or socially inadequate, thus creating a massive underclass of ‘unfit’ individuals and their families.”

The ambition of such eugenicists was nothing less than to map and classify society in order to control its population, through breeding, whole and entire. The end goal, necessarily, would then be to “breed out” the undesirable elements. Is this much different from Nazi thinking? You decide. But there is more:

“Ten groups were targeted as ‘socially unfit’: (1) the feeble-minded; (2) paupers; (3) alcoholics; (4) criminals, including petty criminals and those jailed for nonpayment of fines; (5) epileptics; (6) the insane; (7) the constitutionally weak; (8) those with specified diseases; (9) the deformed; and (10) the deaf, blind, and mute (with no indication of the severity of these disabilities). The remedies proposed to eliminate this inferior ‘germ plasm’ included restrictive marriage laws, compulsory birth control, forced segregation, sterilization, and euthanasia, although it was believed that it was too early to implement the last one.”

Barely 25 years after this was written by Charles Davenport’s colleague at the ERO, Harry H. Laughlin, Nazi Germany would be doing exactly such things, unhindered by the political and legal barriers to such actions that American and other eugenicists still had to overcome [such as state and federal politicians and courts, including the Supreme Court]. Indeed, it is probably not too hyperbolic to suggest that the only thing that stopped the United States becoming Nazi Germany before Germany did is that Hitler took charge of the political situation in a way that American eugenicists never could [there were, for example, competing civil rights movements in the USA]. But the ideas were very much similar and only political opportunity differed between them. Davenport and Laughlin, for example, “believed that stopping the reproduction of the unfit would greatly reduce their numbers within a few generations” and, as in the Spanish Inquisition, thought that “the property of the incarcerated could be acquired and sold to help defer the costs of these programs”. So never again should we imagine that Hitler was a one-off, a monster with no history as if formed out of thin air. He was part of a movement, a stream of thought powerful amongst some white minds, a racist myth of Nordic superiority and biological self-importance which was, at a minimum, transatlantic in scope and influence.

As part of this movement the ERO and the ERA [in the shape of Laughlin and the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, an avid and prominent eugenicist on the ERO’s board of scientific advisors] tried to get the US Census Bureau to accept and use various eugenics classifications in their work. They mostly refused and so Laughlin switched to mithering people in Congress and state government instead. He hit a home run in Virginia when he found Walter A. Plecker, an enthusiastic racist and eugenicist who was the registrar in Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1914 to 1942. It is said of Plecker that “His main interest was to maintain Virginia’s racial purity and prevent racially mixed marriages. He wrote to Laughlin in 1928, ‘While we are interested in the eugenical records of our citizens, we are attempting to list only the mixed breeds, who are endeavoring to pass into the white race.’” Thus, Plecker was a purist of sorts wanting to keep “the white race” pure.

Consequently, “Plecker and a few of his white supremacist friends, who called themselves the Anglo-Saxon Club, began to work on new legislation that would ban marriage between whites and any person with even ‘one drop’ of non-Caucasian blood.” The enemy here was what Virginia’s leading newspaper at that time, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, called “mongrelism” which, it was thought, “would sound the death knell of the white man.” Plecker utilised his whole career attempting to keep white and non-white apart, even going so far as to keep them separate in cemeteries too. Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act was passed in March 1924, and falsely registering one’s race became a felony, punishable by imprisonment of from one to five years. This law survived for over forty years, until 1966, and Plecker became a hero amongst racists and white supremacists across America, something which helped as he tried to help foist similar laws onto other states in succeeding years. Laughlin, meanwhile hoping to speed up the process, even asked Plecker to prepare a chart for his journal, Eugenical News, entitled “Amount of Negro Blood Allowed in Various States for Marriage to Whites”. It is said that Plecker “dictated the nature of existence for millions of Americans, the living, the dead and the never born... [He] defined the lives of an entire generation of Virginians — who could live where, who could attend what school and obtain what education, who could marry whom, and even who could rest in peace in what graveyard”. A charming guy, I’m sure you won’t agree. In such ways, and through such networks of people, was eugenics moulding and attempting to control American society. Only in 1967 were anti- miscegenation laws such as that pioneered in Virginia finally ruled unconstitutional throughout the United States by the Supreme Court.

But there were worse horrors than the anti-mixing and segregation policies eugenicists pursued. One such was the attempt to programmatically sterilize those deemed “unfit” along eugenic lines [i.e. those deemed unfit, either physically, mentally, socially, morally or racially]. Sterilization was not a new remedy for various crimes but eugenicists sought to make an ad-hoc remedy more programmatic since they saw in the unfit a biological or genetic deficiency which could not be tutored or otherwise remedied. The eugenic mentality saw the breeding of such people as a threat to the population generally and to a white elite specifically, both in terms of mixing and in terms of overwhelming the rest in simple numerical terms. However, states were hesitant about passing sterilization laws [an example of a problem Hitler and the Nazis would not have] and so eugenicists found progress here slow. By 1922 only some few thousand sterilizations “on inmates of prisons, insane asylums, homes for the epileptic and feeble-minded, and other institutions of social welfare” had been carried out in total, mostly in “liberal” California. Harry Laughlin published his book, Eugenical Sterilization in the United States, along with sample sterilization laws, to try and stimulate interest but the legal situation was perilous and so it was thought by the eugenicists that they needed to establish its lawfulness in court in order to remove legislative hesitancy. So they sought to fit up a case they could get past the judicial barriers to stimulate greater uptake of sterilization policies.

Virginia was once again the state of choice for this, having passed a law in 1916 allowing the superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, Albert Priddy, to sterilize Colony residents before they were discharged if such operations were approved as safe, effective and court-mandated. Priddy was a staunch eugenicist and began sterilizing women [whom such policies always concentrated on much more than those with male bodies] as soon as the law was passed, aiming to screen out a wide variety of undesirable traits from wider society in doing so, everything from insanity to promiscuousness [and all of which were assumed to be hereditary]. However, Priddy was sloppy [or maybe just zealous for his beliefs] and was, in some cases, sterilizing women without a proper court order in each case. So it turned out that a mother and daughter he had sterilized sued him for harms done to them. When the State Court of Appeals did not throw out the case, Priddy was in a bind. He turned to political machinations after being slapped on the wrist by the court who, although finding the sterilizations were illegal, awarded those who had been so sterilized no damages. A new, pro-eugenics, governor of Virginia was sworn in at about this time and, using Laughlin’s Eugenical Sterilization in the United States as a textbook, a new law was passed in 1924. But the eugenicist advocates of Priddy’s, and others’, sterilizations were still hesitant. Would the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, or even the US Supreme Court, hold up this law as constitutional? They needed to know before they might be hauled up in court once more.

Priddy had sixteen candidates for the sterilizations he was enthusiastic to begin again and he chose an 18 year old woman, Carrie Buck, as the one who would be the test case. It was a set up from the start. The Colony’s board voted to sterilize her but, in order to complete the sterilization procedure, the board was required to appoint an attorney to appeal the sterilization order and to defend Ms Buck in the litigation. The person chosen to “defend” her was Irving Whitehead, “a lawyer who was a member of the board of directors of the Virginia colony that had originally appointed Priddy as superintendent” and someone who “had endorsed Priddy’s expansive interpretation that Virginia’s law authorized the sterilization of inmates”. He had even approved the sterilization of the two women the court subsequently found in favour of over Priddy’s unlawful sterilizations. He was not on Carrie Buck’s side but on the side of those who wanted sterilization to be legal and unchallenged — and was a close friend of Priddy to boot.

Carrie Buck’s story is a tragic tale. She was committed to the Colony at 14 and regarded as a “moron” but was taken into a local home where she did chores and went to school. However, at 17, she was found to be pregnant [she claimed to have been raped by a nephew of those she was living with] and was committed back to the Colony in perpetuity as feeble- minded, epileptic or both [diagnoses in such cases were never the most thoroughgoing or the most conscientious]. She was, of course, not allowed to keep the baby when it was born and was soon thereafter condemned to sterilization. Now the setup slipped into place. Whitehead was made her lawyer by her legal guardian, the attorney for the Colony, and Harry Laughlin, yes, him again, “provided a long written deposition that relied on IQ test results for Carrie, her mother, and her seven-month-old baby to illustrate that three generations of the Buck family were feeble-minded.” She was declared by Laughlin “a potential parent of socially inadequate or defective offspring” in “expert” testimony and the court took less than 5 hours to find the sterilization legal. But it had yet to be tested in the US Supreme Court. Priddy himself died in the meantime.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1927 was Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. He was a social Darwinist and a fan of eugenics and held to the radical views of people such as Harry H. Laughlin and his colleagues. It is said that “He had no compulsion about state-controlled euthanasia of weak and inadequate ‘undesirables’”. So, unsurprisingly, the court found in favour of sterilization, saying that “the health of a patient and the welfare

of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives.” Holmes himself said, writing the opinion of the majority in the case, that “it is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or let[ting] them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough

to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” As such, sterilization on eugenic grounds became American law on May 2, 1927, shortly after the Virginia “one drop of blood” marriage laws.

And so:

“By 1930, thirty states had sterilization laws and approximately 36,000 people had been sterilized, 30,000 of these after 1927. Grounds for sterilization included being judged feeble-minded, insane, medically unacceptable, morally degenerate, and criminal. Some were classed as “other” and others were sterilized for being poor. Just as during the Spanish Inquisition, the trials of these ‘unfit’ individuals were often termed inquisitions, characteristics of guilt were ambiguously defined, and evidence was vague, scanty, and mainly based on hearsay. Property was confiscated and families were ruined.”

This didn’t only happen in the USA, however. Similar laws were passed in Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Iceland and British Columbia [Canada]. The German law was virtually identical to Laughlin’s model sterilization law which demonstrates, if nothing else, how interconnected eugenic agendas were across national and continental borders. The Nazis would sterilize around 2 million people against their will before their eventual defeat. Rules on segregation, anti-marriage laws, anti-immigration policies as well as this sterilization policy were all originally American ideas that took place in the USA before the Nazis pushed them even further. As already stated, it was not for lack of will that these things weren’t pushed further in the United States and elsewhere. It was just that they had to go through political and legal procedures that the Nazi seizure of power in Germany overcame in one fell swoop. Even the non-voluntary euthanasia of subjects was suggested in America before the Nazis murdered millions. We will never know if the American political system would have reached such a point had the Nazi’s fanatical attachment to eugenic ideals not got there first and shown the world the horror of its reality.

At the heart of all such horrific behaviour was classification and hierarchical thinking which felt the need to rank and rate people, explicitly comparing one with another. [In the case of the Nazis, this even extended to forcing the targets of Nazi discrimination to wear badges with their labels on, of course, such as the yellow stars bearing the word “Jude” — “Jew”.] This was undoubtedly stimulated by, but also reinforcing, classist and racist thinking. A lot of eugenicist activity in the first four decades of the twentieth century generally was taken up with accumulating data about people and measuring things in order to carry out such classificatory and dominating agendas. This, in turn, was used as grist for a narrative mill which spun the old yarns about superior and inferior races and the need for “racial hygiene”, to coin the unfortunate German [and very much pre-Nazi era] phrase. Past racists, such as Hume, Kant and especially Gobineau, had been happy to tell racist myths and present them as fact — but they had done no research to establish their narrative entities as realities. It was a passing on of privileged narratives in the hope that the authority of the speaker would carry its own imprint of truth. Yet Gobineau, in his Essai, had called for the “scientific measurement” of “racial differences” to begin in order that the classificatory activity establish and set in stone these differences within the very specific “truth” of scientific classification. He wanted his prejudice “mathematically defined”, as he put it, in order that it would become the dominant thought.

Francis Galton, who invented the term eugenics, was keen to do this and thought that “intelligence” was something that could be given a number and assigned to both individuals and races. Sussman reports that, in doing this, he even rated the intelligence of some breeds of dog as “higher than that of some Englishmen and most Africans”. Galton was collecting “anthropometric” data from 1884 in London which included “height, weight, arm span, and lung power.” He also invented a number of tests “designed to identify levels of intelligence”. The problem was that they didn’t. “His tests actually measured only physiological reaction time to certain stimuli and did not test mental activity, ability, or reasoning” says Sussman after Stephen Jay Gould. Galton, however, believed “that he was measuring a single, inherited, and unchangeable entity labeled intelligence” and that this was there to find. So, believing this, Galton thought he could label and classify a human being’s, or a race’s, intellectual capacity with a number permanently. He could put you on a shelf or in a file and that was that.

It was the American eugenicists Charles Davenport and his colleague on the ERO’s Board of Scientific Directors, Henry Hubert Goddard, who would run with Galton’s belief that intelligence could be assigned an absolute number by which to classify people. They, of course, also shared Galton’s belief that this was absolutely all down to heredity. They also craved scientific means to measure and designate those they deemed “unfit” as well. Goddard, in fact, had written a book, The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeblemindedness, “in an attempt to illustrate the biological fixity of certain ‘hereditary’ characteristics”. This book would also be printed in Germany under the Nazi regime showing its usefulness to American eugenicists and Nazis alike. Goddard was highly motivated to collect “scientific” data to back up his narrativised beliefs, however, but when he did so it was not using Galton’s tests but those of the Frenchmen Alfred Binet and his student Theodore Simon. These French psychologists, however, did NOT believe intelligence could be assigned a single score and they measured people only for “improving the education of those in need”. Binet, in fact, “believed that intelligence was too complex to be measured by a single score” and it worried him that the scores his methods provided could be “used as an indelible label, rather than as a guide for identifying children who need help”. But Binet died in 1911 and, thereafter, in utilising his methods, Goddard simply ignored his warnings.

Goddard, in fact, used Binet’s methods to explicitly label, not help, those he so designated. He assumed that “intelligence” was an unchangeable, biologically fixed characteristic in any case. All he wanted was the measurement by which he could label people with theirs. In intelligence testing [what would become “the IQ test”] the American eugenics movement “believed it had a simple measurement that made it possible to identify the mentally and morally “unfit” individuals and races they so intensely wanted to isolate in colonies, castrate, sterilize [and even euthanise], and prevent from immigrating into the United States.” Binet had tested children for educational purposes. The Americans like Goddard and Davenport simply wanted to classify adults and put them, literally, in their place. Their ambition, at least in their belief, was that they could now label everyone. That low intelligence — what they called “feeblemindedness” — was equated with immorality [the stupid are also morally suspect] should then worry us for Goddard himself explicitly believed by the 1920s that around 45% of Americans were “feebleminded” or of the “moron” class. If you were a foreign-born immigrant to the States this became even worse. What Goddard wanted with his measuring activity was to “prove” this.

Goddard himself did testing on people entering the USA via Ellis Island in New York [although technically it is in New Jersey] around the period of the First International Eugenics Congress where he found that decent majorities of various nationalities entering the USA were feebleminded. The proportions went up as the immigrants became more Eastern European [Sussman suggests this is partly a euphemism for “Jews” whom Goddard found to be 83% feebleminded]. As Goddard’s scores for feeblemindedness went up, so did the deportations of such nationalities as a result. Important to note in this activity of Goddard’s is that “to the eugenicists the results of his survey were taken to indicate a spectrum of inherent intellectual worth in the ‘races’ of Europe.” Goddard’s material was not simply used to reject “undesirables”, however. It also passed into a further eugenicist tome which lives in infamy in the history of the movement: Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race.

Grant was another eugenicist from a wealthy family who seemed to naturally believe in his own superiority. Sussman compares him to the Frenchman Gobineau as a similar kind of man. [Gobineau regarded himself as fake nobility let us not forget.] He was, thus, thoroughly elitist. Grant was neither in favour of democracy nor equal rights, believing both would lead to the end of civilization [or perhaps just his privileges which it would not be hard to believe he regarded as the same thing]. He held to the Nordic myth and was a graduate of Yale and Columbia universities. [The number of eugenicists passing through elite American universities, as no doubt was also true of those in other countries, should probably give us cause for concern about the academic elite.] Grant liked animals and was a conservationist friend of President Theodore Roosevelt [who we already know was a eugenics supporter] and he founded the New York Zoological Society and the Bronx Zoo. He was also friends with Henry Osborn, president of the American Museum of Natural History and a professor at Columbia University. Grant, then, had impeccable social credentials and was one of the foremost natural historians of his day.

However, Grant was also a thoroughgoing racist, one a later commentator has described as a symbol of “open, brutal racism, segregation, and disparagement of persons of color as well as those from alien lands”. He attended exclusive clubs where lectures were given on “the dangers of the influx of hordes of Jews and other inferior types into America” and how it “posed an evolutionary danger to native Anglo-Saxons via intermarriage and a reversion to more primitive types of humanity through hybridization”. This played into a narrative in which the natural extermination of the white race might be achieved with constant immigration and no measures taken to control the population in general. Grant the conservationist who thought highly of the preservation of animals would not have to do too much thinking to shift these ideas across to what he regarded as his own species, white Anglo-Saxons. In 1894 at least 1.4 million of New York’s then 1.8 million population had at least one foreign parent. [One of these was Emma Goldman.] New York had more Italians than Rome, more Irish than Dublin and would soon become the biggest Jewish city in the world. It is not hard to see how an elitist like Grant would have considered such facts with anguished concern and perhaps malevolent intent.

When Grant wrote The Passing of the Great Race in 1916 he was influenced by well established racists and eugenicists such as Gobineau, Galton and Davenport. Grant’s book, in fact, was the first to mix folk racism such as that of Gobineau with the American eugenicism that was becoming increasingly interested in “scientific proof” and measurement generally as means to label and classify people. The book heavily reintroduced racism as a major focus of the eugenics movement in distinction to the obsession with filtering out the feebleminded of the “lower” classes. Perhaps it is for this reason that, as Sussman informs us, “Hitler considered it his Bible”. Grant became heavily involved in eugenics thereafter, was a close friend of Davenport’s and chaired the Second International Congress of Eugenics himself in 1923 which was held at Osborn’s American Museum of Natural History in New York, a site which now has a statue to the eugenicist president, Theodore Roosevelt, astride a horse, out front on Central Park West.

Grant himself, however, was not a scientist nor a trained medical man. He was, in many respects, a mythologiser as Hume, Kant and Gobineau had been. Thus, whilst giving the appearance of the taxonomic scientist, he was somewhat sloppy. He had three subgroups of human beings, the Caucasians, the Mongoloids, and the Negroids, and he would subdivide these down as well. Caucasians, for example, he would, as Gobineau, divide into the Nordics, the Alpines, and the Mediterraneans. These, of course, each came with valuations and so both racism and classism were baked into Grant’s narrative myth in a hybridization [ironically enough!] of Gobineau and Davenport, the latter of which he turned to for “the science bit” to back up the mythological bit he got from Gobineau. The whole was presented as “science”, however, and so “The great lesson of the science of race is the immutability of somatological or bodily characters, with which is closely associated the immutability of physical dispositions and impulses” as Grant wrote in Passing. So it would be that “Nordics” were scientifically presented as objectively “natural rulers” and “the apex of the development of the white race”. I wonder why this book became “Hitler’s Bible?” Perhaps it was because Grant denominated Jews a subset of the “lowest” Caucasians, the Mediterraneans, and he depicted them as “swarming” around New York, crowding out more desirable people? Grant was virulently against intermixing of races as a result and wrote that any intermingling always reverted the progeny of such encounters to the lowest common denominator. Racial heritage could not be lifted up by such unions but only dragged down.

The key point in all this is that Grant was mixing an ancient myth that Gobineau had repeated and popularised with the modern “science” of people like Davenport and Laughlin and Goddard. Underneath, of course, it was the same old prejudices, elitism and superiority complexes being played out all over again. But the more “scientific” work was done, the more it could be filtered into books like Grant’s and popularised as the results of scientific endeavour. It co-opted modern science, and a mentality in which science acted as a powerful authority, to present a eugenicist and racist narrative. This must at least go some way to accounting for why successive presidents and prime ministers would be persuaded by its claims although, as I have also amply shown, the elite levels of society, industry and academia, were all infiltrated by such beliefs and, in many respects, it was entirely self-serving for such people on both sides of the Atlantic to give them credence. Who, being at the top of the food chain, does not want to believe that they deserve to be there and that this is about something inherently to do with them? Grant’s book, thus, was the perfect mythico-scientific tome to justify just such thinking and to reassure elitist egos.

So it would not be a problem when Grant’s book approved of slavery and echoed previous segregation policies. Neither would it be an issue when nationalities, and sometimes not even races, were regarded as “decidedly inferior, physically, mentally, and morally to those who had entered the country in earlier times.” Grant regarded it as absolutely necessary for white Americans to segregate the native peoples of the now American land, as well as black people, from the white population and he offered the “scientific” practice of eugenics, including all the policies such a mentality insisted were necessary, as an efficient and rational means to this end. We can see in his text the essential blueprint for what would become Nazism if only some state would actually put into practice the ideas in his book. It was presented as rational, scientific and reasonable. Grant described eugenics in Passing of the Great Race as “a practical, merciful, and inevitable solution to the whole problem [that] can be applied to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless racial types.” Align this with German, pre-Nazi eugenicist theories of “racial hygiene” and you have Hitler’s programme of racist authoritarianism in a nutshell. But born in the USA.

It has, then, been suggested by one writer that what Grant gives birth to in Passing is “scientific racism”. Such a thing, it is said, involves three basic axioms:

  1. The human species is divided into distinct, hierarchical subspecies and/or races, with the Nordic race at the top of the hierarchy;

  2. intellectual, moral, temperamental, and cultural traits of each race are immutable and correlated to, and inherited with, immutable physical traits, and the genes for these traits are unaffected by the environment;

  3. the mixture of races always results in reversion to the primitive, inferior type, and thus eugenic measures must be taken to prevent the degeneration of the superior race.

Such thinking scientifically founds racism, based in classificatory activities, and mandates authoritarian eugenic policies and activities which are regarded as science in action. Indeed, such thought, according to its wider proponents, including Grant, “purported to employ physical anthropology, Darwinian evolution, and Mendelian genetics to explain why non-Nordic races were biologically inferior.” Yet it was not really any different to the Spanish Inquisition in its motivations [or ultimate effects as regards the Nazis and some American practices]. Both the Inquisition and the eugenicists come to the conclusion that certain groups of people are inferior, that the characteristics [physical, mental, and behavioural] that led to this inferiority are biologically fixed and immutable, and that no alteration of the environment can change these fixed characteristics. As such, people, and even whole nationalities or “races”, are bagged and tagged, labelled and classified by an oppressing power who wants to control and “eugenicise” the entire population in an entirely arbitrary and authoritarian way. The eugenicists of the early twentieth century thought they now had the scientific know how to do it, too! A “scientific racist” on this model “would point out that a Jew could never become a Nordic” and they thought that made all the difference in the world. Grant’s “scientific racist” book, Passing of the Great Race, “became the core of a resurgence of American racism and one of the essential books of Hitlerism”. The latter phenomenon was the pinnacle of scientific racist thought and practice in the twentieth century and involved people which the Americans who funded its racist and eugenic ideas in “bibles” like Grant’s would later want to bring over to their side for the purposes of white American supremacy on the world stage during the Cold War. An example here is “Operation Paperclip”, a secret American program in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians, such as Wernher von Braun [formerly an SS Sturmbannfuhrer, the equivalent rank of major] and his V-2 rocket team were taken from Germany to the United States, for U.S. government employment, primarily between 1945 and 1959.

We must move to summarising what we have learnt from this tale told about European and North Atlantic history over around 500 years, a history still ongoing in white supremacist insurrection attempts on Capitol Hill on January 6” 2021 [incited by the sitting white President and several white members of Congress], the published racist comments of British Prime Ministers and others in an ad-hoc fashion [let alone their racially discriminative policies such as in the Windrush scandal or the Grenfell Tower fire], in labels such as “white trash” and in political projects such as Brexit and others with white supremacist themes, politically organised by men like Steve Bannon and funded by people like billionaire, Robert Mercer. Eugenics is not at all promoted today as it was 100 years ago even if its ideas, and the racism and classism which fuel them, are all far too apparent, for example, in policing widely regarded as racist in the United States or in the hold corporate and plutocratic elites have on the levers of political power more widely. [These, in turn, indicate an intersection of racist, eugenicist and classist beliefs with capitalism, the latter of which thrives on a narrative of division as racism, classism and eugenics provide.]

So racism, eugenics and class warfare have not gone away. They have simply renamed themselves, reorganised, created new targets, are pursued by people with new names and different faces [but a remarkably similar social profile]. As Robert Sussman shows in his eleventh chapter of The Myth of Race, there is still a network of racist and eugenicist political organisations, journals and periodicals, websites and chat forums, dedicated to policies and beliefs the former racists and eugenicists detailed in this essay would have easily been able to associate with. Some even openly use Nazi insignia and rhetoric as the collective memory fades and such symbols are rehabilitated. Yet today such things are often called “populism” — as if the ability to make things popular was a recommendation in itself and, perhaps, in order to say that people should be given “what they want”. Brexit, funded by people who support racist causes, and politically championed most of all by Nigel Farage, a man whose racist past extends to singing Hitler Youth songs as a schoolboy and whose recent past has been as a fluffer for Donald Trump, is a pertinent modern political example of such an agenda. Living, as I do, in England, I can give my own personal testimony to the fact that, in recent decades, it has become a boiling pot of John Bull racism which touts the eugenicist and avowed racist, Winston Churchill, as its national hero and is vociferous in its opposition to racial justice and defensive in regard to its viciously colonial and classist past. You will still find people in nationalist and white supremacist spaces who think of non-whites as inimical to white society and of equal rights as things which destroy civilization. “Racial hygiene”, inflected with a base feeling of superiority, very much lives on, as does an innate hatred of human diversity.

Yet would it now be pertinent to point out that there is nothing about this racism or eugenics which is “scientific” at all? Robert Sussman points to the work of Franz Boas, primarily his Changes in Bodily Form and The Mind of Primitive Man, both published in 1911, just before that first eugenics congress, as volumes which “undermined the ‘science’ of eugenics.” Boas also “developed the scientific, anthropological concept of ‘culture.’ According to this theory, differences among the peoples of the world [a]re the product of their social histories and [a]re determined by an interaction between their social and natural environments over generations.” It does this without “assumptions about the superiority of one group over the other”. What eugenicists, attempting to parrot a scientific authority in their work, did by classifying and hierarchicalising, making one better than another and describing one thing as beneficial and another as detrimental, Boas did in his research by expanding upon a notion of culture as a rich variety of differences which is a naturally occurring diversity. As Sussman explains, “The scientific evidence amassed for Boas’s cultural explanation was much more convincing than the myths that had been passed down through the previous five centuries.” What is, in fact, most lasting about the racist and eugenicist myths of the past 500 years is the simple assumption by white [elite] Europeans that they must be superior — and with argumentation that begins from that point and then attempts to substantiate and support it by contemporary means and to prosecute it in, with and through authoritarian physical actions. The fact remains, however, that people cannot be put into biological races and, thereby, be forever distinguished. Morals are not a matter of genes. “Feeblemindedness” does not make you a worthless person — the classificatory practices of racists and eugenicists notwithstanding and neither covering up for the insidious valuations their fake science could never substantiate in any case. It was a simple attempt at domination by means of designating what the knowledge on the subject was. And knowledge is power [see chapters 2 and 5 again!].

Thus, as Robert Sussman counsels, “biological determinism is still with us, and all of us who believe in human dignity, freedom, and justice must continue to fight against racial prejudice and those who spread hatred based on the idea that differences among humans exist.” Intelligence, if it is a marker of anything at all [and its only a human concept to begin with!], “is not a unitary, simply measured, genetically-based phenomenon. IQ scores and intelligence are greatly influenced by environment and culture and... there are no biological races among humans and there never have been.”

Yet what does exist is ethnicities and cultures — but these are examples of nature’s diversity and are no grounds for positing eternal, biological differences between people who are imagined to be in utterly different classes because our eyes say they have a different skin tone or live a different lifestyle. And so: “Race is not a biological reality among humans; there are no human biological races. What humans have designated as races are based on non-existent differences among peoples. People are more similar to one another biologically and genetically as a whole than they are to any of the classifications that racists have devised.” Race is a cultural thing not a biological thing; diversity of human beings is normal and natural and only a danger in the fevered minds of those who imagine themselves utterly different and then work to fabricate data to support a narrative of supremacy for the purposes of destroying diversity and dominating the body politic whole and entire. Racism, and the eugenic science it gave birth to, are prejudice which is pursued by authoritarian means so that an entirely artificial category of human beings may dominate over the rest. It is itself a culture, in fact, but, in this case, an entirely manufactured and malignant one. It is a powerful example, in its history, of how unreflective and mythically regurgitated prejudice, when married with classificatory practices, political ambitions and authoritarian means, can bring misery to human existence without any redeeming features whatsoever. It is further an example of how attempted domination never works out well for any except those defined as the group doing the dominating — and that it is not supposed to either.

PART B: Anarchisms and Anarchists

SEVEN: An Anarchist Turn Towards Non-Domination

As anarchists, then, if not simply as enculturated human beings, we must seek to turn towards practices and lifestyles of non-domination. With this seventh chapter of my book, I now begin seeking to make the positive case for this after chapters which detailed examples of biologically-based oppressions [of gender, race and class] and others which argued that our “knowledge”, “truth” and language themselves are only pragmatic and utilitarian entities not best suited to authoritative, let alone, authoritarian, pursuits. Yet if domination is politically unwelcome and classificatory practices are, more often than not, abused [as in the cases of gender, sexuality, class and race] in order to pursue political goals to the benefit of some and not others, then in what does an anarchist turn consist that will lead human beings into non-dominating, non-classificatory practices that promote an anarchism of values irrespective of class, gender, sexuality, race, culture, etc.? This is what I now intend to discuss in my own terms [and so it is indicative of my own understanding and mentality], utilising examples from the thought of others only as necessary.

0. Two Definitions of Anarchy and Anarchism

I must begin, in this case, by defining two senses of anarchy [a context for activity] and anarchism [the activity itself]. This is necessary, not least, because my own appreciation of what these words mean seems to differ unalterably from that which many, not least those who call themselves anarchists or pretend to knowledge of anarchism as a political movement, utilise. This difference can be described by positing two forms of anarchy/ anarchism:

  1. Type 1 anarchy/anarchism essentially equates anarchy with the universe, with all that exists, as it is, right now. You might also then call anarchy “reality”. Under this understanding, anarchism is then the action of the universe in its manner of operation. How the universe works is anarchism. Please note that this type of anarchy/anarchism is not something which is a human achievement. It is something humans are ineluctably a part of and largely powerless to affect. We find this definition most used in more spiritual or philosophical understandings of anarchy/anarchism.

  2. Type 2 anarchy/anarchism is the more political definition of these things, the one in which anarchy is the state of existence people called anarchists want to create. Anarchism is then something such human beings do to create anarchy, perhaps along lines anarchists have previously written or spoken about and agreed by consensus beforehand. This is the anarchy/anarchism of political actors in the present and recent past.

My understanding of anarchy and anarchism involves both of these types of them in a symbiotic relationship in which one is constantly informing the other. I have written about this at length in my series of books There is Nothing To Stick To, a four part exploration of a spiritual, philosophical and political form of anarchism and interpretation of anarchy. One reason I have this symbiotic relation between the two types of anarchy/anarchism interpreted here is because I am convinced by things such as Daoist texts like the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi that “control” is not properly appropriate to human beings in political or social terms — and by thought like that of Nietzsche and Rorty, referred to in this book and in my former series among the thought of several others, that “knowledge” or “truth” or “understanding” or “explaining” are not the absolutes that put us in control and make us superior over things that we are often induced to think they are — and all this is not least because there is so much more to the universe or existence or reality than human beings and their wants and needs. We are not the context for everything else: it is the context for us. This is the most important realisation we shall ever have. The appropriate response to this, particularly the former texts counsel, is human humility, a life of peace rather than a life spent trying to make everything just so. Try as I might, I cannot escape such a logic and when I watch videos detailing the history, and likely future, of the universe the one thing that makes the greatest impact upon me is the utter irrelevance of not simply myself, my species or what exists on this one planet out of billions — but life itself whole and entire. Even taking our most optimistic calculations about the universe, life itself is a blip in the probable history of this vast, devolving expanse. Its nothing special and was not the point of anything. This cannot but instigate sober reflection in me in comparison to the egotistical self-regard which seems to drive many others. The upshot is that such facts have a consequent effect upon my thinking, not least my thinking about what anarchy is and what anarchism would then be as a result.

A further thought informing these definitions is “Why would anarchy/anarchism be what someone decided it was anyway?” This really gets to the heart of the issue as, for example, I observe social media discussions about anarchist subjects when various people chime in with what they think things are and then someone else counters with what they think they are instead. All definitions of these things are, of course, only human, linguistic imaginings, useful fictions. Conversations and discussions, of course, take place so that people may communicate with each other about them in order to clarify their own thinking on the subjects at hand. But no one person is the boss of what anarchy is or what anarchism shall amount to. And neither could they be even if only from the simple fact of arguments I have made in chapters such as 2 and 5 of this book. So it seems very appropriately anarchistic to me that anarchy and anarchism should have real and useful senses which are beyond human control or definition. I think that “what exists” or “the way things are” — even when we can’t say what is or how it is — are consequent factors we need to be aware of when thinking about anarchy and anarchism. We need to have humility, intellectual as well as practical, rather than seek, in repetition of many non-anarchist mentalities, to imagine that we can control, define, classify and dominate. What this means practically is that we should always be aware of our own potential for dominating and always be putting that in the context of a type 1 definition of anarchy and anarchism such as the Daoist texts suggest.

1. The Personal and the Political

Just as I give two, in my mind necessarily intermingling or interactive or relative, definitions of anarchy and anarchism, so I also need to talk about two contexts in which we might place them. These are the personal and the political and they are also necessarily intermingling, interactive and relative. One might think of these as the historical roots of type 2 anarchism as well if one identifies them with the “egoist” and “social” forms of anarchism explicitly discussed in anarchist discourse from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, for example, on the one hand by Max Stirner or Benjamin Tucker or, on the other hand, by Peter Kropotkin or Errico Malatesta. But one may also refer to them as the personal [having to do with the human individual] and the political [having to do with the social world and social interaction] as well, as I do here. [We might also imagine that someone like Mikhail Bakunin combines the two.]

As before, I do not conceive of two contexts in order to prefer one over another. Since both human individuals and social, cultural and political contexts for these human beings exist, both must play a part. The issue I want to highlight here, in fact, is how they do and how they need to in terms of how type 2 anarchism might take place in order to create type 2 anarchy. This, in fact, turns out to be nothing new for students of Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who, before he wrote his book on politics, wrote his book on ethics. This suggests that, at least as Aristotle thought about it, a certain type of person presages and logically precedes a certain type of society. And this is, in fact, my point: the society you get is dependent upon the types of people that make it up. This, in turn, suggests that if you want to see or encourage certain values or behaviours in society then you need to concentrate on the character and qualities of people just as much as you need to concentrate on their interactions and organisation in societal terms.

This is, in fact, the case in terms of the influences I have which turned me in my own life and philosophy towards anarchism. It focuses not simply on the organisation of society in certain ways — as well as the politics of the common good rather than the sectional interest — but on personal character, and even personal virtue as well. If you believe at all that it is people who make a politics then this seems automatically to follow — for you cannot get good from bad but only from good. Therefore, for all the difficulties this might entail, you cannot escape the fact that personal virtue and personal values, what, together, might be called character, play a very important role here. Consequently, my understanding of the appropriate practice of type 2 anarchism involves a focus on both personal character or self-actualisation — and achieving that in appropriate ways — as well as on all the social theory and political action on which anarchism has relied since its formation as a specific political philosophy and practice in the mid-nineteenth century. This is to say that anarchism is not merely a matter of your actions but also of your character: it is a personal AND a political matter if it is to proceed with any success.

The best example I can give of this is contained in an extract from the thirty first chapter of Emma Goldman’s autobiographical memoir, Living My Life. In the extract she details an argument she and her fellow anarchist attendee to an international anarchist congress in Amsterdam, Max Baginski, made on the matter of “organisation”. It seems some delegates had favoured a Kropotkinite social solution to this, one of mutual aid and cooperation [see below], whilst others favoured a more individual solution. Goldman and Baginski, however, argued that both were necessary and in the extract from her memoir she puts it this way:

“There is a mistaken notion in some quarters... that organization does not foster individual freedom; that, on the contrary, it means the decay of individuality. In reality, however, the true function of organization is to aid the development and growth of personality. Just as the animal cells, by mutual co-operation, express their latent powers in the formation of the complete organism, so does the individuality, by co-operative effort with other individualities, attain its highest form of development. An organization, in the true sense, cannot result from the combination of mere nonentities. It must be composed of self-conscious, intelligent individualities. Indeed, the total of the possibilities and activities of an organization is represented in the expression of individual energies. Anarchism asserts the possibility of an organization without discipline, fear, or punishment and without the pressure of poverty: a new social organism, which will make an end to the struggle for the means of existence — the savage struggle which undermines the finest qualities in man and ever widens the social abyss. In short, anarchism strives towards a social organization which will establish well-being for all.”

In this way Goldman and her colleague Baginski make the point that individual and social anarchist tendencies are not opposed but are, in fact, necessary for the betterment and furtherance of each other. My suggestion is that this amounts to anarchism being a matter of both the personal AND the political.

2. Values, Plan or Place?

In distinction to the two previous sections of this chapter, here I do want to make a choice between alternatives and, in one sense, this section is a recapitulation, a saying in other words, of the immediately preceding one — but with the addition of that choice. The title heading refers to ways of making type 2 anarchism active in life. The alternatives are an anarchism of values [anarchistic values which you cultivate in your own life and, in so doing, advertise and perform in your daily living], the anarchism of a plan [which is conceived of as a set of things anarchists want to see achieved, the end of which will be the achieval of type 2 anarchy] and the anarchism of a place [i.e. the founding of a commune or autonomous zone]. I would like to say, before expressing a preference here, that I don’t conceive of any of these options as automatically or obviously bad — but I do think some logically prior to others. It, of course, remains for you to do your own thinking about that because nothing in this book is telling you what to think and everything I say is subject to the reader’s own intellectual responsibility for their own thoughts [about which more below].

Here, it may not surprise you to learn, given my thoughts in sections 0+1, that I choose an anarchism of values over an anarchism of plan or place. One reason for this is that it incorporates the idea that anarchism is not simply a matter of certain actions or an outcome; it is also a matter of how we will get to that outcome and what it takes to get there — and what kind of people, indeed, those are who are getting there. Who are we expecting to carry out any anarchist plan? Surely only people motivated to achieve it who see the good and the benefit in it? Who will this be if not people of anarchist values? Would we want people with dubious motives taking part in such action? And what, too, of the anarchist place? Again, will this not be an endeavour only maintained by people of the requisite character who are themselves people of such character that they are motivated to see it work out in practice along certain anarchist lines?

Another problem with the plan and the place anarchist practices though is that they are very determinative and the anarchism that I conceive of is not. Instead, it is flexible, possibly reactive, as much as it is proactive, and it, if you like, takes what is to hand and makes the best of it. The circumstances in all times and places are not, and will not, be the same, and so the anarchism which relies on precisely this plan and not another may not be suitable for such a thing [and so risks becoming dogma]. The anarchist place is just one place and who is to say that all anarchist places will, or must, be the same? The anarchism of values, however, is a matter of people and who they are. Such people can take this wherever they go and utilise it in whatever circumstances they are in — and necessarily flexibly so, as the situation demands. So, therefore, I suggest that whether we engage in an anarchism of either plan or place [and both do have their place], an anarchism of values is logically prior, and logically necessary for the maintenance, and maybe even the institution, of either. It is the bridge which connects anarchist mentality and action to anarchist achievements. Moreover, if anarchism is really about changing people and, thereby, changing society, then it is by means of changing people’s values that this will take place. Thus, we see again an anarchism that is personal AND political for each needs the other.

3. Anarchist Virtues and Values [always implying an action]

Of course, given what I have said up until this point, it now requires that I list some anarchist values upon which people, and so the practice of anarchisms, as the outflow of anarchist lives, may be built. I describe them as virtues too — both because I am stuck in an ancient Greek mode of thinking as a background to my own thinking about ethics, practice and human character, but also because I do think that anarchism is about the personal and not merely the political. These values and virtues, however, are not merely to be applied to the personal in my thinking. They are equally applicable to a social or political situation as the means for organising and existing within it. Some, in fact, expressly require and envision it. For, as I will probably say far too often, anarchism is a matter of the personal AND the political and such values and virtues are meant to become habit forming and so environment changing.

1. People not property. The first virtue or value is a preference for people, human beings, over property. Ecologically-minded anarchists, and we should probably all be such a thing if we want this planet to last much longer, will probably wish to extend this into a reverence for all life. Anarchists have de-emphasised, and contextualised, property ever since there have been people who could exercise anarchist thought and, in many respects, it is the fetishizers of property, who create apparatuses of control to plot, organise and maintain property-based empires, who are probably the anarchist’s primary antagonist. Yet it is in an anarchist analysis of property that we see it as a means to control and coerce people and as the beginning of the creation of inequalities which end up in domination, coercion and control. Anarchists, consequently, put people [or life] first and property definitively after that in their practices and considerations.

2. A freedom of equals. Freedom, liberty, is a very important value for the anarchist and perhaps a virtue in anarchist practice bar none. But, as Chiara Bottici discusses it in her essay “Black and Red: The Freedom of Equals”, the opening essay of the book The Anarchist Turn, this is a particular kind of freedom — a “freedom of equals”. What is meant by this? On page 20 she describes this as involving the realisation that:

“the freedom of every individual strictly depends on that of all others. You cannot be free alone, because freedom can only be realized as freedom of equals. With this expression, I do not mean that we have to be free and equals, but that we cannot be free unless we are all equally so.”

Bottici explains this in her essay as the marriage of Marxist and anarchist beliefs [hence the “black and red” of her title] but what is important to me here is the idea itself. Bottici, in an interesting way, interprets freedom not as autonomy, as it often is, but as something else, something that begins with Max Stirner’s egoist assertion that we do not start by asking what the “essence” of a human being is [Rorty, as we have seen, did not think anything had such an essence, and so would cringe at the idea of “an essence of a human being”] but by stating that we exist, here and now, in our uniqueness. We are here, yes, and “to a large extent [our] own product”, but even the very fact we use language [as I have already made a point to mention in previous chapters] means we exist in the context of a plurality of egos and, as such, Stirner’s egoist leanings are counteracted. A being with speech is forever a social being and a socialised being. The problem, however, is that “we have so internalized the ideological construction of human beings as independent individuals that we have difficulties representing freedom as a relation, rather than as a property with which separate individuals are endowed.”

Bottici achieves this relational interpretation, however, by interacting the personal with the political. Interacting with Bakunin she observes that “it is not individuals who create society, but the society that, so to speak, ‘individualises itself in every individual’”, furthermore suggesting that “Bakunin is well aware that freedom as self-determination is empty, if there is no such thing as a ‘self’ that can choose autonomously.” Thus, Bottici says that, “the individual becomes such only through a process of socialization that begins immediately”. But, now interacting with Cornelius Castoriadis as well as Bakunin, she adds that:

“individuals are at the same time instituting and instituted by society: society does not exist without the individuals that constantly create and re-create it, but, at the same time, individuals exist only as a product of society itself. But if individuals are at the same time instituting and instituted; if, to use Bakunin’s phrase, individuals are nothing but the society that individualizes itself in them, they cannot be free unless everybody else is free. Hence also the importance of the notion of recognition in Bakunin: ‘For the individual to be free means to be recognized, considered and treated as such by another individual, and by all the individuals that surround him’.”

Thus, Bottici refers to the words of her fellow Italian, Errico Malatesta, in his Anarchy who is himself interacting with Bakunin on this point:

“No man can achieve his own emancipation without at the same time working for the emancipation of all men around him. My freedom is the freedom of all since I am not truly free in thought and in fact, except when my freedom and my rights are confirmed and approved in the freedom and rights of all men who are my equals. It matters to me very much what other men are, because however independent I may appear to be or think I am, because of my social position, were I Pope, Tzar, Emperor or even Prime Minister, I remain always the product of what the humblest among them are.”

Thus, the anarchist who himself stated that “We anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves” also says in Anarchy that “I who want to be free cannot be because all the men around me do not yet want to be free, and consequently they become tools of oppression against me.”

Here we see the idea of a “freedom of equals” — and of people who are equally free — most clearly. Anyone’s imprisonment is my potential imprisonment. Anyone’s curtailed liberty has the consequence that my liberty could also be curtailed. And, of course, as Bottici, an anarchafeminist philosopher herself, properly realises [and this is true not least of the anarchism of Malatesta], “an entire reorganization of society is necessary for [such freedom’s] realization”. Thus, Bottici notes that Bakunin calls this a “materialist conception of freedom”. It is not idealist or abstract nor even philosophical but very much applied to the material circumstances of human existence and it requires an entire reconstruction of human society in order to achieve it. The anarchist conception of such a freedom, then, is ambitious to the ultimate degree. What the anarchist seeks is not the human being’s discipline and domestication [this is the intention, so I would argue, of human civilisation as it has progressed by means of hierarchical and epistemological thinking in such a way that a few come to subdue, classify, organise and control the many] but their self-liberation [with a nod to Malatesta] from dominating society by means of a mentality not concerned with how to limit freedom but with a mentality concerned with how to enhance it. The answer to ordered human existence is not less freedom but more, as much as can be imagined. And, as explained, the secret there is that it must be a freedom of equals, of equals who are, and want to be, equally free.

In this, Bottici hits upon something I spoke about in relation to her thinking whilst discussing her anarchafeminism in my previous book, Anarchy and Anarchisms. This is that the end must be the means and the means must be the end; in this case, if it is such a freedom we want then it must be such a freedom we use to get there. Here, making reference to Bakunin and Malatesta again, Bottici says that, “to endanger freedom with the pretext of protecting it, be it through the dictatorship of the proletariat or an avant-garde party that should authoritatively lead the masses to the revolution, is a dangerous non-sense which cannot but ultimately destroy freedom itself.” She further counsels, arguing in a way she thinks in line with Bakunin in State and Anarchy, that, “There is not just one absolute truth about the road to revolution, and thus no avant-garde party, however well versed in theory it might be, can ever explain to the masses how they should liberate themselves.” Thus, “If you restrict freedom, albeit temporarily, with the pretext of preparing its realization, you cannot but end up destroying it. As a consequence, any workers’ state, be it a dictatorship of the proletariat or not, cannot but reproduce the same logic of every state, where a minority of bureaucrats rule over the majority of people: that is, authoritarianism.”

Here, then, we need to wholeheartedly embrace the anarchist recognition that anarchism itself, and anarchy as an imagined context of the type 2 kind, can NEVER be realised through the principle of authority itself — just, in fact, as the type 1 anarchy I also speak of is not either. We must then acknowledge that freedom is itself free and it cannot be forced but only achieved by letting go of control, refusing domination and ending our self-imposed domestication of ourselves and others.

3. Cooperation/Solidarity. Particularly in the more class conscious anarchist currents of thought we see the notion of solidarity as a very important value. This is both the recognition that we live in a social world and the recognition that people naturally tend to coalesce into “self-interest” or “common interest” groups, both in societies based on hierarchy, control and manipulation of others and those not. The value of “solidarity” is then the recognition that more can be achieved together than alone and that it is in cooperation with others that the freedom I spoke about previously is more likely to break out and take place.

Yet it is also more than this because, in the invention of type 2 anarchism in the nineteenth century particularly, in a context of capitalism exercising its power over workers to extract profits for owners, worker solidarity and the cooperation of people of the same class amongst themselves became a vital value that needed to be expressed in the human relationships of those oppressed from above by those of a different class acting according to capitalist imperatives. Some, in fact, would argue that one cannot be an anarchist alone and that, therefore, cooperation with others of like mind, or a solidarity which acts in concert with such people, is necessary for anarchist practice, and so the engagement of an anarchist philosophy, to even begin. It is certainly the case that in the values and virtues of cooperation and solidarity we see a type 1 anarchy/anarchism reflected for, in that case, everything exists as a complexity of interconnections and inter-relations in which all acts to support and coexist with the other in a harmony that is not even aware it is taking place. Cooperation and solidarity may then be seen as aspects of type 1 anarchy/anarchism that are consciously enacted in a type 2 scenario where they are not also seen as people of like mind acting for the common good.

4. Fraternity. Fraternity has been a notable public value in modern times at least since 1789 when it was taken as one of three values noted of the new French Republic in the phrase “Liberty! Egality! Fraternity!”. But, in an anarchist context, I would like to argue for a particularly anarchist twist to “fraternity”. It means, of course, a “brotherly love” or a relation of familial or sibling intimacy. This is already suggestive in an anarchist context in which cooperation and solidarity have already come before. Yet I suggest, going even further than this, that for the anarchist “fraternity” means a human kinship that extends beyond one’s actual family relations as wide as it is possible to imagine until, potentially, the whole of the human species is seen in a “fraternal” light. This human kinship would then become a commitment to the whole of the human race that sees each human being fraternally, at least as an attitudinal expression of an anarchist character. If it is true, as anarchafeminists Chiara Bottici and Peggy Kornegger have suggested, that the means is the end and the ends are the means, then it is for anarchists, with values such as a fraternity so conceived, a cosmopolitan, international fraternity, to begin to recreate humanity in such a new, anarchist image and so to broadcast far and wide that all human beings are one, diverse people, not those divided but those who are examples of exactly the same wants, desires and needs.

5. Subversion. What do I mean by “subversion”? I mean, I think, that the anarchist has a keen nose for the dominating, the coercive, the controlling, the domesticating, and for anything that acts to corral or constrain people in terms of human action and, consequently, is of a mind to undermine and subvert their efficacy. The anarchist, then, has an active will and intent to act against the interests of things, people and systems which enslave human beings or restrict human freedoms and, as such, they disrupt human artificiality for the sake of a more natural letting the dice fall where they may. This, in my mind at least, is another way in which type 1 and type 2 anarchies interact and inform each other. Real freedom can never be something entirely created but must always also be a letting go which is open to the what can happen that will happen so identified with a type 1 anarchy in its manner of operation.

6. Commensality, Mutual Aid and The Gift. Here there are three things but I join them together in my description of anarchist values and virtues because I see them as three associated things which, when put together, go to make up a kind of anarchist economy. This will need unpacking and so below I will describe each in turn with reference to specific literature about them.

The first of these is commensality and I refer the reader to Banu Bargu’s essay [which comes directly after Chiara Bottici’s], “The Politics of Commensality” in The Anarchist Turn. This is headed by the following superscription credited to the French revolutionary, Francois-Noél Babeuf: “The moment has come to found the REPUBLIC OF EQUALS, this great home open to all men. The day of general restitution has arrived. Groaning families, come sit at the common table set by nature for all its children.” This commensality of which Bargu speaks, I intend to suggest, is what she refers to, early on in her essay, as “A communal life where individuals are connected by bonds of fraternity or charity, bonds which do not distinguish individuals as individuated and autonomous moral subjects”. As such, this commensality is based on the notion of fraternity I have earlier described [readers should actively look for linkages and connections between the values and virtues I am detailing and I encourage such activity] and “resembles a group of individuals sitting around a table”. Commensality, in fact, in a basic sense, is the act of eating together around a common table. But, as you might expect, there’s a bit more to it than that. Commensality, in the anarchistic sense in which I wish to deploy it, is, therefore, “the metaphor of building [or rebuilding, reclaiming] a common world of equals”.

Banu Bargu says of commensality that it:

“is a form of commoning, both a long-standing practice of communal life and an everyday possibility to reclaim the commons. It substantiates a positive horizon of emancipation at the quotidian, micro-political level, with indigenous forms of sociality which are productive of the relations of friendship and solidarity, which are in turn constitutive of egalitarian and democratic subjectivities. Reclaiming commensality should therefore be an important component of contemporary anarcho-communist politics.”

As with the idea of “the commons”, however, so has the idea of “commensality” often largely disappeared in an individualised, hyperreal, technologised and fundamentally capitalist modern world. I would like to suggest that the reclamation of both, however, is a necessary feature of anarchist praxis and a virtue and a value in anarchist terms, the basis of an anarchist economy not based in money or even artificially derived wealth but in shared practices and resources that, strictly speaking, belong to nobody at all. In this sense the table, as the space where commensality takes place, becomes a bridge between the private and the public and, as a space in which what is set on the table is shared, “generate[s] ties of friendship and solidarity that are indispensable for the constitution of citizens with an egalitarian orientation, a common ethic and critical consciousness.” Commensality, then, is a practice which is a cultivation of relationships which “is necessary for the deepening of egalitarian participation in the direction of an anarcho-communist politics”. The key symbolism of this table, and of the activities that pass between those who sit around it, is sharing and, in the practice of commensality, it is intended that this sharing become habit-forming.

The sharing envisaged, however, is not merely a sharing of what is on the table; it is also a sharing of its setting up and of its providing for. The point of this is that in commensality we all play our part in provisioning the table and then all share equally from its provisions. The activities surrounding the table are the establishing and maintenance of a commonwealth of social activity and fraternal relations — and this regardless of who is around the table. In this way, and by this means, “in commensality both the confirmation of the politically generative potential of sociality and the building block of an emancipatory politics” can be forged. Yet:

“Even if we bracket the process leading up to setting the table, the very practice of table fellowship has multiple effects, such as ensuring social cohesion and forging collective bonds, creating conversations of common concern and engendering the possibility of politicizing areas and issues that are deemed nonpolitical from a formal, juridical perspective of politics, and its attendant conception of freedom and equality, built on the neutralization of existing social distinctions. In this view, commensality becomes the metaphor of building the desirable relations and subjectivities necessary for a common world of equals.”

The importance of commensality here is in that “food is a mediator of social relations” and “Commensality indicates intimacy between those who share a meal”. You do not usually, habitually, eat with a stranger or with enemies and this says something special and intimate about those with whom you do. Commensality, then, “is a sign of kinship, amity, good will, companionship and conciliation”. These are things the anarchist wishes to spread far and wide amongst all human beings. And so another observation Banu Bargu makes of commensality is also important. This is that “it does not simply indicate existing intimacy, it also actively creates it, acting as a practical foundation for the forging of new bonds and filiations.” Consequently, the anarchist table should be an open table, an open commensality, an open invitation to those outside to participate in the activities of the table and the opportunities and possibilities it represents. This holds the door open, literally, to an egalitarian praxis, egality being something which, by its very nature, cannot be imposed [this would undercut the very value you imagined you were imposing] but only ever offered through its habitual practice.

So, in closing this all too brief description of commensality, let us note that:

“Through shared experience, commensality creates closeness and mutual confidence. It brings together individuals around a common table and enables the forging of bonds on an egalitarian, horizontal basis. It also constitutes an invitation of a common conversation, one in which participation can follow the horizontal relationships of sharing. It is an experience of socialization that promotes solidarity, care, friendship and cooperation, rather than antagonism, enmity and competition. The common table is a site where social relations, ideas and projects are negotiated. It designates a space in which political discourse and action can germinate and proliferate. Commensality transforms bodily consumption into social, communicative, cultural and political production.”

We will see how this becomes a powerful focus of what I have described in a previously written 250,000 word monograph about an anarchist person from history in my next chapter.

The second item in this putatively new, anarchist economy is mutual aid. My literary reference here is Peter Kropotkin’s book of the same name, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution from 1902. In this book, Kropotkin sets out to demonstrate the existence and usefulness of mutual aid among animals, “savages”, “barbarians”, the inhabitants of medieval cities and, lastly, “ourselves” as examples of the natural sociability and interdependency of living things in which, the more a species leans into this aspect of its life, the more it benefits. When it comes to human societies, however, Kropotkin finds that the modern state, founded, as it was, on the back of “tribal customs and habits” and “a new, still wider, circle of social customs, habits, and institutions” born of “the barbarian village community”, being “based upon loose aggregations of individuals and undertaking to be their only bond of union, did not answer its purpose.” So Kropotkin argues that “in an infinity of associations which now tend to embrace all aspects of life and to take possession of all that is required by man for life” is found the means to live life more prosperously.

Kropotkin motivates mutual aid not via some abstract, theoretical philosophising, however, but, in the beginning, at least, on the basis of his own, personal natural observation of animals in his native Russia. “In all these scenes of animal life,” he writes,“which passed before my eyes, I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution.” Yet besides observing such positives he also observed negatives [although in ways which came to support the same thesis], for example, in Transbaikalia:

“I saw among the semi-wild cattle and horses in Transbaikalia, among the wild ruminants everywhere, the squirrels, and so on, that when animals have to struggle against scarcity of food, in consequence of one of the above-mentioned causes, the whole of that portion of the species which is affected by the calamity, comes out of the ordeal so much impoverished in vigour and health, that no progressive evolution of the species can be based upon such periods of keen competition.”

Kropotkin explicitly links his promotion of mutual aid to Darwinian science, as we might already see from his book title and the comments so far quoted from it. It was, at the time Kropotkin wrote, of course, mightily current and working its way through many academic disciplines. Sometimes, this was bad — as in the Social Darwinism to which I have

referred in chapter 6. But, in this case, Kropotkin argues for the positive effects of mutual aid in a sociological sense within a Darwinian understanding of evolution and “the struggle for life”. He wants to show, for obvious reasons in his historical situation, that an anarchism of mutual aid makes good scientific sense based on observation of both animals and human societies and so to recommend it as the most propitious way for human social groups to live. Thus, he often speaks of things like “the importance of the Mutual Aid factor of evolution” in his book on the subject. We might see in this something which ties together or otherwise interrelates my descriptions of type 1 anarchism and type 2 anarchism. I have nothing against it at all if you do.

Kropotkin sees this mutual aid, then, as evident all through the natural history of animal life generally and this is not to be reduced to “love” or to a principle such as “love your neighbour as yourself” [to which I will turn in my next chapter]. For example, he says, “It is not love to my neighbour — whom I often do not know at all — which induces me to seize a pail of water and to rush towards his house when I see it on fire; it is a far wider, even though more vague feeling or instinct of human solidarity and sociability which moves me.” Instead, Kropotkin thinks of mutual aid as “an instinct that has been slowly developed among animals and men in the course of an extremely long evolution, and which has taught animals and men alike the force they can borrow from the practice of mutual aid and support, and the joys they can find in social life.” This is something, then, to be stimulated, encouraged and educated rather than something that need be artificially invented out of thin air. Its proper description as a subject is “sociability” or “society” whole and entire and another name for it is “human solidarity”.

And so:

“it is not love and not even sympathy upon which society is based in mankind. It is the conscience — be it only at the stage of an instinct — of human solidarity. It is the unconscious recognition of the force that is borrowed by each man from the practice of mutual aid; of the close dependency of every one’s happiness upon the happiness of all; and of the sense of justice, or equity, which brings the individual to consider the rights of every other individual as equal to his own. Upon this broad and necessary foundation the still higher moral feelings are developed.”

It is such an understanding of the principle of mutual aid which I would like to add to “commensality” as part of the basis for a new, anarchist economy. In this, I do not at all conceive of it as a negative that Kropotkin argues for the evolutionary benefits of mutual aid or, on the basis of observation of the natural world, claims that it is repeatedly shown to be of benefit to a species in the their struggle for survival. Here a moral imperative to help other human beings and a, perhaps naturally manifested, human solidarity finds a common cause. Far be it from me, then, to separate them or set them at odds with one another. Both mutual aid and commensality, particularly an open commensality, in fact mutually reinforce each other and provide for the prospect, in their practice, of a human kinship and fraternity which the anarchist wants to see more generally among peoples of the earth.

And so I turn to the third and final aspect of this new, anarchist economy and that is “the gift”. For this the literary example I am giving is Marcel Mauss’ classic anthropological essay, The Gift, which makes the argument that ancient societies existed on a basis other than has previously been accepted as the received wisdom [some form of market economics]. Indeed as the anarchist activist, anthropologist and avowed fan of Marcel Mauss, the recently deceased David Graeber, puts this, The Gift “was perhaps the most magnificent refutation of the assumptions behind economic theory ever written.” Graeber goes on to say that “At a time when ‘the free market’ is being rammed down everyone’s throat as both a natural and inevitable product of human nature, Mauss’ work — which demonstrated not only that most non-Western societies did not work on anything resembling market principles, but that neither do most modern Westerners — is more relevant than ever.” I can only agree. Markets, of course, are never really free and certainly not today when Reddit users can decide to buy stocks, hugely inflating the value of certain companies even as they plunge other investors, investors who have bet against such stocks going up in price, into huge losses, — but then find that the companies they go through to buy them suddenly restrict their ability to buy the things they want at all. The game, of course, is rigged and it is entirely the point of this capitalist game that some dominate others with those who are allowed to dominate being the thing that is regulated. Here, in the cause of intersectionality, it should not be imagined that such rigged games are exempt from the oppressions of either gender or class or race either.

But back to Mauss and The Gift which describes a rather different economics. Mauss was a Jew and a revolutionary socialist [things he had in common with Graeber] and for most of his life [1872–1950] he was an active member of the French cooperative movement. According to Graeber, “He considered Communists and Social Democrats to be equally misguided in believing that society could be transformed primarily through government action.” So he was not a Marxist or a “labour” politician either. Rather, once more in the words of Graeber, he felt that the role of government “was to provide the legal framework for a socialism that had to be built from the ground up, by creating alternative institutions.” This fits in with the kind of anarchist account of society and economy that I am seeking to provide here [minus the government bit, of course!] and which clearly caught the attention of the anarchist Graeber as well.

So in his book The Gift Mauss brings historical and ethnographic research to bear which argues that almost everything that an imagined “economic science” has to say on the subject of economic history turns out to be largely untrue. The universal assumption of free marketeers, then as now, is that what essentially drives human beings is a desire to maximize their pleasures, comforts and material possessions (their “utility”), and that all significant human interactions can thus be analysed in market terms [i.e. profit and loss, advantage and disadvantage]. In the beginning, goes a normalised version of such events, there was activity such as “bartering”. People were forced, or came to a position where, to get what they wanted they directly traded one thing they didn’t want anymore for another which they did. Since this was ultimately inconvenient, so the story goes, they eventually invented money as a universal medium of exchange invested with fictional worth. The invention of further technologies of exchange [credit, banking, stock exchanges] that have come after that were simply a logical extension of the same idea.

But what Mauss says in The Gift is that there is no reason to believe a society based on barter has ever existed. Instead, what anthropologists have been discovering were societies where economic life was based on utterly different principles, and most objects moved back and forth as gifts — and almost everything we would call “economic” behaviour was based on a pretence of pure generosity and a refusal to calculate exactly who had given what to whom. Such “gift economies” could on occasion become highly competitive, but when they did it was in exactly the opposite way from our own form of competition: Instead of vying to see who could accumulate the most by acquisitive behaviour, the winners were the ones who managed to give the most away! In some notorious cases, such as the Kwakiutl of British Columbia, this could lead to dramatic contests of liberality, where ambitious chiefs would try to outdo one another by distributing thousands of silver bracelets, Hudson Bay blankets or Singer sewing machines, and even by destroying wealth — sinking famous heirlooms in the ocean, or setting huge piles of wealth on fire and daring their rivals to do the same. Not modern “economics” at all!

Now this may seem strange to us. But is it so strange? And, more to the point, is this just some exotic novelty of a mostly forgotten past? Mauss, who calls this “the archaic form of exchange”, one of “gifts presented and reciprocated”, thinks not. For is there not something strange and peculiar about the very idea of gift-giving even now, today, in our own society? Why is it that, when one receives a gift from a friend [a drink, a dinner invitation, a compliment, a present], one feels somehow obliged to reciprocate in kind, either soon after or at an appropriate future occasion? What is that? Why is it that a recipient of generosity often somehow feels reduced or somehow in debt to the other if he or she cannot, at some point, return it? Are these not examples of universal human feelings, feelings which are somehow discounted in our own society, but feelings which in others were the very basis of the economic system according to Mauss in The Gift? And is it not the existence of these very different impulses and moral standards, even in a capitalist system such as our own, that is the real basis for the appeal of alternative visions and socialist/anarchist practices? Mauss certainly thought so.

Basically, then, Mauss was and is making the point here that gifts, as a means of exchange, are about much more than a sterile concentration on profit and loss thought of only and ever in material terms. This is exactly the kind of calculation that Mauss suggests these ancient gifters in gift economies never made. In gift economies, Mauss argues, exchanges do not have the impersonal qualities of the capitalist marketplace: In fact, even when objects of great value change hands, what really matters is the relations between the people; exchange is about creating friendships or working out rivalries or obligations — and only incidentally about moving around valuable goods. As a result, everything becomes personally charged, even property: In gift economies, the most famous objects of wealth — heirloom necklaces, weapons, feather cloaks — always seem to develop personalities of their own.

In this Mauss uncovers the problem in modern economics which is that it leads to the tendency to think of everything as a thing — including people — with a price tag attached and so of everything as something that can be owned as property in which the value of the thing itself is precisely in its value as property and in its imagined nature [thought of as an essence] as “wealth”. But it is not thought of, in that case, in terms of what relationship it might cement or encourage, how it might affect societal obligations or affect the body politic. Gifting exists in a social context in a positive way that an acquisitive, calculating profit and loss never can. The gift builds up a society and societal relations, being both about the self and society in terms of an expectation of gifts in return, in a way the anonymous buyers and sellers of today never do. The gift, as a means of economy, is community building — as I will also show in my next chapter in a historical example.

Mauss makes the establishment and maintenance of relationships a large part of his essay on gifting. Towards its conclusion he writes:

“Societies have progressed in so far as they themselves, their subgroups, and lastly, the individuals in them, have succeeded in stabilizing relationships, giving, receiving, and finally, giving in return. To trade, the first condition was to be able to lay aside the spear. From then onwards they succeeded in exchanging goods and persons, no longer only between clans, but between tribes and nations, and, above all, between individuals. Only then did people learn how to create mutual interests, giving mutual satisfaction, and, in the end, to defend them without having to resort to arms. Thus the clan, the tribe, and peoples have learnt how to oppose and to give to one another without sacrificing themselves to one another. This is what tomorrow, in our so-called civilized world, classes and nations and individuals also, must learn.”

Then, Mauss gives his vision, as a result of his study, in relation to the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, in a penultimate paragraph which has the benefit, in my context here, of returning us to thoughts of the commensality with which I began discussing this sixth value and my own vision of an “anarchist economy”:

“There is no other morality, nor any other form of economy, nor any other social practices save these. The Bretons, and the Chronicles of Arthur tell how King Arthur, with the help of a Cornish carpenter, invented that wonder of his court, the miraculous Round Table, seated round which, the knights no longer fought. Formerly, ‘out of sordid envy’, in stupid struggles, duels and murders stained with blood the finest banquets. The carpenter said to Arthur: ‘I will make you a very beautiful table, around which sixteen hundred and more can sit, and move around, and from which no-one will be excluded...No knight will be able to engage in fighting, for there the highest placed will be on the same level as the lowliest.’ There was no longer a ‘high table’, and consequently no more quarrelling. Everywhere that Arthur took his table his noble company remained happy and unconquerable. In this way nations today can make themselves strong and rich, happy and good. Peoples, social classes, families, and individuals will be able to grow rich, and will only be happy when they have learnt to sit down, like the knights, around the common store of wealth. It is useless to seek goodness and happiness in distant places. It is there already, in peace that has been imposed, in well-organized work, alternately in common and separately, in wealth amassed and then redistributed, in the mutual respect and reciprocating generosity that is taught by education.”

And so it is these three, an open commensality, mutual aid and the gift on which I base an anarchist economy which expresses an anarchist sense of value and virtue, which sees in an open table, the helping of each other and a giving without counting the cost, the means to a recreation of society and community along anarchist lines according to an anarchist economy.

7. Democracy. Democracy, today, is one of those words which has been abused, cheapened and devalued. It has almost come to mean the opposite of what it should mean. Democracy does not mean “the results of an electoral process”. Democracy does not mean “something I have claimed by invoking the people or the nation”. Democracy certainly does not mean “something the government do”. Anarchism, I think, has a very specific view of what democracy is and I like to think of it as so democratic, in its meaning and practice [for democracy is most of all a practice], that many people who, both now and in the past, have bandied the word “democracy” around as a way to manipulate people may find themselves staggered and taken aback by its anarchist meaning.

Democracy, put very simply in anarchist context, is nothing less than the absolute political equality of every human being on earth. It is, furthermore, an irrevocable and non-transferable characteristic of such people. This means it cannot be handed off to a “representative” or “delegate” in a vote. This means there can be no parliaments or governments or congresses of a few who are said to “represent” the many. This non-transferability, whilst of course respecting the free and engaged existence of every human being alive in their political direction and its consequences, also has, inherent within such an understanding, an automatic protection against the corruption of the body politic through the bribery of representatives and bodies constituted in order to “speak for” other people. To the contrary, the anarchist democrat, in possession of an anarchist definition of democracy, insists that no human being may speak for, or represent, another but only they themselves. Democracy is, then, truly the will of the people for it cannot be corrupted or curtailed by the intervention of others at least one remove [and sometimes many more] from human individuals themselves.

It is envisaged that this democracy would work in practice on the basis of self-selecting local communities — and so co-existing with this democratic ethos is a fellow one of decentralization too. No more, in anarchist thinking, would there be national, or even supra-national, bodies telling people what they have thought or what they must do. Decisions would all be local and participated in by everyone above the age of majority — whatever the group themselves decide that to be. Here the social group is defined explicitly in such a way as the anarchist value of democracy — that no one may speak for me except I myself — is preserved. Any larger decisions that need to be taken [perhaps because they have more far-reaching consequences or involve people across a wide area] could possibly then be taken on the basis of a federation of such local groups in which a delegate [with no powers or authority of their own except but to relay the communicated will of their community] would take part in a larger assembly of federated communities. In addition, local communities would be free to forge agreements with neighbour communities on the basis of the principle of voluntary association, a further anarchist democratic principle in which individuals or groups may associate with whomsoever they choose without authoritarian oversight to their mutual and cooperative benefit. On such a basis, communities may proceed by common agreement, from the ground up rather than the top down, on the basis of the anarchist value of democracy.

8. Education. If you recall the thoughts expressed by Errico Malatesta on the subject of a freedom of equals — that my wanting to be free implicates everyone else in desiring their own freedom too — then this suggests that something will be necessary: education. Anarchists, it seems to me, have never thought, not in the political versions of this creed nor in the more ancient spiritual and philosophical ones that I have been influenced by in

my own thinking, that people would all just wake up one morning and want anarchy and to practice anarchism. Such a thought would have been naive in the past but in today’s world it would be a flat refusal to acknowledge the coercion and control most people are under in a world of public and social media owned by capitalist oligarchs and used by others of similar kind to shape and control the public consensus and delimit what it is even possible or acceptable for the body politic to think. More now than ever, in a world of conspiracy theories, fake news and even deliberate misinformation communicated for purely partisan reasons, people need to be educated for their own, and the common, good. The first thing to acknowledge, then, is that anarchists have known this all along and have been heavily engaged in doing it.

This, at least, was certainly the opinion of English anarchist, William Godwin, who thought that education was “the main means by which change would be achieved.” Included in Godwin’s conception of education was “a respect for autonomy... which precluded any form of coercion”. This suggests that a Godwinian education was not so much a telling someone what to believe as an education in which the person’s own motivation to be an educated person was itself stimulated. It was an education not just in facts or theories [which could turn into an education which was intended to make one subject to a dogma or an ideology] but in being able to think for oneself, critique and even argue for contrary theories or solutions. This, then, is an education which seeks to educate initiative and thinking for oneself rather than the passive reception of information from authority figures taught as authoritative in itself. In An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, for example, William Godwin criticised the state schooling of children “on account of its obvious alliance with national government” and he saw in this an opportunity for such government to perpetuate itself and its values that it would surely not let slip through its fingers. But Godwin did not think that children should be taught passive obedience to such authorities. Instead, he thought they should be taught to venerate “their independent deductions of truth”.

Max Stirner, himself a schoolteacher besides being an egoist or individualist anarchist, would have agreed. In his writing on the subject, for example, in “The False Principle of Our Education”, an article he had published in the German newspaper the Rheinische Zeitung in 1842, he regarded schooling as a matter of life itself. In the article he states, thinking that knowledge is something “to be lived”, that education is a matter of self-education, something he regards as educating one’s own will so that it achieves a kind of freedom. He is also concerned with a kind of self-education in which the self comes to understand itself. He wants people educated to become “free natures” [compare Nietzsche’s description of himself, and others potentially like him, as “free spirits” or “free thinkers”, for example as the subtitle of his book Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, a book in which such a concept is central to its thought] rather than “masters of things”. For Stirner, until you know yourself, you have not mastered your own will, and you are merely subservient; once you master it, then you are free. Stirner explains this “self-understanding” as an “hourly self-creation” and he thinks human beings create their own personal version of freedom this way. Such people, in a way that we can see mirrored in Nietzschean literature paradigmatically, are creating themselves as free human beings in each moment. Here, then, in Stirnerite education, it matters not just what you learn but, most of all, what you do with it. For Max Stirner “pedagogy should not proceed any further towards civilizing, but toward the development of free men, sovereign characters.” When such thought is interpreted today in the light of gender discussion, its relevance seems immediately apparent in a context of “creating the self”.

Mikhail Bakunin, meanwhile, in “Equal Opportunity in Education”, bemoaned the evident inequality of education available to people of different classes. It seemed to him that class and wealth advantages locked in the superior educative opportunities of and for the elite or bourgeois to the detriment of the working or underclasses. And so “while some study others must labour so that they can produce what we need to live — not just producing for their own needs, but also for those men who devote themselves exclusively to intellectual pursuits.” His solution was to eradicate the distinction between workers and “scholars” so that there would, in future, be but one class of human being, each committed to both work and education equally. Kropotkin was no stranger to this theme either, in “Brain Work and Manual Work” speaking of those who “have been deprived of the education of even the small workshop, while their boys and girls are driven into a mine, or a factory, from the age of thirteen, and there they soon forget the little they may have learned at school.” Somewhat like Bakunin, he then suggested that, instead of “pernicious distinction” in education, each should receive “complete education” to the benefit of all.

Anarchists, being those who do, and not merely those who think, write or talk, have also been those who set up schools. The Russian Christian anarchist, Leo Tolstoy, for example, established a school for peasant children on his estate as well as several other schools for local children. Unfortunately, such schools didn’t last long due to harassment by the Tsarist secret police in Russia. Tolstoy himself regarded a free, non-coercive education as something which could grow into culture. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Catalan anarchist, Francisco Ferrer, established progressive schools [called “Modern” schools] in Barcelona contrary to the established education system run by the Catholic church. Ferrer believed in education free from church and state and his ideas spread to other places, including New York City where a “Modern school” opened in 1911 and intended to educate the working-classes from a secular, class-conscious perspective. American Modern schools involved day-time academic classes for children and night-time continuing-education lectures for adults. The New York school, commonly called the Ferrer Center after Francisco Ferrer and his ideas, was founded by noted anarchists Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, amongst others, and was said to emphasise academic freedom rather than fixed subjects.

Writing about the education of children in an essay called “The Child and Its Enemies” Emma Goldman would herself say:

“The child shows its individual tendencies in its plays, in its questions, in its association with people and things. But it has to struggle with everlasting external interference in its world of thought and emotion. It must not express itself in harmony with its nature, with its growing personality. It must become a thing, an object. Its questions are met with narrow, conventional, ridiculous replies, mostly based on falsehoods; and, when, with large, wondering, innocent eyes, it wishes to behold the wonders of the world, those about it quickly lock the windows and doors, and keep the delicate human plant in a hothouse atmosphere, where it can neither breathe nor grow freely.”

In another essay, “The Social Importance of the Modern School”, she added that:

“the school of today, no matter whether public, private, or for the child what the prison is for the convict and the barracks for the soldier — a place where everything is being used to break the will of the child, and then to pound, knead, and shape it into a being utterly foreign to itself.”

Thus, Goldman concluded that:

“it will be necessary to realize that education of children is not synonymous with herd-like drilling and training. If education should really mean anything at all, it must insist upon the free growth and development of the innate forces and tendencies of the child. In this way alone can we hope for the free individual and eventually also for a free community which shall make interference and coercion of human growth impossible.”

In this way, Goldman articulates what several anarchists had done before her, argued that education given by the state or church or other authoritarian organisation was an education in dogma and control as dominating bodies sought to shape children in their own image as those taught a class system of domination. But, to the contrary, Goldman and other anarchists taught a freedom of spirit and opportunity that might create those with an innate love of intellectual, but also political, freedom that schools formed on an authoritarian foundation never would. This, at least in Goldman’s case, manifested itself perfectly in the matter of sex education and so she thought that “If in childhood both man and woman were taught a beautiful comradeship, it would neutralize the oversexed condition of both and would help woman’s emancipation much more than all the laws upon the statute books and her right to vote.” Thus, we can see that Goldman, like many other anarchist examples, found education, both of children and adults, vital to the formation of human beings and to the values and ideas they then carried forward throughout their lives and so into the societies and communities they would subsequently perform, maintain and inhabit.

Black anarchist and civil rights activist, Lucy Parsons, was another who was not blind to the educational aspects to anarchism. In her essay “The Principles of Anarchism” she begins by giving personal testimony to her own researches “during the great railroad strike of 1877” which drew her interest in regards to the “Labour Question”. This seems to have woken her up to the dangers of government and party politics for she now describes herself as “appalled at the thought of a political party having control of all the details that go to make up the sum total of our lives. Think of it for an instant, that the party in power shall have all authority to dictate the kind of books that shall be used in our schools and universities, government officials editing, printing, and circulating our literature, histories, magazines and press, to say nothing of the thousand and one activities of life that a people engage in, in a civilized society.” Such research as Parsons had done now educates her in regard to “the struggle for liberty” and she testifies that:

“all who are at all familiar with history know that men will abuse power when they possess it, for these and other reasons, I, after careful study, and not through sentiment, turned from a sincere, earnest, political Socialist to the non-political phase of Socialism, Anarchism, because in its philosophy I believe I can find the proper conditions for the fullest development of the individual units in society, which can never be the case under government restrictions.”

Here Parsons is not only testifying to her own self-education, a very anarchist practice, and one anarchists would teach others to practice themselves, but the essay she is writing is, itself, anarchist education. So she goes on to say that “The philosophy of anarchism is included in the word ‘Liberty’”, filling out further meanings of liberty and freedom as well, before regurgitating my own insistence earlier, in regard to anarchists and education, that “Anarchists know that a long period of education must precede any great fundamental change in society, hence they do not believe in vote begging, nor political campaigns, but rather in the development of self-thinking individuals.” These “self-thinking individuals” are at the heart of the value and virtue of education as expressed in an anarchist context, in my view, and what Lucy Parsons is elucidating here is exactly the anarchism of values that I am taking about, the evolutionary anarchism of a society changed by the “self-thinking” people that make it up as such values are “permeating all modern thought”.

When added to the thoughts of the further anarchists I have referred to above, what Lucy Parsons says in “The Principles of Anarchism” makes the case for education, of others and of yourself, as a life value very dear to the heart of anarchism as a practice and as a philosophy of life. Indeed, it is why this book, and why others I have written like it, even exist in the first place. But, lest we think that Parsons, in her essay, preaches only an anarchist educational dogma instead, she pre-empts this thought by noting that “anarchism is not compelled to outline a complete organisation of a free society. To do so with any assumption of authority would be to place another barrier in the way of coming generations. The best thought of today may become the useless vagary of tomorrow, and to crystallise it into a creed is to make it unwieldy.”

So to make of anarchism a plan, dogma or creed is not the anarchist educational way. Instead, anarchist education is what Parsons calls “a larger opportunity to develop the units in society, that mankind may possess the right as a sound being to develop that which is broadest, noblest, highest and best, unhandicapped by any centralised authority, where he shall have to wait for his permits to be signed, sealed, approved and handed down to him before he can engage in the active pursuits of life with his fellow being.” This she further describes as “some higher incentive” than the gathering of monetary wealth and, in somewhat utopian terms, as “The involuntary aspiration born in man to make the most of one’s self, to be loved and appreciated by one’s fellow-beings, to ‘make the world better for having lived in it’.” It is to ask the question, in the end, as Lucy Parsons herself does, “what may we expect from men when freed from the grinding necessity of selling the better part of themselves for bread?” In a further example Parsons gives, which once again returns us to the imagery of commensality, of which I wrote earlier, Parsons gives the educative image of a people free of barbarous and hegemonic commerce and “civilized” enough to now wish anarchy:

“In a well bred family each person has certain duties, which are performed cheerfully, and are not measured out and paid for according to some pre-determined standard; when the united members sit down to the well-filled table, the stronger do not scramble to get the most, while the weakest do without, or gather greedily around them more food than they can possibly consume. Each patiently and politely awaits his turn to be served, and leaves what he does not want; he is certain that when again hungry plenty of good food will be provided. This principle can be extended to include all society, when people are civilized enough to wish it.”

By “civilized enough” there Parsons surely means “educated enough” — and this education is not merely a matter of teaching or book learning but “self-thinking” alongside practice and experience. One learns the habits of the table by being at the table, by taking part in it and by reflecting on it. Such is the anarchist meaning and sense of “education”.

9. Responsibility. My ninth, and final, anarchist value and virtue is “responsibility” and by this, being an anarchist where anarchism is a synonym for “action”, I mean the presumption of taking responsibility. The anarchist, in this conception, is not passive and neither do they hide, run away, seek escape from, or blithely ignore, the issues of the world around them. Instead, they get involved, play a part, take responsibility — as previous values and virtues such as “fraternity” or “education,” “freedom” and “democracy”, should indicate. Historically, it is always the case that those recognised as “anarchist” are those who have done exactly this and any list of anarchist notables I could now make would be a simple demonstration of this fact such that it would become an indissoluble marker of anarchism itself.

With this simple statement, then, I will regard it that anyone with knowledge of anarchist people will regard the case for an identification of responsibility with anarchism as simply made. This not being so, however, I could only recommend some personal research into the lives of anarchists from Bakunin, Kropotkin and Malatesta to Parsons, de Cleyre and Goldman, to Berkman, Turner and Tolstoy, to Rocker, Landauer and Most, to Reclus, Michel and Pouget, to Lucia Sanchez Saornil, Mercedes Composada Guillén and Amparo Poch y Gascon — and on and on and on. Then, perhaps, you will come to the same conclusion as I, that anarchism is the activity of taking responsibility for human society, what goes on in it, how it is organised and what values the people who comprise it live out their lives by means of — as well as in the context of the problems in which they live them out. If anarchism is an action [and it is] then anarchism can only also be a taking responsibility, a literal standing with people in the problems and issues of their lives, and a working towards their solutions.

4. Consequences

By “consequences” I mean the consequences of anarchism, the realisation of something called anarchy [so we are thinking about type 2 versions of these things here]. We are, quite explicitly, asking, “What are the consequences of anarchism?”. We are asking, “What has changed?”. We are asking people thinking about anarchism to realise that anarchism — most profoundly and completely — IS change. We are prodding the budding anarchist in order for them to realise that the day after the revolution nothing is the same anymore. There will be no policeman to call. There [at least in my conception of anarchy in line with the values and virtues outlined above in my third section of this chapter] will be no money to earn. But, even if there was money, there will no longer be any banks. Your credit card will not work. You will need to organise yourself into communities of families, neighbours and friends. And so much more! This is all a bit apocalyptic and its only one imaginary scenario of a very sudden change in circumstances. I happen not to think it would go down like this unless there was some planet-wide natural disaster and, that being so, lots of people are probably dead too. But there is a point that needs to be made here even if this, perhaps unlikely, scenario does not take place and anarchism arrives by other, less apocalyptic and more evolutionary, means.

This is that anarchism isn’t the same as now but with all the bad, nasty, capitalist, hierarchical bits taken out of it. The anarchist case is that now, how we live today, is the product of things like hierarchy, capitalism, coercion, domination, division, domestication. You cannot remove these things and still have now because they are what makes now what it is. Anarchism, so I am saying here, is the complete and utter annihilation of now because it is the complete and utter annihilation of the values and systems that make now what it is in a neoliberal, capitalist country or economy of cops, courts, prisons and armies. Nothing can remain the same after that. Every relationship of one person to another is reconstituted; every value of society is redefined and, in some cases, even replaced. If you are an anarchist you are committed to forgetting life as you know it for the creating of life as it can be.

Of course, as I have repeated several times in this book and made a point of mentioning in others, the end is the means and the means is the end. This means that we journey on the way to anarchism by means of anarchism. We embody and live its values, we carry out the practices it inspires, we regard human beings and other sentient life as valuable, we educate people about the anarchist approach to life and community. We attempt to change and influence society from within to produce it by means of a simple evolution as much as we can. Ideally, this has an effect. But even if that effect is not great it does not deter us and we still seek to help others and our world as much as we can in accordance with our anarchist values. And those values must have an effect upon our lives that others can see. They must make people inquire and ask why we are different, why we care, what motivates us. The consequence of anarchism in practice is that it is noticed and noticeable. It offers a different, other, new way to live in community with others. It is seen for what it is and gives an opportunity for anarchist education. It is always attempting to propagate itself. Because anarchism isn’t the status quo. It is the end of the status quo. The consequence of anarchism is change whether in one person or one world population. So forget your capitalist dreams for they are not anarchist dreams. Realise that anarchism is system change, relationships changed, permanent change.

5. An Anarchism of Human Rights?

We hear a lot of talk about human rights today but it is my intuition that the anarchist does not fall for such talk or how such a debate is framed. The comedian, George Carlin, had a bit in one of his later acts which was to make the point that human beings have NO rights. He was keen on teaching people through his comedy in his later life that such things as rights were “made up”. I agree with him and I think it says something about the anarchist philosophy in both type 1 and type 2 senses to agree with this. Of course, this does not mean that anarchists, or even just the anarchist writing this, think that people are things which should just be treated however you can get away with. People are not for exploiting. Anarchists think that all people, and all life, is worthy of respect and decent treatment in as far as it can be provided for them. Hopefully, the values and virtues delineated in section 3 of this chapter have already given you that impression and guided your thinking in this direction. But this talk about “human rights”, to the contrary, is a very specific thing and, I argue, not an anarchist thing. Let me explain some more.

Human rights became very popular in the second half of the twentieth century. In the first half of that century there had been two world wars and, as we have seen in chapter 6, eugenics and racism abounded in the still somewhat colonial world. After World War Two, the United Nations was formed and one of its earlier actions was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This listed a consensus set of “30 basic human rights” that, supposedly, all the people born into the world, simply by the fact of that birth, had. I would like to list these “rights”, agreed upon by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10th 1948, for you now:

  1. All human beings are free and equal

    All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

  2. No discrimination

    Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

  3. Right to life, freedom, security

    Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

  4. No slavery

    No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

  5. No torture and inhuman treatment

    No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

  6. Same right to use the law

    Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

  7. Equal before the law

    All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation and against any incitement to such discrimination.

  8. Right to treated fair by a court

    Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

  9. No unfair detainment

    No one Shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

  10. Right to trial

    Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

  11. Innocent until proven guilty

    1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

    2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed.

  12. Right to privacy

    No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

  13. Freedom of movement and residence

    1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

    2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

  14. Right to asylum

    1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

    2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

  15. Right to nationality

    1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

    2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

  16. Rights to marry and have family

    1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

    2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

    3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

  17. Right to own things

    1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

    2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

  18. Freedom of thought and religion

    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

  19. Freedom of opinion and expression

    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

  20. Freedom of assembly

    1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

    2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

  21. Right to democracy

    1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

    2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

    3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

  22. Right to social security

    Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

  23. Right to work

    1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

    2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

    3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

    4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

  24. Right to rest and holiday

    Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

  25. Right of social service

    1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children shall enjoy the same social protection.

  26. Right to education

    1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

    2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

    3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

  27. Right to culture and art

    1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

    2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

  28. Freedom around the world

    Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

  29. Subject to law

    1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

    2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

    3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

  30. Human rights can’t be taken away

    Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

We may interpret this set of rights, which in later years trickled down through many other resolutions of the United Nations, in some cases in terms of international law or the laws of specific geographical regions — such as the European Convention on Human Rights of 1953 or the British Human Rights Act of 1998 — as being compiled with the best of intentions. But a read through of its 30 articles at some points raises a wry smile and at others a guffaw or a roll of the eyes. Some of these articles are probably broken every single day in multiple countries of the world, assuming they were ever really respected as rights in the first place. For example, at the same time as I was researching this part of the book I was reading about “children as young as 6” who have been required to mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the purposes of obtaining a resource necessary for the production of lithium-ion batteries. One report I read on this, which implicated Elon Musk and Tesla in the issue, described the resulting batteries as “blood batteries”. I wonder how articles 4, 23 and 24 apply to such a case in this context? Or perhaps these rights don’t stop a six year old being set to digging in the dirt in the first place, something of an oversight wouldn’t you say?

The anarchist, however, much like George Carlin in his act, looks at this with their eyes wide open and with a much bigger context in view for such things as “rights”. An example here is Max Baginski. Baginski was a German-American free thinker and anarchist, a colleague of Emma Goldman’s, who wrote articles in numerous anarchist publications, some of which he was also the editor. One of these was Goldman’s anarchist magazine, Mother Earth, to which he submitted the following words pertinent to our subject here in the October 1906 issue:

“Mere declarations of independence and political rights dissolve into nothing if the few may monopolize the earth, control the resources of subsistence, and thus force mankind to a life of poverty and servitude. Under such conditions alleged political liberty is but a means to blind the masses to the real necessities of the times and to create artificial campaign issues, the solution of which is in reality of little consequence to the general welfare.”

He would go on, in the same article, an article which was an attempt to contextualize the actions of Leon Czolgosz, a man who shot and killed US President McKinley 5 years previously, to describe the “mission of government” as “the violent suppression of every human right” and to argue that such a mission “becomes more accentuated with the growing intensity of commercial and industrial exploitation”. Eighteen months later, in the same magazine, the anarchist, Alexander Berkman, a lifelong partner of Emma Goldman’s, would write in another article that:

“To support, defend, and perpetuate these unjust and terrible conditions [he was referring to the “poverty, starvation and widespread misery” evident among “the producing class”], it is necessary to have police, prisons, laws, and government. For the disinherited are not content to forever starve in the midst of plenty, and the exploited are beginning to cry out against their cruel bondage. These cries, these signs of rebellious dissatisfaction, must be stifled. That is the mission of law and government: to preserve things as they are; to secure to the rich their stolen wealth; to strangle the voice of popular discontent.”

Here Baginski and Berkman sound the right, anarchist note in relation to “human rights” and they attest that, in the face of capitalist acquisitiveness, wealth and power, all rights are seemingly breakable, flexible, ignorable and void. And what of these “rights” anyway? It is they that then require police, courts, prisons, states and governments for none of these would exist without something for them to enforce and/or punish. In other words, it is the mentality of just such human institutions to avert to the logic of “rights” in the first place and to use them as flimsy justification for their very own existence. No free born human being, unmolested by others and going about their business, feels the need to write up lists of things to which they are entitled and which the community at large must ensure they receive. Instead, they live within nature’s freedom and never imagine for a second that anyone else would presume to impinge upon it, receiving it as just such an impinging if they do.

“Rights”, to the contrary, are an interfering imposition upon the natural flow of existence of arbitrary things that various human powers now assume to prosecute [in at least two senses]. As such, they do not spring from any anarchist mentality but are, instead, the imaginings of controlling bureaucrats and all those who think human lives must needs be administered by some authority. As such, the anarchist rejects such an idea out of hand. The anarchist sees no need for such authority and sees it as only the coercive, controlling hand of others who want to artificially constrain human freedom according to their own desires and as their power allows. This is then nothing like the human solidarity, voluntary association and freely given cooperation of which the anarchist speaks in the belief that humans need no top down, imposed organisation for, left to themselves, they can each achieve this to their own satisfaction according to their own, uncoerced wills. Government of “rights”, then, is not in accordance with the anarchist vision or the anarchist’s values and so it must be set aside [though certainly not human dignity or mutual human respect] as derivative of a mentality incompatible with either a type 1 or a type 2 conception of anarchy and anarchism.

6. Violence

Anarchism has, unfortunately and in its type 2, political, guise, always been linked with violence. Some anarchists [some might call them misguided and others not] have even perpetrated individual acts of it. But anarchists more widely have often sought to contextualise such acts in the wider context of societal violence more generally for, whatever the case in regard to anarchist violence, it could not coherently be maintained by anybody that it is only anarchists who have ever been violent.

Anarchists themselves often point to the inherent violence of capitalist society itself in their discussions of violence. One example of this is Alexander Berkman. Berkman was an anarchist who, in 1892, made an anarchist attempt on a businessman’s life in order to rally striking workers, if not the whole working population, to the anarchist cause of anti-capitalism. He failed to kill the man, was captured, and served 14 years in prison for the crime. He then re-emerged from prison, in 1906, to continue his anarchist life in less violent, but not less committed, ways. He subsequently wrote pieces on violence and anarchism in both his lifelong friend Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth magazine, of which he was himself editor between 1907 and 1915, and in his own book, published in 1929, What is Communist Anarchism?, later reprinted as ABC of Anarchism by the Freedom Press of the UK — which is how I come by the book. In “Violence and Anarchism”, written in Mother Earth within a couple of years of his release from prison for the attempted murder, and barely a month after a further bomb in New York had seen him arrested by New York cops with extreme prejudice on the pretence of him having carried out the act, Berkman says of violence:

“Let us consider the matter dispassionately. Is violence specifically Anarchistic? Is the taking of human life such a very unusual occurrence among ‘civilized’ peoples? Is our whole social existence anything but an uninterrupted series of murder, assassination, eradication? All our honored institutions are rooted in the very spirit of murder. Do we build warships for educational purposes? Is the army a Sunday school? Our police, jails, and penitentiaries — what purpose do they serve but to suppress, kill, and maim? Is the gallows the symbol of our brotherhood, the electric chair the proof of our humanitarianism?”

Berkman conceives, in the same article, of the American society he was at the time living in as “existing disorder” to which anarchism opposed “the science of social order” — an effective reversal of what the capitalist or anti-anarchist [such as there were in seemingly great numbers in the USA in 1908, not least among the authorities] might say. At this point in time he writes of the possibility of anarchism without any violent overtones. Indeed, he seems to conceive that such actions cannot bring about the anarchist society he seeks when he writes:

“This condition of social regeneration cannot be achieved by the will or act of any man or party. The enlightenment of the masses as to the evils of government, the awakening of the public conscience to a clear understanding of justice and equity—these are the forces which will abolish all forms of bondage, political, economical, and social, replacing present institutions by free co-operation and the solidarity of communal effort.”

Berkman, not condemning violence should it from time to time break out, contextualises it as the cries of the miserable and the degraded for relief and for aid and puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of those who precipitated such misery and degradation:

“But the bomb?’ cry the judges in and out of court. The bomb is the echo of your cannon, trained upon our starving brothers; it is the cry of the wounded striker; ‘tis the voice of hungry women and children; the shriek of those maimed and torn in your industrial slaughterhouses; it is the dull thud of the policeman’s club upon a defenseless head; ’tis the shadow of the crisis, the rumbling of suppressed earthquake—it is manhood’s lightning out of an atmosphere of degradation and misery that king, president, and plutocrat have heaped upon humanity. The bomb is the ghost of your past crimes.”

So Berkman, instead of giving an exegesis of the “crimes” of random bombers and assassins, exegetes the society in which such human beings are driven to such desperate acts [perhaps even in regard to his own, more youthful indiscretion] and meditates on the society which would produce them. He paints a picture of a violent society oppressing the majority of its citizens, backed up by the forces of the state and the clubs of police officers, for capitalistic ends and impugns that as by far the greater violence.

In his later piece, “Is Anarchism Violence?”, an early chapter of his book ABC of Anarchism, Berkman begins by completely denying that anarchism is violence and states that “it is capitalism and government which stand for disorder and violence”, adding that “Anarchism is the very reverse of it; it means order without government and peace without violence.” Berkman then begins an argument which aims to show that, in various times and places, it falls to various kinds of human beings to act violently. In such cases violence is not uniformly abhorred or decried completely but it depends on the act and its reasoning. So we cannot even say that violence itself is always and forever unjustified. We can conceive of acts of legitimate violent rebellion, for example, in which we would see the reason for being violent and carrying out necessary violent acts. These acts, in fact and in history, have not all been carried out by anarchists and, sometimes, “killing a despot was considered the highest virtue”.

Berkman’s argument transmutes into one which argues that oppression will naturally produce those who wish to strike back at the oppressor. He seems to suggest, giving the example of Russia under the Tsars, that the worst oppressors also produce the greatest number of violent reactions. Sometimes, he writes, “there [is] no way of mitigating the despotic regime [other] than by putting the fear of God into the tyrant’s heart.” Such avengers may often be “idealistic”, he concedes, but that is because they “love liberty and the people”. How else, he seems to say, may one liberate one’s people from grinding poverty, political oppression and a simple inability to live lives of their own choosing? He refers to the English suffragettes as women who “frequently resorted to [violence] to propagate and carry out their demands for equal rights” and to the killer of Franz Ferdinand, the act that instigated World War 1, as another who used violence — yet without any of these cases being cases of anarchist violence for none of these people, and myriad others, were, in fact, anarchists. In such a way he demonstrates that “anarchists have no monopoly of political violence”. Indeed, “the number of such acts by anarchists is infinitesimal as compared with those committed by persons of other political persuasions.”

Berkman goes on to point out that anarchists themselves do not agree about the appropriateness, or even the use, of violence in their activities. He points out that no one would expect an anarchist of Tolstoy’s type [Tolstoy was a Christian anarchist who took most seriously Jesus’ insistence to “turn the other cheek”] to condone violence of any sort and that most egoist or individualist anarchists are similarly against violent acts. Of the rest, there are those who may justify violent acts without carrying them out personally and others, equally non-violent, who would deal with each incident case by case or according to the circumstances of the act. Since violence can, by common agreement, also be carried out by people of multiple political persuasions, it can also not be suggested that anarchism alone inspires it — and so neither is it something to do with being an anarchist in the first place which makes one act violently.

Berkman also suggests, and this may apply to him and to his lifelong friend and companion, Emma Goldman, as well, that “many anarchists who at one time believed in violence as a means of propaganda [violence was, at one time, called “propaganda of the deed” in anarchist circles] have changed their opinion about it and do not favour such methods anymore.” It may be noted here that, when Berkman had attempted to murder the businessman in 1892, Goldman had been a co-conspirator, one who was meant to say why Berkman had done what he had done after the act was completed [Berkman was meant to kill himself after the murder]. By the time Berkman was publishing this book, however, he was now saying that “most anarchists today do not believe anymore in ‘propaganda by deed’ and do not favour acts of that nature.”

Berkman attempts to use this change of heart, but without consequent giving up of anarchist beliefs and values, to argue that violence was never an inherent belief of the anarchists to begin with for, if one can retain the other beliefs but give up violence, then violence was never necessary to anarchism in the first place. It was merely a tactic used by some for reasons their own. Berkman then goes on to say that “we must admit that everyone believes in violence, and practises it, however he may condemn it in others” — which is really to say that everyone allows that they may use violence from time to time — always for reasons they think they can justify — but also reserves the right to condemn violence in others accordingly. He then returns to his refrain of government being “organised violence”, refers to the violence of the church, of parents in childhood and rounds this out into a discussion of “the right to compel you” — which he calls “authority” — and “fear of punishment” — which gets turned into “duty” and “obedience”. The problem then metamorphosises not into whether violence itself is or isn’t right but in what circumstances people are prepared to give it a pass and call it justified and in what circumstances they are not. This, in fact, is the real issue.

Violence is a form of domination, an expression of power to dominate and subdue, a violation of the peace of some other. Berkman attempts to show how such things, in family, church and state, are the norm. Violence is not then the preserve of the anarchist but the constant presence of presumptive authority and its desire to dictate and dominate. “All life,” he says, “has become a crazy quilt of authority, of domination and submission, of command and obedience, of coercion and subjection, of rulers and ruled, of violence and force in a thousand and one forms.” Yet violence, he states, “is the method of ignorance, the weapon of the weak.” The strong in heart and mind need no violence, he thinks, for they have the inner consciousness of the righteousness of their cause. He paints a picture of the progressive human being evolving away from any master and so any need to dominate by means of violence.

Anarchism, of course, he gives as the name of this aspiration and this vision. It is “a society without force and compulsion, where all men shall be equals; and live in freedom, peace and harmony.” Consequently, we must agree with Berkman and say that anarchism has no philosophical or political attachment to violence. There have, as no one sane can deny, been those who thought anarchist aims could be pursued by violent means but they were wrong and the anarchist utopia was not brought down, as if on the clouds of heaven, by such actions. Frankly, in fact, I would for myself admit that anarchism can probably not even be brought to pass by revolution, let alone by an individual act of violence, for, asked in all honesty, how can one force someone to accept anarchist beliefs and values or make someone live by them in day to day life? The very idea is absurd. Anarchism, a creed of peaceful order and cooperation, cannot, can never, be imposed on anyone. It is a denial of such a creed in the very attempt to impose it even if one could impose such a voluntary creed upon someone to begin with.

And so violence, as a means to anarchy, must be rejected. This, for avoidance of doubt, is not to condemn any and every violent action. Circumstances can easily be imagined in which physical resistance, or defence of those being oppressed or under active attack, may be necessary. Such action is not a violent assault unprovoked by another, however, but a defence of those who would otherwise be peaceful if left to their own, non-antagonistic, ways. Anarchism is a peaceful creed as a type 2 phenomenon in the same way that, as a type 1 phenomenon, the world goes on its way without seeking to antagonise or oppress. It is because of this, that I would therefore finish this chapter with something I wrote for a previous book, Anarchist Notes, which is, quite appropriately, called “A Declaration of Peace”:


People of the world, we are in a war. We did not choose the war, the rich did that when they decided to keep for themselves and put profit over people. But it is time for us who they oppress to build a new society from within the shell of the old and to rise up from within it to overcome the oppressor.

“Why must we do this?” you may ask. Because the rich will not share. Because money is put above life. Because suffering is ignored. Because peaceful settlement is refused. Because wealth is systematically extracted, the system gamed, the people cheated.

Our so-called democracies have been breached, bought and sold. Now plutocrats, who defy national borders by storing their hoarded wealth in tax havens, go from country to country impoverishing whoever they can and ignoring democratic principles as they do it. They form networks of their own, rich clubs where you need a billion to get in. They strip the assets of the world with no thought for sustainability. This is not in the interests of the many, or of the earth, and neither do we wish to rely on the PR philanthropy of those who got rich by ripping us off in the first place. Enough is enough.

And so this is our declaration of peace, our declaration to end this war. We will no longer allow the rich to subjugate the vast majority of the people of the earth. We will no longer allow the rich to divide and conquer us by race, gender, sexuality or nationality. We do not want to fight. But if you make us fight over scraps, fear for our health and worry about our futures then what choice do you leave us? We make a declaration of peace and pledge to stop the war you, the rich, have unjustly started against us. We pledge a future of fairness, equality, togetherness, diversity and human solidarity. The world does not have to be one human being ripping off the next one. We declare peace upon this world and seek to work together to achieve it.

Join us.”

EIGHT: The Social Anarchism of Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth may seem a strange choice as someone to put forward as an example of anarchist values and practice but I must confess that I have history in this area. In a previous life I studied for a PhD in a department of biblical studies on the subject of Jesus as a historical figure and so I have undertaken several years of study on the matter. That study convinced me that Christianity, both historic and modern, has got Jesus completely wrong and that the historical figure behind the gospels, the myths and the worship is someone we can realistically, historically and anthropologically refer to as “anarchist” instead. [The Christian anarchist, Leo Tolstoy, seemed to find him mightily inspiring too of course, his The Kingdom of God is Within You essentially being biblical exegesis of the gospel Jesus for the purposes of anarchist instruction.]

Yet Jesus is also not the only more ancient figure that we can describe in this way, in my view. Figures such as the Cynics in the Hellenistic world or the Daoists behind texts like the Daodejing or the Zhuangzi also give evidence of beliefs and practices we might today label “anarchist”. I myself have no prejudice about this. I have no need to stick to some canonical list of people, beginning around the turn of the nineteenth century and running into the twentieth, followed by our own, who are “proper anarchists” where others are thought not to be. My understanding of anarchism, given in my last chapter and understood under the rubric of two types, type 1 and type 2, is capable of understanding anarchism and anarchy in much more far-reaching ways than just a narrowly specific political understanding. For example, reading Emma Goldman’s autobiography, Living My Life, I see that she, too, thought of Nietzsche as an anarchist, as I do. This cannot have been primarily for his political rhetoric for in the 1870s and 1880s, when he wrote, he was not giving Kropotkin or Malatesta or Bakunin-like speeches. He was talking about art, about self-creation, about overcoming the state of humanity as it has manifested itself — and undermining the very idea of knowledge and truth as Western philosophy had come to know them up until that point. This, too, is an anarchism and an anarchistic task. My anarchism, consequently, is an anarchism that can include Goldman, Kropotkin and Nietzsche — and Jesus of Nazareth too!

The study of Jesus as an anarchist is nothing to do with theology [as, indeed, my own researches for academic degrees have not been either]. It is at once historical, anthropological and literary — the main evidence for Jesus being found in texts with which one needs some familiarity and facility as well as the ability to site them with credibility in a specific human past. Such study is concerned with Jesus as a putative human being who lived in Palestine — and Galilee specifically — in the first three decades of the first century of the common era [i.e. as a Jew under Roman rule]. Yet such study is also to do with his social activity for, as we shall see, Jesus was just one person of a group, a group that had a very specific ethos. You might have doubts about this, however, because Jesus was surely the “leader” of said group and so was on some kind of pedestal?

Here I would make two points. Firstly, Jesus was a notable person, certainly, but he was no more notable in his social setting than Kropotkin was in his, Goldman was in hers, or Louise Michel was in hers. There are, in all groups, people who stand out and do things and are remembered for them. This does not mean they are “leaders”, much less masters, and so acting contrary to some anarchist ethos. As we shall see, Jesus’ own apparent teaching on leadership might be found to be quite surprising in relation to this when we come to examine it shortly. The second thing to say is that in such study we should take things Jesus says or does much more seriously than things people say about Jesus. Put simply, Jesus is not a Christian and so what Christians say about him is their business but not necessarily his. Jesus, for example, was not around when people wrote anything about him — so he can hardly be held responsible for it. This latter point demonstrates, however, that we need some basic historical pointers before we can begin to discuss Jesus and his social group in the historical specificity of their, so I argue, anarchist praxis.

Things we need to know. The main information for Jesus of Nazareth as a historical person is contained in books called gospels. [I refer, particularly, to six of these: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Thomas and Q. The first four are in the New Testament, the fifth was found in the Egyptian desert in 1945, and the last is a putative source of Matthew and Luke — so also in the New Testament — that may have existed separately and prior to those two.] These are majority Christian documents extolling Jesus as someone significant for world history. [Thomas and Q are less “Christian” in this respect but the nuances of this are too specialist to cover in this chapter. See my Yeshua The Jewish Anarchist, my full monograph on the subject of Jesus as an anarchist, for more on this.] This is not a person, or a character, I will be much interested in in this chapter. I intend to bypass Christian dogma about Jesus almost entirely and attempt to get to the historical man. But, in order to do that, one must still read the same books. It is, after all, the case that if there had never been any Christians then we would almost certainly not know that Jesus had ever existed. There are, however, by the by, a few non-Christian references to Jesus in Roman history. These are uniformly passing references but references nevertheless. The Romans who mentioned Jesus did not doubt his existence [a pastime carried on by some today when it is far safer to do so and much easier to get away with it — in some crowds]. Yet, in terms of formalities, one does not have to believe oneself that Jesus existed and one could imagine the Christians made him up but, in that case, everything I am about to say about him, his ways and his group would still apply even if, in that case, on purely literary and not historical grounds. The lessons and the insights would still be the same.

What we know about Jesus as bare bones information is that he was a Jew from Galilee, likely born in Nazareth, a nothing village a few miles from Sepphoris, at that time the main settlement in Galilee. [This would not remain the case throughout his life as around 20 CE construction of a new capital, Tiberias, was begun by the Roman proxy ruler, Herod Antipas.] Jesus lived with his family, which seems to have been a mother and some siblings. His father, referred to in legendary birth stories as Joseph, is never mentioned in the New Testament gospels [or the other two I consider, Q and Thomas] as being alive during the period of his adult activity. His means of living seem to have been by acting as a low level craftsman with wood and stone [so not the very Western idea of a “carpenter”. It was nothing so grand or skilled]. He would have made ploughs or simple implements for agrarian use. The economy of Galilee was almost entirely based on agriculture and fishing [in the Sea of Galilee]. The mass of the people were either tenant farmers, people attached to the trade in fish or day labourers hoping to get a job from day to day. Land, in general, was owned by more wealthy people likely to live in cities and so we can imagine a town/country divide in terms of both wealth and lifestyle. We see this reflected in some of the parables Jesus tells. In fact, many of his parables reflect exactly the agrarian setting we should expect to find as well as the religious context of Judaism and the political context of Roman occupation.

In one respect ancient Galilee was much like modern capitalism: most were poor and very many fewer were rich — and the latter exploited the former, using them to extract wealth from the land for themselves. John Dominic Crossan, an Irish-American biblical scholar who makes an atypical use [for biblical scholars] of anthropological study in his writing about Jesus as a historical figure [and whose book, The Historical Jesus: The Life of A Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, I shall especially be following here], relates this as a matter of “slave and patron”. The social location of Jesus was in a system which made use of slavery and in which the means of economic existence was by a system of patronage and clientage. It was a class system but there was no middle class. You were rich and comfortable, exploiting the mass of people, or you were struggling [or even failing] to survive. Crossan illustrates this by opening his chapter “Slave and Patron” with the following quote from G.E.M. de Ste. Croix’s article, “Karl Marx and the History of Classical Antiquity”:

“Class, then, essentially a relationship, is above all the collective social expression of the fact of exploitation [and of course of resistance to it]: the division of society into economic classes is in its very nature the way in which exploitation is effected, with the propertied classes living off the non-propertied. I admit that in my use of it the word ‘exploitation’ often tends to take on a pejorative colouring; but essentially it is a value-free expression, signifying merely that a propertied class is freed from the labour of production through its ability to maintain itself out of a surplus extracted from the primary producers, whether by compulsion or by persuasion or [as in most cases] by a mixture of the two.”

Yet Crossan calls his chapter “Slave and Patron” for a reason and this “value-free” character of “exploitation” may not have been experienced as so “value-free” by those subject to it — which was most people. He quotes Thomas Carney’s The Shape of the Past: Models and Antiquity in this respect:

“The ugly fact was that, given the low level of technology in antiquity, someone had to go without — without proper family life, material sufficiency, basic human dignity and life space — in order to generate a surplus. Absolute power over another human being, the incontrovertible right to treat another as a human instrument or as an object of one’s passions dehumanizes both parties. That is what slavery, any form of slavery, means. As an institution it perfectly compliments patronage. Together, these two practices go far to account for the authoritarianism in antiquity’s societies, with their spectrums of hierarchical statuses.”

In creating a social and anthropological background against which to understand the activities of Jesus and his community [better understood as intersecting matrices rather than an actual “background” in order to make this a three dimensional, interactional reality], Crossan also makes use of Gerhard Lenski’s Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification. Here, Crossan, following Lenski, designates the Roman Empire “an agrarian society” and remarks upon “one fact [which] impresses itself on almost any observer of agrarian societies”, this being “the fact of marked social inequality’ [emphasis Lenski’s]. He goes on: “Without exception, one finds pronounced differences in power, privilege and honor associated with mature agrarian economies.” Lenski then proceeds to detail five upper, four lower [and no middle] classes of people in such societies. Above we have the ruler, governing, retainer, merchant and priestly classes whilst below we find the peasant, artisan, unclean or degraded and expendable classes. This comes with a note, in Power and Privilege, that “agrarian societies usually produced more people than the dominant classes found it profitable to employ” [emphasis original] — which heralds a stark warning of the dire situation the less privileged, who would either be constantly working or cultivating patrons in order to survive or, even worse, not surviving at all on a day to day basis, would find themselves in. It is this world in which we find Jesus.

At this point, before I can finally begin discussing Jesus himself in detail, we need to do a little work in ancient Greek, particularly as regards the ancient Greek words plusios, penes and ptochos and their cognates. The first indicates a rich person [and from it we get the English ‘plutocrat’], the second a poor person. The third indicates a destitute person or a beggar and these words must be mapped to the social stratifications and remarks about class I have just repeated from Crossan’s usage. The crucial point of these terms in their usage is that poverty, the middle term here, is to be distinguished from beggary, the latter term. When Jesus proclaims “Blessed are the poor!”, as it is usually translated in English texts, he is actually using ptochos and not penes. So he is not congratulating those in poverty, which could be many struggling hour after hour, day after day, to make a living, but beggars, destitute beggars. These are the people at the economic bottom of any social stratification. Crossan tells us that the terms for “the poor” or “poverty” [penes] “seldom imply absolute poverty or destitution”. These are “the vast majority of people in any city-state who, having no claim to the income of a large estate, lacked that degree of leisure and independence regarded as essential to the life of a gentleman.” A plusios was someone rich enough to imagine leisure and to have slaves or hired hands to create their wealth. The penes had to work all day to make ends meet [perhaps also with others he hired and even potentially on their own land]. The ptochos had no resources whatsoever and was on the margins of society with no real part in it. The plusios and the penes belonged to the same world, though with more and less leisure accordingly. The ptochos was adrift from this world and had to take whatever they could get and go wherever a day’s wage could be found.

English translations of ancient texts about Jesus have mostly not brought out these distinctions for, now moving directly to discuss Jesus himself, we find that it was, scandalously, the ptochos that Jesus was most interested in during his activity and it was the ptochos he spoke about, favoured and, seemingly, identified himself with. An example is the aforementioned “Blessed are the poor!” from Luke 6:20b and Thomas 54. Jesus is blessing destitute beggars here not people who must work all day to make ends meet [the working poor]. If we move along to Thomas 95, we find this: “Jesus said, ‘If you have money, don’t lend it at interest. Rather, give it to someone from whom you won’t get it back.’” Someone like a destitute beggar, perhaps, someone outside working society with no assets that could be seized if it wasn’t paid back? But what would happen to you if you started giving your money away to people who weren’t going to pay you back again? [Incidentally, have you spotted that Jesus here seems to be encouraging the practice of the gift I spoke about in the last chapter?] You might very soon find, continuing that practice, that you had no money left yourself! But Jesus surely can’t mean that? Well, are you so sure? Let’s investigate Mark 10:17–22. The text is as follows:

“As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

The story is told here of a pious man of good character who is obedient to the ethics of his religion who comes to Jesus and asks how he may achieve the religious and moral goal of life according to Jewish ways. Jesus, naturally enough, asks about his adherence to the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Jewish Torah, which is its religious law. We should think of this more broadly than some religious code, however, for such law should basically be equated with life in historical context. The man is apparently very pious and Jesus does not doubt his self-given testimony in regard to it. This would mean that the man is regarded as having very high moral standing in his community. Jesus apparently is even taken with his sincerity in regard to this. But it is not enough. Jesus tells him that to reach his goal he needs to sell everything and give the money he makes from it “to the poor”. Which poor? Why the ptochois, of course, the destitute beggars. More than that, he is then expected to become one of these himself [because, of course, he now has nothing left!] just like Jesus and his community of followers already have. So, if we imagine that Jesus could not have been serious in Thomas 95, we now find an example of him saying and expecting exactly the same from the pious and rich Jew in this story. [Said pious Jew failed the test, too, as he went away “shocked” and “grieving”. No one said this was easy or without financial cost.]

So what is it with Jesus and money? Why is he telling people to get rid of it, give it to the lowest of the low in economic society, and become like such people themselves? Let’s take a look inside this community. Luke 10 gives us a story in which people are being sent out from the community Jesus is a part of and it gives instructions for how such people are to go about it. The crux of this information is as follows:

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” [Luke 10:4–11]

Such people are being sent out across random countryside barefoot and without any provisions [because there is “no bag” to put them in] and without any money to buy what might be needed to sustain them [“no purse”]. How are these people meant to survive? The answer is by finding sympathetic people who will allow them to come into their homes and share a meal with them. They, in turn, are to come in peace [explicitly so] and to “cure the sick who are there” [we need not speculate about miracles here; simply attending to them in conventional ways is enough]. This, then, is a kind of mutual aid which is called “the kingdom of God” by Jesus and the texts that remember him. No money changes hands in any of this. In fact, it hasn’t been mentioned at all and, in any case, the members of Jesus’ community have been instructed to have no means of transporting money anyway. This, then, is an imagined moneyless existence and interaction between people. And the people are instructed to announce it wherever they go, even if their presence is rejected [as anarchists in all times and places often have been!]. Here we see mutual aid, commensality and gifting in the cause of human solidarity.

Another story which involves the sharing of food is that one known colloquially as “the feeding of the 5,000”. This is found in each gospel of the New Testament [one of the few non-crucifixion or resurrection stories in this position] and so, at random, I’ll choose John’s version of this in John 6 to focus on.

“After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

What can we notice about this story? First, I think, that Jesus is concerned about feeding all these people. He takes responsibility for it even though it’s made manifestly clear there were so many people there that it would have been impossible to feed them. “Six months’ wages” is meant to indicate an amount of money it was impossible to imagine they could have had or even collected up. Jesus taking responsibility, then, what follows?Well, in simple terms, the crowd is fed because Jesus shares a boy’s simple lunch with everyone. This act of sharing is, in the story, seen as sufficient for all who were there, “as much as they wanted”. There are even leftovers — and “12 baskets” is probably a symbolic number [there were, historically, 12 tribes of Israel and this is probably also why sometimes the gospels mention 12 special disciples of Jesus too].

Now I want to make it clear that I do not believe in miracles. But I do believe in the power of sharing to provide for large crowds if people will only be willing to share. I don’t know if this story ever actually took place or not and, for my purposes, it doesn’t really matter. The point is that Jesus, together with other members of the community he was a part of, are shown to feed a huge crowd of people on the basis of sharing what they had and nothing more. Symbolically, this is shown to provide everything the crowd needed to satiate their hunger. John, in his gospel, will later riff on this and argue that Jesus is “the bread of life” in a theological argument that serves his Christian purposes. But, for my anarchist ones, it is the fact of simple sharing that takes my attention and the fact that Jesus didn’t just take the view that feeding yourself is your own problem. To Jesus, it apparently was more about human solidarity than that, a matter of fraternity to care for those who had come to listen to you. A little twist at the end of the story, by the way, indicates that Jesus was not setting himself up as a political king here. He didn’t want to replace Caesar. He wanted to replace a world of human relationships in which there could even be a Caesar. [We might here compare Jesus’ more political actions, especially his altercation in the Jerusalem Temple and his response when asked if a Jew should pay taxes to Rome. In both cases he conceives of a higher duty and in neither acquiesces to the status quo.] Part of that new way of life, I argue, was simple sharing, commensality.

We see this more clearly in two, connected sayings found in the Gospel of Thomas, Thomas 81 and Thomas 110:

“Jesus said, ‘Let the one who has become wealthy reign, and let the one who has power renounce it.’”

“Jesus said, ‘Let the one who has found the world, and has become wealthy, renounce the world.’”

These sayings will not be unfamiliar to one who knows the Jesus of Thomas 95 and Mark 10:17–22 — or even the community that operates on the basis of Luke 10:4–11. What do these sayings mean? I think they both mean the same thing and it is that people can become wealthy and this will give them power. But it is a certain type of power, an exploiting, dominating kind of power. The keyword is then the word in the second half of both sayings: “renounce”. Jesus thinks that people who are rich should give it up, give their wealth and their power away. In fact, this is a line in the sand for him. There are people for whom his anarchist society is not suited and this is the plusioi, the rich people who have based their lives in money, power and domination [for, especially here, they go

together]. Put this attitude together with stories about sharing in the gospels and you come to the conclusion Jesus is interested in a community that shares and takes part in acts of open commensality as a matter of egalitarian relationships over a world in which rich and dominating people, differentiated by class and so reliant on domination and exploitation for their very existence [as Crossan’s quote in relation to class reminded us earlier], even exist.

This is also seen in two parables Jesus tells. Parables are fictions told to make you think, often as a kind of comparison you are meant to weigh up as you roll it around in your thoughts. There are two parables which appear in multiple gospels [I will use Thomas’ versions here] which relate to both wealth and business as well as to the image of the desired state of affairs [“the kingdom of God”] that Jesus is said to have. The first [Thomas 63] is as follows:

“Jesus said, ‘There was a rich person who had a great deal of money. He said, “I shall invest my money so that I may sow, reap, plant, and fill my storehouses with produce, that I may lack nothing.” These were the things he was thinking in his heart, but that very night he died. Anyone here with two ears had better listen!’”

The parable sets out that the man imagined is very rich. He is likely a man of leisure, then, with slaves and servants, perhaps a patron others would like to have. He is a plusios. He develops a plan to extend his wealth even further [and we can imagine the amount of exploitation that might require for such riches always require someone’s exploitation] so that he, the parable is quite specific about this, “may lack nothing”. These being “the things in his heart” is a euphemism for them being the things that drive

and motivate him; they are his ethos, his reason for living, the things closest to his heart. The problem is the parable then just announces his death. And at a stroke all the wealth is for nothing. We can discuss what this parable might mean at length but it seems not to mean that Jesus is suggesting you base your life on accumulating wealth.

The second parable is the very next thing in the Gospel of Thomas, Thomas 64, for, in Thomas, the last parable, this one and another one immediately after it, seem to have been placed side by side to form a theme. Let’s look at Thomas 64:

“Jesus said, ‘A person was receiving guests. When he had prepared the dinner, he sent his slave to invite the guests. The slave went to the first and said to that one, “My master invites you.” That one said, “Some merchants owe me money; they are coming to me tonight. I have to go and give them instructions. Please excuse me from dinner.” The slave went to another and said to that one, “My master has invited you.” That one said to the slave, “I have bought a house, and I have been called away for a day. I shall have no time.” The slave went to another and said to that one, “My master invites you.” That one said to the slave, “My friend is to be married, and I am to arrange the banquet. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me from dinner.” The slave went to another and said to that one, “My master invites you.” That one said to the slave, “I have bought an estate, and I am going to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me.” The slave returned and said to his master, “Those whom you invited to dinner have asked to be excused.” The master said to his slave, “Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you find to have dinner.” Buyers and merchants will not enter the places of my Father.”

This parable occurs in both Matthew and Luke as well [thought, by some biblical scholars, to be part of the possible gospel source, the Q Gospel] and, in each case, with a slightly different emphasis but the same basic layout of a man laying on a dinner or some social gathering where he is inviting fellow, assumedly wealthy, people who each give reasons why they cannot attend. Then, in the end, he tells his slave to go out and bring back whomsoever he can find instead. The question is, what is such a parable supposed to be telling us?

The community of people behind the Gospel of Thomas clearly thought this was that “buyers and merchants”, which some biblical exegetes have described as “wheeler dealers”, “wide boys” or people with sharp business practices [i.e. the financially exploitative and manipulative], were being rejected — as was their way of life. All the excuses given in Thomas for not going to the gathering [which are legitimate excuses in themselves] are business excuses. What is notable about the parable, of course, is that all these people end up being excluded from it, their places taken, instead, by “whomever you find” — and this irrespective of class, wealth, gender, nationality, honour or shame, etc., as we might expect if someone just went out picking people at random as they came across them. This is the parable’s cutting edge. Might it be too far fetched to suggest, then, that such a parable is, in the mind of Jesus, about imagining the world as a social gathering from which wealthy businessmen are excluded to be replaced by whomsoever is willing to participate, regardless of class, wealth, gender, nationality, honour or shame? This, of course, is also another situation in which “the kingdom” is imagined as a place of commensality and so this should by no means be ignored either. Taking this parable together with the previous one, wealth is rejected and egalitarian commensality, mutual relationship, is put in its place irrespective of social or political classes or mores.

Parables, of course, could have been spoken to anybody. In various places in the gospels they are presented as being addressed to general crowds rather than those specifically inside the community of which Jesus was a part. In such ways it is imagined that Jesus invited just anybody who heard them to consider their life and its context. But what about the mentality on the inside? What was Jesus saying to other members of the community to provide an ethos or way of life for them which, simultaneously, could motivate them to live the lifestyle of a ptochos willingly and with purpose? For this purpose, we can consider a section of the reconstructed Q Gospel putatively behind a story that appears in Matthew and Luke. It is located at Q 12:22–31 [which, due to the way Q is tabulated, is also equal to Luke 12:22–31]:

“He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you — you of little faith! So do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

Let’s start at the end here. Jesus suggests that the way to achieve blessing is to “strive for his kingdom” which, in Jesus’ language, means to live in his anarchistic way. This, according to Jesus, is not a way characterised by what you will eat or what you will wear, which, judged from the point of view of a destitute beggar, might be thought of as luxuries one could ill afford or, put another way, the business of leisured, moneyed classes. Jesus here, in my terms, comes very close to inter-relating type 1 and type 2 versions of anarchy. He does it in a very Cynic way that we can compare with the attitudes of Greek Cynics such as Diogenes who “lived according to nature”, as some would have it, and disdained the customs of civilisation with their airs and graces and artificial “necessities” which created difference and inequality for the purposes of exploitation. Civilisation, said Diogenes perhaps most of all, has its price and its cost — and it is too much to pay. Consequently, those biblical scholars who have seen in Jesus most of all a Cynic type of Jew are very fond of this section of text as an example of just how close to Cynic in his thinking Jesus could become. Of course, Jesus is a Jew and so when he thinks of nature he thinks of the Jewish God — but you get the idea. There is a simple, humble kind of life in tune with nature [or God] that Jesus is getting at here which is not about vanity or money or status or power or exploitation of resources to create a surplus. Jesus encourages his fellows in the community to seek this first and foremost — and without calculating — and then all blessings will come to them. But let us be clear: this is not some airy fairy utopian ideal he is talking about here. It is one in their grasp and determined by their present lifestyle and approach to life itself. It is something about them and how they choose to live. It is about having nothing and changing the game to one in which nothing makes no difference. Just as it was with Diogenes and other Cynics too.

Perhaps I have now said enough to be able to suggest to you that Jesus, in his historical guise, or maybe just as a historical literary character, was about dehabituating people to economic activity and introducing them to open commensality, mutual aid, gifting and non-financial interaction and exchange. We might call this, as I tentatively did in my last chapter, a new, anarchist economy. Certainly, in the last piece of exegesis I did, we saw that Jesus seemed a bit Cynic-like as he talked to people even worried about what they would eat or wear. So Jesus and the rest of this little community were not plusios or penes. They were ptochos, destitute beggars. And they had seemingly chosen this lifestyle for themselves, much as Diogenes and other Cynics did too, on purpose. It was a deliberate choice to reject society’s values and ways of living and to inculcate and enunciate others. Jesus and his community were talking about living life another way on the societal scale and about reorganising human relationships and interactions whole and entire. Just like anarchists would like to.

But perhaps you need some more convincing? Very well. After that little pep talk Jesus gave the others worrying about food and clothing we get this in Q: “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is probably addressed not to those already attracted to the community of beggars Jesus was in but to people in general. He wants people to get rid of everything again and become a beggar who lives by commensality, mutual aid and the gift. He sees taking up this lifestyle as an investment of its own kind. He suggests that what you love [i.e. how you live] is all you really care about. Elsewhere, in Luke 16:13, he doubles down on this when he says: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” You cannot serve God and wealth; you cannot take part in his vision of life and human relationships... and serve wealth. Or, as we have seen, apparently even have any wealth. In the next verse of Luke here some religious figures called “Pharisees” are described by Luke as “lovers of money”. By now, we must realise, such a thing is not a flattering description but a condemning one.

This theme of the incompatibility of the wealth-interested way and the destitute beggar’s way is found elsewhere. A particular example is in Mark 2:

“And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners....’

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

To take the second complex of sayings first here, Jesus is speaking of a basic incompatibility between his vision of human relationships and the way that is set up by a set of financial relationships, ones of class, exploitation and dominance. This is what Jesus sees in relationships arbitrated by wealth and inequality. And so he describes his vision and that vision as absolutely incompatible. This corroborates what we have already seen in several examples. A further one is what Jesus is reported to say about the pious, but rich, Jew whom he had invited to sell everything and join them: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” [Mark 10:23]. It will be hard, of course, because changing from a person who lives according to financial wealth and material acquisition, and the relationships and classes and statuses required to set up such things, to a person who lives on the basis of fraternity, equality, human solidarity [and all the other anarchist values I previously mentioned] is a complete change of heart, of values and of lifestyle. It is to see the world differently, to impugn, threaten and symbolically condemn that other world, and to not see as the world sees — something every anarchist knows all too well.

Perhaps that is why, in the first part of the last section from Mark 2 I quoted, we find Jesus engaging in a meal [yet more commensality!]. He is eating with those thought of as undesirables [in a mirror image of that imagined in Thomas 64 — practice what you preach! According to John Dominic Crossan in The Historical Jesus, he is “refusing to make the {socially} appropriate distinctions and discriminations”]. In terms of Lenski’s stratification of society, mentioned briefly earlier, “tax collectors and sinners” would be lower classes whilst “scribes of the Pharisees” would be upper classes. The suggestion in the story is that Jesus is choosing to share the table with such people as equals in an activity which views them all horizontally, in an egalitarian way, rather than vertically, as we are perhaps invited to imagine the scribes see such things. Jesus, in a religious book, speaks using religious language but the point here is Jesus is trying to convert people to his lifestyle and so his values. We should not find this strange anymore than, in Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers, we find the Cynics Diogenes and Crates invited to the homes of local people to share in meals too [where at least Diogenes is not always well behaved!]. This is not a negation of their lifestyle but an extending of it to others. That Jesus found the table a place to share his ideas, in the light of Banu Bargu’s discussion of commensality discussed in my last chapter, should not then surprise us at all.

Let us now, not wanting to let this discussion get too far out of hand in a book which is not exclusively about a discussion of Jesus — my book, Yeshua The Jewish Anarchist, is 680 pages long if you want the full fat version of this — attempt to give all this discussion of commensality and Jesus’ attitude towards wealth some context. That context will come in the form of the first “speech” accredited to Jesus by biblical scholars who study the Q Gospel, which means material credited to both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel but that is not found in Mark, a gospel also regarded as their source for their own gospels. This speech is Q 6:20b-49 which, since Q is thought best represented in terms of its order by Luke, is also broadly the same as Luke 6:20–49. This is quite a chunk of text in a non-specialist book about Jesus but bears quoting in full, nevertheless, for it functions, in effect, as a mini-catechism of Jesus’ anarchism, in my view:

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are destitute for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of me. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

[But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. ]

Listen, I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. {And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.} Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

He also told them a parable: Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a person building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a person who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

There is a lot to this, including taking the initiative from oppressors in the third paragraph and further encouragement to gift in the fifth, but as, in the putative reconstruction of Q, this is given as one speech, I feel its important to keep all these sayings [which have certainly been collected together artificially by a community of writers] together. [The section in square brackets here is probably added by Luke when he makes use of Q and the sentence in curly brackets is found here in Matthew but Luke omits it at this juncture. I think it likely original to Q so have restored it.] I was intending to go through this text piece by piece as I wrote it out but now I think that, in many ways, it speaks for itself if you consider it in anarchist terms. If you are reading this book about “the philosophy of anarchism” — and if you have got this far — you surely have some idea about the values of anarchism itself and the sorts of practices it may encourage or mandate. So it is perhaps better to regard this as some kind of anarchistic context from Jesus’ perspective and meditate on these things, and their consequences, as anarchistic behaviour and practice rather than have them spelled out in so many words.

What I would say, however, is that the key point for Jesus, doing that, in my opinion, is that anarchism is an action. This speech is full of doing and very little about thinking. Its about how you choose to live daily, habitually, in relationship with others, friendly and not. It is about your habits and educating and forming yourself in terms of a way of life. It is a matter of self-actualisation which, in a community context, becomes the actualisation of a new set of anarchist values manifested as the relationships active between people, the things which form the community as it will be. [Recall here my reference to the personal and the political in my last chapter.] This is a matter of doing, bearing “good fruit”, not judging others, loving those not yourself [yes, even your enemies!], giving what you can with an unfailing generosity, not resisting violence, being destitute, hungry and even hated by those not so inclined.

This lifestyle Jesus has recommended is not about winning a popularity contest in the eyes of the world. It is about forming new relationships and living a different way of life which, as we must expect, changes the political economy of human living completely. Jesus’ thinking is a matter of a reversal of fortunes where “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” [Matthew 20:16]. It is about being “passersby” [Thomas 42 — which indicates being the wandering ptochos not the well settled and exploitative plusios]. Its not concerned with the authorities of society, which it pretty much ignores [although the insert in curly brackets from Matthew likely addresses being made to carry a Roman soldier’s equipment one mile, as anyone in the Roman empire could be made to do], but with one’s own attitude and response to others in relationship with them in general. The attitude seems to be, “I am like this and this will be my ethical standard regardless of the world.” In this speech, members of Jesus’ community take responsibility for themselves and are to exhibit an anarchist consciousness which is about personal virtue and socially articulated values.

One hint in that last speech quoted, on the subject of human relationships, is when Jesus inquired as to why people called him “Lord” but did not do what he said. The context [not least in the less Christianised Q] is of Jesus as a teacher rather than as someone divine and is about the respect in which a teacher was held in ancient times by his followers. Jesus makes the point here that the best way to follow someone is not in the use of obsequious titles or fawning behaviour but in actually carrying out the teaching. This is that behaviour and practice which demonstrates the appropriate synchronicity between the two. The test of a true follower, and so here of a community member, is that they live according to the things Jesus is saying.

But we can go further than this. Mark 10 has a story about some of Jesus’ disciples, thinking him something special, tapping him up for places of special precedence in some imagined afterlife [something that was a feature of some, but not all, Judaism in the first century of the common era]. When other members of the Jesus community heard about this special pleading and jostling for position, they weren’t best pleased. But then Jesus calls them together in Mark 10:42–44 and says the following:

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; so whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Jesus here uses the language of slaves and servants, of rulers and tyrants, that would have been so familiar to people of this time and place — but he reverses the roles. To be great in this community is not to be in charge of it, even to “lord over” it, but to be the servant and the slave of it. The people of this community are not to be like “the Gentiles” [which here basically means the world]: they are to be different and look upon the world with disregard in this respect. The world may have its ways but this community has others. This is basically a way of total humility such as Q 14:11 recommends: “Everyone exalting themselves will be humbled and the one humbling themselves will be exalted.” [This passage from Mark is just one reason why I find it inconceivable that Jesus could have gone around acknowledging himself as some kind of special being, even the son of God. Such a person could not say what Jesus says here and, if he does say it, then the mentality that makes him special is foreign to him. The two are incompatible, whatever contortions Christian gospels try to pull off to make them work together, and one must choose. I choose the anarchist, and very human, Jesus, the one who chooses to be a destitute beggar, discourages use of money and encourages serving others.]

Q 6 is a very important and basic section of text for anyone considering Jesus as an anarchist. But there is much more that could be considered. There is, for example, manifest in the reality of Jesus and his community as destitute beggars, the idea that he was talking about a “kingdom of nobodies” as John Dominic Crossan puts this. And what would this do but undercut the pretentious, but seriously regarded, claims of the elites in society to their social position? This is particularly expressed in sayings and stories where children are welcomed by Jesus or are given as examples of what people “in the kingdom” should be like in order to be perfect examples of those inside it. Examples here are Q 10:21, Thomas 22:1–2, Thomas 46, Mark 10:13–16 and, perhaps most important of all, Mark 9:33–37.

I shall concentrate on the last text here which goes as follows:

“Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’”

This, once again, is teaching about human orders of rank or appropriate class behaviour. It is linked to the “anarchist consciousness” that a text like Q 6 inculcates and the identification of this community as made up of multiple examples of the ptochos. We see here, again, the theme of reversal from Jesus, the undermining of social standards and practices. But, in this case, the example is a “little child”, a no one with literally no status in adult society. What this, in particular, inculcates is humility, a not presuming to have status vis-a-vis the world or within this community. Jesus’ community is not to be a place of status — it is anti-authoritarian, egalitarian, a matter of horizontal, never vertical, relationship. What else can it be if “a little child” is its model member? “A kingdom of children is a kingdom of the humble,” says John Dominic Crossan in his own commentary here. This is teaching the community a very radical thing, however, for what society does not exist or progress by means of status, by orders of rank, by domination and subordination? Jesus’ community is about undercutting this at the most basic level in teaching each member to regard themselves as having the status of a child. Once more, it deconstructs actual society to remake its relationships on a new basis.

But Jesus was, apparently, not averse to this for another thing to be considered is the apparently conscious bonding going on between members of the community in terms of a new society. Examples here are Q12:53, Q14:26, Thomas 55, 99, and 101. In Thomas 99, for example [which finds a textual parallel in Mark 3:31–35], we see:

“The disciples said to him, ‘Your brothers and your mother are standing outside.’ He [i.e. Jesus] said to them, ‘Those here who do what my Father wants are my brothers and my mother. They are the ones who will enter my Father’s kingdom.’”

The use of family language here is startling. In ancient Judaism, which is where all this activity of Jesus takes place, family was paramount. [In this respect, that God himself is the father figure is unsurprising and also characteristic of Jesus in his expression. Unfortunately, the nature of God as father is a subject that would take us too far away from my purpose here to go into it and is also too theological to boot.] But here Jesus rejects his blood family — which would be a social faux pas in pretty much any conventional society, let alone a Jewish one. Instead, he considers those in his community, here described under a religious rubric, as like family instead — in a strong bond of anarchist “class” consciousness based on the convergence of common lifestyles. Jesus, seemingly, even demands the blood ties of family be deconstructed and fictively reimagined in his remaking of society. Luke 12:51–53, for example, has Jesus state:

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Crossan discusses this text in The Historical Jesus under the rubric “Against the Patriarchal Family” together with the preceding one in Thomas 99 / Mark 3:31–35. What more basic authority in a conventionally ordered society is there than the father figure, the literal head of the family? But Crossan, interpreting these texts, says, “Jesus will tear the hierarchical and patriarchal family in two along the axis of domination and subordination.” There are no automatic patriarchs here. It is noteworthy, then, that in these imagined splits women can seemingly be on the side of Jesus just as much as men. This raises the point, however, which Crossan notes himself, “What happens to women” in such a situation? In fact, this is an unspoken question in pretty much all I have discussed in this chapter, not least the missionary part I mentioned earlier, and, as we can see here, women are imagined as being a part of this community too.

There are a couple of issues here for this egalitarian, fraternal community to come to terms with. One is that unattached women would be regarded by Mediterranean peasant society as “whores” according to Crossan in such a situation. Such a society operated with a strong sense of honour and shame. To protect her reputation a woman would have to be married. The second is the question of how women will be regarded vis-a-vis men. Crossan’s solution is to advert to the apostle Paul’s mention in 1 Corinthians 9:5, in the New Testament, of the “sister wife” [the literal translation of Paul’s term here]. Both Mark 6 and Luke 10 refer to people being sent out from the community “two by two”. Since we know women were accepted in this community [as in the later, Christian one Paul was a part of] and it wasn’t a boys club, the issue of the integration of women is an obvious and manifest one. Crossan regards this term as a tentative solution. It is, of course, a knowing subterfuge. To those outside, as they travel two by two, the woman seems to those outside to be a wife. But inside the community she is as a sister in a continuance of the fraternal relations the community exhibits. This both protects the woman’s honour at large but also protects her physically from outside figures who see her as the world would see such women. We might, then, choose to see the community here acting in human solidarity to shield the women from unwelcome attention or condemnation as well as seeing them as equally valued partners in the community endeavour, something that is also something of a novelty, in the social situation of the time, in itself.

Once again, then, Jesus’ community is disrupting relationships of domination and exploitation to reconstitute them as egalitarian and fraternal relations which, when joined together with other activities and practices we have related in this brief overview of the accounts about Jesus, such as commensality, mutual aid and the gift, display to us a Jesus community which is distinguishing itself by its cultural practices and knocking down hierarchies whether religious, political, social or financial. Jesus, in some of his parables, clearly saw this as socially disruptive. For example a couple of parables placed together in Q 13:18–19 and then in Q 13:20–21 envisage this kingdom of God as, first, like a mustard plant which grows to comically prodigious size and invites birds to nest in its branches. No one would want such a plant in their garden [mustard is often regarded as a weed for its ability to choke more valuable crops] and certainly not the birds which, in a Mediterranean, agrarian context, would eat up the crop and were hard to disperse. But, in the second parable, this becomes even worse as Jesus imagines the kingdom as like some leaven [yeast] a woman bakes into her bread and which works itself all through the batch of dough. The offence here is that yeast was regarded as mouldy and putrid in this society, a contaminating thing. Yet this did not stop Jesus imagining the activities of the kingdom of God community as such potentially offensive, upsetting and unwelcome things. Nor, apparently, did it dent the community’s intent to carry on regardless.

So this has been an overview of the activities of Jesus, and his community, that I have covered [and grounded] much more fully in my previous study, Yeshua The Jewish Anarchist. If it has whetted your appetite to know more, and to study these things in much greater detail in conversation with both more biblical scholars and more academics of anarchism, then this is the place to look next. I have had to be necessarily brief here, in the context of this book, but I hope that the things I have discussed, and the references I have provided, have at least made the case for seeing Jesus, and the community he was a part of, as a countercultural one with definitive anarchist tendencies. His determination to take money out of the equation, his reordering of social relationships, his focus on self-actualisation to the detriment of the maintenance of social and political relations of domination and subordination, all point strongly in the direction of an ethos which we would now regard as something to do with anarchism. Yet Jesus, of course, was a religious Jew and so that must be taken into account as well.

One thing I didn’t mention, before I finish up here, but can leave you with now as a further thought, is that Jesus was himself not coercive. His teaching method was the parable inviting you to think for yourself not the command or, worse, physical coercion. Jesus seemingly and intuitively knew that people must see things for themselves and be allowed to come to their own conclusions. This is paradigmatically shown in perhaps his best known parable, the “Good Samaritan” [Luke 10:25–37], in which someone the audience regards as an enemy is the person you might need to treat as a friend you should be concerned with the health and welfare of, even at your own expense [and so without counting the cost]. In ethics such as “do to others as you would have them do to you” and “love your neighbour as yourself”, characteristic of Jesus, we see the ethical heart of Jesus’ anarchism, and it is an ethics which politics and society in general, with its hierarchies, domination and coercive methods, cannot follow. They are, then, a criticism and a declaration that such customary worldly ways are to be given up and changed. Jesus, I then suggest, shared the anarchist desire, and the anarchist insight, to remould society, realising that it would take something this radical to change things. So I do not say that Jesus was a carbon copy of a Malatesta or a Bakunin or a Kropotkin — how could he be, he was a Galilean Jew from the first century! — but I do say that he, as part of a distinctive community, exhibits ideas and practices which point to a social anarchist interested in a new, anarchist economy and a reconstituted, non-dominating relationship between human beings generally.

NINE: Music, Metaphor and Anarchy: John Cage

“Revision of The Golden Rule: do unto others as they would be done by.” —

John Cage, X: Writings 79–82, p. 160

“One evening after dinner I was telling friends that I was now concerned with improving the world. One of them said: I thought you always were. I then explained that I believe—and am acting upon—Marshall McLuhan’s statement that we have through electronic technology produced an extension of our brains to the world formerly outside of us. To me that means that the disciplines, gradual and sudden (principally Oriental), formerly practiced by individuals to pacify their minds, bringing them into accord with ultimate reality, must now be practiced socially—that is, not just inside our heads, but outside of them, in the world, where our central nervous system effectively now is... Our proper work now if we love mankind and the world we live in is revolution.” — John Cage, A Year From Monday: New Lectures and Writings by John Cage, p. ix

“Harmony... is not itself a sound; it’s a connection between sounds that doesn’t exist in sounds themselves, but the theory books all say it does... Harmony is a theory, and what I would like is to have sounds be free of that theory.” — John Cage, CageTalk: Dialogues With and About John Cage, p. 202

“Here we are concerned with the coexistence of dissimilars, and the central points where fusion occurs are many: the ears of the listeners wherever they are. This disharmony, to paraphrase Bergson’s statement about disorder, is simply a harmony to which many are unaccustomed... And what is the purpose of writing music? One is, of course, not dealing with purposes but dealing with sounds. Or the answer must take the form of paradox: a purposeful purposelessness or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life — not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.” — John Cage, “Experimental Music” in Silence, p. 12

“politicians are of no good use... We don’t need government. We need utilities: air, water, energy, travel and communication means, food and shelter. We have no need for imaginary mountain ranges between separate nations. We can make tunnels through the real ones. Nor do we have any need for the continuing division of people into those who have what they need and those who don’t... We must give all the people all they need to live in any way they wish. Our present laws protect the rich from the poor. If there are to be laws we need ones that begin with the acceptance of poverty as a way of life. We must make the earth safe for poverty without dependence on government .” — John Cage, Anarchy, p. v

I am not aware that the deceased American musician, artist and philosopher, John Cage, ever thought of himself as, or called himself, an anarchist. However, as I read him in his numerous written works, listen to some of the music he wrote, look at the physical art he produced, or read his political statements, he was one. And then, of course, he did publish a book, 4 years before his death, in 1988, titled, simply, Anarchy, which was composed from the words, arranged by chance processes, of actual anarchists. [Anarchy, says Cage in its introduction, “is not about ideas but produces them”. He also quotes himself calling himself an anarchist on page vii!] On thinking about him and his life he seems to me like the kind of anarchist Emma Goldman [one of those quoted in Anarchy; they were both, at times in their lives, New Yorkers] would have appreciated, had he only become famous before Goldman’s death in 1940, one who combined indeterminate and endlessly creative artistic impulses and appreciation with a desire for a political world set free of dominating control. Cage, however, also had what one might term a spiritual appreciation that was missing in Goldman. Consequently, Goldman strove to bring things to pass whilst Cage strove to let things come to pass as they may — and to get out of their way.

Cage’s anarchism may be described in a sentence he often used himself in regard to his “Diary” entries. The “Diary” was a poetic form he invented and used to record “a mosaic of ideas, statements, words, and stories” later published in several books. Being Cage, he arranged constraints for these recorded items. For example, among the constraints informing these writings were these: He would write less than 100 words each day, use no more than twelve different typefaces available at the time on an IBM Selectric typewriter [now antique], count no more than 45 characters in a single line, and change the typeface for each new statement. We see examples of this form in his books X and A Year From Monday from which I quoted at the head of this chapter [the first quotation is one of the ideas]. Ah, but weren’t you going to give us a description of Cage’s anarchism, one he applied to this “diary” material? Indeed, I was. It was “How to improve the world [You will only make matters worse].” The online website of the magazine Reason [strapline: “free minds and free markets” — ugh!] consequently describes John Cage as a “gut anarchist” in the headline to a puff piece about him that it carries online — but that does Cage a complete disservice in the light of this heading. Cage’s anarchism wasn’t some random, ill-understood or ill-thought out instinct: it was a complete and utter attempt to live his life in accordance with nature in her manner of operation, in my terms, to live a life of type 1 anarchism in a world he conceived of as type 1 anarchy.

Cage, then, was concerned with the way things are when they are left, uncoerced, to be themselves. He is not the kind of anarchist who wants to pressure and harass; he is the kind who thinks people should leave things alone and let them be. As a musician, Cage received this as a musical insight. When I began writing my four volume series of books titled There is Nothing To Stick To, the third chapter of the first volume, “Every Step is on The Path”, pp. 55–79, was an extended essay about this John Cage, the ideas behind his music, and an invitation to meditate on such musical ideas and imagine how the Eastern [spiritual] ethos behind them [drawn from Zen and Daoist sources] might play out if applied to human behaviour and our human political world. But I did not there go into the consequences of this specifically too much and neither did I cover the Cage of his “Diary” where a more political John Cage might be found.

In this book and this chapter, however, that time has come. This does not mean I intend to ignore Cage the musician or artist in this chapter though for, as Emma Goldman also shows in her artistic interests [she gave numerous lectures on plays and other forms of art], anarchism becomes a philosophy inhabiting the soul which affects all human thought, culture and conception; it is not something to be restricted to one field of endeavour but to be studiously kept out of others. This is just one reason why I continue to hold to a dual definition of anarchism and anarchy; there are only type 2 versions of these things because there are type 1 versions of these things. Most people settle for type 2 because type 1 seems insubstantial or amorphous and ungraspable, beyond human control; yet the insight of type 1 versions of these things is that their amorphous, insubstantial, “beyond human control” qualities are exactly the point. Human beings should not always be striving for control and should, in fact, give up such control as they sometimes, in very small doses, manage to have. Goldman and, especially, Cage are those who get this insight. Cage, in fact, spent his entire life after having this insight creating music, art and writing based on it.

Cage doesn’t begin writing the more political entries that would make up “Diary: How To Improve The World [You Will Only Make Matters Worse]” before the 1960s. Before this he is more exclusively concerned with creating and composing music even where, to conventional [i.e. closed] ears, no music is heard [see the story about his piece 4’33” which I relay in my former essay about Cage the musician in There is Nothing To Stick To]. The mentality that will inform the Diary is very much present, however, as you would expect since I intimated earlier that this mentality is the same one operating in differing spheres of endeavour or application. So, for example, Cage, in his book M, a collection of his writings from 1967–1972, can in the foreword, referring back to a time in the early 1950s when he and some other musicians were attempting to incorporate sounds formerly thought of as “noise” into music, say the following:

“Since the theory of conventional music is a set of laws exclusively concerned with ‘musical’ sounds, having nothing to say about noises, it had been clear from the beginning that what was needed was a music based on noise, on noise’s lawlessness. Having made such an anarchic music, we were able later to include in its performance even so-called musical sounds.

The next steps were social, and they are still being taken. We need first of all a music in which not only are sounds just sounds but in which people are just people, not subject, that is, to laws established by any one of them even if he is “the composer” or “the conductor”. Finally [as far as I can see at present], we need a music which no longer prompts talk of audience participation, for in it the division between performers and audience no longer exists: a music made by everyone.”

Now that, of course, may be read as straightforward musical theory or a comment about a prospective musical philosophy — and so as the strict preserve of those involved in such things. Indeed, it was and it is. But am I the only one reading this who sees music and metaphor and a vision of a very political anarchy? And all it takes, Cage seems to say, is to see things differently, to lay aside all the “conventions” and the “laws” and the authoritative participants such as “conductors” and “composers”. Cage even wants to erase the border between performers and the audience [and he would go on to do exactly this in musical situations]. This, then, is music as metaphor, a musical anarchy showing the way to a political anarchy of the type John Cage was seduced by and became convinced of. For musical conventions and customs substitute laws, courts and police. For authoritative figures such as conductors and composers, substitute presidents, prime ministers and governments. For performers and audiences, substitute the removal of states and replace it with the recognition of a mass of human beings in the world. No more do we have the conventional music of “musical sounds”; now we have the political anarchy of “noises” in which any and every sound is “legitimate” for none of them have been ruled out of bounds. This is a musical expression of exactly the anarchistic democracy I spoke of in chapter seven.

But to Cage the anarchist of matters more general, more political, more personal, the Cage of the Diary, now brought together as one book but formerly to be found in sections of A Year From Monday, M and X in all the sections titled “Diary: How to improve the world [You will only make matters worse].” The question is, how best to present them, though, and remain faithful to the happy, smiling, artistic personality with which Cage presented all his work — whether through sounds, art or writing. Quite a lot of that writing is presented in more “anarchistic” form — such as the many mesostics he favoured creating, often by utilising the chance operations of the Chinese divination text, the I Ching, when brought into relationship with more orthodox texts in order to randomly rearrange them. This, for example, is what most of Anarchy is when the words of various anarchists are jumbled up and deposited on the page in orders decided by operations of chance designed for the purpose. Here Cage did with words what he would also do with music, a furtherance of ideas exhibited in texts like the “Lecture on Nothing” or the “Lecture on Something”, contained in his first book, Silence, and displayed as written texts, but texts written according to musical notation and meant to be read as musical pieces. One gets the impression all this randomising and chance operations and unfamiliarising activity is in order to wake us from the slumber of our conventions in order to get us to see again, as if for the first time with our mental chains removed [and so as Howard Jones encourages us, too, in New Song]. Cage was a Cynic, too, and every bit as much as Diogenes of Sinope.

So, considering such matters, it seems to me that I cannot just rattle on for another 20 pages talking about Cage and his artistic anarchism in traditional fashion, attempting to typify his oeuvre under an interpretation at once my own and, inevitably, incomplete. Instead, I must depart from this method in order that, like him with his readers, I may encourage such as I manage to acquire to think again as well. Consequently, what follows in most of the rest of this chapter is random thoughts plucked from Cage’s “Diary” portions of his books. Interspersed, on occasion, will be my own random thoughts {indicated by curly brackets}. I claim no unifying theme to any of this nor even any connection between them. As Cage himself would probably also say, what they mean and how, or if they relate to each other, is up to you. I will begin in M and then work my way through A Year From Monday and X accordingly...

Truth’s not true... An individual, having no separate soul, is a time-span, a
collection of changes. Our nature’s that of Nature. Nothing’s fixed.
Excepting everything, there’s nothing to respect.

                                                                                                                                  Yes and No are lies.

Frontiers describe what’s beyond as well as what’s enclosed.

                                                          {Opposites are {co-}relatives. }

Scientists are sometimes not scientific. Take atomic garbage. First they put it in rivers and streams. Then someone noticed the waters began to boil. Now just as cats do after shitting, they dig a trench, put the garbage in it, cover it up, and then forget about it.

“Classification... ceases when its no longer possible to establish
oppositions.” [Government’s outmoded. ]

                        To improve society, spend more time with people whom you haven’t met.

Protest actions fan the flames of a dying fire [government]. Protest helps
to keep the government going.

                                                                                                    Global civil war.

At the present moment the question is, do I have enough change for another beer? More important question: Is there enough food and drink for everyone who is living? Civilization is Hamletized [people are dying right and left]. To be or not to be. That is the question.

We need to conceive of anarchy to be able to whole-heartedly do whatever another tells us to.

World body.

Giving up true and false.

No need to move the camera. Pictures come to it.

The goal is not to have a goal. The new universe city will have no limits.

The act of sharing is a community act. Think of people outside the

community. What do we share with them?

College: two hundred people reading the same book. An obvious mistake.

Two hundred people can read two hundred books.

{“I need nothing. | seek nothing. | desire nothing.” — Milarepa}

Develop facilities that remove the need for middlemen.

A computer mistake in grade-giving resulted in the academic failure of several brilliant students. After some years the mistake was discovered. A letter was then sent to each student inviting them to resume their studies. Each replied they were getting along very well without education.

Einstein wrote to Freud to say that men should stop having wars. Freud wrote back to say if you get rid of wars you’ll also get rid of love. Freud was wrong. What permits us to love one another and the earth we inhabit is that both we and it are impermanent.

Things government wishes to divide between us belong to all of us: the

land, for instance, or beneath the oceans.

Languages separate people.

{Only if you talk.}

Put them that threaten possessions and power together with them who

offend our tastes in sex and dope. Those who are touched, put them in

asylums. Pack off old ones to “senior communities,” nursing homes. Our

children? Keep them prisoner, babysitter as warden. School? Good for 15-

20 years. Army afterward. Liberated? We live in prison. No this, no that.

Kill us before we die!

We leave food offerings for the person who makes the next telephone call

no matter who he is: thus we transform the highway telephone booth into

a wayside shrine.

The poor? Where do they go to retire?

Tunnel workmen including toll-collectors went on strike. The public was put on the honor system. Once the strike was settled, receipts were examined to see how much the public had cheated the government. However, more money had been received than had been due; drivers not having change had apparently been generous. In addition, the government Saved all public money it would have paid its employees.

Remove God from the world of ideas. Remove government, politics, from

society. Keep sex, humor, utilities. Let private property go. We also have

no need for employment. We are busy doing our own work.

Now there’s more and more of us, we find one another more and more

interesting. We’re amazed when there are so many of us that each one of

us is unique, different from all the others.

Asked what he thought of first lecture, [Zen Buddhist D.T.] Suzuki said,

“Excellent, but in Zen most important thing is life.” Asked next day what

he thought of second lecture, Suzuki said, “Excellent, but in Zen most

important thing is death.” How can you say life one day and death the

next? “In Zen there’s not much difference between the two.”

Lois Long received a commission to make a design to be printed on toilet

paper. Unstimulated by the notion of making floral designs, she asked me

if I had any ideas. Dollar bills.

California fishermen are quarrelling with fishermen from Ecuador over the

right to fish for poisoned fish.

We know the best government is no government at all... We renounce

privileges of democracy. We dream of the day when no one knows who’s

President because no one bothered to vote.

World patriotism.

Vitamin C’s one fault is that its cheaper and more popular than highly

advertised, often dangerous, drugs. Therefore, the American medical-

industrial combine warns the public: Vitamin C can be hazardous to your

health. What they mean is: We want more of your money.

We don’t fear anarchy: we fear government.

The day after we arrived in Los Angeles, the police killed one teenager

and wounded nine others.

After hearing the end of the story, he said, “That doesn’t seem to be the

end of the story.” Of course, he’s right. The story goes on and on and on.

Times published a news release from the Food and Drug Administration

listing marketed drugs that we hazardous or ineffectual. There was then

an unexpected run on the market. Customers apparently feared that their

favourite remedies would become unavailable.

It would be better to have no school at all than the schools we now have.

Encouraged, instead of frightened, children could learn several languages

before reaching the age of four, at that age engaging in the invention of

their own languages. Play would be play instead of being, as now, release

of repressed anger.

Doesn’t matter whether you’re in first class or coach. You still see the same movie.

Subjected university library to chance operations. Eighty students read

four hundred books. Class became people. Conversation.


Now that we have everything we need, we discover that there is almost

nothing that we have that we want.

Everything’s caused by everything else.

Twelve disciples. One teacher. One too many.

If we could change our language, that’s to say, the way we think, we’d probably be able to swing the revolution.

A newspaperman wrote asking me to send him my philosophy in a

nutshell. Get out of whatever cage you happen to be in.

National Wildlife Refuges: museumization of wilderness.

Imitation of nature in her manner of operation, traditionally the artist’s

function, is now what everyone has to do. Complicate your garden so its

surprising like uncultivated land.

Suburban policeman came to the door. He went away without making any

arrests. If you’re poor, its illegal. If you’re rich, you’re automatically within

the law.

What necessary mystery can people working together make? Effective

revolution... Create an environment that works so well we can run wild in


It is right to rebel.

We are getting rid of ownership, substituting use.

Art is in the process of coming into its own: life. {Life as art.}

Looking in all directions not just one direction.

People still ask for definitions, but its quite clear now that nothing can be


Refuse value judgments.

The way to lose our principles is to examine them, give them an airing.

Let’s call it the collective conscious [we’ve got the collective unconscious].

The question is: what are the things everyone needs regardless of likes

and dislikes? Beginning of answer: food, water, shelter, clothing,

electricity, audio-visual communication, transportation. Form of answer:

global utilities network.

The truth is that everything causes everything else. We do not speak,

therefore, of one thing causing another.

Hearing my thoughts, someone asked, “Are you a Marxist?” Answer: I’m

an anarchist, same as you are when you’re telephoning, turning on/off

lights or drinking water.

The private prospect of enlightenment is no longer sufficient. Not just self-

but social-realization.

{Either we’re all free or nobody is. Its not about individuals but systems. }

There’s a temptation to do nothing simply because there’s so much to do

that one doesn’t know where to begin. Begin anywhere.

The cows in India, not understanding traffic lights, cross intersections

whenever they reach them. Motorists never get angry. They wait


{Things are not to be explained. Not even an explanation for why we should not explain.}

Life isn’t about being right.

Until you give up owning property radical social change is impossible.

Since for a long time we’ve been saying that money is the root of all evil,

we should get rid of it, lock, stock and barrel.

{When you are rich what is there to do but become richer?}

We just want those things that have so often been promised or stated:

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; Freedom of this and that.

{“Keeping the world going” is a fundamentally different activity to

improving it.}

We gave up judgments and substituted poetry.

We only have one mind — the one we share.

The USA thinks the world is the USA’s world and is determined to keep it

free and USA-determined.

{Why else would the USA have hundreds of military bases in dozens of

countries all around the world? Its an occupation.}

Shoes and clothes made in Puerto Rico are exported to the United States.

What isn’t sold there goes up in price and then goes back to Puerto Rico.

Americans, their government coupled with their industry, automatically

barge in wherever there’s a sign of cheap labor. We’re all over Latin

America. We don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese. Our exploitees don’t

speak English. Now they speak with bombs hoping someday we’ll


Emily Bueno said the reason nothing will happen in America to improve

matters is most of the people are comfortable the way it is.

Nobody voted. Government was embarrassed out of existence.

Politics is all of the actions of all of the people.

Nuclear weaponry is a rational adjunct to internationalism. Each nation is

married to industry but industry is polygamous. Each nation is selfish.

What’s needed is an intelligent equation between human needs and world


The international world is schizophrenic, split against itself. There is no

political remedy for this disease. Power politics was its cause. Holocaust.

The divorce of state and industry.

There’s no longer time to correct things first here and then there, say in

Puerto Rico today, South Africa tomorrow, later in Israel or El Salvador.

The whole thing’s wrong. The beginning of the future, if there is to be one,

is making the world a single place, freeing it from its division into nations.

People ask what the

avant-garde is and whether it’s

finished. It isn’t. There will

always be one. The avant-garde is

flexibility of mind and it follows like

day the night from not falling prey to

government and education. Without

avant-garde nothing would get


Excerpt from “Lecture on Nothing”

I am here and there is nothing to say. If among you are those who wish to get somewhere, let them leave at any moment. What we require is silence; but what silence requires is that I go on talking. Give any one thought a push: it falls down easily; but the pusher and the pushed produce that entertainment called a discussion. Shall we have one later?

Or, we could simply decide not to have a discussion. Whatever you like. But now there are silences and the words help make the silences. I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry as I need it. This space of time is organised. We need not fear these silences, — we may love them. This is a composed talk, for I am making it just as I make a piece of music. It is like a glass of milk. We need the glass and we need the milk. Or again it is like an empty glass into which at any moment anything may be poured. As we go along, [who knows?] an idea may occur in this talk. I have no idea whether one will or not. If one does, let it. Regard it as something seen momentarily, as though from a window while travelling.

Excerpt from “Lecture on Something”

This is a talk about something and naturally also a talk about nothing, about how something and nothing are not opposed to each other but need each other to keep on going. It is difficult to talk when you have something to say precisely because of the words which keep making us say in the way which the words need to stick to and not in the Way which we need for living. For instance: someone said, “Art should come from within; then it is profound.” But it seems to me Art goes within, and I don’t see the need for “should” or “then” or “it” or “profound.” When Art comes from within, which is what it was for so long doing, it became a thing which seemed to elevate the man who made it above those who observed it or heard it and the artist was considered a genius or given a rating: First, Second, No Good, until finally riding in a bus or subway: so proudly he signs his work like a manufacturer.

But since everything’s changing, art’s now going in and it is of the utmost importance not to make a thing but rather to make nothing. And how is this done? It is done by making something which then goes in and reminds us of nothing. It is important that this something be just something, finitely something; then very simply it goes in and becomes infinitely nothing. It seems we are living. Understanding of what is nourishing is changing. Of course, it is always changing, but now it is very clearly changing, so that the people either agree or they don’t and the differences of o-pinion are clearer. Just a year or so a-go everything seemed to be an individual matter. But now there are two sides. On one side it is that individual matter going on, and on the other side it is more, not an individual but everyone which is not to say it’s all the same,- on the contrary there are more differences. That is: starting finitely everything’s different but in going in it all becomes the same.

TEN: Anarchy, Language, Fiction, Magic: Alan Moore

When I wrote the third volume of There is Nothing To Stick To, my anthological exploration of anarchy [the third volume was subtitled “Spiritual and Political Anarchy”], sections 235–249 of that book were dedicated to an essay on Alan Moore’s tale of anarchy and fascism, V for Vendetta. In that story, anarchy is regarded as an insight or a realisation the individual needs to have before they can “get” what anarchism is actually about. This is revealed through both the back story of V and in V’s actions in regard to Evey in order that she, too, may have a “moment of clarity”. The story as a whole, of course, is about waking up the population in general in regard to the possibility of a truly anarchist existence on the basis of an anarchist awakening and a resulting anarchist consciousness.

It is interesting to me that Alan Moore would present it like this but, it turns out, when one learns more about Moore himself, this approach makes perfect sense — for Moore is an intellectual and anarchy, as he understands it, is akin to magic, a matter of mind, consciousness, art, language and fiction. This, in some senses, makes Moore’s version of anarchy somewhat mysterious but never ever anything less than real — and it invites us to probe some of Moore’s ideas about these things in order to understand this intellectual kind of anarchy further. In doing so, I believe, we learn more about ourselves as human beings and the place of a specifically intellectual kind of anarchy within such a form of existing.

When Alan Moore talks directly about anarchy, which he has done several times over the years [one finds, when one looks, that Moore has done numerous interviews, both in print and the kind that find their way online as videos], he says the kind of things about it with which I would wholeheartedly agree. For example, in a statement which implicates both type 1 and type 2 anarchies, he says:

“basically, anarchy is in fact the only political position that is actually possible. I believe that all other political states are in fact variations or outgrowths of a basic state of anarchy; after all, when you mention the idea of anarchy to most people they will tell you what a bad idea it is because the biggest gang would just take over. Which is pretty much how I see contemporary society. We live in a badly developed anarchist situation in which the biggest gang has taken over and have declared that it is not an anarchist situation—that it is a capitalist or a communist situation. But I tend to think that anarchy is the most natural form of politics for a human being to actually practice. All it means, the word, is no leaders. An-archon. No leaders.”

Further, as in the case of Peter Kropotkin in relation to mutual aid, Moore sees this as something we learn from animals:

“I think that if we actually look at nature without prejudice, we find that this is the state of affairs that usually pertains. I mean, previous naturalists have looked at groups of animals and have said, ‘Ah, yes, this animal is the alpha male, so he is the leader of the group.’ Whereas later research tends to suggest that this is simply the researcher projecting his own social visions onto a group of animals, and that if you observe them more closely you will find out that, yes there is this big tough male that seems to handle most of the fights, but that the most important member of the herd is probably this female at the back that everybody seems to gather around during any conflict. There are other animals within the herd that might have an importance in terms of finding new territory. In fact the herd does not actually structure itself in terms of hierarchies; every animal seems to have its own position within the herd.”

Moore also talks about anarchy as “the state that most naturally obtains” when it comes to regular human beings living their lives “in a natural way”. This was also, of course, the way they did live in the past for tens of thousands of years in a state of existence before civilisation came. But, with that, leaders seem to have come too, as Moore himself muses, and that in a artificial way:

“It seems to me that the idea of leaders is an unnatural one that was probably thought up by a leader at some point in antiquity; leaders have been brutally enforcing that idea ever since, to the point where most people cannot conceive of an alternative.”

Moore, like many of the more politically anarchist figures, also knows enough to know that you couldn’t just go from now to living by means of anarchism in one fell swoop. Education is necessary:

“In order for any workable and realistic state of anarchy to be achieved, you will obviously have to educate people—and educate them massively— towards a state where they could actually take responsibility for their own actions and simultaneously be aware that they are acting in a wider group: that they must allow other people within that group to take responsibility for their own actions. Which on a small scale, as it works in families or in groups of friends, doesn’t seem to be that implausible, but it would take an awful lot of education to get people to think about living their lives in that way. And obviously, no government, no state, is ever going to educate people to the point where the state itself would become irrelevant. So if people are going to be educated to the point where they can take responsibility for their own laws and their own actions and become, to my mind, fully actualized human beings, then it will have to come from some source other than the state or government.”

Note there that Moore thinks of the anarchist human being as the “fully actualised” human being. I agree with Moore there especially and since Moore thinks of anarchy as much more than a state pertaining thanks, and only thanks, to the activities of human beings, Moore implicates type 1 and type 2 versions of anarchy, in my terms, in what he is saying. Moore relates anarchy to things, states, realities beyond the realm of “what humans have decided is best”. In this context, he seemingly has no love for money [and, in his real life, has actually turned a lot of it down in that he refuses to be associated with pretty much all of the TV or film adaptations that Hollywood, and others, have wanted to make of his work] and he sees money as casting a kind of spell on people:

“the nature of currency is a kind of magic: these pieces of metal or pieces of paper only have value as long as people believe that they do. If somebody were to introduce another kind of piece of metal or piece of paper, and if people were to start believing in that form of currency more than yours, then all of your wealth would suddenly vanish.”

“Economics,” says Moore elsewhere, “is always strange. You’re not talking about anything that’s actually real.” So, in this respect, getting rid of money is like dissipating the effects of the spell that has been cast over us. But Moore sees no other way and can put it in quite medieval terms: “Behead the currency. Change the currency, why not? It would disempower all the people who had bought into that currency but it would pretty much empower the rest of us, the other ninety-nine percent.” Again, I totally agree with this and one focus of my own understanding of anarchism has been to wonder how we devalue, replace or simply get rid of money from human society as a thing which would change the nature of human relationships from ones of power and domination based on wealth to ones in which, once again, we have to relate to each other as equals at a stroke.

But it is with this idea of money as a kind of spell cast over us that we begin to impinge upon the more mystical side of Alan Moore, a side which is no less implicated in his ideas of anarchy. Here, that something is “a kind of thinking” is very important and, in some ways, is comparable to what Nietzsche was saying earlier when he talked about “how human beings think” being important in terms of what their outcome was and how they subsequently act. Staying on the theme of money, for example, Moore says the following:

“The origin of money is something to do with representational thinking. Representational thinking is the real leap, where somebody says ‘hey I can draw this shape on the cave wall and it is, in some way, the bison we saw at the meadow. These lines are the bison.’ That of course leads to language — this squiggle is, of course, a tree, or something is the tree. Money is code for the whole of life — you can bind in everything that is contained within life for money, money is a certain amount of sex, a certain amount of shelter, a certain amount of sustenance.... Money is the code for the entire world. Money is the world, the world in the sense I was talking about earlier, our abstract ideas about the world. Money is a perfect symbol for all that, and if you don’t believe in it, and you set a match to it, it’s just firewood — it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

Here money is the product of a kind of thinking and, if we did not think that way, it is hard to see how the things produced by such a way of thinking could exist. This is then to say, as Moore does in so many words, that “Material existence is entirely founded on a phantom realm of mind, whose nature and geography are unexplored.” We think the “real world” — an unhelpful and entirely invented notion if there ever was one — is the material world of physical phenomena that shape our experience and force us to have views about it. But Alan Moore doesn’t think that. Moore thinks that it is “reality” that is subject to a fiction that is almost magical in its abilities. And so he says:

“I think that if you actually examine the relationship between real life and fiction, you’ll find that we most often predicate our real lives upon fictions that we have applied from somewhere... It’s a kind of fiction, it is not a reality in the sense that it is something concrete and fixed; we constantly fictionalize our own experience. We edit our own experience. There are bits of it that we simply misremember, and there are bits of it that we deliberately edit out because they’re not of interest to us or perhaps they show us in a bad light. So we’re constantly revising, both as individuals and as nations, our own past. We’re turning it moment by moment into a kind of fiction, that is the way that we assemble our daily reality. We are not experiencing reality directly, we are simply experiencing our perception of reality. All of these signals pulsing down optic nerves, and in the tympanums of our ears, from those we compose, moment by moment, our view of reality. And inevitably, because people’s perceptions are different, and the constructions that people put on things are different, then there is no such thing as a cold, objective reality that is solid and fixed and not open to interpretation. Inevitably, we are to some extent creating a fiction every second of our lives, the fiction of who we are, the fiction of what our lives are about, the meanings that we give to things.”

This will sound very much like things I have myself already been saying whilst completely unaware of Moore’s thoughts on the subject. Moore’s difference from me, in this respect, is his magical interest which sees fiction as a kind of magic which creates the world it then finds — like a kind of spell cast upon it. Moore, in various interviews and discussions, can discourse at length about what amounts to basically the power of language and fiction to create or conjure. A grimoire, for example, he says is just another word for grammar. Actual magic spells are just a dramatic presentation of the power of words. This, for Moore, is all linked to ideas of the imaginal and consciousness and how they essentially create the world that we inhabit. Moore’s friend, and a semi-regular conversation partner of his, the author, John Higgs, puts it like this in relating Moore’s views in his book, KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money, in which Moore plays a tangential role:

“Moore underst[ands] that while we assume that we live firmly in the real, physical world, in actuality we live in a mental model of that world. This model is produced by our minds based on memories and information from the senses. It is a very detailed and convincing model, so much so that it is difficult to accept how unreal it is. If you look at an object, for example, you see colour and assume that the object is that colour. But colour as we experience it is an invention of our minds which does not exist in the real world. It is a mental interpretation of whichever wavelengths of light the object we are looking at cannot absorb and so bounces back to us. This is something that the Buddhists worked out early on. They used to ask students “What makes the grass green?”, and expected them to discover through meditation that the answer was themselves.”

But Higgs takes things further than this into wanting to explain Moore’s insights here and so he goes on:

“But even if we accept that we only know the physical world through a mental approximation, we rarely acknowledge how much of the physical world is actually the product of the mental. For example, consider these words that you are reading — where did they come from? What about the language that they are written in? What about the shape of the letters themselves? What about the font? If you are reading them on paper, then how is paper created, and where did the idea to create paper come from in the first place? If you are sitting in a chair, who designed that chair? Or the floor on which it sits? Look around the room that you are in. Is there anything there that didn’t first appear as an idea in the head of another person? Think about the aims of the job you do or the ideology of your preferred political party. Think about the recipes of the food you eat or the music you listen to. The world we actually live in is made of ideas that have left human minds and entered the physical world. Indeed, the story of our evolution is essentially the story of us retreating from the natural world into the mental one.”

This leads Higgs to talk about what Alan Moore calls “Ideaspace”, which is “a model of the mental world” Moore thinks as real as the physical one. In this space ideas, which are real if immaterial, link up in ways unrestricted by the rules of physical space-time. It is an entirely interconnected and interrelated universe. But this imaginal world is not just personal to us for we can step out of more personal parts of Ideaspace and wander through its communal areas. Indeed, Moore seems to see this as imperative if we want to change the world by means of such mental realities. It is this creative, linguistic, fictional activity [and Moore endorses all of these as characteristics of Ideaspace], and these processes — which Moore conceives of as what Higgs terms “the way thoughts exist and alter the world” — that Alan Moore calls “magic”. It is John Higgs again who explains the consequences of Moore’s imaginative leap:

“What Moore ha[s] done [i]s to raise the importance of the mental world of imagination and lower that of the physical. Indeed, you could argue that he has reversed them, claiming more importance for the imagination than the physical to the extent where the physical world is the product of the mental. This approach, in which the material is dependent on the immaterial, echoes Charles Fort’s belief that, ‘A tree cannot find out, as it were, how to blossom, until comes blossom-time. A social growth cannot find out the use of steam engines, until comes steam-engine-time.’ This was the phenomena of why, after millennia of inventions such as the electric light, calculus or steam engines not existing, several people would invent the exact same thing at much the same time [at which point there’s a mad race down to the patent office, with the winner celebrated by history and the others forgotten]. As Moore s[ees] it, the idea ha[s] been discovered in a shared area of Ideaspace, and several wanderers ha[ve] stumbled upon it shortly afterwards.”

This perhaps all sounds a little mystical, even spooky, to those unfamiliar with such ideas. But consider the thoughts of Nietzsche in chapter 2 or those of the liberal and very sober professor of philosophy and comparative literature, Richard Rorty, in chapter 5. What we are really talking about here is the power of language, which is the power of thought or imagination to conjure and create. Nietzsche has already told us earlier that our knowledge is like hiding something behind a bush, going away, and then coming back to find it where we left it — and then acting as if that was something remarkable, something epistemological. This, of course, is a nonsense and a deliberately setting out to regard something we do as if it had the credit of something else, a credit we invent and imagine it has. We are here, in Moore’s terms, creating a world of knowledge that we can have by imagining that it is so. And Moore’s point is that that imagination has the power — he would say magical power — to do exactly such a thing. Our minds, our consciousness, our imaginations — all of them based on language — can create and shape the world. Where they do this in the communal section of “Ideaspace” this is not, in fact, so different from Carl Jung’s notion of the “collective unconscious”.

This is all very interesting and surely, now it is explained this way, links up with other philosophical thought about language and its creative abilities as we have already seen. But where does it fit in with anarchy and anarchism? Here something Moore says sets us off down a path: “the idea of a magical revolution would revolve around actually changing people’s consciousnesses, which is to say, actually changing the nature of perceived reality.” This, it now seems as a lightbulb suddenly blinks on above our heads, is what V was doing in V for Vendetta in the second act where he attempted to, and succeeded in, changing Evey Hammond’s way of seeing the world. The Evey Hammond V met in the first act of the book was a very different Evey to the one who exists in act three of the book and the difference is the events that take place in that second act to change Evey’s consciousness of the world and her place, everybody’s place, in it. It is as if, in that second act, V took the entirety of the physical world, including all its connections, associations and our feelings about it, and reconstituted it in Evey’s mind by means of imagination. Through language and fiction V literally reconstructed the mental world of Evey’s consciousness and this had the effect of reconstituting the physical world in which she lived as well. Indeed, the latter was powerless before the creative power of the former. Moore calls this magical activity [which is the same as linguistic, fictional activity] but, whatever we call it, it has the power to change not only the mental world but the physical one as well. As Moore said earlier in this chapter: “we constantly fictionalize our own experience”. But I would go further: we constantly fictionalize the world. The world is a fiction and nothing but a fiction in its contexts and linkages.

In an earlier chapter I described we human beings as stuck in language metaphorically as we are physically stuck in the earth’s atmosphere. We need both to live as our form of life now lives. Moore has a similar idea when he says that “Embedded in the amber of space-time... we perceive events, and continuity, and narrative, and character, and meaning, and morality.” Such a reality Moore thinks gives us a task, however, one connected to the beings that we are with the circumstances that we find ourselves in. He explains this using his preferred “magical” vocabulary:

“This enables us to identify magic as a phenomenon inextricably bound up with language, art and consciousness as if they were indeed but facets of the same thing, and to provide a new definition of magic as ‘Any purposeful engagement with the phenomena and possibilities of consciousness.’... I see [the] task and indeed the responsibility of modern magicians/artists to be the reassembly of the fractured world, the fractured worldviews and the fractured psychologies that presently surround us.”

This, on Moore’s part, is only to say that we should be attempting in the real, consequential world of our own experience what V does in regard to the world of Evey Hammond and Norsefire in the fictional world of V for Vendetta. We literally need to imagine a new world, already existing in Ideaspace, into existence in physical space. We need to change our consciousness and that of those around us. We need, in terms I put it in the book in which I discussed V for Vendetta specifically, to dream another dream. Perhaps you think mere fiction, mere imagination, mere stories, do not have the power to do this? Moore has a handy historical tale ready to make you think about this again in that case:

“Now, as I understand it, the bards were feared. They were respected, but more than that they were feared. If you were just some magician, if you’d pissed off some witch, then what’s she gonna do, she’s gonna put a curse on you, and what’s gonna happen? Your hens are gonna lay funny, your milk’s gonna go sour, maybe one of your kids is gonna get a hare-lip or something like that — no big deal. You piss off a bard, and forget about putting a curse on you, he might put a satire on you. And if he was a skilful bard, he puts a satire on you, it destroys you in the eyes of your community, it shows you up as ridiculous, lame, pathetic, worthless, in the eyes of your community, in the eyes of your family, in the eyes of your children, in the eyes of yourself, and if it’s a particularly good bard, and he’s written a particularly good satire then, three hundred years after you’re dead, people are still gonna be laughing at what a twat you were.”

Moore is talking exactly about the power of fiction to depict things a certain way, a way you cannot unsee or deny. Why, today, do millions of people think capitalism is inevitable, so inevitable, in fact, that they literally cannot think of any other way to live, even if they suffer terribly at the hands of it? It is because they have been told a story about it so powerful that they literally are unable to think in any other categories or imagine any other possibilities. In Moore’s language we might talk of a “curse” having been cast in this case — but only in Moore’s sense of magic as the linguistic, fictional, imaginal thing he conceives it to be, that thing which can inhabit and possess our consciousness with such force that it determines not just the mental but also the physical world for us as well. Of course, where this appears as “truth” it also comes with the force of social reinforcement as we are coerced to believe what others also believe. But, says Moore, “Truth is a well-known pathological liar. It invariably turns out to be fiction wearing a fancy frock. Self-proclaimed fiction, on the other hand, is entirely honest. You can tell this, because it comes right out and says, ‘I’m a Liar,’ right there on the dust jacket.” Truth tells lies and lies tell the truth. Fiction has always been about more than right or wrong and, because its human, and because humans are those who create and cast their spells upon the world, reality has always been about more than “what is” — because “what is” is a matter of what you can imagine and not of “what’s there”.

And so when we come back to thinking about our political world and political, magical objects like money we need to keep all this in mind. We need to resist the spells others cast in our direction and cast our own. As Alan Moore says:

“We need to overhaul the way that we think about money, we need to overhaul the way that we think about who’s running the show. As an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people, to the people whose lives this is actually affecting. It’s no longer good enough to have a group of people who are controlling our destinies. The only reason they have the power is because they control the currency. They have no moral authority and, indeed, they show the opposite of moral authority.”

This suggests that money exerts a powerful “magical” effect over human beings and my experience, with those who call themselves anarchists as much as with those who don’t, would bear this out. A number of people defer to money and to other things imbued with the magical power of wealth because, so they say, that’s just the way the world is right now. Yet, if Alan Moore is right, it is not the anarchist task to submit to the spells cast upon the world by capitalist or fascistic or dominating, coercive others but to refute them, rebut them, and cast spells [or fictions] of our own instead. We must use the power of language, fiction and consciousness in our favour and, so we argue, to the benefit of the world rather than to just a few. We need to cast thinking like this from Alan Moore upon the world:

“Anarchy, meaning simply ‘no leaders’, to me implies a situation in which everyone must take responsibility for their own actions and, therefore, serve as their own leaders. In such a state, inter-individual cooperation is the most successful and thus the default form of interaction. This is why our species, for the hundreds of thousands of years that constituted its hunter/gatherer stage, was non-hierarchical, and why the greatest social sin in those earliest proto-societies was the attempt to claim greater status than anyone else, this being punishable by ridicule and, when ridicule proved insufficient, by banishment. This is apparently still the tradition amongst some of the world’s aboriginal people up to the present day. It is currently thought that those earliest communities somehow realised that status would create divisions that would ultimately destabilise the entire culture. For me, anarchy suggests that to become fully realised as human beings we must each make our own individual peace with the universe and stand as women or men, naked and denuded of status, at the heart of a stupefying and starry existence which surely makes all such status less than meaningless.”

At the end of that quote Moore makes another important observation — that all this meaning we are making is only human meaning. In the context of type 1 anarchy, a kind of anarchy Moore himself can both see and imagine, our meaning is meaningless. The universe neither knows nor cares that we exist. But, in terms of type 2 anarchy, it is vitally important for it is how we create type 2 anarchy and it is how we create the bridge between type 1 and type 2 anarchy, how we embed ourselves fully into existence on every level we can imagine in a way not troubled or disturbed by a resistance to being part of something we do not control. Doing this requires relating and consolidating the meaning we make to the meaninglessness of the whole, of it all.

Here, though, it is important to note that violent revolution is not going to work. You cannot force people to become anarchists, that is to say, you cannot force people to take on a form of consciousness, imagine an existence or dream a certain dream — a thought I share consciously in the knowledge of the text of act two of V for Vendetta where, it could be argued, this is exactly what V does to Evey. But I do not intend to say that this either is or is not the case at this point. Readers who want to explore this must do so themselves. My point here is that violence, death, prisons, physical consequences, are ultimately destructive of lives and ideas rather than creative of such things and, even where it can be argued violence changes lives and creates new ones, this is often not with the best of intentions in those who find their lives changed. And so Alan Moore says:

“I really don’t think that a violent revolution is ever going to provide a long-term solution to the problems of the ordinary person. I think that is something that we had best handle ourselves, and which we are most likely to achieve by the simple evolution of western society. But that might take quite a while, and whether we have that amount of time is, of course, open to debate.”

This is again something that I agree with [but in a world and not merely a “Western” context] — as readers of There is Nothing To Stick To will probably have ascertained. I don’t see how violence, or suddenly violent changes in the direction of society as a whole, which millions would inevitably resist, changes things from a current wrong to an anarchist right. Not only does this ignore the insights, shared by Moore, that we require a massive and ongoing program of anarchist education and that it is also a matter of changing consciousness, but it creates further problems to boot. The way forward must be by changing the consciousnesses of millions of individual people and thereby, changing the consciousness of society as a whole. This, it may be argued, is in fact how society has always changed and evolved. It is, in fact, how evolution itself is imagined to work, albeit that, from time to time, evolution receives a kick in the backside as well which results in faster and slower rates of the process.

What is required, then, is a change of human consciousness and Moore has a very interesting way of articulating that by means of the magic that is language and fiction, a remaking the physical world by means of the imaginal world. The question then becomes “What can you imagine?” and, in thinking that question, you bring possibilities to light. For example, in discussing V for Vendetta, Moore discusses the opponents in that book, fascism and anarchy:

“Fascism is a complete abdication of personal responsibility. You are surrendering all responsibility for your own actions to the state on the belief that in unity there is strength, which was the definition of fascism represented by the original Roman symbol of the bundle of bound twigs. Yes, it is a very persuasive argument: ‘In unity there is strength.’ But inevitably people tend to come to a conclusion that the bundle of bound twigs will be much stronger if all the twigs are of a uniform size and shape, that there aren’t any oddly shaped or bent twigs that are disturbing the bundle. So it goes from ‘in unity there is strength’ to ‘in uniformity there is strength’ and from there it proceeds to the excesses of fascism as we’ve seen them exercised throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

Now anarchy, on the other hand, is almost starting from the principle that ‘in diversity, there is strength,’ which makes much more sense from the point of view of looking at the natural world... The whole program of evolution seems to be to diversify, because in diversity there is strength.”

I agree with Moore’s thoughts here [yet again] and, it seems to me, this is a story [of anarchism] that isn’t told nearly often enough in a world where the curse of “I only like people like me; everyone else who is not like me is my enemy and/or opponent” has been spread far and wide from country to country and generation to generation. Often this is called nationalism but it can also be called supremacy, ableism or “rights” for an especially protected group of people that other groups of people should be denied — as well as other things. Any sort of protectionism or focus on one kind of person to the detriment of others is an example of such thinking and is prey to the cursed, fascistic narrative which wants people to all be the same — like me — to the detriment of anybody and everybody else. Moore, in his imagining of anarchy, makes a great deal of use of analogy to his own fiction of the natural world in this — as I suppose I do as well — and it is a world where such fascistic tendencies are unknown.

What this tends to suggest to me, and I really thought this, by means of other terms, before I had read more in detail about Alan Moore’s own thoughts on the subject, is that what you can imagine is the limits of your possibility; what you can imagine is the limits of your world. Now, if this is true, it powerfully shines the light on what, in former anarchist times, was called “propaganda”, that is, the educating of the masses into anarchist thinking. This was a communal and public task of anarchists from the second half of the nineteenth century and continues today in groups like Crimethinc or Dog Section Press, each of which publish literature, or take actions, educating to an anarchist point of view. For Moore, however, as perhaps also for myself, this is also an anarchistic task of the individual who should not be content to be taught by others, good or bad, but should be actively exploring the Ideaspace for themselves.

This, naturally enough, has consequences of its own for, if what you can imagine is the limits of your world, then “what you can imagine” is actually crucially important. Moore discusses this in another interview where he is asked about the scientific and sociological tendency, which is also a thoroughly materialist tendency, to always be seeking a gene as the “cause” of certain forms of human behaviour, i.e. “the gay gene, the criminal gene”, etc. In reply, Moore responds:

“It’s Nazi science, let’s face it. People are more comfortable with that. I am currently writing this thing that is a study of some of my associates in this magic business. [We] are trying to formulate some quasi-rational thoughts on what we think of consciousness, language, magic, and art, and the relationships between them. And connect that with human development and show how these things are incredibly intertwined and inextricable from each other. We start out talking about how the “I” is its own blind spot. Mind has come up with this brilliant way of looking at the world, science, but it can’t look at itself. Science has no place for the mind. The whole of our science is based upon empirical, repeatable experiments, whereas thought is not in that category. You can’t take thought into a laboratory. The essential fact of our existence, perhaps the only fact of our existence—our own thought and perception—is ruled offside by the science it has invented. Science looks at the universe, doesn’t see itself there, doesn’t see mind there, so you have a world in which mind has no place. We are still no nearer to coming to terms with the actual dynamics of what consciousness is. In questing after artificial intelligence, we seem only to have learnt that normal intelligence is so far beyond our comprehension.”

It is, perhaps, for this reason that we settle for cardboard cut out answers like “genes” and “materialism” to some of our profoundest questions — and then canonise them as irrefutable — which means “not to be refuted” — truths. This is “Nazi science” but is also, in a sense, the Nazification of human thought whole and entire. For this is a mode of thought in which the world fixes us rather than us fixing it — as Moore has suggested. This is fascism not anarchism for, in such a world, one thought must be the correct one and everybody, to be considered and treated as correct, must agree with it. In the world of the imaginal, in the world of anarchy, this will not do and can never be. In such a world, full of billions of examples of consciousness [and who is to say this is only human examples?], the responsibility becomes yours to get your own consciousness right, find your place in the whole and tell your truth [which is a fiction]. Of course, in some, maybe even many, cases this will overlap and agree with that of others. No one here is imagining that existence is, in fact, a solipsism. Moore himself, and I with him, in his concept of Ideaspace conceives of communal space where connections are made and people interrelate and interact. But whilst consciousness can be public and shared it is never only that. And it is never a matter of being dominated by the consciousness of others. This image must be a communicative one — perhaps similar to the communicative philosophy of someone like the German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer — and never a coercive, dominating one. The anarchistic impulse to this image here is the ability to agree, or disagree, as one sees fit. Under the rubric of a “Nazi” mentality this cannot, can never, take place — for one must do, and believe, what one is told there by authoritative others, one must submit. But Moore’s idea, Moore’s story, is that this is the responsibility of your own mind. Anarchism is not just an idea that, so it is argued, will be better for the public at large, it is also a necessity of individual practice in the life of our thought itself.

All this, as Gadamer and Moore think, as only two examples of those who agree on this [Nietzsche and Rorty are two others], comes down to language, that phenomena of human existence which shapes not only our [personal] world but the world as a communal process/event. As Alan Moore says as part of a conversation that has veered into a discussion of the “paranormal” practice of “remote viewing” [“the practice of seeking impressions about a distant or unseen target, purportedly ‘sensing’ with the mind”]:

“As I understand, or as I hallucinate, conceptual space, nearly all form in conceptual space, is language. I might even say all the form in nonconceptual space is language. I’m not even sure of what the difference between physical space and conceptual space is anymore in the interface. All form is language. The forms that we see, or imagine, or perceive, or whatever it is remote viewers are doing, in conceptual space, are mindforms made from language, and by language I also mean images, sounds. We dress these basic ideas in language we can understand. Sometimes there are sizeable errors of translation.”

This, once again, agrees with the earlier philosophers I discussed in less “paranormal” parts of this book. The sea we are swimming in is a linguistic sea, a place of fictional constructs, a place of imagination. Sometimes this leads to fascism. Sometimes it leads to conspiracy theories. Sometimes it leads to God. Each is a way of trying to make sense of the world, to make meaning in the sea where there isn’t any. In each case, the overall explanation is imbued with a level of control far beyond its pay grade. Moore, in fact, is fond of repeating that these powers we invest things with are comfort blankets for those who believe in them. They actively want someone, or something, to be “in control” — for at least that will be a world in which things make sense — even if that “sense” results in our wholly understandable oppression. The much harder, and more anarchistic, thing to believe, however, is that, whether now in type 1 or type 2 senses, no one is in control, there is no plan that is either known or can be known — and, horror of horrors, — it might actually be all up to us to imagine and make real.

I could go on but I will leave it here for now, lest this become like a typical Alan Moore interview in which, especially with a sympathetic conversation partner, Moore may begin discussing a subject before diverting, again and again, into 25 or 35 completely different subjects and end up somewhere you could never have imagined from the place in which he began. Yet this, in a way, is also a metaphor for anarchy and anarchism as Moore understands them, matters of what you can imagine, what you can think, what your consciousness can conjure up and is capable of — not least in the connections it can create and the relations it can forge. This is not a place of coercion or domination but of open exploration in the sea of language in which all that exists is the fictions we can use the language we are submerged in to create. You can do this by yourself or you can do it with others — and there are joys and pitfalls to be found in both. But, in either case, what remains is the diversity, the creativity possibility, of imagination. [Diversity, remember, is how living things survive according to the fiction of evolution.] Archetypally, it seems that, for Alan Moore, this insight was based on a formative experience in the Northampton Arts Lab. I will let him explain this, to close, as my closing thought of this chapter on the intellectual anarchism of Alan Moore:

“The only organisation I have ever enjoyed being a part of was the Northampton Arts Lab, when I was seventeen. Arts Labs are a phenomenon that no longer exist. They only existed for the late sixties, early seventies. I can’t even begin to describe the effect that had upon me, and I suspect that it would be difficult to measure the effect they had on British culture. It was basically the idea that in any town, anywhere, there was nothing to stop like-minded people who were interested in any form of art, getting together and forming completely anarchic experimental arts workshops—magazines, live events, whatever they could imagine doing. And it was completely nonhierarchical, and it worked fine. There would be other artists you respect, and you would talk about possible collaborations. I’ve not seen another organisation like that, and therefore I’ve never joined another organisation until this magic cabal, which we’ve just made up as we went along. It’s pretty much the same to me—art and magic are synonymous. It’s just that this is a magic lab, rather than an arts lab. That sort of organisation, where it is arranged in a natural, neurological pattern—I mean it was the Arts Labs that gave us David Bowie, from Beckenham Arts Lab—, and can see that kind of consciousness that he was bringing to it, the mixed media. To me, that is the only organisation that works. To me, any other organisation has got a whiff of fascism. I’m not using the word in the sense of, ‘All politicians are fascist.’ I think all girl guides are fascists. It’s ‘facia,’ the Roman word for a bunch of bound twigs, and that was the original symbol for fascism, and the symbolism of it is that one twig can be broken but in unity, there is strength. Inevitably, this translates as, ‘In uniformity there is strength.’ The twigs will be tied together in a neater and stronger bundle if they are all the same size and length. That’s fascism. It suggests that you have two contrary organisational principles involved [here]. One is a kind of linear, meccano-like organization—tie up all the sticks, make sure they are the same length, and you have a brick wall or something. The other one— anarchy—is a more fractal, more natural, more human organisational system in that it organises society in much the same way that we organise our personalities, where it is purely the interplay of neurons. We haven’t got a king neuron that tells all the other neurons what to do. It seems to me to be a more emotionally natural way of working with other people.”


ELEVEN: Emma Goldman’s Personal and Political Freedom

Had I been alive in Emma Goldman’s New York in the beginning of the twentieth century, I feel sure that I would have been drawn into her orbit like a moth to a flame. I may eventually have ended up becoming a pest, like one man in her memoir, Living My Life, seems to have become in this period of her life and who would suddenly appear at her meetings all across the United States, seemingly unable to leave Goldman’s life alone and go about his own. I must admit that, the more of Goldman’s memoir I have read, the more I can understand the unreflective impulses of this man. This is not because of any desire to hamper or possess Goldman, nor even to monopolise her time [judging by her memoir, she would have violently hated all three of these], but simply because there is in her message, and the way she lived her life, something overwhelmingly attractive and possessed of an irresistible magnetic pull.

Emma Goldman is also someone I have written about before and, as in the other cases, here I want to say other things about her than I said in the other place [book 1 of There is Nothing To Stick To for those interested]. What particularly strikes me about Goldman, when I take a look at all of the literary material about her life I can lay my hands on [primarily first hand material authored by Goldman herself], is how the personal and the political — or the individual and the social — are so tightly wound and implicated one with another. Unreflectively, it is perhaps the case that we think of Goldman — “Red Emma” in the popular parlance of her time in New York [1889–1919] — as a socially-concerned fire brand who was primarily concerned with the organisation of society and the domination one tiny [but powerful] part exhibited over the rest. It seems that she was indeed this and, in terms of her whole life, in more contexts than merely an American one. But there is more to it than this when one starts to ask what the Emma Goldman who also lectured about women’s rights, homosexuality, modern culture, the contents of various books or plays or even the education of children was doing as well. One starts to get the impression that, in the thought and life of Emma Goldman, the “egoism” of an individualist anarchism and the “communism” of a social anarchism are being married together to produce a happy union of them both.

This, at least, is the impression I get, and so the interpretation I shall pursue, in this chapter. To this end, I begin with a story Goldman tells in her memoir, Living My Life, about her time when she had been in New York for a short while and had been introduced to Sasha [Alexander] Berkman and Johann Most, among others, those involved in the anarchist politics of New York amongst its various immigrant populations. [Goldman herself had experience of Russian, Jewish and German communities in her childhood.] On one occasion, she recalls, she had been asked to help encourage some young women to join a strike. This was when Goldman herself was first becoming used to public speaking [still only in her very early 20s] and she says that “the justice of the strike helped me to dramatize my talks and to carry conviction”. Within a few weeks Goldman had persuaded dozens of women to join the strike.

This inspired Goldman’s own confidence in her own abilities and in the cause itself. Now I shall let her take up the story as she tells it in Living My Life:

“I became alive once more. At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to became a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.”

Those in any way familiar with the story of Emma Goldman will immediately recognise this story as the source of the quote “If I can’t dance, its not my revolution” — with which Goldman is regularly credited although, as one can see here, she almost certainly never said those words herself. But she clearly did mean something like them and that “quote”, and the story Goldman herself tells that inspires it, both amount to an intense personal desire to be allowed to express herself as she will and — more than this — that her “beautiful ideal”, as she calls the idea of anarchism, is something which explicitly mandates such a thing in her thinking. This is a very important point for we see it repeated throughout Goldman’s written output throughout her anarchist career.

We also see it, for example, in her account of her earliest lecture tour, organised somewhat against her will by the anarchist organiser, Johann Most, which was a tour of Rochester, New York, Buffalo, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio. Goldman had been invited to read out Most’s notes, not being confident in her own speaking abilities as one with no experience of such things at such a young age and a concern that she might wither with the focus of the spotlight upon her. It is also true to say that she had come to idolize Most as one saying all the things Goldman imagined to feel in her heart. But Goldman experienced these speaking engagements as an awakening and a realization that anarchism was about more than reading someone else’s script, no matter how much you agreed with it or revered the writer. As Goldman herself states:

“I realized I was committing a crime against myself and the workers by serving as a parrot repeating Most’s views. I understood why I had failed to reach my audience. I had taken refuge in cheap jokes and bitter thrusts against the toilers to cover up my own inner lack of conviction. My first public experience did not bring the result Most had hoped for, but it taught me a valuable lesson. It cured me somewhat of my childlike faith in the infallibility of my teacher and impressed on me the need of independent thinking.”

It is the “independent thinking” that is most important there for it indicates in Goldman an early recognition that anarchism is something you do from yourself. In fact, its authenticity lies exactly in this fact about it: it is honest in entirely this sense and absolutely not a script or a plan or an ideology in the sense of some idealist notion which fits over and orders society because you have picked it out as “the best general idea”. Anarchism, thought Goldman, is a matter of thinking for yourself, living your own life and expressing yourself as you see fit. In that context, the inauthenticity of some “one size fits all” script, no matter how theoretically “on point” and no matter who wrote it, can only be a betrayal of anarchism, because of yourself, in itself.

Fast forward almost two decades to 1908. Emma Goldman’s lifelong companion, Sasha Berkman, has, in this time, been imprisoned for 14 years [1892–1906] for the attempted murder of a factory manager who was oppressing his striking workers and virulently anti-union. Goldman herself has also been imprisoned, for ten months from 1893 to 1894, for “inciting to riot” after an open air talk encouraging people to “demonstrate before the palaces of the rich”, during which she said “Demand work. If they do not give you work, demand bread. If they deny you both, take bread”, had caught the attention of the police. Whilst in prison, Goldman had befriended a doctor and became interested in medicine. She would then take up an on/off nursing career for several years in order to earn some money. By 1908, not least due to the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 by a man she had met, Leon Czolgosz [whom in print she attempted to defend in his person if not in his specific act], and whom the papers linked directly to Goldman as the inspiration of, if not the direct reason for, the act, Goldman was now famous across America as an anarchist speaker and agitator with a strong reputation in her own right. By this time, along with the now released Berkman and others, she had begun the publication of her magazine, Mother Earth, in which much of her own thought was produced until 1917 before her further imprisonment [for attempting to stop people being drafted into the US armed forces upon the USA entering World War 1] and her subsequent deportation [under an immigration act which now forbade any promotion of anarchism from immigrants] in 1919 brought that to an end.

The Emma Goldman of 1908, now well used to a furore and mass police presence wherever she is announced to speak [including the police summarily deciding she is not to be allowed to speak, in seeming contravention of the First Amendment, dispersing the assembled crowd with their clubs if necessary and perhaps even taking Goldman into custody], still has “a beautiful ideal”, however. This is shown, for instance, in that “A Beautiful Ideal” was exactly the title of the lecture she was to have given before the Edelstadt Social on March 17th, 1908, at Workingmens’ Hall, 12th & Waller Streets, Chicago. However, the reason that she didn’t, in the end, do this was that she was prevented from doing so by Captain Mahoney of Maxwell Street Station with a squad of about fifty police. The young Emma Goldman of the beautiful ideal who, at first, had been sent out by Johann Most to read his script and who was chided for dancing too enthusiastically was now a woman of almost 40 with a message so feared the police routinely attempted to stop her from even addressing her audience. But what was Emma Goldman’s beautiful ideal?

This talk, as a script only 3 pages long, begins with the canard [a freely traded canard in the newspapers and public opinion of the time] that anarchism is violence. Goldman agrees that anarchism is destructive, but not in the way its opponents mean:

“Anarchism does stand for the destruction of the institutions that have been and are keeping the human mind in bondage and that are robbing mankind of the right to the use of the necessities of life. Viewed from the standpoint of cents and dollars, anarchism is truly impracticable, and those whose aim in life is wealth and power will do well to keep out of the anarchist movement. But measured by true value, namely, human character, integrity and real usefulness to society, anarchism is the most practical of all theories—a proposition which I shall attempt to prove.”

Goldman then presents what she regards as the anarchist difference:

“Anarchism is a theory of human development which lays no less stress than socialism upon the economic or materialistic aspect of social relations; but while granting that the cause of the immediate evil is an economic one we believe that the solution of the social question confronting us today must be wrought out from the equal consideration of the whole of our experience. To understand society as a whole it behooves the social student to analyze the separate atoms of society—namely, the individual and the motives that prompt every individual and every collective act. What are these motives? First, the individual instinct, standing for self-expression; second, the social instinct, which inspires collective and social life. These instincts in their latent condition are never antagonistic to each other. On the contrary, they are dependent upon one another for their complete and normal development. Unfortunately, the organization of society is such that these instincts are being brought into constant antagonism.” [italics mine]

What Goldman is saying here is directly linking individuals and communities. She is not privileging one over the other, which many politically and socially concerned people are prone to do, but regarding each of them as important in their own right — but also as harmonious with the other if left to themselves and uncoerced. Goldman, in this formulation of her beautiful ideal, neither denies that individuals exist with important concerns nor that societies are larger entities that contain them. What is important, from her perspective, is that they exist in non-“antagonistic” ways.

Having given two examples of those excessively individualist and those excessively communal [her example of the later is the anarchist, Louise Michel, who “to satisfy her great soul... was compelled to deny her individual instinct to the extent of living in great and constant poverty”], Goldman positions anarchism as that ideal which acknowledges, harmonizes and balances the two:

“Anarchism in its scientific and philosophic calculations represents that force in human life which can harmonize and bring into unity the individual and social instincts of the individual and society.”

Goldman diagnoses two problems in regard to this anarchist harmony, however, and these are “property” and “authority”. The latter Goldman describes as, amongst other things, “the absolute disregard of individual life in the organization that for want of a better name stands for society”; the former is “the monopoly of things—the denial of the right of others to their use”. Here:

“the first tendency of anarchism is to make good the dignity of the individual human being by freeing him from every kind of arbitrary restraint—economic, political, social. In so doing anarchism proposes to make apparent, in their true force, the social bonds which always have and always will knit men together and which are the actual basis of a real normal and sane society.”

Here it is interesting this is “the first tendency” for it shows that “the dignity of the individual human being” is uppermost in Goldman’s mind and that she regards property and authority as problems in that they remove or constrain such dignity. Only by repairing and restoring this dignity does Goldman think that “society” can function as it should, free of “the coercive and arbitrary tendency of centralization in either the industrial or political life of a people.” Goldman then goes on to say that:

“Man has been degraded into a mere part of a machine and all that makes for spontaneity, for originality, for the power of initiative, has been either dulled or completely killed in him until he is but a living corpse, dragging out an aimless, spiritless and idealess existence. Man is here to be sacrificed upon the altar of things, heaps and heaps of things, that are as dark and dull as the human machines that have produced them. Yet how can we talk of social wealth when the production of that wealth can be attained only at the expense of human lives, thousands and thousands of human lives? And what are these lives worth without the power of initiative, of spontaneity?”

In the closing to this lecture Goldman goes on to talk about “the building of human character or human possibilities” and “natural growth and development” as other desirables that are part of her “beautiful ideal”. These, however, she states, are not aided by “monopoly and government” which must, consequently, be overthrown. Yet this is only one lecture and not the longest one at that. How, we might ask, do such beliefs fit into a wider context of Emma Goldman’s beliefs about anarchism? As it happens, a few months after the date that was set for this lecture, Emma Goldman wrote a piece called “What I Believe” which was published by the New York World in July 1908. In this piece Goldman lays out her anarchist agenda for imagined general readers against the constant background of “blood-curdling and incoherent stories” that both the press and others told about her. Goldman begins in “What I Believe” by toying with the popular image of her:

“it is no wonder that the average human being has palpitation of the heart at the very mention of the name Emma Goldman. It is too bad that we no longer live in the times when witches were burned at the stake or tortured to drive the evil spirit out of them. For, indeed, Emma Goldman is a witch! True, she does not eat little children, but she does many worse things. She manufactures bombs and gambles in crowned heads. B-r-r-r!”

But this, of course, is only a sensationalist, newspaper-generated image. It is not the image of a woman who has a beautiful ideal. In this piece Goldman aims to set this out and, doing so, she develops themes from the former lecture in a context in which subjects for lectures, as well as her beliefs, were a boiling pot of constantly regurgitated values that she might need to call up at any one time at the various meetings, lectures, speeches and other occasions that she was called upon to speak at. Thus, at the beginning of “What I Believe”, she can say that:

“’What I believe’ is a process rather than a finality. Finalities are for gods and governments, not for the human intellect. While it may be true that Herbert Spencer’s formulation of liberty is the most important on the subject, as a political basis of society, yet life is something more than formulas. In the battle for freedom, as Ibsen has so well pointed out, it is the struggle for, not so much the attainment of, liberty, that develops all that is strongest, sturdiest and finest in human character.”

Here Goldman both shows her acquaintance with authors and thinkers [she was, in fact, a keen reader, although one wonders, reading her memoir, where she ever found the time, and equally eager to be well informed in matters of thought, philosophy and literary culture] but also that she regards life as both a “battle for freedom” and a “struggle” in words not unNietzschean. [Goldman had discovered, and loved, the books of Nietzsche she had first read in the mid 1890s — much to the chagrin of her then lover, Ed Brady, who had despised them.] Thus, she can speak about “organic development” in this context as well. Anarchists, according to Goldman in this piece, are not “passive spectators” and she continues her essay by taking a topical approach to it. The first subject is once again the matter of property.

Property, Goldman once more asserts, means “dominion over things and the denial to others of the use of those things.” The issue she has with this is that:

“It is the private dominion over things that condemns millions of people to be mere nonentities, living corpses without originality or power of initiative, human machines of flesh and blood who pile up mountains of wealth for others and pay for it with a gray, dull and wretched existence for themselves.”

This is not the life of “radiant things” Goldman had imagined when upbraided by the boy at the dance earlier in her life. So, in fact, property becomes a “humiliating and degrading situation” and anarchism directly rebuts and betters the notion of property by catering to a human individual’s needs and requirements specifically in Goldman’s thinking. This is because:

“it points out that man’s development, his physical well-being, his latent qualities and innate disposition alone must determine the character and conditions of his work. Similarly will one’s physical and mental appreciations and his soul cravings decide how much he shall consume. To make this a reality will, I believe, be possible only in a society based on voluntary cooperation of productive groups, communities and societies loosely federated together, eventually developing into a free communism, actuated by a solidarity of interests. There can be no freedom in the large sense of the word, no harmonious development, so long as mercenary and commercial considerations play an important part in the determination of personal conduct.”

So, once again, Goldman has begun talking about what is necessary for the singular human being in their own needs and requirements but ended up talking about the social conditions necessary to bring them about. This is exactly where, and how, she aims to satisfy the egoist’s need for personal fulfilment and meaning but, at the same time, satisfy the socialist’s need for a fair and equitable state of society. It is just that, for Goldman, it is the first that seems to motivate the second. We need a fair and equitable society because it is only that way that the individual human being can reach their highest potential or practice a total freedom of personal expression.

It is in this sense that in her next section — dealing with government — Goldman feels enabled to say that anarchism — which is “the absence of government” — “will insure the widest and greatest scope for unhampered human development, the cornerstone of true social progress and harmony.” In this formulation again we see that the greatest individual possibility is paired with an ideal of genuine social progress. Thus, given this double interest, it is inevitable that government must be judged negatively:

“I believe government, organized authority, or the State is necessary only to maintain or protect property and monopoly. It has proven efficient in that function only. As a promoter of individual liberty, human well-being and social harmony, which alone constitute real order, government stands condemned by all the great men of the world.” [italics original]

The problem with government from Goldman’s perspective is that it can neither provide the conditions she sees as necessary for personal development and liberty but neither does it actually do any of the things it claims it is good for. It doesn’t, for example, stop crime and, in fact, it keeps creating more and more criminals with every law it makes. This necessitates a veritable army of people detailed to “security” and creates a security state mentality in which the nature and behaviour of society is then dictated to by a security elite. Goldman, on the other hand, talks of “the best modern medical methods” as being matters of “the spirit of a deeper sense of fellowship, kindness and understanding” which seems to echo the psychology that if you treat people badly, they will act badly but if you treat people well, they will act well. Thus, she argues that government is not only a thing which seizes control, constricting and damaging the potential for human possibility, but it is also a thing which, by its very existence, projects an unhealthy psychology onto the people it presumes to keep under its jurisdiction.

This thought continues when Goldman goes on, in the next section of “What I Believe”, to discuss militarism. Here she characterises the militarist spirit as “heartless and brutal” and she refers to the case of Private William Buwalda, a soldier of 15 years good standing stationed in San Francisco who had gone to one of her lectures and shook her hand. Buwalda had then been court martialled by his superiors for the imagined crime of attending a public meeting and was sentenced to five years in a military prison. A general at the time had referred to Bulwalda’s actions as “a great military offense” that he should mix with such as the anarchist Goldman who, for her part, described this as the absolute opposite of the free speech Americans were supposed to believe in and uphold. She adds: “Can there be anything more destructive of the true genius of liberty than the spirit that made Buwalda’s sentence possible — the spirit of unquestioning obedience?” She goes on to describe militarism and the military attitude, beloved of states and governments, as “indicative of the decay of liberty” in an argument which amounts to the belief that one can have liberty or one can have obedience to authority: but one cannot have both! Goldman, due to her belief in personal freedom which allowed personal expression — and which was best secured by a social anarchism of freely given cooperation and mutual aid — chose liberty without a second thought. In this regard, she skewers those militarists and lovers of military might who would call anarchists bomb throwers when she refers to:

“peace pretenders who oppose Anarchism because it supposedly teaches violence, and who would yet be delighted over the possibility of the American nation soon being able to hurl dynamite bombs upon defenseless enemies from flying machines.”

Who, asks Goldman, accusingly, and already knowing the answer, is the violent one now? And why, when it comes to states with armies, navies and air forces, is violence suddenly not wrong at all when any random political figure who has even met or read about an anarchist is painted as the person of violence as if that were an unremittingly bad thing? The double standard is exposed for all to see and Goldman, finishing her remarks on militarism, refers to “human brotherhood and solidarity” as the answer to human problems and not “war and destruction”.

The fourth topic Emma Goldman covers in “What I Believe” is free speech and the press. Goldman, in her activist life to that point, had suffered from a policed lack of the first on numerous occasions and the acid tongue of the latter many times, including all kinds of lurid descriptions of her imagined depravity which influenced public opinion. For the Goldman concerned about personal and so social freedoms, however, the answer to these phenomena are quite simple: “I believe, however, that the cure of consequences resulting from the unlimited exercise of expression is to allow more expression.” This is a familiar answer to an anarchist where the answer to lack of freedom is more of it, the answer to lack of democracy is more of it and, for Goldman, the answer to lack of personal expression is also more of it too. Goldman argues that places which allow more freedom of expression experience less social problems [seemingly as a result]. Consequently, she argues that in those places where the government squeezes the hand of oppression more tightly, ever more destructive consequences escape the controlling grasp. So she complains about the police with their clubs not allowing people to hold meetings [which is her own personal experience talking] but also about the Postmaster General who, according to American law at the time, was empowered to “suppress publications and confiscate mail” in a world where interpersonal communication of any detail was by post, including much anarchist or more broadly civil rights literature. Goldman whines that a new Declaration of Independence is required. And the year after this she would herself write one.

Besides also briefly talking about “the Church” in this article [described variously as “an organized institution that has always been a stumbling block to progress” and “a nightmare that oppresses the human soul and holds the mind in bondage”], Goldman also wishes to discuss “acts of violence” which would have been things the readers of New York World would have been trained [if only by other, more partisan, publications] to associate Emma Goldman with. Goldman herself is wise to this when she begins, imitating her supposed accusers:

“’Well, come, now, don’t you propagate violence, the killing of crowned heads and Presidents?’ Who says that I do? Have you heard me, has anyone heard me? Has anyone seen it printed in our literature? No, but the papers say so, everybody says so; consequently it must be so. Oh, for the accuracy and logic of the dear public!”

Her response is to go in a direction that I myself copied [unwittingly, I might add] in my earlier “Declaration of Peace” when she argues that “Anarchism is the only philosophy of peace, the only theory of the social relationship that values human life above everything else.” In contrast to anarchism, Goldman claims that “Every institution to-day rests on violence” and contextualises any individual act of anarchist violence [which even she cannot deny] by saying that “No act committed by an Anarchist has been for personal gain, aggrandizement or profit, but rather a conscious protest against some repressive, arbitrary, tyrannical measure from above.” If and when anarchists have committed acts of violence, she says, they have always explained their reasoning and the greater goods they hoped to achieve by it. In comparison, state violence is casual and without justification. Furthermore, even though such states, by means of violence, may claim to bring order rather than the anarchists’ chaos, this is, once more, a mischaracterisation of the anarchist. Here Goldman says:

“True, we do not believe in the compulsory, arbitrary side of organization that would compel people of antagonistic tastes and interests into a body and hold them there by coercion. Organization as the result of natural blending of common interests, brought about through voluntary adhesion, Anarchists do not only not oppose, but believe in as the only possible basis of social life.”

And, thus, she returns to her theme of:

“the harmony of organic growth which produces variety of color and form — the complete whole we admire in the flower. Analogously will the organized activity of free human beings endowed with the spirit of solidarity result in the perfection of social harmony — which is Anarchism. Indeed, only Anarchism makes non-authoritarian organization a reality, since it abolishes the existing antagonism between individuals and classes.”

But there is one theme from “What I Believe” that I have left until last. This is because it provides a deeper insight into the character of Emma Goldman whilst also perfectly illustrating my theme of the personal and the political in her life and thought. In this essay she refers to it as “marriage and love” but often, elsewhere, it goes by the shorthand “the sex question” in her writing and speaking. It is essentially the issue of women’s rights and their total emancipation, the subject which encourages feminists to see in Goldman one of their leading torchbearers and earliest examples. In the terms of an anarchafeminism, Goldman is a good example of that anarchafeminist mentality that, until or unless everyone is free, then no one is free.

In her own day Emma Goldman regarded talking about the emancipation of women as perhaps the most taboo subject she could possibly raise. [Perhaps with good reason. When she was later deported permanently from the USA, in 1919, the US Attorney General doing the deporting, Alexander M. Palmer, “particularly objected to her views on birth control, free love and religion.”] Consider, for example, her opening of the subject in “What I Believe”:

“I believe these are probably the most tabooed subjects in this country. It is almost impossible to talk about them without scandalizing the cherished propriety of a lot of good folk. No wonder so much ignorance prevails relative to these questions. Nothing short of an open, frank, and intelligent discussion will purify the air from the hysterical, sentimental rubbish that is shrouding these vital subjects, vital to individual as well as social well- being.”

Note, again, that there she refers to individual and social well-being which are clearly linked together in her thought. Where women fit into this, however, is in their position in society for, as Goldman [as others such as her sometime colleague and friend, Voltairine de Cleyre] saw it, many women were locked in a prison of marriage which gave men control over their finances, their bodies and their very lives. Emma Goldman herself was certainly no fan of marriage [although she was herself married twice, the first time a youthful indiscretion she quickly regretted and the second a marriage of convenience to gain British citizenship in 1925] and her consistent belief in, and practice of, “free love” [not love which costs no money but love which is not constrained by other relationships or entanglements — what today might be called “no strings attached” relationships] should be enough evidence of that. However, in case one needs more, here she depicts marriage as:

“often an economic arrangement purely, furnishing the woman with a lifelong life insurance policy and the man with a perpetuator of his kind or a pretty toy. That is, marriage, or the training thereto, prepares the woman for the life of a parasite, a dependent, helpless servant, while it furnishes the man the right of a chattel mortgage over a human life.”

Clearly, such a social arrangement neither promotes personal nor social freedom and neither does it provide the radiant things her beautiful ideal imagines either. Fundamentally, Goldman does not see that marriage need have anything to do with love — and it is love that for her is the important thing and the furtherance of its possibility that matters rather than an institution which, from a woman’s perspective, is little short of a prison society makes necessary for her if a woman wants to survive. Here it is important to note that Emma Goldman conceives of love as “the element that would forego all the wealth of money and power and live in its own world of untrammelled human expression”. So if this is love as Goldman conceives of it, something that lives in its own world, then it follows, if we have been following Goldman’s argumentation as I have tried to set it out in this chapter, that what is required is the social conditions necessary for it to flourish. It is here we see Emma Goldman at her rhetorical best:

“I believe when woman signs her own emancipation, her first declaration of independence will consist in admiring and loving a man for the qualities of his heart and mind and not for the quantities in his pocket. The second declaration will be that she has the right to follow that love without let or hindrance from the outside world. The third and most important declaration will be the absolute right to free motherhood.”

More than just marriage, however, Emma Goldman can see that society, as it is, forces women to sell themselves to men, in each case seemingly in return for sexual favours, in more ways than one. Prostitution is also an issue she addresses but in it she sees not the lax morals of seductive women who are luring honest, upright men into immorality but a

“system which forces women to sell their womanhood and independence to the highest bidder [which] is a branch of the same evil system which gives to a few the right to live on the wealth produced by their fellow men, 99 percent of whom must toil and slave early and late for barely enough to keep soul and body together, while the fruits of their labour are absorbed by a few idle vampires who are surrounded by every luxury wealth can purchase.”

As Emma Goldman sees it in this quote from an earlier 1896 essay called “Anarchy and the Sex Question”, it is the reigning social system itself which is at fault. Here she contrasts “the homes of the wealthy, those magnificent palaces” with

“them herded together in dark, damp cellars, where they never get a breath of fresh air, clothed in rags, carrying their loads of misery from the cradle to the grave, their children running around the streets, naked, starved, without anyone to give them a loving word or tender care, growing up in ignorance and superstition, cursing the day of their birth”.

Goldman asks her readers who might be to blame for this [although she surely already has her own answer to hand!]:

“...tell me who is to be blamed for it! Those who are driven to prostitution, whether legal or otherwise, or those who drive their victims to such demoralisation? The cause lies not in prostitution, but in society itself; in the system of inequality of private property and in the State and Church. In the system of legalized theft, murder and violation of the innocent women and helpless children.”

The issue here is that human beings — which includes all women! — “must be free to commence a new life, a better and nobler life” and Goldman insists that prostitution “will exist as long as the system exists which breeds it” — although it is not clear here if she refers to the illegal kind of prostitution alone or the legal kind [marriage] she likewise impugns.

Another place she discusses these issues is in the seminal 1910 essay “The Traffic in Women”, an essay which later feminists in the twentieth century have lauded as one of the founding feminist essays. Here Goldman, discussing prostitution once again, compares it to the economic industrial system:

“Prostitution has been, and is, a widespread evil, yet mankind goes on its business, perfectly indifferent to the sufferings and distress of the victims of prostitution. As indifferent, indeed, as mankind has remained to our industrial system, or to economic prostitution.”

Goldman fully exploits the linkages between these different spheres of exploitation in this essay, both pointing them out and highlighting that no one really seems to care about the various victims. The issue is that everywhere women are exploited and largely on the same basis: sex. Indeed, the prevailing economic and social conditions largely regard women as simply sex and thus women everywhere are put in the position of having to sell themselves as it:

“Nowhere is woman treated according to the merit of her work, but rather as a sex. It is therefore almost inevitable that she should pay for her right to exist, to keep a position in whatever line, with sex favors. Thus it is merely a question of degree whether she sells herself to one man, in or out of marriage, or to many men. Whether our reformers admit it or not, the economic and social inferiority of woman is responsible for prostitution.”

Thus, Goldman firmly puts the ball in the court of a social system which forces desperate people to take courses of action which are likely to put food in their mouths and a roof over their heads. Should we blame them? Goldman clearly thinks not for she impugns the system and never individuals who have made coerced economic choices. The problem is that a great number of women simply do not have their own economic independence [Goldman herself, as a younger woman, once had a job in a factory which paid a paltry $2.50 a week for 52.5 hours of work. It was a wage so insufficient she asked the boss for a raise which he refused to give. And so she quit the job] which leads, in turn, to a system of vice which is the direct result, in a great many cases, of insufficient remuneration for more socially acceptable labour.

But that women are an exploited sex is not Emma Goldman’s only complaint in “The Traffic in Women”. She also complains that women are totally ignored when it comes to sex education and are regarded, culturally speaking, as merely things which men will take care of [for a price]. So, for example, she can opine that:

“It is a conceded fact that woman is being reared as a sex commodity, and yet she is kept in absolute ignorance of the meaning and importance of sex. Everything dealing with that subject is suppressed, and persons who attempt to bring light into this terrible darkness are persecuted and thrown into prison. Yet it is nevertheless true that so long as a girl is not to know how to take care of herself, not to know the function of the most important part of her life, we need not be surprised if she becomes an easy prey to prostitution, or to any other form of a relationship which degrades her to the position of an object for mere sex gratification.”

Here it should be noted that Emma Goldman became very active, in especially the second decade of the twentieth century [prior to her imprisonment in 1917, at least], concerning the tricky subject of teaching about birth control for women as a means to them taking control of their own sexual lives. This was “tricky” not least because it could be adjudged illegal since it was regarded as obscene. Indeed, Goldman was herself arrested [twice] and imprisoned [once, for two weeks, after she refused to pay her initial penalty fine of $100] for giving lessons in public on how to use contraceptives. She decried “the double standard of morality” which allowed men to have their head but kept women cloistered and confined. Goldman spoke of this in “The Traffic in Women” as involving:

“the keeping of the young in absolute ignorance on sex matters, which alleged ‘innocence,’ together with an overwrought and stifled sex nature, helps to bring about a state of affairs that our Puritans are so anxious to avoid or prevent.”

Once more, Goldman linked the state of society with the behaviour subsequently produced. Indeed, she impugns and accuses several arms and practices of that society in the behaviour produced when she says:

“Girls, mere children, work in crowded, over-heated rooms ten to twelve hours daily at a machine, which tends to keep them in a constant overexcited sex state. Many of these girls have no home or comforts of any kind; therefore the street or some place of cheap amusement is the only means of forgetting their daily routine. This naturally brings them into close proximity with the other sex. It is hard to say which of the two factors brings the girl’s over-sexed condition to a climax, but it is certainly the most natural thing that a climax should result. That is the first step toward prostitution. Nor is the girl to be held responsible for it. On the contrary, it is altogether the fault of society, the fault of our lack of understanding, of our lack of appreciation of life in the making; especially is it the criminal fault of our moralists, who condemn a girl for all eternity, because she has gone from the “path of virtue”; that is, because her first sex experience has taken place without the sanction of the Church.”

Here Goldman seems to feel for the lack of individual human possibility which is snuffed out, almost at birth, by the debilitating social conditions in which it is supposed to flourish but, of course, cannot — and so it goes wherever it can find that which it needs. The girl who turns to prostitution, in fact, is placed by society in a deplorable position. Not only is she reduced to a sex object, something that serves the gratifications of those who use her, but “she is also absolutely at the mercy of every policeman and miserable detective on the beat, the officials at the station house, the authorities in every prison.” Goldman then willingly calls out the cops, and other officials, trading on their power and authority, essentially making easy money by skimming off the top of such female labour, demanding money with menaces. Many are the brothels kept in business by men in order to look the other way or who offer it their “protection”. Once again, it is women who were already poor who are the victims and the same women who are exploited in yet another way. Goldman also here accuses acquisitive American society itself “by the thoroughly American custom for excessive display of finery and clothes” of promoting a society of possession of things which, of course, takes money to play along with — the so called “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. This, thinks Goldman, encourages the poor, not least women, to enter said race, something that can only be to their detriment, financially and socially.

So what does “the emancipation of women” then mean for Goldman? We start to get an answer in her essay “The Tragedy of Women’s Emancipation”, another [as with “The Traffic in Women”] included in her first book [published in 1910] Anarchism and Other Essays. First, she sees it as part of a “general social antagonism which has taken hold of our entire public life today.” Here we may see intimations of the disruptions which forestall and stifle private joys and expressions and make impossible the social conditions for their existence and peaceful development. This antagonism, thinks Goldman, is “brought about through the force of opposing and contradictory interests [and] will crumble to pieces when the reorganization of our social life, based upon the principles of economic justice, shall have become a reality.”

However, and here Goldman returns to the theme I have highlighted before:

“The problem that confronts us today, and which the nearest future is to solve, is how to be one’s self and yet in oneness with others, to feel deeply with all human beings and still retain one’s own characteristic qualities. This seems to me to be the basis upon which the mass and the individual, the true democrat and the true individuality, man and woman, can meet without antagonism and opposition. The motto should not be: Forgive one another; rather, Understand one another.”

Goldman’s point here as, I think, all through this chapter, has been how to be authentically oneself [i.e. “retain one’s own characteristic qualities”] whilst still being a social being that lives in a society that often works to make sure that’s the last thing you can be. In this respect, and in regard to women:

“Emancipation should make it possible for woman to be human in the truest sense. Everything within her that craves assertion and activity should reach its fullest expression; all artificial barriers should be broken, and the road towards greater freedom cleared of every trace of centuries of submission and slavery.”

Now Emma Goldman was an anarchist and, as such, the problem of not having enough freedom is resolved by getting more of it. But Goldman makes this point in opposition to those who thought that they were also working for women’s emancipation such as, for example, in the women’s suffrage movement. [One, I hope, can imagine what Goldman might have thought of the freedom to elect presidents and governments, things she wished to see dispatched to the dumpster fire of history!]. Such “emancipation” in Goldman’s mind was “merely external emancipation” and left woman needing to “emancipate herself from emancipation”. What Goldman wanted is woman “free to direct her own destiny” rather than women free to join the coercive bear pit of politics or the business and industrial worlds. In this context, one is reminded here of the words of anarchafeminist, Peggy Kornegger, to the end that women are not freed by becoming like men but by becoming free from men — and then freeing the men as well! Here it is clear that women being granted suffrage rights is not on Emma Goldman’s emancipation radar for she says:

“Politics is the reflex of the business and industrial world, the mottos of which are: “To take is more blessed than to give”; “buy cheap and sell dear”; “one soiled hand washes the other.” There is no hope even that woman, with her right to vote, will ever purify politics.”

Goldman here also points out that the freedom of woman to “choose her own profession or trade” is not the gain it might, at first, seem either — for then women are simply set to competing with men in what is essentially a man’s game. Thus, “Very few ever succeed, for it is a fact that women teachers, doctors, lawyers, architects, and engineers are neither met with the same confidence as their male colleagues, nor receive equal remuneration.” Thus, “how much independence is gained if the narrowness and lack of freedom of the home is exchanged for the narrowness and lack of freedom of the factory, sweat-shop, department store, or office?” This, Goldman seems to say, is not emancipation but only a new kind of prison, only a new rigged game in which the dominant, mostly men, have made sure they will always win, constraining the freedom and liberty of the rest in order to do so. [And, let us not forget, many of these women are still expected to be wives and mothers as well!]

No wonder, then, that many women simply settle for the old deal of staying at home and being financially tied to a man — something Goldman was driven to free them from in her own activism. Thus, the problem is “The narrowness of the existing conception of woman’s independence and emancipation” which would see the right to vote or the right to take a job as any real sort of freedom at all. And so “Emancipation, as understood by the majority of its adherents and exponents, is of too narrow a scope to permit the boundless love and ecstasy contained in the deep emotion of the true woman, sweetheart, mother, in freedom.” This, of course, is an old trick of civilization: people say they want a thing, they get a thing that is called the thing [but is not any meaningful type of the thing], and then they are told that the thing they wanted they already have! Currently, civilization is playing this game with “democracy” with people told that they have this thing, it is very precious, and they had best hold onto it. The problem is, however, that they do not have democracy now anymore than the women Goldman was referring to had any genuine emancipation! And, of course, the more authentic versions of these things are things these same representatives of civilization would fight to deny you!

Of course, the people who want a surfeit of democracy or an overload of emancipation are painted as cavalier, lawless, a danger to society — and so, Goldman informs us, they were here too. She says that “emancipation”, in the light of its opponents, “stood only for a reckless life of lust and sin; regardless of society, religion, and morality.” Those winning by certain practices will always claim that a change in practice is either the end of the world or depravity and immorality gone mad. But Goldman has much higher, and much more personal, visions. Tying women’s freedom, in large part, to that of men’s freedom as well [you can’t have one without the other], she thinks of the man who will see in woman “not only sex, but also the human being, the friend, the comrade and strong individuality, who cannot and ought not lose a single trait of her character.” This is, once again, an important and repeated point in Goldman’s thought, that the individual, as part of society, as part of a functioning web of relationships, not simply be subsumed or steamrollered by it but, rather, that society be made up of people, full and authentic in their character, such as this. Goldman sees a true emancipation of all as being about more than “independence from external tyrannies”. If one remains stuck in “ethical and social conventions” one is still not really free. Here Emma Goldman takes her place alongside Hipparchia, the only known female Cynic, as a comrade in arms.

It is now in “The Tragedy of Women’s Emancipation” that Goldman makes her true appeal and, I think, reveals once more that, for her, anarchism begins within. She says:

“Salvation lies in an energetic march onward towards a brighter and clearer future. We are in need of unhampered growth out of old traditions and habits. The movement for woman’s emancipation has so far made but the first step in that direction. It is to be hoped that it will gather strength to make another. The right to vote, or equal civil rights, may be good demands, but true emancipation begins neither at the polls nor in courts. It begins in woman’s soul. History tells us that every oppressed class gained true liberation from its masters through its own efforts. It is necessary that woman learn that lesson, that she realize that her freedom will reach as far as her power to achieve her freedom reaches. It is, therefore, far more important for her to begin with her inner regeneration, to cut loose from the weight of prejudices, traditions, and customs. The demand for equal rights in every vocation of life is just and fair; but, after all, the most vital right is the right to love and be loved. Indeed, if partial emancipation is to become a complete and true emancipation of woman, it will have to do away with the ridiculous notion that to be loved, to be sweetheart and mother, is synonymous with being slave or subordinate. It will have to do away with the absurd notion of the dualism of the sexes, or that man and woman represent two antagonistic worlds.”

That sound you can hear now is me cheering. Freedom, liberty and anarchism begins in the soul! People should not be related to on the basis of artificial divisions but as one humanity! These, I think, are anarchist values [and I shall extrapolate on them more in my final chapter shortly]. Goldman ends this essay, though, with a further rallying call and, yet again, it manages to embrace both the self and communal relations in one formulation:

“Let us be broad and big. Let us not overlook vital things because of the bulk of trifles confronting us. A true conception of the relation of the sexes will not admit of conqueror and conquered; it knows of but one great thing: to give of one’s self boundlessly, in order to find one’s self richer, deeper, better.”

Now at this point it might be argued that perhaps this focus on creating a communal environment suitable for the flourishing of the human individual — which is what Emma Goldman regarded anarchism as both meaning and implying — was but one phase of Goldman’s anarchist activism, one which I have represented here. Her career, after all, spanned 50 years from inexperienced young woman, aged 20, arriving in New York for the first time to escape her father and the inadequate life she had in Rochester, to the experienced and battle scarred campaigner who finally breathed her last, aged 70, in Toronto, Canada, in 1940. But this is not the case for one of the last things she ever wrote, in 1940 with the world at war for a second time in 25 years, was titled “The Individual, Society and the State”. It is perhaps the clearest and most concise example of the thesis of creating social conditions that might best serve the flourishing of every human individual that she ever wrote [her own, quite remarkable, memoir, Living My Life, excepted which is a blow by blow account of exactly the same thesis for, of course, it is Goldman’s own soul and her own longing for freedom and expression which she is infusing the whole of reality with in her arguments]. In “The Individual, Society and the State” Emma Goldman takes her theme that has been with her for her entire adulthood and, once again, with her own death near, makes the case for just such an anarchism — of which her work labouring on behalf of women’s rights has been a major part. Thus, in closing this chapter on Goldman’s anarchist thought, it is incumbent upon me to give an account of it.

She begins, of course, in the context of 1940, by pointing out that “capitalist industrialism” has failed and “parliamentarianism and democracy” are on the decline. People have been seduced by “Fascism and other forms of ‘strong’ government”. She sees the problems as much more than to defeat a dictator here and a dictator there, however. “Unemployment, war, disarmament, international relations” are part of the crisis she diagnoses. What the crisis has done, however, is bring to the table the question of how a people shall be governed. [Here Goldman sees monarchy and either bourgeois or proletarian dictatorships as all types of Fascism.] The choice before us Goldman sees as either solving the problems of “democracy” by more democracy of the political kind that she portrays as ailing or by use of “the sword of dictatorship” instead.

Goldman has a simple answer to this: “My answer is neither the one nor the other. I am against dictatorship and Fascism as I am opposed to parliamentary regimes and so-called political democracy.” But now she warms to the theme that we have seen in her writing and lectures earlier, the spark of individual integrity which an anarchist society would nurture and fan into the flame of personal development and simple human expression, and runs with it boldly. She asks, and answers, two particular questions:

“What is civilization in the true sense? All progress has been essentially an enlargement of the liberties of the individual with a corresponding decrease of the authority wielded over him by external forces... What role did authority or government play in human endeavor for betterment, in invention and discovery? None whatever, or at least none that was helpful. It has always been the individual that has accomplished every miracle in that sphere, usually in spite of the prohibition, persecution and interference by authority, human and divine.”

In this conception, government, or other overarching authority, plays no part. “Civilization”, for Goldman, is the advance of the individual by the means of reducing the authority of others over them. It is here the individual, left free to live their own lives and follow their own ideas, who is the motive force in society. Goldman is not afraid to fully embrace this theme:

“The individual is the true reality in life. A cosmos in himself, he does not exist for the State, nor for that abstraction called “society,” or the “nation,” which is only a collection of individuals. Man, the individual, has always been and, necessarily, is the sole source and motive power of evolution and progress. Civilization has been a continuous struggle of the individual or of groups of individuals against the State and even against “society,” that is, against the majority subdued and hypnotized by the State and State worship. Man’s greatest battles have been waged against man-made obstacles and artificial handicaps imposed upon him to paralyze his growth and development. Human thought has always been falsified by tradition and custom, and perverted false education in the interests of those who held power and enjoyed privileges. In other words, by the State and the ruling classes. This constant incessant conflict has been the history of mankind.”

Here Goldman is definitely taking up the cause of “the individual” and its enemies appear to be “the State” and “tradition and custom”, each of which bind and constrain the individual unnecessarily and to their own benefit but not its. Goldman’s pressing of the individualist cause turns almost into eulogy:

“The very essence of individuality is expression; the sense of dignity and independence is the soil wherein it thrives... The individual is not merely the result of heredity and environment, of cause and effect. He is that and a great deal more, a great deal else. The living man cannot be defined; he is the fountain-head of all life and all values; he is not a part of this or of that; he is a whole, an individual whole, a growing, changing, yet always constant whole.”

In case you are getting Ayn Rand vibes at this point, however, Goldman is sure to point out that the “individualism” she is speaking about is not a “rugged individualism” which is merely a cover for “the exploitation of the masses”. So it is nothing to do with “a degrading race for externals, for possession, for social prestige and supremacy [whose] highest wisdom is ‘the devil take the hindmost.’” Here, perhaps linking this sterile creed with the American search for a master race I referred to in chapter six or perhaps not, Goldman refers to America as “perhaps the best representative of this kind of individualism, in whose name political tyranny and social oppression are defended and held up as virtues; while every aspiration and attempt of man to gain freedom and social

opportunity to live is denounced as ‘unAmerican’ and evil in the name of that same individualism.” The remarkable thing here is that Goldman could say this as Hitler’s troops marched across Europe and its planes tried to get the UK out of the war early — and the USA lay watching from the sidelines.

But it is the State whole and entire that is in Goldman’s sights here rather than choosing from equally unpalatable sides in a war. That is to say, it is the State as the oppressor and exploiter of the individual that is in her sights. In this regard, she can paint an image of a time before the states came:

“There was a time when the State was unknown. In his natural condition man existed without any State or organized government. People lived as families in small communities; They tilled the soil and practiced the arts and crafts. The individual, and later the family, was the unit of social life where each was free and the equal of his neighbor. Human society then was not a State but an association; a voluntary association for mutual protection and benefit. The elders and more experienced members were the guides and advisers of the people. They helped to manage the affairs of life, not to rule and dominate the individual.”

The State, on the other hand, Goldman conjectures, grew “out of the desire of the stronger to take advantage of the weaker”. It was, thus, a matter of mentality. It invented legality and “right and wrong” to give itself an imaginary role in their adjudication, one it could coerce the people to support by picking that government which would best accord with the popular sense of these things. It then “inoculated and indoctrinated” the mass of people to such ways and set itself on a sure foundation stone called ‘normality’ with agents of this authoritarian normality in the home, the Church and the State, agents patriarchal, ecclesiastical and civil. The task, in all cases, was to inculcate a belief in authority. In amongst all this activity, the one thing that could not be uttered was that “the State is nothing but a name. It is an abstraction. Like other similar conceptions — nation, race, humanity — it has no organic reality. To call the State an organism shows a diseased tendency to make a fetish of words.”

So Goldman recognises that “the State” has no genuine reality; it is entirely artificial and made up. It exists only because people want it to exist — and, if they didn’t, then it wouldn’t. “Man, the individual, is the only reality”, says Goldman, continuing: “It is the individual who lives, breathes and suffers. His development, his advance, has been a continuous struggle against the fetishes of his own creation and particularly so against the ‘State.’” Arguing that “it is the individual who is the parent of the liberating thought as well as of the deed,” Goldman here lays her charges against all states and government:

“The State, every government whatever its form, character or color — be it absolute or constitutional, monarchy or republic, Fascist, Nazi or Bolshevik — is by its very nature conservative, static, intolerant of change and opposed to it. Whatever changes it undergoes are always the result of pressure exerted upon it, pressure strong enough to compel the ruling powers to submit peaceably or otherwise, generally “otherwise” — that is, by revolution. Moreover, the inherent conservatism of government, of authority of any kind, unavoidably becomes reactionary. For two reasons: first, because it is in the nature of government not only to retain the power it has, but also to strengthen, widen and perpetuate it, nationally as well as internationally. The stronger authority grows, the greater the State and its power, the less it can tolerate a similar authority or political power alongside of itself. The psychology of government demands that its influence and prestige constantly grow, at home and abroad, and it exploits every opportunity to increase it. This tendency is motivated by the financial and commercial interests back of the government, represented and served by it.”

This is a startling and compact analysis, one Goldman bolsters with reference to government’s “fear of individuality” as a result, an observation which tends to suggest Goldman has a sneaking suspicion that all government is secretly fascist — in as much as it requires uniform belief and obedience with “the luxury” of individual disagreement or dissent not encouraged nor even permitted. The result, in the light of Goldman’s belief that society as a whole should be the perfect garden in which the flower of individual human lives can grow, is that:

“the State therefore suppresses, persecutes, punishes and even deprives the individual of life. It is aided in this by every institution that stands for the preservation of the existing order. It resorts to every form of violence and force, and its efforts are supported by the ‘moral indignation’ of the majority against the heretic, the social dissenter and the political rebel — the majority for centuries drilled in State worship, trained in discipline and obedience and subdued by the awe of authority in the home, the school, the church and the press.”

The State and its controlling quorum of devotees — government — Goldman here sees as an antagonistic apparatus of control over the mass of human individuals it claims jurisdiction over. “Uniformity” is key [a thought shared by Alan Moore in the previous chapter when discussing Fascism] and:

“Its most concentrated dullness is ‘public opinion.’ Few have the courage to stand out against it. He who refuses to submit is at once labeled “queer,” “different,” and decried as a disturbing element in the comfortable stagnancy of modern life. Perhaps even more than constituted authority, it is social uniformity and sameness that harass the individual most. His very ‘uniqueness,’ ‘separateness’ and ‘differentiation’ make him an alien, not only in his native place, but even in his own home.”

We see in this last quotation, once again, the paring of state control with the customs and traditions which bind at a more intimate and personal level in the way every action, even every thought, becomes something self-policed as one is seen to have learned one’s social catechism, even perhaps against one’s will by osmosis, as “society” has played it’s part in delimiting the acceptable and the unacceptable ways to behave. Goldman herself had seemingly always instinctively taken against this — at least her memoir suggests such a thought — and her beliefs in things like unconstrained free love based only on the mutual consent of those taking part [and certainly not on any social notions about with whom or when it was seemly to have sex] certainly set her on course for being seen as a person of loose morals and disruptive influence in such customary terms. [The further suggestion, seemingly backed up by some letters that were found, that Goldman herself engaged in same sex encounters with at least one woman would only heighten such fears in the “Puritans” she often denounced in this respect. ]

Here Goldman exhibits the Cynic streak I think a necessary part of all anarchisms. Not only is she against the authority of the state, she is also against public judgment of harmless and freely chosen individual pleasures. As Goldman will repeat again and again throughout her life’s work, “personality and individuality” trump, and should always trump, any such social control. Indeed, in a piece of pure rhetorical flourish, Goldman can say that such things bore their “way through all the caverns of dogma, through the thick walls of tradition and custom, defying all taboos, setting authority at naught, facing contumely and the scaffold — ultimately to be blessed as prophet and martyr by succeeding generations.” Better to die as one’s authentic self than to live as a slave! [“That’s the spirit!” we hear Roy Batty whisper. ]

It is this authentic self that Emma Goldman perhaps stands for most of all and which comes from inside of her as a living force, first and foremost. It is because of her own burning fire of individuality within [intellectual as well as sexual] that she would extend the freedom to be who you are to everyone else as well in a harmony and equity of individuality. It is for this reason that she is most welcoming of Peter Kropotkin’s philosophy of cooperation and mutual aid as the best social location for individuality to flourish in. As she writes in “The Individual, Society and the State” in regard to Kropotkin’s ideas, he “demonstrated that only mutual aid and voluntary co-operation — not the omnipotent, all-devastating State — can create the basis for a free individual and associational life.” Not for Goldman, then, the “depersonalized human beings” of the State or of capitalism. Not the uniform human beings who are not allowed to dissent or go their own way of Fascism. Not the “cog in the machine” of industrialism. Not the “voting and tax-paying puppets” of electoral governmentalism. The State and the individual, in fact, are in Goldman’s philosophy entirely antagonistic and at odds:

“The interests of the State and those of the individual differ fundamentally and are antagonistic. The State and the political and economic institutions it supports can exist only by fashioning the individual to their particular purpose; training him to respect “law and order;” teaching him obedience, submission and unquestioning faith in the wisdom and justice of government; above all, loyal service and complete self-sacrifice when the State commands it, as in war. The State puts itself and its interests even above the claims of religion and of God. It punishes religious or conscientious scruples against individuality because there is no individuality without liberty, and liberty is the greatest menace to authority.”

Thus, “Man’s true liberation, individual and collective, lies in his emancipation from authority and from the belief in it.” This is a non-negotiable and, with it, Goldman sets herself against both the State and all states. One can have obedience or one can have freedom: but one cannot have both! Being a person possessed of such independence and beautiful ideas of radiant things for everyone — which is not least to be found in the development and realisation of one’s own self — Goldman can only then conceive that “True civilization is to be measured by the individual, the unit of all social life; by his individuality and the extent to which it is free to have its being to grow and expand unhindered by invasive and coercive authority.” As such,

“true liberty is not a mere scrap of paper called ‘constitution,’ ‘legal right’ or ‘law.’ It is not an abstraction derived from the non-reality known as ‘the State.’ It is not the negative thing of being free from something, because with such freedom you may starve to death. Real freedom, true liberty, is positive: it is freedom to something; it is the liberty to be, to do; in short, the liberty of actual and active opportunity.”

Emma Goldman’s anarchism, whether interested in the education of children in the New York Modern School she helped set up, the teaching of contraceptive techniques to women, the needs of poor workers or the freedom to love who, and when, you will, is, thus, all of a piece and is based, first and foremost, on the ideal of the emancipation of the individual to be as they will be. Anarchism must then necessarily become a social phenomenon, and a social reality, for this is the only way in which such individual possibility can be fruitfully nourished to its ideal extent. Thus, Goldman’s political vision is as she lays out towards the end of “The Individual, Society and the State”, this is that:

“Socially speaking, the criterion of civilization and culture is the degree of liberty and economic opportunity which the individual enjoys; of social and international unity and co-operation unrestricted by man-made laws and other artificial obstacles; by the absence of privileged castes and by the reality of liberty and human dignity; in short, by the true emancipation of the individual. Political absolutism has been abolished because men have realized in the course of time that absolute power is evil and destructive. But the same thing is true of all power, whether it be the power of privilege, of money, of the priest, of the politician or of so-called democracy. In its effect on individuality it matters little what the particular character of coercion is — whether it be as black as Fascism, as yellow as Nazism or as pretentiously red as Bolshevism. It is power that corrupts and degrades both master and slave and it makes no difference whether the power is wielded by an autocrat, by parliament or soviets. More pernicious than the power of a dictator is that of a class; the most terrible — the tyranny of a majority.”

Thus, what matters most of all is liberty — for it is what enables and facilitates anything else. It was this Goldman wanted for women, liberty from the authority of men in the home or the workplace as much as from social customs which policed woman’s behaviour in her head, as but one example of Goldman’s overarching desire. Such liberty, thinks Goldman, is not in the gift of others, however, but is a “natural right”, a feature of type 1 anarchy as I conceive of these things which type 2 anarchism should make people aware of in its activities. As such:

“Th[is] sort of liberty is not a gift: it is the natural right of man, of every human being. It cannot be given: it cannot be conferred by any law or government. The need of it, the longing for it, is inherent in the individual. Disobedience to every form of coercion is the instinctive expression of it. Rebellion and revolution are the more or less conscious attempt to achieve it. Those manifestations, individual and social, are fundamentally expressions of the values of man. That those values may be nurtured, the community must realize that its greatest and most lasting asset is the unit — the individual.”

And so the “beautiful ideal” is “the philosophy of a new social order based on the released energies of the individual and the free association of liberated individuals.” Emma Goldman sees this as what “anarchism” is in that it “alone steadfastly proclaims that society exists for man, not man for society. The sole legitimate purpose of society is to serve the needs and advance the aspiration of the individual. Only by doing so can it justify its existence and be an aid to progress and culture.” Goldman sees the human task as then a quest for liberty, social because necessarily the basis of the individual. In the end, “Man’s quest for freedom from every shackle is eternal. It must and will go on.”

TWELVE: Once Upon An Anarchism

“How does a state state itself into statelessness?” — A tweet from “Leon Czolgosz”

Anarchism, or so I have argued in the second half of this book, begins in a personal and political freedom. This is not something anyone can give you for it is internal, it starts with you and who you are, where you have come from, a type 1 anarchy possessed of a type 1 anarchism. You came from “the void” and you are going back to it. It is both your birthright and your fate. It was part of Nietzsche’s philosophy to have a “love of fate” and this became part of his embracing of the idea of “eternal recurrence”, the idea that one should mould a life for oneself that one would happily live over and over again. This seems to have been his attempt to live a life that could be faced with happiness, joy and a stout-hearted courage although, of course, Nietzsche never actually suggested that we do live over and over again. His idea was a way to live your life, nothing more.

But it was not a bad way and it was a way which put the focus on asking oneself what one’s life was going to be and to amount to. Now, of course, there is no need that it amount to anything. People can choose to live in a corner and mind their own business and slowly fade away, unnoticed by anybody else. An anarchist should probably be the last one to disturb or disrupt such a person from their chosen path. Anarchism stands for

freedom of association and freedom to make, or to refuse to make, your own life, after all. And yet, as especially Emma Goldman and Jesus of Nazareth show from my examples of anarchist lives, above, one needs to have freedom in the first place in order to be able to exercise it. Goldman in particular, with her very Cynic emphasis on the dual enemies of state and custom, shows that such freedom can come under constant constraint and control from powers without and within.

And so anarchists, in one sense born into freedom, like the rest of us and, in fact, like absolutely anything else at all that is born, find themselves cast into a world where that freedom is immediately constrained by others. They find that their education, if left to the state or those who are products of the state, is an education, at home and in school, in being constrained, taught to play the games of “know your place” and “do as you are told” — the games of a conservative status quo that only ever wants more of the same, and particularly the same winners and losers in the game of life. Such people are taught, fundamentally, that authority exists and, where it exists, is to be obeyed. We are reminded once more of Emma Goldman’s insistence that you can have freedom or you can have obedience: but you cannot have both! But it is freedom that anarchists have chosen: freedom from patriarchy, freedom from states and governments and their violent apparatuses of control, freedom from customs that would police us from the inside out, co-opting us, as they do, to be agents of the very enculturated head police that control us. The tweet from “Leon Czolgosz” [the name is that of President McKinley’s murderer in 1901 and so is unlikely to actually be the real Leon — who got the electric chair — tweeting from beyond the grave] reminds us of the absurdity of the idea that power, once it has control, has any incentive or reason, of itself, to ever relinquish it. And so we learn the wisdom of any activist, of any description, who ever said: “Freedom will never be given to you: you must take it!”

That, I think, is what links the four very different anarchists I have written chapters about in the second half of this book — as well as many others I could have written about and, who knows, may yet do in other books as yet unimagined. Anarchism is probably not simply reducible to “freedom” but there is no anarchism in which freedom is not a basic, a founding, component [which is perhaps why the anarchist newspaper Kropotkin and others began in England in 1886 was itself called “Freedom”!]. Goldman’s insight bears repeating ad infinitum in this respect: you can have freedom or you can have obedience: but you cannot have both! This freedom was the very basis of John Cage’s artistic and professional life, an artistic and professional life which bled over into his very way of existing even as it is a part of Alan Moore’s equation of fiction with magic, the ability to freely conjure and imagine and make things so. We also see it in the, at first, seemingly bizarre activities of Jesus, the man who wanted to wipe the slate clean of life’s statuses and customs and inaugurate a way of living based on mutual aid, human solidarity and willing cooperation in a community of equals where your “family” was potentially everyone else [“love your neighbour as yourself”]. It was, of course, the very basis of Emma Goldman’s appeal whether she was talking about the education of children, the emancipation of women or the ethics of society. At this point you should note that all four examples I have given were not people only spouting theories: they were [and, in Moore’s case, still are] living it out on a daily basis. It was, and is, their life. Anarchism, then, is the life lived free and the education into such a life.

We need to talk about humanity. First of all, we need to talk about what it is. It is a family of beings of the same species. Yes, they may come with an array of varied bodies, sexual proclivities, appearances, gender manifestations, experiences of life and upbringing, along with differing cultural backgrounds, tastes and interests, but is this not, rather than eternally dividing them, merely to say that they display a remarkable, and ever expanding, diversity? People, being all the same species, are not all the same [and pretty much everyone, by themselves, would be perfectly happy with this]. You can’t have one without the other. And, as we learned in chapter three, diversity is the primary means by which a species survives. Having life, it would seem a good idea to try and keep it. At least for a while. To do that, if the biologists are right, we are going to have to preserve that diversity which is the best protection against being wiped out as a species whole and entire. What kills one human being can kill all of them.

What is true of biology is also true of culture as well. Cultural diversity is also a good thing but as we begin to move away from what people are beyond their control, biology, to things they can affect, culture, some people start to get jittery about, or critical towards, diversity. There are even those who, in the cause of a different culture, want to impose some level of uniformity on others. Alan Moore calls these people “fascists” in his book V for Vendetta and they are the opponents of the anarchists who want to live in a “land of do as you please”.

It is my instinct and, after doing quite a lot of reading in anarchist sources, my educated instinct, that anarchists should be, and historically have been, in the business of “diversity preservation” and that their natural opponents are everyone and anyone who want to control, constrain, direct, domesticate, civilize, coerce or limit diversity. Diversity, thinks the anarchist, is a good thing. This, by the way, is a good thing for anarchism itself too. The fact that there are eco-, anarcha-, social-, communist-, queer-, pacifist-, and other types of anarchism is a strength and not a weakness. They need to be seen as a diversity that is healthy as the expression of an anarchist mentality rather than as a weakness which causes the originating seed of anarchism to eventually die off.

It must immediately be admitted, however, that this, increasingly, is not how diversity has come to be seen. The fascists who want uniformity are neither a quiet nor an inactive culture. Since they often want to grasp power and control others, they have a nasty tendency of trying to take hold of, and control, public thought as well. This extends throughout culture but also, as of a necessity, politics too. Some of the results of this are the demonisation, and ill-treatment, of immigrants, poisonous public media, racist police forces, militarism which seeks to control natural resources, and, from an ideological perspective, division as a fact of thought and human action in respect of human beings. [Ask yourself: “Whose interests does this serve?”] We saw in my sixth chapter how, in respect of race, division was posited merely on the fact of differences in physical appearance rather than any actual biological differences that might establish actual, biological races. [To reiterate: there are no biological races; human racial differences are culturally, not biologically, racial.] There are those in this world, quite deliberate and malevolent racists, who want to propagate and magnify racism until it becomes a physical war. Such people are not only anti-diversity but actively pro-division. The charitable opinion here is that such people are badly in need of a proper education but it is not just in respect of their racial views that this is true for the manifesto of division is a manifesto that is about more than single issues [whether of race, nationality, creed, colour, sex or gender], also being about how you see people and the world in general. This book is called Being Human: A Philosophy of Personal and Political Anarchism for exactly this reason: it is about a common humanity that exists in personal and political spheres.

“Common humanity”. It sounds such a simple idea [and a rather obvious one, I’m bound to say] — but how hard to grasp it appears to be for so many of us. It is under attack on numerous fronts — explicit and implicit — every moment of every day. It starts, I think, when people start taking “what they are” altogether more seriously than they should, contrasting it with “what other people are” — or, more to the point, “are not” — and taking that altogether too seriously as well. In just a casual, day to day, use of social media it will not be at all unusual for me to come across people who are more attached to cultural, social, racial, sexual, gender or other labels [and they are, seriously, only labels, words, language] as the very essence of their being. But “human being” will not be one of these and neither, seemingly, would the label “human being” be enough for such people. Alan Moore might well say, in such circumstances, that these other personalities and characteristics have conjured themselves into existence by the power of fiction and thought which has become possessed of magical qualities. Having considered what Moore has to say on this, I might now find myself agreeing with him. But surely it is the case, and even magicians like Alan Moore would agree, that not everything that can be conjured is something that should be conjured?

So I have been wrestling with what I conceive of as a rather radical, rather irritating, thought for the entire time I have been writing this book [about 5 months now]. My researches in writing it, and the titles and subjects of the preceding chapters may well be instructive here, have been concerned with this thought. It is the kind of thought which is liable to piss off all sides equally because, so it turns out, it is probably a thought which pertains to people, who may in life conceive of themselves as natural opposites or even enemies, who actually have the thought it aims to criticise in common. The thought is this: if the human problem is that human beings have divided themselves up, quite artificially, and then set up these divisions as hard borders rather than as a natural diversity, and, further, if all these divisions are, in fact, nothing more than conceptual differences, rhetorically and linguistically created and amplified by human thought — then what if they are all equally nonsense, nothing more than insubstantial, ultimately inconsequential, artificial human blather which aims to do nothing more than instantiate and pursue a domesticating, exploitative agenda, a war of every “us” against every “them”?

It can be observed that one characteristic of nearly every fascist is their essentialism. In chapter five, I discussed the thought of Richard Rorty, an avuncular philosophical type in life who was a convinced anti-essentialist. Essentialism is the belief that “every entity has a set of attributes that are necessary to its identity and function” — as one dictionary definition has it. Practically speaking, it is the view that there is an “essence of whiteness” or an “essence of blackness” or an “essence of womanness” or an “essence of transness”, or an “essence of gayness”, etc. In other words, there is some essence which makes you these things and, like a disease, if you’ve got it, well, then, you’ve just got it. In contemporary times, for example, this is a stone cold marker of a “gender critical” person in regard to sexed bodies and, indeed, to the [two] genders it seems are the only ones these people will allow other people to have. When you read “gender critical” discourse you find that they believe what makes a woman a woman is something quite fixed and unalterable — as, indeed, with what makes a man a man. There is no discretion, no leeway, here, no possibility for “social performance” of gendered roles as a matter of sociology rather than of an essentialist philosophical thought. It is, god forbid, not up to people to decide for themselves. It is, instead, something over which no one has any power to decide. In fact, thinking you do have power to decide probably indicates a moral failing on your part for doing so to the essentialist.

Now you will have read in chapters two and five of this book [and also, in chapter ten on Alan Moore,] my thoughts about language. This, I think, is an anarchist subject. Language is pure human invention in relation to the languages that human beings actually employ. Every thought, idea, concept you have ever had was made possible by language — but language is entirely made up and, as you will have seen in those previous chapters, has nothing to do with things having essences [which is an unfortunate thought languages enable along with many others]. Language is what Ferdinand de Saussure thought of as “a system of signs without positive terms”. It is explicitly not based on essences which things have... because things don’t have essences. Every “essence” is made up by language and because of language, language not being a thing invented in order to identify essences. These essences, then, as linguistic phenomena, are more social practices than they are the inherent features of an imagined entity.

The question is, “What does this mean?” It means that there is NO “essence of whiteness” or “essence of blackness” or “essence of womanness” or “essence of transness” or “essence of gayness”, etc. It means these categories, which are actually human domestications of ourselves made possible by linguistic thought, do not empirically exist. They are all constructed, artificial, rhetorical. My argument throughout this book, in fact, has been that everything is — because the entire human imaginative [and imagined] world is. Things are not what human beings think they are but, in Alan Moore’s terms, they are conjured to be that way by the linguistic narrativisations we call “fiction”. So, it follows, that when you take any of this total fiction so seriously you are starting to think things are really as some human beings with a particular fiction have imagined them — and you are making a grave mistake in thinking them “real”. They are “real” only in a fictive sense and not in any sense beyond human language and thought. Where you make a division, you make a contingent, artificial, human division; you do not recognise some eternal, permanent, universal division. Such divisions do not, in fact, exist.

Perhaps now you might start to understand why I say such a thought might piss everybody off equally? For, yes, I am saying that all those things we say people are, starting, of course, with yourself, they actually aren’t. Are there cis and trans people? No, I don’t think so. This is an artificial, linguistic distinction which serves some purposes and not others. Are there black and white people? Well, yes, in the trivial sense that people have many variations and gradations of skin colour. Such people may engage in different cultures too [not necessarily ones related to their skin colour] and they may certainly be treated differently based on their skin colour [and I would never wish to obscure this fact]. But are there categories “white person” and “black person” that are constituted on the basis of an essential [in the philosophical sense] racial component? No, I don’t think so. Are there gay and straight [and bi and pan, etc.] people? No, I don’t think so. I do think that people are educated to think so and I think this education is largely why they do. But if people just were a sexuality then you would imagine it could never change. Yet I, in my own personal experience, have found that it has changed. You could, of course, say that I was the thing it changed to all along but just didn’t realise it. But I don’t think so. I thought I was something before but then my feelings and beliefs started to no longer fit that linguistic profile anymore. The description came to seem arbitrary and inadequate and then, the next thing you know, I’m saying to myself that any person can have sex with any other [consenting!] person. Nothing “essential” is stopping them. Its all just free choice that human domestications of ourselves have artificially constrained. So you are not gay or straight or bi or pan. You’re anything you can imagine or choose to be. You are simply a sexual human being. Its not a matter of what Alan Moore called “Nazi science”, the kind that wants to find a gene for everything to make it “real”, but simply of linguistically constructed human identities that can become cultures whilst being understood in a philosophically unhelpful way.

Now I do not mean to be disrespectful in saying any of this. I am not meaning to deny or erase any kind of culture with such thinking either. If you think of yourself as something or as part of a particular kind of community [and, due to the nature of human thinking, who doesn’t?] then that is all to the good as far as I am concerned. I am not saying cultures and communities are bad [although some specific examples of them can be]; I am only saying that they are fictive and, as such, not empirical, not “the way the world really is”. Frankly speaking, following Nietzsche from chapter two, who actually knows the way the world is? Who says we have any purchase or insight on such a question? The issue for human beings is how best to think about the world they live in and how to interact with each other as a part of it. In this respect, I think it vital to focus on the fictive, creative nature of language, something supremely applicable to human beings themselves in terms of the identities they create for themselves and each other. This is a domesticating and potentially exploitative, dominating activity. In fact, it is not at all hard to see how language is used to dominate and classify people for what end up being political purposes. In chapter six, for instance, we saw how the eugenicists referred to “morons” and the “feeble-minded” to do this [let alone Josiah Nott’s use of the term “Niggerology” for his racist lectures]. People have used words like “gay”, “trans”, “Jew” and even “anarchist” in exactly the same way. These are identities, conjurings, but they are not fixed realities from a world beyond human language. We created them. We make use of them. Its how they are used that counts.

My intuition here is that we, more often than not, take language far too seriously. People become the things they are described, all the better to make use of them. [It is in this sense that Moore’s use of a magical vocabulary to describe this — making something, or someone, from nothing — is actually a very powerful and helpful metaphor]. In fact, I said explicitly in chapter five, following the lead of Richard Rorty, that language is a tool to make use of the things we experience in the world. But, that being so, it then depends what our purposes are. Here we enter the ethical dimension of language use for every entity we have ever imagined began in our heads. And so what we are thinking and why is a matter of personal ethics. When we send it out into the world and act upon it then it becomes a social, political matter, a matter of social and political ethics. What I want to say here, then, is that anarchism, like everything else, begins inside the human mind, linguistically conceived, and is conjured into existence as we instantiate it in our own selves and, in this specific sense, “make it real”. “Real” is, in fact, itself only a fictive thing. Real, that is, as we imagine it. What else would it be? If we can think of it then you can be sure that it was us, we human beings, who constructed it.

In short, our fight is not with “reality”. Where such a thing exists beyond us it is beyond our concern and certainly it is not concerned with us. We are but tiny specks of space dust in a tiny corner of the vastness. As Nietzsche himself fictionalises, when our star flickers out, itself but a blink of time, it will be as if we never had been. The physical, and any other, reality beyond us is not our problem. What is our problem, the issue with which humanity is entirely bound up, is the world we have made and that we construct and maintain every day of our lives. This is the world with which anarchism is concerned and in which the domesticating, controlling use of language takes place. We are all implicated in this, and, indeed, in language, for we all take part in it. Every time we use the indicative we are saying something is so — and creating or maintaining it that way. The policeman in your head comes before the policeman in your community.

Both types of policeman, in recent times, have been enemies of diversity and of common humanity — at least in the world of my experience which is the UK and the USA. In both cases, the political authorities in these places have used their power, and the power of language, to cast aspersions upon such ideas and to make what is diverse become what is divided, as part of a greater cultural and political effort. Earlier, I posed the question of whose interest this was in. Now, it is time to answer this question for it seems clear that it is in the interests of a capitalist and political elite [the latter often in the pay of the former] that diversity either be erased where it is not wanted or widened into division in order that no effective opposition to an economic elite can ever be mounted. This is, I think, fairly transparently the case. We can see this, for example, when white supremacists in the USA turn “Antifa” into an organisation it actually isn’t and posit aims, officers and activities of it. The aim here is to create it as a material threat and give it a reality it doesn’t have in order to wave it as a totem at people so they can be better controlled. The same thing has routinely, in the past, been done with things like socialism or communism for decades. And more than once from the Oval Office itself.

Control is what such elites want and, since they are so relatively few in numbers, they need to keep the masses divided in order that common humanity and a natural and unthreatening diversity of human existence do not flourish as active, thoughtful, penetrating ideas in the collective, human consciousness. If they ever did, the game would be up for this particular elite. But, having money [another destructive idea which can be physically utilised once its poisonous seed has been sown in our minds] and power, this elite can initiate an ongoing barrage of propaganda at the rest of us, sowing division here and creating difference there, and all the while telling us that if someone is different then they are not our friend; they are the stranger, the enemy, the danger: they are other. Why else do “think tanks”, fake media organisations and secretly financed interest groups appear pretending to have scientifically-based and seemingly impartial views on matters of public policy? They are the minions of the rich and powerful sent out to muddy the waters, cause confusion and make sure people can never decide for themselves, uncoerced, what to think: hordes of paid liars and pleaders for a cause.

Above all, such people, think such elites, must be kept divided. They must never realise their common humanity and their unthreatening, and very necessary, diversity. It is such coercion for the means of exploitation, a dominating domestication, that the anarchist needs to fight not only physically in the material world but linguistically in the immaterial world of ideas and consciousness. The anarchist, a believer in human solidarity and the creation of shared, cooperative consciousness, should be the one educating friends, family and neighbours into the idea that, although we can look and act differently, we actually are the same species — and that action in our common interest is not a bad thing but a thing that benefits everyone. Such anarchists should be educating these same people that a diversity of appearance, behaviour and culture does not mean we must be enemies but that we can be friends, friends who can share new and interesting things with each other. Such anarchists, in fact, should be sharing fraternity with other people and helping it to spread throughout the whole human species. Anarchists, so it is said, are those who believe in fraternity, human solidarity and cooperation. This is good for the only way to stop the hate, defeat the division and end the othering is to actually live such values on a day to day basis in the course of every human relationship.

In 1870, Mikhail Bakunin wrote the following in his Letters To A Frenchman On The Present Crisis [said “crisis” being the Franco-Prussian War]:

“There are men, many of them among the so-called revolutionary bourgeoisie, who, by mouthing revolutionary slogans, think that they are making the Revolution. Feeling that they have thus adequately fulfilled their revolutionary obligations, they now proceed to be careless in action and, in flagrant contradiction to principles, commit what are in effect wholly reactionary acts. We who are truly revolutionary must behave in an altogether different manner. Let us talk less about revolution and do a great deal more. Let others concern themselves with the theoretical development of the principles of the Social Revolution, while we content ourselves with spreading these principles everywhere, incarnating them into facts... All of us must now embark on stormy revolutionary seas, and from this very moment we must spread our principles, not with words but with deeds, for this is the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda .”

Bakunin here is essentially saying “actions speak louder than words”. Voltairine de Cleyre, a woman Emma Goldman called “the greatest woman anarchist of America”, would seemingly agree. Talking about “direct action”, something she contrasts with “political action” — the latter being that action which defers to political channels — in her essay of the same name from 1912, the same year as her untimely death — she even regards it as absolutely necessary if you want to get anything done — as well as that thing which, in most circumstances, people already do anyway. She says:

“Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist... Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action. Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle, and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist. Examples of such action are strikes and boycotts... These actions are generally not due to anyone’s reasoning overmuch on the respective merits of directness or indirectness, but are the spontaneous retorts of those who feel oppressed by a situation. In other words, all people are, most of the time, believers in the principle of direct action, and practicers of it. However, most people are also indirect or political actionists. And they are both these things at the same time, without making much of an analysis of either. There are only a limited number of persons who eschew political action under any and all circumstances; but there is nobody, nobody at all, who has ever been so “impossible” as to eschew direct action altogether... Those who, by the essence of their belief, are committed to Direct Action only are — just who? Why, the non-resistants; precisely those who do not believe in violence at all! Now do not make the mistake of inferring that I say direct action means non-resistance; not by any means. Direct action may be the extreme of violence, or it may be as peaceful as the waters of the Brook of Siloa that go softly. What I say is, that the real non-resistants can believe in direct action only, never in political action. For the basis of all political action is coercion; even when the State does good things, it finally rests on a club, a gun, or a prison, for its power to carry them through.... It is by and because of the direct acts of the forerunners of social change, whether they be of peaceful or warlike nature, that the Human Conscience, the conscience of the mass, becomes aroused to the need for change. It would be very stupid to say that no good results are ever brought about by political action; sometimes good things do come about that way. But never until individual rebellion, followed by mass rebellion, has forced it. Direct action is always the clamorer, the initiator, through which the great sum of indifferentists become aware that oppression is getting intolerable.”

De Cleyre makes several points here about direct action. She points out that most people already possess the impulse to directly sort out their affairs. She adds that most people don’t even really think about this when they do; they just do it. It is, she implies, entirely normal to do so, the naturally expected response. She adds, in a time of industrial unrest due to the great oppression of long hours and small wages, that even those who silently protest and do not resist are actually people taking matters into their own hands in a direct way. In her final section, she makes the point that even though political processes may sometimes work for good, they never work for good unless some person or persons took direct actions to bring matters to a head to begin with. Even actions which don’t produce the difference they intend to provoke, she insists, have the witnessing function of testimony and consciousness-raising in others. Direct action, then, in Voltairine de Cleyre’s estimation, will always be necessary in order to secure freedoms not yet attained and to retain those that have been.

Max Stirner is known today as perhaps the major European proponent of what was once known as “egoist”, and is now known as “individualist”, anarchism. The label is somewhat deceptive and indicates only that branch of anarchism which focuses on the human individual as a being in their own right. It is, of course, the case that no one exists in a vacuum — and so that individualist concerns must be balanced by social ones [I, above all, should be saying this in a book about “personal and political” anarchism] — but the focus of everything I have shared about anarchy and anarchism in this book would be missing a major plank of its thesis did I not focus on the vital part played in anarchism by the self-actualisation and, in some sense, the self-importance, the consciousness, of the individual. It is this that anarchists like Stirner were pre-eminently interested in. The following quotation is, then, in regard to the State from this self-actualising perspective:

“The fight of the world today is, as it is said, directed against the “established.” Yet people are wont to misunderstand this as if it were only that what is now established was to be exchanged for another, a better, established system. But war might rather be declared against establishment itself, the State, not a particular state, not any such thing as the mere condition of the State at the time; it is not another State (e.g., a “people’s State”) that men aim at, but their union, uniting, this ever-fluid uniting of everything standing. — A State exists even without my co-operation: | am born in it, brought up in it, under obligations to it, and must “do it homage.” It takes me up into its “favour,” and I live by its “grace.” Thus the independent establishment of the State founds my lack of independence; its condition as a “natural growth,” its organism, demands that my nature not grow freely, but be cut to fit it. That it may be able to unfold in natural growth, it applies to me the shears of “civilization”; it gives me an education and culture adapted to it, not to me, and teaches me, e.g., to respect the laws, to refrain from injury to State property (i.e., private property), to reverence divine and earthly highness, etc.; in short, it teaches me to be — unpunishable, “sacrificing” my ownness to “sacredness” (everything possible is sacred; e.g., property, others’ lives, etc.,). In this consists the sort of civilization and culture that the State is able to give me: it brings me up to be a “Serviceable instrument,” a “serviceable member of society.”

... The State always has the sole purpose to limit, tame, subordinate, the individual — to make him subject to some generality or other; it lasts only so long as the individual is not all in all, and it is only the clearly marked restriction of me, my limitation, my slavery. Never does a State aim to bring in the free activity of individuals, but always that which is bound to the purpose of the State. Through the State nothing in common comes to pass either, as little as one can call a piece of cloth the common work of all the individual parts of a machine; it is rather the work of the whole machine as a unit, machine work. In the same style everything is done by the State machine too; for it moves the clockwork of the individual minds, none of which follow their own impulse. The State seeks to hinder every free activity by its censorship, its supervision, its police, and holds this hindering to be its duty, because it is in truth a duty of self-preservation. The State wants to make something out of man, therefore there live in it only made men; every one who wants to be his own self is its opponent and is nothing. “He is nothing” means as much as, the State does not make use of him, grants him no position, no office, no trade, etc.

... The best State will clearly be that which has the most loyal citizens, and the more the devoted mind for legality is lost, so much the more will the State, this system of morality, this moral life itself, be diminished in force and quality. With the “good citizens” the good State too perishes and dissolves into anarchy and lawlessness. “Respect for the law!” By this cement the totality of the State is held together. “The law is sacred, and he who affronts it a criminal.” Without crime no State: the moral world — [which] the State is — is crammed full of scamps, cheats, liars, thieves, etc. Since the State is the “lordship of law,” its hierarchy, it follows that the egoist, in all cases where his advantage runs against the State’s, can satisfy himself only by crime ...”

Stirner here makes the argument that the State, any state, any fictive territory which has rules and boundaries and overseers, be they bankers, politicians, workers or even neighbours, is a standing threat to the self-actualising consciousness of the free individual. Such states, in fact, must by their very nature impinge on such freedom and demand allegiance to themselves. This not only indicates that, where states exist, the anarchist individual will constantly be under threat from them as allegiance is demanded or coerced but that its also the case that the anarchist individual’s consciousness must be engaged in a continual process of actualisation against it. Just as with Bakunin actions speak louder than words and with de Cleyre “direct action” will always be necessary, so, too, with Stirner’s egoism, the anarchist must also be taking steps to ground and activate their consciousness of themselves as free, uncoerced individuals. What Stirner’s thesis shows is that anarchism begins from within and, wherever else it goes and whatever else it achieves, it can only ever begin from within. You are the anarchism and the anarchy is you.

Colin Ward was one of the most active and significant British anarchists of the second half of the twentieth century, not least as editor of British anarchist newspaper, Freedom, from 1947–1960 and as the founder and editor of the British monthly journal, Anarchy, from 1961–1970. He is perhaps best known to later generations of British anarchists, however, as the writer of the influential book, Anarchy in Action [first published in 1973], a book originally intended “for those who either had no idea of what the word [anarchism] implied, or who knew exactly what it implied, and had rejected it, considering that it had no relevance for the modern world.” The original title for this book, on the other hand, Ward tells us, had been “Anarchism as a theory of organisation” and this was because, as Ward himself says in the introduction to the Second Edition, the book “is about the ways in which people organise themselves in any kind of human society, whether we care to categorise those societies as primitive, traditional, capitalist or communist.”

In this respect, the tenth chapter of Anarchism in Action [and the linking of anarchism with “action” in this title is a very pertinent one for me as, indeed, for Colin Ward] is relevant in discussing children at play as an “anarchist parable” — as Ward puts it. He writes, at the beginning of this chapter that:

“All the problems of social life present a choice between libertarian and authoritarian solutions, and the ultimate claim we can make for the libertarian approach is that it fulfils its function better. The adventure playground is an arresting example of this living anarchy; one that is valuable both in itself and as an experimental verification of a whole social approach.”

Here Ward reminds us that the anarchist claim is not a partisan one — live like us because we want you too — but a functional and qualitative one: the anarchist claim is that the anarchist way will lead to better outcomes for everyone altogether. So anarchist action, and acting in anarchist ways, is not just one more silly “team this versus team that” spectacle but the very serious claim that there are better ways to live and to organise people in community and society — and that these are anarchist ways.

The specific example Ward wants to consider in his tenth chapter is children’s adventure playgrounds. Considering one in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, he says:

“When The Yard was opened in Minneapolis with the aim of giving the children ‘their own spot of earth and plenty of tools and materials for digging, building and creating as they see fit’, it was every child for himself. The initial stockpile of secondhand lumber disappeared like ice off a hot stove. Children helped themselves to all they could carry, sawed off long boards when short pieces would have done. Some hoarded tools and supplies in secret caches. Everybody wanted to build the biggest shack in the shortest time. The workmanship was shoddy.

Then came the bust. There wasn’t a stick of lumber left. Hijacking raids were staged on half-finished shacks. Grumbling and bickering broke out. A few children packed up and left. But on the second day of the great depression most of the youngsters banded together spontaneously for a salvage drive. Tools and nails came out of hiding. For over a week the youngsters made do with what they had. Rugged individualists who had insisted on building alone invited others to join in — and bring their supplies along. New ideas popped up for joint projects. By the time a fresh supply of lumber arrived a community had been born.”

This image, idealistic as some might accuse it of being, also seems somewhat naive in a world of kids with mobile phones and games consoles who, through technology, have now often been sent from playgrounds into hiding in their bedrooms. But that naivety also only serves to come as a shock as the image posits old questions anew: what might people achieve together if left to their own devices? Does how we raise children determine who they will be and who [and how] they can become?

What is at stake here, and the divergent ideas informing different approaches to education, are outlined by Ward in a letter he quotes from the Times Educational Supplement which was sent in by someone working with children in adventure playgrounds and seeking to defend them from their more organisational and authoritarian critics:

“By what criteria are adventure playgrounds to be judged? If it is by the disciplined activity of the uniformed organisations, then there is no doubt but we are a failure. If it is by the success of our football and table tennis teams then there is no doubt we are a flop. If it is by the enterprise and endurance called for by some of the national youth awards then we must be ashamed.

But these are the standards set by the club movement, in one form or another, for a particular type of child. They do not attract the so-called ‘‘unclubbable’, and worse — so we read regularly — nor do they hold those children at whom they are aimed. May I suggest that we need to examine afresh the pattern taken by the young at play and then compare it with the needs of the growing child and the adolescent? We accept that it is natural for boys and girls below a certain age to play together, and think it equally natural for them to play at being grown up. We accept, in fact, their right to imitate the world around them. Yet as soon as a child is old enough to see through the pretence and demand the reality, we separate him from his sister and try to fob him off with games and activities which seem only to put off the day when he will enter the world proper.

The adventure playgrounds in this country, new though they are, are already providing a number of lessons which we would do well to study...

For three successive summers the children have built their dens and created Shanty Town, with its own hospitals, fire station, shops, etc. As each den appeared, it became functional and brought with it an appreciation of its nature and responsibility... The pattern of adventure playgrounds is set by the needs of the children who use them; their ‘toys’ include woodwork benches and sewing machines. We do not believe that children can be locked up in neat little parcels labelled by age and sex. Neither do we believe that education is the prerogative of the schools.”

As Colin Ward sees this “The adventure playground is a kind of parable of anarchy, a free society in miniature, with the same tensions and ever-changing harmonies, the same diversity and spontaneity, the same unforced growth of co-operation and release of individual qualities and communal sense, which lie dormant in a society whose dominant values are competition and acquisitiveness.” He continues:

“But having discovered something like the ideal conditions for children’s play — the self-selected evolution from demolition through discovery to creativity — why should we stop there? Do we really accept the paradox of a free and self-developing childhood followed by a lifetime of dreary and unfulfilling toil? Isn’t there a place for the adventure playground or its equivalent in the adult world?

Of course there is, and just as the most striking thing for the visitor, or the organiser, in an adventure playground is not the improvised gymnastics, but the making and building that goes on all around, so the significant thing about adult recreation is not so much the fishing, sailing, pigeon-fancying or photography aspect (though in their organisation these frequently illustrate the principles of self-regulation and free federation that are emphasised in this book), still less is it the commercial and professional sport which is just another aspect of the entertainment industry. The significant aspect is the way in which the urge to make things, and to construct and reconstruct, to repair and remodel, denied outlet in the ordinary sterile world of employment, emerges in the explosion of ‘do-it-yourself’ activities of every kind.

This in turn leads to a spontaneous sharing of equipment and skills:

‘I’ve got two very good friends,’ Mrs Jarvis said, ‘Mrs Barker, who lives opposite, has got a spin drier and I’ve got a sewing machine. I put my washing in her spin drier and she uses my sewing machine when she wants to. Then the lady next door on one side is another friend of mine. We always help each other out.’ Mr Dover’s great hobby is woodwork; at the time he was interviewed he was busy on a pelmet he was making for a friend living next door and he had just finished a toy train for the son of another. He relies on Fred, another friend who is also a neighbour, to help when needed. ‘Just today I was sawing a log for the engine of this train and Fred sees that my saw is blunt and lends me a sharp one. Anything at all I want he’ll lend it to me if he has it. I’m the same with him. The other day he knocked when I wasn’t here and borrowed my steps — we take each other for granted that way.’”

What is the point of this parable of children’s play then applied to a world of adults? It is surely that we don’t have to teach children there must be a leader, that they must do things a certain way and that they must do as they are told. We do not have to teach hierarchy and coercion and rigid regimentation as if human beings were soldiers best organised like cogs in a machine. The ethic of Colin Ward’s example is that people can and should be trusted, in their individuality, to form natural bonds of cooperation enabling them to work together for mutual benefit. This is, in fact, the anarchist way Colin Ward’s book recommends not simply as the anarchist way but, ultimately, the better and more functional way for all.

We come to the point of these four previous examples and its a simple one if, often, one people struggle to accept or become enthusiastic about. This is that: ITS UP TO US! It is to accept the wisdom in Emma Goldman’s statement that “People have only as much liberty as they have the intelligence to want and the courage to take” and to additionally accept that a better way of living, a more equitable way of living, an emancipated way of living, is not going to be handed to us on a plate. Feeding the hungry, housing the houseless, aiding those who need some help, building alternatives to today’s institutions and possibilities, educating people into a new, common humanity of wide diversity, simply helping those who need some help, is for those who will build another future based on reconfigured human relations of fraternity, solidarity and equity.

Anarchists from Bakunin to de Cleyre to Stirner to Ward knew full well that it is in taking the initiative, in not waiting to be asked, in self-actualising and taking responsibility for our anarchist consciousness, that anarchism becomes more likely and more possible as the organising ethos of our world. There is no start point we are waiting for; for the starting point was when we were born, in blood and pain emerging from our mothers’ wombs. From that point on it has been a matter of how we will live and how we will die and, both individually and together, it is a puzzle for us to solve and a puzzle only we can solve. ITS UP TO US.

After putting out an appeal on social media, I put the following questions concerning anarchism to four people who responded to me, two men and two women, from four different countries. The questions were as follows:

What is your knowledge or experience of anarchism? When did you first hear about it and what were your impressions?

Can you name any anarchists and share anything you know about them?

In a single paragraph, sum up what you think anarchism is.

What is your opinion of the current political situation? Would anarchist values, such as you are aware of them, help or hinder in such a situation?

How many people, in your estimation, would you say live in anarchist ways on a day to day basis?

Describe your ideal state of living.

Having put these questions to my four volunteers, these were their replies:

Mark, UK

I was brought up in a very Conservative-voting working-class white family. We had the Daily Express [a conservative UK newspaper] delivered every day and my parents bought into its political opinion. During the 1970s my Dad was quite openly racist but I had school friends that were black and Asian and I knew this was wrong. So my first kind of political experiences were with two groups: Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. I attended meetings and went on rallies and marches. When I was 14 I had a student exchange visit from a Spanish boy, Lucio from Madrid. Spain had just come out of Fascism as Franco had died. Lucio came and stayed every summer for the next three years and then I had a Summer in Madrid with him. His grandfather had been wounded fighting against Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War [1936–1939].

Lucio would go to left-wing bookshops and buy Communist books. He also talked a lot about anarchism. | remember us going to London and finding a record he really wanted: El Pueblo Unido Jamas sera Vencido [The People United Will Never Be Divided]. It was from Chile I think. I was studying Sociology at school and my leaning to the left-wing of politics was very strong. I then had a girlfriend that I was madly in love with. Judy Cox still writes books about the Russian Revolution and is a big deal in the Socialist Worker’s Party these days. I think I was with both Lucio and Judy when I went into a left-wing bookshop and found Colin Ward’s book, Anarchy in Action. This was a game-changer for all three of us. I read it first. I struggle to remember it now but two things stood out. There was a Russian anarchist called Baktunin, I think. [There was. Mark refers to Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin.] That might be wrong but it was more than 40 years ago! There was also a story in the book about a place — it may have been part of Spain during the Civil War — where for some months there was no government at all. [This is also true and refers to Catalunya which ran its own affairs for a period of the war.] The people there collectively made decisions and ruled themselves and it was hugely successful.

Lucio read the book after me and we talked a lot about what we thought an Anarchist society might be. For me, that meant the absence of a central government and collective decisions based on a kind of people’s forum or committee. Lucio was also very knowledgeable about anarchist factions throughout the Spanish Civil War. Judy read the book next and then we split up so, as far as I am aware, she still has the book until this day. In return, I kept her copy of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. That was a long time ago. For a while, my politics merged Marxism and Anarchism. I remember that I wrote to the Cuban Embassy in London asking if I could go and work there. I still have a letter from them somewhere saying there was no work permit agreement between the two countries.

As I got older I studied History and became aware that in every country that had attempted to live according to Marxist ideals it had been a massive failure. | looked at Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I even lived in China last year for five months. That was living in a totalitarian state. I was followed as I was a westerner and they put a CC camera outside my front door to watch my movements. I can only liken it to what it must have been like living in Nazi Germany. The current political situation is slightly better because Trump has gone but in the UK [the] Labour [Party] no longer represents anything. I hated Thatcherism with a passion and was a member of the Labour Party at that time but there hasn’t been anything like an alternative for many years. Anyone who pushes for a more egalitarian society like Michael Foot [Labour leader from 1980–1983] or Jeremy Corbyn [Labour leader from 2015–2020] is immediately destroyed by the media, which is controlled by the likes of Rupert Murdoch. I am drawn now to the politics of Extinction Rebellion, not just for its stance on climate change but there is also an element to it which I believe to be anarchistic. One of their key points is a citizen’s committee. [Extinction Rebellion have as one of their demands the setting up of Citizen’s Assemblies which will advise government on matters of climate and economic justice.]

These days my feelings about the collective will of people, in general, has changed. My ideal state of living would be one I learned about from a Sociology lecturer on Marxism. He talked about a collective will where all in a society owned the means of production. Everything was shared. You went to work in the morning for a few hours and in the afternoon you could choose to go to an art gallery or a football game or a fairground. Education was at the centre of society — I taught for thirty years — and was available freely to all. Such a society would not require a strong central government as it would be based on collective will.

Matt, USA

  1. My knowledge of anarchism is still relatively limited. I first heard about anarchism (meaning the political ideology, not the buzzword politicians use) about a year ago. I got pulled into leftism through “Bread Tube” and saw a thread on Twitter where people were recommending the channel “Thought Slime”, so I checked out his video “Ten things everyone gets wrong about Anarchists”. I had never really learned what an anarchist was outside of the colloquial usage of the word, and was surprised to find out how much it made sense to me.

  2. Off the top of my head I can probably name the greatest hits like Malatesta, Goldman, Kropotkin, Bakunin, and Makhno as well as more modern figures like Chomsky, Bookchin, and Graeber.

  3. From my current understanding, anarchism is the ideal state of society (unless you’re [a] post-civilizationist] I guess), based on the free association of individuals and the abolition of authority and power structures. The usual target of this is the state, which is seen as having a monopoly over legitimate violence and uses that violence to enforce its understanding of “freedom”.

  4. I live in the United States, and the political situation is looking pretty bleak. Growing fascist movements with the potential to be united behind the GOP [The Republican Party] in the next set of elections, and an opposition party that is spineless in the face of it. The parallels to Weimar Germany are not lost on me. We are facing a rapidly increasing divide between the owner class and the working class, but a seemingly endless number of people are attached to the idea that they can escape poverty via “personal responsibility”. Our “leaders” are doing nothing to prepare us for the coming climate disaster because they’re in the pockets of the worst offenders.

    Anarchism seems to me to be the only solution that can correct the course society has been on in an ethical and timely manner. Half-assed social democracy only exists to placate people from realizing the truth: the state is made up of nothing but useless middlemen and we’d all be living much more harmoniously with the world if profit and domination weren’t encouraged by our economic and social structures. Since anarchism is the organization of society horizontally, these wouldn’t be issues. If everyone is provided for, who would steal? If everyone truly had an equal say in how their communities function, why would anyone lust for more power? It seems like the only logical solution, we know greed and powerlusting are incentivized by our current systems, so the fix must be the destruction of those systems.

  5. I would say very few people live in anarchist ways, outside of existing anarchist or anarchist-adjacent territories. The current structure of society makes it very, very difficult. You can’t really freely associate under global capitalism, and any attempts are usually squashed by the state and demonized in the media. I think that’s different from people who take political action based on the principles of anarchism, though. People who participate in mutual aid networks, people who volunteer, and people who directly protest the state are all recognizing that the state is not going to help people who need it, other people are. So that’s something.

  6. My ideal state of living is being able to freely associate with who I please, when I please. Living in a community where labor is shared (assuming that’s the consensus people come to, this is just my ideal) so that everyone can work much less and have more time to use how they see fit. Instead of being used to scare manual laborers, automation would be a gift to humanity without the profit motive. Agriculture would return to a level that can coexist with nature, even though it will always be opposed in some way, the harm done would be minimized. Instead of being forced to live in cramped, crowded urban environments, people could spread out and have the space to live because they wouldn’t need to be concentrated around dense economic areas.

Lucia, Argentina

1. What is your knowledge or experience of anarchism? When did you first hear about it and what were your impressions?

Argentina has often had the tendency to suffer from military government, something which is not only bad because its government but is also bad because its run by soldiers. In the last century this happened a few times and at those times anarchist sentiments were higher in Argentina than they are today. I heard about this from my grandfather who had anarchist leanings and spoke to me about past times in my country and some anarchists. He said the famous anarchist, Errico Malatesta, visited Argentina in the 1880s [this was from 1885–1889] but that such thought was always an underground thought most common amongst some groups of workers. My grandfather said being anarchist could, at times, be very dangerous as the police and the army would single such people out for bad treatment. For myself, I wondered why people would hold to beliefs which could get them into trouble.

2. Can you name any anarchists and share anything you know about them?

As just mentioned, the only anarchist name I know is Errico Malatesta. The only real thing I remember about him is that he thought it was up to people to save themselves. He taught responsibility for yourself is what my grandfather said.

3. In a single paragraph, sum up what you think anarchism is.

I would say that anarchism is the belief that no government is legitimate because every person is born free. From that point on, any government can only been imposed on people along with any leaders that are a part of it. Anarchism, in that case, is the belief that people deciding how to live is a voluntary thing that cannot ever be imposed on others. Freedom is the most important anarchist belief and anything and everything else must reckon with it as the central idea of anarchism.

4. What is your opinion of the current political situation? Would anarchist values, such as you are aware of them, help or hinder in such a situation?

I don’t have much time for national politics and politicians are not generally liked among the people I know. It seems like they play power games amongst themselves and for their own interests. Organising things amongst yourselves seems like a much better idea because then you always have a direct link to what is going on and so are invested in the whole process personally. This seems like a good idea. Also I think freedom, in Spanish, libertad, is a most important idea that should never be forgotten.

5. How many people, in your estimation, would you say live in anarchist ways on a day to day basis?

I do not think very many if the question means openly as anarchists who ignore the government and such. I would respect any people who did though as it must take some courage to do it.

6. Describe your ideal state of living.

I’m tempted to say a desert island somewhere but that is probably more of a silly dream and, in reality, it has to be about more than you. So I think a more realistic approach is to live in your own place but without everybody always trying to be better off at the expense of the next person. There is enough for everyone to survive, get along and be happy if only some will not horde things to have control over others. I wish we could be like that more of the time.

Sky, Vietnam

1. What is your knowledge or experience of anarchism? When did you first hear about it and what were your impressions?

When I lived in Melbourne, Australia, I was part of a group of people I guess you’d call “anarchists”. It was based on sharing and I guess you’d call it communal living or something like that. It was in a squat I think [I don’t actually know who the place was meant to belong to] and we cultivated the garden and stuff to minimize what we needed to buy. Everyone was expected to throw in and do their part. I found it pretty easygoing and once you realized how the place worked you got into the new routine fairly easily. The best thing about it was the lack of expectation and it actually feels good to know that no one is gonna be ordering you around. You start to take pride in playing your part and taking a little responsibility. It creates a togetherness and a pride in what you are achieving together freely only because you want to.

2. Can you name any anarchists and share anything you know about them?

The only Western anarchist I know of is Emma Goldman but all I really remember about her is that she got arrested a lot, | think for talking about sex? There is also a Vietnamese anarchist who was called Phan Boi Chau that I’ve heard of but, again, I only really know that he got arrested and was kept confined for his views.

3. In a single paragraph, sum up what you think anarchism is.

I think of anarchism as freedom from control, people just getting on with each other, you know? I think of it as how people probably used to live before there was any great civilization and stuff when people just had to get on with each other and deal with other people for what they needed to survive. This must have worked to some degree otherwise none of us would be here now. You have to ask how people got to all the countries and islands that exist today without any technology and stuff like that. It can only be because they worked together with each other and then built societies when they got there and created their own cultures and ways of living. So this shows that it must all be possible. Today people are told they need loads of stuff and gadgets to be happy but that’s not true. We had no electricity in the squat but it didn’t really seem to matter and nobody moaned or complained because you just got on with it. Human relationships became more important too and that’s something a lot of people miss these days alone at home looking at screens for company. So I think anarchism probably means better relationships because it forces people to have to deal with each other and get along.

4. What is your opinion of the current political situation? Would anarchist values, such as you are aware of them, help or hinder in such a situation?

Its a dumpster fire mate. People everywhere just seem interested in power and politicians seem disconnected from the rest. I’m kind of a free spirit and it bums me out how most people seem so fixed and static and plugged into the system. Even without being an anarchist its possible to be carefree and hang loose from society but, I don’t know, for some reason most people seem to buy into all this shit that politicians and the TV tell them to believe. When you aren’t in that you can see people just being mesmerized by this nonsense which controls their minds. Its pretty scary like people have forgotten they can think for themselves. Its like some dystopia — like that film They Live if you’ve seen that film? People are under control and they don’t even know it. I don’t ever want to be like that. I’d rather take my chances and live my way, carefree, on the road.

5. How many people, in your estimation, would you say live in anarchist ways on a day to day basis?

Probably more than you think. I’ve done some travelling around South East Asia and there’s a fairly decent travelling community here, not just people from the area but from all over. These are people who just decided they didn’t want to be part of the world and started travelling round it however they could, hitching rides, getting passage on boats, anything just to see the world and live free. There’s a very friendly way of existing that develops between such people and they will nearly all do you a favor because they know that, one day soon, they are gonna need a favor too. So its a “pay it forward” system, you help out because you’re also gonna need help at some point whether that be food, shelter for a night, a ride somewhere, etc. My guess is that most of these people are unseen and unnoticed by the static population because its just not their lifestyle so there’s no reason to even realize they exist.

6. Describe your ideal state of living.

Pretty much what it is now, I guess. I wish there weren’t so many cops about of various kinds lol. I was reading the other day how not that long ago passports and things like that didn’t exist and basically you could just go anywhere in the world and do what you liked. That seems really good to me. Today we have all this surveillance and tracking and people in charge of things basically want to be able to plot everybody on a map and follow their movements. That really gets me pretty angry when I think about it. Like, why can’t you just leave people alone? Its none of your frackin business! In my view 99% of people would get on just fine if left to their own devices and people would work together to help each other out because that’s the only way people survive together really in the end anyway. All government does is encourage people to be lazy and expect someone else to do it for you. But, really, you know? We got this and we don’t need governments telling us what to do and where we can and can’t go. Well, that’s my rant. I just think living free is a state of mind, you know? Maybe that’s why governments don’t want anybody to catch it!

This book has been strange one. I called it a “philosophy” in the title but if you expected a list of rules or prescriptions in the content of it I hope you are duly disappointed. Philosophy, etymologically speaking, is a love of wisdom and it is in this kind of philosophy that I aim to find the wisdom in things.

In the first half of the book, Part A, I wandered through seemingly random areas, from cultural products such as film and music to properly philosophical discussions to biology and its misuses. All of that was to entangle my discussions in real life, life people live every day surrounded by things people have made as a result of the things people are and the practices they engage in. Here, there is none more fundamental than language. How the hell would we be communicating now, and in this way, without that? We wouldn’t. If you want to ask the question of what it means to be human, there are much worse answers than “a language user”. This, of course, has consequences, and those consequences have played out all through this book. One new insight I had about this writing this book, one I hope to follow up on in my own thinking, is that found in the magical anarchism of Alan Moore. That is certainly a thread that, once pulled, needs to be unravelled a little further. Fortunately, it seems that Moore is himself not shy about laying a trail of breadcrumbs for others to follow.

The second half of this book was taken up with a discussion of anarchism more directly. My thesis is of a common humanity, united in diversity, based on an anarchism of values. Anarchism, I think, begins within — although it is all around us all of the time. It is anarchy itself which gave birth to us and so how could we not, in every pore, every atom, every firing of a neuron, not be anarchy ourselves, each one of us? I take very seriously each of the four manifestations of anarchism that the four figures I have written chapters on in detail in this book have brought to bear. Jesus, I think, is seen in a completely different light once one throws away the religious clothes he has been garbed in and you see him as a straight up social anarchist. Yes, he was a Jewish one and so he must be seen as a religious Jew. But the way he seems to express his Jewish beliefs is authentically anarchist to my mind. Or would be seen as anarchist if he had not lived 1800 years before anarchism existed as a thing. John Cage, with his Eastern influences, offers another form of anarchism, one about letting go and letting be rather than one which tries to fix things in an anarchist way. He shows that anarchism can just be surrendering to the anarchy rather than getting caught up in what you want. This, I think, is an important counterbalance to many other forms of anarchism.

Alan Moore, meanwhile, brings the power of language and fiction to bear and highlights that we have perhaps more power than we think to imagine and create. Indeed, he shows that we absolutely must imagine and create if we are to be human beings to our fullest extent. The universe is itself only really endless creation [otherwise known as “change”] and so, being creative, we play our anarchistic part in this. Emma Goldman, perhaps the most “orthodox” anarchist I have focused on here, demonstrates how individual anarchist values require a social context if they are going to be spread to others and become their self-organising ethos and the basis of freedom and liberty all throughout life. All in all, my four anarchists have shown that anarchism is DOING and not just thinking. Anarchism is a practice, an act, a lifestyle, it is not theory in books and much less is it ever rules. You can only BE an anarchist by acting like one. Its not a club you can join just by being in sympathy with it. Its evidence is your actions.

I did not set out, when writing this book, with any idea of “giving all the answers”. There are multiple reasons for this. One is that I’m not up to that task. I’m one person, I don’t know everything, and I’m wise enough to know I don’t. Another is that anarchism is about learning for yourself. I can give hints, lay clues and point in various directions but its up to you to follow them through or take them up. This, as I understand it, is part of what being an anarchist is. It means you must take an active interest in your life, what you know about it and where its going to go. Yet another is that I don’t know your life and so I don’t know what is appropriate to, or necessary for, it. Anarchism is not static but flexible and what’s right for this situation may not be right for that one. An advantage of an anarchism of values, such as the one I’ve written about in this book, is that it can be put to use in many different situations in whatever ways people deem necessary. That’s all to the good as far as I can see.

You might not agree with everything in this book — and that’s perfectly fine. If you’ve read it through you should know by now that I don’t set much store by “being right” anyway. I take a pragmatist approach to life which is about solving problems or clearing roadblocks so I’m not into metaphysics and have no interest in “saying how everything really is”. So if something I have said seems wrong to you or you violently disagree with it then please feel free, in your own words, to correct me and say why I’m wrong. If there is a better answer to some question, one that avoids a problem I have created or one that opens up a new possibility I never even saw, then I’m interested to know about it. I’m not here, anywhere, in this book to say “I’m right and everyone else is wrong.” In fact, to me, the entire anarchist ethos is a conversational one in which people progress by dialogue and conversation, solving their problems together as they go. So, if we disagree about something in this tome, let’s talk!

In my opening chapter I made mention of trans people and of the fact that I was writing with such people in view. I hope I didn’t deceive anybody there into thinking I would be going into deep discussion about the issues facing such people — which are unfortunately many — when that was not my intention. Once again, as I said before in chapter six, I believe in letting people speak for themselves and from their own experience. I consider myself to be a non-binary or, as I saw someone describe themselves a day or two ago, gendervoid person. You will have seen earlier that I find the labels somewhat arbitrary and, in a sense, pointless in the end anyway. What matters to me is that whatever colour, creed, gender or sexuality you are, you are, first and foremost, a person.

That is where I, personally, take my stand. When people talk about “human rights” they are, or should be, talking about rights for ALL humans, not some. In this respect, there should never need to be any “women’s” rights or “black” rights or “trans” rights, etc. Dignity, peace and justice for all humans means not for some and not others. In specifically mentioning trans people earlier, a group of people I identified with as persecuted outsiders, I meant in my opening chapter only to indicate that this philosophy of anarchism I was writing was, potentially, a philosophy for EVERYONE and not for some and not others. Here, I want to say, EVERYONE is invited inside the anarchist tent and no one, because of who and what they are, is excluded. My view, as that of many anarchists, is that we are either all free or nobody is free.

So that is that and now this book is done. I wish you peace, health and happiness — and whatever else you wish for in a life of untrammelled human expression, as Emma Goldman might have put it! I, of course, can’t guarantee you this and you will probably have to fight for it but isn’t it better to die free, on your own terms, than to live life as a slave?

That’s the spirit!