The ATM as a declaration of power; non-racism vs. anti-racism and what true veganism really is: here’s a long altersation with the Anarchist Philosopher Persona
The Anarchist Philosopher Persona, we welcome and congratulate you for joining us here in The Sewers!
How are you?
Look, I’ll be honest. I saw the kind things that you do here and the kind of people that come here and it seems a bit, you know, sorry, it seems a bit hedonistic.
Well yes. What is this all about, to be honest? Investing so much of your time and energy in this self-indulgence, in this endless pursue after some false sense of selfness, turning your back on reality –
This is the first time you’re here, aren’t you being a bit judgmental?
Of course I’m being judgmental. Since when did not being judgmental become a good thing? When you’re so self-absorbed to a point that your false sense of self is all that you have, being judgmental is a bad thing, because the whole sense of who and what you are can collapse in a second. But there’s a reality around you, around us, that we’re part of whether we like it or not. But you have to choose to face it. And yes, to judge it. To have a stand about what’s right and what’s wrong.
Alright, but how do you face this reality if you have no sense of who you are?
I have a very good sense of who I am, but I refuse to make it the only thing I talk and know about. I have purposes in life that exceed my own self.
Don’t you ever wonder how you got to become who you are?
In what sense?
Surely you weren’t always the Anarchist Philosopher. How did you become one?
That’s the thing, that’s the thing again. It’s as if you’re trying to figure out some psychological explanation to my political views by asking about how I acquired them. That’s not the point. I acquired them by reading a lot and by listening to people who have a lot to say about reality and about history, because they didn’t spend all of their time talking about themselves.
I find it hard to believe you were never interested in what made those people you’ve read and heard about become who they are, in how their thoughts have formulated into beliefs and ideas.
Well, yes. Because, obviously, anarchism is first and foremost a way of life. What I object is this psychological framing of ideas and thoughts that today seems to be most prevalent framing when discussing politics. For example, there were some psychiatrists earlier this year who stated that the US president is mentally ill, how is that relevant to a political discussion? What was it other than yet another step in the physiological takeover of our very ability to maintain a proper political discourse?
Have we lost our ability to maintain a proper political discourse?
I think that we’ve lost our ability to talk politically about the basics. The power of the state and the concept of representative democracy, other than direct democracy, are two concepts that are axiomatic in every political debate.
A well functioning representative democracy is a subject of debate nowadays, is it not? A lot of people are questioning it.
That’s true, but they’re questioning it in the sense that it’s somehow gone wrong and should be fixed. They’re not questioning the very concept and structure of it. What I intend to say is that it’s not really a subject of debate, nor is the nation state whose function is to organize society by power and hierarchy. What we need to ask is do we really need these institutions of power in order to sustain a society. Do we really need violence in order to have a well functioning society.
Right, are all institutions of power essentially violent?
Of course, institutionalized power is fundamentally violent.
Are you not in a way devaluing the use of the word violent by addressing it to every form of institutionalized power? Can you really say that the power a totalitarian state exercises is as violent as that of a democratic state?
Well, no, it’s not the same for the citizens, of course. But it’s good that you ask this because, again, when you ask this you presume something about what we refer to as the democratic state. You presume some fundamental difference between a totalitarian state and a democratic state. When we address this question from a point of departure that considers violence, we can easily see that it’s not a matter of difference, but a matter of scale. We can say that a totalitarian state brings the use of its power to the extreme, but in a way it’s just exhausting the power that a democratic state possess at any given moment. And we are all very aware of that fact when you think about it. Those of us who live in a democratic state know very well that at any given moment our state can decide to use its power in the most extreme.
Are you referring to Giorgio Agamben’s discussion about the state of emergency?
Well, I don’t even have to go that far to make an example. The violence inflicted by the democratic state is more mundane, more banal. Think, for example, about the scene when armed personnel arrive at an ATM in order to refill it. They’re seriously armed; the entire scenery around them turns sterile, although they never explicitly demand people to evacuate that area. People just stand back. Everyone who had witnessed this situation knows that you have to stay back. You know that if you start running in their direction you would face a violent reaction. You know that you cannot approach them and ask, for example, what time is it. This scenery is an act of terror on public space, and it’s of course legal. Now I’m not talking about an actual violent act taking place. I’m talking about the potentiality of violence and its powerful existence in our everyday life.
Right, but that’s not really violence of the state, I believe that private companies handle this issue.
What I’m talking about is the declaration of power encapsulated in this act. Any encounter with the police encapsulates the same declaration of power. In the sense of bio-power, every encounter with state institutions is an act of violence.
Again, is that not cheapening the use of the term violence?
No, it’s not, when I talk about this kind of what we can call ‘accustomed violence’ it doesn’t lessen the severity of other forms of violence. Being beat up by a policeman isn’t the same as being detained in an airport. By the way, it’s the same when you title both rape and sexual harassment as sexual violence. It doesn’t make both cases equal in severity, what it does is placing them on a scale of the same form of violence; it acknowledges the fundamental similarity between them. In that sense it doesn’t, as you say, cheapen it, but elevates it to be reckoned as violence. What I intended to demonstrate was that power in its essence is violent, and when we live in a power-governed society we live under a code of violence. And there is of course another way of living.
What do you do for a living by the way?
How is that relevant to our discussion?
I’m a research assistant in the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences.
In a university then? That’s an institution of the state.
Well obviously. A university is a huge, undemocratic institution of power and of excluding violence in itself, regardless of its affiliation with the state. I live my life, just like you, under institutions of power and violence. You will never find a purist anarchist if that’s what you’re asking, and I mean purist in the sense of living your life in full accordance with what you believe in. and that’s simply because anarchism does not exist.
Can it actually exist?
Philosophically, of course. In reality, I’m not sure how.
What? how can you say that?!
I am an anarchist but I’m not a purist. I live in an anarcho-communist community, that is in a housing cooperative, where the way we relate to one another is purely anarchist, but I don’t delude myself as to where my money comes from, or my clothing, or the services I may turn to in case of need. You cannot pretend that changing your own way of life has somehow changed the reality around you.
Alright, so are you some sort of an individualist-anarchist? You live your life the way you think is right, and that’s that?
Well no, that’s very provocative, that’s a very provocative way to try to ask about anarchist activism, because I assume that’s what you wanted to ask. What I intended to say was that I’m a realist, not in the sense of political or ideological compromise, but in the sense that I understand what is possible for the present time. I think that today more than ever conditions are ripe for anarchy. That is, conditions worldwide are ripe for revolution in general, and the direction seems to be anarchy.
But wait, to fully replay to your provocation I would say that nowadays we are still not able to completely sever all ties with institutions of power. Even homelessness, which is the most radical existence in this sense, is still attached to the power which includes it by exclusion. Now, attempting to live your life in the light of an ideology that is yet to have materialized – that’s utopianism. And utopianism, and its contribution to political thought, is in itself a fascinating subject we can discuss in length.
Right, I wasn’t necessarily being provocative, I’m really asking: as a non-purist anarchist, can’t it be enough to live your life according to your beliefs?
Well, alright, can you ask an anti-racist activist that? It’s absurd. It wouldn’t be enough for him or her to say they’re not racist so it’s alright.
You can be against racism and not be an activist.
No, you see, no, you can’t. That’s also absurd. If you’re against racism you don’t cooperate with racism, and there are two ways to go about it: if you live in a bluntly racist society and you don’t take active action about it, you’re not anti-racist. I intend to say that you’re not really against racism. And if you live in a society where racism is tacit, and you’re against racism but passive about it, you’re also not anti-racist.
Angela Davis said: “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist”. You disagree then. You’re saying that you’re not non-racist unless you’re anti-racist, in any society.
Again, it’s a matter of scale. I don’t think there’s a society today that isn’t racist, because nation states are fundamentally racist. So the answer is no, you can’t be an anarchist without being an activist.
It sounds like you’re saying that if you believe in something and don’t take action about it, then you don’t really believe it. That’s simply not true.
Well, alright, again, of course.
For example, a vegen person. He or she believes that this industry is evil and cruel. So she or he stops eating meat and drinking milk. But ask any normal person who’s not a vegetarian or a vegan why they aren’t, and they’d say that if they decide not to eat meat and drink milk, that wouldn’t change a thing. And they’re right. And in this sense they’re the true believers. They’re the true vegans. A vegan who thinks that hers or his decision is enough, is all they can do, they don’t really believe in what they do. What I intend to say is that their decision in not a political decision, but a personal one – and thus meaningless. You cannot identify yourself as an anarchist and take no action about it. If you do, that must mean that you have more prominent positions that identify you. A political stance is a public stance. A position held in private is not a political position. In a sense, it’s a matter of ethics. But not only. Perhaps it’s also a fundamental matter of definition of the political itself.
Alright. It’s a shame we ran out of time. I didn’t even ask you for a Safe Word.
Well I’m opposed to this concept, which encapsulates within it relations of power. I see no need for it. Anyway, this was not as hedonistic as I thought it would be so thank you.
Right, we thank you and congratulate you. And you’ll have to come up with a Safe Word until the next time we talk.
Given the nature of our relationship, I don’t ‘have to’ anything. Farewell.