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This node is essentially an attempt at formulating a cohesive, if rudimentary, anarcho-communitarian theory (I am deliberately avoiding the somewhat similar "anarcho-communism" because a community is both far more and far less than a commune; see below). First, it outlines those problems of contemporary society which appear to be unfixable by conventional means; then, it puts forth a critique of mainstream resistance and opposition movements; finally, it tries to indicate a direction for further resistance to develop. I will often not directly cite the literature, since an ill-picked quote can sometimes do more than an opponent to misrepresent an author's work. Instead, I refer to the bodies of work of the authors I reference--a list of good starting points follows the main body. I apologize in advance for the US-centricity of this writeup; many or most of the issues I bring up apply mainly to the US, but the others apply to the other Western nations. Also, I would like to recognize the fact that most of my radical ideas have already occurred to Paul Goodman (1911-1972); I am merely attempting to elaborate, expand, and update his theories for the 21st century.

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

Our mass media have little difficulty in selling particular interests as those of all sensible men. The political needs of society become individual needs and aspirations, their satisfaction promotes business and the commonweal, and the whole appeals to be the very embodiment of Reason. And yet this society is irrational as a whole. Its productivity is destructive of the free development of human needs and faculties, its peace maintained by the constant threat of war, its growth dependent on the repression of the real possibilities for pacifying the struggle for existence - individual, national, and international.
Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man

The title of this section refers to a 1945 book by Henry Miller, where he describes his travels across the United States. This book--as well as its counterpart in many ways, Simone de Beauvoir's 1948 America Day By Day--is striking, because so little has changed in these 60 years. Reading the theoretical works of the 40s-60s produces a similar impression: aside from increasing globalization and the development of the Internet, there is not much that we must confront now that the theorists of the mid-20th century didn't address already. Even the demise of the Soviet Union failed to change the character of the Nightmare substantially enough to force major changes to the superstructure.

Technocracy 101

The post-WWII paradigm of development remains the foundation of modern capitalism and the technocratic imperative remains the guiding principle of government (don't be fooled by the distrust of science shown by some American administrations; the love of magic and the occult did not prevent Nazi Germany from becoming an eminently technocratic state). By "technocratic imperative" I mean the relentless drive toward rationalization; the replacement, at every opportunity, of human judgment with that of committees and computers; the appeal to natural science principles in the social sciences--particularly those geared toward the "control" aspect of their mission; and, most significantly for an anarchist theory, the weeding out of local, organic, and human institutions in favor of artificial ones imposed from above. One side effect of all this is that there is even less asylum for an outcast or a criminal than there was 50 years ago, when Paul Goodman wrote that the youth of his day were convinced that they would be eventually caught and duly punished for even the slightest violation of the law--the little computer terminals in police cruisers are more terrifying than the sharp halberds of medieval guards.

The Internet

The Internet, the most significant social innovation of the past forty years, deserves a special look. Proponents of grassroots social movements typically hail it as providing a forum for exchange of ideas and for interpersonal connection the likes of which the world had never seen. Political parties and organizations often use the World Wide Web as their sole medium of communication, the members never even meeting each other. But the suggestion that this has the potential for much increased decentralization, it appears to me, is hype mixed with a good deal of wishful thinking (thankfully, now the hype of the mid-90s has mostly died down, though things like blogs and Howard Dean's presidential race still generate flurries of it). From an organizational standpoint, the Internet is dangerous, at least for anarchist groups--the most important thing to remember about it is that it is fundamentally one of the most centralized systems on the planet. The root nameservers are controlled by government-affiliated corporations; beyond that, it is fairly obvious that the amount of bandwidth and hardware needed to maintain a significant and widely-accessible WWW presence is beyond the means of most private citizens. Furthermore, electronic activity can be far more easily logged, tracked, and followed up on than movement in the physical world--though even that is becoming more of a Panopticon every year, with permanent video cameras and constant surveillance of public places.

Inherent injustice

It is entirely possible at this point that you agree with what I have written thus far, but disagree that it is really any sort of problem. After all, technocracy has obvious promise: universal employment, easy access to consumer goods, reduction of crime, universal health care (for non-US countries). I would like to approach this in a roundabout fashion.

There is an old political jab (I don't remember where I first read it):

A communist and a capitalist were looking at a magnificent mansion. The communist said, "No man should have so much!" The capitalist looked at him and said, "No, every man should have so much."
This contains, in a nutshell, the main assumption that goes into capitalism: eventually, every person with a will to work for it will have a magnificent mansion. When technocracy enters the picture, this becomes structurally impossible, because the prosperity and rationalization of one part of the system depends on the continuing worsening of conditions in other parts.

The vast masses of starving sick Africans, American poor, and Asian sweatshop peons are not an accident that can be remedied by throwing aid or sanctions at it. They are, in fact, one of the conditions for the way of life of those in developed countries. Consumer goods are cheap in the West because of cheap labor in China, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. In many cases, the reason for the cheapness of labor is the lack of labor legislation and the infantile economies of countries such as the Dominican Republic. In the case of China, the situation is slightly different: Chinese labor is so cheap because the government deliberately keeps the yuan low to attract Western business looking for that same cheap labor. So, in a sense, the "free market" in the West owes much of its success to the machinations of an authoritarian communist dictatorship. In the other cheap-labor countries, the economy remains underdeveloped because of a lack of investment--but investors don't like such enormous risks, and they will continue to invest in Western companies. The profound immiseration of the country then results in political instability, which in turn increases risk greatly and further removes the incentive to invest. At this point, the IMF hands a fat dollop of cash to the leadership, ensuring by the conditions of the loan that circumstances remain favorable to exploitation by Western companies, and by its amount that coups remain more profitable than elections. In many cases, the labor isn't even needed, and the country is exploited for its resources, or left alone entirely to collapse and starve (as happened with many African nations).

Even without a geopolitical context, an underclass is absolutely necessary for a capitalist economy to function: someone must be a janitor, someone must be a dead-end food-service worker. There is, of course, a drive to move up in the world, but now the upper-class white executives of major media companies have succeeded in convincing many lower and middle class black and Hispanic youth that poverty is a desirable state and money obtained is better spent on appearance than middle-class housing (which is true enough, since the middle-class jobs are all filled anyway and the minority family will be ridiculed in the suburbs for working a blue-collar job; it's the cynical self-perpetuation of it that bugs me--as one writer once said, "America forces the Negro to become a shoe-shiner, then calls him inferior because he is a shoe-shiner."). This isn't much better than the fate of many poor white youth, who have either been convinced that poverty is where the niggers and spics are and thus they aren't actually poor, or that they are worthless uneducated rednecks that have no place in forward-thinking liberal social programs. Even the Economist, free-market apologist rag par excellence, has recently noted the decreasing social mobility in the United States.

The European nations and Canada (and, perhaps, the other Commonwealth countries), through a combination of enlightened social policy, comparatively low class stratification, and national temperament, have far fewer issues of this sort. However, prosperity in many of them is achieved through draconian immigration controls; in those countries that have relaxed them, social tensions and a permanent underclass have arisen. Granted, it is far easier to be poor in Germany than to be poor in the United States, because welfare spending is high and poverty is not considered an infectious disease that renders the sufferer ritually unclean and unfit for society. Still, it is important to realize that non-US first world nations are as complicit in, and benefit as much from, the global network of injustice.

The spiritual dimension

Before my liberal readers start stroking themselves, I would like to point out that the technocracy as it exists today is almost entirely a product of postwar liberal social policy. The drive for full employment, for example, with its accompanying lack of comprehension of the nature of the work being done and the attitude of the worker toward it, is a liberal idea. Meaningful work is now rare and difficult to live on, especially for the lower classes. Endless rows of white-collar workers sit and shuffle papers from one box to the next, for 8 hours a day, 250 days a year, until they retire. Once someone has enough training invested in a career, it is very difficult to extricate oneself from it, and there is the ever-present threat, not of unemployment, but of having to work for minimum wage. The ever-expanding, ever more centralized, and ever more mind-destroying system of compulsory public education is also the product of liberal thinking. To be fair, the excesses of laissez-faire economics were also horrible, though in different ways. In the United States, technocracy and laissez-faire have apparently joined in an unholy union, giving the populace two monstrous social jackhammers for the price of one.

There is also the crippling spiritual dimension of the technocracy, which has been described by nearly every radical Sixties author, from Marcuse to Guy Debord to Raoul Vaneigem. People chase after another few years of life without any consideration for the raw and unquantifiable quality of it. Exposés of "welfare abusers" point an accusing finger at the unemployed, who have committed the unpardonable sin of owning a television--with cable!--and a refrigerator without paying for them with the company scrip. The Gross Domestic Product is presented as having a direct and immediate impact on the happiness of individual citizens; it is something they must fight for by consuming greedily in the face of prudence, much like Soviets were enjoined to help build communism by making sixty thousand buttons in a shift rather than fifty. In the United States, the conclusive argument against European-style mixed economies is their low GDP and comparatively high unemployement--completely ignoring the fact that, once again, it is far better to be chronically unemployed in Austria than to work at a Wal-Mart in Omaha. In the bigger scheme of things, those who earn fifty thousand dollars a year are not much worse off than those earning two hundred thousand--indeed, the latter rarely have time to enjoy the fruits of their labors. With a higher level of income comes the necessity of buying a bigger house, a bigger car, a bigger television, and so on, but the utility of a 10 bedroom mansion is not much greater than that of a 3 bedroom house. I could go on, but the point, I believe, is clear enough.

The abuse of science

One of the most important elements of the technocracy is its manipulation of science for its own benefit, a relationship that superficially appears advantageous to scientists (greater exposure, funding, public interest) but proves, at a closer look, to be destructive--much like the interactions between the State and the Church in the Byzantine empire. The process by which enlightenment is destined to turn into irrationality is documented by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in The Dialectic of Enlightenment; whether they are right or not, the technocracy clearly undermines its own foundations.

The crucial element in this undermining is the popularization of science, particularly by the mass media. The tacit understanding of the scientific world that a single study is very rarely enough to prove a broad hypothesis is entirely ignored; articles and TV spots routinely appear which claim that it has now been DEFINITIVELY PROVEN THAT LEEKS REDUCE CHOLESTEROL, and when a month later the news is forgotten, a new study appears that shows that LEEKS INCREASE RISK OF HEART DISEASE.

This phenomenon is by no means limited to health news. For example, when Harvard president Larry Summers recently made some comments to the effect that women are biologically designed to be nurses ('nurses' is the only occupation he named), he immediately drew criticism. This criticism then drew criticism of its own, to the effect that blocking off an area of research is like cutting off a baby's arm. The most insightful of the counter-counter-critics, then, brought up the perfectly correct point that dragging a careful and subtle scientific process into the limelight distorts the results and exaggerates the differences between the sexes. Pop psychology, of which media exaggeration is one branch, is one of the most powerful forces working against real science.

The apotheosis of this effect was reached with the 1994 publication of The Bell Curve (I admit, I am biased in this respect; I have frequently thought about hunting down Charles Murray and strangling him with his own intestines). The book gathered together a hodgepodge of manipulated data, unproven premises, unjustified assumptions, and frank racism. These are somewhat par for the course when it comes to pseudoscientific racial "science"; however, the crucial difference between The Bell Curve and the work of someone like J. Philippe Rushton is the method of publicization. The book was released immediately to the press, without first going to colleagues in the field for "peer review" of sorts, as would be normally done for any purportedly scientific tome. As a result, opponents of the book were forced to provide superficial critiques without the benefit of exhaustive source-checking and numerical analysis. These later showed the sometimes tremendous degree to which the authors massaged their data, and the much lower IQ differences between races that resulted from the misrepresentations being rectified were simply not enough to support the book's thesis.

Another result of the popularization of science is the continuing erosion of the humanities. Even history, which, one would think, is irreplaceable, is being turned into a kind of sordid biological inquiry, which makes for poor and oversimplified history--the most popular historical books in years were written by a biologist (Jared Diamond), and it appears that he believes not being a professional historian entitles him to make gross leaps of logic unparalleled even in the nineteenth century. But even in psychology, sociology, and philosophy, biological theories are sovereign. It is easier to fit "consciousness is the lighting up of certain areas of our brain" into a soundbite than to adapt Being and Nothingness to it. Very little is now popularly considered to be learned or socialized, everything is in our genes. This is rich soil for theories like Murray's; in fact, almost any biological determinist theory will lead to conclusions such as his, and, indeed, will finish by saying that every principal social role and aspect of the human being is preprogrammed by nucleic acids, a vicious Calvinist god for the Information Age. Who needs philosophy, when neurology can tell us everything we can possibly want to know?

I am not a Luddite, unlike many anarchists. I do not believe science is inherently evil and technocratic: scientists were around since before the Enlightenment, and they undoubtedly advanced (and continue to advance) the human condition--whether through prevention of the most terrifying diseases, or through greater understanding of the nature of the universe. Science can be a thing of beauty, and it is only when it is used to rationalize and regiment human life that it becomes stultifying and oppressive. The comparison to the Church I drew earlier applies here as well. Religion which is freely chosen is a beautiful and positive thing; religion which is used as an instrument of the ruling order becomes a whip.

Much like the kings of old ruled by "divine right," technocracy draws its justification from "science."

Attempts at opposition

Struggles between forces, all of which have been established for the purpose of running the same socioeconomic system, are...passed off as real antagonisms. In actuality these struggles partake of a real unity, and this on the world stage as well as within each nation.
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

What we call "politics" is electioneering and office-holding. We are so used to the nation-state and its bureaucratic lumberings that most of us have lost the taste for direct action on public issues. Nonetheless few fail to notice the distance between a private citizen's desires and the machinations of government.
Taylor Stoehr

There is, at present, a great deal of resentment and hatred of the order of things. However, this is not apprehended as such: it is seen as being directed toward certain transitory and changeable aspects of the current system. I am here mainly thinking of young people (my assumption, which seems reasonable, is that radical political change is chiefly the aspiration of the young) who appear to believe that George W. Bush is the root of global injustice and that the election of a John Kerry or even of a Dennis Kucinich would radically alter the dynamics of politics and power. The list could also include libertarians who think electing an LP candidate would help destroy the welfare state, or devout Christians who believe that electing a similarly devout candidate would ensure that the system follows Christian principles (though these last would presumably have abandoned this hope after four years of this presidency).

This part of the node, then, is dedicated to showing that these hopes are quite vain. Note that this is not an attempt to shoehorn the platform of any party into the anarcho-communitarian framework and then call it deluded when it doesn't fit; it is rather something of a plea to realign means with ends.

The counterculture and everything after

When one compares the U.S. college students and other young people of 1969 with those of 2005, e is struck precisely by that contrast between the similarity of ends and the difference of means. The goals have remained similar: the development of a "participatory democracy"; an end to sexism, racism, and imperialism; an end to globalization, already an emerging phenomenon in the sixties; environmental protection; the promotion of social justice and equal rights at home. The means, on the other hand, are very different: essentially, overthrow of the United States government (or sympathy toward those who attempt it) versus political support for mainstream centrist (in the U.S., this means moderate-right-wing) Democratic politicians. In Europe, the situation is somewhat similar, though the youth of today dislike the established order far less than the youth of May '68. Danny Cohn-Bendit, once an outspoken leader of the French radical student movement, is now a mainstream-left politician.

But, the astute reader asks, what did the counterculture ever accomplish? The answer cannot be a simple "Nothing." More than anything else, what the counterculture put forth was a hurled insult in the face of the technocracy: Marcuse's Great Refusal in action. This insult was self-absorbed, immature, arrogant, wilfully ignorant, and unrealistic--all unacceptable characteristics that ultimately led to the counterculture's downfall. Nevertheless, for a few brief years there existed a real standoff between the shocked bourgeoisie and those who worked at dismantling its power. Inevitably and predictably, the technocracy soon recovered and bought off the marketable parts of the movement, discarding the rest. But whether it was in the form of Aquarian communes or Weatherman cells, the alternative existed during those years as a force to be reckoned with.

The punk subculture, even in its most sincere incarnations, never reached this sort of peak. Perhaps this comes from its distaste for large or medium-scale collective action; perhaps from its origins in the lower-middle class rather than the upper-middle (and thus, command of fewer resources); perhaps from its preference for alcohol, opiates, and amphetamines rather than psychedelics. Either way, while the "real" punks were certainly committed to a Refusal (probably more so than many latecomers to the 60s movement), they did not constitute any sort of a critical mass or even a catalyst for further change, as the 60s movement did.

This brings me to today. In the 00s, high school and college campuses are filled with the debris of these movements: hippies concerned mainly with obtaining legal sanction for their drug use, punks who comb down their mohawks to canvass for John Kerry. Individual variations do exist, but the defining element of a counterculture--that in order to belong to it, one has to confront and reject the dominant culture--is conspicuously absent.

When young liberals place their trust in mainstream politicians, they are making a compromise with power. This is a compromise which is absolutely necessary for any republic: "I will put away my most extreme demands in exchange for some of my more moderate ones." However, in this case, the compromise is a hopeless one, for two reasons. Firstly, as I have attempted to sketch out above, certain injustices and monstrosities are an integral part of the system, and thus no compromise can hope to eliminate them. Secondly, and most tragically, the compromise is not even accepted by the other side. In the United States, demands for such reasonable, liberal, bourgeois things as a universal health care system or a significant reduction in defense spending are met with rather simian howls demanding the ejection of the godless radicals from the Democratic tent. But once the compromise is rejected, the "radicals" do not disappointedly go back to being truly radical. Instead, they move closer to the center--and if they don't, the next generation will.

To sum up: the goals of many young people are similar to those of young people in the 60s, but their means are those which had been evaluated by every counterculture and found wanting. When their methods result in failure, their goals are not only not achieved, but those who support them are robbed of a visible alternative to the status quo (seen broadly). Once compromise begins, it does not stop and reverse course.

The Right countercultures

I apologize for my preoccupation with the left counterculture. I am significantly less familiar with the right-wing countercultures (I feel it is possible to call them that, because there have been attempts at libertarian or religious Refusals). There are certain things that strike me about them, though.

The fundamental goals of libertarianism are fairly clear: reduction of government to an entity that provides only defense, law and order, and contract enforcement, or as close to this as possible; elimination of government intervention in personal and economic affairs; elimination of entanglement between business and government in any form. The goal of radical religious conservatism is also clear: organization of government so that it follows as closely as possible the legal framework of the given religion--the Sharia, Talmudic law, Biblical law, etc.

The main non-ideological difference between the right and left countercultures is that more moderate or idiosyncratic right-wingers see it as extremely important to distance themselves from the extremes of the Right--namely white supremacist and militia movements. Past associations with the more extremist elements of the Students for a Democratic Society hurt a liberal politician far less than past associations with the Aryan Nations would hurt a conservative. As a result, libertarians and religious conservatives are driven into the arms of mainstream politicians even more inexorably than left-wingers are. Perhaps the Libertarian Party and its unintentionally hilarious internal dynamic is an attempt to forge the more committed libertarians into a bloc distinct from the Republicans that still wields political influence on the mainstream (much like the Greens are supposed to be the Democrats' more leftist cousins). This compromise brings forward the same issues that the left's does, namely that it is not accepted and those truly dedicated to, for instance, the minimization of government are forced to further compromise with a system which is antithetical to their beliefs (government is getting bigger, not smaller).

The University

It is always amusing to hear former New Left revolutionary David Horowitz harp on how radical academia is. Not that he doesn't have a point: from his own frankly reactionary vantage point, nearly everything short of Ayn Rand looks radical. To reasonable people, however, academia is simply liberal (in 2004, the vast majority of academics voted for John Kerry, not David Cobb or Ralph Nader!).

I do have qualms with this ideological distribution. The university is supposed to be a home for new and radical ideas. The placid liberalism that distinguishes academics today is not the product of original and fervent thought; it is the vague discontent of a mule that has begun to find eating thistles tiresome. At the same time, this support for the most mediocre candidate somehow coexists with the most stringent verbal dedication to radical causes, as the ready reception faux-academic "liberal" nutcase Ward Churchill has received in colleges throughout the US shows.


One truly radical mode of thinking that has a number of adherents in the university (though far less than twenty years ago) is postmodernism, or more specifically poststructuralism. The question of whether poststructuralism/postmodernism really contributes to radical theory is a thorny one.

To address this question, it is necessary to separate out the various positions that have relevance here.

  • First is the late-modern critical theory one. This is essentially the work of the Frankfurt School along with Jürgen Habermas. This is unquestionably useful to radicals; Herbert Marcuse, referenced several times in this writeup, produced some of the most profound critiques of modern society, as did Erich Fromm. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer produced similarly perceptive critiques of art and the media in modern society.
  • Second is the strictly Enlightenment-modernist work of people like Talcott Parsons. These are the philosophical underpinnings to technocracy; they are useful perhaps in a know-your-enemy sense.
  • Third is the postmodernism of Jean-François Lyotard. This is a difficult one, because Lyotard is a) diametrically opposed to the critical theorists, and b) supports liberal democracy and the status quo. On the other hand, he believes that Parsons is essentially full of shit and doomed to failure. He is also wrong in his core view: that 'grand narratives' of modernism are somehow dead or faded away. There appears to be no evidence that science is today any less an integral part of the technocracy or that the technocracy justifies itself any less with grand narratives today than in 1940. He appears to be something of a liability.
  • Jacques Derrida's poststructuralism and deconstruction provide the philosophical underpinnings to anarchist theory. Totalities are always unstable, always undermined by their own attempts at universality. Searching for the final, foundational truth is fruitless and based on a flawed understanding of 'logos' as transcendental signifier. Poststructuralism seems to me to be an ideal fit, because after God and Truth, the State is the last great totality that needs to be deconstructed.
  • Finally, there is the Cultural Studies perspective. This is not entirely postmodernism; instead, it draws on a combination of critical theory and postmodernist/poststructuralist sources, as well as ones from other fields. Cultural studies have recently gone the way of postmodernism, falling out of fashion tremendously. Nevertheless, they provide valuable insight into the mechanics of technocratic culture and the manipulations of the media, without falling into the blind embrace of culture-industry "low art" that was the result of the postmodernist rejection of critical theory.
More generally, postmodernism suffers from a lack of priorities. Instead of exploring alternatives to current society, it spends its time ferreting out sexism and racism in it without proposing any changes. Complete pluralism, which is postmodernism's guiding principle more than anything else, is a tremendously important part of an ideal society. This is why anarchism is a perfect postmodern political philosophy: it makes privileging narratives of maleness or whiteness or anything else structurally impossible.

Confronting the eleventh thesis

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.
Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach(#11)

So far, I have tried to outline in very general terms the problems of the technocratic society and the problems of the opposition to it. Below, I will describe the sort of society I mean when I say "anarcho-communitarian" and leave off with some considerations of praxis and the viability thereof.

An anarcho-communitarian society is essentially a modern, technological, civilized version of tribalism. The principal difference between this and anarcho-communism is that the communities that are the building blocks of this are not chance associations of people that happened to drift into the vicinity of one another, but rather culturally and historically discrete entities. Anarcho-communism and anarcho-communitarianism are not opposed; the latter is more of a sub-type of the former, which is not particularly rigid anyway. All the insights of Prince Kropotkin are just as applicable to it.

At the beginning of the writeup, I wrote that a community is both far more and far less than a commune. It is far more, because a community must be built consciously, it must possess a history, a culture, a religion (just as important as anything else), a way of looking at the world. It can allow these things and not be oppressive because it is small and entirely consensual. It is far less, because the things listed above can take on myriad forms; a commune (or free association of humans) is more restrictive, because the form of a commune already presupposes a certain social contract, a certain egalitarian attitude. While many find these things to be desirable, many disagree with the principles of commune living.

What makes this anarchist, then, is not a philosophical determination to avoid hierarchy at all costs. It is the philosophical determination to avoid forced hierarchy at all costs. No person in this society need be involved in any structure e believes undesirable or unduly restrictive.

A forseeable argument is that it would be impossible to make this society remain modern, technological, and civilized. I do not see this; the adoption of a form of government belonging to the past does not equate to the adoption of the level of development that corresponds to it. There are enough modes of mechanical reproduction now that education need not be limited to centralized educational institutions, the classics and non-classics of all times and places can be read or heard essentially anywhere. The maintenance of a power grid can be the product of an agreement between several communities--there is nothing preventing the administrative aspect of the society from being similar to, say, the Swiss canton system.

I am being purposefully vague about the specifics because setting them out definitively would completely defeat the purpose of the society. The society becomes what the communities become, together or alone.

If you build it, they will come

The libertarian does not seek to influence groups but to act in the natural groups essential to him--for most human action is the action of groups. Consider if several million persons, quite apart from any "political" intention, did only natural work that gave them full joy! the system of exploitation would disperse like a fog in a hot wind. But of what use is the action, really born of resentment, that is bent on correcting abuses yet never does a stroke of nature?
Paul Goodman, "Reflections on Drawing the Line"

Now, the question arises of how to cause this society to come about. It is here that I am faced with the crushing and ironic realization that there is no course of action I could suggest that would do so, because a) even if they were willing to follow me, it is impossible to move masses of people without coercing them or inadvertently becoming prey to the technocracy; and b) any bloody revolution would either result in failure or create precisely the opposite of the society here envisioned. The consolation that remains is that after a large-scale nuclear war, this is precisely the sort of society that is likely to arise (God knows for how long) and nuclear war is fairly likely to happen within the next several centuries.

Anarcho-communitarianism, then, is almost entirely Utopian in nature. But the value of a Utopian philosophy rests in the degree to which an individual can apply its insights and promote it within day-to-day life. Can an individual help forge communities and undermine imposed hierarchies? The answer is a resounding yes.

In practice, an anarcho-communitarian would probably try many of the same things as any anarchist or social-justice activist. Neighborhood organizations, fighting City Hall, establishing the independence and power of local groups. Building one's own communities with neighbors, friends, and family is also important: the point is creating bonds that are stronger than the chains imposed from above. Any victory over a resented regulation, from "420 OK" apartment buildings to sabotage of sites forcibly requisitioned from locals by city government, is a move forward.

However, genuine effort must be distinguished from masturbation. Buying from and otherwise supporting a neighborhood co-op is genuine effort; buying organic zucchini from Whole Foods Market is masturbation. A sign advising residents of a building that police are increasing surveillance of the area is genuine effort; cute little CrimethInc. posters are masturbation. "Think globally, act locally" is an excellent catchphrase, if only people didn't take it to mean "Think globally, fatuously refuse Starbucks coffee while paying taxes and watching television."

The reason "Think globally, act locally" is such a good slogan is that it summarizes the limitations of individual activists. It's not that one has the alternative between acting globally and acting locally; it's that one can only act locally. Not even voting can count as global action, because unless you have actually personally convinced a large enough group of people to vote a certain way, you are only a tickmark that has no more significance than anyone else. Local issues make all the difference.

All my radical ideas: a brief reading list

  • Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd: This book is long out of print, but it is brilliant. Written by an anarcho-communitarian, it deals with the inadequacies of education and of society, cogently and plainly destroying myths about how functional it really is. You can find this in your local university library, along with others of his books, like A New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative, Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life, and his novels (most notably Making Do and The Empire City).
  • Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle: A look at modern society and how it is "a relationship between people that is mediated by images." Though it is plainly anti-capitalist, it is unforgiving of the Soviet Union.
  • Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: The definitive analysis of the (negative) psychological and philosophical impact of technocracy.
  • Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment: Literary, psychological, sociological, and philosophical inquiry into the development and eventual transformations of Enlightenment attitudes.
  • Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life: A glimpse into just how technocracy takes from us, and how we can get it back.
  • Margaret Mead, Male and Female: Makes debates about the genetic abilities of women look like two astrologers arguing about whether the world is supported by a turtle or by a tortoise.
  • Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology: If you can understand it, this book is tremendous. Derrida takes metaphysics and chops off its legs, then graciously allows it to continue standing on them.
  • Petr Kropotkin, basically anything: Along with the less appealing Bakunin and the wondrous Emma Goldman, he forms part of the still-vital legacy of the old anarchists.
  • Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture: This book changed my life; it introduced me to Marcuse and Goodman and is, even by itself, a formidable critique of technocracy. It describes in detail the modern philosophers that influenced the New Left and the hippies.
This is obviously by no means exhaustive. Enjoy the beauty of the words.