Articles from Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed; Anarchist Solitaire
Articles from Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed; Anarchist Solitaire published by Evanvinh
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Posted on 2016-03-15
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Author: Liana Doctrine
Independence. It’s part of the national identity. A true-blue US citizen is bold, righteous, proud, innovative, strong, perhaps not very educated, but most certainly independent. One of the biggest holidays in the US celebrates national independence, typically with an excess of cheap flags, barbeques, and alcohol. At night, simulations of bombs bursting in time to the national anthem entertain hordes of citizens relaxing in armchairs and enjoying a bloated sense of nationalistic superiority, while conveniently ignoring the poverty of their options.
So what does independence mean? It can describe such indistinct concepts as self-government, autonomy, freedom, self-determination, nonalignment, self-sufficiency, etc. Part of the problem with the word is that it is so vague. It could encompass almost any activity that someone wanted to engage in, as long as no one told that person to do it. It’s an ideal that requires distance from others; solitary desire. But is it even possible to achieve? Perhaps in some small ways. One could be independent of a certain person’s control, or another person’s opinions. This certainly has appeal for anarchists because it encourages us not to conform, to maintain our opposition, to govern ourselves, and be free. But can anyone be truly independent? What would we be free from? Each other? Things? Underneath its star-studded exterior, I believe independence is an impossible label, like the concepts of perfect and good. No one is really independent. So why does this concept exist? What is the use of it?
In addition to being a dissent-baffling sham for the state, citizens who value independence can be very lucrative. If the population is convinced that they shouldn’t want or need any help from the state, it leaves money available for other, more important endeavors, like colonization. It also forces citizens to purchase their own healthcare, protection, education, and shelter, further stimulating the economy. The desire to appear independent also encourages maximum productivity from all able persons, increasing revenues from taxes. And if the population-sedating propaganda and money weren’t enough, there’s always the fatigue and anxiety from being overworked to wear down any potential opposition. And if you aren’t happy with this situation or can’t keep up? It’s your own damn fault, ‘cause you’re a US citizen, and you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
What about a black flag waving anarchist? Does our mythic identity include a fierce independence? Is the model anarchist very different from the model US citizen? I get a nervous twinge in my gut when I pose these questions to myself.
In our milieu the idea of independence could go hand in hand with the DIY scene. It meshes nicely with the individualist and egoist perspectives. Anarchists like Voltairine de Cleyre have talked about independence being so important to making well-rounded radicals that they advocated an avoidance of dependent relationships, such as marriage. Many of us already choose to live in near isolation from each other, interacting minimally with the anarchists around us, or mainly through the internet. I have even witnessed communitarian anarchists resort to individualistic rhetoric when tensions arise in their scene. And who of us doesn’t get dreamy eyed imagining ourselves to be like Guy Fawkes on November 5th? So, what does being independent give us that’s so great for our movement?
The concept of independence, however nebulously understood, does promote some valuable traits in radicals and in our larger networks. It encourages us to take responsibility for our own lives, and become skilled as individuals. It provides the freedom to be selfish and self-serving (as we should be!) without guilt, so that we can follow our desires. It assumes that everyone is strong and competent enough to assert themselves as needed, and keeps us on our guard for potential predators. It keeps relationships in a mode of fluid negotiation, where the desires of all parties are actively promoted. It encourages us to be efficient, able to function on our own, and to be prolific, so that our movement thrives and we are not a drain on the people around us. It supports us feeling strong and competent, prepared for emergencies. It makes for a fulfilled anarchist with a sense of self, who can Get Shit Done. At what cost, though?
If the reasoning behind encouraging independence is that it will create well-rounded people to propel a strong movement, then we need to consider what falls by the wayside if we over-value this concept. Firstly, it could create a hierarchy of worth, which could lead us to devalue certain people (ie those who can’t take care of themselves because of age — either too old or too young — skill, or ability). Secondly, if we take for granted that each person has made their life exactly what they desire because they are self-governing, then how willing or inclined will we be to point out when we think we see them exploiting or being exploited by another? Exploitation could become invisible to us, and would undermine our fellowships by allowing inappropriate behaviors to continue unchecked. Thirdly, this mindset could encourage people to think in solely individualistic terms; while this may be rewarding in some ways, it could also set up anti-social or competitive interactions, where the closeness associated with needing and providing for each other is lost.
Canonizing independence could also impair our ability to cultivate our most empowered selves. Being solely responsible for our lives and circumstances would let the state off the hook and could lead to feeling stressed about our individual performances. It could also promote perfectionist and controlling personalities, people who can’t relax, take their time and enjoy, and certainly those who can’t ask for or receive help graciously. It would also encourage us to hide any areas in our lives where we are dependent. The state craftily provided us with the medium of money to help us obfuscate our interdependence. This allows us to fool ourselves into thinking we are independent, by paying people money instead of forming the friendships and social networks that are necessary to get even our basic needs taken care of. There is something decidedly lopsided in so much of that kind of independence.
In the past we were shucking off our traditional roles, asserting ourselves as individuals and more concerned with becoming autonomous. I believe now is the time for anarchists to draw closer together, and to begin to behave as the flexible association of philosophical relations that we are. Navigating the line between communitarianism and individualism is not so easy, since we have no one tradition to follow. Our broken and mixed heritages offer a lot to borrow from, to shape our relationships to mesh with our various philosophies. This is beautiful because it allows us to honor our desires for independence and not re-create the rigid roles that are so confining in many societies. But this also leaves us with a lot to negotiate, attempt, and re-negotiate with those we choose to associate with.
I understand why so many of us choose to work alone; at times independence seems easier to achieve than lasting affinity. I have watched many beautiful communities blossom and then fade into oblivion as the years pass. I see this work of repairing our ability to bond deeply, and depend on one another for entire lifetimes, as one of the great tasks that lie ahead for us. By being more mindful of who we give our money, attention, time, and skills to, we can keep all the benefits of independence while supporting our collectives, groups, and projects more effectively. We can become truly well-rounded anarchists who can critically engage, and provide mutual aid without compromise to our ideals or associations.
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