On Anarchy 25: Science and Technology

Submitted by Reddebrek on October 30, 2017

Linguistic Obscurity
NEVER HAVING BEEN AN electronic digital computer programmer or even a hominid palaeontologist, I do indeed yearn for my little womb of pristine safety and simplicity when trying to wade through the multiplicity of artefacts and linguistic symbolism in ANARCHY (for the title and one other word well-known in the movement at least I don't have to lunge for a dictionary). Perhaps I have an anal-sadistic complex or suffered disaster from a fully elective education but, while this can only be probablistic rather than deterministic, and in spite of the elegance of binary arithmetic and the obscurity of Boolean algebra, I am rapidly reaching the conclusion that science has bred a race of ignoramuses. Neurophysiologists will tell us that this is all due to a superstitious fear of teleology but I think with subliminal perception that it is all ball-cock. There is some relief in being assured that we have no oligarchic ganglia and one can only go on to hope that the electronic oscillatory resonant circuit has no more than a transcendental influence.

Cogito, or I try to, ergo sum. But what with all that rotary scansion converting spatial patterns into temporal sequences, not to mention Bionics, biomathematical convergence, habituation, occlusion and homeostasis — Comrades, you see my problem?

Freedom and Technology

HARRY BAECKER'S CRITICISM OF ANARCHISM in ANARCHY 25, is based on the common misconception that anarchists oppose society. Allied to this misconception is another, that anarchism is a metaphysical doctrine.

It was not an anarchist, but Rousseau, who wrote "Man is born free but is everywhere in chains", which may well have been a logical statement for him, since he was a metaphysical thinker who believed in such abstractions as "the general will"; etc., and for him the word "freedom" had a metaphysical meaning quite different from that which the anarchist gives to the word.

The doctrine of anarchism takes its name from an-archos (Greek) meaning no rule or government. It is based upon the belief that men and women are capable spontaneously of co-operating and working together. If you are a Kropotkinian you will probably believe that each individual will voluntarily limit his freedom or action when he sees that he is harming the interests of his fellows. On the other hand, if you are a disciple of Stirner you will probably believe that the free society is one where individuals conflict with each other, but, since they all have strongly developed egos, including the strength that knows when to give way, the result is a harmonious tension.

Harry Baecker may well regard these ideals as impossibly utopian, and he may well be right, but I am told that he is in sympathy with the general tendency of "Anarchy", which I find surprising, since much of what he writes is not far from extreme Right-wing authoritarianism. (I avoid the word "fascism" because of its emotional force). Like all such authoritarians he has to have a minority group to direct his attacks upon, who have to be represented in an utterly unsympathetic and indeed fantastic way. The anti-semite represents the Jew as dark and greasy, a money-grubber and exploiter, an ugly little devil with whom no-one can have sympathy. No doubt such Jews do exist, just as there are many non-Jews who would answer this description. But in general the anti-semite's Jew is a creation of fantasy. So is Mr. Baecker's "simple lifer."

I don't suppose there is space to describe the various "simple life" doctrines, which are legion, still less to defend them, or some of them, or pick out the good bits and reject the cranky aspects. It would be difficult indeed to define a "simple lifer", much more difficult than to define an anarchist.

There is Thoreau, to go no further back in history, and there is Edward Carpenter with his "simplification of life", and perhaps William Morris would be included by some people, and there are innumerable food-reformers, vegetarians, vegans, naturists and various religious groups; and all are so different that it would be difficult to think of a definition that would cover them all. Yet all could be described as "simple lifers".

On the other hand, though some anarchists are "simple lifers", many are as much believers in technology as Harry Baecker. There is no necessary connection between anarchism, as defined above, and either advanced or primitive technology. One can visualise an anarchist society making use of advanced techniques or of relatively primitive ones, Personally I am more sympathetic to the ideas of the "simple life" than to the attitude which sees in technological progress an end in itself, but what I oppose, and I think many others whom 'Harry Baecker attacks also oppose, is the abuse of technology by commercial and military interests.

Is Harry Baecker also opposed to this? I have my doubts. His finger itches for the trigger. He will shoot people who wander on airfields, if necessary to save the lives of people in an airliner although such a contingency is unlikely in the extreme. More serious is his statement "… and if we find that we could put your corner of paradise to more congenial use we shall probably wrest it from you without pity or remorse." True, he then goes on to apologise by describing violence as the "last resort of the incompetent", but there is no doubt he means to use it. This is the logic of Cortez when he gunned down the Aztecs.

Mr. Baecker might reflect however that even technologically backward people are sometimes remarkably good at defending themselves, as were the Red Indians and the African Negroes, and it is quite possible that he and his technological conquistadors would burn their hands badly, even though they finally succeeded in grabbing the "corner of paradise".

I have found in arguments with people who consider technology a sort of new religion, a bitter intolerance of any who dissent. In creating the imaginary "simple lifer" and then knocking him down, like Aunt Sally, Mr. Baecker does what the Nazis did with the Jews, and I fear that in his technological utopia dissenters might well end in the concentration camp, or equivalent institution. His implicit nihilism has the ring of despair, so often found among militaristic authoritarians. Like Churchill and Pizzarro (who originated the phrase I believe) he offers us blood, toil, tears and sweat, though we know not whence we come or whither we go. (Is it not possible that we go to our destruction through the abuse of technology?). This is not science, it is not rationalism, it is the life vision of a barbarian raider, who lives for the day and to Hell with the morrow.

It may well be that reason, social harmony, freedom, love, tenderness and a just and equal relationship between people are impossible of permanent realisation. It may even be that they are not desirable. What is "Anarchy" for then, if this is so?

I don't know how many anarchists would agree with me, probably many would, when I say that I am quite sure that there will always be enough suffering in the world, from one cause or another, to prevent human beings becoming "soft". This however is a very different thing from offering suffering as something exciting and jolly good fun, as Mr. Baecker seems to do. Again, even without war, even without an authoritarian ruling class, there will always be conflict in the world, occasionally even leading to violence perhaps. This is neither to be deplored necessarily, nor to be a subject of congratulation. The aim of humanity though should always be towards reducing the cruelty of life. Mr. Baecker may rest assured that this effort will be interminable.
To take people's lands from them, to tell them how they must live,
this is not anarchism, or certainly not the sort of anarchism I am interested in. This is the philosophy of the robber not the libertarian.

Implications of Freedom

I WOULD LIKE TO SAY ONE OR TWO WORDS ABOUT FREEDOM: not that I think there is any need to defend freedom itself, but, perhaps, people sometimes need to be defended from, or set free of, the misapprehensions concerning freedom to which they are liable. I thought Harry Baecker's article on Homo Aedificans contained a very stimulating analysis of man's commitment to The Machine; but in my eyes it seemed that he held freedom in very low esteem. In his argument the myth of the dispensability of freedom appears again. He says (I think this is a fair summary) that man cannot be truly social unless he understands that he is not entirely free. I would reply that a man cannot be truly social unless he understands that he is entirely free. (N.B. — There are two negatives in the first, and only one in the second). Freedom has two characteristics: it may easily, always be denied; and it is always there. If I introduce the concept of coercion I might be able to make my meaning clearer. Freedom implies, not the absence of coercion, but its impossibility. To be forced to do something ordinarily means to do something, not because one feels or understands its rightness and necessity, but out of fear of the consequences of not doing it (or, which is psychologically not much different, out of desire for the reward for doing it): thus the insuperable difficulty to which coercion is bound by its very nature (and which philosophically invalidates it as an absolute concept) is the impossibility of eliminating what I will call the alternative action. If there were no alternative action, "coercion" as I have described it above would not be necessary. In a philosophical sense, there is a quality of absolute coercion (i.e. determinism) about every action. But the psychological significance or content of every action is its freedom: every action a man performs is a statement concerning himself, it is the declaration (not necessarily conscious) of allegiance to an authority which he himself at some point selected. Thus to be forced to do something is to declare allegiance to one's own fear (or desire) or rather to one's own idea of fear: it is not an allegiance created by "coercion", but merely one revealed by it. If we see history as the continuing endeavour (never absolutely abandoned) of man to stomach his freedom as a fact of life, then we can say that it is not the duty of education (which is indeed concerned with the growth of social responsibility) to be free. (I agree that "A fully elective education would be a disaster for the child" — mainly because it would be impossible) — the duty of education is, not to obscure freedom. All human relationships are threatened by laziness, and authority, which involves the attempt to repress entirely (not necessarily with any deliberate malevolence) any idea of "alternative allegiance", is a considerable danger to the development of the child's consciousness of freedom, that is of his own responsibility for selecting the allegiance his actions declare. (Vide the quotation from Lewin's essay on "Education for Reality" in

ANARCHY 20, p. 317; and chapter III — "The Consciousness of Freedom" — of The informed heart by Bruno Bettelheim (Thames & Hudson 1961) for a discussion of "autonomous decision making".)
The conclusion is, that freedom does possess a certain quality of dangerousness; but it is dangerous, not to man himself, but — in the same way that truth is dangerous to illusion — to the delusions concerning freedom to which man has bound himself. To fear freedom is to fear truth, and to fear truth is to prize illusion above life itself: the consequences are not far to seek.
Elgin, Scotland. MARTIN SMALL.

Cybernetics, errors and anarchism
I WOULD LIKE TO BE ABLE to decipher part of p. 88 of ANARCHY 25 which appears to be a bit mixed up. Line 22 ("control, since the President …") following the line which ends "leading to a slow", seems to have been inserted by mistake, in place of the correct line.
I would be grateful if you could let me know how the article should read in this region, since I'm interested in this question of the cybernetic approach to social organisation, and have for some time considered that it's particularly significant for anarchists. Especially some concerning self-organising systems, and criticisms of rigid hierarchic decision mechanisms, I've heard from leading lights in the field. Unfortunately Grey Walter didn't really go into these questions.
But I find Grey Walter's concluding paragraph very comforting, and would very much like to know exactly what he did say in the part mentioned above.
Manchester. JOHN MCEWAN.

THE EDITOR writes: Sorry, Line 22, p. 88 should read:
oscillation of party majorities. The classic phrase "Government of the
GREY WALTER writes: "I wish I had had time to bring out the anti-political overtones rather more.

Taking pornography seriously

READING MARTIN DANIEL'S ARTICLE on Shock Tactics and Pornography in ANARCHY 25 I felt that there was something missing, and re-reading it I saw more clearly (I think) what that thing was. To describe it briefly, I should say that there is a failure to take pornography seriously. (Remembering that there is virtue in taking everything seriously — everything, that is, except this strange habit of taking things seriously …) To begin: sex is one thing, pornography is another. It is possible to go further: there is sex, and there is thinking about sex, and to be addicted (or at least, to be liable) to thinking in terms of "pornography or not pornography" is to think unrealistically about sex.
Martin Daniel describes the state of homeostasis — "the balanced equilibrium between tension and the release of tension which governs the activity of animals …" (Norman Brown). But the point is that homeostasis is not at the moment a prevalent condition of man The realism of those who fear pornography and demand the suppression of any "tendency to deprave and corrupt" is the realism of those who fear that there is a tendency to be depraved and corrupted: it is an implicit recognition that the equilibrium that they fear will be disrupted is not an equilibrium resting upon tension and the release of tension but upon the suppression of tension — that the "order" which they preserve by law is an order achieved not through the education of understanding and feeling by life but upon the repression of understanding and feeling by an idea, a prejudice, calling itself life. At this point, enter anarchist realism, disguised as a frenzied libertine. The claim of anarchist realism is that the order which is defended against "anarchy" by the public guardians of our moral and spiritual welfare (the order, that is, which is inflicted upon all those who ask for and rely upon this defence) is not only nothing more than a fear of disorder, but that, even worse, it is merely a concealment of disorders: for what works more chaos than the repression of our feeling and understanding out of fear of the consequences of accepting them? There is no point in denying that to reveal disorder is not the same as to establish the true order of life, but
…Man who man would be,
Must rule the empire of himself; in it
Must be supreme, establishing his throne
On vanquished will, quelling the anarchy
Of hopes and fears, being himself alone. (SHELLEY)
To the man who is slave to his idea of the pornographic this idea may appear to him to the very meaning of life: if, in Martin Daniel's words, "one must admit sex to be mysteriously close to the springs of life", may we not understand that those who wish to ban pornography are afraid that, to abandon their idea of pornography would be to relinquish contact with the springs of life — in fact, perhaps it is even part of the obsessive fear of castration? Purveyors, devotees, adherents, enemies and slaves of pornography must understand that their attitude to sex (their belief in pornography) is something other than sex itself, and that the abandonment of the former is not a threat to the latter but rather a prerequisite to appreciating it fully. And this is a part of the great battle to demonstrate to people that life is greater than any attitudes to life, and that while the latter are of more importance to men than life itself fear for their destruction will rule our lives and prostitute the qualities of freedom, truth and love in the service of this fear. (Like Freud, I doubt whether art can ever be more than what, at its greatest, it has always been — the delineation of the events of the battle, the record of defeats and the expression of the unconquerable hope of victory: and sometimes, when its sound has been most beautiful, a cry of despair in this hope which may not be conquered). But, if we wish to go beyond the rule of fear, we must not deny fear: we must suggest, by in our own lives practising, a re-evaluation.