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Exploring “Anarchy Without Opposition”

By AK Press | March 11, 2014

We’re always glad when the ideas in our books jump off their pages and morph into real-life (or online!) discussions, so we were pleased to see that one of the pieces from our recently published book Queering Anarchism has been making the rounds online lately. Jamie Heckert’s contribution, “Anarchy Without Opposition,” has just been excerpted on OccupyWallStreet.net. Here’s a taste:

“Anarchist politics are usually defined by their opposition to state, capitalism, patriarchy, and other hierarchies. My aim in this essay is to queer that notion of anarchism in a number of ways. To queer is to make strange, unfamiliar, weird; it comes from an old German word meaning to cross. What new possibilities arise when we learn to cross, to blur, to undermine, or overflow the hierarchical and binary oppositions we have been taught to believe in?

Hierarchy relies on separation. Or rather, the belief in hierarchy relies on the belief in separation. Neither is fundamentally true. Human beings are extrusions of the ecosystem—we are not separate, independent beings. We are interdependent bodies, embedded in a natural world itself embedded in a vast universe. Likewise, all the various social patterns we create and come to believe in are imaginary (albeit with real effects on our bodyminds). Their existence depends entirely on our belief, our obedience, our behavior. These in turn are shaped by imagined divisions. To realize that the intertwined hierarchical oppositions of hetero/homo, man/woman, whiteness/color, mind/body, rational/emotional, civilized/savage, social/natural, and more are all imaginary is perhaps a crucial step in letting go of them. How might we learn to cross the divide that does not really exist except in our embodied minds?

This, for me, is the point of queer: to learn to see the world through new eyes, to see not only what might be possible but also what already exists (despite the illusions of hierarchy). I write this essay as an invitation to perceive anarchism, to perceive life, differently. I’m neither interested in recruiting you, nor turning you queer. My anarchism is not better than your anarchism. Who am I to judge? Nor is my anarchism already queer. It is always becoming queer. How? By learning to keep queering, again and again, so that my perspective, my politics, and my presence can be fresh, alive.

Queering might allow recognition that life is never contained by the boxes and borders the mind invents. Taxonomies of species or sexualities, categories of race or citizenship, borders between nations or classes or types of politics—these are fictions. They are never necessary. To be sure, fictions have their uses. Perhaps in using them, we may learn to hold them lightly so that we, in turn, are not held by them.”

You can read the full excerpt here, and then check out the thoughtful response to “Anarchy Without Opposition” that was published recently on the “cultivating alternatives” blog. Here’s just a bit of it:

“At some points, Heckert calls for an anarchism with ‘no borders, no purity, no opposites,’ which seems a bit unrealistic in practice, since our lives are full of all kinds of borders and boundaries, some of which are desirable, and others that we can’t simply get rid of (refusing to ‘see’ the borders of private property will probably land you in jail).  But I think his main point is that we don’t have to take these borders for granted; they can be queered, unsettled, and shifted.  In this sense, this isn’t a call to get rid of all borders or divisions or oppositions, but to pay attention to what happens to them; to attend to them, to loosen them up, rather than assuming that they’re necessary or good or right…”

“…Furthermore, the really important and interesting stuff happens at the borders, not inside them. Heckert draws on permaculture’s insight that edges are the most productive and fertile parts of ecosystems, suggesting that anarchism would benefit from attending to the social edges, where people and communities permeate and connect: ‘The more that anarchism, a many branched river in our social ecosystem, mixes and mingles with swamp and stone, soil and soul, the more diverse forms of life will benefit’ (69).

An important problem with all this (and I wished he spent more time on this) is the fact that these ways of being aren’t just beliefs that we can change by thinking critically or declaring ourselves otherwise.  As Heckert puts it: ‘declaring a politics to be nonhierarchical, anarchist, feminist, safe, or queer does not magically make this happen.  It takes a different kind of magic: practice’ (70).  Both the positive and negative ways of being are held in our bodies; they’re accumulated habits of relating to ourselves and to each other, and they’re often-unconscious attachments and investments.  And working at being otherwise means working that through our bodies, and shifting our unconscious desires.  How?  I think Heckert’s suggestion is that we practice radical acceptance: of ourselves, of others, of the world, and of its hierarchies and borders (even if we want to tear them down): ‘there is no such thing as evil; there is nothing to oppose.  Instead, we might learn to both empathize with the desires of others, and to express our own’ (71).  This is a politics ‘that starts off accepting everything just as it is.  From the basis of acceptance, we might then ask, what service can be offered?  How can anarchy be nurtured, rather than demanded, forced?’ (71).”

You can read the whole response here.

And of course, if you haven’t already, we encourage you to check out Queering Anarchism to read “Anarchy Without Opposition” its entirety, as well as the many other thought-provoking pieces in the collection!

 

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