NOTE: This post is now going on 7 years old and I have changed somewhat since I wrote it. I am not so embarrassed that I would take it down or rewrite it; however there are a few things I’d like to bring readers up to date on.
One, I no longer identify as an anarchist and my simplistic use of “freedom” here makes me wince. If you want a better snapshot of where my thinking is on power now, I recommend this lengthy dissection of free speech doctrine that I wrote some years later. That’s one of my better pieces and probably more useful than this FAQ in giving you a sense of my politics from around the time of writing to the present. As to what I call myself now, I don’t feel qualified to identify with any particular sect, but I think it’s fair to say I am closer to a Marxist-Leninist than anything else. Usonian anarchism looks increasingly like a spook-infested psy op to me, aimed at giving radical cred to imperialism, discrediting Marxism and concealing covert operations. I am sorry I had anything to do with it.
Two, I don’t have even tactical use for libertarians at this point, though my loathing for alleged radicals that find professional liberal Democrats obviously and vastly better remains intact.
Three, I regret that there is nothing about veganism and animal rights in this FAQ. I was a vegan when I first came online, but I didn’t discuss it enough to make it germane to this post. I wrote this FAQ primarily in response to dishonest campaigning against me, most of which was about other matters. Over the years veganism has become more and more important to me. Animal agriculture is both worse than, and separate from, capitalism and I have little respect for any revolutionary that would retain it under socialism. I don’t think there is anything that makes me happier than readers who write me to say something I wrote pushed them toward veganism.
With that out of the way, I still stand by most of what I’ve written on this blog and I’m even proud of some of it. I hope if you are new here, you have found your visit worthwhile. Please check out the comments. A good group used to convene here and some of the most insightful and skillful writing is below the fold. Enjoy!
A lot of people ask me the same questions, or talk to me in a way that suggests they have no idea where I’m coming from. Explaining myself repeatedly is tedious. Hence this FAQ.
What are you, an extreme liberal? A socialist? An anarchist? A libertarian?
I don’t really like to define myself politically. I am heterodox by nature, and don’t like to leave myself open to accusations of either hypocrisy or heresy, mainly because I find such accusations, and the people inclined to make them, really boring. I also don’t rule out any tactical alliance.
From an analytical perspective, I am a small a anarchist in that I reject coercive authority of all kinds particularly as wielded by the state, property owners and capitalists. I believe that the default position is freedom and that attempts to limit freedom should be justified.
That said, I do not expect to see the abolition of the state in my lifetime, nor do I think that the abolition of the state would be desirable under all social conditions. While I favor radical change, I do not see reform as being in opposition to it. To the contrary, I think traditional liberal reforms could actually set the stage for more radical change. I therefore believe that, in most cases, radicals should agitate for and support worthy statist reforms while building non-state alternatives to state programs and institutions. I do not think it is prudent for anyone of any political affiliation to ignore the state.
Why Do You Hate Everyone?
I don’t hate everyone. I strongly dislike, and, sometimes hate, almost everyone whose livelihood and/or public stature derives from a fundamentally conformist approach to politics. I also have misgivings about people who, for one reason or another, strongly identify with such people or uncritically parrot or defend their views. This is a lot of people, but it’s not everybody.
Why Do You Hate Liberals So Much? What about the right wing?
I don’t hate all liberals. I have many liberal friends, family, neighbors and business colleagues and we get along fine. I dislike the ones (borrowing here from last answer) “whose livelihood and/or public stature derives from a fundamentally conformist approach to politics. I also have misgivings about people who, for one reason or another, strongly identify with such people or uncritically parrot or defend their views.”
As my About page says, my main interest as a blogger is in the self-subjugation of Americans to control by a predatory oligarchy, a capitulation which has practically no peer in the developed world. Within that realm, I am most interested in the intellectual policing and obstructionism at the margins by public liberals and lefts.
Criticism of the right and center is the liberal beat, and while they do a shitty job of it, they do it a lot and I am content to leave it to them. I think far too little has been written and said about the extent to which left media is subject to the same constraints as all media, and the considerable amount of blame public liberals and lefts deserve for our current crisis-ridden situation.
I am very wary of the unconditional capitulation of public lefts to the Democratic Party and consider the establishment left consensus on this capitulation, despite widespread dissensus in the public at large, proof of how tightly controlled and policed the establishment left is. Put more simply, I think what most people regard as the American left is largely a status-quo fortifying fraud, regardless of how its individual members see themselves, and that exposing and ridiculing this fraud is a good thing.
You Talk a Lot About the Heat Vampire Left. What is A Heat Vampire?
I use the term ‘heat vampire’ as a metaphor for a kind of public figure that stakes a position on the left-most edges of permissible opinion so as to neutralize harder, more authentic lefts in the same zone. Heat vampires are distinguished by a clear eyed, even radical, assessment of all that’s wrong in the world coexisting with acquiescence in oligarch-approved methods for putting things right, no matter how often and resoundingly these methods fail. So constituted, heat vampire liberals act as role models of acquiescence for the rest of us, reconciling things that aren’t logically reconcilable, successfully wrestling themselves into compliance with status quo fundamentals while bemoaning the particulars. All the so-called harder lefts inside the margins of U.S. political discourse are heat vampires. This piece on Chris Hayes explains the concept in greater detail.
If You’re Not a Libertarian, How Come You are Always Defending Them?
As I’ve said elsewhere, I do not rule out any tactical alliance. At the moment, it seems that people identifying themselves as libertarians are among the most genuinely principled in opposition to police brutality, the security state, mass incarceration and the Wars on Drugs and Terror. Those are all issues of huge importance and I don’t think an effective politics can rule out a tactical alliance with any faction that is principled on these points, regardless of what else this faction might stand for.
Furthermore, I believe that anti-libertarian fear-mongering is increasingly being deployed as a stratagem of liberals and other statist lefts, in an effort to immunize the Democratic Party from any genuinely leveraged opposition from anti-imperialists and civil libertarians. In other words, the primary aim of stigmatizing libertarians is the fortification of state violence, as well as fortification of the primacy of the state itself. Its leading proponents are careerist idiots acting in the worst possible faith. Hence I reject it with the most extreme contempt.
Ok, So You Criticize All The Time, But Do You Actually Do Anything?
Even though my ‘Doing Things’ bona fides are sound, I find this question really irritating when it comes up in political arguments for several reasons. It’s usually used to derail criticism, the assumption being that if you are not attending meetings, protests etc, you are not qualified to have an opinion about those who are. It’s sort of the dissident equivalent of ‘If You Don’t Vote, You Can’t Complain.’
This is problematic because it creates a false dichotomy between the speaking/writing/discussion side of movement politics and the marching/lobbying/hacking/organizing side. It’s all necessary, and while it may be regrettable that more people would rather talk than walk, it’s really unbecoming for activists to tell people to shut up for any reason if the people who are talking or writing are doing so knowledgeably and respectfully. It’s also really tedious – among other things – to have to enumerate all the different things you’ve done as a participant before a discussion can even take place.
During Occupy’s encampment in New York, for instance, a lot of people probably had really good reasons for not attending the General Assemblies at Liberty Square, at least not regularly, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a stake in their outcome. Are they not to have an opinion, if say, a decision is made to not issue demands or to send election witnesses to Egypt or when something they care about, like imperialism, does not seem to be a high priority for the dominant participants? Isn’t it possible, likely even, that they’re not participating much because they’re unhappy with a lot of what they see and hear when they do? If so, doesn’t it make sense both tactically and ethically to hear them out? I think the answer is very obviously yes.
As for my own participation, I go in and out of activism and have been a protest organizer, grass roots lobbyist, fundraiser and an executive of a political advocacy group. Lately I am happier doing things like a soup kitchen — which I do a few times a month — than spending a lot of time with American leftists. I did participate in Occupy’s first phase, attending about five GAs, participating in most of the major protests including both attempts at preventing the city’s assault and assisting with housing when Liberty Square was closed down. I also participated in Occupy Sandy during its early days. I am less and less interested in being among New York activists and am increasingly more inclined to give money than time to organizations and to help out directly when problems arise for people closer to home, as they increasingly do.
So Who Are You In Real Life? What Do You Do?
None of your business. As the craziness and repression of this society grows, so too does my interest in remaining anonymous and private.
What Do You Mean by Rancid?
A writer named Rebecca Solnit wrote this hideous vilification of leftists who were unwilling to get on board the Obama bandwagon. This article was so bad it inspired my #BiggestLiberalAsshole2012 contest and when I launched it I changed my Twitter name to The Rancid Sector, which I appropriated from the following cringe-inducing passage:
O rancid sector of the far left, please stop your grousing! Compared to you, Eeyore sounds like a Teletubby. If I gave you a pony, you would not only be furious that not everyone has a pony, but you would pick on the pony for not being radical enough until it wept big, sad, hot pony tears. Because what we’re talking about here is not an analysis, a strategy, or a cosmology, but an attitude, and one that is poisoning us.
Since then I have been using ‘rancid’ to describe politics that are radical, principled and combative.