Conversations with Aragorn Part 2: Anarchism, Power and Alienation

Aragorn Eloff is a long time-time anarchist with a keen interest in different forms of grassroots struggle, ecological activism and animal liberation.

He is also an independent researcher working at the intersection of radical politics and continental philosophy, with a focus on the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

He currently works for New Frame, a progressive media non-profit, as a technology manager and occasional writer, and is the co-convener of the biannual South African Deleuze and Guattari Studies Conference. When he is not reading, writing or arguing with strangers on the internet, Aragorn can be found running long distances through natural landscapes.

 

A friend and I met with Aragorn in Melville on a Sunday afternoon in late February where we spent several hours discussing anarchism, post-structuralism and various other subjects. What follows is part two of the discussion.You can go to part one by clicking on this link.

 

Dayna: You don’t think [in an anarchist spokes council society] there would be room for manipulation?

Aragorn: So the important thing to bear in mind, whenever you’re asking a question along the lines of, ‘but what if x happened within anarchism?’. Think about how x happens in current society.

So in our current society manipulation is exactly how everything gets done. The market is a form of manipulation. States operate through manipulation.

Dayna: But aren’t you escaping the actual question here a little bit?

Danielle: It’s like moving the goal post but the manipulation is still there; corruption can’t just disappear.

Aragorn: So what happens if you have a society where people participate as equals in making decisions and you don’t allow power to accrue to an individual/s? You’re removing a lot of the power people have to manipulate because they can try and manipulate but they don’t have the power to manipulate.

Think a bit about how manipulation works in a capitalist current society; if you have a corporate monopoly on something in South Africa…

Dayna: So manipulation with limited power doesn’t really work, is basically what you’re saying?

Aragorn: Of course. It just doesn’t have much of an impact. Whereas now, look at the bread price fixing that happened a few years ago; you had these major bread manufacturers colluding behind closed doors, and because of the power they have within the market, and because of the lack of transparency in that decision-making process, they completely altered the price of bread and fucked over millions of people.

So, that kind of level of manipulation, which would be impossible in anarchist society because each person would only be regarded for the social worth of their ideas, so if you’re sitting in a spokes council with your community of fifty-one hundred people and you’re all talking about ‘How do we increase the social good?’, ‘How do we decide what crops to grow?’; the manipulator is going to be transparent, and they’re not going to have much power, and people start cultivating different types of values as a result.

Danielle: How do religious ideologies and dogmas fit into an anarchist society? 

Aragorn: So, a lot of early anarchists viewed the three forms of oppression in society as God, the state and capital, but what they describe, even some contemporary sort of anthropologists who’ve described this; those things are always bound together in very interesting ways.

So, religions forms one of the idea logical functions of the state, capital performs some of the power relations of the state; when you remove those things from each other, they don’t function in separation. The market isn’t something that naturally formed in society out of nowhere, organised religion didn’t form in society out of nowhere – they’re always these implicated projects in society that are historically intermingled in very complex ways.

So what happens if you have a society where people participate as equals in decisions and you don’t allow power to accrue to an individual/s? You’re removing a lot of the power people have to manipulate because they can try and manipulate but they don’t have the power to manipulate. – Aragorn Eloff

If you look at a lot of what religion was used for, even Eastern religion, because people tend to exoticise Buddhism and stuff like that – look at what Buddhism was used for in the East.

Literally the whole non-attachment thing in Buddhism was used by people telling workers, ‘Don’t worry about this guy, don’t worry about your social will right now, just get money to the temple.’

I mean you carry this through to the current day; not many anarchists are hardliner atheists but we’re also talking about the sort of mid nineteenth-century resurgence of rationalism, anarchists were very pro-science and about the humanist project.

These days I would say it’s a lot more nuanced and you have a lot of anarchists who are interested in personal forms of spirituality.

Dayna: Like Starhawk?

Aragorn: Ya like Starhawk. I mean she’s sort of the most interesting contemporary pagan philosophers. Gary Snyder for example is an anarchist Buddhist.

Their discussion tends to be, hey of course we have a sacred relationship to the world, to nature around us; how do we choose to articulate that?

As long as its grounded in our everyday experience and it’s not alienating from our capacity to act – so probably the most fundamental aspect of anarchist philosophy, is that somethings alienating you from your potential in life; that’s repressive and oppressive.

Dayna: Anarchism and self-development are actually quite intertwined it seems but there also seems to be an ethos of allowing people to live up to their full potential and whilst we’re in this capitalist society we can’t because we’re sort of put in these cages you know, working for ‘the man’ if I can put it that way and so we don’t have that ability to live up to our full potential because capitalism is putting us in these restrictive cages…

Aragorn: Both anarchists and Marxists talk about this in terms of alienation. Marx even spoke about this.

So on the one hand, under hierarchical social relations, which nowadays to anarchists means relations of all power and dominations along the lines of everything you know it includes gender, race, species and everything else – not just the big three, the capital, the state and god.

All these things alienate us from who we are, from each other, from what our abilities are in the world, from the natural world itself, because we only interpret them through the lens of capitalist social relations; the state, participation through hierarchical political frameworks, but if we want to eradicate those forms of alienation then as Bakunin said, we need to recognise that the freedom of each of us is bound up in the freedom of all.

PREVIOUS: Conversations With Aragorn: Part 1: The Anarchist Project,  Post-Structuralism and Possibilities of a Better World

 

Relevant Article: Bringing Back Community: The Lack and Importance of Human Connection

 

 

Fellow Interviewer and Contributor: Danielle Seeger

 

Bioprocess Engineer with strong background in biotechnology, biochemistry and genetics. Some interests include sustainable development, green tech & production practices, biomimicry and circular economy solutions.

Read her article: The consequences of petrochemicals in our most trusted and used products

 

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