Almost anyone who identifies as being somewhere on the radical end of the political spectrum – as an anarchist or an autonomous Marxist or just a plain old leftist, for instance – has probably found themself in situations where they have had to explain their ideas to well-meaning but deeply frustrating individuals who also seek a better world but hold strangely incoherent views about what this means. Perhaps the most frustrating of these people are not the right-wingers, the free market fundamentalists or the tinfoil hat brigade (and there seems to be a growing overlap between these groups) but, counterintuitively, those who describe themselves as ‘liberals’. This frustration stems partly from the fact that, at first glance, there seems to be a considerable amount of overlap between the views held by radicals and the classical liberal ideals of freedom, equality, tolerance and so forth. After all, liberals also tend to be uncomfortable with violations of autonomy; for the most part they’re sensitive, compassionate individuals who express visceral discomfort with exploitative social relations like racism, patriarchy and corporate excess. Many liberals are also passionate environmentalists, or care about the plight of farmed animals, and some may even refer to themselves as ‘activists’ and support things like direct democracy and civil disobedience. In practice, however, radicals and liberals quickly part, due mostly to the seemingly incommensurable assumptions each group holds about how oppressive social relations function and how best we can eradicate them.
For this and other reasons, radicals tend to dismiss liberals out of hand, often choosing not to participate in liberal events like protests, petitions and so on. Being slightly more optimistic than this – or possibly hopelessly naïve – I like to think that in the heart of at least some liberals there lives, even if deeply buried under decades of indoctrination, pessimism and apathy, an anarchist waiting to be set free. In the spirit of liberating these theoretical radicals from their liberal shackles I’d like to indulge in something equally hypothetical: a fictitious conversation between a stereotypical representative of each camp that, for all its cliché and binary oversimplification really does sum up and reflect both the tone and the content of the innumerable discussions – and heated arguments – I’ve had with real liberals over the years. My hope is that even where I’m at my most dismissive, this discussion between imagined parties will still be of some small use to those of us seeking to dismantle hierarchy and domination as they really exist in the world we share.
To begin, let’s imagine an appropriate setting…
Scene: A diverse-looking group of vaguely alternative people, most of them between the ages of 18 and 40-odd, are sitting around a small, overburdened table in a loud, smoky bar somewhere in pre-Covid Johannesburg. It’s early evening and there’s cause for celebration: the group, most of whom don’t really know each other well yet, spent the day at a well-attended and lively protest against evil GM corporation Monsanto. Placards waved and chants chanted, it’s time to bask in the glow of victory. At the corner of the table closest to the window, a conversation strikes up between two of the protestors; one of them, our hypothetical anarchist, is a young, foreign-sounding woman with shoulder-length dreadlocked hair and numerous tattoos, wearing a t-shirt that reads until all are free, nobody is free – Mikhail Bakunin. Our imagined liberal, who is about the same age, is dressed in jeans and a button-up shirt that look – not obviously, but still perceptibly – carefully matched, as though he shops for outfits instead of individual items of clothing.
Liberal: What beer is that you’re drinking?
Anarchist: Some local micro-brewed IPA. Really hoppy, but good. What’s that, a Windhoek?
Liberal: Windhoek? Fuck that! I would never support a huge corporation like Namibian Breweries. This is a locally brewed Belgian-style ale. I don’t know why anyone ever drinks mass produced beer when there’s so much better stuff available. Don’t they realize what they’re supporting?
Anarchist: Well, mass produced beer doesn’t cost R50 a bottle. Many people don’t really have a choice – when they want a beer they go for the cheapest option.
Liberal: Well then they shouldn’t drink. Everybody has a choice not to support corrupt corporations.
Anarchist: What, like the corrupt corporation that manufactured your car?
Liberal: It’s a hybrid! I’m voting with my wallet for eco-friendly transport.
Anarchist: (holds head between hands and lets out an audible sigh.)
Liberal: What’s that supposed to mean?
Anarchist: Sorry, I didn’t mean to appear cynical or judgmental. I guess I’m just exhausted from today’s protest. To be honest, I find these things really demotivating.
Liberal: But why? The turnout was great. We really showed them!
Anarchist: Showed who, exactly? Two hundred of us walked down a street holding some placards and shouting a bunch of random slogans at passersby. What exactly have we accomplished?
Liberal: We spoke truth to Power. If more people march and share the truth about GM foods then Monsanto will have to change their practices. We might even force them to shut down altogether if we can encourage enough people to buy organic! Why were you even there if you’re so pessimistic about the whole thing?
Anarchist: I don’t know really. Sometimes I tag along to these things because I also feel strongly about the issues, but lately I’m increasingly demotivated by the fact that it’s just a bunch of liberals doing some weekend tithing.
Liberal: Whoah, back up there! What’s wrong with being a liberal? Are you saying you’re a conservative or something?
Anarchist: Of course not. I’m an anarchist, which means I agree with a lot of liberal values: freedom and equality, for instance. I just have a very different understanding of what these terms mean and how to obtain them. For starters, I don’t think consumer activism is going to help very much, nor do I think polite protests where we ‘speak truth to Power’ are particularly effective, even if I participate despite myself occasionally.
Liberal: I don’t know much about anarchism, but doesn’t the anarchist Noam Chomsky spend most of his time speaking truth to Power? I don’t understand what’s wrong with showing people what’s really going on.
Anarchist: Well, Chomsky might sometimes align himself with anarchism but he also tends to lapse into a kind of activist liberalism. What I mean is, he makes this assumption that if we can just show enough people the truth, like examples of non-transparency and corruption within the US political system, or how countries act in defiance of international law, or how a certain president said one thing and did another, this will somehow magically change things. Whether it’s Chomsky doing this or Naomi Klein or projects like Wikileaks or whatever, they all fall into the trap of thinking that society is changed through rational discourse: if we just all knew the truth, we’d opt out of the current system instantly.
Liberal: But it makes perfect sense to me. I don’t understand what you’re suggesting is wrong with any of this.
Anarchist: Well, that’s one of the basic assumptions of the Enlightenment humanist tradition classic liberalism comes from: that society is just a bunch of rational individuals who can choose to interact in any number of ways and that education and informed debate and sharing truths and better ideas are thus the best ways to change things. Not only does this completely miss out on the oppressive material relations of power that structure any given society, it also fails to recognise how we’re all at least partly indoctrinated by these same structural relations. In other words, when we think about making change often we’re just reproducing the logic of current arrangements of power.
Liberal: Okay, you’ve lost me now…
Anarchist: It’s simple: what are the embedded assumptions of the kinds of activism we’ve been discussing, like consumer boycotts, peaceful protests, speaking truth to Power and so on? For one, there’s this view that you can use market forces to create a kinder capitalism. However, this perpetuates the idea that capitalism is the only option and that market forces work in our favour. Peaceful protests and sharing truths for their part assume the existence of some benevolent other – a state or a group of compassionate shareholders or something – that exists in our interests and can be changed through rational persuasion or ‘moral force’ or the invocation of abstract ‘rights’. And, of course, this kind of activism also relies heavily on middle class levels of material comfort: not everyone can choose what to buy and not everyone is comfortable enough to have the daily negative effects of capitalism and the state hidden from them. Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that we need to critique and dismantle the structures themselves instead of just trying to fix them from within. I’m also arguing that, to some extent anyway, the ways in which we think about changing things reflect the extent to which we’ve internalized the values of society as it currently exists, kind of like how Stockholm Syndrome works.
Liberal: That doesn’t make sense. We live in a democracy and we really do have rights: they’re in the Constitution. If we don’t like how it’s working right now we can just vote for someone else. Also, surely we can fix capitalism? It’s just messed up right now because some people got too greedy, like the banks and giant corporations.
Anarchist: What is democracy? It’s supposed to be a transparently functioning political system that upholds individual sovereignty and protects us from harm but in practice it looks more like a way of maintaining a class system. When you look at the Constitution, what you’ll mostly find are a bunch of negative freedoms – freedoms from various forms of unnecessary imposition, coercion and so on – and far fewer positive freedoms or freedoms to…You know, principles of equality and mutual support that would enable each of us to reach our full potential. In fact when you explore it more closely, you’ll find that the modern political and legal systems in so-called democratic countries, with all their laissez faire principles, function primarily to pacify us while supporting the interests of a tiny capitalist class by protecting private property and the accumulation of vast amounts of wealth. The state and capital participate in all sorts of collusive practices both straightforward and byzantine in order to achieve this and if there’s merit in what people like Chomsky do then it’s to point out that this is not the exception but the rule: that the various components of the state are, at least in part, the protection and enforcement branch of capitalism. Whoever you vote for – and let’s not even get into how disempowering it is to choose a random bunch of people to decide on the lives of you and your community behind closed doors on your behalf – this collusion will continue to take place. All that changes is the window dressing. You’d have to be desperately naïve to think that there’s a massive difference in this regard between, say, the DA and the ANC, both of whom, whatever their rhetoric, are explicitly neoliberal and irremediably corrupt. As for fixing capitalism, well, it seems to me that the situation we find ourselves in is what any capitalist economic system – any formal economy even – tends to lead to: the massive centralisation of wealth and power and the ownership of all the land and means of production people need to be able to live their lives. Even an idealistic free market economy would quickly lead to the formation of private security companies required to manage the inevitable class antagonisms that would arise and this would in turn result in the evolution of a state (a ruthless neo-feudal one most likely!) Anyway, for anarchists, these are all deep structural problems: we’re not just concerned with the specific content that flows through them; we’re concerned with their form – with the structures themselves! If we’re truly serious about the liberal goals of freedom and equality we have to eradicate capitalism and the state along with all the other hierarchical and oppressive social relations that intersect with them. If this isn’t making any sense, think of it as a variation on that old saying, power corrupts. That’s not to say that we can’t hold power together, but that when one person or group has power over others in whatever sphere of our lives we’re considering, it changes them for the worse.
Liberal: Hmmm…I get that, but you keep going on about these structures as though everything is predetermined and we have no agency. That doesn’t sound right at all. I mean, if I was born poor I could choose to work hard at studying and then get a bursary to attend a good university and get a decent job out of it. People are only as free as they want to be. What we need to be doing is raising consciousness!
Anarchist: The liberal myth of the ‘boy made good,’ of the person who lifted themselves out of abject poverty by their bootstraps, actually supports what I’ve been saying about oppressive structures and the power relations that flow through them. After all, if it was as simple as people working hard to better their lives then millions of people would be moving out of townships and into middle class houses in the suburbs. One certainly can’t argue that there’s not an incredible amount of hard work and perseverance displayed by some of the poorest people in our society, even if there is also the obvious apathy, resentment and resignation that goes along with being on the receiving end of hierarchical social relations. In fact, however, there’s very little class migration in any capitalist, statist society, which is precisely why they make Disney movies when it does happen. It’s kind of like playing the Lotto – the magical thinking of ‘we can lift ourselves out of poverty’ allows us to forget how messed up things are and how powerless we feel to change them. Also, even if people who were able to work really hard were able to lift themselves out of poverty more often than is the case, it would be kind of like hosting a race between ten people and then, leading up to the race, training one of them to function at peak performance and shooting the other nine in the kneecaps. Not really the kind of fairness liberals are supposed to value, is it? By the way, I’m not saying that structure determines everything and that we have no freedom. In fact I think it’s more like what the philosopher Michel Foucault says: that these shitty power relations and oppressive structures are everywhere but they actually rely on our freedom. In other words, they’re a way of filtering our free action – our personal and collective power to do stuff – into ends that aren’t in our interests. In short, we have agency but it doesn’t operate in a vacuum: we have to remember to continually interrogate the ways in which our sense of agency, how we think about ourselves and our real, material capacities are all informed by hierarchical arrangements of power within our current society.
Liberal: That’s all a bit complicated for me. Also, wasn’t Foucault just one of those postmodernist charlatans? There’s a book that debunks all those French relativists. Also, I still don’t get what’s wrong with protests. If what you’re saying in your roundabout way is simply that we can challenge capitalist brainwashing and encourage people to use their agency then surely a protest is a good way to do that?
Anarchist: Yes and no. On the one hand, sure, we can share some critical insights at protests, or at least suggest that another way of doing things is possible, which is probably why, despite myself, I end up at so many marches on Saturday mornings. On the other hand, I sometimes feel as though protests function – albeit perhaps only accidentally – as a pressure valve for social unrest: give people with grievances a chance to vent their anger in a safe, patrolled environment and make them feel like they’ve achieved something (for example, you can let them hand over their petition or memorandum, or hang a banner, or plant a symbolic tree) and you’ll exhaust their capacity for participating in activist movements while simultaneously reinforcing the idea that this is an effective way to produce meaningful change. Even as a way of making demands, which I don’t think is a particularly good way to change the world, peaceful protests fall kind of short. As the abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, power concedes nothing without a demand and I like to think he meant a real demand backed by real force, not just the polite performance of a demand by obedient citizens. Anyway, that’s only in the context of a politics of demand; anarchists are far more interested in practicing politics – or more precisely anti-politics – away from capitalism, the state and so on, in a way that subverts these structures and maintains the possibility of entering into open conflict with them along class and other lines.
Liberal: But this makes it sound as though you don’t want to work within the system at all! Surely you’re just alienating yourself from everyone by being so extremist. It also sounds kind of unrealistic. If we’re realistic we have to accept that this is how things currently are and work to slowly reform them from within.
Anarchist: The anarchist aversion to reformism and working within the system comes from hard-won experience. When effective reforms have taken place it’s been mostly as a necessary response to non-reformist politics, like when a government changes a law to prevent a revolutionary outbreak. The rest of the time, reforms serve to safely divert the desire for change into reproducing – and even further legitimating – current forms of hierarchy and domination. It’s like the difference between animal welfare and animal rights: welfarists are always criticising rights activists for being too radical but all that welfare achieves, with its slightly bigger cages and slightly ‘kinder’ forms of confinement and killing is to make people feel less upset about the exploitation of other animals, which in turn serves to further entrench the idea that there’s nothing fundamentally ethically problematic about this practice. Also, sometimes there’s absolutely nothing you can do within the system. How would a social justice activist work within the North Korean system, for instance? Stalinist Russia? Apartheid South Africa? I’m not sure things are that different in so-called ‘democratic’ societies. As for whether or not anarchists are unrealistic, well, historically lots of sweeping social change has come about through revolutionary ruptures whose proponents probably seemed wildly unrealistic before the fact. We also have to remember that it’s equally unrealistic to assume that the way social relations are currently structured can endure for longer than another couple of decades, at most, without causing complete social and ecological collapse. We live in wholly unrealistic, immoderate times and we need to respond to them radically, even if the specific niches of relative privilege some of us occupy don’t allow us to notice the full scope of what’s unfolding all around us. Finally, I think some more moderate liberals also have this assumption that things are they are basically work fine except for a couple of glitches that can be ironed out…like, capitalism would be fine if we could just stop the bankers from being quite so greedy. For anarchists, on the other hand, things as they currently stand are fundamentally at odds with the interests of most people (and other animals, and the planet) and what we see as glitches or crises in the system are in fact a part of its functioning. That’s why we want to dismantle it: it cannot be fixed any more than slavery could be ‘fixed’.
Liberal: I don’t know…sometimes I think this is all so negative and oppositional. Like the old saying goes, what you resist persists. Surely we’d be better off just living our lives in different ways, away from capitalism and the government?
Anarchist: What, like let’s all buy a piece of land in the Karoo and build an eco-village and pay each other in talents and bitcoin (small-scale alternative currencies)? Sure, it’s all fine and well to prefigure different ways of living together (even when they do limit themselves to perpetuating the capitalist myth of homo oeconomicus, all self-satisficing and optimisation problems and bartering and direct reciprocity) which is why anarchists are actually very keen on stuff like the really Really Free Market (a gift economy market), Food Not Bombs (a worldwide, grassroots project that shares ‘excess’ or ‘waste’ plant-based food in the spirit of solidarity, not charity), anarchist free schools and so on, but I don’t think this is even nearly sufficient. In fact, it’s often just a form of middle-class escapism that allows us to think we’re making change while continuing to live the good life. Also, this kind of stuff only works until it gets big enough to pose a real threat. Eco-villages in the Karoo sound lovely, and I’m all for cob houses and permaculture and undermining and figuring out how we can live if and when this insane civilization is dismantled or comes crashing down, but what happens if they find natural gas under your eco-village? Do you think they’ll just let you carry on living the idyllic hippie dream? No. We’re going to have to resist and we’re going to have to commit to actively dismantling these oppressive systems even if we would also do well to focus on building the new world in the shell of the old at the same time. The autonomous Marxist John Holloway sums this dual practice up well when he talks about building the new world as finding and multiplying the cracks in capitalism: as he continually reminds us, we need to defend and enhance these cracks and they need to form part of a doing-otherwise; we also need to promote their confluence as part of an explicitly anti-capitalist cry of ‘enough is enough!’
Liberal: I’m still uncomfortable with all this resistance stuff. As a Buddhist and a pacifist I’ve come to realise that change starts within and that we can only ever work on ourselves.
Anarchist: Firstly, what you’re suggesting is more of an exoticised Buddhism-lite than actual Buddhism. Check out the history of Buddhist through the centuries and you’ll find that not only did Buddhists resist, they sometimes even fought on the side of the oppressors, something they did not feel was incompatible with their spiritual views. In Mahayana Buddhism, for instance, they say that the true follower not the one who observes the five precepts but the one who uses the sword, bow, arrow and battle ax to protect the monks who uphold the precepts and who are pure. In other words, and ignoring the dubious hierarchy this suggests, someone still has to resist. Sometimes I think these appropriated, orientalist Eastern spiritual practices are actually kind of narcissistic. They feel like a kind of disavowed consumerism by people who express anti-materialist views but live in large houses, drive fancy cars, eat expensive raw food diets, pay charlatans for expensive courses on achieving ‘enlightenment’ and decorate their living environment with all sorts of overpriced paraphernalia. Oh, and then go on anti-GMO protests on Saturdays to shout their chants of ‘we are all one, change the paradigm!’ Now that I think about it, one could even argue that the average Western Buddhist is an exemplary liberal capitalist citizen: they’ve disavowed their role in oppressive social relations while continuing to consume appropriately and perpetuate the myth of self-obsessed individualism. This is a far cry from even some of the most liberal non-Western Buddhists: did you know that the Dalai Lama calls himself both a Marxist and a communist? Incidentally, one shouldn’t ignore the uncomfortable fact that Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism and so forth have been used throughout their history to maintain class, caste and gender hierarchies and to encourage acceptance of unjust social relations; even some of the most revered Buddhist texts contain supportive references to these kinds of hierarchies, along with endorsements of war and rightful killing (of icchantikas – supposedly based and self-deluded beings – for example). I don’t mean to lash out at all spiritual practices, by the way. I’m an atheist but I have several anarchist friends who identify as Buddhists, Taoists, pagans and so forth. There are even some Christian and Islamic anarchists. Anyway, my point is that even Buddhists recognise that conflict might be necessary. Contemporary no-conflict, no-resistance Buddhism is just disavowed capitalist subjectivity projected onto a caricatured and appropriated spiritual practice. It also often exudes paternalistic smugness, another perennial hallmark of liberalism, and it’s pretty suggestive that not many of these Western pseudo-Buddhists know about the more egalitarian and collectively liberatory teachings of Buddhism, like the bodhisattva, for instance.
Liberal: Whew…Okay…that was kind of a rant. Let’s move on from spiritual stuff. What about more radical stuff like the Freeman Movement? They seem to be on the rise and they’ve found all these loopholes in the law which mean you can opt out of paying taxes and obeying corrupt government regulations.
Anarchist: Well, you can try. In practice, the so-called ‘Freeman‘ thing is based on a bizarre layperson misinterpretation of common law and no Freeman has ever succeeded in winning a legal case. There’s a reason first year law students make jokes about the Freeman movement and their obsession with misinterpreted Latin clauses and capital letters. Apart from the usual liberal misunderstanding of the law as being something that operates through reason instead of through force, I find the whole thing deeply suspicious, especially when you trace it back to its origins in conspiracy theories and new age quackery. It’s just another way of selling middle class people false hope and quick-fix solutions that don’t require too much investment of time or energy from them, like signing petitions, clicking Like on Facebook, sharing Zeitgeist and Future By Design DVDs with friends or buying V for Vendetta Anonymous masks to wear at protests (without realising, of course, that in the original V, the protagonist was an anarchist) or telling people how the banks are secretly speculating with our debt, as though that’s not something every first-year economics student already knows. It’s also a sad reproduction of the liberal consumerist magical thinking I’ve been criticising all along: that we can somehow create sufficient change through freely choosing to align ourselves ideologically with some or other passively held set of beliefs. The reason I think it’s sad is because it says so much about the anomie and deep depoliticisation of otherwise well-meaning people. We’ve really had it rough in terms of political education in South Africa, especially those of us who grew up during Apartheid, and it’s left a lot of people completely confused about what’s going on in the world and how, historically, people have been able to change it. Obviously this creates a whole lot of anxiety and so, in the absence of any real understanding of why things appear to be going to hell in a handbag, we can’t blame people for seeking meaning and false solace in conspiracy theories and bizarrely internally contradictory utopias (like the one where we trade in Bitcoin in a free market but also somehow have a ‘resource-based’ economy regulated by a benevolent bureaucratic class) that resemble nothing so much as the hyper-individualistic narcissism that is the default identity fostered by capitalism. The Farmville model of utopia, I call it. Perhaps the most tragic example of all this is the new age belief that all we have to do is visualize change. It’s kind of telling that the people who buy into this tend to come from quite wealthy backgrounds where they probably did get whatever their hearts desired, if only because their daddy bought it for them. What’s even sadder is that sometimes this kind of magical thinking ends in a kind of pathological millenarianism, waiting for auspicious dates or planetary alignments or ‘the collapse’ or even the intervention of wise beings from other dimensions. Sure, not many of the people we’ve been discussing really buy into all this whacky stuff, but when you think about it this extreme example of misplaced hope reflects perfectly the deep psychological investment in the idea that change comes from elsewhere that’s symptomatic of living within a hierarchical, patriarchal, statist society.
Liberal: You know, I keep thinking like you’re trying to make me feel guilty for being middle-class. It’s not my fault, I didn’t choose this life. What if I don’t want to take sides? I don’t have any responsibility to.
Anarchist: No, you don’t. Anarchists aren’t moralists; we wouldn’t ever tell you that you have to do something. However, what we can do is observe that, factually speaking, there is no such thing as a neutral position. Like it or not, you’re either on the side of the oppressor or the oppressed, even if you don’t feel as though you’re actively participating in either. As Howard Zinn used to say, you can’t be neutral on a moving train…you’re born into a world and had a default position chosen for you already. Also, lots of us who think of ourselves as middle-class have a kind of false view of our position in society. Sociologists might tell us that there are all these different social levels and that we’re quite high up in the chain, but I think the Marxist view makes more sense: unless we’re a part of the capitalist class we’re probably part of the broad working class (which includes everyone from white-collar workers to the unemployed), even if we don’t want to admit it. Fuck, I’m a paycheck away from the streets and even people who have decent white collar jobs are at the mercy of horrendous levels of accumulated debt and the idiosyncrasies of international finance. We are kind of in a unique position though: we can choose to serve the interests of hierarchical arrangements of power because they benefit us to some extent or we can choose to be in solidarity with those even more oppressed than we are because we recognise how similar our actual class position is.
Liberal: All this stuff makes me feel really uncomfortable. I still feel like you’re forcing me to take sides. I don’t like aligning myself with any -isms.
Anarchist: What, so you wouldn’t call yourself a supporter of anti-racism? Or say you believe in environmentalism? You wouldn’t agree that you’re opposed to sexism? We all buy into -isms, whether explicitly or not, and anarchists and liberals actually have quite a few of them in common. It’s just that we’ve chosen to sum up what we’re opposed to and what we’re for in a single term that encompasses the problems and solutions at their roots while remaining adaptable to many different situations. It’s funny how so many liberals are incredibly uncomfortable with what they perceive as rigid ideologies when they simultaneously implicitly align themselves with most of the ideologies, including capitalism, statism, heteronormativity and whiteness, that form part of all these current systems of hierarchy and domination. There’s a reason some people refer to liberalism, with its anti-ism-ism, as the default ideology of capitalism, you know.
Liberal: So what the fuck do you want me to do?
Anarchist: Whatever you think is best. Anarchists certainly don’t have all the answers. Whatever you do though, at least make a commitment, and make it a real one, not a lazy, middle-class, one-Saturday- morning-a-month kind of a commitment. The stakes are far too high for that to be defensible if you really do hold the liberal values you purport to. Be honest about what you’re willing to give up and also about the extent to which you benefit from society as it is currently structured and the conflicting feelings you thus experience around seeking to fundamentally change things. Challenge and exert yourself; see what you’re really capable of doing. Think about why you really find anarchist or radical ideas so unsettling. Bridge the gap by engaging with and learning from other people who experience hierarchy and domination differently from you: there’s a reason most liberals are white and middle class. Ask yourself what risks you’re prepared to take. Speak to the people around you with honesty and integrity instead of trying to appease them or sound moderate. We do not live in moderate times. Get involved in grassroots projects. Get your hands dirty. Do things you’re uncertain about – you’ll learn as you go along. Reflect on what pacifism really means in a structurally violent society and why confrontation might sometimes be necessary (and remember that some white folks in the Civil Rights movement in the US even ‘thought sit-ins’ at restaurant counters were too confrontational!) Learn about the different ways in which people have interpreted and applied your spiritual path, if you have one. Read about how people have organised historically to overthrow oppressive social relations. Society is not just made of individuals, it’s made of all sorts of social groupings and material forces and we’re in this together; we can’t just rely on noble liberal heroes to save us. Change comes from movements, not Gandhis or Mandelas. Map the complex and unique arrangement of privilege and deprivation that informs your own life, where it came from, how it differs from and overlaps with others and how social relations intersect with it. Think about how you can work with and through this mapping instead of being disempowered by feelings of guilt or resentment; the map, after all, is not the territory. Think deeply about the values you already hold and what their full implications are – what a world that reflected them would really look like. And remember what Goethe once said: ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’
Liberal: Another beer?
Anarchist: Why not!
Contributor: Aragorn Eloff
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.