The Anarchist Township

Fight the war, fuck the norm!

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (Book Review)

Point point point

Something I’m realizing more and more about myself this month is my defensiveness. I’m not great at responding to criticisms or even to people  informing me of an issue because I tend to feel singled out and attacked.

Basically, my fight or flight mode sucks and I wish I could turn it off. Because before I know it I’ve said a few words more than “Ok” and it’s turned into a huge fiasco that’s threatening those around me in one way or another.

This defensiveness is part of what informed my beyond lackluster response to the accusations made against me last year. I was surprised, exhausted and more importantly I was incensed at the accusations that had driven so many away.

Of course, it wasn’t the accusations, it was my actions. But good luck to 2017 me seeing that and responding appropriately. I felt targeted in the worst way and responded accordingly. I take responsibility for my poor responses/apologies.

There’s however some solace in reading a book like So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson then. Some of the people in here (especially John Leher) have “beyond lackluster” responses to being called out for their actions as well.

And while I knew prior that not everyone responds to accusations appropriately it still felt reassuring to see it so carefully documented and written about by Ronson, The book in general is very thoughtfully written by Ronson and must be given the intense and sensitive subject matter of the book.

Ronson’s aim in this book is to establish the place that shame has in incentivizing a moral order from other individuals. How successful is it? Does it have too many downsides? Do most people become better people afterwards?

There’s many questions Ronson goes out to try to answer and he does them through the personal stories of some folks who have been shamed online. Many of them simply dropped their internet personas after a brief apology and cried a lot.

When it comes to my own story I’ve decided to loosen my internet presence a little, e.g. I don’t post personally as much on social media anymore, mostly shared links.

But my original apology wasn’t brief and while I have spent many hours in many different corners of my brain crying, wanting to die, thinking that there’s nothing I can do to be a better person than who I’ve been, I’m trying to get out of that space.

Ultimately, that space isn’t helpful for fostering change. Who would have thought it huh? Trying to soak in your misery and thinking it’s hopeless doesn’t actually make the prospect of changing for the better any more likely! Weird!

Jokes aside, the people in the book aren’t all like that. Some aren’t affected at all by the shaming such as one that involved a number of men who are on a prostitute list in a small Maine town. The only one shamed is, of course, the single woman client.

Perhaps one of the more affecting stories to me was the one about John Leher who was publicly shamed online for his blatant plagiarism. Not only did Leher plagiarize his own writings but he also made up quotes and as a result…well it’s hard to say.

In some ways Leher lost a lot of credibility but in others he’s still invited to conferences, still was able to come out with a new book and I doubt he lost all of his money and status. But personally he talks about how much it changed him. Or, supposedly. Some people think he’s a psychopath and doubt his remorse.

So maybe in that way, I also related to it. My statements about the accusations were thought to be the words of a narcissist or psychopath as well. It wasn’t the first time I’d been called some variant of the selfish label though to quote a friend, I’m not narcissistic I’m “fucking autistic” which seems accurate.

More oblivious than intentionally malicious or deviant.

For myself, I found the matter interesting and even more complicated than others were giving it credit for in the book. While Leher was lying and that’s wrong, it seemed like plagiarizing himself and misquoting were minor compared to the shaming that ended up happening. Then again, it was a persistent pattern.

In other cases it’s quite clear to me (such as in DongleGate) where the massive punishment against the offenders doesn’t seem to fit the crime. This book takes note of some interesting incidents that I had all but forgot about or never knew.

Besides discussion about online shaming there’s also discussions about the chances of people becoming rehabilitated. I particularly enjoyed the commentary on when people retrospectively looked at their shaming.

For Leher, Ronson says, “His worst days were when he allowed himself hope … the best …when he accepted his destruction was necessary for the deterrent of others.”

I can relate to that given my own mistakes and relationship for hope. But on the other hand, with a new job that I actually enjoy most of, moving forward with my legal name, a handful of really solid friends, I’ve got hope and want to keep it.

Another interesting thing about Leher was that the note of narcissism and psychopathy often came from outside academics and journalists with little to no experience in the mental health field (at least according to Ronson).

So is it fair to diagnose people from afar like this? Without really knowing or having a professional grip on what makes psychopaths tick or not tick? On the third hand, wouldn’t it be weird to seclude those sorts of judgements to only professionals?

Moving on, one of my other favorite parts of the book concerned how we could move past shame and who is trying to do it. Ronson looks at the pornography world that helps people consensually face their fears in a sexual way.

Interestingly, Ronson also talked about the movement (cult?) of radical honesty, which was interesting enough for me to spend a few hours of research on. My conclusion was that it had some nice ideas but the inner group is best avoided.

As we get to the end of the book Ronson discusses that there are reputation firms that can make Google search results go away. They work very subtly and are hard for Google to notice (at least as of writing the book) but are expensive.

I thought about this for myself and quickly decided that I wouldn’t want to deal with the shame, especially when I already deal with so much self-hatred anyways. But funnily enough, while reading this chapter of the book I found out that my name had nothing  associated with it that was negative anymore.

Previously there was a Tweet that had a screenshot of someone posting about a credible accusation of sexual assault (nothing I haven’t talked about beforer) and I was mortified. Could I legally change my name to Doreen Cleyre now?

Suffice it to say I dedicated myself to doing it anyways, whatever the cost. Even if I’m constantly shamed throughout my life for being who I was and who I am, that’s going to happen either way. And besides, I’ve done enough hiding of myself.

The last three chapters of the book pull back bit by bit but there’s some interesting bits about how the internalization of shame leads us to become violent. Even a pimp who had murdered many was able to find solace in helping a mentally disabled kid.

How did he get there? By those around him treating him with respect and allowing him a place to speak is mind and connect with others, albeit in a very limited way. I don’t know if the answer to all crime is to root out the inner shame criminals feel.

But I do know that shame is often a great place to start and that trying to understand the role it has in our world and communities is a great step towards trying to make it a better world for all of us, including those shamed.

Speaking as someone who has been publicly shamed, I recommend Ronson’s book.

It’d be a shame if you didn’t read it.


See what reviews are next, here.

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Book Review)

Content Warning: Brief mentions of rape, extended discussions of mental health

I remember when the accusations against me were first made. All I wanted to do was run away. I wanted to get out of my mind and never come back. I wanted to crawl into the nearest ditch and die, and worse, I felt like that’s what I deserved.

Another part of my mind was angry: How dare my accuser not even try to talk to me first? I thought we were friends, what happened? Why did this all happen? Why am I such a horrible person? I was angry not at them, but really, myself.

I had failed a friend in such a monumental way that my mind had very few places to go other than to die in a ditch or blame others. I tried to take my mind off of it by leaving social media for a few weeks. I tried to run away by only talking about it when absolutely necessary and even then making sure those situations were short.

Still, I thought about the allegations a lot. In fact, the intensity surrounding them was equivalent to some of the worst intrusive thoughts I’d ever had. I felt like my whole life was coming apart and all I wanted to do was die or fade away.

Since then, I haven’t necessarily gotten better. I still try to avoid the subject in my head, I try not to dwell on it, but I also do self-talk. I reassure myself that I did the best I could in the situation I was in and failed. And that this failure is an important lesson moving forward so I never commit this sort egregious harm on anyone again.

And while I’ve come to the conclusion that the base of the allegation is false, I am not a serial rapist, the crux of the matter is true: My issues with consent have been long-standing and not as well-addressed by myself or others as I had thought.

And instead of trying to be compassionate towards those I harmed, I was very defensive and afraid. I was defensive because I felt like my reputation had been annihilated and that left me afraid because who would love me now?

With what people have said about me, who could ever love me? A person who has made several critical mistakes in her life. Sure, I say I want to get better but do my actions really show that? It was hard to give a ready-made answer, let alone a yes.

Thankfully I did have people who stuck around.

Some because they don’t believe I could ever rape someone (sorry, but having sex with someone when they’re intoxicated, whether I knew it or not, is rape) and some because they believed my accuser but also believed in my sincerity to do better (these are the best sorts of people and I wish I had more of them in my life).

Given all of this it’s easy to say my life had fallen apart.

And not just because of my own actions but also because of the consequences of my actions on others. I let many friends (and many now former friends) down and I’ve hurt many people (in small ways and big) trying to be “romantic” or “loving”.

My understanding of boundaries was hampered by my need to feel appreciated by others. I’m a needy person who just wants to feel important to the world around her and I used that underlying need as a justification for aimless flirtation online.

This “annihilation” of my reputation is important, according to Buddhist philosophy. And according to one author in particular, Pema Chödrön, a painful death is often necessary for a rebirth. What a difficult way to learn this lesson.

I read When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön with few expectations. I am not a Buddhist and have little prior knowledge of Buddhism besides what I learned from popular culture, Nietzsche’s critiques of Buddhism and the anarchist Dyer D Lum’s understanding of Buddhism.

Chödrön didn’t convince me to become a Buddhist through this book but she did inspire me to think more about this philosophy. After all, a philosophy that urges us to give up on hope is a philosophy I find fascinating, at least.

The reason behind this startling claim is that hope never allows us to be content with where we are in life. We’re all so busy caught up in trying to get to a better place or be a better person that we’re never happy and we increase our suffering.

Buddhism teaches us that suffering is inevitable and trying to create shields around ourselves is not only pointless but also harmful. It harms others because it leads us to be less gentle and compassionate with others (big armor can make us feel like we do anything, such as harm) but also less compassionate with ourselves.

The main theme of this book is that compassion for others starts with us. It starts with recognizing our underlying goodness (or attempts to get there) and then face the things we feel that get in the way of that inherent goodness, the scary things.

Chödrön constantly tells us in this powerful book to confront our fears and to lean into the scary places within ourselves. I can say from my own personal experiences with meditation, trying to fall asleep at night and talking to my therapist and close friends about the allegations that leaning into my feelings has been helpful.

Understanding myself better has allowed me to better understand the harm I’ve caused towards other and as a result, have more compassion for everyone involved.

That’s not to say that after reading this book  I am some sort of enlightened Buddhist, not in the least.

But I do think many of the lessons in this book are very important for anyone and at any time in their lives, emotionally speaking. Yes, I bought this book because I felt my life was falling apart for me. But I also bought it because in many ways I was trying to rebuild this same life and make it better as I move forwards.

Do I think hope is worth giving up on? No. I’m not convinced all forms of hope are inherently toxic and I think there’s a sort of contentedness we can cultivate for our present while still acknowledging we can be better people despite our past.

Free people are ultimately not subjugated by our pasts.

They are influenced by them, informed by them and take inspiration from them so they can try to do better. But it would also be a mistake to say any of us are defined by our present or future either. Time is always changing and moving forward and as such referring to any of these periods as “defining” for our character is unrealistic.

My biggest criticism of the book is, while it teaches you many lessons that I cherish and needed to hear, it repeats them far too often. A little over half-way through the book and I noticed I started taking fewer notes on what Chödrön was saying.

Chödrön has excellent lessons to teach us, but I think she could have done so in 100 pages (or less) instead of the nearly 200 she gives herself.

That said, I highly recommend this book. I don’t know about shaving my head and believing in the dharma wholeheartedly anytime soon, but I can say with utter sincerity that this book helped me on my path to becoming a better person.

And as Chödrön says: The Path Is The Goal.


See what reviews are next, here.

South of Forgiveness: A True Story of Rape and Responsibility (Book Review)

Content Warning: Discussion of rape, abuse, difficult emotions

South of Forgiveness is a project by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger and one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. It follows the story of Elva and Stranger meeting almost 20 years (2013) after Stranger raped Elva.

The circumstances were “bare bones” if a rape could possibly be such. Elva and Stranger were dating in college at the time (1996) and Elva had gotten herself drunk, having not drank much in her life up until that point. Elva was heavily intoxicated, to the point that the security on their campus asked if she was OK as Tom brought her out and back to her dorm with him.

As he brought her back into her dorm room and on her bad he began undressing her. Stranger then got on top of Elva and one of the most painful memories for Elva was born. The book picks up with these two having gotten back in touch through email in 2005 and are now planning on meeting in person, in 2013.

It’s an emotionally heavy book and there’s no way around that. But it’s also a testament to how much abuse and trauma we as humans can go through. We can be changed so much by just a single moment or series of moments from decades ago.

I bought this book not to punish myself but as a way to think about what forgiveness means. Not only for people who have perpetuated sexual violence (as I have) but for people who want to forgive those people and what that can look like.

To clarify, I don’t think everyone needs to be or should be forgiven. As toxic as I think things like bitterness, hatred, regret, shame, etc. can be for the human spirit I absolutely understand on an emotional and biological level why folks have it.

It makes sense to hate your rapist and especially if you think there’s no hope for them. For a long time Elva didn’t think there was any point of contacting Tom and held off for almost 5 years before seeing him at an event and telling him what he did. And it wasn’t another 5 years or so until she emailed for more understanding.

The biggest part of this book for me was Stranger’s self-hatred. I empathized a great deal with his lack of personal identity, his crisis of who he was as a person after what he did to Elva and how he could become a better person. Is it possible?

The book argues that it is possible. Or, I should say, Elva and Stranger jointly argue that it’s possible for people who have made horrible mistakes to not only become better people but to forgive themselves for those horrible mistakes.

That second part is what scares me more than anything.

Having to take responsibility for sexual violence and committing to being better is a herculean task in of itself for some. But forgiving ourselves for our egregious violations of other people’s bodies seems like another matter entirely.

On this point Stranger speaks eloquently and often about his regrets and the way his interaction with Elva made him distance himself from the world around him. How he kept finding himself “happy” in relationships but ultimately trying to sabotage them so he wouldn’t hurt anyone anymore.

Elva is an amazing writer and an incredibly strong person. She’s strong in ways that I think are so important when it comes to feelings and critical thinking. Her willingness to forgive, however, doesn’t come from some superpower. It comes from nearly a decade of online communication and a final dedication to resolve things.

Although I find some solace in the old Buddhist saying, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” and applying that to hatred, anger can be a real motivator.

As Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine once said, “Anger is a gift.” Anger can be a powerful motivating force that leaves other emotions in the dust when it comes to getting things done for yourself.

But that dust is to be handled carefully. The way you kick up the dust with your anger, people often get that same dust stuck in their throats until they can’t breathe.

What does handling anger carefully look like though? For me, I don’t think there’s an objective standard. Should Elva still be angry with Stranger even after she (spoilers?) forgives Stranger for his sexual violation when they were younger?

In some cases it makes sense to let go of anger: When there’s nothing more to be done, when there’s bigger priorities, when it’s time to move on, when you’d rather be angry at something else, when your emotions change to sadness.

There’s too many variables here to name.

But the point being that anger, like hatred, like sadness, like sorrow, are all emotions that we have some degree of control over.

Some of us have less than we may want, but that doesn’t make us not responsible for our actions. I’m still responsible for being reckless, greedy, irresponsible and many other things even if I had good intentions at the time.

As Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES sings, “Good intentions/Never good enough”

I read this book to realize that I can forgive myself for my mistakes. I’m not there, not even close. I’ve been asked by multiple people what I would feel or say if the people I’ve harmed would do for me. Honestly, I don’t think it would change much.

I would cry, I would feel like maybe self-forgiveness is a more viable option. But ultimately their forgiveness can never erase the harm I’ve caused them.

Furthermore matters of justice are never that simple and South of Forgiveness proves that with a beautiful story of betrayal and mutual redemption. Forgiveness is a two-way street and as Elva argues, isn’t a purely selfless act. Most of all, Elva does this for herself and I can’t think of a more beautiful or convincing reason to forgive.

But for what it’s worth, I’m glad Stranger gets Elva’s forgiveness.

I’m certain he deserved it.


See what books will be reviewed next, here.

A New Project for Personal Accountability

In order to better make sense of the last few years and trying to move forward with my life I’ve decided to buy the following four books:

  • South of Forgiveness: A True Story About Rape and Responsibility
  • When Things Fall Apart
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
  • The Worm at the Core: On The Role of Death in Life

I shall dedicate myself to writing book reviews of each and writing some notes down for each book. I will be doing one book a month and trying to get each book review done before the month is over.

I bought the first book because although the accusations against me were partially untrue, I also know that I have not done my best with issues of consent and boundaries in these past few years or so. I want to do better and I think this book can help convince me that I can still be a good or better person even after making terrible mistakes in my life.

I bought the second book on the recommendation of Emmi Bevensee and their wonderful series on autonomy and consent over on C4SS. Specifically their most recent article on Whisper Networks. I’ve been enjoying their series, however difficult it can be to read at times.

I bought the third book to see how others have dealt with accusations and what to make of shame in my life. This book has a more cursory role to do with me bettering myself but I want to see how I can react better in the future, help others in the future and just get me to think about shame with regards to its role in social activism communities.

I bought the fourth book so I can think about the role of death in my own life. Especially as someone who deals with chronic depression, anxiety, existential crises and feels as if they can’t do any better at times, I want to re-examine how death motivates and demotivates. I also find terror management theory fascinating and want to learn more about it.

In addition to these books I’ve been discussing issues as varied as my anger problems, my past issues with consent, my problems dealing with existence itself and how I can be a better person. I’ve had similar discussions with my group of close friends to good results.

Lastly, I’ve been journaling for a few months now and recently reached entry 100 on it. In those entries I talk about what I am thankful for, what I am feeling and what solutions I can do to improve myself.

I contemplated posting a 6 month retrospective and update on what I’ve been up to but this seems shorter and hopefully speaks for itself.

Looking forward to working on myself in the coming months.

Take care and thanks for reading.

Accountability

My first attempt at accountability failed because I engaged in gaslighting and a violation of privacy in order to discount the fact that I made a mistake. It reeked of excuse-making instead of remorse. I’m sorry for that.

The second version lacked those elements but my mistakes were poorly framed as one recent issue when that is not the case, nor did I believe that to be the case.

I genuinely want to do better, so I want to try again. This time I want to explicitly name the actions I feel responsible for and the issues I have had these past years and what I’m doing to try to avoid them in the future.

Recently, I took advantage of a situation I should not have. When someone is drinking, regardless of how they seem or what they say, the responsible  thing to do is to not have sex with them. I did not do the responsible thing and I’m sorry.

When you’re in an abusive relationship and needs are not being met, the responsible thing to do would be to take a break. It would be to move out and get some much needed space before things gets worse. I didn’t and I’m sorry. I took advantage of this person multiple times before I got help and I’m sorry for that too.

When multiple people tell you online that you make them feel uncomfortable the responsible thing would be to stop the thing in question, e.g “compliments”. Instead, I blamed other people for not being direct enough (when they often were doing just that) and made “accountability” statements online that, at times, were not even pretending to be anything but purely defensive and I’m sorry.

I’m willing to elaborate on any of these issues as needed.

If there’s something more I can do within the framework of transformative, restorative, or other forms of justice, I’m interested in listening.

Concretely speaking: I’m going to avoid sexual relationships that have anything to do with alcohol, develop and maintain solid boundaries about I want in a relationship and cease most online flirting with the exception of partners, people who are flirting with me or people I have an established history with.

More abstractly: I’m going to continue to reflect on the harm I’ve caused, speak openly and honestly to my pod, talk to my new therapist and think about how I can do better and be better with regards to communication and accountability itself.

I’m sorry to those I’ve harmed.

Concerning the Allegations Against Me

Edit: I originally wrote something else out, but this was my original statement and I think it’s much less problematic than my former. I appreciate the perspectives of those who have commented and this is my attempt to take those under consideration.

Recently, I went to visit a friend.

We had been talking off and on and had met in person once. I knew them through the anarchist scene and became friends with them because of how smart, compassionate and nuanced I felt they were as a person. I thought they were this beautiful person who I really wanted to get to know and meet up with again, so I did that.

We talked about boundaries and what we wanted out of the experience a month beforehand, I used my “things I think about when it comes to cuddling list” to explicitly communicate what we would both be interested in.

We had both agreed we were not interested in sexual or romantic interaction. I stand by that I was never interested in that happening. I had not had sex with anyone in over a year. Sex is an anxiety-provoking, high-sensory and ultimately dissatisfying experience for me and I had only faint (if any) interest in having it happen with this person.

As far as romance, it became complicated because we had different notions of what it means to cuddle and how often it should happen between friends. My cuddling/affection towards friends is intended to be platonic but the line can be tricky and I recognize that I overdid it at times. When they later told me they were uncomfortable with touch in general, I stopped.

When I got to the airport, I texted them and told them that I was there. They said they’d order pizza but that they needed to concentrate on their work for a little bit before we could hang out. I said that was fine and that I’d need some time to decompress anyways.

We also had a brief discussion about whether I drank. I told them that I didn’t and when it came to touch, I prefer not to touch people when they’re under the influence of alcohol. Knowing this, they told me that they’d take it easy that weekend. This was a loose rule of mine. I have a person in my life who at one point was drunk and wanted to have sex with me and said it would be 100% fine but I felt uncomfortable because they were exercising impairing judgement.

And so much to my chagrin I’ve been in a similar situation and made a better choice than I did this time around. As you’ll soon (hopefully) see, it’s because I underestimated their similarity.

When I got to this person’s apartment a series of things happened involving food that showed the person who was hosting me had communication, anger and alcohol issues. I am not judging this person for their issues but I mention them because they contributed to our misunderstandings (emphasis on our, not just theirs) about sex and touching more generally. Later in the trip my host would agree that my visit showed them they need to work on communication, which I think speaks to these issues being apparent.

In order to cope with these frustrations and their anger issues (which I don’t remember being told about/knowing about) they decided to start drinking. At that point we had begun talking and discussing things about our lives and relating to each other heavily. The bottle they were drinking out of made me weary but it seemed like a large wine bottle at the time and that there wasn’t a lot left in it.

I looked at the bottle and it said 11% alcohol content which didn’t sound like a lot to me, but I do not know a lot about alcohol. I should have done more research but as it turns out it’s a fairly weak to normal drink. There was around ¼ of the bottle left when my host began to drink it and generally speaking they were acting relatively normal (if perhaps a bit happier/friendlier) so I presumed things were okay.

And then things began to get flirtatious between us. They were acting very gregarious and friendly towards me all of the sudden. I knew it was the alcohol to some extent but they also seemed to be genuinely feeling these emotions too so, with their verbal permission, I started reciprocating.

I asked them if they were okay with touch, at all. Then as things got more physical I would ask as time went along whether they were comfortable and aware of what was going on. As I remember it, they repeatedly stressed things were fine and that they were just tipsy. Eventually I just took them at their word and decided that they seemed cognizant and aware. I concluded that through their actions, their ability to communicate and what I said previously of the alcohol itself.

I now know I should not have taken them at their word and that the responsible thing to do would be to not have had sex with them. They have since claimed they were a) scared b) blackout drunk and I do not remember them acting like either. That said, I am not an expert on that level of drunk (or any level) or reading emotions but I know what fear looks like and I’ve seen folks that level of drunk before from people in real life and in media.

And to the best of my knowledge, they never looked, sounded or generally came off as afraid or blackout drunk. If they had and I had seen it, nothing would have happened. Instead, they seemed very confident and happy with what was going on. It’s of course possible (and this is the case according to them) I misread the situation but that was my reading at the time and it’s my memory currently.

After we had sex we talked about it for the next few days off and on. We mutually agreed it was problematic (though not morally, that was never an area of discussion) and we shouldn’t do it again. I felt bad because of my own self-esteem issues but those things had nothing to do with them and I regret that I couldn’t just let it go and move on at first.

I made a mistake in not saying, “No, let’s wait until you’re a little more sober.” but I did not rape them and I am not a serial rapist. I was irresponsible and will not be having sex with anyone who even touches a drop of alcohol in the future.

I recognize that this situation is (at best) a gray area and one that I actively had a hand in. This gray area ended up making this person feel sexually traumatized and violated and I’m sorry for that.

I deeply regret that this person now experiences what seemed to be a good time for both of us (if misguided) as rape. I don’t know what to say about that except that I did the best I could to make sure they felt comfortable and OK with what was happening. I failed in that and I am very sorry.

I’m not writing this out to refute anyone’s story or claim that anyone is lying. I just want to tell my side of the story to the best of my ability so it’s out there and known.

If there’s anything more I can do to make things right besides changing my personal behaviors surrounding alcohol, speaking about my side of events, feel free to contact me. Again, I’m very sorry for what happened and I’m doing the best I can to take personal stock of myself.

The Voltairine de Cleyre Reference Guide

Recently I got a message, because I’ve changed my last name to Cleyre, saying (roughly), “Hey, I notice you like Voltairine and so do I. What do you recommend by her and what stands out to you about her?”

I was about to answer when it struck me…how many damn times have I been asked this? Seriously, over the course of the past 7 years (since I discovered de Cleyre in 2010) I’ve gotten this question numerous times.

Not that it’s been burdensome or mysterious.

I love Voltairine de Cleyre and I’ve never been silent about that. On the contrary I’ve been heavily vocal about it over the past 7 years.

And so time after time I’ve answered that question…but never in a direct way except privately. And even in those links I’ve explained it in roundabout ways which are now somewhat dated.

I’ve also explained it by just simply republishing her work and letting it speak for itself. I’ve also helped published whole collections of her work online that previously were not available otherwise. And with those I was also trying to let the work speak for itself.

But I suppose it’s time to just answer the damn question.

First things first, story time!

Discovering de Cleyre

I can’t really talk about why de Cleyre means so much to me (second question first!) without talking about how I discovered her work to begin with. It started when I went to Colby-Sawyer College in 2010. I was looking in their library for whatever books on anarchism they had and it was a rather pitiful collection, naturally.

But they had a collection of writings by Emma Goldman, an introduction to anarchism by Colin Ward and a book called Exquisite Rebel (edited by Sharon Presley and Cirspin Sartwell) which was a collection of writings (and some introductions by Presley and Sartwell) by an anarchist named Voltairine de Cleyre. I had never heard of her before (or if I had it wasn’t very much) and was very interested in reading her work.

For the life of me, I can’t remember which book I picked first but I suspect it was the de Cleyre book. I believe I picked up Goldman’s compilation and then Ward’s introduction, but funnily enough I read way more de Cleyre before I ever did Goldman, which I’m sure is not true for many of my fellow anarchists.

And also funnily enough I hardly remember what I read of Goldman (or Ward for that matter) but de Cleyre stays with me till this day. When discussions about how great Goldman is inevitably happen amongst my anarchist friends, I’m often left mumbling something about how de Cleyre is clearly superior, at least in her style if nothing else.

Part of de Cleyre’s memorability is because de Cleyre’s writings came to me in an impressionable time. I was still forming my ideas on anarchism and what I liked and what I didn’t. I was still trying to figure out what I liked as a writer and what I didn’t and de Cleyre contributed immensely to both of these soul searching (so to speak) processes.

de Cleyre actually contributed to a brief period of my life in 2011 where I contemplated moving away from the market anarchist label entirely and sticking with anarchism without adjectives.

It’s actually an inner struggle I’m still dealing with, 6 years later.

Her writings immediately caught my eye as imaginative beyond belief. They were immaculate and beautiful, the way she would express the most poignant of humanity’s struggles with such clarity, focus and tailor made beauty, seemed incomprehensible and comparable to me.

Take, for example, this passage from The Dominant Idea:

Last summer I trained some morning-glory vines up over a second story balcony; and every day they blew and curled in the wind, their white, purple-dashed faces winking at the sun, radiant with climbing life. Higher every day the green heads crept, carrying their train of spreading fans waving before the sun-seeking blossoms.

Then all at once some mischance happened, some cut worm or some mischievous child tore one vine off below, the finest and most ambitious one, of course. In a few hours the leaves hung limp, the sappy stem wilted and began to wither; in a day it was dead, — all but the top which still clung longingly to its support, with bright head lifted. I mourned a little for the buds that could never open now, and tied that proud vine whose work in the world was lost.

But the next night there was a storm, a heavy, driving storm, with beating rain and blinding lightning. I rose to watch the flashes, and lo! the wonder of the world! In the blackness of the mid-NIGHT, in the fury of wind and rain, the dead vine had flowered. Five white, moon-faced blossoms blew gaily round the skeleton vine, shining back triumphant at the red lightning. I gazed at them in dumb wonder.

Dear, dead vine, whose will had been so strong to bloom, that in the hour of its sudden cut-off from the feeding earth, it sent the last sap to its blossoms; and, not waiting for the morning, brought them forth in storm and flash, as white night-glories, which should have been the children of the sun.

In the daylight we all came to look at the wonder, marveling much, and saying, “Surely these must be the last.” But every day for three days the dead vine bloomed; and even a week after, when every leaf was dry and brown, and so thin you could see through it, one last bud, dwarfed, weak, a very baby of a blossom, but still white and delicate, with five purple flecks, like those on the live vine beside it, opened and waved at the stars, and waited for the early sun.

Over death and decay the Dominant Idea smiled: the vine was in the world to bloom, to bear white trumpet blossoms dashed with purple; and it held its will beyond death.

This short meditation on life, death and perseverance is just one small part of this fantastic essay and an infinitesimal part of de Cleyre’s overall bibliography and her use of gorgeous imagery to prove a larger and important theoretical point.

But it wasn’t just de Cleyre’s prose but her passion. Her passion for anarchism was absolutely contagious. The way she describes anarchism is perhaps one of my favorite passages about anarchism written anywhere. It’s written like a poet and, I suppose, being a poet myself, I’m biased on this matter, but I think it’s worth highlighting as well:

Ah, once to stand unflinchingly on the brink of that dark gulf of passions and desires, once at last to send a bold, straight-driven gaze down into the volcanic Me, once, and in that once, and in that once forever, to throw off the command to cover and flee from the knowledge of that abyss, – nay, to dare it to hiss and seethe if it will, and make us writhe and shiver with its force!

Once and forever to realize that one is not a bundle of well-regulated little reasons bound up in the front room of the brain to be sermonized and held in order with copy-book maxims or moved and stopped by a syllogism, but a bottomless, bottomless depth of all strange sensations, a rocking sea of feeling where ever sweep strong storms of unaccountable hate and rage, invisible contortions of disappointment, low ebbs of meanness, quakings and shudderings of love that drives to madness and will not be controlled, hungerings and meanings and sobbing that smite upon the inner ear, now first bent to listen, as if all the sadness of the sea and the wailing of the great pine forests of the North had met to weep together there in that silence audible to you alone.

To look down into that, to know the blackness, the midnight, the dead ages in oneself, to feel the jungle and the beast within, – and the swamp and the slime, and the desolate desert of the heart’s despair – to see, to know, to feel to the uttermost, – and then to look at one’s fellow, sitting across from one in the street-car, so decorous, so well got up, so nicely combed and brushed and oiled and to wonder what lies beneath that commonplace exterior, – to picture the cavern in him which somewhere far below has a narrow gallery running into your own – to imagine the pain that racks him to the finger-tips perhaps while he wears that placid ironed-shirt-front countenance – to conceive how he too shudders at himself and writhes and flees from the lava of his heart and aches in his prison-house not daring to see himself – to draw back respectfully from the Self-gate of the plainest, most unpromising creature, even from the most debased criminal, because one knows the nonentity and the criminal in oneself – to spare all condemnation (how much more trial and sentence) because one knows the stuff of which man is made and recoils at nothing since all is in himself, – this is what Anarchism may mean to you. It means that to me.

And then, to turn cloudward, starward, skyward, and let the dreams rush over one – no longer awed by outside powers of any order – recognizing nothing superior to oneself – painting, painting endless pictures, creating unheard symphonies that sing dream sounds to you alone, extending sympathies to the dumb brutes as equal brothers, kissing the flowers as one did when a child, letting oneself go free, go free beyond the bounds of what fear and custom call the “possible,” – this too Anarchism may mean to you, if you dare to apply it so.

And if you do some day, – if sitting at your work-bench, you see a vision of surpassing glory, some picture of that golden time when there shall be no prisons on the earth, nor hunger, nor houselessness, nor accusation, nor judgment, and hearts open as printed leaves, and candid as fearlessness, if then you look across at your lowbrowed neighbor, who sweats and smells and curses at his toil, – remember that as you do not know his depth neither do you know his height. He too might dream if the yoke of custom and law and dogma were broken from him.

Even now you know not what blind, bound, motionless chrysalis is working there to prepare its winged thing.

Anarchism means freedom to the soul as to the body, – in every aspiration, every growth.

It was these passages and many more that convinced me of the importance of her work. It was her passion, her cadence (so to speak) and her life that further captured my attention and adoration. The way de Cleyre lived her life, while not perfect, was saintly or priestly in a way (which is why she is sometimes called the “Priestess of Pity and Vengeance”) and admirable in how she dealt with the world around her.

Particularly how she dealt with Herman Helcher, a former student who ran up to de Cleyre and shot her point blank over a perceived slight against him that she had in fact not committed:

But as she recovered, she flatly refused to identify or accuse Herman as her attacker.

She took it a major step further by leading a fund raising campaign and hiring two lawyers to defend Herman.

Not to mention de Cleyre also took the time to write a letter to her comrades so that they might help Helcher.

de Cleyre did not leave a perfect life, of course. She was often in poverty, had a fairly miserable love life by all accounts and was periodically ignored or discounted by the larger anarchist scene. Though thankfully this has changed (and for the better) as of recently thanks to the work of folks like Presley and Sartwell.

Not to mention the work of the folks at AK Press and their VDC Reader (which this article’s title is a riff on). Also worth mentioning is Gates of Freedom by the late and great Eugenia C. DeLamotte and the (soon to be not out of print?) wonderful biography by Paul Avrich.

The recently re-published collection of de Cleyre’s Selected Works by AK is great too.

So okay, this probably more than answers the second question…and if it doesn’t, I could keep going, but that seems unnecessary for general  purposes. If you need more reasons why de Cleyre is so important to me then here’s the quick 101:

  • Voltairine (much like Karl Hess) was under-appreciated in her time and continues to be under-appreciated, thus motivating me to speak more about her than others.
  • Her work is important because it can help bridge ideological gaps between individualist anarchism and more socialist forms of anarchism (c.f. The Individualist and the Communist: A Dialogue, Anarchism, Anarchism and American Traditions).
  • The way she lived her life is admirable and in particular we could all learn from her in matters of justice. Her priestly ways (living on small means with common garb) is perhaps not for everyone but reflects her dedication to her ideas that is worth broadly emanating if nothing else.
  • Her poetry and sketches are particularly fine works of art that deserve to be highlighted. Voltairine was seemingly a natural poet (she wrote her first poem at age 6, c.f. Avrich p. 25-26) and writer at a young age and she only got better.

There’s more, there’s always more, but let’s get to the first question.

So You’re Going to Read Voltairine, eh?

Maybe you don’t give a rat’s ass (please don’t, that’s gross) about why I love de Clerye and you’ve really just clicked on the link to get to the section that’ll give you the goods on where to start.

Well seems rude, but okay.

Let’s go:

  • For a full understanding of de Cleyre’s theory and how it beautifully intersects, I recommend (ironically) one of her first works, The Economic Tendency of Freethought. I think this is a wonderful place to start if you just want to understand the bare-bones of what de Cleyre tended to believe throughout her life. It combines the best elements of her freethought, her anarchism and her feminism in one essay.
  • If you want to get the best handle on de Cleyre’s feminism I recommend Sex Slavery which is a powerful indictment of patriarchal relations in society. The Gates of Freedom is also highly underrated and Those Who Marry Do Ill is a solid choice as well.
  • For de Cleyre’s freethought The Economic Tendency  is still likely your best choice as it’s where she states most of her beliefs. Oddly, after this essay de Cleyre never focuses on it within the form of an essay, at least not at the same level of concern and depth she does there. Other than that I would recommend her poetry from Selected Works which includes The Burial of My Past Self, The Christian’s Plea and The Freethinker’s Plea.
  • Studying de Cleyre’s anarchism is slightly difficult and it’s debatable what sort of anarchist de Cleyre even was (that’s for another time) but leaving this contentious topic aside I’m most likely to recommend Anarchism which I think captured de Cleyre at her most intellectually charitable and challenging. The Making of an Anarchist may be a good second option. I recommend these as opposed to Why I am an Anarchist or Anarchism and American Traditions, both of which I find slightly too partisan (to say nothing of The Individualist and the Communist).
  • de Cleyre also dabbled in philosophy and perhaps her best work was The Dominant Idea as well as Crime and Punishment, both of which asked many tough questions about human “nature” and our desire to act in bad faith or to desire punishment of others. The Dominant Idea is also perhaps one of my favorite overall works by de Cleyre, if you were curious.
  • If you need some tactics/strategy in your life Direct Action is definitely the way to go. It’s a great historical read on what direct has been constituted by and why it’s worth considering in the anarchist toolbox. If that doesn’t do it for you, check out A Study of the General Strike in Philadelphia for de Cleyre using a case study in her advocacy of direct action.
  • Want to read some of de Cleyre’s poetry? Oh hell yeah, I got some recommendations. Ave et Vale is a wonderful poem if you’re about to ring in a New Year and it’s a really powerful piece about social change and  oppression no matter what. Life or Death (also see here for an excellent audio rendition I helped coordinate) is an excellent poem about choosing to live and it’s helped me choose to live more than once. The Hurricane is a beautiful poem about the potential of social change. There’s many poems (also check out her Selected Works) to recommend but those three are great places to start and some of my favorites.
  • Wanna get really nerdy and read some of her sketches? Hell yes I’ve got some recommendations for you! A Rocket of Iron is a beautiful but haunting sketch on oppression and the individual. The Heart of Angiolillo is a beautiful anti-romantic feminist sketch that is as poignant as it is tragic. Great for the “woke” male-feminists in your life. To Strive and Fail / Sorrows of the Body are best read in tandem about the horrors of work. Honestly, most of de Cleyre’s sketches are a bit of a downer, so make sure you’re in the right head-space for that. They’re beautiful but often in a very sad way.
  • And if you want to read some things written about de Cleyre…well gosh, we’re getting meta, aren’t we? In any case, there’s the classic done by Emma Goldman which is mostly solid (though contains a few minor errors here and there that’s been commented on by Presley and others and which Goldman herself apologized for). There’s Hippolye Havel’s introduction in de Cleyre’s Selected Works as well as Leonard Abbott’s tribute to de Cleyre. I also found a review by Abbott of Selected Works that is worth taking a look at and has some parts I found moving.
  • And heck, if you want to see de Cleyre herself (or as close as you’re going to get), as Abbott remarks, she’s buried near the Haymarket Martyrs in Waldheim Cemetery.

I think that’s about all I can (or need to) recommend and say about Voltairine, but I’m sure I could say more.

After all, there’s always more to say about Voltairine.

Well, for me.

‘Cause I’m a giant nerd.

Anarchy in the Playground! An Introduction to Youth Liberation

“The Youth Liberation Organization was founded in 1970 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, by David Kaimowitz, Chuck Ream, and Liz Bell, and soon joined by Keith Hefner, Jon Schaller, Alice Robertson, and others.”

Introduction: Taking Youth Seriously

Youth Liberation is a framework from which we can end ageism, or the systematic and structural prejudice against youth based on their age. Ageism is personified by institutions such as compulsory schools, the structure of the family, and the state.

It should be noted that ageism can apply to the old as well as the young. And often these two distinct forms of ageism have similar overlap in how we treat both of these age groups.

But for the purposes of this essay I will be discussing how it applies to youth and be introducing the ideas of youth liberation. I will also be talking about how youth can empower themselves and ways in which adults can be allies in the struggle to end ageism.

Youth liberation can be summed by the following idea: Take youth seriously.

In this essay I’m defining “youth” as anyone under the age of 20. It’s an arbitrary age restriction and one could easily argue for the “mindset theory” of youth, in that it’s more of a frame of mind and attitude than a specific age group. And while I’m sympathetic to this idea I think it leads to a creeping in of undue adult influence in youth organizations. In addition, I believe that way of defining “youth” ends up looking too loose relative to how we usually picture youth.

I will sometimes qualify what kind of youth I am talking about when I speak about children or teenagers who I take to be different types of youth rather than apart from youth itself. There are many semantic arguments that could be had about any of these decisions but I will set them aside for the purpose of this paper.

To be clear, I’m an adult (25) and therefore only speak from my own experiences with my own previous youth and do not claim to speak for the youth of today. My recommendations for changing how we treat youth should be seen as attempting good allyship and nothing more.

All too often youths ideas are disregarded as foolish, non-serious and, at times, not even worth acknowledging. Indeed, the language of adults often sets itself apart from the world of children by using the term “childish”. As if having the imagination to be indignant at the world and the lack of social awareness to care what adults think is a bad thing.

Youths will often be subject to the cultural presumption that ideas should be weighed on the “seriousness” that they are displayed alongside of.

So adults have their black suits and ties, their graphs and charts and expensive clothing to signal they can be taken seriously. Youths and especially children often do not have the capital (material or social) to “compete” with the level of “seriousness” that many adults take as a baseline in order to discuss their ideas.

Youths are simply not living in the “real world” despite their countless comments on the state of the world and their own feelings about it. Perhaps the adults can reason that they’re too obsessed with “non-serious” pursuits like play to really change anything. But this sort of reasoning betrays the lack of trust we not only put in youths but also the idea of play itself.

When I interact with youths I always try my best to take them seriously first and foremost. If, for instance, I’m a cashier I will endeavor to treat children or teenagers as people as I might treat someone who is my age. I try not to use condescending tones and try my best to be seriously interested in their well-being. Part of that is me presuming that no one else might be or that even when adults do try to take youth’s interests seriously, they’re liable to inject their own adult biases into the conversation.

Naturally, none of us who are adults, whatever our age, are not exempt from injecting our own ideas of what children mean. I am no exception to this rule but unlike most other adults I have the privilege of recognizing my biases and making sure I keep them in check as best as possible.

Youth liberation relies on much more than just taking youth seriously, but it’s a fantastic start that many of us adults would do well to emulate. The cultural presumption that youth’s ideas are inherently less meaningful and important than adult’s needs to be questioned. And at the heart of ideas like these is that “seriousness” is only something reserved for leaders, who are (unsurprisingly) adults most of the time. Seriousness is only something to be had from people who are in higher positions of authority than us and who could be lower than youths?

But that’s exactly the problem; youths largely have these deficiencies of power and authority because of the presumption that they don’t need this access. They’re given game sets, crayon packs, pieces of paper and shuffled off while the “adults” plan their lives for them. As youths get older more and more excuses are given as to why some things are okay for them to do and why others are not. This becomes especially problematic when youths are teenagers and they are allowed to drive metallic boxes of terror (cars) but not ingest alcoholic beverages.

Youth liberation can be part of any philosophy and many youth rights organizations are likely liberal in their implementations. They want to see reforms like voting ages lowered as well as the drinking age either abolished or lowered. They may want things like the end to curfew laws entirely and make it more socially acceptable for youth to be involved in governmental politics.

All of these are worthy aspirations but they do not go far enough.

Instead, youth liberation as I conceive it is a radical philosophy that seeks to liberate youths by dismantling many of the current and prominent institutions in society. In addition, as I’ve tried to show already, youth liberation doesn’t only challenge institutions but it also challenges culture.

Specifically youth liberation seeks to challenge a system based on adult supremacy which is a system that inherently privileges some at the detriment of others. But instead of capitalism whereby those with the most capital are the most privileged, we have those who are “of age” having distinct presumptions and privileges put in their favor from the beginning.

To undermine these presumptions and privileges we must, as I shall argue, undermine the system that gives them this privilege. To do that we need to incorporate radical theories such as anarchism from which we get strategies like direct action, mutual aid, and dual power.

Youth Liberation and Anarchism

Throughout this section I’ll be drawing on the series No! Against Adult Supremacy which is currently a 20 issue zine series produced by Stinney Distro and contains many thoughtful articles.

For example, the first issue of No! has an article entitled Anarchism and Youth Liberation by Marc Silverstein. In this article Silverstein discusses the possible benefits of weaving youth liberation concerns through an anarchist framework.

Helpfully, Silverstein also gives a rough idea of what anarchism is, which is an excellent starting point to this section. Silverstein sees anarchism as “…based on the principles of individual sovereignty, non-coercion, free association and mutual aid…”

Silverstein sees these principles as countering the prevailing narratives of seeing children in a hierarchical relationship with their parents.

Along similar lines, anarchism has a longstanding history of being, at the very least, highly suspicious of hierarchies. If we want to give the proper attention to the way that children are currently dominated in hierarchical relationships, anarchism provides a useful and radical way of doing so.

Many of the relationships that children are put into such as with parents, schools, governments and others are often deeply entrenched with norms about who should have authority and should not. Often times reforms from more liberal minded youth liberationists, while well-intentioned, ultimately fail to get to the root of the issue.

Contrary to this, anarchism has been getting to the root of this issue for hundreds of years now, for example Emma Goldman was writing about these issues in her The Child and its Enemies in 1906 where she says:

Every institution of our day, the family, the State, our moral codes, sees in every strong, beautiful, uncompromising personality a deadly enemy; therefore every effort is being made to cramp human emotion and originality of thought in the individual into a straight-jacket from its earliest infancy; or to shape every human being according to one pattern; not into a well-rounded individuality, but into a patient work slave, professional automaton, tax-paying citizen, or righteous moralist.

The No! series also helpfully reminds us that there are still anarchists who are writing about these issues. Throughout the No! series we have articles such as Taking Anarchism Seriously, Unschooling and Anarchism and Playground Anarchy?. The No! series also features many anarchist writers like Ryan Calhoun, Nathan Goodman, Brian Dominick, myself and others.

And Silverstein also points out, anarchist tactics can easily be taken from the workplace to other places of oppression such as schools:

Class consciousness is essential.

Children need to recognize that they are a uniquely oppressed class vis a vis the oppressing class which dictates the conditions of their existence.

To paraphrase the Preamble to the IWW Constitution, the oppressed class and the oppressing class have nothing in common.

Disobedience can be expressed small ways (kind of like sabotage in the workplace) by refusing to pledge allegiance, to participate in prayer (in religious schools), or by choosing to write school essays on, for example, Youth Revolt Throughout History, Emma Goldman, or the case of Katie Sierra (a 15-year old anarchist suspended from school for wearing homemade anti-war shirts and for trying to start up an anarchist club) and deliver them in front of class.

I agree with Silverstein that anarchism has much to offer youth liberation with its emphasis on anti-authoritarianism and non-coercion it makes for the perfect ideological framing. It reminds us that while reform efforts such as marches against curfew laws or voting restrictions on youth may be long-term irrelevant, they can also help radicalize people, if done right.

Anarchism also gives youth liberationists the important concept of dual power, that is to say, building new institutions while tearing down the existing ones. Some examples of this may involve free schools, autonomously created networks of play, autonomous businesses run by children and so on. Without this conception of dual power, youth liberation theorists busy themselves reforming an economy and culture that is too deeply mired in authoritarianism.

What youth liberation needs is a radical toolkit to deal with the present threats to children and anarchism gives them that.

Youth Liberation in Practice

One advantage about youth liberation over other ideologies is that its specific focus on a given subset of the population makes practice slightly easier than more abstract theories.

For example, I write often about the merits of anti-work philosophy but one of the biggest downsides of focusing on this theory in particular is that “work” is a hard to define concept and it’s difficult to know where to start in making work obsolete.

This problem may exist within youth liberation, perhaps we could discuss whether institutions such as schools, the nuclear family unit or juvenile detention centers are more important than the other. But despite valid discussions such as that, we know that those questions are likely best left up to the youth who are most affected by it.

This is not so with anti-work theory.

One other advantage about youth liberation as other writers have noted is that it’s a universal experience. Everyone has been a kid or a teenager at some point and so it’s a lot easier to get people to rally around these experiences than in cases of racial or gendered injustice. Which isn’t to say those less universal forms of justice should be ignored and especially not for some pseudo-universalism at the expense of what makes individuals unique and beautiful.

But at the same time it’s worth noting that youth liberation and particularly through institutions such as the schools and family are near-universal experiences for people to go through. Many adults I know treat school with contempt or at least acknowledge it was and continues to be seriously flawed in how it’s carried out and how youth are treated.

As youth liberationists we need to seize upon this fact and highlight the reality that most people dislike school at the very least. That many of us felt like the learning we got had almost no relevance to our own interests. Many of us developed our real interests outside of school or during times where we could goof off and think about what we wanted, as individuals.

Getting youth to think similarly about themselves, as not just another cog in the machinations of school is one strategy to help youths liberate themselves. Often, giving youth the tools to liberate themselves is more than enough for them to do it on their own, without adults.

Although I’m skeptical of any sort of unifying theory about a human “nature” it occurs to me that most youth I know are deeply curious, skeptical and imaginative. And developing these traits are often as simple as leaving them to their own devices and seeing what happens next.

Staying Poly with your Friends

Relationship anarchy symbology!

Recently I had a friend whose poly unfriend me. We had a few misunderstanding this year, resolved the first and let the second linger, which is partially on me, I suppose. I guess it isn’t surprising they unfriended me, because I was thinking about unfriending them as well. And it’s sad when things like this happen, because good memories flood back to you. Of times you’ve dorikly told them that it’s cold and so maybe we should hold hands (apparently “hey, I think you’re cute and I wanna hold your hand” is too difficult to say for me).

Read More

The Case of Right-Wing Youth and Other Problems

Nick’s Notes: This was an excerpt from a Youth Liberation 101 essay I’m currently working on. I decided it’s a little 201 and tangential so I cut it for theoretical and space related reasons so I could keep the 101 a little shorter.

Enjoy!


One of the problems of youth liberation as well as anarchism is that most youths, even when presented it, may simply reject it. What do we do in that case?

Surely the easy answer of forcefully impressing our ideas on them more goes against the spirit of both anarchism and youth liberation. If in trying education we discover that the people around us, youths or not, do not want to be a youth liberationist or an anarchist what are we to do?

This is a similar quandary that Andrea Dworkin tackled in her 1971 book Right-Wing Women. In it, she discusses the phenomenon of both women and self-described feminists deciding that it’s better to be subordinate to their husbands than embrace feminism. Part of the explanation for that was the allure of mainstream society as opposed to fighting it tooth and nail. Trying to move to a different culture and way of thinking about people (whether women or youths) is a difficult thing for many individuals to face and for entirely understandable reasons.

Thankfully we don’t need to rely on condescending ideas of these women being “duped” by the patriarchy or that they have some sort of “false-consciousness” as Marxists sometimes argue. All we need to recognize is that there’s a lot to get yourself invested in with the current system. For all of its many evils, there are still some parts that people understandably want to keep. And sometimes they want to keep it for a basic sense of security but other times they may want it for what they think is a totally logical reason.

So first thing’s first, apply the basic principle of youth liberation applies here: Take youth seriously.

If an individual disagrees with your ideas then regardless of their age we should take whatever concerns of theirs seriously, but this especially applies to youth given the level of incredulity we often aim at them.

On the other hand your interlocutor may not have any concerns but may instead feel threatened by the idea that in accepting this radical change they’d have to make personal changes in their life. Changes that could range from disobeying their teachers or arguing with them about facts to outright “disrespecting” their parents when they think they are being abusive. These are all risky behaviors and in certain contexts it makes total sense for youth to distrust advice to do these things.

That’s partly because youth are not always in a good place to resist the power structures that society places above them. This is one of the many reasons why adult allies are (at times) essential to the success of youth movements. Although it should be stated that the ingenuity of youth and their ability to create networks of safe spaces for each other through should not be underestimated. Especially through the internet, smartphones and other methods of communication.

That said, there’s a certain kind of logic to the youth against youth liberation.

If you expose this logic for the faulty sort that it is, you may have a shot at convincing them of your ideas. Often the youth in question doesn’t feel like other youth could handle the amount of freedom you are giving them, but conveniently they think they’d be able to handle it just fine.

This is a similar logic that authoritarians often have when arguing for laws that affect and target society in general instead of just youth. Most people think that they would be a perfectly moral person without someone telling them what to do. But if you introduce the idea that maybe things would work better if everyone was like that and suddenly it’s an issue and other people cannot be trusted.

It should be stated as well that the youth liberation project is not the kind of ideological movement that should aim for 100% ideological adherence. Not everyone (or even a majority) of youth need to agree with youth liberation for it to have large-scale success. While education is an essential part of any good movement, it shouldn’t be seen as the holy grail of it either.

Further, no movement should have education as its only tactic and in practice almost never does. In which case youths themselves can show the benefits of youth liberation by doing instead of arguing.

Perhaps youths themselves and their own ideas that they get to see through autonomously are the best hope for youth liberation, not the adults who try to play with logic until they can just get the arguments right. Intuitively it seems to make the most sense that in the end youths are going to know better about how to address youths concerns than the ideas of adults.

In No! Issue 6 Sven Bonnichsen has an article entitled Youth Against Liberation: An Exploration which tackles many of the issues and also uses the Dworkin comparison (which I lovingly pilfered) but comes to rather lackluster conclusions about how to resolve these issues. Bonnichsen sees youth liberation as a world expanding viewpoint and while I think that holds validity we shouldn’t only rest our laurels on what we see in youth liberation.

If we want to convince right-wing women of feminism and right-wing youth of youth liberation then we need to put our thoughts into practice, not just glorify our thoughts more. And ideally we should leave the doing to youths themselves because they’ll know best how to organize themselves and other youths concerns, not adults. This is a basic insight even most American right-wing libertarians would accept via the economist Friedrich Hayek and his ideas on knowledge being at its best when it’s localized and kept to those individuals it actually concerns.

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