The Anarchist Township

Fight the war, fuck the norm!

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Advice for a Budding CSJW

Take all the time you need…

Sara Lynn Michener has a (mostly) solid article on Medium called SJW Behaviors that Hurt Social Justice and I have very few problems with it. CSJW means “Counter-Productive Social Justice Warrior”, for the record.

But, there’s this:

There was a short-lived thinkpiece that circulated among CSJWs surrounding the mixed criticism of the Women’s March on Washington. Its thesis was that some trans people felt excluded from the march because there was so much emphasis on genitalia (pussy hat, use of the words describing female genitalia to be empowering, etc).

Nowhere in the piece did its author even mention the literal elephant in the gynecology office; the GOP’s relentless, decades-long policing of actual vaginas, the shame, stigma, and creepy control issues associated with female genitalia by patriarchal religious groups, and that Women’s Health, including affordable cervical cancer screenings, contraception access, and abortion legality, are perpetually at risk. The presence of genitalia at the march was a clear response to all of these specific and huge issues.

Do women need to do more to be welcoming to trans women? Absolutely, but not at the expense of silencing other equally valid issues. If you felt excluded by the emphasis on genitalia at the march, spend more time reading about those issues until you are as angry at the poor treatment of women with vaginas as you are of women without them. We are here to support and amplify each other’s lived experiences. Intersectionality goes both ways.

My response was this:

First off: There’s no such thing as “female” genitalia and that way of wording only reinforces the lack of inclusion that transwomen and non-binary folks (it wasn’t just transwomen who found this march isolating FYI) felt.

Second: The GOP’s “relentless…” etc. also harms transwomen and trans people more generally. If intersectionality goes both ways then why not mention that as well? Would it take many more resources? If so, why?

Third: The march was a response to *specific* issues but those *specific* issues don’t *only* harm cis women. And acting like they do through “pussy hats” and centering cis women’s experiences is a really poor way to get your message across.

Fourth: Is opening the floor up more to transwomen and non-binary folks necessarily closing off the floor for cis women? That seems unlikely, especially given their relative population sizes. It seems like a trivial thing to me to open it up for both parties. Where’s the problem?

Fifth: Your “spend more time” remark presumes ignorance on the part of anyone criticizing the march which seems pretty uncharitable to me. While it may be the case that some folks didn’t read everything there was about the march (I certainly didn’t) some of us saw enough news, conversations and popular symbology to feel excluded from a discourse we knew we weren’t meant to be included in from the start.

Lastly: If we’re here to “support and amplify each other’s lived experiences” and it “goes both ways” then the march utterly failed at that in some basic ways.

I thought this was a fairly solid response and a few of my friends agreed (confirmation bias, yay!). It accurately tackles and counters some of the language and framing that Michener chose to use while being, on the whole, friendly.

But Michener, didn’t think so:

You said “There’s no such thing as “female” genitalia and that way of wording only reinforces the lack of inclusion that transwomen and non-binary folks felt.” but language isn’t by itself a function of judgement, but of the rational utility of describing one thing vs another. So when you come up with a term that means “woman who has a vagina” let me know and I will happily use that. I *did* specify “women with vagina” vs “woman without vagina” I did not, at any time, even imply, that a woman who doesn’t have a vagina is not a woman. Nor would I ever say that.

As to the Women’s March, yes, I followed allllll the march criticism (and then some) in the couple of months leading up to it. I have a vast collection of SJW friends, 90% of whom are the ones “doing the lord’s work” so I saw all of it. I agreed with roughly half of it and disagreed with roughly half of it. For instance, I agreed that the organizers erred originally in how they approached various intersectionality issues, however I liked that they quickly corrected this wherever possible. What I disagreed with, was the decision by some to not attend the march because of its perceived faults, even though I agreed with the presence of many of those faults.

I also disagreed with those who asked for more than an apology once that apology had been issued. However, the pussy hats, etc, are not remotely one of those faults. Happy to agree to disagree with you on that. I then flew three thousand miles to attend that march. It turned out to be the most diverse (genderwise and racialwise) I had ever attended and I agreed with every single social justice issue represented there, from Black Lives Matter and inclusive bathroom laws, to “White Feminist” issues like Equal Pay.

The reference to “White Feminist” seems unnecessary given I never said a word about equal pay or what counts as “White Feminism” or what doesn’t. But regardless while I appreciated this response, I wasn’t impressed:

And here’s my last response before things get…well, you’ll see:

“…but language isn’t by itself a function of judgement, but of the rational utility of describing one thing vs another.”

I’m not sure how you’re coming up with the taxonomy here but either way the language you use is a function of the judgments that society has formed. And the language here is particularly narrow in its conception of who has a certain kind of genital organ and who does not.

“So when you come up with a term that means “woman who has a vagina” let me know and I will happily use that.”

I mean, you can just use the classic AFAB thing, right? I don’t see why we need to talk about genitals at all. It just unnecessarily drives the conversation towards irrelevant biological aspects of bodies which also unnecessarily discriminates (intentionally or not) against transwomen and NB folks. So I don’t even see it as necessary.

And AFAB still highlights all of the things the march was trying to address via abortions, etc.

“I *did* specify “women with vagina” vs “woman without vagina” I did not, at any time, even imply, that a woman who doesn’t have a vagina is not a woman. Nor would I ever say that.”

The language you used in that particular instance struck me as a poor way to frame it. I’m not accusing you of seeing transwomen as not real women, nor do I think you’d say something like that.

“What I disagreed with, was the decision by some to not attend the march because of its perceived faults, even though I agreed with the presence of many of those faults.”

For me it’d depend on their reasoning. If they feel alienated (and I think they have good reason to) then I don’t think they should feel obliged to go to a space they don’t feel welcomed in. The good can become the enemy of the perfect as much as the other way around.

“However, the pussy hats, etc, are not remotely one of those faults. Happy to agree to disagree with you on that.”

I don’t see how that’s true because it’s implicitly defining womanhood with your genitals. But OK, we can agree to disagree if you want.

“I then flew three thousand miles to attend that march. It turned out to be the most diverse (genderwise and racialwise) I had ever attended…”

I mean, that’s great and should be celebrated to some extent but I also don’t think it makes the other issues go away. (emphasis mine)

Now, I want it to be clear:

I do not think that we should never bring up genitals at all

This is what Michener is about to misconstrue my argument as.

She’s about to take the specific constraints of the conversation (her particular essentialist language and the woman’s march and the way it centered cis women) to a general claim about conversations. Which, you know, is such a terrible misread of my argument, I’m not even sure where to start.

And I understand that I said “at all” explicitly but I thought it was clear I meant that from a linguistic standpoint with regards to her own wording and how the women’s march was conducted, not a critique of mentioning genitals per se’. That’s a much larger discussion and not one I was trying to have with Michener.

It’s also not one I was even thinking of. That concept never even popped into my head because it would be such a ridiculous statement that I wouldn’t ever take it seriously if that’s what I really knew someone was saying. But I’d want to make sure that this was what someone was saying before leaving the conversation…

Instead of that though, here’s what she says:


You said “I don’t see why we need to talk about genitals at all. It just unnecessarily drives the conversation towards irrelevant biological aspects of bodies which also unnecessarily discriminates (intentionally or not) against transwomen and NB folks. So I don’t even see it as necessary.”

Thank GOODNESS the trans women I know and love would never, ever say something like this. This is one of the most ignorant, privileged, and misogynistic things anyone has written in reply to any of my essays, ever. And the lack of reason on display so openly is as terrifying as what is coming out of the far right.

I would be very happy to live in the fantasy world you apparently live in where we don’t need to talk about vaginas. Half the population has one, yet needlessly suffer because vaginas are persecuted all over the world. Thus, vagina-havers suffer. Especially poor ones.

The GOP has been actively warring against the rights of people who happen to have vaginas for decades. I’d stay and explain that in detail, but 1. I would need to fill several books and 2. your reply has made me lose all respect and is not worthy of my time.

So, there’s Google: Read about rape victims who are not believed, and are then denied abortions, and then tell me we don’t need to talk about vaginas. Read about poor women who didn’t get cervical cancer screenings they needed because they could not afford them early on, and then tell me we don’t need to talk about vaginas.

Read about the male chiropractors who invent a glue to keep period blood inside to fester because they don’t understand periods are healthy, and then tell me we don’t need to talk about vaginas.

Read about little girls who are raised in religious patriarchies and taught their primary function is breeding, and then tell me we don’t need to talk about vaginas.

Read about the depressingly high number of men who believe all women experience orgasm from penetration and then tell me we don’t have to talk about vaginas.

Read about politicians holding all-male panels to discuss women’s health, rape, abortion, cervical cancer, and then tell me we don’t need to talk about vaginas.

But for godsake, educate yourself. If that sounds patronizing, in your case? Good. Intended this time. (emphasis mine)



It’s hard to even conceive of how poorly my argument was just misconstrued.

And the idea that I need to be lectured to about rape culture, patriarchy, what trans people think (hi, I am a trans person and she isn’t!) is astonishing and patronizing to say the least.

I was under the impression that this author knew that we were narrowly talking about issues of overly gendered language in their post and the women’s march and its dumb hats but apparently I grossly overestimated that awareness on their part.

The most ironic part?

Instead of asking me, “Hey, did you mean X? Because if so, that’s really fucked up and I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”

She just goes, “You mean X! I know you do! And so I’m gonna lecture you, block you from responding and insult you!”

…Doesn’t this sound a little CSJWish to you?

I understand that Michener doesn’t know me and maybe for all anyone could know in that situation, that is what I must have meant. But I don’t think so.

I think you’d have to drive a wedge pretty far between intellectual charity and lack thereof to come up with this. I think you’d have to disregard quite a few variables in the conversations which include: The specific quotes I was responding to, the particulars of the conversation, the language I’m using (which is trans-inclusive and also trying to be inclusive of cis women) and a lot more.

It also strikes me that for Michener to think this is a misogynistic statement (that we should never talk about genitals, e.g. vaginas) wouldn’t that require her to think that vaginas mean women? I’m not trying to be funny here, it really does seem like that’s what Michener would need to believe in order for that to be true.

But perhaps she could reason we’d moved to genitals more generally rather than vaginas in particular. And that sort of response would change the conversation in terms of what is or isn’t misogynist to more appropriate angles. Even if what’s “misogynist” shouldn’t be defined by genitals in general at least it’d make more sense than narrowing it to the field of vaginas…which is a phrase I just said.

I guess being the most misogynist, far-right sounding, privileged person is better than being a CSJW. Because unlike Michener, I don’t insult, block or patronize other people who disagree with me, or use the worst sort of intellectual charity.

Instead, I ask questions, explore alternatives and generally try to figure out what’s the most logical thing they are trying to say. And if it seems out of character for someone to say then I try to double back and check my premises (thanks Rand).

Michener decided to do one of the most SJW (CSJW?) things and dive right into righteous fury and indignation. No clarifying questions, no intellectual charity and nothing to speak of in the way of friendliness. Just stereotypical leftist insults, blocking me and telling me I’m a bad person for disagreeing.

If she had simply say: “Hey, do you mean A? Cause if you do, then I’m done here.” And I would’ve said, “What? Fuck no. I’m not saying that we should never talk about genitals in the general sense. I’m saying that we shouldn’t use them in the particular linguistic sense you are using and in the particular circumstantial sense that the women in the women’s march chose to.”

At this point I think I’ve made it clear what I meant and how this conversation went so terribly wrong for me. In the future I’ll try to think more about what my interlocutor could interpret my claims as if they stand out but otherwise, I think I did all I could here to try and have a nice conversation.

Damn CSJWs! Ruining our conversations!

Also, here’s a gem from my friend Mikayla:

White cis woman: I’m so down with intersectionality. I get it, I’m hip, I’m trendy.

Same white cis woman: My perspective is the most important. However I might act in a given situation is the way everyone should act. I have no idea how my comfort moving through the world affects my opinions. Stop bogging me down about privilege.

The Case Against Hahnel’s “Case Against Markets”

Robin Hahnel


I was linked to this talk by someone who would fit within the label of anarcho-communist back in April of 2016 but didn’t get around to it until a few months ago. It was an interesting talk and not one I disagree with on all fronts, but at the same time I had many criticisms.

The following is my notes, slightly re-worded into essay form. I don’t claim that this essay will be the most in-depth response to Parecon critiques of market economies, just that it’s a response to the ones I saw in this specific talk by Robin Hahnel.

As y’all may or may not know, I come from a left-wing market anarchist perspective, generally. So my viewpoint of markets is different of that from, say, anarcho-capitalists but also different than anarcho-communists. It’s more comparable to the individualist anarchist and mutualist traditions within anarchism.

Within that framework I think my responses to these objections from Hahnel are slightly unique and worth denoting more publicly. My hope is that they will spark more discussion and interest over what markets can and cannot do and lead to both a moderating and a radicalizing of viewpoints.

Ideally, market advocates and Parecon folks  can both admit where market failure could happen while radically challenging the extent to which it currently and genuinely happens under capitalist and governmental societies.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The Two People You Meet in Markets

According to Hahnel, there are two types of people when it comes to markets:

The best policy, saying we just need to get the politicians out of the market place, no regulations, no control of the market

It doesn’t in fact turn out well for us or environment.

I have three responses to this separation of people:

  1. Policy is a generally applied word here but what does it mean concretely? The idea that we could have one centralized way of interacting with markets doesn’t appeal to those who think that markets should be free from governmental regulations or control. And this is very different from saying there shouldn’t be any regulations or controls. After all, people within communities could still come up with consensus-based guidelines in order to better resolve problems and disputes.
  2.  The fact that current capitalist markets aren’t being regulated by governments and that this doesn’t turn out well for anyone isn’t a point against markets unless we conflate markets with capitalism. But a market is just a system whereby people are allowed to trade goods through selling, buying and haggling, etc. There’s nothing in the definition of a market that tells us what the means of production and its role in the larger economy has to be. This is why there is a historical precedent of folks who even call themselves “market socialists” (as Hahnel himself points out) for example.
  3.  The environment and the rest of the economy (and indeed individuals within that economy) are certainly hurt by regulations from time to time and often in disastrous ways. Whether regulations involve the patent process which stalls the much needed development of medicine or they involve the ways in which licenses keep poorer individuals out of the market from competing with well-established players. There are many reasons to be skeptical of regulations that don’t involve thinking the environment is an expendable factor when it comes to economic efficiency.

What’s so Great about Democracy Anyways?

Hahner doesn’t really get into what “democracy” means which is unfortunate because it has many connotations. He also doesn’t discuss what it takes to design an economy to begin with. Typically, designing an economy, or at least the one in the US, revolves around institutions and institutions that are often tied to the government in some way, especially corporations.

Hahnel and I likely agree that this is an unfortunate scenario but I also suspect we disagree on the solutions to it. Hahnel may favor something much more like democratic planning within a given locale that gives much more power to decentralized nodes than centralized ones. I’m sympathetic to this approach to an extent but I also think there’s a danger of centralizing control within localities and mostly relying on social capital, instead of material capital.

I also agree with William Gillis that anarchism is, at its core, a scale-independent proposal and that we need anarchic communities to be much more than localized efforts. Our lives should be bigger than the communities we are born in.

Within that spirit it seems limiting to me how many anarcho-communists want to focus our anarchism on communities instead of individuals. How all of the neighbors should know their other neighbors. Everything needs to be a potluck, a gathering, an ice-breaker between human beings. There’s parts of me that enjoy the anonymity of loose-communities that are sprawling and (dare I say it) cities, that have positive qualities to them that anarcho-communists (and especially anti-civ folks) are much inclined to disparage.

Some people don’t want to know their neighbors, bake them cookies or share in the common good and I think any self-respecting anarchic order should respect that. Which isn’t to say that Hahnel or people who’d describe themselves as anarcho-communists wouldn’t want to respect it as a right but I think as a cultural norm it’d be implicitly (maybe even explicitly) discouraged in subtle or not-so-subtle ways.

These points are somewhat tangential to Hahnel but I do feel like they speak to the Parecon idea of centralizing democracy within communities.

Hahnel also denotes the rise in the mainstream for “singing the praises of markets”, that
there are louder voices, more voices and while I wish this was true, it’s not.  Those voices are often conservative ones and not ones who have any serious interest in removing government regulations so we can have freed markets. They want the removal of certain governmental regulations so that their favored corporate interests can gain favor in a captured market.

The so-called “market failure” that Hahnel tries to assert are part of an inherent problem of markets themselves isn’t very convincing, as the economist David Friedman has persuasively argued. Friedman’s arguments depend on a particular interpretation of what a market failure is like, he defines it as:

…a situation where individual rationality does not lead to group rationality. If each individual makes the right decision, the group make the wrong decision. In the pure case, every individual ends up worse off than if each of them had made a different decision.

Friedman argues (and I agree) that market failure is a real issue but it’s an issue of both markets and government and even individuals and groups on a general scale. The prisoner’s dilemma is an example that Friedman cites of that last part and isn’t one that’s typically discussed by conventional economists. But then, as Friedman points out, most economists aren’t libertarians, much less anarchists.

And when it comes to governments, they have more than their fair share of “market’ failures (which is more generally a rationality problem):

A voter who takes the time and trouble to figure out who the best candidate is and vote for him is producing a benefit for everyone else in the country, at least if “best” means best for everyone.

He has no control over who gets that benefit. The rational voter is producing a public good. Rational ignorance is the underproduction of that public good.

Rent-seeking is another example Friedman uses and it’s one I’ve highlighted as well to show that government can often be inept at controlling market economies. More often than not, the people who are up at top use their power to benefit themselves as much as possible. They’re partly able to do this because the political means allow politicians to subsidize the costs of their action and making “their” citizens pay for them. One of the most obvious examples is sending out American citizens to fight wars for the people in congress and the military industrial complex.

But Hahnel wouldn’t likely be persuaded by these points because he seems to think we have markets that are ruled by non-interference. This is a common claim from liberals and even some anti-authoritarian leftists of varying stripes, but it strikes me as immediately implausible given the existence of intellectual property, licenses and corporate subsidies which are all prime examples of governmental intervention.

And even if it were true, it’s clear that the “non-intervention” aspect of markets favor those who are the richest, the ones at the top and those who the most well-connected are. That’s certainly not a free market, but, well, that’s the point.

Markets and Capitalism: Natural Allies?

Hahnel makes the point that when we look at the markets that exist now we see that they are inefficient, produce a wide-range of harmful externalities, increase inequality and substitute meaningful freedoms for trivial ones.

I don’t think Hahnel is completely off-base here. I think when we look at present day markets we can rightly perceive many of these things. We can look at things like income inequality that spurred Occupy Wall St. We can see the disparities of power and access to capital between workers and bosses, etc.

When we look at present day markets we can see a lot of environmental damage comes from corporations such as the infamous BP Oil spill years back. There’s a lot of smog in cities like Los Angeles and Salt Lake City that are the byproducts of corporations and their wasteful operations. There’s also the many pipelines that destroy people’s homes, the environment and disrupt communities.

And when it comes to trivial freedoms as opposed to meaningful ones, we can look to Voltairine de Cleyre’s arguments about thing-worship in her The Dominant Idea:

We dabble in many things; but the one great real idea of our age, not copied from any other, not pretended, not raised to life by any conjuration, is the Much Making of Things, – not the making of beautiful things, not the joy of spending living energy in creative work; rather the shameless, merciless driving and over-driving, wasting and draining of the last bit of energy, only to produce heaps and heaps of things, – things ugly, things harmful, things useless, and at the best largely unnecessary.

But this overzealous production of Things, of externalities, of perpetuating inequities that are far-reaching within society are aspects of capitalism and not necessarily markets. And no, this isn’t just a semantic point.

It’s important that when we look at the historical development of marketst, they are impacted by the development of ruling classes seizing markets for themselves and also for those who tend to hold the most capital.

And as you’d imagine these two groups tend to overlap, a lot.

This makes it vitally important to me that advocates of anti-capitalist markets distinguish ourselves from market anarchists who may or may not nebulously support or at least passively dismiss the issues that Hahnel is rightly bringing up. The actual problem with Hahnel’s analysis isn’t the substance but the framing. He sees this as an issue with markets but that’s only because he conflates markets with capitalism.

Hahnel also contends that the argument about markets is that if we leave things to “market processes”that things will run smoothly in an economy. But this argument misses the fact that the “market process” isn’t some unnameable and invisible force.

Contrary to what economists suggest via the “invisible hand”, the “market processes” are actually us. We are market forces. And while it’s true that the outcome and consequences of complex market systems in societies today are hard to map out that doesn’t make them as abstract as both libertarians and leftists like to think.

And yes, I’m not going to let libertarians off of the hook here. They’re one  the reasons (along with conservatives, to be fair) why Hahnel is making this argument and using this framework to begin with. We’ve treated market processes as completely impersonal and invisible transactions. But market processes can be incredibly dynamic in how they work along social lines.

As Charles Johnson argues in his article Markets used to be Celebrations:

In classical Athens, the open market, or agora, was famous as a place for conversation, company, and positive human interaction. In medieval Europe, the market fair was a festive occasion, which drew people together from throughout the country.

Markets were seen not just as places to meet the needs of the day; they were places to meet people, places to interact with each other on a positive and mutual footing, and places that were central to the best and happiest experiences of social life, and the most distinctive local institutions, entertainment and culture.

Socrates’ life work was not speaking to people in the assembly, or the temple, or the academy, but in the marketplace.

The “invisible hand” is just the outcome of millions of tiny different day-to-day economic interactions between people. Sometimes those interactions are positive and sometimes they aren’t but either way we can study trends, pool data and do research instead of wholesale condemning markets, as Hahnel would have us do.

Around the 10:00 minute mark Hahnel starts talking about markets providing Pareto outcome and says that:

If there are no externalities, if there’s perfect competition, if there’s perfect knowledge, if all of the markets are in equilibrium.

This quote made me think about the work of Steve Horwitz who has, in turn, cited Israel Kirzner and his book Competition and Entrepreneurship :

What we mean by competition, Kirzner argues, is not the perfectly competitive market of mainstream economics, but instead the process by which people constantly engage their entrepreneurial alertness to see new and better ways of doing things that others have not seen before. Much of his book is devoted to explaining how this Austrian conception of competition as a “discovery procedure” (to use Hayek’s phrase) is more helpful than the very different conceptions of competition and monopoly used by many economists.

Which is just to say there is at least some discussion about how to best portray the markets that libertarians support. Not all of us find the discussion of “perfect knowledge” and “perfect” competition compelling.

And more to the point, I tend to see markets as heading towards but never quite achieving a Pareto outcome. I don’t think there’s any way for markets to be “perfectly” run in any meaningful way, but I do think there are ways to approximate the equality we may want out of market processes.

That being said, Hahnel does somewhat defend the use of these assumptions in the theorem he’s criticizing. He points out that we all make assumptions, assumptions never fully pan out like we want them to and they’re still needed to have assertions.

Hahnel then revises the theorem by including the key words “only if” as in, “only if there are no externalities will we achieve Pareto outcome”. But he also criticizes the theorem (at least implicitly) for saying almost everything about efficiency and nothing about fairness, which for Hahnel is an important part of a just society.

And while it’s true that the theorem doesn’t say anything about fairness does it need to? And are efficiency and fairness necessarily mutually exclusive traits? What does fairness mean? This brief aside raises more questions than answers.

Nevertheless I agree with Hahnel that “efficiency” (whatever that may mean) doesn’t and likely shouldn’t be the only trait of markets that should matter to us.

Lastly, Hahnel briefly mentions 2008 and the US housing crisis as a demarcation of  markets failing. But this reference point doesn’t make any sense given that the housing crisis was caused by governments and corporations, not markets acting in free ways.

Are Externalities a Sufficient Argument Against Markets?

One of the big topics Hahnel uses to criticize markets are externalities, which Hahnel illustrates here:

When a buyer and a seller get together and make a decision, a car producer produces a car, a car buyer buys the car, they negotiate a price, we produce the car, we consume the car  … but what if there are other people out there who are affected by the decisions they come to? If there are, we call those people external parties and we call the effects on them … external effects.

Hahnel uses this example because it’s easy to see on a macro scale what a potential externality could be: environmental damage. Individually the buyer and seller are only thinking about themselves and their own costs and benefits. And according to mainstream economics this is the rational thing to do.

But this “rational” action on the micro scale becomes a much bigger problem on the aggregate when others start copying these patterns. Then we are faced with issues of pollution and environmental damage. It reminds me of the Kantian idea of considering to ourselves, “what would happen if everyone did this?” and if it’s unworkable then you should at least reconsider.

What are defenders of markets to think about this?

Well first off, the framework presumes individuals only think for themselves but that doesn’t seem plausible given the rise of eco-friendly cars. The widespread adoption and marketing of cars like the Prius seem to point against the idea that market actors will never think outside their own individual good.

But even if they didn’t, as with market failures, people will always be externally affected by the decisions of people. And so it’s the level of which that makes the difference, not the fact that it happens that’s the issue.

For example, we can easily imagine that folks might use social media and community organizing to socially and economically punish a local car dealership which has been shown to contribute to local environmental issues on a notable level. On the other hand, I can understand arguments that it could be difficult for the entire community to be perpetually knowledgeable about these local issues.

But at the same time being knowledgeable about local and economic issues is becoming easier thanks to social media and so community organizing really only takes a handful of people these days. So just having a few people in a community passionate about a given issue can result in a multiplying effect of many more people becoming similarly passionate. Especially through modern technology such as sites like Facebook, Meetup and organizations starting their own sites.

None of which is to say that the issue of externalities within markets when it comes to environmental affair is a simple matter. Nor am I arguing that it’s handled very well right now with corporations profiting off the real concerns of environmental groups. But it at least gives us reason to doubt that externalities can’t be dealt with.

The other problem when we talk about things like green house emissions is that we  can’t very well measure out future harms to imagined people, much less develop large scale economic policies based on such unstable prediction models. We can very well say that global warming is real and certain things contribute to this phenomenon but measuring out the particular harms on a global scale and using that as a way to decide justice seems like a model fraught with potential issues.

There’s also the fact that in recent years automated and electric cars have become more and more mainstream. Now, I can’t blame Hahnel for not addressing this since he gave this talk in 2012 where Tesla wasn’t as prominent as they are today.
But either way, it seems like markets (even capitalist markets) can innovate, given enough time, around these externalities. Which bodes well for markets that are rid of the capitalist consequences that Hahnel rightly criticizes.

In addition, I think the economists in question who are using the theorem about optimum outcome and externalities are actually wrong that market processes don’t take into account externalities. It’s true on the individual level but perhaps the collective “invisible hand” level is more up for debate. In any case there are ways for markets to learn, just like people learn and use our mistakes to better operate as I’ve pointed out through eco-friendly cars, electric cars and automated cars.

The rise of automation in cars would particularly affect our gas emissions because wed need far fewer cars than we have now. If every family had an automated car (which is admittedly ways away) then it seems a less necessary to have multiple cars and it also seems likely that highways would be less congested.

A lot of that is speculation, but I don’t think it’s very unlikely that any of that could happen with the rise of automation in the car industry. Which is already happening with popular services like Uber (which I have my criticisms of).

Moving forward, Hahnel comments that perhaps we could discover that the “free market” has made 1% “too many cars” but what does “too many cars” actually mean? And how do we decide this, presumably without markets?

Obviously Hahnel supports Parecon economies but he doesn’t actually offer any compelling alternatives to markets throughout the presentation, which is perhaps the most glaring issue in his talk. I’m aware that he discussed it in other places but since he doesn’t do so here, there’s not much for me to grapple with.

Hahnel thinks that market supporters have a presumption that maybe markets do have externalities but thinks that these externalities are small and mostly unimportant. But it’s worth mentioning that this presumption is mostly floated around by people who don’t actually believe in freed markets but rather some sort of corporate configuration of what we already have. The idea that we don’t have externalities in current marketplaces or that the ones that currently exist are small ignores so much social context that I’m unsure how seriously it should be taken.

All actions have externalities to one extent or another, especially in complex economic systems, whether market run or not and people who support markets should embrace that by also embracing anti-capitalism and anarchism. This way we can embrace both the worst of markets and the best of markets and try to clear a way towards the best of them.

As is most economies aren’t actually controlled by markets, certainly not free ones..

Markets are largely owned by corporations who get large subsidies from governments and who owe their cultural and legal existence to governments in the first place. The relationship between governments and corporations is a synergistic power struggle that ends up being parasitic on society in the forms of taxes and unnecessary price increases, haphazard steps taken to overcome burdensome regulations, inventory mismanagement to keep up with state-capitalism and so on.

And while it’s true (as Hahnel points out) that the American system is a system that externalizes cost on to other that’s not because of something inherent to markets. It’s because the way that capitalism works is. As Chomsky puts it, capitalism is highly adept privatizing the profits and socializing the costs on to the public. And while I agree that this is how capitalism is and has operated that’s not necessarily what markets need to do in order to function efficiently and (dare I say) fairly.

For example, we have farmers markets where people are able to grow their own produce, bring it to the market place and sell and trade it with people who are well aware they have other alternatives still might pay more to support local farmers. Or they might do it for environmentalist reasoning because the farmers don’t use pesticides in their vegetables, etc. Whatever their reasoning may be, we have ways to get around the huge externalities through decentralized market places that rely chiefly on individuals owning their own means of production.

Not by exploiting and subjugating workers, but by being able to be self-reliant and socially productive in some sense. This is what flea markets, farmers markets, cooperatives and things like the really really free market show, that markets can come in many different forms and from many different places.

Around the 26:00 mark, Hahnel discusses a few studies that have taken externalities into calculation and lays out their premises and arguments. I didn’t go over the studies themselves so I won’t contest the claims. But I will say that the figures Hahnel gives don’t tell us much about markets as a process. They really only give us a picture of the harmful effects of current markets, at best.

And when we have multiple options for the forms markets can take, that doesn’t seem like a particularly compelling reason to give up on markets entirely.

Perhaps the most baffling part of this presentation is what Hahnel says soon after:

 You want to know why the renewable energy industry is “not competitive” ? Well there’s two reasons: The first is that, well, we don’t actually have free market economy, we actually have a considerable amount of government interference, we have a considerable amount of government welfare programs, actually a lot of corporate welfare programs. (emphasis mine)

If we don’t have actually free markets then what would it look like to have free markets? Doesn’t the fact that we don’t have free markets cut against Hahnel’s points thus far? Honestly, this admission is so baffling that I’m not even sure where to start with regards to how it undermines Hahnel’s case against markets.

Needless to say, at this point (nearly half-way through the presentation) I was beyond flummoxed at Hahnel’s arguments and so I only have a little more to say in terms of his comments on free competition, so let’s get to that and wrap things up.

Free Competition and How to (Not) Get There

A little before the 30:00 minute mark Hahnel tries to use the accurate observation that the trends of current markets are towards less and less competitive markets, not more. And while I don’t dispute this point it’s helpful to ask why is this?

The answer is obvious given what Hahnel just admitted about our lack of free markets. So we tend to get less competitive markets because of the government intervention that was mentioned by Hahnel himself.

And none of that proves that this is what markets must be. One of the biggest problems about Hahnel’s argument is that he does nothing to show that current or historical trends prove that this is all markets can be or have been.

Hahnel asks a logical question about the externalities within current markets: If they’re so large and demanding attention, isn’t there something we can do?

Unfortunately, Hahnel wants to implement policies, for example special kinds of taxes. One such tax he names is a Pigouvian Tax that is supposed to measure the negative externality and then tax it. The market will then incorporate this new data and use it to lead to a more efficient outcome.

But ideas like this raise far more questions than answers: How do we measure externalities in an efficient way? How do governments do this? Is there a history of them doing this successfully? Why would corporations allow this sort of law to be passed? What are the chances of such a policy actually being passed through government?

Hahnel admits that this policy intervention while theoretically correct would be very difficult to pull off given there are so many externalities. I agree with him and would add that the level of information and knowledge one would have to have to make this work is more or less impossible.

Besides that, Hahnel rightly points out that fixing one externality in one market could theoretically just offset another externality, or just create another one. There’s no way to tell how shifting this or that would play out in a market. And here Hahnel is proving why government interventions are generally frowned upon by folks who advocate free markets in a genuine way. At this point he’s almost making my own case for me about why government interventions are a bad idea.

Hahnel goes as far to call this idea a “logistical nightmare” and says that there’s a problem of even knowing how high to put the tax to begin with. Part of the reason why he believes this is that the market gives us no “signals” to determine how high a given tax should or shouldn’t be.

Now, I’m not an economist. Not by trade, profession or even by hobby. So I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert (or even an amateur) when it comes to questions like this. But what I can say is that I’ll presume Hahnel is right about this and treat it as a positive feature of markets. The market can’t determine how much taxes should or shouldn’t impact the economy? Good! I don’t want any taxes anyways.

Hahnel also says that any debate about policies like this would likely be won by those voices with the most amount of political sway. Which makes the idea of reform seem hopeless, luckily we have direct action.

That being said, the next idea Hahnel advocates are anti-trust movements. He wants it so that governments can help one big corporation become 300 smaller ones. This way there’s much more competition within markets.

And while I support more competition within markets, I don’t think the government is the best agency to figure that out. One of the most monopolitic organizations in the world is not likely to know much about how to create free competition among big businesses. And even if they did, what incentives would they have to put ideas like this in process? Rent-seeking and regulatory capture are powerful incentive creating phenomena that would make these decisions much harder to come by, let alone enforce in any meaningful way.

But even assuming we could do this, Hahnel himself points out that these efforts within the scheme of general regulations and new regulatory agencies often fall prey to regulatory capture as I just said. And sometimes regulations end up being crafted by (as Hahnel points out) the folks with the most political connections and thus it disproportionately benefits them.

That’s where the corporate subsidies that Hahnel recognizes come from to begin with!

Counterintuitive as it may seem, sometimes corporations want regulations to be strengthened because it helps people on top who have the economic ability to easily go around them, while the smaller businesses can’t. So it’s often the case that regulations and policy interventions make the economy less competitive, not more.

From 30:00 to 40:00 is 10 minutes of Hahnel undercutting his own proposals at almost every turn. Whether it’s taxes, anti-trust movements or new regulatory agencies or even using public distrust of corporations. The last point is undermined by the fact that corporations tend to have much more time and resources on their side when it comes to fighting regulations than the public has time to actively pay attention to them and to make sure they’re effectively enforced by the government, instead of regulatory capture, etc. getting in the way.

Hahnel says all of this and then immediately undercuts it to lead us to the notion that something “drastic” must happen to improve society. Well, I’m not necessarily against proposals that may be considered “drastic” by some. Let’s hear it.

…He wants to nationalize industries.

Hahnel doesn’t explain why such a move wouldn’t fall prey to any of the previous issues or what effects this would even have on an economy. But I guess at this point, it doesn’t really matter. The Parecon alternative(s) seem to be nothing but progressive hopes and despair with their most “radical” options being hopelessly economically conservative and protectionist.

He does explain that he’d trust “stupid government bureaucrats” over corporate officials due to the perverse incentives that those in the financial industry faces. But he doesn’t explain why those incentives would somehow go away if we nationalized them. Because politicians would be held accountable to their constituents?

How’s that working out for the US right now?

Concluding Remarks

At this point I lost most of my interest in Hahnel’s talk. He starts discussing ideas about “macroeconomic stabilization” and bases it on government intervention during the Great Depression as well as Keynes. But he gives us no compelling reasons why any of these things could pragmatically happen.

I also don’t think we should just assume those things helped the economy. Again, I’m not an economist, but the picture of the Great Depression seems a lot more complicated than the government swooping in and saving the day for the economy.

The rest of the talk focuses around criticizing austerity which I don’t have much to say about and taking ideas like unions, a minimum wage and progressive taxation as checks against the market system. But there’s no substance alongside mentioning any of these tactics, just a claim that “markets hate them!” which sounds more clickbait article than compelling argument.

In addition, Hahnel makes points about income inequality that I don’t have huge issues with, just that he’s doing his usual conflation about the effects of capitalism with the nature of markets. Also, there’s this moment which is easily the highlight.

One point I’ll rest this essay on is Hahnel’s criticisms of “market democracy” which he’s using to shed light on the lack of freedoms we have in market systems. But I’m not so sure that the alternative that he wants, the political market (as I’ll call it), is much better. To argue against this point I return to David Friedman, whose compared the two in his book The Machinery of Freedom:

When a consumer buys a product on the market, he can compare alternative brands. In the case of protection, he can compare how good a job different agencies do and their prices. His information is imperfect, as it is in making most decisions; he may make a mistake. But at least alternatives exist; they are there to be looked at. He can talk with neighbors who patronize different protection agencies, examine the contracts and rates they offer, study figures on the crime rates among their customers.

When you elect a politician, you buy nothing but promises. You may know how one politician ran the country for the past four years, but not how his competitor might have run it.

You can compare 1968 Fords, Chryslers, and Volkswagens, but nobody will ever be able to compare the Nixon administration of 1968 with the Humphrey and Wallace administrations of the same year. It is as if we had only Fords from 1920 to 1928, Chryslers from 1928 to 1936, and then had to decide what firm would make a better car for the next four years. Perhaps an expert automotive engineer could make an educated guess as to whether Ford had used the technology of 1920 to satisfy the demands of 1920 better than Chrysler had used the technology of 1928 to satisfy the demands of 1928. The rest of us might just as well flip a coin. If you throw in Volkswagen or American Motors, which had not made any cars in America but wanted to, the situation becomes still worse. Each of us would have to know every firm intimately in order to have any reasonable basis for deciding which we preferred.

In the same way, in order to judge a politician who has held office, one must consider not only how his administration turned out but the influence of a multitude of relevant factors over which he had no control, ranging from the makeup of Congress to the weather at harvest time. Judging politicians who have not yet held office is still more difficult.

Not only does a consumer have better information than a voter, it is of more use to him.

If I investigate alternative brands of cars or protection, decide which is best for me, and buy it, I get it. If I investigate alternative politicians and vote accordingly, I get what the majority votes for. The chance that my vote will be the deciding factor is negligible.

Imagine buying cars the way we buy governments.

Ten thousand people would get together and agree to vote, each for the car he preferred. Whichever car won, each of the ten thousand would have to buy it. It would not pay any of us to make any serious effort to find out which car was best; whatever I decide, my car is being picked for me by the other members of the group. Under such institutions, the quality of cars would quickly decline.

That is how I must buy products on the political marketplace. I not only cannot compare the alternative products, it would not be worth my while to do so even if I could. This may have something to do with the quality of the goods sold on that market. (p.69)

Hahnel argues against market democracy by citing the lack of access to doctors with indigenous communities in Oklahoma as opposed to the rich in Hollywood. But there’s many many reasons for the current state of affairs that have nothing to do with markets. Imperialism, white supremacy, cultural assimilation aren’t all uniformly products of historical markets but also of historical governments.

And it’s arguable to me that this legacy of interference in the natives way of life accounts for their current lack of access better than the abstract institution of the marketplace. That isn’t to say markets had nothing to do with any of the horrible things I’ve just mentioned, but they also hardly seem central.

I’m also not sure (as Hahnel argues) that markets actually do accurately respond to people’s intensity or desire or even what that would look like or has looked like in practice. What would it mean for a system to so closely operate in relation to people’s wants? I presume Hahnel thinks Parecon is the answer here, but he gives us no reason to consider it as a useful follow up.

It’s true that the folks in Hollywood are richer and therefore have better access in a market, but it’s capitalist markets that specifically privilege these sorts of individuals. Markets aren’t inherently a mechanism whereby those with the most material capital gain the most advantage. It’s played out like that because markets are a particular tool that anyone can grab a hold of and it’s been grabbed by governments who then and privilege capitalists over laborers, the rich over the poor, the feudal lords over the peasants, etc. etc.

But this historical process doesn’t inherently prove markets are always going to lead us to capitalism. And in fact there are many arguments against that proposition. In any case, we can’t say that it’s the case from such weak evidence, given there’s a litany of alternative factors we could just as easily point to.

In the end, what Hahnel advocates as a way towards a better world is state-socialism, whereas I want a form of anarchic socialism to lead the charge against governments, corporations, bureaucracy, hierarchy, centralization, etc.

I’m more inclined to describe myself as an individualist anarchist than an anti-authoritarian socialist or anarchist socialist, but I’m certainly against capitalism and favor much of the analysis Hahnel uses here. I just think it goes to waste on big ideas about government that won’t happen.

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This Post Might Make You Uncomfortable – But is that a Good Thing?


The above is a popular image macro amongst my friends and more generally a popular image for social justice orientated people to post. The character in this macro is Garnet from the animated television show Steven Universe and is well known for her rather blunt and forceful ways of making her point. Given that Garnet also has black and pink (which is known as the anarcha-feminist colors in some circles), they seem even more appropriate in this context.

Being the naturally skeptical person that I am, I tend to question how much we should make “discomfort” the center of our options when trying to making folks unlearn oppressive behaviors. It’s true that expanding our comfort zones is a good way for us to grow, but growth is sometimes a painful and complicated process.

As such, it may not be wise to rush it, much less try to fit the necessary amount of growth that you think the other person needs to go within (for example) the span of a single conversation. This may not even be the explicit expectation that folks have about others but sometimes people treat these complex situations as if they can be boiled down to their own personal project. Whether for the admiration of their peers (“Look, I helped dismantle oppression!”), for social capital (“Look how great I am!”) or simply for the pleasure of proving themselves right (“Look, I was right!”).

Which isn’t to say that these are always the motivations that are involved when discussing these issues, but sometimes they are. Sometimes the motivations of discussing your ideals is less pure than you might like to think it is. For all it matters, you could be right that systematic racism is born out of X social phenomenon but trying to convince someone of that with the expectation that you’ll get some sort of reward isn’t the best way to keep the well free of poison.

Generally, people are either coming into The Discourse, with way too many expectations (“I can change the world!”) or way too few expectations (“This shitlord is gonna get his racist ass handed to him!”).

Tangent on Aesthetics and The Discourse

In either case the principle of charity would probably call upon us to resist these temptations and try to go something like, “Well, I probably won’t change their mind, but hopefully we can both walk away learning something.” Which isn’t so coincidentally my train of thinking when I engage in The Discourse about social justice issues or anything else. The only matters I tend to over-extend myself rather habitually is aesthetics where I like to pretend I’m an objectivist and have a Supreme Knowledge of what is Good and Proper about “art”.

It’s actually a somewhat interesting dynamic to create because it makes me take intellectual discussions of art a bit more seriously than I might otherwise. I mean, sure, there’s the people who hate The Force Awakens who I just can’t take seriously (the worst you can say is that it’s too similar to an amazing movie from 20 years ago or so, really?). But generally, I like conversations about aesthetic concerns because the matters often seem less loaded with expectations.

This is partially because the stakes are inherently lower, for better or worse. Art is inherently a “subjective” thing and a matter of “taste” so people bickering over it just seems preemptively silly to anyone around the bickering. But to me, this means that the stakes can be upped so as to make it seem like so much more is on the line.

On the other hand, I do also feel like people underestimate how important these “subjective” conversations can be, simply because they are subjective. Just because there is no One True Way doesn’t mean the discussion can’t be lively or interesting in some way, there are plenty of ways to make subjective discussions appreciable.

Tangent over, back to social justice.

We can Rebuild the Discourse, Make it Better

This essay was promoted by besides the aforementioned image macro) April Daniel’s Social Justice Discourse Fallacies (SJDF), which is just brilliant. Read it before you keep reading this post and make sure to read the geek version that she drew inspiration from, it’s got some good points as well, particularly the first part.

In particular a mixture of  SDJF1 (“Tone Arguments Are Bullshit, Therefore I Can Treat You Like Something I Found In A Sewer.”) and SDJF2 (“Intent Isn’t Magic, Therefore It Is Irrelevant.”) can be, as April explains:

…explosive, and for the person who stepped on the landmine, bewildering. Nobody comes away from one of these incidents a better person, aware of their shortcomings but committed to change. They come away from it with the idea that people who use the word “privilege” are dangerous drama bombs who must be avoided.

I’ve seen this happen, as I’m sure many of us have at this point.

Person A is a well-meaning white person who thinks that Black Lives Matters might not want to use X tactic because it seems to be doing more harm than good.

Person B feels like the first person must be some sort of racist who is simply using this sort of language so they can safely criticize people of color.

In this scenario, I wouldn’t say that B is unreasonable for thinking about this as a possibility but actually acting on that possibility without finding out more can lead them to Nowhere, very fast. It’s especially bad with a mix of dismissing intentions to the extent that you see them as irrelevant and thinking that “tone policing” is such a monstrosity that it must be snuffed out in (ironically) through the most vile tones possible.

But again, I don’t blame B for thinking this because we’ve probably all also seen the white person who  is just using their idea of respectability politics so they can more safely criticize activist movements  they strongly disagree with. The problem is that because this is such a heated issue, they try to cloak it up in these tactics that’ll make their dissent seem less hostile, which is disingenuous at best.

In any case, whether I blame B or not, I think that SJ activists are sometimes too quick to jump on the train of presuming the worst in others. I think there is a lot to be said for the appeal of pessimism and fatalism regarding people, but I don’t think that in the end these are approaches that are conducive to helping folks unlearn oppressive, behaviors, if that’s what you’re looking to accomplish.

On the other hand, some folks might not feel like some people are worth educating. Perhaps they think they’re only worth derision, mockery and general bullying at a certain point because the ideas of the other person are in fact so ludicrous that they can’t see any other viable option than to engage in bullying.

Ironically I recently had this experience not with a “Social Justice Warrior” but with a libertarian. He decided that because one of my friends is fairly vocal about conspiracy theories, anti-vaccine ideology and so on, that the only way to get them out of the movement is to simply bully them out of the movement.

Now, I think anti-vaccine theories are ludicrous and conspiracy theories are often a waste of time. But neither of these things gives me the time, energy or drive to harass my friends (let alone total strangers). I don’t really understand how a movement could be said to be successful if it relies on truth-telling via bullying.

The point of this anecdote is to illustrate that anyone can engage in these SJ fallacies, even if SJ folks are more likely to engage in them. In this case, my friends intentions of protecting children (even if in a very wrong-headed way via anti-vaccine ideas) was thought irrelevant because its lack of scientific credibility.

I don’t have any argument against pushing these sorts of parts out of the libertarian movement, but that “push” should revolve around folks discussing ideas freely with each other, not constant and vigorous harassment.

When I asked how effective this had been on my friend, they said,

“Not very.”

Best Practices for the Uncomfortable

But the effectiveness doesn’t matter for the bully, the bullying itself is what matters. This feeling that you’ve got something sacred and by gum, you’re gonna protect it from them, the out-group!

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex actually had an interesting concept of the “fargroup” which makes use of the near/far distinction that I think is relevant here. The people who are strangers might be in the “fargroup” (AKA less of a threat because they’re more alien to you) but people you know (and especially within your own movement) are a threat that you can much more visibly recognize as a threat and so your response to this is likely to be much more hostile.

One particularly good example of (historical) “farness” is the Boston Tea Party vs. Basically Any Modern Riot, Ever. You can see the hypocrisy when a woman is interviewed during the documentary If a Tree Falls and asked what she thinks about the people during the Seattle protest. She says (paraphrasing) that it’s horrible but when asked about the Boston Tea Party (a protest that caused over 1 million dollars in property damage) she smiles and says, “Well, I think it’s lovely!”

And of course we can just dismiss this woman as some sort of nationalistic stooge but as I’ve hopefully made clear, it’s a little more complicated than that. Not only is it more complicated but it’s also a pretty relatable scenario. For example, most people would have a knee-jerk reaction that The Boston Tea Party was nowhere near as destructive as the recent flooding in Louisiana.

And while this is true (in case you were curious), it’s something that people wouldn’t even consider because of the near/far distinction. And it’s that lack of consideration that I think is worth highlighting and criticizing. The fact that the Boston Tea Party happened more than a few hundred years ago and its intentions were supposedly “noble” doesn’t erase the fact that anyone who did that today would be vilified as a “hooligan” and some sort of destructive element in society.

So what to do when your in the Nationalist Lady’s spot? What are some good ideas when you’re experiencing your share of cognitive dissonance?

It’s a hard question in part because those experiencing cognitive dissonance often don’t realize they are, which is part of the problem to begin with. But keeping these biases and concepts in mind beforehand can help us recognize when we’re acting on irrational biases instead of legitimate concerns. It’s not perfect by any means but identifying our biases and what helps us be more rational can get us better at practicing our social justice concepts during discussions.

On a somewhat related note, some people tend to think that “rationality” is just a concept made up by The West and The Enlightenment and there’s some truth to that. But the concepts of reason, logic and so forth aren’t uniformly informed by those historical currents and to posit that would be reductionist. There are many forms of logic  to get from point A to point B and chalking the ones you don’t like up to some sort of abstract concept like “The West” can often just lead to dismissing folks instead of actively engaging in conversations with them.

Granted, there are plenty of “logical” things  that predominantly came out of Western (by this I mean North America and Europe) styles of thought and came along with the notions of imperialism, Manifest Destiny, Trial of Tears, etc. The logic of othering people and putting them in places of subjection and exploitation didn’t exactly originate in Europe, much less North America, but they certainly weren’t helped by these continents either.

Which brings us back to discomfort and unlearning oppressive behaviors because recognizing this history, is obviously an uncomfortable fact. Look at all of the white people who start getting nervous once you discuss things like reparations for people of color or Native Americans for instance. But is the discomfort part the important thing or is the recognition by itself the important thing?

If I feel uncomfortable about the fact that most of the ground I walk along was once owned by Native Americans who were slaughtered by people possibly related to me, what does this accomplish? This sort of exercise in discomfort reminds me of the stereotypical feminist meeting where everyone goes in a circle (it’s always a circle) discussing their various privileges that they have and how they’ve used those privileges (consciously or not) to harm others.

While I think recognizing our various social privileges is important, even vital, to having better communication, it’s not the only part that matters. Recognizing our privilege doesn’t stop us from exercising it in really harmful ways. A friend who commits various emotional harms and soon after apologized isn’t much better of simply because they recognize they’re being an asshole, that’s not enough.

Consider the show BoJack Horseman (better yet, go watch all three of the seasons and then come back to this essay) where the main character, BoJack, constantly messes up in very big ways and constantly recognizes that, lambasts himself for it…and then just does it all over again. How much does this really do for those people around them that BoJack happens to be in tune with his mistakes?

None of this is to say that recognizing your privilege is unimportant or makes you similar to an emotionally abusive talking horse but recognition of your privilege is necessary but insufficient to actually challenging oppression in society. Recognizing that the land I walked on was largely a product of colonization and expropriation from the indigenous people is vital to getting a historical context of my surroundings…but what does it do besides that?

It might inform my disposition towards native folks, it might inspire my to do certain actions of advocating for some sort of reparations program for natives, etc. These are all (potentially) great things and come from the root recognition I keep discussing but that’s because that recognition is treated as a jumping off point and not just the beginning and end of the conversation.

When I come into a feminist meeting, I’m not sure I want to discuss all of the privileges I have. There are plenty of things about me that are privileged (I’m white, for one thing) but it doesn’t seem especially productive to belabor all of our privileges in some sort of collective cleansing process. It doesn’t get us, as SJ activists, much further within dialogue and action to keep rehashing our obvious historical contexts just to simply say, “Hi.”

There’s a constant refrain from other people that SJ communities and conservative Christian ones seem to share the idea of “original sin” which I always thought (and still somewhat do) is a bit of a forced metaphor. The notion of us all being privileged and born with it isn’t the same thing as it being inherent to people. If SJ activists really felt the same as Christians do about original sin, then there would likely be no point to be an activist to begin with.

On the other hand the way that privilege is sometimes treated…yeah, I can get the metaphor more than I used to be able to when it mostly came from outside SJ circles. Now that this idea has had some time to be shared around a lot (even if often in a wrong-headed manner) it’s been recounted by SJ folks in much more convincing ways.

And by all means, if your privilege is relevant, bring it up! I wrote a poem about police brutality about a month ago and presented it at a poetry slam. It was entitled I love you like the police loving beating the shit out of [insert marginalized group here] which, in retrospect was a shitty and inconsiderate title that comes off as trivializing the experiencing of marginalized folks. I was trying to put some humor on the situation and obviously came up flat (in my mind and others).

But even so, I recognized before I even started doing the poem that the fact I am white means my experiences with police are going to be much different. And the poem reflect this preface. It’s a very abstract poem and in many ways it really was a love poem that I wrote about someone who had recently broken up with me. I had just decided to give it a political edge because of very recent political events that I had heard about and decided I was tired of being silent on the matter.

Even in this case though, my poem wasn’t seen as “appropriate” even though I prefaced it because, as one (white) trans woman said, “You just sound like you’re rubbing your privilege in other people’s faces who aren’t white.” Which, yeah, it may have some off like that, I’m not sure. But then it’s a no-win situation where even if I recognize my privilege and use this recognition as a way to challenge oppression in some sort of abstract artistic way (that doesn’t claim I share the experiences of PoC) that I’ve still said too much.

To me, this is absurd. It’s basically telling white people to stop recognizing their privilege, or else we’re throwing it in PoCs face. Which means, ostensibly, that we should remain silent and let PoC handle everything. And given the fact that we’re the assholes who put them in that spot to begin with, that hardly seems reasonable to me.

Not that I want white folks to dominate PoC spaces or movements (as if we need another space to dominate…) but it seems to me that if white people had even minorly reflected on their privilege that maybe racism for the past few hundred years wouldn’t have been as horrid?

Is that so awful to think about?

Gendered Discomfort and Uncomfortable Genders

In other news: I’m trans.

So, in case you didn’t know, now you do.

I was going to write a whole Thing about it (exploring gender as a maze, etc.) before I wrote this essay but I’m skipping around and now I’m combining another idea I had (separate from the maze one), so whatever.

My everyday is filled with discomfort, anxiety and whatever else my mind can throw at me in response to a world that sees me as what they’ve been told to see (male) instead of how I wish I was seen (a non-binary femme person). So that’s super fun and so is being called “sir” a million times at work (I work at a convenience store).

The point being is that I go through discomfort rather daily and it hasn’t exactly helped me unlearn my oppressive habits in the most conducive way. Notice I didn’t say that it hasn’t done that at all because that’s probably untrue. I used to (weakly) argue that preemptively saying “they” for people was harder for me because I already have so many communication issues, but really, it’s fine and it goes a long way for the few people who it means a lot to, so why not?

Years ago there was someone at the Boston (A) Book Fair who I was referencing and I presumed they were “he” and they (in a large group setting during a talk) corrected me on their gender (I don’t remember what it was but I’m going to say it was “they” for right now) and I immediately went, “Oh! I’m so sorry! Well anyways, as they were saying…” and just moved on with my response.

After the talk though they came up to me and thanked me for respecting their pronouns and I was simply baffled. Why wouldn’t someone respect their pronouns? Especially in an (A) space why wouldn’t someone respect the simple request of someone not identifying with the way they were (forcibly) categorized when they were younger? Isn’t (A) all about encourage self-expression and individual freedom? Given all of these presumptions in my mind it simply seemed like the decent thing to do and I shrugged it off and said you’re welcome.

I then proceeded to walk off while talking to a friend and make a somewhat ableist joke (not relating to the aforementioned trans person) and then feeling like a dick more acutely than I had before. But it hadn’t come from any sort of discomfort (well except the usual social anxiety that comes with People, but I don’t think that counts) but rather a simple acknowledgement of an action I did.

Now, years later,  as a trans person myself I can see why it meant so much to this person. That I would simply recognize their agency as they saw it without question or hesitation may have been something they never really got in their day to day lives. Who knows, maybe that was the first time they really asserted their identity to someone and felt really grateful to me that I helped it go so well? I can’t say for sure  but I can say now, as a trans person, that I get it a lot more.

The constant discomfort in my life and the sort of cognitive dissonance that SJ activists want folks to feel aren’t the same thing. But they’re both types of discomfort and they’re both ways that we can unlearn ways of oppression.

On the other hand, discomfort is a paradigm that (like many SJ conceptual frameworks) can work against the most marginalized. I brought up my identity as trans and this larger discussion to address this frustrating article written in November of 2015 about rape survivors and trans folks in bathroom.

When I first read it, I was irate. It was using the paradigms of feminist rhetoric such as rape culture as a way to keep transgender folks out of the bathrooms that they feel like they belong in. Why? Because predators might misuse these policies to their own advantage and rape women or, worse still, little girls.

And as we all know as feminists, rapists are almost never “properly” (a misnomer, but I digress) punished for their crimes against women. And as well all know as feminists, women’s liberation means they must not live in fear and so we can’t just simply give a free pass to predators in the name of “progress”!

On and on this article continues to use feminist rhetoric or concepts to justify the exclusion of transgender people based on the authors discomfort. Discomfort has therefore in this case gone from a tool for oppressors to unlearn their behaviors to actually reinforce them and make them think they are even more correct.

How does this happen?

For starters, the emotions involved with discomfort are tricky and manifest differently among different folks. This is especially the case with different preconceived biases and certain experiences in our lives that may have made a large impact. In this case the author has many feminist biases (by that I only mean a predisposition towards feminist notions) and has had a common experience for women (being violated by men) but then uses the consequence of the second thing to justify certain conclusions. In essence, the author decides it is justified to punish transgender individuals for the crimes of other people.

She is using her own discomfort as a way to write off the discomfort of others, it becomes a “discomfort Olympics game” made up of saying that the feelings of the “minority” (transgender folks) isn’t as important as the majority. Never mind that this same logic has been the driving force behind many repressive laws such as the Jim Crow laws in the 60s where people of color were often barred from entering the bathrooms with everyone else because of the possibility for “predators”.

But then if the author was as familiar with feminist rhetoric with regards to rape culture she’d also likely know the fact that most rapists are not strangers. Most rapists and people who engage in sexual assault are going to people you are intimately connected with in some way.

And the people she tells us about in the article to explain why we should all feel uncomfortable about trans folks using the bathroom?

I’ll let blogger Libby Anne handle this one:

I googled Jason Pomares, Norwood Smith Burnes, and Taylor Buehler, just as Triller suggests, and do you know what I found?

Not a single one of them pretended to be transgender or claimed to be transgender.

In actual fact, all three were cisgender men who donned women’s clothing and went into women’s restrooms pretending to be cisgender women. While there they engaged in illegal activity—in one case, public exposure, in another, voyeurism, and in the third, videotaping.

In fact, it turns out that there is a long history of cisgender men dressing as women and going into women’s bathrooms to ogle women—and worse.

Anne’s whole post is great and makes many good counter-points to the common conservative claims about letting transgender folks simply using the bathrooms we’d prefer to. On a sidenote, I’ve also made points about this at C4SS here, here and here if you’re interested in my own thoughts on the matter.

There’s plenty of studies (also see here and here) showing that transgender folks are the ones who are going to suffer under a lack of non-discrimination laws. There’s plenty of data that shows that when men pretend to women they’re already either violating business rules, violating the law in the ways Anne mentioned or they had nothing to do with the anti-discrimination laws existing or not existing, people just did it anyways because laws aren’t magic.

But because people feel like they aren’t safe, they feel they can dismiss the experiences of transgender folks. Take this article for instance on whether the level of sensation transgender people feel is “bathroom discomfort or oppression?”:

Oppression is a word that has been used to great effect in America’s history. Slavery, Jim Crow laws, socially-ingrained homophobia, all of these include some aspect of real oppression. People were beaten, abused, and forced into subpar and unequal conditions because of bigotry and hate.

These instances stand in stark contrast to the most recent epoch of oppressive behavior in our history, the Age of the Gendered Restroom. Those little signs on the bathroom door in malls and gas stations are now, somehow, oppressive.

This is a classic example of the fallacy of relative privation, take it away Wikipedia:

Fallacy of relative privation (“not as bad as”) – dismissing an argument or complaint due to the existence of more important problems in the world, regardless of whether those problems bear relevance to the initial argument. For example First World problem.

So, in this example, because oppression has historically been used for things like people being beaten, enslaved and homophobia that means that these complaints about gender-segregated bathrooms isn’t actually oppressive. But hold on, if “socially ingrained homophobia” was something we can call oppressive and the past (and presumably now) then why not this display of socially ingrained transphobia? Because it’s inherently a transphobic statement to say (much less institutionalize) that that there are (somehow) only two genders.

And why wouldn’t it be? It’s inherently an invalidating statement about our existence and shows a foundational lack of respect for their identities. It tells us, as trans people, that we don’t actually exist and are just figments of our imagination.

Not only that but it reinforces to other people that that there are only two genders and significantly lowers the costs of giving trans folks shit for going in the “wrong” bathroom. Which, by the way, is a big part of why this practice is probably oppressive because it does lead to the beatings of many trans people.

Ya know, because they’re in the “wrong” bathroom.

I’m trying to wade carefully here between the “Offending My Deeply Held Convictions is Indistinguishable from Material Harm” fallacy April Daniels mentions in her previously referenced article on SJ discourse fallacies. But at the same time it’s obvious to me that denying folks their personhood is a great way to have them inflict violence on themselves if nothing else.

But again, our own feelings of discomfort and more generally “discomfort” itself is taken and used as a weapon against marginalized people. Hell, in this case the author isn’t even arguing against trans folks in the bathrooms. They just don’t think referring to it as “oppression” is correct because it’s obviously much more about our feelings than the fact that we’re getting beaten and sexually assaulted.

Even their definition doesn’t really strengthen their argument at all:

Oppression, as defined by Merriam-Webster, means an “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power” or “something that oppresses especially in being an unjust or excessive exercise of power.”

I can’t see what could be more cruel or unjust then institutionally burying our heads in the sand and furthering the ignorance of trans folks in popular culture. It seems excessive to me to see bathrooms that are so tightly regulated around lines of gender instead of letting everyone enter as they please.

And in case you think my claim about relative privation is a bit too tenuous for the first example, I provide Exhibit B from the same article:

We can have this discussion on the basis of discomfort all day long, but as soon as we equate discomfort with oppression, we’re hurting people. People who are actually oppressed need that word to remain powerful and unsullied by “first world” contrivances.

They don’t need to fight against our conception of oppression as a bathroom sign when trying to relate their real, everyday struggles against dictators, military regimes, social paradigms, laws, or whatever power is actively unjust or cruel to them in their world.

Here, they literally use the textbook example that Wikipedia uses in its example that I cited before. Our struggles of identity and personhood are boiled down to mere signs and compared to literal dictators and military regimes.

And against that, I mean, who could say we are truly oppressed?

Lastly, with regards to this article I wanted to highlight this horrifying passage:

I would submit the following: If you have a single minute of a single day to consider the discomfort a bathroom sign causes you, you are not oppressed.

Imagine the sort of life you must live to fulfill this kind of special condition.

If you have a minute to think about the pain, suffering and harm that so many trans folks have gone through because of those “little” signs then you probably have any number of things going on your life.

The fact that this author would make this sort of prescription about oppression is more likely harmful than simply conflating oppression and discomfort. Because they are telling us that if we even have 60 seconds to consider the effects of gendered segregation in society we must not have to deal with crippling debt, or issues of sexual assault, no we must just have a lot of goddamned time on our hands or something.

I can’t think of a more privileged statement then telling people that the amount of time they can spend thinking on something directly correlates to how much privilege they do or don’t have. This is such a 1:1 correlation that needs some real hammering out and defending before being accepted, but the author gives us no such thing, instead they just say it matter of fact, as if it’s obvious.

All of this is to say that the issues of “discomfort” are real and that they shouldn’t be used carelessly. Especially because we’ve seen folks use it carelessly for their own harmful ends, whether intentional or not.

Discomfort and Mindfulness

I’m not uncritical of mindfulness (for example this video is a good criticism of it) but there does seem to be benefits behind meditation and trying to live in the present moment, etc.  Generally then, there might be some benefits to mesh the SJ concept of “education through discomfort” and encouraging mindfulness.

Before we continue, let’s review a definition of mindfulness:

Mindfulness is about being here, fully present with all our activities and thoughts, with body and mind united, and not in a state of dispersion (Chödrön, 1997; Thich Nhat Hanh, 2000).

It means paying attention in a particular way: in the present moment and non-judgementally .

The definition there is provided by Yuk-Lin Renita Wong who was an assistant professor at York University in Toronto, Canada.

Wong integrated these ideas of mindfulness with a course they were teaching entitled Identity and Diversity in the Summer of 2000. They decided that it might be worth incorporating these ideas because of the various feedback they got from students (many white) about how she was teaching the class previously and how it constituted “white bashing” despite her focus on gender and class as well.

Here is how Wong described their experience:

In the first class, I prepared the students for the discomfort the course might bring up for them. I told the students that this course would probably be very uncomfortable for many of them because it would unsettle many of their old beliefs and conceptions about themselves and the world.

Integrating the practice of mindfulness, I asked the students to stay in touch with and embrace their feeling of discomfort, not to judge it wrong and push it away. To encourage the students to relax into and befriend their discomfort, I invited them to take their feeling of discomfort as a teacher and a friend – as a precious opportunity for learning and growth – by greeting their discomfort with a gentle smile and a friendly hello.

I encouraged students to “stop” and “rest” when they felt uncomfortable, to listen to what their feeling of discomfort may tell them, instead of busying themselves with reacting, defending or hiding: “What is my feeling of discomfort trying to tell me, about myself, about my social locations in the society?” I also suggested the students to see the place of discomfort as a place where change begins.

Only when we feel uncomfortable would we begin to feel the need for change.

That last part feeds back into the opening image macro: When we feel a sense of discomfort with the world around us, do we really feel as if the world needs to be changed. But even if this is necessarily true that doesn’t mean we have to experience discomfort purely in a negative way. There are many ways for us to deal with our emotions in positive and healthy ways.

For example, there was a thread where a few women got together and put on some sort of facial mask that resembled black face. None of them intended any harm or thought that it would be perceived as anything but makeup. But instead of simply accepting that it could have been taken the wrong way (and for good reason) one of them decided to lose their cool at everyone else.

They exclaimed they should be trusted to not do something so racist even though many people in the group didn’t really know them. They also seemed to be saying that other people were wrong for feeling discomforted and commenting, instead of simply moving on. But people were being very respectful during their call-ins and there was no real reason to lash out, besides the fact that they felt uncomfortable.

This doesn’t mean that the call-in folks (including myself) were wrong but that, in this case anyways, the individual in question had no real coping skills to deal with this call-in through. So teaching these sorts of coping mechanisms seems like a beneficial thing for social justice people to do, if discomfort is such a vital tool to affecting change.

As I’ve hopefully made clear by now, I’m a bit ambiguous about using discomfort as a tool to cause change in folks dispositions. I think, coupled with mindfulness and other ways of thinking about discomfort, it could be more effective. And even without those things I think it can still have beneficial side-effects, but those effects are less likely to be totally received and effectively interpreted by the person.

It’s also worth returning to my earlier point that the way SJ folks use the “discomfort teaches anti-oppression narratives effectively” is to basically treat people like utter shit because they’re “privileged’ and therefore have the mental capacities of an Elder God or something.

I think these sorts of attitudes can stem from lack of intersectionality in folks analysis, i.e. thinking that just because you’re white you can deal better with stress even when you work 40 hours a week, are poor and don’t get to see loved ones much.

I’m not saying this excuses white people (including myself) for being ignorant of racism (white privilege doesn’t either) but it makes sense why white folks wouldn’t have as high of a threshold for stress if you’re just seeing their racial identity and not thinking about issues of gender, class and so forth.

Anyways, back to the classroom and the methodology:

Throughout the course, I introduced simple breathing exercises to facilitate students to pause and go back to their body after some intense class discussions or disturbing videos about systemic oppressions, to allow room for their feelings and for insights to unfold in the moment of “listening silence.”

Asking student s (sic) to stay fully in touch with their thoughts and feelings as they arise in a gentle and non-judgmental way, and to look deeply into what the feelings reveal to them is in fact mindfulness practice. Mindfulness, as Pema Chödrön (1996) puts it succinctly, is about “diving into your real issues and fearlessly befriending the difficult and blocked areas and deep-seated habitual patterns that keep us stuck in ignorance and confusion” (p.301).

Just to be honest about my biases, I’ve done meditation before. Never for long periods of my life (I think the longest I’ve ever gone is about a week straight or a few weeks straight), but enough to certainly think there’s something to it.

I do deep breathing at times when I am very stressed (lately especially) and it seems to marginally help. It doesn’t clear my stress away but it makes it more understandable so I can figure out what I might want to do next, instead of, you know, just continuing to cry and breakdown.

So all I’m really claiming here is that these methods have done some things for me and I could see them aiding other folks as well. I don’t think it’s some sort of cure all and the popularization of meditation and mindfulness more generally hasn’t been a clear cut victory for the movement.

But at the same time, I think it’s been good to get people to see that they don’t always have to act with judgement towards themselves. I know that I struggle with these things myself and know many other folks who do the same.

Here were the results from the classroom, if you were curious:

In this course, a number of students expressed in their reflective journals how they engaged with their discomfort and noticed their emotional and mental reactivity to the course materials, lectures, and discussions.

A student talked about her growing awareness of how she had always tried to run away from her discomfort, rather than facing the challenge of looking into what made her reacted in certain ways.

Another student recounted her “uncomfortable” feeling and even “resentment” at “having to rethink her notions” after watching a video which intensely deconstructed the stereotypes of Muslim women in North America. Learning to befriend and engage with her feelings, this student was gradually able to appreciate the experience as “an excellent learning opportunity.”

Another student took her uncomfortable feeling as “a good thing” when she was confronted with the relations of oppression between the aboriginal people and the dominant (white) Canadians. One student began to recognise how her failing to critically examine the policies and institutions of the society had allowed her “to find comfort in ignorance.” For this student, the teachings in the course “have removed the security of ignorance and have illustrated that ignorance is not bliss.”

Another student recognised how her saying to herself that she had no culture when she felt uncomfortable with class discussions and activities related to culture and race was “just an easy way to escape feeling uneasy with racism.”

Instead of pushing away her feeling of discomfort, she took it up as “a good place to be in” and opened herself to the questions about her social locations. Her discomfort thus became a “learning opportunity” for her to move out of her “protective cocoon” towards “taking personal responsibility” for her growth as a person and a social worker by inviting her to examine the power and privilege which she “pretend[ed]” she did not have.

Obviously this isn’t a proper study and I’m not claiming this is some sort of “end” to any discussion, ever. But it’s an interesting experiment with promising results (granted it was done back in 2000) that I hope will spark more experimentation in how SJ folks decide to cultivate their anti-oppressive messages.

Utilitarianism, Oppression and Discomfort

I used to have a friend who got me thinking about a lot of these topics. They would explain that, from their perspective as a utilitarian, it seemed like it was fool hardy to reduce people’s pleasure of the world in order for them to enjoy it more.

Granted, this was a while ago and I’m not sure if I’m completely and accurately reconstructing this person’s opinion. But regardless they were a utilitarian who seemed to be of the opinion that focusing on displeasure within SJ discourse could have negative effects on the people we’re trying to talk to.

At first, I was slightly defensive about this but over time I began to see that they at least had some sort of point. How much of a case can you really make if people can’t feel comfortable in their own skin every five minutes?

And especially if you’re talking to people with mental health issues within the depression, anxiety and low self-esteem ballpark, it seems counter-productive to edge around these feelings they may already generally feel in their lives.

I’ve discussed utilitarianism before as well as my preferred theory of virtue ethics through the philosophy of anarchic egoism. I have done so in a rather lopsided way admittedly because my bias is heavily against utilitarianism for both philosophical and personal reasons that likely color the amount of focus I give towards it as opposed to deontological theories of ethics or other theories.

Which isn’t to say I don’t think those theories are worth discussing in similar fashion but I see a lot more of my friends getting sucked into the appeal (and it has real appeal) of utilitarianism and the larger consequentialist family of theories.

But to me, doing otherwise would be like if I focused on the anti-work movement’s tendencies to focus on post-scarcity instead of focusing on its ability to get locked into the reformist notions of Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Sure, both ideas have their issues and their prominence within the anti-work community but (at least in my own experiences) I see many more anti-work folks getting sucked into UBI ideas and it seems potentially much worse to me given its very real and obvious appeal.

Despite my large amounts of personal experience with utilitarianism the sample size therein is rather small and it’s heavily tinged with personal biases and other things that weight my opinion in my mind. Even so, while I think this particular interpretation of the utilitarian philosophy makes some sense (as I often think of various things utilitarians are wont to say) I don’t think it goes very far.

Most of our lives are made of various pleasures and displeasure and situating ourselves within this vortex of different feelings can be a tricky process. It’s certainly worth our time to be careful with how we approach making people feel uncomfortable in the pursuit of some larger goal, but at the same time there’s no actual wrong-doing in using displeasure as a way to further conversation.

Especially if you already have social anxiety or any of the other mental health issues I previously mentioned conversations are already likely a minefield for you. And yeah, making that more difficult probably wouldn’t help things but it’s also possible for you to have devised various coping mechanisms (like mindfulness or various CBT and DBT theories of mental health) to deal with this inherent discomfort.

For example, I go to a poetry slam on Thursday nights and it’s a great time. I know a handful of people there and often I actually have a group of friends who I go with and hang out. But it’s also unbearably uncomfortable because my social anxiety gets triggered really badly when the center state is on someone and it’s not a formal (read: routine orientated) presentation.

If someone’s doing a prepared speech and has been approved by their peers to do so and there’s some sort of process to all of it, I’m usually fine. And even when I’m not I can using various coping mechanisms like looking at my smartphone, thinking to myself about what I want to do or simply listening and trying to keep myself calm.

Sometimes, when I know I’ll get more displeasure than anything else, I decline going. If I am already in a bad mood due to anxiety, depression or something else then I can tell that going there is going to be more trouble than it’s worth.

So it’s totally valid to make decisions based on levels of pleasure but there’s also considerations of character. What kind of audience would you prefer? An audience that is there because they feels some sort of misinformed obligation to show up because their friends do or one that is there because they want to be there?

There’s a form of utilitarianism called negative utilitarianism which argues that instead of maximizing happiness we should think about minimizing suffering and that seems to be at least part of an argument against the SJ tactic of using discomfort as a main strategy (at the very least) to affect social change.

It’s a relevant question of whether there’s too much or not enough discomfort in the world as it is. We’re always being shown new experiences that are largely out of our control to one extent or another and furthering those processes may or may not be a good idea given on what framework you are using.

If you are a utilitarian it might be easier than others to say that causing people significant amounts of displeasure just for the chance of influencing their opinions is wrong. On the other hand I could also easily see the counter-argument from other utilitarians that the oppression that these people may be inflicting on others could be far worse than the discomfort you are making them feel.

But again, this can be taken to bad and dehumanizing places where we take folks individual privileges and substitute that with their general identity. We presume, based solely on their oppressor identity, that they can simply take whatever we dish out and goddammit they deserve every bit they’re going to get anyhow!

This might not be a very good idea for many reasons as I’ve argued at length by now. But the discomfort question particularly around levels of discomfort and what sorts we should see as good or bad reminds me of a tangential question of whether “the system” (that is to say the current political system) is “fixed” or “broken”.

Some people think the political system is “broken” because it doesn’t work for “the people” (whatever that means) and some people think it’s supposed to be that way so it’s “fixed” to be like that. It seems to be a matter of perspective how things balance out and one of the issues I find with utilitarianism (and I by no means am original in this critique) is its ability to properly calculate these levels out to just proportions.

Because while I (now) somewhat sympathize with that friend, I don’t think there’s any useful way in which we can think about this through consequentialist or utilitarian reasoning. At least not without involving some levels of deontology too and thinking about the sort of individuals we want to be.

Do we want to be people who stand up to injustice even if it’s difficult and makes other people’s lives slightly more difficult? Or do we want to resign ourselves to incalculable processes whereby we enter a sort of epistemic paralysis?


I try to go as long as I can with these posts because I want to get out as many thoughts as I can on a given subject. But at this point I feel like I’m rambling and I think I’ve said all I can say on this part of social justice rhetoric for now.

If you enjoyed this essay you can donate monthly to my Patreon and you can find my much more compact and (at times) structured essays on Abolish

I also have a book coming out next month about anti-work, so look for that!









A Gang of Individuals Against Totality by Campaign to Play for Keeps

Nick’s Notes: I found this at the NYC (A) Book Fair back in April and while I don’t necessarily agree with it at all (nor do I necessarily agree with everything with any given thing I re-post here) I find it worth transcribing for your perusal.

All too often anarchism as a movement and a discourse is orientated towards collectivist ideology. I mean this in a literal sense of ideology. Much of what is called anarchism seems to be more of a form of Hegelianism. Possibly it becomes a way for Marxists to smooth out the more and more obvious contradictions of their ideology. To many so called anarchists, freedom means freedom for the megamachine, the Leviathan man, the super organism they inhabit.

The emphasis of anarchism should always be individual freedom.

Individualism doesn’t mean nonsense like capitalism. Capitalism is a collectivist ideology as well, a structure of interlocking components,. Individualist is not even the avoidance of other people. Most people want to be around others, with the exception of some hermit types. It strikes me as unreasonably misanthropic to mandate communal organization, as folks like anarcho-communists do.

Organizational and meeting fetishist seem to think that if they should cease their ritual, their revolutionary ideology would collapse. And there is truth to this, the perpetual meetings of Bookchinists and Occupy drones are intended to indoctrinate participants into an insular subculture (who’s the lifestyle anarchist, college boy?)

The ritualistic behavior creates structures which keep the participants in line and possible push a leader (or two) into a position of self aggrandizement at the expense of other participants.

I am often pessimistic about others but this is due to the social roles we inhabit. Pushing individualism and egoist liberation functions to break down these social roles. The liberation of one is the liberation of others. Most individuals want the presence of others. Liberated individuals will probably choose communalism.

Mutual aid will take the form of a union of self owning ones. The coming together enhances individual freedom and pleasure, becoming synergistic mutuality, where our freedom together is greater than the sum of our isolated and atomized parts.

It is difficult to determine how this individual freedom will be assured. It has been suggested that it should be formalized as a document, such as a bill of rights. I think this is the wrong way to go. As it is formalized and put into a static written form it becomes legalistic. Once it becomes legalistic it becomes a game of east manipulation and can be turned on its heard by any lawyer or logician.

It may make sense to include it in forms such as mission statements for shared spaces and projects, but this is always of limited utility.

The only way to assure the continuation of freedom is a continual struggle. Any time authoritarian structures begin to form they must be destroyed.

This process never ends.

Life becomes perpetual struggle, becomes perpetual war for perpetual freedom.

This is okay, life is struggle.

Insurrection never ends and civil war becomes the definition of a free society.

How Many Egoists Does it Take to Have an Aristotelian Friendship? (The Answer May Surprise You!)



Last year I had a fight with a friend and I wondered how to solve the issue and what it said about friendship. I thought to myself about the limits of friendship and  how to define them What if a friend asks me to support them no matter what? Is that what a friend would do? Would a friend ask me to erase my own personal boundaries for their own comfort and then blame me when I failed?

There are many questions I asked myself during the discussion that followed from that fight. Especially about what made a friend a friend and what sorts of boundaries I should have about this.

But here’s a fun fact: I suck at drawing lines in the sand.

Throughout my time on the internet I’ve blocked very few people. My reasoning is that I consider just about everyone to have something of interest to say even when I don’t care for them very much. There’s even a small group of individuals who I would never even talk to online, yet I haven’t blocked them. Mostly because I’m sometimes genuinely curious how their mind works and why they act and think like they do. Sure, I’m unlikely to get any answers (let alone satisfying ones) but it’s just one of the many excuses I make to not block someone.

Be that as it may, I’ve gotten better at my own boundaries over the years. I assert myself and what I want and don’t want out of someone else. If a relationship is purely for political reasons then I’ll likely make that clear to the other person. But my relationships with people are rarely that simple. And even those who might fit better in that category often overlap with a friendship I also have for financial reasons or for other reasons that are supportive even if not emotional.

There are friends who I only talk to so I can get certain transactions done with them. Maybe they’re helping me with my upcoming book (plug!) or they’re going to write an article for C4SS or something. Whatever the case may be, I likely don’t talk to these folks outside of these contexts. And it’s not because I don’t care about them or don’t wish them well (I generally wish folks well unless they give me reason not to) but because I can only have so many friends who I consistently keep up with.

I would say the amount of friends who I try to keep up with to that extent are rather small. Certainly less than 10 people and probably around 5 or so at the most. But that doesn’t matter to me since I’d rather have quality over quantity anyways.

Still, all of this raises what I should think about these different types of relationships with others and how I can categorize them.

Here I think we can take an extended tour through Aristotle’s thoughts on friendship in his book Nichomachean Ethics, specifically in Book VIII and Book IX. We’ll take a look at how he explains friendship, some problems with his analysis and we’ll be Cool Kids and discuss egoism too, just for the hell of it.

Three Types of Friendship: Utility, Pleasure and Good


Let’s say I have someone who I see at the local supermarket every so often and I am on friendly terms with them. We exchange pleasantries and sometimes we even say a line or two out of goodwill, etc. This employee eventually quits and goes to a different line of work and now when I go to the supermarket I no longer see them. I may feel a twinge of loss for a time but I’ll likely move on.

Were we friends?

Maybe in part, but on the whole it seems like our relationship was based on utility. It was relationship that lasted only as long as I was able to exchange goods and services with them and as soon as that ability disappeared, so did our relation.

The marketplace is actually quite good at facilitating this relationship and I’d argue (as Aristotle does) that cities at least in part depend on this sort of relationship.

How else would enemies get along so well if not for market exchange? The beautiful thing about markets is that we don’t necessarily have to like the other person we are dealing with to make the relationship worth it to both of us.

On the other hand, eliminating markets from the equation naturally gives an uneven balance to social capital and people’s ability to merely shun and shame those who don’t fit their criteria of “good”. There’s a great possibility that simply relying on people’s ideas of “gift” and who is deserving of one would impact folks individual freedoms in negative ways.

Along these lines Aristotle claims that:

Friendship for utility’s sake seems to be that which most easily exists between contraries, e.g. between poor and rich, between ignorant and learned; for what a man actually lacks he aims at, and one gives something else in return.  (Section 8, paragraph 2)

How marketplaces help people who are often contrary to each other is exemplified here as well:

For the sake of pleasure or utility, then, even bad men may be friends of each other, or good men of bad, or one who is neither good nor bad may be a friend to any sort of person, but for their own sake clearly only good men can be friends; for bad men do not delight in each other unless some advantage come of the relation.  (S 4, P 2)


But let’s move on from political disputes and suggest another sort of relationship.

In this scenario I have a lover or perhaps I have someone whom I spend much time with and we share similar political views. In either case, I like the person because of what they give me in terms of affection or reaffirmation of my views.  I may speak well of them and act with kindness towards them and so on.

However, once the passions have dispersed or this person’s affiliation changes, I may start seeing them in a different way. No longer does this person interest me as much and I start to wonder whether we should continue this relationship.

As with before, is this a friendship?

It’s possible it could become a friendship but here again, Aristotle would tell us it is not. I’m inclined to agree as a relationship based upon only pleasure instead of utility is not a very stable relationship.

As Aristotle says:

Now those who love each other for their utility do not love each other for themselves but in virtue of some good which they get from each other.

So too with those who love for the sake of pleasure; it is not for their character that men love ready-witted people, but because they find them pleasant. Therefore those who love for the sake of utility for the sake of what is good for themselves, and those who love for the sake of pleasure do so for the sake of what is pleasant to themselves, and not in so far as the other is the person loved but in so far as he is useful or pleasant.

And thus these friendships are only incidental; for it is not as being the man he is that the loved person is loved, but as providing some good or pleasure. Such friendships, then, are easily dissolved, if the parties do not remain like themselves; for if the one party is no longer pleasant or useful the other ceases to love him. (S 3, P 1)

The point about intentions are important here. When you think of your friendships with others, what qualities do you usually assume they must involve to stay stable? Usually it takes more than business transactions or simple pleasures for a good friendship to last and as such it takes much more intentional efforts.

Simply happening upon the supermarket employee, making love to someone or seeing Bob at the Local In-Group Reaffirmation Meeting and enjoying their company isn’t quite enough to have the best sort of friendship possible.

For Aristotle the best sort of friendship are those better situated within the mutual benefit of our shared virtues rather than pleasure or utility. So the hedonist and utilitarian may argue that friendship can be most importantly defined by how much we get out of someone for some sort of external pursuit, i.e. pleasure or utility.

And it isn’t so much that Aristotle would disagree that they are important components of a friendship.

A blogger on The Wire named TY makes this point clear:

Those with the moral virtue to enter virtuous relationships are a major part of this but friendships of utility and pleasure are also needed as friendships of virtue are severely limited in number.
It is the friendships of utility and pleasure that keep the city together. however; it takes the character of those in the virtuous friendship for a solid community to exist.

After all, if your relationship with someone had no pleasure or utility then it wouldn’t make sense to have a relationship with them.

For example, if Doreen and I are in a relationship (of any kind) where neither of us get anything out of it and/or derive no pleasure from it, then it seems like the relationship is likely forced in some way. Perhaps external society pressures put us together for as innocuous reasons as being in the same classroom or perhaps it’s as strong as an arranged marriage. Whatever the reason, most individuals would rightly be skeptical with regards to the existence of friendship between us.


But let’s re-imagine the scenario.

Let’s propose instead that Doreen and I are friends because of our shared virtues.

So, for example, Doreen and I both tend to be practical thinkers who rely on both our emotions and reason for a given situation and not just one or the other. We both tend to be generous towards our friends and enjoy the company of squirrels.

It seems much more plausible to say that this sort of relationship, one based on each others goodness (and love of squirrels) is going to be more stable than whether either of us are getting some sort of utility or pleasure out of the other.

That’s partly because, as Aristotle suggested earlier, the links between individuals merely on the basis of pleasure and utility are unstable by themselves. What gives us pleasure and what gives us some sort of benefit can change much more quickly than what is within us.

But this doesn’t mean that people’s attitudes can’t change. Children can have friendships that can last throughout their lives but it can also dissolve (as any relationship can) because people change as they grow.

So perhaps one friend’s past interest in architecture and math not only changed but their general demeanor towards others. They’ve become colder towards people we consider friends or even casual strangers.

In such a case Aristotle counsels,

If they are capable of being reformed one should rather come to the assistance of their character or their property, inasmuch as this is better and more characteristic of friendship. But a man who breaks off such a friendship would seem to be doing nothing strange; for it was not to a man of this sort that he was a friend; when his friend has changed, therefore, and he is unable to save him, he gives him up.

(S 3, P 2)

Professor at Auburn University, Roderick T. Long suggests something similar in his paper, Thinking Our Anger but within the context of enemies:

Surely we should wish our enemies to be more virtuous and more rational; after all, if they were more virtuous and more rational, they wouldn’t have hijacked two airplanes and sent them crashing into the World Trade Center. Any move, by anybody, in the direction of greater virtue and greater rationality should always be met with approval.

But if Aristotle is right about happiness, then to wish for our enemies to be more virtuous and more rational is ipso facto to wish for them to be happier.

I think this must be what such moral teachers as Socrates, Jesus, and the Buddha mean when they advise us to wish our enemies well.

Obviously we should not wish success to our enemies’ projects; for those projects are evil, and they could not cease to be evil without ceasing to be the projects they are. Hence hatred for those projects is quite in order. But people can always cease to be evil without ceasing to be. If they refuse to cease being evil, we may find it necessary, in self-defense, to make them cease to be; but we should always prefer that our enemies cease being evil.

But what is that, but to prefer that our enemies become better people — that they live better, more worthwhile, less destructive, hate-filled lives? And if that is what we ought to prefer, then we ought to wish our enemies well.

What Constitutes a Friendship From “Goodness”?


With all of this talk of wishing people well and acting towards them with goodwill, it seems as if this would be a very important factor in friendship. And of course, it is, but we can see from Long’s quote that it is necessary but not sufficient.

I certainly sometimes wish people whom I share no pleasure, utility or sense of goodness a general wellness. But without those feelings of mutual respect, equality of virtues, utility and pleasure, then the sort of goodwill I can actually act towards them becomes relatively flat.

We’ve also seen the importance of agreement and unanimity amongst friends to some extent. After all, the shared interest of squirrels between Doreen and I are fairly important to our friendship. In fact, should we ponder this more we may realize that many people emphasize shared interests in trying to find friends.

But a friendship purely based on mutual interests takes us back to a friendship dictated by pleasure. It isn’t a stable friendship built on the qualities or traits of each individual but rather a shared pleasure.

None of this is to say that this relationship, because it isn’t the best sort of friendship is not good at all. There are surely many benefits from having many sorts of friends in your life. Sometimes it’s great to have a casual lover and other times its great to have a trusted business partner. It’s great to have some friends for short-term benefits and others for long-term benefits.

And that’s another distinction that Aristotle draws, the relationships based on pleasure and utility are distinct in that the former tends to be shorter. The passions erupt and then they fade while utility is usually based on longer term plans.

And while long-term relationships may be more beneficial it won’t do it much good if the business partner finds a better individual to trade with.

Ty explains it this way:

For example, say a person visits the same barber shop every month. However, a new barber shop has opened up and provides better service for a cheaper price. The friendship built between the barber and person getting their haircut will likely dissolve, as it is cheaper to use the services of the cheaper barber.

But when we have a relation based upon goodness Aristotle would argue that because we are both wishing the other well it will tend to last long. This is partly because mutual goodwill often coincides with things like mutual respect, mutual interests, mutual benefit and general reciprocity between equals.

Equality of Virtues

By “equals” I don’t mean equals in a physical sense but rather in a sense of people’s virtues. As mentioned, people’s character changes throughout time and if it happens enough it becomes much more difficult to maintain a relationship.

One experience I have with this was a loved one.

They had undergone some experiences in the past year and it had affected their ideas and attitudes in fundamental ways. At first these changes were small and we underplayed them because we were both tolerant of each others idiosyncrasies. But over time it became clear that this was untenable as basic discussions about politics would often turn into bitter disputes between us.

We both had a sort of mutual respect, mutual interest and mutual goodwill for each other but the virtues that we found most respectable were no longer as applicable. The sort of goodness that we thought were important to ourselves and desirable in others had changed in one of us in rather big ways.

Unfortunately for both of us it took much frustration before that could be admitted and we could move on from the relationship we had once held so dear.

Which isn’t to say differences can’t be undone amongst friends but that they also shouldn’t be underestimated either.

To quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

If they are equally virtuous, their friendship is perfect. If, however, there is a large gap in their moral development (as between a parent and a small child, or between a husband and a wife), then although their relationship may be based on the other person’s good character, it will be imperfect precisely because of their inequality.

But not all inequalities are bad, as Aristotle points out:

In all friendships implying inequality the love also should be proportional, i.e. the better should be more loved than he loves, and so should the more useful, and similarly in each of the other cases; for when the love is in proportion to the merit of the parties, then in a sense arises equality, which is certainly held to be characteristic of friendship. (S 7, P 1)

In addition, one can see friendships between children and adults, as incomplete as these friendships may be at times. I’ve had great friendships with kids who aren’t even teenagers  adventuring, talking about the world and watching movies. Generally I find kids are much more interesting than adults because they tend to speak their mind about how they feel and don’t feel as constricted by social norms.

Kids can also be creative in their ideas of what constitutes fun and what doesn’t. They often aren’t limited in their imaginations like many adults are and though this is sometimes for ill it can also make them more interesting to be around.

In general Aristotle treats both children and younger individuals are more interested in pleasure short-term benefits than longer-time ones. There’s also comments about children deferring to their parents given the inequality of virtues between adults and children. But as I’ve pointed out, I think there’s much adults can learn from children as well and this point often goes under-emphasized if not totally ignored, even by radicals.


To close out the discussion of goodness and friendship one of the things Aristotle constantly stresses is the importance of how close the two individuals are. By this he means the literal closeness of the friends. Do they spend much time together? Do they live together? What is the state of their relationship? Surely people who exchange letters with each other and have mutual goodwill and a proportional equality of virtues could be considered friends in some sense.

But on the other hand how meaningful is this friendship if they never actually share the same space? There’s something to be said for friends who are mostly friends away from each other then ones who decide to move in with each other.

For example, I’ve had friends who I’ve lived with and in most of the cases (though not all) the inequality of virtues between us eventually deepens to the point where cohabitation becomes untenable. These are just my experiences and I don’t claim they are the norm by any means.

But be that as it may, it’s an important test of friendship and within that test there’s even popular discussion about that amongst our society. That friends who are mostly casual, talk online and see each other once in a while in person are very different from the sorts of friends who live together and enjoy it.

One of my best friends in college and I would see each other almost every day. It was great at first as we got to know each other and discover what we liked and didn’t like about the other. But as the months got by they started feeling it was a bit repetitive and tried branching out and hanging out with other people.

This didn’t end our friendship, in fact it strengthened it.

That’s because we could better moderate (an important concept within Aristotelian ethics) our frequency of time together.  This led us to appreciate the other more, have more to say when we got together and so on.

One of my favorite Humans of New York pictures involves two old men playing chess. To paraphrase, they say that they get together once every couple years to catch up with each other. You might not call this the most intimate of friendships but it’s clear that it works for them all the same.

So too with my best friend from college, who I probably see once every season or so. And there’s another person who I’d consider a best friend who I am going to see shortly but probably only see twice a year and don’t talk much online with.

But whenever we re-connect it’s like none of the magic was ever lost.

To quote Tim Madigan in Aristotle’s Email:

Some psychologists have been studying a recent phenomenon: old lovers coming together again, sometimes after several decades of being out of contact. Nancy Kalish’s book Lost & Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romances (William Morrow and Company) provides a fascinating introduction to such ‘rediscoveries’.

Today thousands of people in their fifties and sixties, after divorcing or losing a spouse, wonder whatever became of their first love. After a quick Google search or two, they often find out that their old lovers too are now alone, and the original romantic spark is rekindled.

Aristotle, who understood the intensity of friendships formed in youth, would not be astonished by this.

The article was written in the mid-late 2000s so it doesn’t (and can’t) comment on the explosion of such interactions via social networks such as Facebook which has only made this phenomenon increase I’d imagine.

To quote Aristotle more directly on the subject of proximity:

But such men may bear goodwill to each other; for they wish one another well and aid one another in need; but they are hardly friends because they do not spend their days together nor delight in each other, and these are thought the greatest marks of friendship.
(S 6, P 1)

This is one of the few things I question Aristotle on, when it comes to friendship

I agree that these used to be thought as the greatest marks of friendship but clearly the friends whom I talk to on Facebook every day and with whom I share my dreams, desires and love with are not any less friends simply because I cannot touch them or do not share the same physical space as them.

There’s this whole concept (mostly from older folks in my experience) that the “friends” you have on social media (particularly Facebook) aren’t real. And I think part of that idea comes from this notion that proximity is an essential part of any friendship. And while I agree that proximity can undoubtedly help I think it’s easily shown that it can just as easily harm too. Sometimes friendships are at their best when they are kept distant but loving and affectionate.

Sometimes there are good reasons to keep your friends close and enemies closer.

In any case, the internet has surely changed much of this dynamic. I used to think of my Facebook friends as “friends” and I’d word it exactly like that.

But eventually it occurred to me that this was wrong and said as much:

I really hate it when people say that you shouldn’t take “friends” online seriously. You can make valuable networks online and they can be really fruitful and when they are and people sever them it still hurts as if you lost a good acquaintance or, depending on the level of connection you made, a really good friend.

It hurts when you lose someone whose opinion you values. It hurts if you lose a fruitful connection and you can’t get it back. Even if you’ve never met that person face to face or only have talked to them on Skype and have only heard their voice. That person can still be really important to your life and I think it’s shitty and awful when people act like somehow that connection doesn’t matter as much than the other “real” people in your life.

Well you know what? Fuck you.

It’s especially hard for people like me with autism and social-anxiety as well as problems with communication in general. Having online friends means a lot to me sometimes and it’s been really important to me in some cases.

Furthermore, people can matter inside and outside of meat space. We don’t have to all know each other within a few inches from each other to give a fuck about each other and if we did we’d be living in an awful world indeed.

I’ve met several people online who I’ve become good friends with, who I have become reacquainted with through who I may never have re-met otherwise and I’ve forged new connections that last to this day.

There are just so many wonderful people in this world and it really bothers me when people think we should just disregard some of those people because they’re “on the internet” and thus not “real”.

Fuck you.

When Aristotle said:

One must, too, acquire some experience of the other person and become familiar with him, and that is very hard.

He obviously couldn’t have predicted the rise of the internet or technology in general which allow us all to become familiar with each other in very deep and personal ways. And being able to do that, being able to share wonderful experiences, emotions and everything else with people through text and video makes these friendships all the more real.

So yes, your internet friends count.

Polyamory and Friendship

There are some remarks that Aristotle makes about proximity that he thinks are even more likely given how he understands love:

One cannot be a friend to many people in the sense of having friendship of the perfect type with them, just as one cannot be in love with many people at once (for love is a sort of excess of feeling, and it is the nature of such only to be felt towards one person)

(S 6, P 1)

Aristotle doesn’t give much in the way of convincing argumentation here. He simply states that it is “the nature of such” that “excess of feeling” (i.e. love) can only be felt by one person. But given that even back then infidelity was something that happened and happened (at least sometimes) because of multiple loves, this seems implausible to me. Moreover, Aristotle is just making an appeal to nature and not a particularly convincing one given the history of human attraction in tribal societies.

And of course there are ethical non-monogamous practices that have been done throughout history as well. One such example is polyamory, a style of relationship where multiple individuals engage with each other romantically with  full knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

Poly folks (including myself) like to retort to the idea that you can’t have many different loves through the idea of family or friends. Which isn’t to conflate different sorts of love but just to say that if there are certain kinds of loves you can have for multiple people at once (again, technology has increased our ability to do this) then why can we not do this for romantic love too?

But let’s go back to familial love for a second.

If a mother has three children does she love them any less than the other? Perhaps she loves them differently and in their own individuals ways. Perhaps she loves her son Max for his outgoing spirit and his ability to problem solve under pressure. But she also loves her daughter Maxine because she is an excellent at speaking up, defending herself and is overall very confident.

You could try to break this down and perhaps say that the mother because of these differences she loves individual traits in one child more than in the other. This goes back to Aristotle’s inequality of virtues. It’s perfectly fair and reasonable to love someone because they do better at traits you admire than someone else whom you also love (in whatever form). But that doesn’t necessarily mean your overall love is lessened for the person. This primarily depends on the trait and how important it is to you as a person and for your friend or whomever.

I admit that these rejoinders are not perfect.

Different sorts of loves take different sorts of mental states. That being said, polyamory is not for everyone and anyone who claims it is “natural” or that “monogamy is evil” is worth considering but with much skepticism.

It seems to me that some people simply don’t have the time, energy or interest to give romance a try with multiple people. Some people (like myself) don’t have the time, energy or interest to do casual things, so I get it.

But just because many people don’t have the desire to do polyamory doesn’t mean the practice is wrong or impractical. Indeed, I think one of the biggest reasons folks don’t give enough time to even considering polyamory is something called “cultural monogamy”. This is a phrase trying to evoke the notion that monogamy is seen as the default choice and if you’re doing anything else then you’re likely cheating or acting unethical in some way. This is clearly wrong but it’s something many people seem to accept either implicitly or explicitly.

This belief within society limits people’s abilities to engage with polyamory as a viable alternative. It’s one of the few ways in which I think monogamy clearly and obviously limits our personal freedoms by implying we have no choice but to be monogamous. Of course, not all monogamous folks buy into this and some have obviously tried polyamory or some number of alternative relationships and found that monogamy works best for them. And that’s okay too.

But it’s really not okay to me and many other poly folks that we’re just presumed to be doing something morally nebulous if not outright immoral. Especially when the reasoning is only that we’re not practicing monogamy.

If love is considered part of the “perfect type” of friendship and this sort of friendship is rare (as I’ll happily agree) it still doesn’t follow that you can’t have multiple loves. Aristotle didn’t claim in Ethics that, for example, you could only have one friendship of the perfect type.

Instead, he seemed to suggest it’d be possible to have small circle of such friends or however the amount may go it’d likely be more than one. So Aristotle’s own arguments cut against his own for love.

Aristotle elaborates further in Book IX:

It is found difficult, too, to rejoice and to grieve in an intimate way with many people, for it may likely happen that one has at once to be happy with one friend and to mourn with another.

Presumably, then, it is well not to seek to have as many friends as possible, but as many as are enough for the purpose of living together; for it would seem actually impossible to be a great friend to many people.

This is why one cannot love several people; love is ideally a sort of excess of friendship, and that can only be felt towards one person; therefore great friendship too can only be felt towards a few people.

(S 10, P 3)

This depends on what one counts as “intimate”.

When a good friend of mine who I had lost touch with died, I went to his funeral and wasn’t able to really be personal or close with many of his new friends. But when I decided to get some air and leave the funeral house, I cried over not keeping in touch and now never getting the chance to reconnect.

I still obviously loved this person but were they my friend? I would consider them a friend but at that time they were a rather distant one and someone who I felt like I couldn’t spend time with anymore. They had become a different person (though not necessarily in a bad way), had gotten into new music, we moved away from each other and they had many new friends who I wasn’t friends with.

So the whole time at the funeral I felt really out of place, as if I didn’t belong there. I felt I was some sort of relic who had failed as a friend by not keeping up with them. Which was and is bullshit, of course. But when you lose someone who you didn’t take the time to stay in touch with, it’s hard to look at things rationally.

In any case I’m not sure why we should “presume” it’s not possible for us to be happy with one friend and mourn another. Is there some sort of emotional limit that everyone has? I’m imaging a sort of “you must have these many emotions to ride” sign above the advertisement for a ride called “friendship”.

Ditto for love, I can’t imagine why I can’t love multiple people or how this is impossible. Is it hard for some folks or so difficult that it’s not worth trying? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for everyone.

But let’s stop talking about others and talk about our favorite people: Ourselves!

Egoism and Aristotelian Self-Love

Aristotle goes to Stanford

There’s a three part paper by Carolyn Ray that focuses on Aristotle and Ethics.

Particularly she focuses on friendship, eudaimonia and egoism.

While eudaimonia is important for Aristotle’s ethics it seems pertinent to focus on egoism and friendship given the subject of this essay.

Ray argues at length that other commentators on Aristotle and his belief in altruism are mistaken.

I’m inclined to agree given passages like this:

But the facts clash with these arguments, and this is not surprising. For men say that one ought to love best one’s best friend, and man’s best friend is one who wishes well to the object of his wish for his sake, even if no one is to know of it; and these attributes are found most of all in a man’s attitude towards himself, and so are all the other attributes by which a friend is defined; for, as we have said, it is from this relation that all the characteristics of friendship have extended to our neighbours.

All the proverbs, too, agree with this, e.g. ‘a single soul’, and ‘what friends have is common property’, and ‘friendship is equality’, and ‘charity begins at home’; for all these marks will be found most in a man’s relation to himself; he is his own best friend and therefore ought to love himself best. It is therefore a reasonable question, which of the two views we should follow; for both are plausible.”

(S 8, P 2)

When discussing friendship as a “single soul” then Aristotle is relying on each individual as themselves for the friendship to be just and fair. It doesn’t seem like Aristotle is simply relying on sacrificing your own self-interest for others when it comes to friendship. Especially because doing so, according to Aristotle, would be doing such to yourself as well.

Aristotle starts the top passage explaining that one’s best friend is often someone that wishes the best for you and often has the qualities that you most often desire within yourself. In either case it seems obvious that Aristotle’s conception of the best kind of friendship is a sort of reciprocal egoism that relies on the individual coming first and the relation second.

His argument goes even farther by implying towards the end of the first passage that neighborhoods are also built through this reciprocal egoism. Which means for Aristotle that politics (in the social sense of communities, polities, etc.) have a lot to do with how egoist the individuals within those communities are as well.

The previously cited Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) article on Aristotle’s Ethics is a little less certain of this though:

When he makes friends, and benefits friends he has made, he will be aware of the fact that such a relationship is good for him. And yet to have a friend is to want to benefit someone for that other person’s sake; it is not a merely self-interested strategy.

Aristotle sees no difficulty here, and rightly so. For there is no reason why acts of friendship should not be undertaken partly for the good of one’s friend and partly for one’s own good.

Acting for the sake of another does not in itself demand self-sacrifice. It requires caring about someone other than oneself, but does not demand some loss of care for oneself. For when we know how to benefit a friend for his sake, we exercise the ethical virtues, and this is precisely what our happiness consists in.

I agree with SEP that there’s no good reason to see acts of friendship as partly for the good of one’s friend and for one’s good. But on the other hand whose good does the friends resemble, exactly?

According to Aristotle it seems to resolve around our own good. The good of our friends is rather similar to our own and that’s because the best friendships are going to involve folks who are ultimately similar to us with regards to our character.

Showing care for someone else as the SEP notes doesn’t require us to care less for ourselves but it also does fundamentally require ourselves on some level and the friend being ourselves on some level. Without this sort of connection we likely wouldn’t have the same sort of connection we would have otherwise.

But the SEP later clarifies that:

It may be tempting to cast Aristotle’s defense of self-love into modern terms by calling him an egoist, and “egoism” is a broad enough term so that, properly defined, it can be made to fit Aristotle’s ethical outlook.

If egoism is the thesis that one will always act rightly if one consults one’s self-interest, properly understood, then nothing would be amiss in identifying him as an egoist.

This cuts strongly against Ray and her issue with most philosophers seeming almost “afraid” of egoism. To be clear, I am not using hyphenated words or modifiers of the word “egoism” (i.e. reciprocal egoism) to show some sort of ideological fear.

I’ve been published in the egoist pamphlet My Own and re-posted several egoist or egoist related essays and articles on this site. I am also having an upcoming book published with the anarchist distribution group Little Black Cart who are well known for publishing books centering around egoism among others.

So I don’t use such qualifiers to say that I’m concerned that Aristotle might be an egoist. No, I think Ray makes many convincing arguments for Aristotle being an egoist but I do agree with the SEP that there are different kinds of egoists. A lot of this comes down to definition based disputes and some definitions I’d be more comfortable applying to Aristotle’s thoughts on friendship than others.

The SEP makes this clear:

But egoism is sometimes understood in a stronger sense.

Just as consequentialism is the thesis that one should maximize the general good, whatever the good turns out to be, so egoism can be defined as the parallel thesis that one should maximize one’s own good, whatever the good turns out to be.

Egoism, in other words, can be treated as a purely formal thesis: it holds that whether the good is pleasure, or virtue, or the satisfaction of desires, one should not attempt to maximize the total amount of good in the world, but only one’s own. When egoism takes this abstract form, it is an expression of the idea that the claims of others are never worth attending to, unless in some way or other their good can be shown to serve one’s own.

I think a good portion of this is true but I am unsure of the conclusion.

If it were true that an egoist even in the stronger sense would never attend to the claims of others then it seems unlikely they could attend to their own claims under Aristotle’s reasoning. What egoists seek (for example among the Union of Egoists) is a world full of themselves. So in other words, we’d surely see the egoists attending to the needs of others but only insofar as it satisfied themselves.

And this is much the same thing that Aristotle is saying good friends do for each other. Aristotle constantly emphasizes the mutuality of good friendships or friendships rooted in virtues but he also constantly emphasizes the importance of each individual in each relation above all else.

There are exceptions to this rule and I’ll address them further down but it’s first worth noting that out of a friendship based on utility or pleasure, Aristotle prefers the latter saying that:

…[W]hen both parties get the same things from each other and delight in each other or in the things, as in the friendships of the young; for generosity is more found in such friendships.

Friendship based on utility is for the commercially minded. People who are supremely happy, too, have no need of useful friends, but do need pleasant friends; for they wish to live with some one and, though they can endure for a short time what is painful, no one could put up with it continuously, nor even with the Good itself if it were painful to him; this is why they look out for friends who are pleasant.

Perhaps they should look out for friends who, being pleasant, are also good, and good for them too; for so they will have all the characteristics that friends should have.

This again highlights the reciprocal nature of friendships for Aristotle which means at best the friendships are neither “selfish” nor “altruistic”, they are something in between. This fits in nicely with Aristotle’s concept of the golden mean which states that virtues tend to be at their best when moderated.

For example when it comes to showing courage would you want to be brave, rash or timid? Being rash means you have an excess of bravery which leads to foolish decisions and the individual often ending up hurt But timidity is insufficient as you’ll often act unjustly in situations where justice demands action.

The answer here is to then not fall to the extremes on either side but to be brave.

Bravery involves practical wisdom as well (another virtue) and thus must include when it is proper to confront danger and when it isn’t. There isn’t any glory in jumping into a challenge you have little background information on and have no strategy to deal with. If you do a “tactical retreat” so you can better formulate a plan and defend yourself and/or others later on, that seems perfectly brave to me.

Some may argue that this “defending of others” is “altruistic” but I disagree. People often defend others for reasons other than the people they are defending. That’s not to say the people themselves aren’t important because if they were not then they wouldn’t be defended to begin with. Instead, people often attach things like honor (personal sense of ethics), pride (personal sense of worth in your accomplishments), dignity (personal sense of others) and so on.

We have all sorts of egoist justifications for why we may go to war as Ray argues:

These complications can be avoided by trying to understand what the soldier can get out of a fight to his own death, an approach that is amply justified by Aristotle’s own suggestion that the soldier engages in such an act because he wishes to avoid shame and disgrace (1116a20-29)[8], and prefers a short intense pleasure to a prolonged but mediocre one (1169a18-29)[9].

First, his friends will certainly benefit from victory; second, he himself will benefit (perhaps it is safe to assume that he will not fight for an ignoble cause or one which would ruin his virtuous life were he victorious); third, his choice is between death and a life not worth living (as one used to the democracy of Athens would consider a life under tyranny).

Thus, the soldier’s conduct is consistent with an egoistic point of view, and Aristotle’s own description of the motivation makes it sound like the soldier is not so much ready to sacrifice as willing to pay for the goods he enjoys.

But I think we’ve reflected on the SEP quote enough, let’s continue:

The only underived reason for action is self-interest; that an act helps another does not by itself provide a reason for performing it, unless some connection can be made between the good of that other and one’s own.

There is no reason to attribute this extreme form of egoism to Aristotle.

On the contrary, his defense of self-love makes it clear that he is not willing to defend the bare idea that one ought to love oneself alone or above others; he defends self-love only when this emotion is tied to the correct theory of where one’s good lies, for it is only in this way that he can show that self-love need not be a destructive passion.

Given the quote I gave previously on self-love and Ray’s own reasoning in her essay I think we have great reason to attribute this “extreme” form of egoism to Aristotle.

I don’t think egoism means only loving ourselves alone but rather all things that are like ourselves as well. For loving others who are like us is much the same as also loving ourselves and both Aristotle and egoism are in favor of this.

The SEP article seems to be taking this form of egoism as a form of hermitism but that seems like an unfair reduction of egoism. The concept that you are the center of the universe, it is correctly countered, doesn’t have any merit unless there’s a universe to live in to begin with. But this doesn’t make the universe somehow higher than individuals in terms of a self-interest totem pole.

Rather we can acknowledge side-constraints on our individuality, i.e. what gives us perspective to begin with and what helps us be more flourishing individuals as well. And of course friends and fellow egoists are a great way to do this no matter which form of egoism you support. And to be fair to the SEP and just about anyone discussing egoism there are a lot of variants of egoism.

My claim here isn’t that egoism is correct but I am convinced by Ray’s argumentation that Aristotle was an egoist of some sort. What sort you want to call him depends but overall I think it’s clear that for Aristotle friendship revolves around the individual first and foremost even when we consider others.

The SEP has a fair counter-example however so let’s take a look:

He takes it for granted that self-love is properly condemned whenever it can be shown to be harmful to the community. It is praiseworthy only if it can be shown that a self-lover will be an admirable citizen. In making this assumption, Aristotle reveals that he thinks that the claims of other members of the community to proper treatment are intrinsically valid.

This is precisely what a strong form of egoism cannot accept.

Being the slacker I am, I’ll just let Ray take this one:

The political leader is not to act on his own behalf but on the behalf of the citizens. Contrast this opinion, with the fact that the egoist is to act on his own behalf all the time. How can we understand this passage, in light of the egoistic claims that abound in the Nicomachean Ethics? Must we now say that Aristotle just did not know what to think, that the set of principles that he set down are inconsistent and there is nothing else to be said?

I think the answer to this question is “no”.

There is a very simple way of understanding this passage.

We are concerned in this debate with who is acting for whom, so the obvious thing to do is to ask who acts and who benefits. Since we are talking about a political leader, a man with a job, it is also important to ask what job he is meant to do. The actor is a citizen, a member of a community, who has accepted the role of decision-maker for his city. The beneficiaries are the citizens. Since the leader is a citizen himself, it would be ridiculous to say that the decisions that the leader makes do not benefit him, and that each decision he makes in his capacity as leader is a personal sacrifice. But that is exactly what one would have to say if one were to interpret this passage as an altruistic message.

Rather, it should be clear that the leader benefits as a citizen; what is actually recommended is not self-sacrifice at all, since one can’t sacrifice what does not belong to one in the first place, and the resources of the city are not his to spend on himself.

In other words, bribery, nepotism, and embezzlement of public funds are all out of the question. Some would say that one must be an altruist if one can resist such temptation. But think back again to the fact that the citizens, as citizens, are the ones who will suffer from such action, and so the leader, as citizen, will do himself harm.

This ties into the SEP’s further claims about Aristotle and his Politics wherein he they paraphrase him saying, “…[T]hat the political community is prior to the individual citizen—just as the whole body is prior to any of its parts (1253a18–29).”

But again, you would have difficulty understanding such claims as altruistic because you can see someone as prior to yourself but also constituting yourself in some way. It’s a similar argument for the politician or for friends, ultimately the relationships that we form from social bonds whether it be political or non-political (in Aristotle’s language) are first derived from individuals qua individuals.

Generally speaking there’s no way for the individual citizen to regard something that crucially involves themselves as prior to themselves as well. There’s a logical contradiction here and I think SEP and other commentators are missing that.

Wrapping up with the SEP article:

An individual citizen does not belong to himself, in the sense that it is not up to him alone to determine how he should act; he should subordinate his individual decision-making powers to those of the whole.

The strong form of egoism we have been discussing cannot accept Aristotle’s doctrine of the priority of the city to the individual.

It tells the individual that the good of others has, in itself, no valid claim on him, but that he should serve other members of the community only to the extent that he can connect their interests to his own. Such a doctrine leaves no room for the thought that the individual citizen does not belong to himself but to the whole.

Granted, it has been a while since I’ve read Politics and I found it boring and unhelpful to developing any of my own ideas. But even if what SEP says here is true it says everything bad about non-egoist lines of thought and everything good about egoism.

Why should the individual allow themselves to be claimed by others? If egoism is a philosophy that would resist such a claim then I think it would do so justly and I’m surely on its side than the proposed alternative.

Ray can’t give me much help here as she’s mostly focusing on Aristotle’s Ethics and not his Politics as I am, but in any case I think we can at worst compartmentalize  and say that Aristotle may have had egoist ethics but non-egoist politics at the same time. Many folks throughout the centuries have done far worse things to contradict themselves and so I could believe that this is the case.

On the other hand it may be less of a contradiction and more of a progression of thought that Aristotle went through from his book on ethics to politics.

Whatever the case may be, I think it’s true that Aristotle’s ethics are egoist and his politics may be up for dispute. But I also think Ray makes some compelling arguments that gives us some good reasons to be inclined towards egoist conclusions there as well, if nothing else.

Anarchism and Irrationality in Friendship


Me and that friend I mentioned at the beginning made up and they admitted that they need to work on how they deal with their behaviors. We’ve since had sporadic fights since then reconciling each time and recently coming to a breaking point where I seriously considered breaking things off.

I considered the fact that in that situation they apologized, never intended harm and that they thought that they could do better and would try to. On the other hand they insulted me along the way and dismissed some of my concerns as if they were trivial. The whole thing was a mess and had no neat conclusion that worked for us.

A few weeks later this friend and I have a lovely discussion concerning personal boundaries and using explicit, open and honest communication we were able to figure out a lot of our issues surrounding these topics. This positive discussion and their assurance that they would improve reassured me things would work out.

But was any of this rational of me?

I admit some of not breaking off the friendship was social blowback. Friends tend to hang around other social circles that you’re involved with and thus breaking off with them can make things awkward.

Another reason was sentimentality. We had been friends for a while and ending it would have been really painful even though I felt like it was the right thing to do at the time. Adding to that I was unsure of myself and  decided I would sleep on it and try to talk to them in the morning. This only helped marginally but I did what I could to try to alleviate both of our concerns and it’s yielded fruit so far.

Part of this came from their goodness (character, virtues, etc.) and the one I most commonly cited was that I knew they could be a good person. But for them it takes a bit of effort to rise to the occasion and it isn’t as if my standards are unfair. They consist of someone who tries to be honest and open with me about whatever is going on and admit when they mess up, be open to criticism and be someone whom I can share exciting ideas with.

But criticism can be difficult for some people and I’m no exception to this as sometimes it’s hard to see criticism as anything but personal.

For example, after a long day at the Open Borders Day @ Harvard University I organized a few months ago I had someone make a (by that time common) comment that the panelists should have been more differentiated on their positions about borders. I got slightly irritated having heard this comment made many times before and one of my friends later commented themselves, “How often do you hear the open borders position anyways?”

Even so it was difficult after such a long and tiring process to not take it a little personally even if the other person claimed that they weren’t trying to do that. I have an issue with being defensive and it’s one I strive to work on.


For anarchists I think Aristotle’s egoist concept of friendship has a lot to offer and I think it also has a lot to offer with how we deal with irrationality in our relationships. More specifically biases that interfere with our abilities to make the best decisions possible with regards to strategy in undermining state-capitalism.

Considering whether our relationships are simply for pleasure, for utility or whether they are more grounded in what we see in each other cannot only help us personally but politically. Associations based around utility for a given single-issue action might make some sense but longer term institutions may be better suited by individuals coming together on the basis of their character instead.

Additionally, reflecting on the friendships based on utility should remind left-wing market anarchists the benefits of market transactions. And it should also help us situate ourselves more in line with the supposed “interpersonal market” and even embrace it to some extent. Being an introvert and autistic person I know that I for one don’t want everything (or even most things) situated around the needs of the community which will surely favor neurotypicals, the able-bodied and extroverted over people who’d rather sit at home with their private collections.

In this way communism becomes a sort of social systematic excuse for “party culture” whereby the people with the most social capital get to dominate the social landscape of everyone in a given landscape. Whether it’s through their charm, their social privilege, their able-bodiedness or something else. The chances that I as a trans person who is also autistic and introverted are going to have my needs attended to in a given communist society seems dim.

Aristotle’s ethics more generally can remind anarchists the importance of trying to moderate our claims to reach radical conclusions. One of my favorite anarchist-capitalist thinkers Michael Humer’s ideas is that if we use the most plausible way of arguing for radical conclusions then we can be more persuasive.

I think Aristotle’s ideas of the golden mean and virtue theory more generally can help us cultivate those kinds of arguments.

And his ideas on friendship can better help us shape the sorts of relations we want to see that will help propagate those approaches.


This has been just the first essay I had in the back of my mind.

If you’re wondering what else I have in mind then don’t worry.

I told you a while back.

Also, the answer is 1.

It’s Autism Acceptance Month!

This is my personal blog so to quote Eric Cartman, “I do what I want!”

So in that vein: Hi, my name is Nick Ford and I have autism.

More specifically, I have aspergers which is a “mild” variant of autism.

The month of April is known to many autistic folks as Autism “Awareness” Month but for some of us, this simply isn’t good. Anyone can be aware of us, anyone can take notice of those who have to put up with ableism in their life. But none of that means you’re actively trying to make that person’s life better by treating them with the respect and kindness they should get so long as they treat you the same.

“Awareness” is a campaign put on by an organization named Autism Speaks which is a very controversial (see also here) organization.

I’ve listed reasons before but just to summarize:

1) As far as I am aware they’ve never had any autistic people on their board

2) Many people associated with AS spread fear-mongering and prejudice against autistic people. That we’re “broken” or we need to be “fixed” or perhaps the worst of all, we need to be “cured”

3) They have very little financial accountability and very little of their money actually goes to researching and helping people with autism.

  1. They did have one autistic member higher up in their organization at one point (though not at the board level)…but he quit.
  2. This, as far as I am aware, hasn’t changed. They do have an acceptance page but I’ll go over that another time to see how good it is/isn’t.
  3. For 2010 here was their results broken down, they have more recent years if you want to see if they’ve done better but without handy graphics it’s hard for me to tell, honestly.

If none of that is convincing I highly recommend Amethyst’s channel which features their series Ask an Autistic and in particular one on Autism Speaks:


If none of that is convincing then there are alternatives you can check out:

So why acceptance and not awareness?

Amethyst lays it out fair well:


Here’s some steps you can take to improve acceptance of autistic folk and here’s a much longer list if you’d like to learn even more!

I’ll have much more to say when I’m not so exhausted from my other writings and travels but for now I urge you to consider the rights of autistic folks and how “awareness” simply isn’t enough.

Let’s try acceptance instead.

14 Questions and Answers on Left-Libertarianism

What follows are some 101 questions and answers I designed for a Students for Liberty meeting at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

None of these questions or answers were needed because the group was so well engaged, but I decided to repost them here anyways because of the more general use they may serve.

The logo of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left

  1. What does the “left” in left-libertarian mean?

Left libertarianism can mean “left” as in a Georgist, someone who agrees with the philosophy of the economist Henry George. George tended to believe that the problems of the world revolved around landlords and that a single tax might alleviate social inequalities.

It can also mean “left” in two different anarchist senses.

One sense is anarchist-communism represented by folks like Peter Kropotkin or Emma Goldman.

But left-wing market anarchism (LWMA) is what the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) advocates. Markets for us tend to have separate meanings.

This philosophy stems from thinkers like Benjamin Tucker, editor of the individualist anarchist magazine Liberty in the late 19th and early 20th century. This form of “left” often involves an interest in solidarity, equality and liberty for the individual and the communities they inhabit. These cultural norms are meant to work against oppressive elements in society like capitalism (which is differentiated from markets), government and things like sexism, racism, etc.

As Gary Chartier puts it in his The “Left” In Left Libertarian,

An authentically leftist position, I suggest, is marked by opposition to subordination, exclusion, and deprivation.

This doesn’t mean no one else can oppose such things or have sympathies towards such opposition. But it’s often not the main cause of conservatives, for example, to challenge things like racism or other exclusionary cultural norms.

2. What does the “libertarian” in left-libertarian mean?

The “libertarian” in left tends to mean anarchist. This isn’t universal as we have some notable folks like Chris Matthew Sciabarra and the Bleeding Heart Libertarians who may consider themselves allied with left-libertarianism in some way, yet aren’t anarchists.

But for the most part, the “libertarian” in “left libertarian” involves anarchism. This a particular form of anarchism that has been advocated all the way from the 19th century by people like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Proudhon was mutualist living in the 19th century and one of the first individuals in history to call himself an anarchist.

“Anarchism” within this context doesn’t mean a desire for disorder, chaos or violence. Anarchism instead refers to a political philosophy that advocates the abolition of the state, capitalism and all other oppressive exercises of authority.

Despite whatever his other flaws, Noam Chomsky has a particularly good definition of anarchism:

…any structure of authority and domination has to justify itself- none of them are self-justifying. Whether they’re in individual relations, or international affairs, or the workplace, or whatever- they have a burden of proof to bear, and if they can’t bear that burden (which they usually can’t), they’re illegitimate and should be dismantled and replaced by alternative structures which are free and participatory and are not based on authoritarian systems.

3. What thinkers do left-libertarians tend to draw from?

Given how big of a tent left-libertarianism even within the specific branch of left-wing market anarchism is, the thinkers may vary.

Regardless, here are some common sources of its thought:

Benjamin Tucker
Lysander Spooner
Voltairine de Cleyre
Kevin Carson
Roderick Long
Sheldon Richman
Karl Hess
Murray Rothbard (60s and early 70s Rothbard)
Gabriel Kolko (New Left Historian though not an LL himself)
Samuel Edward Konkin III

4. What differentiates between left-libertarians and other libertarians?

Left-libertarians, in comparison to minarchists, tend to be more explicitly anti-political. In the sense that we’re more fundamentally hostile to government. We also tend to favor non-electoral means or at least downplaying their importance within our own tactics. This, as opposed to minarchists who may support candidates like Rand Paul, Gary Johnson, etc.

Left-libertarians in comparison to anarcho-capitalists tend to be more critical of things like corporate culture and bureaucracy within large non-governmental firms. Examples may include things such as non-profits or corporations. Our predictions for what a freed market would end up looking like tend to be more conventionally leftist. For example, we think independent contractors and worker cooperatives will be much more likely to spring up than the traditional hierarchical and large firms we see today.

It should be noted that some anarcho-capitalists care more about anarchism than capitalism and these sorts of anarcho-capitalists may tend to overlap with left-libertarians more. Particularly in that they have no real preference of whether corporations should still exist, or if everything should be privatized or not. They merely want to abolish the state, free the market, and leave it up to individuals and communities from there.

Left-wing market anarchists tend to sympathize with this position though we’d also remind these sorts of anarcho-capitalists that we are market forces and furthermore that some systems tend to be more conducive towards sustaining liberty than others.

5. What differentiates between left-libertarians and anarcho-communists?

Generally speaking, left-libertarians being market anarchists don’t want to abolish markets, money or material capital like anarcho-communists do. On economic questions then, anarcho-communists and left-libertarians may share some overlap with wanting a more fluid way of exchanging value, but on the whole we disagree about how to do that.

Anarcho-communists also tend to favor violent revolutions, expropriation and violent direct action. While there is by no means a consensus on these things within LWM(A) circles, we generally see peaceful gradualism or immediatism as preferable to violence whenever possible. Things like self-defense should be taken seriously but used carefully and strategically even when it’s morally right.

And just as LWM(A)s tend to disfavor monocentric systems of privatization we also tend to dislike the monocentrism via communizing. We’d prefer to socialize/mutualize (see also here and here) functions in society so that individuals, cooperatives, collectives, partnerships and any other sort of collaboration that happens can be done on people’s own terms.

Adding to this, some market anarchists advocate a sort of commons advocated by Elinor Ostrom or a peer-to-peer production model as opposed to a communist based commons. Kevin Carson has written about Ostrom’s approach here and the larger anarchist themes in her work. He has also written about P2P relations in a freed society through the topic of intellectual property.

6. What roles do thick and thin libertarians play within left-libertarianism?

Some people see “thick libertarianism” and “left-libertarianism” as synonymous but this is inaccurate.

The terms “thick” and “thin” libertarian refer to a matter of internal and philosophical consistency questions. Can libertarianism be joined to, as Charles Johnson writes, “absolutely any non-coercive set of values and projects” as with Leonard Reed’s famous “anything peaceful” mantra? Or should it be integrated into other social commitments such as anti-racism or religious freedom of various sorts?

To be clear, to be a left-libertarian you do not need to be a thick libertarian.

Although it is true that this is a rare combination it does happen. Historically, you could argue Benjamin Tucker’s version of anarchism was thin. Tucker only saw the goal of an anarchist society to be a lack of physical violence and no state. Whatever else was not the business of anarchists.

To add to this, it is entirely possible to be a thick right-libertarian.

For example, Hans Herman Hoppe has some (in)famous cultural commitments some may see as conservative. A notable example is his as exclusion of queer folks in his favored covenant communities. I may disagree with this view but it’s still a thick one.

7. Is left-libertarianism just a rhetorical device to attract the left?

More than a few people have accused left-libertarians of merely trying to change the rhetoric and not the substance of libertarianism. We would be doing this, so the narrative goes, to appeal to left-wing people. Usually this is implying more moderate liberals and progressives ala Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporters.

But given that most LWM(A)s are anarchists this would seem to be very counter-intuitive. It appears unlikely that organizations such as the Center for a Stateless Society has, at least as their number one goal, to win over a Bernie Sanders supporter, for instance. Especially with articles like this and this.

Now, it’s entirely true that left-libertarians tend to focus more on things like prison abolition, LGBTQA+ discrimination, racial discrimination, problems with corporations, etc. But that’s often because we genuinely believe these things are important in of themselves and that they connect to radical libertarianism in important ways that are often under-emphasized within the broader libertarian movement.

And even when we do talk about conventionally left-wing topics we usually tie in the state in some way. Whether it’s mentioning the privileges that the state gives to corporations, the laws that help discrimination or something else. In which case we’re not toeing the mainstream leftist line there either.

So again, it seems unlikely that the main purpose of left-libertarianism is to only appeal to moderate liberals and progressives. As a side-effect of our tendencies, sympathies and interests, it’s plausible. But we’re doing this for a free society, not to market libertarianism a little better.

Moreover, this claim seems to rely on the notion that left-libertarians are lying in some sense. Either to our audience, to ourselves to the person that’s accusing us or some combination thereof. This is a dishonest tactic to use and even if the claim were true it isn’t the best way to go about establishing the idea that we’re only in it as a marketing plot.

8. Who are some contemporary left-libertarian thinkers?

Some notable contemporary LL thinkers are:

Kevin Carson
Sheldon Richman
Gary Chartier
Charles Johnson
William Gillis

9. What are some of the most important left-libertarian works?

This is a(nother)non-exhaustive list of the most important left-libertarian works and should be taken as such:

Markets Not Capitalism (audiobook here, YT series here)
The Conscience of an Anarchist
Studies in a Mutualist Political Economy
The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand
State Socialism and Anarchism: How far they Agree and Wherein They Differ
Advocates of Freed Markets Should Embrace “Anti-Capitalism”
FMAC: The Unknown Ideal
Instead of a Book by a Man Too Busy to Write One
Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Towards a Dialectical Freedom
What is Left-Libertarianism?

10. What means do left-libertarians generally advocate for advancing towards a freed society?

Jason Lee Byas summarizes it beautifully in his article What is “Left-Libertarianism”? published on the Students For Liberty blog:

…left-libertarians tend to focus on interacting directly with the thing they’re trying to change (society), rather than making appeals to the thing they want to eliminate (the state). Not only does this include educational efforts, but also find methods for circumventing state repression and building alternative institutions for handling problems states create or fail to solve.

Historically this includes experiments like Lysander Spooner’s American Letter Mail Company, the radical labor efforts of Dyer Lum, and Sam Konkin’s idea of “counter-economics.” Today it can be found in left-libertarian enthusiasm for projects like crypto-currencies, radical labor activism, 3D printing, file-sharing, grass-roots mutual aid, and cop-watching.

As Kevin Carson explains, the left-libertarian aim “is not to overthrow the state, but to ignore it. Anyone who wants to continue to support the state and obey its laws is free to do so, so long as they leave us alone. Our goal is to build the kind of society we want, and prevent the state from overthrowing us while we’re doing it. The last person out of the state can turn off the lights.”’

11. Are left-libertarians and Bleeding Heart Libertarians the same?

As Thomas Knapp explains in, Now Hear This: There’s a Difference Between Left Libertarians and Liberaltarians:

Most, if not all, left libertarians are anarchists. Most, if not all, liberaltarians consider the state at least inevitable and possibly necessary; and following from that,

Most, if not all, left libertarians eschew electoral politics and “public policy,” while most, if not all, liberaltarians consider those two things part of their program of action.

In addition, Roderick T. Long in his post, Left-Libertarianism: Its Past, Its Present, Its Future says:

Insofar as BHL represents a fusion of the free-market commitments of libertarianism with the social-justice concerns of the left, left-libertarianism may be counted as a subset of BHL; but left-libertarians tend to be more radical, in both their leftism and their libertarianism, than the majority of those self-identifying as BHL proponents. … Most BHL proponents appear to see their libertarian commitments and their left-wing commitments as at least to some extent moderating each other; left-libertarians, by contrast, tend to see their libertarian and leftist commitments as mainly reinforcing each other.”

12. What is mutualism?

Mutualism is an anarchist school of thought founded by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in the 19th century.

Mutualism more contemporaneously has two schools of thought

Carsonian Mutualism
Neo-Proudhounian Mutualism

Carsonian Mutualism (CM) is much like Benjamin Tucker’s mutualism. Tucker mixed Proudhoun and the first American anarchist, Josiah Warren, who was himself an individualist anarchist. This approach is mainly an economic one that relies on the minimization of usury (interest, profit and rent), worker directed cooperatives, etc.

Neo-Proudhounian Mutualism (NPM) is more “classical” in its approach. It may attach insights from Tucker, Warren and other individualist anarchists but it depends less on them than CMism. In addition, NPMism is more of a philosophical approach that relies on concepts like reciprocity, the golden rule, and approximation.

It should be noted that both schools of thought have much overlap and that economics and philosophy are important in both schools. One just tends to emphasize one over the other.

In either case the goal of mutualism is a more “mutual” society. One where people encounter each other in a more equitable way that depends less on hierarchy and command. Instead mutualism urges us to depend more on fellowship, respect and understanding. Institutions like mutual banks, cooperatives and communally owned institutions tend to be favored by mutualists as expressions of their desired political economy.

The CM tends to be a “minarchist” when it comes to usury. Profit, rent and interest are likely to exist (and perhaps even be necessary) on some level, but likely drastically less than what the situation is currently. While the NPM may be less flexible in its lack of necessity.

Both schools of thought tend to advocate a private property of sorts but one that is based on personal use and occupation. Contrary to some people’s claims this does not mean the milkman can come and take your house when you leave to buy groceries from the local co-op. Proudhon described mutualism as a “synthesis between communism and property” which is the “liberty” he desired most.

I recommend Shawn Wilbur’s The Gift Economy of Property and In Defense — Such as it is — of Usufructory Land Ownership by Kevin Carson for more. You can also see the C4SS Mutual Exchange Symposium on Land which Carson and Wilbur both took part in.

And for a fairly comprehensive overview of mutualism I recommend Clarence Lee Swartz’s “What is Mutualism?” published in 1927. Carson and Wilbur have also recommended this work to others.

These two schools of thoughts are still very new and as such my descriptions should be taken as my personal experiences mixed with some of the originators own terms. As such, make sure to look up Kevin Carson and Shawn Wilbur’s work to see for yourself.

It should be noted that in recent years Shawn has distanced himself from left-libertarianism and ALL/C4SS. Still, I believe there is much of value to be found in his work that relates to the efforts left-libertarians do. More recent work by him that may better encapsulate his current positions can be found here and here.

13. What is individualist anarchism?

Individualist anarchism is a bit more complicated as the strands that exist under its labels are much more diverse and numerous.

For example, left-wing market anarchism is very different from egoism. Egoism was a philosophy most notably subscribed to by Max Stirner who was against the state and morality. LWM(A)s tend not to be against morality itself (though this is by no means essential).

There was also European individualist anarchism that was embraced by people who engaged in what was called illegalism (also see here). These people were involving themselves with illegal activities of one sort of another, often to upset the established capitalist order. Either by robbing banks, shooting officials or fighting cops. They had much overlap with the egoist philosophy.

The historical individualist anarchism of America was naturally more informed by American values. As such Lysander Spooner heavily relied on natural law, Benjamin Tucker only became an egoist later in his life and other individualist anarchists would even rely on spirituality to some extent to justify their beliefs.

It should also be stated that the lines between mutualism and individualist anarchism can sometimes be blurry.

Early Benjamin Tucker drew heavily from Proudhon and it may be difficult to say whether he really neatly fit into one category or the other. Similarly Dyer D. Lum drew heavily upon mutualism and in his “The Economics of Anarchism: A Study of the Industrial Type” seemed to mostly agree with Proudhon but also have some of the same Tuckerite caveats as well.

14. Where can I find left-libertarians?

Besides at C4SS you can find us on the Alliance of the Libertarian Left which has a Facebook page and a distribution site where you can buy our pamphlets as well!

If y’all liked that article consider donating to my Patreon!

You can donate for as low as $1 a month but I especially encourage $5!

Donating helps articles like this one come out more frequently. : )


Coming Attractions…

It’ll be quite a show – all at my expense, I assure you!

I’ve been itching to write some full-scale blogs on various topics here but so far my Patreon just isn’t making me enough to invest too much time into that. So I typically focus on Abolish Work and C4SS (and its Youtube channel) instead.

Nevertheless I want to commit (or attempt to commit!) to writing one full-length essay a month even so.

What does “full-length” mean? Well, I consider blog posts 0-500 words, articles 1000-2000 and “full-scale essays” to be somewhere from 5000-10,000 words.

So yeah, I’ll be aiming pretty big. I may not even meet this word-based goal every month but basically each post would be an attempt to do a really fleshed out piece on a given subject. Complete with links, sources, references, lots of quotes, statistics, etc. etc. etc.

Anyways y’all aren’t really here for that (I hope), so here’s a sneak peak at some ideas I’ve either had brewing for a while or some ideas that I’ve gotten recently, I’ll give some descriptions as well so you’re not going into ’em totally blind:

  • We Could Be Friends But You’re Playing (With Irrationality) – Basically a bonafide screed on what friendship means to me and why it never relies on immutable support
  • Gender as Auto-Pilot (note, maze metaphor, ) –  I’ve been struggling with gender a lot lately, so this would probably be one of my first essays channeling this struggle within me. It’d likely be intensely personal and get pretty long and pretty heavy pretty fast.
  • Discomfort, Privilege and Oppression (Utilitarianism) – Is it necessary to make others uncomfortable so that we highlight privilege in society? How powerful of a strategy is this and if it is powerful does that just mean it’s worth doing even less? I’ll also make some casual remarks about how utilitarians (see less casual comments here) tend to conceive this question (in my limited experience).
  • Trans and bathrooms (report, response, to this) – This ones pretty obvious. (The second link is obnoxious and also contains references to rape  so be warned on both fronts)
  • The Soul of Man Under Individualism – A play on some obscure essay.
  • “Because I said so,” is the frustrating exception that proves the general rule.” –  An essay on youth liberation. Fuck  yeah. Youth lib has been bouncing around in my head for a while now and this’d be my chance to expound upon why.
  • The Killer is Me (Philosophical) – An essay on self-esteem, I think. I’ve had this title (named after an Alice and Chains song I particularly like) in my head for years but I’ve finally found some use for it! Huzzah!
  • “You’re Actually Being Really and Truly…” (No True Scotsman history) – Criticisms of (gasp!) social justice and how social capitalism, social positioning and more tend to play into games of tribes, signaling and ah fuck, just call me a Less Wronger right? (Except don’t)
  • Building Monuments to Death (Thinking our Anger) – Or, “In Response to Folks Celebrating Scalia’s Death” Oh yeah, I’m going there. Bring on the hate!

So yeah, if you want to see these not only happen but happen more frequently than, I dunno, once a month? Feel free to donate to my Patreon!

And hey, if I get $50 or over a month then I’ll do my best to do two a month.

…And shit, if I ever get to $100, I’ll commit to four a month.

…But no more than that, OK?  Please?

I Want Friends, Not Community + My Comrades

Nick’s Notes: “I Want Friends, Not Community” is republished with Apio Ludd’s explicit permission.

I’m republishing “My Comrades” as a nice additional piece under Apio’s recent and generous permission to reprint anything appearing in his publication My Own.

“I Want Friends, Not Community” and “My Comrades” are both  located in My Own: Self-Ownership and Self-Creation against all Authority #18.

I have added minimal formatting to make it slightly more visually appealing.

Who needs this?

Who needs this?

I Want Friends, Not Community

Communities .. are best defined in terms of food relationships – we are asking who eats whom. –Marston Bates

Damn near everywhere I go, I hear talk about community.

It’s apparently something everyone needs, something to which everyone should be willing to give herself. In big cities, it’s easy to ignore these calls to belong, since it’s hard for the unarmed proponents of community* to intrude personally into other people’s lives. I now live in a rural area. It has many advantages, but its human population includes far too many liberals, activists, do-gooders, in short, busybodies for whom community is sacred, an impersonal deity to whom these believers want everyone to know.

These local communitarians make what they mean by “community very clear in their complaints about those who don’t conform to community standards and their attempts to enlist others against these anti-social elements.

Indeed, it is a question of “who eats whom” – who spends their time gnawing away at the reputation of those who don’t fit into their code.

Community, as an ideal, stands in opposition to individuality, because it requires in the reining in of the unique for a supposed greater whole. I recognize no greater whole to whom I am willing to give such power, so I have no interest in community.

Does this mean I want to be isolated?

Well, at times, I do I value my solitude.

But at times, I want to play with others. I simply don’t want to give myself over to any “greater whole”.

And “community”, as its proponents use the term, is just such an imposed greater whole. These proponents use it to enforce a conformity to roles that make you and I intro mere electronic bits coursing through the cybernetic social machine, suppressing the particularities that make you and I interesting to each other.

This increases isolation, as it becomes more and more difficult for anyone to meet each other except as these social functions. And your function doesn’t really interest me. Your particularities, those unique properties through which you create yourself, are why I desire to know you, to interact with you, and community standards serve to suppress them.

So I have no desire for community.

I desire friends, companions, lovers, comrades and accomplices.

In other words, I desire to intentionally and passionately create relationships with specific individuals, because I see a potential for mutual enjoyment and mutual benefit. Friendships, companionships, loves comradeships and compliciters are not things to which I belong, but interactions I willfully create with another.

The origins of some of these words make this clear.

  • A friend is someone you prefer to spend time with out of a love for them.
  • A companion is someone with whom you are willing to share food.
  • A comrade is someone with whom you would share your room.**
  • An accomplice is someone with whom you would join forces for some purpose.
  • And a lover is someone with whom you are able to share a mutual enjoyment and such delight in each other.

In every case, there is no greater whole, no hgiher power, enforcing obligations, merely two or more individuals choosing to itnerwave their unique particularities in order to better enjoy their lives or accomplish an endeavor mutually beneficial to them.

The individuality, the utter incomparable uniqueness of each one involved, provides the basis for the mutuality of these types of relationships – relationships that are never “greater than the some of their parts”, but rather enhance the greatness of each o the individuals taking part in them.

There are two other relationships that I may not desire or treasure as much as those I just described, but that I still prefer to the mutual tolerance and acquiescence necessary to community: enmity and contempt.

To merely tolerate others is intolerable to me.

If your projects, aims or desires conflict with mine, we will be enemies If you are not a worthy enemy, I will scorn you.

To do otherwise -in the name of community, of “getting along” – would be an insult to your individuality, to your uniqueness, and would reinforce the lie of community.

*Of course, the armed enforces of the community, the cops, are there in force to impose community standards.

**Of course, there are imposed “comradeships” in this since: the prisoner with a cell-mate or the conscript in the barracks.


A Meeting of The Minds – The Fool Meets the Blind Man

My Comrades

As for me, when I want to break my solitude, I prefer to go and seek my comrades, elsewhere, among the thieves of fire, the revilers of public authority, the walking dreamers, the furious night owls, the seducers of nuns, the libertines depraved by vice, the dabblers in underground cinema, the hunters for wild strawberries, the madcaps who harangue the clouds, the hooligans of the word, the polishers of the stars, the lone wolves who feed on the Golden Fleece, the drunkards of the absolute … and all those vagabonds of the spirit who will never bow their heads before good people.

These, and these alone, are my comrades.

Please support Apio by sending “…cash, stamps, love letters, hate mail, etc. to Intellectual Vagabond Editions P.O. Box 34 Williams, OR 97544 USA”)

“Illegalism: Why Pay for a Revolution on the Installment Plan…When You Can Steal One?” by Paul Z. Simmons

This essay was originally published in the Fall-Winter 2013-2014 edition of Modern Slavery. I have explicitly heard from one of Simmon’s friends that he would love this piece to spread.

So in that light, here is a transcribed version of the 25 page essay…you’re welcome.

All grammatical mistakes should be seen as my own.

In truth, it isn’t indispensable to feel oneself an anarchist to be seduced by the coming demolitions. All those who society flagellates in the very intimacy of their being instinctively wants vengeance. A thousand institutions of the old world are marked with a fatal sign. Those affiliated with the plot have no need to hope for a distant better future; They know a sure means to seize joy immediately: Destroy passionately!

-Zo d’Axa

Destroy Passionately!

Well as through this world I’ve traveled,

I’ve seen lots of funny men,

Some will rob you with a six gun

and some with a fountain pen

But as through this world you ramble,

as through this world you roam,

you will never seen an outlaw

drive a family from their home.

-Woody Guthrie

Pretty Boy Floyd

Illegalism – The open embrace of criminality as an expression of anarchism, particularly individualist anarchism.

The advent of the illegalist tendency in the last century of the nineteenth and first two decades of the twentieth century, primarily in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy, proved to be yet another contentious, seemingly indefensible dark stain on the soul of Anarchy for many of its working class adherents. Like the terrorists, the assassins, and the bandits – the illegalists presented to the world the tableau of the vessel of social morality tipped, emptied and smashed. For the illegalists crime was an accepted economic activity, and simultaneously the very heart and soul of social insurrection, the negation and the negation of the negation.
Passage into the illegalist milieu portended a commitment that encompassed the condemnation of all law, all morality, a rejection of both virtue and vice. It established a terrain of activity that by definition was beyond the purview of all social institutions and accepted relationships – the landscape of the illegalist was a place where the insurrection had already been fought and won.

The illegalists were probably the most individual of anarchists while simultaneously maintaining the strongest bonds of association and communication, bonds required by the social activity of crime as insurrection. The illegalist milieu also illuminates a singular aspect of utopia, specifically that when the anarchist society is realized it will not be as a result of some esoteric will-to-liberty, or a Freudian erotic demiurge, nor as the result and sum of a labored economic equation, rather utopia will arise as a function of necessity, as banal as breakfast and as certain as summer heat.

In the same manner that the illegalists turned to crime to survive and to speak, so society will turn to utopia to survive … and to speak. Of course, illegalist actions and theory are the stuff from which controversy is manufactured, not even ordinary criminals will condone crime publicly, and the Left, which has always asserted a monopoly on morality, was as outraged as the politicians and the press of the dominant society when anarchists started cracking safes and shooting bank tellers.

Anarchist history provides shining examples of theoretical hypocrisy; certainly the syndicalists, with their dreams of economic organization built atop massive industrial union structures were no grant fans of the illegalists.

The anarcho-communists who had watched as their tendency bled adherents into the various communist parties on one side and the syndicalists on the other were in no position to respond at any level, though Jean Grave, among others would develop a ranting liberal critique of the whole scene.

A very similar controversy reared its head two decades ago when Murray Bookchin and his “social anarchist” minions started throwing much at “lifestyle anarchists” for being uninterested in organizing for the masses for either the social revolution, or even a late July Social Ecology picnic. Though Bookchin obviously felt this was a new controversy within anarchism, his ravings (and ours) had all the trappings of the Syndicalist versus illegalist tribal warfare conducted circa 1910.

Finally, the Occupations of 2011 and the arguments brought for and against violence in the General Assemblies, as reported in the non-MSM press, also seemed yet another rehash of the illegalist controversy that played out a full century ago in France.

Yet, illegalism strikes deeper into anarchy than an economic or political construct –  including class struggle, surplus value, or post-modern analysis done in crayon.

Certainly, the illegalist tap roots penetrate further than most anarchists would like to admit, and they are not only buried in the conceptual tangle that supports the anarchist challenge, they are also present and resonate throughout every historical manifestation of anarchy or anarchism.

Thus one day in a post-insurrectionary era a toddler holding fast to a chair for balance may query a parent – “are you an anarchist, too, Mama?”

For the simple reason that the child already knows that mom is an illegalist – it goes without saying.

Clément Duval from War to Crime to Devil’s Island to New York

The very first illegalist, and the man who would provide the initial intellectul argument for anarchists as criminals was Clément Duval. He had served as a line soldier during the Franco-Prussian War and while unclear whether he participated in the Commune, he was wounded horribly by a Prussian mortar shell and subsequently contracted smallpox while recovering. He spent the next 10 years of his life recovering, including four years in hospital.

Upon release he was basically unemployable, being skilless save soldiering and with multiple physical challenges, and so set about becoming a thief. He also later jointed the legendary anarchist group the Panther of the Batignolles, one of the many contemporary Parisian affinity groups in that era who were notorious for their extreme ideas and also their street actions which seemed designed more to imperil police officers and violate laws than to protest any perceived slight to the anarchist community.

The Panther also doubled as a criminal conspiracy and their occasional forays into illegality would push Deval even further into the milieu. Duval, however, was a pretty mediocre criminal, shortly after joining the Panther he was arrested for the theft of 80 francs and spent a year in prison. Then on October 25th of 1886 Duval broke into a socialites house, stole 15,000 francs and set the house on fire – either accidentally or on purpose, his “confession” is unclear on this point.

He was apprehended two weeks later trying to fence some of the goods from the burglary.

The myth of the illegalists begins with his arrest, for as the cop Rossignol was trying to apprehend Duval, Duval pulled a dagger from his coat and stabbed him repeatedly.

Though Rossignol would survive his wounds, the image of an apprehended criminal striking back at an officer of the law mid-arrest was an addition to the history of crime that only an illegalist could have made. His trial drew loud support from all segments of the anarchist milieu and ended in chaos as he was dragged from court screening, “Long Live Anarchy!”

He had also sent to the anarchist paper La Revolte an article which included the lines,

Theft exists only exists through the exploitation of man by man…when Society refuses you the right to exist, you must take it…the police-man arrested me in the name of the Law, I struck him in the name of Liberty.

Duval was sentenced to the “dry guillotine” of Devil’s Island from which, after 20 unsuccessful attempts, he finally got it right and escaped in April of 1901 and lived out the rest of his life in New York City.

His memoirs were published in 1929, and have just recently been republished (Outrage: An Anarchist Memoir of the Penal Colony, translated by Michael Shreve, PM Press, 2012).

Duval never renounced nor backtracked from his life as an anarchist and criminal.

The Workers of the Night

The second foray of anarchists into the criminal milieu is due to one man, Marius Jacob, who just didn’t seem to be able to fit in.

Initially, a sailor’s apprentice on a voyage to Sydney Austria, he jumped ship at some point in time and among other employments tried piracy but found it too cruel to his tastes.

Upon returning to France he took up typography and militant anarchist activity that ended with him being caught with a parcel of explosives after a string of minor larcenies. Jacob knew when he was beat, and thereafter never sought legitimate employment, rather he gathered around him a group of anarchists similarly alienated from the world of work and formed what they termed the “Workers of the night.”

He used the term “pacifistic illegalism” to describe this new twist on anarchist activities. Jacob and his band evolved a simple though powerful set of guidelines, one does not kill except to protect one’s life an freedom from the police, one steals only from social parasites like bankers, bosses, judges, soldiers, the clergy, and not from useful members of society like doctors, artists or architects.

Finally, a percentage of the proceeds were to be donated to anarchist causes, depending on the choice and tastes of the illegalist doing the stealing and the giving. Jacob and his gang proved to be cunning and successful burglars.

One of the man tricks they introduced was forcing their way into an apartment from the apartment above.

To facilitated this a small hole was drilled through the floor of the top apartment and into the ceiling of the lower dwelling. A closed umbrella was inserted through the hole and opened so that falling debris and noose would be lessened in the target apartment.

From 1900 to 1903 Jacob and his small crew of from two to four burglars perpetuated at least 150 burglaries throughout France, including a smash and grave at the Tours Cathedral and pilfering an Admieral’s mansion in Cherbourg.

Then in April of 1903 the whole venture went sour with the slaying of a police officer in Abbeville during an escape. Jacob and his confederates were eventually captured and tried two years later in Amiens. Anarchists flocked to the city to support him, and while his legal defense left much to be desired he avoided the guillotine and was sentenced to life at hard labor in Cayenne.

After 17 escape attempts he was finally pardoned and returned to France, though he was unhappy in Paris and moved to the Loire Valley where he continued on with his life.

He eventually remarried (his wife had died while he was in the bagne, the Gallic Gulag) and took up a life of commercial travel. In spider of this his anarchist activities never abated. He traveled to Barcelona in 1936 to volunteer for the CNT/FAI militas, but was convinced that the battle would be lost by the communists and republicans and so returned to France.

During the Nazi Occupation he participated in Maquis sabotage squads (mostly expat Spainards, like Sabate, with a score to settle with any fascist – Spanish or German), primarily as a safe house operator and providing food and succor for the guerrillas.

Marius committed suicide by intentional morphine overdose on August 28th 1954.

His suicide was far from surrender, rather he wrote that it was a result of his calm acceptance of being unwilling to fight the rigors of old age. (My father committed suicide with a pistol in March of 2008 for very much the same reason, and I honor his will and courage in his action.)

Marius in the final years of his life developed a mixed attitude towards illegalism, based in part on the old magnetic attraction of proletarian workerist anarchism:

I don’t think that illegalism can free the individual in present-day society. If he manages to free himself of a few constraints using this means, the unequal nature of the struggle will create others that are even worse and, in the end, will lead to the loss of his freedom, the little freedom he had, and sometimes his life.

Basically, illegalism, considered as an act o revolt, is more a matter of temperament than of doctrine. This is why it cannot have an educational effect doctrine. This is why it cannot have an educational effect on the working masses as a whole. By this I mean a worthwhile educational effect.

Strangely, this statement would have been accepted by Bonnot, Garnier and the other illegalists as being accurate – they were not every interested in propaganda by the deed, rather they were convinced that the det itself, the robbery, the assassination, was the insurrection.

The point was not to educate the masses towards the social revolution, but to realize their insurrection here, now and for no one else but the individual, and possibly the union of egoists that she surrounds herself with – the herd, the collaborators – be damned.

Both Marius and Duval must be considered ultimately as proto-illegalists, each saw their respective criminal enterprises in a propaganda-of-the-deed conceptual framework, and as I’reprise individuelle (basically individual expropriation).

The act was justified in a moral universe that turned as nearly as possible the dominant moral codes upside down, but nonetheless acknowledged and accepted society an its flaws as the strawman – the thing that conceptually must be destroyed and altered, manipulated in a negative fashion.

The illegalists, however, were less interested in social revolution than they were in living in a state of rebellion.

Given the chance tey would have saved damn little of the dominant society, and certainly wouldn’t have used it as a negative paradigm from which to design an anarchist community – which is the single greatest conceptual flaw of the workerist anarchism.

In this sense these proto-illegalists seem more aligned to the mass-base anarchist tendencies than to the individualist milleu from which Bonnot and others would arise.

This is best exhibited by Marius’s ploughing his ill gotten gains into any one of a number of anarchist papers and projects, and the fact that such donation was an expected part of the gang’s ethics. Both men viewed their crimes as a means to an end, as a way to pay the rent and also as bringing the social revolution that much closer to fruition by supporting anarchist causes.

One is also reminded of Durruti, Ascaso and Oliver who, during their “pistolero” period, were clearly closer to either Marius, Duval or even Nobiling, than to say, a Kropotkin.

Yet in their case the assassination and robberies were, among other things, a way to support the CNY, and later the FAI, and hence were only mildly tinged with individualist anarchist ideas.

The success of La Revista Blanca, and the popularity of its editors, Federic Montseny and her father Joan (Federico Urales), would leave a deeply individualist mark on all of Spanish anarchism, including the syndicalist CNT.

Given the repression that was present in Spain during the period when such actions took place, criminal or not, their “outrages” were politically consistent and while not illegalist are worth recalling with fondness.

Finally it should be noted that Marxists and the syndicalists who drew dark, bold lines between crime and the working class did so in spite of the very real proclivity of both groups to pass back and forth freely from one social role to the other.

Victor Kibalchich, of whom more later noted of Paris in the early 1900s,

One of the particular characteristics of working class Paris at that time was that it was in contact with the riff-raff, i.e. with the vast world of irregulars, decadents, wretched ones, with the equivocal world.

There were few essential differences between the young worker or artisan of the old quarters of the center and the pimps in the alleys of the neighborhoods of the Halles.

The rather quick-witted driver and mechanic, as a rule, stole whatever they could from the bosses, through class spirt and because they were ‘free’ of prejudices.

Similarly, the majority of “loss” to theft in businesses today is due less to customers than to employees conscious enough to fill their backpacks with store inventory and office supplies after a hard day’s wage slavery.

Toccata and Fugue in Dynamite, Dagger and Pistol

Concurrent with the fusion of anarchism and crime were the waves of assassinations and bombings throughout Europe perpetrated by anarchists. The opening salvo of the assassination campaigns began in the anarchist watershed year of 1878. Emil Max Hodel attempted to end the life of the Kaiser, Wilhelm I, on May 11, 1878 with a pistol. When the first shot strayed he walked across the street to try again, but was apprehended in the process.

Less than a month later the anarchist Dr. Karl Nobling had another go at Wilhelm I, again with a pistol and being a better shot he wounded the aging monarch but did not kill him. Nobling then shot himself in the head, succumbing to his wounds a few weeks later.

Hodel was tried and subsequently beheaded on August 16, 1878.

On November 17, 1878, the anarchist Giovanni Passannante attacked the king of Italy, Umberto I, while on the tour of the kingdom, accompanied by Queen Margherita and the Prime Minister, Benedetto Cairoli.

Wielding a dagger he tried to stab the monarch who warded off the lunge with a sabre blow. The king lived, but Cairoli, a former Garibaldian officer and total sellout, was severely wounded and retired, briefly, from public life.

Passannante was tried and condemned to death, even though that punishment was explicitly reserved for successful regicides. Umberto commuted his sentence to life imprisonment in a cell only 1.4 meters high, without sanitation and wearing thirty pounds of chains. Passanante would later die in an insane asylum from his treatment during his years in hell.

The Russian anarchist populist People’s Will (Norodnya Volya) finally got it right (after several wild attempts) on 13 March, 1881 by tossing a bomb into Czar Aleksandr II’s coach. the bomb fired but didn’t harm the autocrat, however, as he stood in the street observing the carnage – and waiting for the transport back to the Winter Palace, another member of the People’s Will, also armed with a bomb, thew it at Aleksandr’s feet, which exploded – killing himself instantly.

The repression by the Russian state was savage ad in response the People’s Will set about plotting to kill the replacement czar, Nicholas. Their plans were uncovered leading to the arrest and hanging of Alecksandr Ulianov, Lenin’s older brother; which launched his younger sibling on teh road to the Marxists/statist counterrevolution.

So in terms of the long term political scorecard an anarchist should probably chalk that assassination up to a draw – sure they got Aleksandr, but ultimately the world got the Bolsheviks. Mixed bag.

The political violence revives, after a ten year lull, in 1891 in France when during a May Day celebration at Fourmies the police fired into a crowd of workers with a new device, the Lebel machine gun – by official count 14 dead, 40 wounded.

On the same day a small anarchist demonstration of laborers in Clichy degenerated into a running gun battle after the police attempted to break up the meeting. Three of the anarchist fighters from Clichy were rewarded by the French justice system with unusually harsh prison sentences for the time (three and five years).

Enter Ravachol, an impoverished, but highly motivated, anarchist who unreleased a singular and determined bombing campaign.

First he bombed the home of the presiding judge of the Clichy anarchists (March 1, 1892), then the Lobau police barracks, where Communard prisoners had been taken to be executed (March 15, 1892).

Ravachol was turned in after speaking a bit too openly about his exploits to a waiter while having dinner. He was arrested and executed in July of 1892.

Of note is the fact that on the day before the start of his trial a bomb exploded in the restaurant where Ravachol had spilled the beans to the waiter; evidently an attempt at vengeance.

Next stop Spain – November 7, 1893, with the tossing of two Orsini bombs by the anarchist Santiago Salvador into the orchestra pit of the Liceu Theater in Barcelona meant to avenge the garroting of anarchists in Jerez. The explosions killed twenty and injured an unknown number of others.

Not to be outdone by a Spanish comrade, and with Ravachol’s guillotine to avenge – on December 9, 1893 August Vaillant walking into the Chamber of Deputies in Paris and tossed a bomb packed with nails at the assorted legislators (no fatalities, one injury). He gave himself up and was guillotined on February 3, 1894.

Then on February 12, 1894 Emile Henry upped the ante and tossed a bomb into the Cafe Terminus at the Fare St. Lazare train station to avenge the death of Vaillant. He was apprehended, tried and guillotined on the 21st of May in the same year. Henry distinguishes himself by giving a brilliant account of his political movement towards anarchism and his justification for his bombing in court.

The peroration is still reprinted to this day (link to transcribed NY article on Vaillant) and is worth the time spent to read it.

Finally to top it all off Sante Geronimo Casrio, an Italian anarchist, to avenge the death of Henry Vaillant, Ravachol and anybody else he could think of, stabbed and killed the French President Sadi Carnot on 24 June 1894. He was tried and guillotined in Lyons on 15 August of the same year.

The life of bombings and assassinations goes on almost without interruption until September 1932, when several galleanisti, using a large dynamite device, effectively leveled the home of Just Webster Thayer, who presided over the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti – then resumes again in the sixties and continues on into the present…

Disharmonic Convergence

In terms of political activity and propaganda things were also afoot in the form of Albert Joseph, or Albert Libertad, or just Libertad.

Born in 1875 in Bordeax and abandoned at birth he became a ward of the state, and faced the usual miserabilist existence then doled out by the Third Republic to its unfortunates. Having lost the use of a leg as a result of childhood illness, probably polio, Libertad walked the rest of his life with the assistance of canes or crutches – which also doubled as clubs in a fight.

At the age of 21 Libertad moved to Paris and dove into writing, publishing, organizing, partying, lovemaking, just about every available opportunity for life and joy was not lost on the man. He worked and contributed to numerous journals including Le Libertaire, L’En-Dehors, and finally on 13 April 1905 there appeared the influential individualist journal that he founded, I’Anarchie, a four page broadsheet.

The journal was widely read, and being sufficiently easy to publish occasionally had incredible large print runs; as an example one issue specific to the July 14th holiday was issued in a print run of 1000,000. (By comparison, most contemporary North American anarchist publications run far less than 5,000 copies – Modern Slavery has an average print run of 3k.)

This issue included a manifesto appropriately entitled “The Bastille of Authority.” During Libertad’s life he met and worked with an astonishing array of writers, artists and oddly, politicians.

As an example, he worked as a correct on Astride Briand’s journal La Lanterne, which is weird because Briand was not only a Socialist Politician but served a total of eleven terms as Prime Minister of France, and later offered one of the first proposals for an economic union of European nation-states some 90 years before the EU was realized.

Libertad also worked with various anarchist agitators from Zo d’Axa (quoted above), the founder of the pre-eminent individualist anarchist journal, L’En-Dehors (The Outside), reborn in 2002 and currently a franco-phone website (; Sebastien Faure, Victor Kibalchich, George Mathias, Paraf-Javal, and Émile Armand.

The last two anarchists listed, along with Libertad, founded and organized the Causeries Populaire, well-attended individualist anarchist public discussion groups which eventually proliferated throughout Paris.

Libertad wrote in short clipped stacccato pronouncements strung together by a common theme, very like prose poetry (see here).

Finally, Libertad’s version of free love and his natural combativeness backfired when in February of 1908 during an internecine individualist brawl he was kicked in the stomach by one of the two Mahe sisters, both of whom had been at one time or another his lovers. He died a week later in the hospital.

Victor Kibalchich picked up the editorship of l’Anarchie, and if anything cranked the articles into a vritual storm of individualist and illegalist rhetoric.

L’Anarchie moved rapidly into deep individualist waters propelled not only by the experimentation of the editorial staff with free love, vegetarianism and water-only diets, but by the discovery of the anarchist community in France of Max Stirner, the prophet of the sovereign self.

His work, L’Unique et sa Properiete, was read, quoted, argued, lauded and revilved throughout the first decade of the 20th century in France, and indeed in most of Europe and the United States by anarchists of all stripe.

Stirner’s most basic argument is grounded in an effective reduction of all conceptual political categories to ash, he derides all external loci of power, coercion and control and places the individual his or her needs and desires, including the desire for real community, at the center of his universe.

When first published in German, Marx, among others immediately recognized the rammifications of the work and in response he wrote a typically lengthy and dull polemic in The German Ideology in a failed attempt to squash the individualist challenge.

Later editions of MArx’s book edited out the most of the anti-Stirner material (almost 300 pages), primarily as a result of the shunting of The Unique and Its Property into a sideyard of theory for several decades.

With the re-discovery of Stirner in the 1890’s, and the printing of the first French translation of his work in 1900, the individualists had found a sound theoretical underpinning for a number of different projects.

As an example of Stirner’s thought that directly addresses the issue of crime, guilt and liberation,

Only when I expect neither from individuals nor from a collectivity what I can give myself, only then do I scrape the bonds of – love; the rabble stops being rabble only when it seizes….Only that seizing is sin, crime, only this rule creates a rabble…If people reach the point where they lose respect for property, then everyone will have property, as all slaves become free people as soon as they longer respect the master as master.

The praise of crime was not just sounded in the individualist milieu and journals, rather it was found in almost all of the anarchist press of the time with varying degrees or rabidity.

One of the better examples was Emile Pouget’s journal Pere Peinard, the most widely read working class anarchist periodical, described vividly by a contemporary as,

[having] no display of philosophy [which is not to say that it had none], it played upon the appetites, prejudices, and rancorous of the proletariat. Without reserve or disguise, it incited theft, counterfeiting, the repudiation of taxes and rents, killing and arson. It counseled the immediate assassination of deputies, senators, judges, priests and army officers.

It urged … farm laborers and vineyard workers to take possession of the farm and vineyards, and to turn the landlords and vineyard owners into fertilizing phosphates … it recounted the exploited of olden-time brigands and outlaws and exhorted contemporaries to follow their example.

So the anarchist press hasn’t really changed that much, the above content being stock in trade for the best libertarian periodicals now.

By 1910 all this theorizing, bombing, thieving individualist philosophy and intransigence would produce a group of young men and women determined to settle the score with bourgeois society in the form of the Bonnot Gang.

Beginnings: The Gang Forms

Of significance is the fact that Belgium plays a role in the formation of the gang; the small, primarily franco-phone monarchy served as a destination for young men seeking to avoid service in the French army, political exiles, and on the lam criminals. Several gang members would first encounter each other in Brussels and there they found sufficient agreement in ideals and goals to begin the process of forming themselves into a working illegalist combine.

Our first suspect is Raymond Callemin (La Science) who was born in Brussels and the earliest childhood friend of Victor Kibalchich, scion of an impoverished Russian refugee family. The two young men worker their way through a course of reading and drifting slowly towards anarchism which among other results caused Raymond’s father, an alcoholic and disillusioned socialist, to disown him for keeping bad company.

Kiabalchich would eventually land a job on the French side of the border and while there made contact with Causeries Popularies speakers and promoters, and it was here that he met and became enamored of Henriette Maitrejean (Rirette). Rirette had been married to an anarchist worker living in Paris at 17 but by the age of twenty-two with two small children and finding her husband rather boring had drifted through various anarchist millieux until finally she settled into individualist circles.

One of the main anarchist papers in Brussels, Le Revolte, served as a center for anarchist and later individualist activities and propaganda. It was here that Edouard Carouy, the paper’s editor encountered a young Parisian draft dodger, thief, and anarchist named Octave Garnier, one of the two primary founders, with Bonnot of course, of the Bonnot Gang.

Garnier had been born in Fontainbelau, near Paris, on Christmas in 1989. Garnier’s life of crime begins early and he was initially imprisoned at the age of 17 for conducting a series of smash and grabs. Exiting prison he found that without the requisite formal certificated indicating responsibility, sobriety and distaste for rebellion, most employers would have nothing to do with him. So taking a practical stance he had the appropriate forms forged and entered in to the world of work, which he found to be far nastier than unemployment, theft, or prison.

He drifted from job to job, tried his hand at being a mechanic, but was repeatedly rejected by employers.

During this period of drifting employment he participated in a number of strikes – which disillusioned him to the viability of a working class revolution. He found his workmates more interested in drink than in changing their situation, and this proclivity only made them more brutish, dull and easily led. He observed that union leaders, and especially the syndicalists, were about the same as the capitalists as they both sought to manipulate workers to serve their own ends.

Finally he concluded in his biography, penned shortly before his death and found on his body,

So I became an anarchist. I was about eighteen and no longer wanted to go back to work, so once again I began la reprise individuelle.

By May 1910 he was nearing the age of being called up into the armed forces and so began to drift towards the refuge of Belgium. Of note here is that the law of 1905 instituting compulsory military service had created an entire underclass of the militarily-challenged, by one 1910 estimate a full 90,000 Frenchmen were being sough for draft evasion or outright desertion.

While in Belgium Garnier finally found himself in the company of at least some semi-professional criminals, including Carouy the editor of Le Revolte, who augmented his income as a part-time pipe fitter with an occasional burglary; counterfeiting was also on the menu, and here he was instructed  by Louis Maitrejean, Rirette’s erstwhile husband.

Meanwhile Victor, having arrived in PAris, began writing for l’Anarchie, and finally got the chance to spend more with time Rirette, who, at their first encounter, found him uninteresting and “a poser.” It was in the Luxembourg Gardens that Victor introduced Rirette to a shy young anarchist named Rene Valet.

Valet was born into a middle class home, became interested in anarchism at a young age and had fled Belgium to to avoid military service. It was there that he met Victor and Garnier.

His stay in Belgium was short though and upon return to Paris he collaborated on the journal Le Libertaire, attended anarchist meetings, and spent a lot of free time with Victor. It was during this period that Rirette introduced Victor to Andre Soudy, a pale thin young man and the most easily identifiable symbol of the Bonnot Gang as the photographic image of “the man with the rifle” had passed into the anarchist collective consciousness, including some rather impressive tattoos based on the photo.

Victor described Soudy as, the perfect example of the crushed childhood of the back -alleys. He grew up on the street: TB at thirteen, VD at eighteen…”

In the close anarchist circles in which Soudy moved he was known by the nickname “Pas de chance” (not a chance – a very prescient moniker indeed). It also reflected the fact that he felt his life was to be short given “the price of medicine”.

Then in the midst of all the fermentation in Paris an event in Tottenham, a northern suburb of London, broke like a storm on the international anarchist community.

In December of 1910, several members of a Latvian revolutionary cell, while engaged in breaking into a jewelers store, were interrupted by the police. The comrades shot their way out, killing three policemen and wounding two, in the process also killing the leader of the kommando.

Eventually two comrades were traced back to Tottenham and there fought one of the anarchist equivalents of Thermopylae – there would be others.

The two men, armed only with pistols, held off seven hundred soldiers and dozens of cops.

The Home Office was eventually forced to bring in artillery, and a young Winston Churchhill, to the battle. The fires started by the cannonade ended the confrontation with the anarchists expiring in the flaming building – they never surrendered.

The news traveled quickly around Europe and the Americas drawing praise from most anarchist groups and derision from the powers that be.

A young and impressionable Alfred Hitchcock read all he could about the “Seige of Sidney Street” and eventually would put his artistic spin on it in the final scene of the 1934 version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

Kibalchich wrote an article in I’Anarchie entitled simply “Two Men” and in it he lays down one of the many conceptual visions that would subsequently animate the Bonnot Gang,

In the ordinary sense of the word we cannot and will not be honest. By definition, the anarchist lives by expediency; work for him, is a deplorable expedient, like stealing…He takes no account of any conventions which safeguard property; for him, force alone counts. Thus we have neither to approve nor disapprove of illegal actions.

We say: they are logical.

The anarchist is always illegal – theoretically. The sole word ‘anarchist’ means rebellion in every sense.

Several other minor actors join the group over the course of the next several months, mostly very young men well heeled in individualist anarchism and burning for some way, any way, to strike back at bourgeois society.  This amorphous group moves back and forth across Paris, flats were rented, small communes came into being and were abandoned, arguments materialized and were forgotten.

The single greatest surprise of these months is that somehow the illegalists found themselves in complete control of I’Anarchie, with Kibalchich and Rirette taking over editorial duties.

The Final Puzzle Piece – Bonnot

Much has been made of the character of Jules Bonnot, a charlatan, a dandy, a sociopath, a criminal masquerading as an anarchist, or vice versa.

It is known that unlike the other members of the gang he did serve in the military and made the most of the experience.

He learned to drive and fix motor cars and became a crack shot with both pistol and rifle – two skills that would serve him well when he decided on a career in crime.

Finally he was older than most of the other gang members by a decade, which provided him with determination and, strangely, a measured recklessness that rapidly infected (and affected) his younger comrades.

Mostly centered in Lyon after military service, he did occasional mechanic work and waited for the right burglary to come along – and when it did he hit it big. Bonnot had been traveling around to the homes of various lawyers posing as a businessman asking for legal services and inquiring about the climate for commerce in various regions of France.

In July 1910 he found his target, the home of a wealthy lawyer from Vienne; Bonnot and an accomplice drove to the house during a downpour to cover any sounds of the burglary. They cut through some shutters, broke a pane of glass, and Bonnot, using oxyacetylene torch burned a hole 30 cm wide into the safe from which 36,000 unfried francs were removed.

By the winter of 1911 Bonnot was finding Lyons far too warm for comfort, the heat included a visit to a garage he had been working at by the police where, among other swag, two recently stolen Terrot automobiles from the nearby Weber factory were identified. Bonnot had luckily beenout and after learning of the visit headed to Paris directly, only to return a few weeks later to see the love of his life, Judith, one last time.

Judith’s husband worked as a grounds keeper in a cemetery and the two lovers said their final goodbyes among the quiet snow-blanketed tombs.

They would never see each other again.

So Bonnot and a companion, the hapless Platano, set off for Paris in a stolen La Bruite automobile on 26 November 1911.

The journey was to be marred by misfortune, first of all, in spite of the freezing weather, the La Buire began to overheat causing the two companions to spend the night in a small hotel at Joigny.

The enxt day they set off again, only this time one of the cars tires punctured and as Bonnot set about fixing the flat, Platano began to inspect his newly acquired Browning 9mm pistol. According to Bonnot as he took the weapon from Platano to show him its mechanism, it discharged and shot Platano behind the ear, wounding him fatally.

Bonnot, not wanting to leave his comrade mortally wounded, shot him again in teh head and then tossed the body in the bushes after emptying the dead mans pockets.

Bonnot then sped off towards Paris.

The La Buire like Platano, finally died and Bonnot was forced to take a train during the final leg of the journey into the Gare de Lyon. News of the death traveled rapidly to Lyons, and Bonnot was immediately identifies as the most likely suspect.

Police scoured his former residences where they culled anarchist literature, burglar’s tools, and the 25,000 francs that Bonnot had meant to be a nest egg for his life with Judith.

Finally, Judith and her spouse were taken into custody and a warrant was issued for Bonnot’s arrest.

Fortune was on Bonnot’s side however, as the Paris papers ignored the story, so while being hunted in Lyon – he was relatively free to restart his criminal enterprises in the capital.

Upon arrival in Paris Bonnot looked up David Belonie, an anarchist whose name he had been given by contacts in Lyon; he explained the death of Platano to Belonie and it was suggested that a meeting of the illegalists be held to review the situation leading to the accident and to provide Bonnot the opportunity to clear himself of the homicide fully with the comrades.

A meeting was arranged in a top garret in Montmarte, Garnier, La Science, Carouy, Valet and a few others settled in to hear Bonnot’s side of the story. Bonnot aquitted himself well – angrily explaining the accident and denying that he’d kill Platano, rather the shooting was a freak accident.

The final coup de grace was delivered to save the wounded man from any further pain, not in an attempt to silence a homicide victim.

Sometime during the “trial” Garnier, and possibly others, realizes that this Bonnot was the man they had been waiting for – a mechanic, a sharpshooter, a tried and tested criminal with a certain degree of sang-froid, including ten years of experience in the demi-monde to boot.

The Gang Bangs: A Fistful of Bullets

Within weeks Garnier, Bonnot and La Science began working together on their “big job”.

A quick tangential note about the favored anarchist weapon of the time, the Browning 9mm semi-automatic pistol. Thought not as accurate as other 9mm weapons like the Mauser, it was light, easily concealed, and ammunition was readily available; further with a seven round clip and capable of firing off five clips per minute it was vastly superior to most pistols wielded by the forces of law and order, especially the clunky cavalry surplus revolvers carried by the Paris police.

Finally, the Browning 9mm was the weapon wielded by Gavrilo Princip to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo precipitating the First World War, and to bring the discussion full circle the Browning was manufactured in Belgium, very much like the Bonnot Gang.

The illegalists had visited various areas outside Paris to find an auto with which to perpetuate their crime and finally settled on a 1910 Delaunay-Belleville limousine belonging to a bourgeois in the suburb of Boulogne-sur-Seine.

The Delaunay-Belleville was considered one of the best cars then available, with a six-cylinder thirty horsepower engine and a distinctive circular radiator – Bonnot clearly had a hand in the decision, he rarely settled for second best.

The name also had anarchist connotations, Delaunay being the anarchist assassin of the second-in-command of the Surete in 1909 and Belleville being the Paris suburb where the Commune had begun, and where during the final bloody week of street fighting most of the Communards had been slaughtered by the troops of the triumphant Third Republic.

Bonnot, Garnier, and La Science stole the automobile on the night of 13 December without a hitch.

The next decision, however, was the key, who or what would they rob?

And when?

They had weapons, a series of safe houses sprinkled throughout the outer boroughs of Paris and an impressively fast car.

Ont he evening of December 20th the four illegalists, Bonnot, Garnier, La Science, and one other usually thought to be either Rene Valet or Jon De Boe, picked up an acetylene torch and like Bonnot’s previous burglary planned to enter the home of a bourgeois and relieve the capitalist of the contents of his safe.

The weather, however, remained dry and clear, and Bonnot insisted that they have rain to cover at least some of the noise made during the breaking and entering.

At about half past three they gave up on the burglary plan and decided instead to go for a more bold, innovative job that had been planned by Garnier and Bonnot a few days before – a daylight robbery on the bank messenger for the Societie Generale, the largest Parisian bank and rivaled nationally only by the Credit Lyonnais.

The robbery would take place just as a bank messenger was to deposit funds into a branch of the Societie Generale in the Rue Ordener, just west of the Butte de Montmarte, which would allow the gang to either flee outside of Paris rapidly or to use the neighborhoods of Belleville or Montmarte as a screen.

The men must have felt an air of destiny in the whole endeavor, Bonnot was wanted for murder and if caught would surely face the guillotine, Garnier and Carouy were wanted for an attempted murder in Charleroi, forgery, and had been under surveillance for several months, and Raymond La Science, the only non-fugitive, with his disgust for bourgeois society clearly had little to lose either.

They ran through the plan a few times and around eight o’clock found themselves parked on the Rue Ordener.

“We were fearfully armed,” recalled Garnier, “I had no less than six revolvers on me, my companions each had three, and we had about four hundred rounds in our pockets; we were quite determine to defend ourselves to the death.”

A little after eight Octave spotted the guard walking out of the bank and towards the corner where the messenger would arrive. The guard stood on the corner and waited in the drizzle.

At last one of the local street cars ground to a halt and a handful of bowler-hatted men stepped off, though only one was greeted with a handshake from the guard. The bank messenger carried a satchel and briefcase.

As both men began to walk towards the bank, branch Garnier pulled his hat down low and said, “Let’s go,” as he stepped out of the car. He fixed his gaze on the messenger and marched straight towards him, with La Science a few paces behind.

Twenty yards from the bank, and six from the cash laden messenger Octave and Raymond pulled out their pistols and thrust them in to the bodyguard’s and messenger’s faces. The guard made a sprint for the bank doors as Garnier pushed the messenger down to the ground and grabbed his satchel.

Raymond grabbed the briefcase but the messenger reused to let go of it and was dragged a few yards up the street towards the waiting Delaunay.

Octave shot the messenger twice in the chest and ran to the car that Bonnot had just brought alongside the action. Octave jumped in the front seat, and Raymond, after dropping the briefcase in the gutter and retrieving it, hopped into the back seat.

Garnier held his pistol out the window and fired a few shots above the heads of any would be pursuers, and any traffic that impeded the escape. Five minutes later they flew past the Port de Clichy customs barrier and headed northwest towards St. Denis. Sometimes around 11 o’clock they halted the car and divided up the loot.

The small satchel revealed just 5,500 fr and the briefcase some 130,000 fr in bonds and checks. What was unknown to the men was that the messenger carried a small wallet inside his coat where the remaining 20,000 fr in cash was stashed.

Bonnot was irritated, he was much more comfortable with burglary and now that he had tried a daylight robbery it hadn’t even paid very well.

They stopped fro bread and chocolate and the proceeded to Rouen. They had decided to dump the auto over a cliff near Le Havre but ran out of gas too soon, so they pushed the car onto the breach where it stuck deep in the mud.

They stripped the license plates – one of which was thrown into the sea and the other into a large garden behind a seaside casino. The men then took a late boat train back into Paris, arriving about 1 am.

Upon alighting in the Gare St-Lazare train station Raymond bought a copy of the right-wing La Patrie whose headlines included, “The Audacity of Parisian Brigands – A Bank Messenger Attacked in Rue Ordener”, and “Bold Attack in Daylight.” La Presse reported the robbery as being “without precedent in the history of crime,” and called them, “les bandtis auto” – the auto bandits.

The Press also blasted the police for allowing such a thing to happen, especially when it was discovered that of the 84 cops assigned to the area where the robbery occurred only 18 were on duty at any given time.

The Times of London editorialized that, “at the moment when theives and other pests of society are daily resorting to more daring methods, the police are being more diverted from their primary duties in order to mount guard over strike-breakers and others who … in normal circumstances ought not require special protection.”

In this sense the class struggle, far from being the means to the social revolution, was proving to be an effective diversion for the ends of the illegalist insurrection.

The issue of the bonds and checks immediately played on the minds of the illegalists so Bonnot, with an interpreter, went to Amsterdam to see if they could recoup some of the money lose in the robbery by selling, trading or finding some way to turn the effectively worthless paper instruments into francs.

Of course the bonds’ and checks’ individual numbers were known across Europe within hours of the robbery and he was advised to wait until the heat had dissipated, or try cashing them in South America or Asia, where the likelihood of their origins may not, as yet, have been made known.

On the afternoon of December 24th La Science and Octave decided to visit Kibalchich and Rirette at home.

They knocked lightly at the door and a wide-eyed, incredulous Rirette let them in, hardly believing them still alive. They sat quietly and discussed the robbery with Victor, while Rirette occasionally shushed them for fear of waking the children.

As hours drew long the church bells rang in the new day, Christmas Day 1912, Garnier suddenly realized it was his birthday, he was 22.

The two illegalists took their leave of Victor and Rirette and went their own ways to spend the Christmas holiday.

Victor, however, seeing Raymond and Garnier at close quarter had realized that the time had come for I’Anarchie to rise to th occasion and to pour some gasoline on the illegalists’ fire, and to stand, at least in journalistic solidarity with the actions of the illegalists.

Kiabalchich faced the dual issue of his friendship with La Science, and his acquaintance with Garnier, (Bonnot being unknown to him), and for the fact that much of his writings were clearly an incitement to just exactly the type of action that had occurred on the Rue Ordener.

Something had to be written, and write it he did – in the first edition of I’Anarchie for the New Year appearing on Thursday 4 January 1912, bylined Le Retif and titled “The Bandit,”

To shoot, in full daylight, a miserable bank clerk proved that some men at least have understood the virtues of audacity.

I am not afraid to own up to it; I am with the bandits. I find their role a fine one; I see Men in then. Besides them I see only fools and nonentities.

Whatever may result, I like those who struggle.

Perhaps it will make you die younger, or force you to experience the manhunt and the penal colony; perhaps you will end up beneath the foul kiss of the guillotine.

That may be! I like those who accept the risk of a great struggle…

Besides one’s destiny whether as victor or vanquished isn’t it preferable to sullen resignation and the slow interminable agony of the proletarian who will die in retirement, a fool who has gained nothing out of life?

The bandit, he gambles. He has therefore chances of winning. And that is enough.

The bandits show strength.

The bandits show audacity.

The bandits show their firm desire to live.

Kibalchich was not done.

He knew that his friends were still at large and that now was the time to attempt to build some level of understanding and even support for the auto bandits among the various anarchist communities.

In notes for two causeries held during the weekend of January 27 and 28 he further developed his ideas.

He argued that society was the enemy of all individuality through its laws of social conservation and conformity, which deformed individuals into stunted, though “socialized” beings who could do little more than conform to a per-defined role.

He was under no illusions about social progress, and fatalistically suggested that things had been, were and would continue to be pretty much the same.

As he indicated in a reply to a letter criticizing his article on the bandits, he considered their actions being “logical, inevitable, even necessary.”

Kibalchich would write one more article for I’Anarchie defending the bandits entitled, “Anarchists and Criminals,” in which he emphasized, “Outlaws, marginals, bandits – they alone dare, like us, to proclaim their will to live at any price. Certainly they live far from us, far from our dreams and our desires,” but he had as much sympathy for them as he had for, “honest folks who’ve either made it or missed the boat.”

Whatever that last line meant in modifying the general intransigence of the rest of the article, he was, at least, clear about the importance of the bandits, and their crimes as they apply to theory.

The police, however, were under no illusions as to how close, both physically and ideologically, I‘Anarchieand the auto bandits were to each other.

On January 31st the offices of I’Anarchie were raided and searched, though nothing of ntoe was found in that incursion. Of interest is the attitude of Jouin, the Inspector in charge of the anarchist section for the Surete, who spoke to Kiblchich wistfully of the ideas of Jean Grave, and how the illegalists were harming the “good name” of Anarchy.

Which is an old trick and has been used as recently as the arrest of Stuart Christie for his alleges involvement in the Angry Brigade Bombings of the early seventies when during his questioning the interrogating officer came on as an anarchist sympathizer more concerned with saving the good name of anarchy, than being a bloodhound sniffing about for sufficient evidence to send the arrestees to prison for several decades.

Yet another lesson for us all – beware the empathetic, politically engaged cops who “respects” your ideals – his real motive is to suck your blood, steal your time, and sink your soul – not save the good name of Anarchy.

The police returned later the next week and searched I’Anarchie’s offices once again, this time they unearthed two of the ubiquitous 9mm Brownings, which led to both Victor and Rirette’s arrest for the possession of stolen goods (the pistols) which they identified as swag from the burglary of a gunsmith’s shop that had occurred on Christmas Eve 1911.

Rirette was eventually turned loose, but Victor waited in jail for something to occur that would either lead to freedom or to his being charged as a fence for stolen property; either way his oaths of silence and non-cooperation with police interrogators ran deep and he remained silent – willing to sit out his detention.

The illegalists for their part were pretty certain the Surete was only a few steps behind them so they went to ground, changing their hair color and shaving off their distinctive moustaches; further Bonnot suggested that they begin to dress like the bourgeois enemy to allay suspicion – so he handed out collars, cuffs and new shirts to further their disguises.

Despite the notoriety attached to the Rue Ordener robbery, not one of the gang members thought for a minute of leaving France, let alone Paris.

La Science and Octave also maintained contact with Rirette, meeting her in restaurants and cafes to get the latest news and to hear how Victor was holding up in the belly of the beast.

The gang also kept scouting out new locations for the robberies and burglaries, particularly in the south, eventually happening upon Ellie Monier (aka Simentoff) yet another draft dodger who had flung himself as far as Switzerland to escape French military service.

In 1910 he had written a brief piece for I’ Anarchie detailing an anti-syndicalist action for comrades in Arles. He readily joined the insurgent army of crime when the time came for his assistance.

On 15 February 1912 a superb Peugeot limousine was stolen in Beziers by persons unknown and driven northwards towards Paris.

By 9 am the following morning, however, the limo had flattened and the five well-dressed occupants of the auto managed to get a lift from a local garage owner as far as Beaune. After lunch the men caught a train to Paris, arriving in at 6:15 pm. No one would ever be charged with the theft but the Surete detectives suspected it was yet another exploit of Bonnot and the gang.

Four days later the Parisian press announced that the hunt for Garnier had reached as far afield as Chemnitz and Berlin, though the gang’s next “outrage” showed just how close the illegalists had stayed to their old stomping grounds.

In a spasm of spontaneity the gang had decided to travel south to rob the Lavernede mine near Alais and then the Comptoir National d’Escompte (a bank) near Nimes.

 Once again they chose a Delaunay-Belleville for a getaway car, this one well fitted out by a bourgeois who was planning to follow the Tour de-France as it wound its way through the French countryside.

The car though, almost from the very beginning, developed mechanical problems and after four hours wasted getting it repaired the disgruntled illegalists headed back to Paris. A real lemon.

Their drive though Paris was epic by the standards of the day, Bonnot behind the wheel kept the limo above 80 miles an hour through much of the city knocking over a few stalls near the Palais Royale and barely missing an autobus backing out of a berth at the Gare St-Lazare by hopping the car up onto the sidewalk nearly crushing two pedestrians as the engine coughed and sputtered into silence.

A traffic policeman who had been watched as the limo careened wildly to avoid disaster hurried over to demand the driver’s papers. Bonnot ignored the cop and finally got the engine roaring again.

Garnier who had stepped out of the Delaunay for a moment, probably to slow the onset of an oncoming panic-induced heart attack, hopped into the back seat as the cop jumped on the running board and attempted to grab the wheel.

Garnier thinking quickly, fired three bullets point blank into the cops chest killing him as his body crumpled off the side of the car and collapsed into the road. Bonnot pushed the Delaunay back up to speed.

Two “honest” citizens attempted to give chase in their own automobiles but were mistaken by the gathering crowd as the auto bandits and were surrounded, and nearly seized and lynched.

Despite the best efforts of the mob to exact vigilante justice, the car of the would-be heroes pulled away from the growing pocket of bystanders and sped off only to run over a hapless young woman crossing the street. Their pursuit finally abandoned, the luckless posse of two were questioned severely by police, and subsequently released.

Bonnot and the others continued their search for a target and after 24 hours finally found a house worth burglarizing. They made quick work of the safe but raised enough noise to wake the inhabitants of the house.

The owner of the mansion, yet another lawyer, thinking quickly fired six shots at the burglars, which sent the illegalists running for cover and ended the attempt of the gang for an honest, non-violent burglary.

Octave, in a fit of pique, found sufficient flammables to set the Delaunay alight and the gang returned to Paris without a penny to show for 48 hours of wild illegality, including very nearly vehicular manslaughter.

As a result the gang decided to lay low for a few months and during this time the Surete went into overdrive arresting anyone even remotely associated with I’Anarchie, eventually catching two fish worth having – Belonie and Rodriguez, the two fences who had been given the responsibility of selling the bonds and checks taken during the Ordener robbery. After selling the financial instruments and realizing a small sum for the gang both men were taken into custody and Rodriguez started doing all in his power to avoid the guillotine, both wet and dry.

The illegalists had grown somewhat depressed in the meantime; the sale of the bonds had yielded almost nothing, their last attempt at crime had been fun but a fiasco, the anarchist community had almost unanimously condemned them, and just as a final painful reminder of just how isolated they truly were I’Anarchie had published a piece bylined “LA”that had thrown some real much at the gang.

The author had called them, “feeble, narrow minded simpletons,” who theories were a load of crap; LA further noted that while their lives would be short, it was necessary for all anarchists to denounce their deeds and move as rapidly as possible in the opposite direction.

Of course the article drew scorn from a few in the individualist camp, an article written in response by Victor Metric scorned LA roundly and concluded with a request for funds to assist those in custody.

Garnier, of course, was nothing if not incensed and in order to get out in front of the criticism decided to do something truly seismic – he would write a challenge and send it in to one of the scions of the bourgeois press, Le Atin, which published it on 20 March 1912.

In the letter addressed to specific detectives in the surete including Jouin, he taunted them and ridiculed the 10,000 fr offered to his companion Marie to betray him, adding, “…multiply the sum by ten, messiuers, and I will surrender myself to your mercy, bound hand and foot…”

He goes on to exonerate one of his friends caught in the dragnet, Dieudonne, and emphasized that he alone was guilty.

Lastly he declared that,

I know that there will be an end to this struggle which has begun between me and the formidable arsenal at Society’s disposal. I know that I will be beaten; I am the weakest.

But I sincerely hope to make you pay dearly for your victory.

Concluding jauntily, “Awaiting the pleasure of meeting you…Garnier.”

Another enclosed sheet of paper bore inked impressions of Garnier’s index finger and right hand to prove the identity of the author.

Bonnot, not to be outdone by his partner walked into the offices of the Petit Parisien (a Parisian equivalent of the tabloid press today like the Sun in the UK or the New York Post), and placing his Browning menacingly on the desk of the journalist Charles Saurwein and stated that,

We’ll fire our last round at the cops, and if they don’t care to come, we’ll eventually know where to find them.

Then after picking up his pistol he walked nonchalantly out of the paper’s office.

Of course the paper should have contracted the police immediately, it was the bourgeois thing to do, but the but the gang was slowly beginning to garner some mild popular sympathy, and the police, for whom the average Parisian felt at least a tinge of hostility, were sinking low in the perceptions of the press.

As an example many journals had begun to call the gang “the tragic bandits” though the Petit Parisien had settled on the “Bonnot Gang,” which would stick long after the gang and the journal ceased to exist.

The effect of these interactions with the press was to bring even more pressure to bear on the police to do something spectacular and apprehend the outlaws, and completely outrageous.

Garnier had been thinking about firepower a great deal, feeling that though the police in Paris carried only old cavalry revolvers the gang needed something truly intimidating to make the next robbery successful.

He finally found what he was looking for when he purchased four Winchester rifles from a local anarchist fence – basically the modern equivalent of would-be criminals among themselves with surface to air missiles, or rocket propelled grenades to rob a 7-11.

 Car owners throughout Paris had become far more security conscious as a result of the spate of recent auto thefts, so in response the illegalists developed their final innovation to modern criminal activity-  the car-jacking.

The gang, this time was made up of Soudy, Garnier, Bonnot, Valet and the new guy, Monier. They armed themselves, including Soudy who carried the Winchester under his great coat, and took suburban trains into the countryside.

They disembarked at Villeneuve and walked as the final rays of sun peaked from behind trees into the forest to bed down for the night. they had selected a piece of road on the N5, a main north-south artery, and by mid-morning had found an ideal spot for their ambush.

Meanwhile at 7am in Paris a brand spanking new De Dion-Bouton 18 horsepower limousine, that had been ordered and purchased by the Comte de Rouge, was being revved and readied for delivery. Two men were in the car, a chauffeur in the pay of De Dion and a secretary sent by the Comte to make the 18,000 fr purchase; the Comte, who couldn’t be bothered with the mundane was sunning himself on the Cote d’Azur, waiting for his new car to be delivered.

Bonnot, Garnier and La Science recognized that they had only once chance to obtain a car in this fashion, should a driver get past them, their whereabouts would immediately be flashed to the capital, including all the cops just waiting for the opportunity to pounce.

Luckily as they waited by the side of the road two horsecarts came spanking down the N5, the illegalists ran out flashing their weapons and seizing the two conveyances which they propped in the middle of the road.

At the same moment the yellow Dion-Bouton came into view. The car came to a halt and the there anarchist walked with guns in hand towards the auto, La Science calling out, “It’s the car we want.”

The chauffeur pulled out his pistol, but he was too slow, Bonnot fired and shot him int he heart.  Garnier, perhaps in response to Bonnot’s shot, fired at the other passenger, hitting him four times in the hands, which had apparently been raised in protection.

The two bodies were dragged into the woods, the gang scrambled in and the Dion Bouton was turned around and roared north towards Chantilly.

They skirted Paris through the eastern suburbs and taking the N16 arrived after two hours of driving at the offices of the Societe Generale in Chantilly, located on the main square.

Bonnot sat at the wheel while Garnier, La Science, Valey and Monier walked into the bank. Soudy remained on the pavement outside the bank, the Winchester raised and ready. La Science called out, “Messieurs, not a word!” as the gang came charging into the office, one of the clerks instinctively dove for the floor, which caused Garnier to shout, “Fire!”.

Garnier shot one of the clerks six times and La Science poured four shots into another teller, while Valet winged the youngest clerk, a sixteen year old,with a shot to the shoulder. The remaining bank employees escaped by diving out the back door as bullets zipped past them.

Monier stayed at the door while Garnier, finding a set of keys after a “Jesse James” leap over the counter said, “Get the money first,”; perhaps wishing to avoid the embarrassment of staring lamely at a pile of worthless bonds and checks.

The shooting obviously did not go unnoticed by the locals, including the bank manager who began to walk back across the square. Soudy leveled the rifle at him and shouted, “Hold it! Hold it or I’ll pick you off,” finishing the statement with four rounds fired over the man’s head.

The manager wisely retreated in the opposite direction.

Soudy now began to fire rounds at anyone who ventured into the square as well as those who appeared in windows. The illegalists raced over out of the bank, guns roaring as cover for the retreat, and crammed themselves into the waiting car.

Soudy fired a final shot and ran after the already accelerating car, he slipped as he was jumping in but was caught and hauled in by his comrades who realized that he had fainted in the excitement of trying to catch the auto.

In minutes the limo was racing south to Paris, and the relative safety of her teeming millions. Though sighted at numerous places on the return trip no effective chase was given and having abandoned the car, they hopped a fence and found themselves in Levallois-Perrer, a neighborhood swarming with police due to the presence of the headquarters of the then striking taxi drivers union.

The strike had lasted for several months and results in numerous violent collisions between the taxi drivers, strikebreakers, and of course, the police.

So the gang strolled right through the largest cluster of police in all of France with 50,000 fr in their pockets and no one paid them any attention at all.

Again the class struggle had reared up and provided the perfect screen for the illegalist insurrection to occur.

The robbery at Chantilly sent the representatives of law and roder and especially the bourgeois press into apoplectic fits.

Meetings were held up and down the various chains of command, and like the September 11 occurrences, the final outcome was a forgone conclusion– unbounded police surveillance powers, augment by increased funding for the violation of rights, torture of suspects, whatever would bring the sad, and seemingly endless chapter to at least perceived conclusion.

Within 24 hours of the robbery raids took place across Paris, especially in the communities to the north and east, the “red belt” as it had been know since the days of the Commune.

L’anarchie was raided for the third time (in all the offices would be searched six times in as many months). The public mood at this time had turned from one of mild, silent approval for the Bonnot Gang to a raging hysteria-the image of a pale young man shooting at the honest, law-abiding denizens of a quiet Parisian suburb was unnerving to the point of psychosis for much of the bourgeois.

Gun sales spiked upwards as the middle and upper classes began to arm themselves in response to the possibility of confrontation with these neo-barbarians, and when the public realized that Bonnot had been trained to shoot and drive by no less a criminal conspiracy than the French army many wondered if the entire structure of sovereignty might not collapse with an armed forces made up of such malcontent recruits.

Further, like the resurrected Elvis, sightings of the gang began to be reported in such far flung places in Marseilles, Calais, and of course…Brussels.

In one insident, a Belgian stationmaster opened fire on a group of innocent, and probably stunned passengers convinced that the Bonnot Gang had decided to include train robbery in its repertoire.

In the working class neighborhoods, however, the mood was visibly different; kids exuberantly played “Bonnot Gang” with an unlucky few of the youngsters forced to play cops.

The Gang’s Finale: For a Few Bullets More

After Chantilly, the gang split the proceeds and parted company.

Soudy, seeking some relief from his tuberculosis, traveled to Berck, a seaside health resort. With his paleness and long interludes of coarse, rattled coughing no one expected to him to rejoin the gang.

Everyone else found safe houses and laid as low as possible, fully recognizing that anything appearing to be out of the ordinary could bring the attention of the neighbors and probably the police shortly thereafter.

The gang recognized that huge rewards were being offered for any information and that in working class areas the temptation must have been intense to turn informant.

Further the Surete was doing their best to plant as much suspicion as possible within anarchist circles, driving home the point made by Jouin that the bandits were “discrediting a great ideal,” thereby casting the police in the unlikely role of guardians of the purity of anarchism.

The first to fall was Soudy who had been staying with friends at Berck. Jouin had been fed information detailing his whereabouts and as Soudy emerged from his friends him and walked towards the train station five policeman jumped him.

An unidentified informant was paid 20,000fr for the betrayal.

Raymond La Science was next.

He had taken refuge with an anarchist couple Pierre Jourdan and his lover Louise-Marcelline in Paris’s 9th arrondissment. Louise-Marcelline was evidently the unidentified informer in this case, and as La Science appeared outside the apartment early one morning wearing cycling gear and with a new racing bike he was apprehended.

A search of his cycling shorts revealed sixteen one hundred franc bills and two loaded Browning 9mm pistols.

Monier was next, he had taken to hopping from hotel room to hotel room and had been impressively assiduous in his efforts to remain invisible until he met some anarchist friends for a meal in the boulevard Delessert; the meal party included Lorulot who was well known to the police and they had been tracking him for several weeks.

The gambit paid off, Monier was immediately identified and followed back to his hotel. Unwilling to wait for him to come out the police forced their way into his room and due to surprise took him without incident.

They noted that he had two loaded 9mm Brownings on the bedstand and had they been less quiet the arrest could have gone very differently.

Bonnot and Garnier would be less easy to take unawares, and they were both poised to take as many cops as possible with them into the abyss.

Bonnot had been staying with a friend Gauzy above his second-hand clothing store. As time gone on Gauzy had become more and more uncomfortable with the situation, and Bonnot, unwilling to remain in a darkened room for hours on end had been out walking several times.

Meanwhile the Surete had patched together some loose leads and decided that many of the “Second hand” shops in working class areas ay well be operated by fences, they had also linked a number of these shops to gang members.

Gauzy had finally prevailed upon Bonnot to find other accommodations, though Bonnot dithered away a day or two deciding what to do.

Gauzy was then surprised to see four bowler hatted men enter his shop on the day Bonnot was to have left, timing it seems was neither on his side nor Bonnot’s.

Join introduced himself and stated that he had a warrant to search the premises, and probably hoping that Bonnot had jumped out the window, Gauzy led the detectives upstairs to his apartment.

Gauze fumbled with the key as he unlocked the door and stood back for Join and Colmar to enter, as they did Bonnot who had been reading a paper by the window jumped up and grabbed for a small caliber pistol in his jacket pocket.

Join was on him in an instant, they wrestled and Bonnot, finally getting the pistol in hand fired three shots into the detective, the final bullet through the neck killing him instantly; a perfectly appropriate Stirnerian moment; the triumphant individual destroying the lead coil of the venomous state.

A fourth shot, probably fired from the floor, killed Colmar.

The third detective Robert dashed into the room and finding Co,mar breathing shallowly hefted him on his shoulder and carried him down the stairs.

Bonnot, shoving Join’s corpse off him ran down the hallway, through a window and into the street.

His forearm, grazed by a bullet, trailed blood as he ran.

Bonnot spent three uncomfortable nights in the open, finally making it to the garage of an anarchist at the fringes of the gang, Jean Debois, in Choisy-Le-Roi where he spent the night.

Dubois was up early working on a motorcycle when sixteen armed men pulled up in several autos and rushed the garage. Dubois pulled a pistol and shot the detective closest to him in the wrist, but the other cops were ready and he was met with a hail of bullets, one striking him in the back of the neck killing him outright.

Bonnot, wakened by the din from downstairs, grabbed a gun and walked onto a small balcony overlooking the yards and stairs only to find the detectives just ascending to the room.

He fired catching the lead cop in the stomach, and then ducked back into the room to avoid the bullets flying at him.

The detectives summoned help from anywhere they could, including two companies of Republican Guards, a group of locals with pitchforks and shotguns (no, really-pitchforks), and further reinforcements from the Surete.

The battle lasted all morning with thousands of bullets tearing holes throughout the room where Bonnot was firiming from, and Bonnot himself occasionaly walking out on the porch to take a few well-aimed shots at his attackers.

By noon, with the battle effectively a draw; the Surete men decided to try and blow the garage up, with Bonnot inside.

A cart piled with mattresses was rolled towards the building, the dynamite fuse lit and placed next to the wall. The fuse sputtered and died causing the cart once again to roll forwards so that the fuse could be relit-this time successfully, though the charge was insufficient to destroy the garage.

Third time’s a charm, with the dynamite charge this time large enough to level the building.

Bonnot, still alive though barely breathing was rushed to the hospital, but died en rote.

Two days later Bonnot and DuBois were buried surreptitiously in the paupers of the cemetery as Bagneux. The graves were left unmarked so as to preempt any remembrance ceremonies.

This left Garnier and Valet at large and the Surete detectives were justifiably concerned.

Garnier had sworn in his letter to Le Martin to deal swiftly with informers and he was serious about the threat.

One of the men whom Garnier was sure had sold information to the police was Victor Granghaut, who had prearranged Carouy to stay with him; he was subsequently arrested the very same night.

Garnier had caught a train to Lozere and there waited for Victor to return from work. Victor and his father were walking back home from the station when Garnier stepped out of the bushes and in spite of the father’s pleading and attempts to protect his son with an umbrella shot him once in each leg stating, “That will teach you to inform on Carouy.”

The final battle took place in Nogent where Garnier, his companion Marie, and Valet had rented a suburban Bungalow.

The two men had been recognized on a bus to Nogent and it didn’t take long for the police to identify the house that had been recently rented to three suspicious newcomers.

The illegalists were just finishing preparations for a simple vegetarian dinner when Valet, standing in the back yard taking in the air was accosted by a man wearing a red, white and blue sash who called in, “Surrender in the Name of the Law.”

Valet realized immediately that the gaudily clad man wasn’t a neighbor, and put a few rounds into the air as he dodged back into the house.

The gun battle that then erupted was fierce even by the standards of Bonnot’s last stand.

A cease-fire was called for and the detectives yelled in for the men to surrender.

Marie ran out of the house into the hands of the detectives.

The two anarchists downed water and forgetting their restrictive diet, also drank some coffee to stay alert, though neither had any time to eat.

They then made themselves ready for the end.

They piled the francs they had stolen in the middle of the floor and burned them. They both stripped to the waist and loaded cip after clip of ammo for the seven 9mm Brownings in their possession, though they had no cartridges for the Winchesters which would have been infinitely more useful, and accurate, in the static gun battle that they were engaged in.

After Garnier had made sure that Marie was safe the battle rejoined with gusto.

As time went on the odds became increasingly ridiculous, eventually it was estimated that the anarchists were outmanned by a ratio of 500 to 1.

The two managed to hold out to midnight, a full six hours, when with the aid of sappers the house was finally destroyed by a blast of melinite.

The combatants on the side of the law made their way into the rubble and the brave detectives of the Surete shot both men, still alive, twice in the head, in direct violations of “standard” police procedures.

The bodies of Garnier and Valet were laid to rest very near the graves of their comrades in arms, Bonnot and DuBois.

Finally, there were those who had been arrested and now face trial, a total of 18 men and three women (Rirette, Marie, and Barbe) – a girlfriend one of the outlying gang members).

The prosecution knew it had very little to go on, not one of the defendents was talking, the evidence was weak, very circumstantial and ultimately compromised in most cases by shoddy police work.

In fact there was no way that the prosecutors could state with any certainty exactly who had participated in what robbery. The accused languished in prison until 3 February 1913 when the court began to hear evidence.

In the interim Victor and Rirette began a rapid backpedal from what had been written in I’anarchie, complaining it had been misinterpreted, and that much of what they had said at meetings like the causeries poplaires went unrecorded and directly contradicted material that had appeared in printed – basically casting themselves in the role of the “honest intellectual” versus the “criminal illegalist” that the other defendants obviously were.

The final decision of the court and the sentences of some of the defendants follow:

The three women and Rodriguez the fence – Not guilty

La Science, Soudy, Monier- Guilty; Guillotined 22 April 1913

Kibalchich – Guilty; five years in prison, five in exile.

Of the three defendants sent to the guillotine, they all died well (that is, bravely and without regret).

Of the two “honest intellectuals” Kibalchich eventually changed his name (to Victor Serge) and his politics, joined the Bolsheviks, worked closely with the left-communists and later Trotsky only to be deported by Stalin in 1937.

Like his friend Trotsky he eventually made it to Mexico where he died of natural causes in 1947- though how he avoided the Stalinist ice-pick is hard to fathom.

Rirette spent the rest of her life damning the anarchists as publicly as she could – coming to the conculsion in her memoirs serialized in the bourgeois Le Matin, “

…behind illegalism there are not even any ideas.

Here’s what one finds there: spurious science, lust, the absurd and the grotesque.

Maybe she did “get it” after all…

Parting shots

 The history of illegalism doesn’t end here, a few others have stepped forward and picked up the theory and the weapons that death had pried from the mouldering hands of the Bonnot gang.

These include the Italian/German Horst Fantazzini, an individualist anarchist, who robbed his way across Europe during the 60s and 70s with a flair as yet unmatched among the criminal classes.

In one holdup he fled successfully on bicycle, he escaped from prison several times, and when a teller fainted during one of his bank robberies he sent her roses the next day. The press dubbed him the “kind bandit” thereafter.

He wrote an account of his escape from Fossano prison, which was eventually made into a movie Ormai e fatta!

Fantazzini died in 2001 in a prison infirmary.

One of his daughters built a website to commemorate the life and exploits of her father ( which is fun to look through.

As of today, the life and written works of Alfredo Bonnano continues the theory and praxis of illegalism and any one of his articles is worth a read.

In terms of contemporary social movements the Yomango is an ongoing social phenomenon in South America, Spain, and Italy devoted to open socially informed shoplifting conducted en masse.

The movement is going strong and since the world economy hit the skits in 2008 has if anything grown and become more accepted, to the point of being endorsed by several non-anarchist Spanish trade unions, who periodically sponsor mass shoplifting outings for their members.

There are obviously many other forms of illegalism that have been tried and used in the anarchist milleux and the above review is in no way an exhaustive account.

As an example all forms of squatting are by definition, illegal, regardless, the practice is engaged in, and approved of, by virtually every permutation of current anarchist theory or movement, and is usually justified in a conceptual framework that looks and tastes very illegalist.

In a practical sense; not all illegalists are squatters, but all squatters are illegalists.

Continuing on in a pragmatic manner, illegalism also provides some interesting insights into the ongoing conundrum of organization as it applies to anarchism.

Of note is the fact that while Bonnot and company had no formal structure, no rules for decision making, and little to say on the issue of organization, they do seem to provide some answers on the subject.

One of these solutions is the turning on its very head of the question of organization, which usually begins with the question, “what type of structure shall we create?”

The illegalists, however, in the example provided by their activity began with the question what shall we do, what activity is required for the successful realization of this project. Then based upon what it is that a group is seeking to accomplish, the structure required to realize the activity comes into being.

Each of these solutions then is also tempered by the principle on its ability to realize the needs and desires of the individual, to safeguard her autonomy against the ever present likelihood that organizations will tend to blunt and ultimately deny the sovereignty of individual in favor of the growing power of the collective, especially with the passage of time.

In extremis some organizations exist whose sole purpose is to maintain their own existence, the nation-state is a good model of such circuitous existential theory, and certainly the police and the military are prime examples of the mailed fist that does nothing save preserve the sovereign status-quo, and eliminate any contestation that could lead to either radical internal change (a relative impossibility) or insurrection.

The absurdity of the argument is often laid bare when fundamental principles are used to justify their own destruction.

The Occupy movement, for all its weakness, provided a perfect example of freedom of speech being justified to destroy freedom of speech – you can say whatever you want, just not at night, not in a public park, and not in New York.

Alternatively there is the example of military versus militia organization in the Spanish Civil War; a puzzle that probably accounted for numerous sleepless nights for Durruti and other FAI militants during the late summer and fall of 1936.

In this case the strategic objective of winning the war did little to inform the structure of the militias; rather the decade/century milita configuration was far better suited to either the type of affinity group actions that the FAI excelled at, or at one step remove, the strike or insurrectionary committees, either regional or national in scope, that the CNY had utilized for its industrial conestation or the outright seizure of villages and towns and the inevitable declaration of “communismo libertario”.

Durruti, in one of his moments of clarity, voiced the concern that the “discipline of indiscipline” was proving to be an ineffective tactic with which to fight a civil war.

I have no answer as to how the Spainards should have structured their militias, rather I am convinced that their chosen organization was sufficiently flawed as to allow them to lose twice, first to the Stalinists, and then to the fascists.

The simple, elegant illegalist “solution” to the problem of organization was neither new nor particularly innovative. The raiding parties of the Great Plains tribes were comprised in a very similar manner.

The “solution” then consists of a structure that is temporary– that ceases to exist past the accomplishment of the strategic goal for which the organization was brought into existence. The organization allowed for each of the individuals involved sufficient input so as to satisfy the need for participation in decisions that affect ones own life, especially those decisions that may lead to the maiming, capture or death of the organizations members.

Each of the individuals involved understood their various responsibilities and that knowledge allowed for tasks to be completed quickly and completely without the need for oversight (administration) nor the attendant operationalizing factor of oversight – discipline, and its sustaining hierarchy motivating principles – punishment and/or reward.

The illegalists also represent one of the last glowing embers of the association of anarchist with utopia; which would be brought back into a raging conflagration some seventy-five years later with an unlikely mixture of anti-civilization, anti-technology theory, the resurgence of combative, mobile affinity groups best exemplified by the “Vermont Family,” urban squatters, and the re-discovery and re-popularization of 120 years of anarchist theory and history (including the Situationists and the Frankfort School) by a well-connected group of writers, journalists and theorists linked together through zines, mail, and who found each other via the ultimate underground print media clearinghouse, Factsheet Five.

This strange mix of theory, personality and history would be brought to a near explosive mass via the catalyzing addition of various meetings and events including the 1986-1989 Continental Anarchist Gatherings (Chicago-SF-Toronto) and the Tompkins Square Park Riot of August 1988.

Grinding back to the 19th Century – Marx and Engels would use the term utopian as a way to criticize and infantalize not only the those thinkers who had swum in the waters of socialism, communism, and revolution prior to their arrival, additionally the anarchists, especially Bakunin, would use the term utopian as an insult for all comers as they vied for political pre-eminence among the various population strata most likely to participate in revolutionary upheavals.

In the case of Bakunin the epithet was hurled without acknowledging the obvious and gnawing truth that most of anarchist theory and praxis was, in fact, pretty utopian.

The Paris Commune provided the political upheaval that materialized as the fork in the road that would effectively split the various revolutionary currents into utopian (anarchist) and anti-utopian (Marxist) camps.

Using then select activities of the Commune to illustrate this marked dichotomous political vision and simultaneously as real events that stirred the acrimonious stew then brewing between Marx and Bakunin, lets see what the Communards did that produced such antipathy – for the Marxists the high water mark of the uprising may be the Commune’s outlawing of night work for bakers, a solid practical step towards socialism without a blemish of the idealistic or heroic, without any revolutionary mumbo-jumbo that they accused their adversaries of engaging in.

For the anarchists the destruction of the Vendome Column was the insurrectionary act par excellence – with all the possibilities the action entailed, the death (regicide? arcicide?) of imperialism, militarism and nationalism, the proof of the malleability of the urban landscape to meet the needs of people, and finally the outrageous, side-splitting comedy of watching the bronzed, granite, phallus tumble grandly and flaccidly to the ground.

Not surprisingly the author of the night work legislation was Leo Frankel, a devoted follower of Marx, and the destruction of the Column was the brainchild of the artist Gustave Courbet, an admirer of both Proudhon and Bakunin.

Pushing on from the Commune into later European history one sees this dichotomy grow ever more striking, ever more profound.

The anarchists became the midwives of week long Social Republics, of risings doomed before the first shot was fired, of being the guardians of insurrection that is “nowhere” because it is realized and dreamed of everywhere.

In the mind one sees the image of a Spanish peasant unable to read but staring at and moving rough, calloused fingers over the pictures of black flags and various images that adorn the latest issue of La Revista Blanca.

Anarchism is utopian because the anarchist vision is sublime, transcendent; even the poorest, most uneducated worker could viscerally relate to a future where bosses and work had been destroyed in favor of play as the dominant economic activity and a grand illuminating equality of resources, wealth and opportunities to learn and attain knowledge, and finally to participate directly without mediation in decisions that affected one’s life.

Unlike the Marxist who envisioned a society very like the one she lived in, only in the communist world the workers were the masters, not the slaves. Marxism is anti-utopian because the communist vision is of a society where nothing, other than the class makeup of the new bosses, has changed.

The advent and activities of the illegalists, and the concurrent rise of the most possibillist of anarchist tendencies, anarcho-syndicalism, replayed in miniature the split that occurred after the Commune.

In this instance the reinsertion of utopian currents into anarchism, accomplished as the result of the individual writings of Zo d”Aza, among others, was offset by the growth of the syndicalist tendency, including the uptick in the census of various union bodies, especially those associated with the Confederation General du Travail in France, the IWW in the US and Australia, and of course the proliferation of soviets in Russia.

The strength of the syndicalist argument ultimately being contained in the non-utopian, practical method of building unions as the seeds of the new society, and also providing structure as the post-general strike world and how industry would be changed from a generator of profit to a liberator of human aspirations.

 Of interest too is the seeming confusion that reigned at the “top” of these organizations especially the IWW, where Bill Haywood would respond as to whether he had read Marx’s Capital with the snappy rejoinder, “No, but I have the marks of Capital all over my body.”

This sentiment is echoed by Joe Hill, who while rotting in prison during the months that the State of Utah was figuring out the easiest way to justify his murder was asked by a local journalist whether he was a Marxist, to which h responded with the simple, and avowedly untrue, “Yes, I am and always have been.”

Therefore as syndicalism sough to reject as much as possible the smear of utopianism , the closer the leaders and rank and file edged towards proclaiming the organization and its members Marxist.

The illegalists on the other hand never stood back from the glaring utopianism that characterized much of their theory.

Certainly Kibalchich was sufficiently clear in his theoretics that he acknowledged the basic utopian ism that animated much of individualist anarchism, he was equally solid in translating illegalist activities into the living breathing insurrection that was then being fought out. Not to be put off to some great event scheduled to occur in the next few centuries, but a battle that was joined daily by the adherents of illegalism, and their supporters.

In this sense the insult to the anti-utopians was two-fold, yes we are utopians, and yes we are utopians operating on the terrain of utopia – now – not in some far-flung future where our children’s children will form of the general staff of an as yet unborn insurrectionary militia.Finally its also important to note the fundamental violence that such theories do to the Marxists, and some anarchists, who believe that only when the time has become ripe, through the collapse of the wage and profit system, the downhill slide from peak oil, or the moment when everyone, in a vast global pre-frontal cortex explosion of wisdom realizes that the total amount of debt, individual, sovereign, and corporate exceeds the total number of all possible form of profits and incomes with which to make the payments will a revolution become a viable alternative to the species.

As opposed to the very general utopian notion that basic human individual desire and need will be the sole motivating factors that will push the species from where it is now into the great necessity; utopia.

Finally, the real arguments made against illegalism were that of an early, seemingly meaningless death.

So I’ll let Marcuse who stood with one foot in Marxism and other in utopia bring this essay to a conclusion,:

Under conditions of a truly human existence, the difference between succumbing to disease at the age of ten, thirty, fifty, or seventy, and dying a “natural” death after a fulfilled life, may well be a difference worth fighting for with all instinctual energy.

Not those who die, but those who die before they must and want to die, those who die in agony and pain, are the great indictment against civilization. They also testify to the unredeemable guilt of mankind. Their death arouses the painful awareness that it was unnecessary, that it could be otherwise. It takes all the institutions and values of a repressive order to pacify the bad conscience of this guilt.

Once again, the deep connection between the death instinct and the sense of guilt becomes apparent. The silent “professional agreement” with the fact of death and disease is perhaps one of the most widespread expressions of the death instinct — or, rather, of its social usefulness.

In a repressive civilization, death itself becomes an instrument of repression. Whether death is feared as constant threat, or glorified as supreme sacrifice, or accepted as fate, the education for consent to death introduces an element of surrender into life from the beginning — surrender and submission. It stifles “utopian” efforts.

The powers that be have a deep affinity to death; death is a token of unfreedom, of defeat. Theology and philosophy today compete with each other in celebrating death as an existential category: perverting a biological fact into an ontological essence, they bestow transcendental blessing on the guilt of mankind which they help to perpetuate — they betray the promise of utopia.

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