Personal Blog of Mark Hoskins – Anarchist Writer and Community Organiser
“What I believe is a process rather than a finality. Finalities are for gods and governments, not for the human intellect.” – Emma Goldman
You can’t change the world without being willing to change yourself. Maybe you are perfect, but wouldn’t you rather verify that in some way than assume it? It’s important to analyse and interpret the world, with the point being, to change it. And it’s important to be open to self reflection, with the point being to change yourself if necessary.
None of us are perfect nor will we ever be, we can only keep trying to be better versions of ourselves while we are striving for a better version of the world. And keep in mind, it’s our better selves that pose a real threat to power and privilege. It’s a constant struggle to change deeply ingrained attitudes and behaviours that we have been picking up since we were old enough to see the world as more than just a fuzzy blur.
You’re ruining it for everyone
Self reflection and self improvement is not made easy. No one is saying it is. Why, for example, is the phrase ‘do gooder’ a term of abuse? What’s so bad about doing good? Living in the long shadow of Thatcher’s Britain and Reagan’s USA, the idea of helping other people and showing solidarity is toxic to the establishment. People caring about others is the antithesis of Thatcher’s dictum that “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families”. Altruistic thought and actions of solidarity must be erased for the capitalist system to thrive.
It’s such a difficult thing to do, to break the vice grip of the morals and mores of the society we were raised in, that even writing this feels wanky. I know that what I am saying here is right, but I recoil as I write it. Being brought up as a boy in a working class community, you learn not to show weakness, and it is common to ostracise those who do, because they threaten your way of life, they threaten the comfortable notions of a society at order. But this isn’t order, it’s chaos. Scuttling these customs and behaviours is the first step to ripping up the foundations of this barbaric society. Changing yourself is a revolution within, and it’s the first time you will taste liberty, and you’ll want more. You’ll want it everywhere, for everyone, because only when all are free of the scum of capitalism and hierarchy, shall one be truly free.
Humans don’t fare well living by the law of the jungle. We weren’t the biggest predators when our species first emerged. Going solo for any individual would have meant a swift end to their adventure on this little planet, so we banded together. We learned to co-operate, learned the value of altruism and we built society that was nothing like the animal kingdom had seen before. We went from scavenging the leftovers of the big hunters, picking carcasses left by lions and other apex predators, to developing tools and weapons, using our ability to work together to become the dominant species on the planet.
Preaching and Practice
But with the development of hierarchy, we began to settle into allotted roles, some with power, some without. Sometimes that power isn’t much to write home about, other times it is immense. Take the protestant working class in the occupied six who in the majority of cases sided with the Orange state and Britain because they were slightly less miserable than their catholic counterparts or a hypothetical working class man who believes in better conditions for workers but feels threatened by any improvements in the position of women or LGBTQ+ folk. Because the power structures of patriarchal and racist (at least ethnocentric) society have been around for thousands of years, the conditioning of men to behave in a certain way is far greater than it is with regards to capitalism. That is not to say we don’t have personal choices, but the seemingly easy route is always to go along with the status quo. It is easier to rebel against the boss master and the politician who presides over the nation state than it is to stop being a link in the chain of patriarchy and white supremacy, and stop treating nature as something to be conquered.
Even when you believe in something in theory, it can be difficult to relinquish control when it comes to fruition. George Orwell wrote favourably of the anarchist revolution in Catalonia, but admitted that as a member of the English middle class he felt somewhat uncomfortable. We have nothing to lose but our chains, but sometimes we are our chains.
“The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle… In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no ‘well-dressed’ people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls, or some variant of the militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognised it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”
Orwell, a committed Socialist and sympathiser with the anarchists, recognised in the revolution the beginning of the end of his privilege as an English middle class gentleman, but to his credit, fought for it anyway. The Stalinists, bankrolled and armed by the USSR in contrast, though in theory they believed in the same end goal as Orwell, tried to take power, to only change the social order by degree and take what they believed, by virtue of having ‘the correct programme’, was rightfully theirs – just as the nominally Marxist counter-revolutionaries had done before them in Russia, just as Marx himself had done when he purged the International Working men’s Association of anarchists and other libertarian socialists.
Path to the dark side
Many Bolsheviks brought out their better selves and fought for a world where every voice was heard, but they lost to the side that preferred to dominate and refused to relinquish control. They were happy to overthrow the economic power of the bankers, capitalists and landowners, but not the hierarchical social relations that had persisted since the end of prehistory. It might seem that I am veering away from materialism here and into idealism, but one of the problems of the application of materialism is that it is often carried out in a very crude way. The base-superstructure relationship is often simplified to insinuate that all societal structures are resultant from the capitalist economic base. But political and religious structures and societal mores that were the result of historical conditions also play their part in influencing the economic base. It’s a two way street.
The material conditions of thousands of years ago still weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living. For the individual revolutionist, the aim of self reflection and subsequent self awareness should be to throw off the shackles of millennia old nightmares and relinquish the need to control others, while regaining control of yourself. C.G. Jung, who was philosophically an idealist, but whose ideas in psychotherapy have a materialist application, called this process ‘individuation’.
Of primary importance to the process of individuation, is to personally encounter what Jung called ‘the shadow’. The shadow is that part of us that is buried deep inside our unconscious that contains all the attributes of ourselves we prefer not to recognise. It sometimes emerges when we act out, when we have outbursts that are offensive or violent. We respond by saying it is not us, that it is uncharacteristic, but the reality is that it is an integral part of our character. The shadow isn’t all negative though. In people with low self confidence or whose ‘normal’ is acting out, the shadow can contain suppressed positive attributes. Encountering your shadow is however usually described as meeting your dark side.
If this is reminiscent of the force in Star Wars, it’s because Jung was a huge influence on Joseph Campbell, whose book The Hero with a Thousand Faces influenced George Lucas. Possibly the best on screen representation of this encounter is in Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series episode entitled Destiny – s6 ep12 – made for younger viewers of course, but the episode is particularly dark and gives a good overview of the shadow and other elements of personality, including the path to individuation.
To be seen in Hugo Boss
Jung’s process of individuation is one of deep psychological analysis whereby all the hidden aspects of our personality are interrogated, confronted and eventually integrated into the whole being – this idea of wholeness is an idealist concept that says there is a true self in there somewhere, if only we put all the pieces together. The problem with this however is that the outside world is constantly influencing us through information that reaches our brains and settles into the unconscious. For the materialist revolutionist the process of individuation is one that never ends.
In this sense it is useful to look at Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of desire and how that creates microfascism. Desire is a key economic concept for D&G, not just in the narrow financial understanding of economics, but in a broader sense, encompassing the entire realm of human activity, including the psychological. According to them, more or less everything can be traced back to desire, which is probably the true economic base anyway. This does not necessarily mean desiring things for their use value, but can also mean desiring the public image that comes with the item – like joining the Nazi party because the uniform looks good on you.
According to D&G, desire produces rules – Say you really like brownies but you don’t want to put on weight and you hate Monday’s because it’s the first day of the work week; Your desires lead to a rule. You will have a brownie once a week, on Monday. Now, say you go into your coffee place for your daily coffee and your weekly brownie one Monday and they are out of brownies. This upsets you because you have made a rule of having one on Monday. Your rule is broken because the shop has not kept its stock of brownies up. You are angry that the shop hasn’t followed the rule, your rule, that they will sell you a brownie on Monday.
This seemingly innocuous example can be reproduced in almost any situation – You desire socialism, you formulate a set of rules by which you and others can achieve that, but while some people follow your rules, others don’t. You intrinsically associate socialism with yourself and the rules you have created, so those who don’t follow your rules can be seen as counter-revolutionary in your eyes, and you describe them so, you engage in character assassination and willful misrepresentation of your opponent in order to protect your narrative – your rules. (There’s a lot more to D&G’s concept of desire, some of it quite hard to come to grasps with and I’m not going to try to give a summary of that here.)
Inner Anti-Fascist Action
The self in this sense is a compilation of desires related to the broader social structure. In many cases these desires that cannot be satisfied under the current order, we bury within us or circumvent with rules. In this sense, Jung’s idealist conception of shadow, can be seen through a materialist lens as repressed desires. The self as a whole is always being constructed as we are constantly receiving information about the world around us that changes us psychologically and conjures up new desires and new rules, so there can never be a true self other than that composed of desires and it can never be completely individuated.
The sect is a desiring machine within the social machine that is the wider left. The men’s rights activist/alt-right milieu is a social machine made up of desiring machines and fascism is a machine designed to impose their desires and rules on the rest of society. When we consider the impact of societal conditioning it is not difficult to see how some of these reactionary attitudes are given breathing space on the left, where theoretically they don’t belong. Capitalism creates a scarcity of material goods, it can’t survive without that. That creates the conditions where greed, unhealthy competitiveness (not all competition is unhealthy), and violent crime can thrive. Hierarchy on the other hand creates a scarcity of power. This creates the conditions where we desperately grasp for any of it that we can, where we use devious methodology to have our views win out over those of other, where we get into damaging toxic arguments and viciously go at each other to get the upper hand.
We are so deprived of power in our every day lives that we greedily grasp for small morsels whenever we can. Where we have no power, we want to be seen to have power in the hope that perceptions can mold reality. Straight white men are certainly not alone in this, but we are highly susceptible because we were born into a world that promised us power, to be head of the household, to have favourable opportunities finding work and having better pay than immigrants, women and other minorities. The important people on the television were mostly men, or women like Thatcher who had successfully mastered the art of ‘maleness’.
Our inner fascist is the one who holds onto, or tries to gain more power for ourselves or our in-group. The only way to fight it is through self reflection and self awareness, relinquishing power to those with less wherever we hold it. It seems counter-intuitive that relinquishing power can be good for us, but by doing this, we make the community stronger – be that in activism or any other sphere, the chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, and there is no point in having a chain with a few unbreakable links and a lot of very weak ones. When we really get into an analysis of the self, we find that a lot of the things we cling to are just baggage – of hetero-patriarchy, of white supremacy and imperialism and of capitalism, and they make us miserable anyway because they create desires that can never be fulfilled.
A world of better selves
Relinquishing power does not mean self-flagellation or atonement for ‘original sin’. It does not mean self-censorship or ‘silencing’ or the rigorous self criticism of samokritika, it means you stop silencing, speaking over, ignoring, patronising and defending your power over those with less. I have often been in meetings, making what considered important points and there were people in the room who didn’t speak during the discussion. I would assume that they agreed, or at least had nothing to say. But sometimes I’d hear back that they actually disagreed with what I was saying. My initial response would be anger, because I felt they had ample opportunity to voice their opposition and instead went sneakily behind my back and the backs of those who spoke at the meeting. But the reality was they didn’t have the confidence to speak up against comrades of long standing. They felt intimidated. The reality was they had no opportunity to speak because of the way the more experienced, mostly male activists dominated the meeting. Relinquishing power means bringing those voices to the fore, not staying silent ourselves.
Being able to realise you are wrong and admit as much is another important step to being your better self. Too often we cling to arguments that we have lost faith in to consolidate our position of power, because we see admitting we are wrong as weakness. How many splits have occurred in lefty organisations because the other side supposedly deviated from the true path. We often construct a narrative that assumes we were right all along, and whatever our opponents are doing is a sign of a degenerate tendency. These fights are really power struggles and the issues are secondary, at least for those who stand to gain or lose the most from them. Admitting you are wrong when you are, allows you to improve your analysis and broaden your experience by listening to others.
Being our better selves means abandoning universalism. This is a concept in politics that sees the vast majority of human experience as interchangeable. Usually, the universal constant is decided upon by a small group who focus on either issues of importance to themselves, or ones they find politically expedient, that they think will tap into the public imagination and win them support. True solidarity stands opposed to universalism. It recognises that everyone has different experiences and different oppressions to deal with and says, “I will stand with you, I would like you to stand with me too, but I will stand with you regardless.”
There is no true self hiding underneath the facade we build to protect ourselves from the world, but we can deconstruct our identity and be active agents in constructing better selves from the raw materials we have. We can’t be our better selves all the time. There will always be times of stress, pressure and times we are under attack from others, but we can constantly engage in a process that has no final destination, but that in and of itself makes us better. When we do that our activism, our trade union and community organising, will be more effective, we can truly talk about unity in a meaningful way. Otherwise we will just create new hierarchies and relive the nightmares of past generations.
(Note on 13/2/18: Reading back over this essay, I remarked to myself that if I were writing it now I would substitute the words “materialist” and “materialism” with “naturalist” and “naturalism”, however I will leave the piece unedited as it is a snapshot of my philosophical position at the time.)
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