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Archive for Essays

EDITORIAL: The Slave Syndrome

In the 1979 robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg – a square in Stockholm, Sweden – several bank employees were held hostage in the bank vault for most of a week during which time they began to increasingly identify with their captors. While their captors were under seige by police, the hostages went on to reject assistance from government agents. And after the captors were themselves captured by police the former hostages defended them. This example of abused victims becoming emotionally attached to their captors has since become widely known as the Stockholm Syndrome. It has been widely reported, studied and theorized to the point where it has nearly become a sociological cliché.

Identification with powerful figures has been a commonplace of life thoughout recorded history. Despite all delusions of modern social progress it is as fundamental to institutional functioning as it has ever been since the dawn of civilization. What is particularly unusual in the situation that unfolded in Stockholm was the rather quick switch from fearful hostages involuntarily cooperating with their captors under duress to fearful hostages voluntarily cooperating with their captors under duress. In a matter of days, a number of hostages went through huge changes – with some of these changes persisting well past the physical crisis of capture and confinement. (Including a later marriage between hostage and captor.) It was the quickness and unity of this conversion of identification that led to the naming of this type of situation. And its occasional, if rare, repetition around the world has kept awareness of the Stockholm Syndrome current.

More interesting – and far more revealing of the nature of modern civilization – than the rare episodic instances of Stockholm Syndrome-style dramas is the near-complete lack of attention paid to the huge importance of identification with powerful figures in the everyday functions of modern institutions, especially all of the institutions of moden enslavement. There may be little overt drama as the vast majority of people in contemporary societies grow in age, but fail to ever mature to the point where they can stand on their own two feet and make their own decisions about their world without feeling obsessively compelled to attach their identities to those of rich and powerful bullies. However, anyone perceptive enough to be concerned has to wonder how this situation can remain, not only unreported, unstudied and untheorized, but even unnamed in the current sensationally media-crazed culture.

In any society in which slavery was a rare or nonexistent institution it would be quite obvious that the Stockhom Syndrome is itself just a more rare and special case of a far more common, though equally perplexing, Slave Syndrome.

In any society in which slavery was a rare or nonexistent institution it would be quite obvious that the Stockhom Syndrome is itself just a more rare and special case of a far more common, though equally perplexing, Slave Syndrome. But in our society of modern slavery – in which this slavery cannot be officially acknowledged or named, recognizing the existence of the Slave Syndrome is also tabu. What is worse, even among those most libertarian of social critics, the anarchists, it can barely be named.

The Stockholm Syndrome is rare (and scandalous) because the situations in which it can occur (tiny prolonged hostage dramas) are also so rare. On the contrary, the Slave Syndrome is everywhere (and entirely unremarkable to its observers and victims) precisely because the situations in which it occurs (prolonged institutional hostage dramas) are ubiquitous and in a society of modern slavery, even those few slaves aware of their condition are not often eager to announce the fact of their enslavement.

What makes the Slave Syndrome even more invisible is the fact that it is far more the institutions of modern slavery than the particular persons who run them, that are now the powerful figures with which people most identify. The nearly unanimous belief in the substantial reality of imaginary, reified entities (like gods, Santa Claus, science, society, the state and laws) means that rather than identifications with actual living persons – although such identifications still remain common – most people now identify more closely with reified abstractions, and the institutions able to operate under the cover provided by mass-belief in these abstractions. Of course, these institutions in reality only consist in the sum of actions pursued by the people participating in the constitution and maintenance of their symbolic “existence.” But this fact is lost on people who have learned to prefer the modern enslavement to abstractions to traditional forms of enslavement to persons.Thus the whole set of modern institutions of enslavement (hiding behind these abstractions) have become the primary contemporary incarnation of traditionally rich and powerful bullies. This is the central fact of modern civilization, the paradigm upon which the entire social world rests: a system of enslaving institutions, in which people have been trained from birth to participate and identify, while also being trained to call the various forms of this slavery “freedom.”

Especially amongst the most depraved slaves to modern bullies – those who sing their praises the most strongly, continuously and publicly, the people who make up the modern mass media, one cannot possibly count the times that identifications with these bullies are repeated over and over and over. For those who haven’t already gotten the message through exposure to parental submission and humiliation, or private and public schooling, the mass media (including social media) insist on telling us ad nauseam that we are beholden to “our government,” “our military,” “our businesses,” “our police,” “our laws” and on and on….

In a world of modern slavery in which slavery is invisible because liberty has been largely reduced to following laws and orders issued, not (for the most part at least) by particular persons, but ever increasingly by abstractions (incarnated by institutions), is modern slavery still slavery when there are fewer and fewer people left able and willing to point it out? That remains to be decided. Where do you stand?

We can each refuse idenfication with our enslavement by rebelling against it here and now at every opportunity. By refusing to let ourselves be encompassed in the silent consent implied whenever “we” or “our” includes the abstractions or institutions of modern slavery. It’s “their” system, not “ours” or “mine.” It’s the system of those who continue to believe in it, not of those who genuinely fight it. If you identify with it, you’re a part of it. The more you refuse identification with it the more its power is reduced by each and every one of us whenever we act on this refusal.

-Jason McQuinn

Curtains of Blood: A Peek behind the Phenomena of the Grand Guignol

by Paul Z. Simons

“Eyes wide open! Eyes wide open!
Do you not realize how much horror
is contained in those three words.”

– from “In the Darkroom” 1911, Maurice Level & Étienne Rey

The images conjured by the mention of the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol are singular – oozing madness, amorality run riot, blood flowing by the bucketful, and intricate sadistic revenges. One imagines the conclusion of a night at the theatre off rue Chaptal where patrons stumble out into the night and vomit on the curb, and one or two of the more suggestible types faint outright in the street. A little theatre with its own house physician to tend to patrons overcome by the images, content, and presentation of the performances. The truth, of course, is somewhat different than the image, but the image lives on in spite of the actual theatre’s demise in 1962, the dearth of plays translated and available in English, or any other language for that matter; indeed the virtual loss of this entire theatrical tradition. Considered by some as an example of incredibly bad French taste, like Jerry Lewis worship or taking the post-modernists seriously. Regardless, the Grand Guignol seems as dead as one of it’s own brutalized and tortured victims … yet perhaps the real horror of death is contained not in its reality, but in the ultimate distrust by the living that the dead won’t really stay dead for very long. And so it goes….

History

Of course I didn’t jump into Grand Guignol without having the strong feeling that somewhere buried in there were some deep, twisted anarchist roots. The theatre was, after all, located just off the Place Pigalle, the natural habitat of bohemians, drug addicts, revolutionaries, prostitutes, proletarians and assorted flotsam; and this in Paris – the Mother of Revolutions, and timed in the final decade of the 19th and first decades of the 20th century. Which immediately brings to mind the great anarchist terrorists Vaillant, Émile Henry and Ravachol, and from the individualist anarchist menu, the Bonnot Gang – who, among other havoc raised, engineered and perfected the motorized bank robbery getaway. And sure enough without too much digging one uncovers the “Théâtre Libre,” the first artistic move towards what would become the Grand Guignol. The Théâtre Libre opened its doors in 1887, and presented comédies rosse (“nasty comedies”), short plays that showed various aspects of the lives and language of workers, and the underclasses. The theatre was above all meant as an experiment in naturalism, which shines through during the Grand Guignol’s heyday. The Théâtre Libre closed its doors due to bankruptcy in 1893, and one of its founders, Oscar Méténier, walked away from the whole experience with a few ideas. Why not stage what these Parisians liked? They read about violence, mayhem, and death daily in such scandal sheets as Le Petit Journal, and the faits divers sections of newspapers, accompanied by graphic presentations of the crimes described. Perhaps they’d pay to see some of the same. Further, what should ever really stop anyone from doing his best to offend the sensibilities of just about everyone? These two seemingly opposed notions co-existing side by side in an intimate theatre of 285 seats and a stage measuring a meager 20 feet by 20 feet – may just yield a profit.

So Méténier opened the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in 1897, the name Guignol is slang for puppet, based in part on a popular puppet-character from Lyon (a Gallic version of Punch and Judy). Therefore Theatre of the Big Puppet – perhaps we’ll return later and dig into this. A brief note about the building. Originally a Jansenist church, it was deconsecrated during the Terror and probably used for one of the areas political clubs, in the early 19th century a blacksmith’s shop, briefly a church again, an artists studio, and then a theatre. A photo exists (figure 1) from 1937 of an audience watching one of the plays and in it one can see the interior is still decorated by crosses and one can also make out one of the two wooden carved angels that adorned the side panels. From the very first season, Paris knew it was in for something new, an experience of theatre that wrenched you from your seat, that scared you out of your wits, offended your wife and turned your stomach. One offering from the first two seasons shows a general direction, the play is called “Lui!” (the English version is titled “Jack”), authored by Méténier. In it two prostitutes are reading the Petit Parisien and commenting on the story of a fellow prostitute murdered horribly by a customer. Eventually a knock comes at the door – a new customer, Jack (of course everyone knows he’s the killer – now it’s just a question of time and method, the emotional roller coaster starts to climb the hill). The younger of the two prostitutes takes Jack into her boudoir – he pays for champagne, sleeps a bit, she finds the proceeds from his previous murder as she shakes down his pants – and just as homicide draws near the police close in and arrest him. A close call, not overly thrilling, nor particularly erotic – but a nice start.

After two years Méténier handed control of the theatre over to Max Maurey, who after familiarizing himself with Montmartre and its artists turned immediately to stamping the theatre as The Theatre of Fear. He was a master at playing on the public’s impressions of the theatre, and the hiring of the house doctor was done with much publicity and it figured in many of the early reviews of the Theatre. A cartoon from the era shows a doctor examining patrons before entry to ensure that they have a sufficiently stout constitution to withstand the horrors inside. Maurey loved the cartoon so much it was included in early publicity and playbill material. Méténier also introduced Maurey to André de Lorde who for the next two decades would become the writer par excellence of the Grand Guignol style. In virtually all GG revivals at least one, and occasionally several, of his plays are included. De Lorde would always maintain a tone of naturalism in his works, and as the plays became more bloody and horror-filled he sought out help in looking into the souls and psyche of the insane and the criminal; as an example, one of his collaborators was the psychologist and Director of the Laboratory of Physiological Psychology at the Sorbonne, Alfred Binet, the developer of the Binet Intelligence test (and DeLorde’s psychotherapist). A fact I find incredible, like having Jung on the set of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to rework dialogue. A final example of this commitment to naturalism is the content of the plays, which avoid all supernatural causation; no werewolves or vampires at the GG. Rather what makes the plays so immediate is that much of the content is so damned possible; like being bitten by a rabid dog, or suffering a terrible vengeance by the hand of a jealous, crazed lover. Maurey also paid close attention to the unique stage tricks required to pull off a GG play. In this he was assisted by Paul Ratineau, effectively the theatre’s stage manager, and a master of making the grisly happen (cheaply and effectively) on stage. The stage gags and tricks associated with GG are legendary and are still written about by theatre professionals. It is said that Ratineau and those managers who came later had perfected at least 9 different types of stage blood. Note that each type was for different kinds of wounds, or effects, some flowed, some stuck to the skin, another type squirted. The most popular blood at the GG actually coagulated after application – it is known that this type required heating just prior to use and “scabbed” as it cooled. A neat fact understood by return patrons of the GG who when they heard whispered from backstage – “Edmond quick! Warm the blood!” knew that things were going to get intense – and soon. One other gag that was uniquely Grand Guignol was the eyeball gouged from the socket. For this trick Ratineau used sheep eyes purchased from local butchers, they were drained of fluid and anchovies dyed red were placed (sewn? stapled?) inside. The GG stage crew were proud of the fact their stage eyeballs bounced when gouged out and squirted horrifically when stomped on. Add to this the knives with retractable blades, scissors that squirted blood, artificial limbs hacked off and you have an idea of what the audience so feared, and had paid to see. Recall also that these stage tricks were being done within feet of the first row in the audience, and there were neither retakes nor do-overs – an eye gouge had to work for every performance, perfectly. Ratineau put his skills to making all these stage tricks effective and after his leaving the theatre several other masters of the trade stepped in and developed upon his promising start.

 

(Read the entire article: Order a copy of MS issue #2 for $12.95 + 2.05 postage & handling from: CAL Press, POB 24332, Oakland, CA 94623. Or, we should soon have a new payment system operative on our web site at: modernslavery.calpress.org )

Strangers in an Alien World

Some thoughts on being an anarchist at the beginning of the 21st century

A serialized book-in-progress by Wolfi Landstreicher

Introduction

“…we are alone, with an entire world ranged against us.
-Andrea Dorea

I have been an anarchist for well over thirty years now. For me this has never been an identity to which to cling, a label to give me a sense of belonging. It has rather been an ongoing challenge to face my life in a particular way, constantly raising the
question of what it means to reject every form of domination and exploitation in my life on a practical level. This is not a simple question with easy answers, but a problem that I have to wrestle with constantly, because I am facing a world here and
now in which domination and exploitation define social relationships, in which most individuals are dispossessed of every possibility of determining their own existence, alienated from the creative energy through which such a project could be
realized. As an anarchist, I have made a decision to reject and fight against this world. This makes me a deserter, an outsider, indeed, a stranger in an alien world. Obviously, this is not an easy choice. Several years ago I wrote: “I am not a peaceful man, a man content and willing to accept the will of the gods No, I am a man at war – with the world and with society, indeed, but also with myself and those I love the most.” And I think that this is inevitably true for any anarchist who is sincere in her desire to live her refusal of the impositions of the ruling order. To overcome the isolation of this refusal it is necessary to seek accomplices with whom to steal back the creative energy with which we can build our lives together on our own terms and with whom to use that energy to destroy the alien world that the ruling order imposes on us. I wrestle constantly with the question of how to go about living in this way and carrying on this project with joy. The thoughts that follow stem from this questioning.

     As an anarchist, I have made a decision to reject and fight against this world. This makes me a deserter, an outsider, indeed, a stranger in an alien world…. To overcome the isolation of this refusal it is necessary to seek accomplices with whom to steal back the creative energy with which we can build our lives together on our own terms and with whom to use that energy to destroy the alien world that the ruling order imposes on us.

If I refer mainly to anarchists in speaking of the projects I pursue, it is because I am an anarchist and choose to carry out my projects in a certain way because of this. At the same time, I am quite aware that complicity cannot be limited to anarchists. There are those who hate the habitual, unthinking daily activities, relationships and roles that make up this society and that by their nearly universal unconscious acceptance are imposed on all of us, but who do not express this through revolutionary or anarchist ideas. Nonetheless, they act against this society in their lives, and they are also potential accomplices. In fact, only by being open to such relationships can we anarchists break out of the ghettos in which we so easily lose ourselves. So I am addressing these thoughts mainly to anarchists, but also to anyone who despises the enslaving impositions of this society. » Read more..

Mutual Acquiescence or Mutual Aid?

Ron Sakolsky

 

Most of us have made a compact, saying “Let us make a convention. Let us agree to call what we are feeling not ‘pain’ but ‘neutral,’ not ‘dull unease’ but ‘well enough,’ not ‘restless dissatisfaction intermitted by blowing up,’ but average ‘hanging around.’ Our consensus is that how we live is tolerable. If I ask, ‘How are you?’ you must say, ‘Pretty good.’ And if I do not remind you, you must not remind me. To all this we swear.”1

-Paul Goodman

The hugger-mugger totality wants nothing and does nothing. They are entangled with one another, do not move, prisoners; they abandon themselves to opaque pressures but they themselves are the power that lies upon them and binds them, mind and limb.2

-Robert Walser

What I will refer to here as “mutual acquiescence” is the social adhesive that cements the bricks of alienation and oppression which structure our daily lives into a wall of domination. It is a major obstacle to the practice of what anarchists refer to as “mutual aid” in that the latter is concerned with providing the cooperative means for vaulting that wall. While cooperation can take many forms, for Peter Kropotkin, who developed the evolutionary theory of mutual aid3 in relation to human behavior, its quintessence in the political realm is anarchy. With that in mind, I will take the liberty here of referring to the concept of mutual aid only in the anarchist sense, and will consider those cooperative human relationships associated with welfare state capitalism and state socialism as being built upon forms of mutual acquiescence because of their implicit or explicit statist assumptions which run counter to anarchy.

Even in its least cooperative and most authoritarian forms, mutual acquiescence cannot simply be equated with unmediated mass conformity to societal norms. The hierarchical power of rulers and ruling ideas are reinforced by the interpersonal collaboration of the ruled in their own servility. Such collaboration is composed of the paralyzing intermediary social relationships that are the scaffolding of conformist assimilation to the ideological authority of society and state. What makes mutual acquiescence so insidious is that it is a form of social control that is rooted in the everyday psychological and social relationships of consent that compose the lived experience of domination. Accordingly, an analysis of how mutual acquiescence prevents and immobilizes individual and collective forms of direct action allows for a more nuanced model of domination and resistance than can be afforded by merely referencing the devastating effects of conformity imposed from above. » Read more..

The Archimedean Point? Self-Activity

Where is the ultimate point to which each of us can apply the most leverage for changing our world?

This question has already been answered in a thousand ways in just about every religion, philosophy and ideology produced in history. However, all of these answers are useful primarily to priests, dogmatists and ideologues rather than to those of us who refuse ideologies. They each require first and foremost that we adopt a necessary ideological standpoint, including its pre-given attitudes and values. And that we simultaneously renounce our own actual standpoint – our attitudes and values, our own selves – as the price of ideological submission.

The physical point from which Archimedes of Syracuse claimed that he would be able to move the Earth off its foundation is obviously mythical. As is the ideal “Archimedean point” from which an observer could be said to obtain a purely objective and therefore complete view of an object. The first is an imaginary point of leverage (application of force using a lever to magnify its effectiveness), the second an imaginary point of view (a perspectiveless perspective like that attributed to an omniscient god). Neither is of much use to those of us who want to actually change our world in our own liberating, non-ideological ways. » Read more..

A Plea for Captain John Brown

Based on a speech given in Concord on October 30, 1859

-Henry David Thoreau

I trust that you will pardon me for being here. I do not wish to force my thoughts upon you, but I feel forced myself. Little as I know of Captain Brown, I would fain do my part to correct the tone and the statements of the newspapers, and of my countrymen generally, respecting his character and actions. It costs us nothing to be just. We can at least express our sympathy with, and admiration of, him and his companions, and that is what I now propose to do.

First, as to his history. I will endeavor to omit, as much as possible, what you have already read. I need not describe his person to you, for probably most of you have seen and will not soon forget him. I am told that his grandfather, John Brown, was an officer in the Revolution; that he himself was born in Connecticut about the beginning of this century, but early went with his father to Ohio. I heard him say that his father was a contractor who furnished beef to the army there, in the War of 1812; that he accompanied him to the camp, and assisted him in that employment, seeing a good deal of military life – more, perhaps, than if he had been a soldier; for he was often present at the councils of the officers. Especially, he learned by experience how armies are supplied and maintained in the field – a work which, he observed, requires at least as much experience and skill as to lead them in battle. He said that few persons had any conception of the cost, even the pecuniary cost, of firing a single bullet in war. He saw enough, at any rate, to disgust him with a military life; indeed, to excite in him a great abhorrence of it; so much so, that though he was tempted by the offer of some petty office in the army, when he was about eighteen, he not only declined that, but he also refused to train when warned, and was fined for it. He then resolved that he would never have anything to do with any war, unless it were a war for liberty.

When the troubles in Kansas began, he sent several of his sons thither to strengthen the party of the Free State men, fitting them out with such weapons as he had; telling them that if the troubles should increase, and there should be need of him, he would follow, to assist them with his hand and counsel. This, as you all know, he soon after did; and it was through his agency, far more than any other’s, that Kansas was made free. » Read more..

Modern Slavery Notes: New Journal on the Planet!

Welcome to Modern Slavery #1. The first full issue of this journal has now taken half a decade to come to fruition. It’s been a struggle on many fronts to turn the original impulse and idea into reality. But from here on there’s no turning back and we refuse to be stopped!

The Modern Slavery project is a direct successor to previous C.A.L. Press projects. These include the magazine Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed (published since 1980, and now produced by an independent collective since 2006), the North American Anarchist Review (published for a few years in the ’80s), the Alternative Press Review (another magazine, published from 1993 well into the 2000s, with a web site that’s still occasionally updated at both www.altpr.org & www.alternativepressreview.org), and the C.A.L. Press book publishing project (with titles including Future Primitive, Anarchy after Leftism and Elements of Refusal).

The original idea for this new journal was to provide a space within the libertarian and anarchist milieu for the publication of some of the really important, critical and creative material that has too often fallen into the cracks between what will fit into the inadequate spaces available in libertarian periodicals and what has been publishable in book form.

The original idea for this new journal was to provide a space within the libertarian and anarchist milieu for the publication of some of the really important, critical and creative material that has too often fallen into the cracks between what will fit into the inadequate spaces available in libertarian periodicals and what has been publishable in book form. Most of us probably already know that there are far too few libertarian and anarchist periodicals in the first place. Of those that exist most are infrequent, small and undependable. And of those that do publish more than one issue, many have very narrow editorial conceptions, excluding even the possibility of presenting much new, original and creative material – which also tends to result in restricting their availability to tiny circulations of the like-minded. But even for those that are open to publishing the most important and exciting material, the ability to present more than short essays, reviews and other material is lacking due to limitations of format, space and frequency of publication. To make this sad situation even worse, libertarian book publishing is largely in the same situation. A relatively small number of very small publishers exist (like C.A.L. Press itself, with only three titles in print) that usually cater to very narrow editorial niches, along with even fewer larger libertarian publishers. The smaller publishers have perennial problems with funding and distribution, while the larger publishers tend to function as ideological gate-keepers preventing more creative and challenging material from appearing in editions that might get more circulation, in favor of mediocre material that often promotes popular ideologies – often whether or not they have any significant libertarian content, coherence or value. You know this stuff. It’s often, though luckily not always, poorly written, poorly edited and poorly produced. It includes boat-loads of uncreative, uncritical material pushing a full spectrum of left and right-wing ideologies, like social democracy, liberal feminism, identity politics and postmodernism. At best it’s provided with thin libertarian coatings. At worst with heavy-handed ideological pronouncements that can be mistaken as (or occasionally actually are) Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist or Maoist in inspiration. » Read more..

An Introduction to Modern Slavery

Modern slavery should need no introduction. Modern slavery already intrudes into every aspect of life, debasing all it touches. It is the underlying organizing principle for all major economic institutions east and west, north and south. Its support and defense are the unspoken but automatically-understood objects of all major – and the vast majority of the minor – social, political and cultural institutions. Its infrastructure and demands extend into the deepest levels of modern consciousness, coloring our dreams as well as our nightmares. Yet modern slavery is largely invisible.

Modern slavery is officially non-existent. It has been tossed down the memory hole. It is not spoken of in polite company. Every institutional and government functionary, from the lowest levels of bureaucratic purgatory to the upper levels of elite power, knows instinctively that any explicit mention of its name as a contemporary reality means instant social death within the hierarchy. It is a rare day when it is acknowledged in any public context, even by the most radical or reckless of iconoclasts. » Read more..