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.

However, there is a far more practical, metaphorical sense in which the idea of an Archimedean point can be of immense use. That sense involves claiming or re-claiming our own self-activity – activity that originates from no presumed standpoint or knowledge, and no attitudes or values, outside what we create and experience as our own. This is the point where a reversal of perspective and will upends everything!

This Archimedean point is both the simplest and – for most people – seemingly the hardest thing to master. So simple and easy that young children – before they are corrupted by all the more insidious forms of modern socialization – often have little problem with it. (Consider, for example, the charmingly innocent but occasionally quite complex manipulations of a child seeking the shortest path to your affections.) But it is also so hard – once these same children are domesticated and successfully civilized – that it is often never again conceived or attempted.

A remnant of our autonomous self-activity still underlies our everyday lives. Without it even the choice of submission to civilized institutional life would be impossible. But it has been at the same time everywhere undermined, devalued and ideologically denied. It is this remnant of autonomous self-activity that allows us to recognize ourselves as ourselves at all – rather than as mere objects, roles or performances. But, as the collective histories of our everyday lives demonstrate, this submerged remnant of autonomous self-activity alone cannot withstand the increasingly sophisticated, and ever more widespread reach of the institutions of modern enslavement.

The reclamation and complete generalization of our own self-activity is the key to changing our world. This is the Archimedean point for the creation of any genuinely liberatory change. Anything less means continuing submission to the patterns of enslavement we have historically allowed to dominate our lives. Our choices at each moment here and now are refusal of all forms of institutional and ideological domination or acceptance of and submission to this domination. The goal of the Modern Slavery project is the creation of a theory and practice that introduces and encourages this refusal as the non-recuperable central reference point for libertarian critique.

-Jason McQuinn

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