Free Radical Radio:
Jason McQuinn interviewed on Critical Self-Theory
Bellamy interviews Jason McQuinn about his essay “Critical Self-Theory,” playing devil’s advocate by voicing some criticisms with which he is familiar but doesn’t share. Later, they discuss free will (42:45); the journal, Modern Slavery (45:05); and what a post-left anarchist praxis might be (54:47). “Critical Self-Theory” appears in Modern Slavery #3. The interview took place on February 26, 2015.
Some thoughts on being an anarchist at the beginning of the 21st century
A serialized book-in-progress by Wolfi Landstreicher
“…we are alone, with an entire world ranged against us.”
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.[pullquote] 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.[/pullquote]
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.
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A review of Max Stirner’s Dialectical Egoism by Wolfi Landstreicher
Max Stirner’s Dialectical Egoism: A New Interpretation by John F. Welsh (Lexington Books, Lanham, MD, 2010). 293 pp., $85.00 hardcover / $34.95 paper.
Since its publication in 1844, Max Stirner’s book Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum (entitled The Ego and Its (or His) Own in the currently available English editions1) has rarely been dealt with on its own terms. When not simply suppressed, it has been misrepresented or used as a foil to promote agendas foreign to it. Alfredo Bonanno described it well in his book Max Stirner when he says, “The first duty toward Stirner: incomprehension.” Certainly, the few books written about Stirner and his ideas in English in the past century have reflected this lack of even a minimal understanding of what Stirner was doing. This is what makes John F. Welsh’s book distinctive.
I consider much of the “incomprehension” in the face of Stirner’s book to be a choice made by his various critics and commentators. It is true that Stirner’s thinking is difficult, but not in the sense of being hard to understand – and in his masterwork, Stirner presents it in a clear, even blunt, language. Rather its difficulty lies in the fact that it removes every abstract ground of certainty from beneath our feet, leaving us to rely only on ourselves. This is why he begins and ends the book with the cry: “I have set my cause upon nothing.”2 And very few want to face this prospect of total self-responsibility. Welsh seems to be one of those few, and this makes his book worth reading. Unlike all of Stirner’s critics whose works I have been able to read and most of his defenders as well, Welsh comes to Stirner with no obvious preconceptions about what Stirner was saying. Instead he attempts to understand what Stirner’s project actually was and how it might be useful to us now. The flaws in Welsh’s understanding relate to the most difficult aspects of Stirner’s thinking, his attempts to use language to point to the inconceivable, the unspeakable unique, and to the equally non-conceptual union of egoists. I will go into this more later.
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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
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
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.
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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.
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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.
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