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Confessions & Proposals of an American Anarchist

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Anarchists are frequently accused by non-anarchists of having nothing practical to offer and of living in the remotest of irresponsible fantasy worlds. And that's when the non-anarchists are being really nice. Anarchy is such a dirty word (maybe the dirtiest of all seven-letter words) that even the hippest of 'progressives' still employ it to suggest mere desolate chaos. Everyone knows that formerly all anarchists wore long black coats under which were hidden knives, guns, bombs, and vials of poison. And they had no families or real friends. They just sprouted like mutant mushrooms from black concrete cracks in the foulest of dank urban shadows. Even low-end criminals were more human. And the current crop of anarchists are not even good anarchists; they're just mentally ill parasite punks who live in mom's or grandma's basement. And never even take out their trash (from which they themselves become more and more difficultly distinguished).

When former Yale University anthropology professor David Graeber describes himself as an anarchist (having been one since the age of 16) it simply either doesn't compute (a joke or misappropriated term) or he immediately becomes suspected of being a strictly untrustworthy substance-less character who in some inexplicable fashion snaked his way up into a Yale professorship. Graeber was also an influential figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and probably coined the slogan, "We are the 99 percent". Watch this short video as an introduction to him:

And here is a Graeber quote:

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century's end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There's every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn't happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

It was this very fact referred to by Graeber that led me to write one on my novels, Bartleby, The Anarchist (not in print -- only one of my novels remains in print -- anarchist novels don't sell well enough to satisfy capitalist publishers). What politicians does Graeber support? None. He's an anarchist; he sees politics as a degenerate form of social relations and tries to educate and encourage people to not cooperate with such social structures and create their own more healthy social relations. But this article is about my proposals (and confessions), not Graeber's. So let me begin again.

I was born into American poverty. If you think that such poverty isn't real poverty then let me tell you that when I was a small boy my mother and I (abandoned by my father -- a pool-hall hoodlum) lived in an Army barracks unit that was no longer in use. Two rooms. One sink. One toilet. No hot water. No electricity. There were days when we had literally nothing to eat (not a good thing for small bones trying to grow). My mother finally found a job paying 90 cents an hour and we moved into a tiny apartment. Because my mother worked she had to find someone to watch me. She did find someone, but she picked me up after work one day and discovered what were, clearly, bite marks on my arms. I don't know how she did it, but somehow she got the money to get us on a train to another state and to the city where her sister lived. We arrived in the new city absolutely penniless. My mother found another job and we were able to move out of her sister's place and into another tiny apartment. And I proceeded to grow up in an environment of poverty and violence.

When I was 14 years old, one of my friends was killed by the police - a bullet in the brain. I still marvel at the fact that I was able to convince myself that I was worthy of anyone's respect. People who have not experienced poverty and violence as a young person have no idea what it does to your feelings about yourself. But there was something in me that refused to be crushed and humiliated. I grew up very suspicious of authority figures, especially male ones, but I wasn't crazy about the female ones either. I simply did not believe that they really cared about me. But I eventually realized that I really did care about me and it was this that taught me to really care about others.

By the time I was in my late teens I knew that the essence of human reality is personal growth and relationship. Anything else is secondary. I always had a hard time with the idea of 'God' even when I wanted to believe, but I never had a problem with the 'sacredness' of the human essence and at the same time I was tormented by the reality of human corruption which I eventually saw was a matter of fear. Fear of what? Fear of Reality. Fear of the deeper demands of life: the demand of facing the contradictions of being human and of needing that humanness to have meaning apparently in spite of itself. Fear of death. Fear of the fact that life and death are inseparable and that to embrace one is to embrace the other. Fear of learning how to embrace both. Fear of knowing that when you embrace both no one can have power over you ever again. Fear of knowing that when you embrace both then you will be free to go back to the beginning and start over correctly being able to love without sentimentality and without fear of that fear in others that always leads to the desire for power over others.

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