< jpreston.xyz

A few thoughts that I posted on the Anarchist Library forums.

I was thinking about how we could start reading groups here, or build trails of suggested readings together, but it led me to ask a broader question: how do we as anarchists prefigure our knowledge praxis?

I’m also interested in how that question can be inverted: how can we spread anarchist ideas out into our local communities? Softer, prefigurative approaches to anarchism resonate very strongly with community organising, even so far to see this as an apolitical or antipolitical practice.

Are there synergies between these two directions? Experimental ways of thinking and doing anarchism together with both self-identified anarchists, and the friends, families, and strangers of our local neighbourhoods?

Despite the hierarchical nature of academia, left wing political ideologies, and anarchism in particular, replicate many of its trappings, and mimic the aesthetics of evidence and knowledge production seen in contemporary scientific circles. We use our own lingo, we publish in our own journals and presses, we assume the reader already understands that capitalism, the state, Empire, etc. will never lead to, and work directly against, the joy, liberation and freedom of the majority of life on our planet. By allowing ourselves to be our only audience, we recreate elitism and make it harder for curious non-anarchists to learn about our beliefs, and to work with us to co-construct a better world.

I often reflect on my own early political considerations throughout high school, and I remember when I realised that under capitalism, pharmaceutical companies have a monetary disincentive to create cures, instead their most profitable route is to create lifelong treatments. It’s a thought which raises so many questions, foremost for me being “well what social/political/economic/… structures would best maximise the wide availability and the therapeutic potential of pharmaceuticals?”, on the basis that I think most people would agree that at least some types of medicines are (a net) good.

I love this question because it cuts directly to the imagining of ideas and ideals; it has a focus on action; it begins to consider details; and answering it will require discussion, deliberation, design, thought, emotions, relationships, etc.

Practices and ‘methods’ like Citizens’ Assemblies, World Cafés, photovoice, unconferences, fishbowls, PechaKucha, and zine workshops all do the same thing: they get people together to both do something and create and share knowledge. That feels very praxis to me.

Despite the importance that well-constructed ‘collective action+knowledge practices’ have to human civilisation, so few of them have been tested and deployed at scale to facilitate self-organisation. Instead we have courts, houses of representatives, medical councils, homeowners’ associations, boards of directors, interviews, voting, competitions, and a whole host of institutions and processes which are top-down and inevitably laden with power imbalances.

What I find most surprising is the memetic power, the way these things are replicated so easily, without any nod to questioning them or to a curiosity about what we could do instead. Anarchist cybernetics may consider these practices to be part of an underlying, core material of our society, like a lining inside a blanket. A prefigurative anarchist cybernetics might then consider experimenting with and creating pockets of these practices in the world as weaving new material into our societies.

Telecommunication technology has literally woven new materials into and around our world. It also presents both incredible opportunities, and incredible threats, to society. Just as we can now connect to almost any information or person, they can also connect to us. One of the threats of information connecting to people is the spread of disinformation, which is set to be made harder to deal with due to advances in ‘artificial intelligence’. One of the threats of people connecting to people is that it is a disincentive from local praxis: if you can find similar minded people on the other side of the screen, why do you need to go out locally and talk to less similar minded people? There are of course many good answers to this question, but the psychological draw of ‘social media’ is evident to many. (For more on this see https://thoughts.hnr.fyi/posts/2023/06/integrity-vs-performance/)

The irony of me writing this as a post of the Anarchist Library forums is clear to me, but it also calls back to the earlier contradiction of ‘audience’. If I weren’t intending these ideas to direct the action of a specific group, then they wouldn’t exist.

All that said, my central question is: what practices allow us to ‘do anarchy’ while bringing local and distant anarchists and non-anarchists together? I visualise it as a large space of activities organised by distances and beliefs.

One set of options covers raising awareness of local groups and allowing other to discuss with them. Letters sections in out-group publications, guest articles, and holding office hours or open houses can all be applied here, either looking at widening the ‘local’ aspect of the group, or to connect with people at distance through mail, phone, Internet, etc.

Another possibility is creating local instances of at-distance groups, through chapters and events.

In all cases, it’s necessary to consider the accessibility and appeal of practices and outputs. What other groups of people exist beside yourselves, that you might want to cooperate with? Does the church website make it clear they are queer-friendly? Is the allotment navigable by wheelchair? Are there costs involved in working with you? Can you explain your ideas plainly and simply?

I propose that a fruitful approach may be to attempt federations of local groups across any and all distances, regardless of any apparent similarity or pre-existing connection. This is a more extreme form of the twinning approach seen with Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Although LGSM shows how very different groups can build solidarity across difference, both sides of the bridge were still heavily political and shared a common enemy. But what kinds of knowledge and action could be created if the food bank worked with the photographic society, if a bookshop in one town worked with a radio station in another, if an allotment worked with a coding club, or if a squat worked with a Deaf club? If we consider that the medium is the message, the focus shifts away from doing a specific thing, or working towards a specific goal, and towards doing new and varied things with new and varied people.

This form of praxis is prefigurative, cybernetic, rhizomic, space-collapsing, and content-free. Here’s one recipe we could try:

  1. Know what already exists. Seek out, discover, and learn about groups locally and at-distance. Follow them, attend their events, and maybe do stuff with them and join them.
  2. Create what doesn’t exist. Form new groups based on interests, themes or activities which aren’t already present. Experiment with new and different practices and ways of doing things and being together.
  3. Connect. Bring groups into interface with each other, by talking, introducing people, running shared events. Be explicit as well as implicit: you can run a workshop on “how could we work together?” as well as sharing a meal. Be creative and playful.

What does that look like for Anarchist Library? What practices and groups are already here? What new things can we create? And how can we start to connect some of those things up?