Monday, May 23, 2011

Living a contradiction

Two FAQs:

“How can you call yourself a primitivist and post on the internet (use a cell phone, drive a car, etc., etc.)?”

And the related question:

“How can you call yourself an anarchist and work for a paycheck (pay a mortgage, obey traffic signals, etc., etc.)?”

People who ask these questions are usually convinced that they have me backed into a logical corner in which the only escape is for me to confess hypocrisy (as if hypocrisy has some kind of magical power of invalidation).  Of course their real motivation is to avoid scrutinizing their own unanalyzed perspectives—and the massive cognitive dissonance that would emerge from wading into their own contradiction swamp.  A good offense is often the best defense (or defense mechanism).

Nevertheless, both questions are grounded in the same erroneous assumption: that I am somehow free to choose. 

The whole point is that I am not free to choose: I reject the system precisely because it forces me into an inauthentic lifestyle that is not of my choosing.  How is that contradiction?  Is it a logical contradiction for a plantation slave to categorically reject the institution of slavery and yet continue to pick cotton?  Is it hypocrisy for a prison inmate to strongly oppose her incarceration and yet continue to eat prison food?  

We are offered only two kinds of choice: the trivial and the Hobson’s variety.  We are free to choose the color of our shackles.  I can choose whether to continue as an indentured wage-slave or to live under a freeway overpass and scavenge dumpsters (or some equally disagreeable option).  Yes I can choose from among trivial options, whether I use Facebook or Skype or a cell phone, but unless I am willing to sever all contact with my granddaughter who lives on the other side of the country I am forced into mediated communication.  And note that it was a series of Hobson’s choices that put my granddaughter 2000 miles distant to begin with. 

I call myself an anarcho-primitivist as an attempt to reference the source of my inability to choose the life of an authentic human being.  I am an anarchist because I don’t recognize, respect, or voluntarily acknowledge the legitimacy of power or authority.  I am a primitivist because civilization is the systematic application of power and authority.  Some days I am an anarchist because I am a primitivist.  Some days it is the other way around.  That a person could be one without also being the other doesn’t make sense to me: a true contradiction?

Perhaps it is possible to reject civilization and still embrace power and authority.  But the reverse seems incoherent.      


  1. Definitely makes sense; I've noticed this trick pulled out in arguments before; its quite an effective derailing discussion tactic because on the surface it seems as though the charge of hypocrisy sticks.

    A mundane example: Al Gore (yes Im not really a fan too but persevere) boards a plane to fly to a city to give a lecture on how global air-travel is causing irreversible climate change. During the lecture a man stands up and smugly says, "You! You are a hypocrite! You flew here by plane! Why should we listen to anything you say?!". Without applying too much thought (well any thought at all) to this it would seem as though the man is right, and thats what he is counting on. However with a bit more intelligent analysis, the whole thing crumbles. Does it matter one fucking iota how he got there - he is delivering a message.

    A hundred examples come to mind. A smoker informing you smoking kills. A forest activist writing a book. A deep green environmentalist decrying civilization’s systemic destructiveness on facebook. Hows about an advert on television telling you to turn off your tv and go do something real. Yes there is a superficial film of hypocrisy surrounding the way these issues are communicated, but this in no way affects the core issues.

    As you say, what other choice is there other than choose something that wont work. You could use semaphore or smoke signals and then the message wouldnt even register, which is the ultimate goal of the idiot youre talking to.

  2. It is a frustrating conversation derailing device. And it is also a sign of desperation when the personal attack pops up. It means they’ve got nothing.

    I love the smoker example. If there were any teeth to the hypocrisy accusation, we could cure lung cancer by simply getting smokers to preach against smoking.