Since it was a nice day to go to the park, I dropped in on the annual Anarchist Bookfair, feeling even more out of place than ever now that I am charging my time to government research contracts (previous visits described here and here). "Anarchist" ought to indicate a state of mind, a constant rebelligon against any kind of fixed, stagnant order whatsoever, including political labels. The first duty of an anarchist should be to violate whatever expectations are raised by the term "anarchist". Instead, it seems to be yet another counter-cultural tribe, people seeking an identity as radicals or punks or something, and devoted not to changing the world but supporting a bohemian lifestyle.
Alright, that is not really fair to the fair. One of the panelists, Cindy Milstein, who spoke on "horizontalism" (good new word), seemed like a normal person, and thus serious. And there are a good number of people involved in radical labor unionism and seemed like genuine working class types. And many of the people there are actual activists, who are trying to do their best to fix the world. That's better than my complaining (and jeeze, I'm noticing how many posts I make involve me encountering some vaguely promising group, meeting, movement, or book, and then kvetching about how it doesn't meet my expectations exactly. That must get tedious for the reader).
All this opposition to "capitalism" seems misguided. Capitalism has its flaws but it's not an institution, it's a fucking force of nature. Or rather, it's a set of social practices that harnesses a fundamental force of nature (self-interest, aka greed) in ways that are astonishingly powerful for both good and ill, and ultimately promise to end in civilizational self-destruction. Tackling it head-on as an enemy seems like a stupid move, and fits in with my image above of these anarchists as more about attitude than actual change.
I suppose that it's due to a generally technophobic atmosphere (somewhat refreshing actually compared to the normal Bay Area vibe) that I heard nothing there of the most successful subversion of capitalism in our time -- the free software movement. They successfully created an entirely new mode of production, one in which the work product is not owned but freely available to all. And this new mode of production is not confined to some obscure vegan food co-op but has produced the software that powers the communication infrastructure of the entire planet (Linux, Apache, and much else), not to mention one of the most visited and useful sites on the Internet (Wikipedia). No capital, no capitalists, no ownership, no cash nexus. That seems more radical than anything I saw at the fair.
[update: you know, the above is entirely too negative, based largely on me being uncomfortable in a crowd of bohos. But I'm uncomfortable in any kind of crowd whatsoever, so discount all that. On looking over some of the literature I took home, particularly the catalog from PM Press, one of the more solid-seeming institutions that were displaying there, I'm actually quite glad that this subculture exists and is active and self-sustaining and keeping certain parts of the human spirit alive. If it's often self-indulgent and more interested in itself than the world, well, what group isn't?
But I'm keeping the title since Google says it's an original coinage and I kinda like it.]
[update again: on looking over some videos from radical speakers, I've decided it's something like a church -- people don't listen to these guys for information or for critical analysis, they listen to have their faith renewed. The faith is that we are in the grip of the devil (capitalism) but a savior will appear any day now (in the form of working class solidarity) and bring about heaven (a classless society). I'm hardly the first person to make that kind of observation, but it suddenly clicked just now. Like many other forms of spiritual fervor, I feel somewhat drawn in but my resistance to being swept up is much stronger. And it makes me feel somewhat jerkish for criticizing it, since people's spirituality is their own business.]