“Anarcho”-communists and “anarcho”-socialists out there are really pissed that I call myself an anarchist. I understand your concern, I really do. You have an identity to protect. That identity is intimately tied to the collectives you have chosen to let yourself be subsumed into. It’s an identity with a long history and tradition of luminous figures, lavish with tales of past glory. I understand how it must look to you, “anarcho”-capitalists coming in and wantonly appropriating your cherished terminology. It must seem like a real threat to that identity.
I do understand. I just don’t give a shit.
I use the word “anarchist” descriptively. It’s a wonderlfully useful word. Just like “atheist” is one without theism, “anarchist” is one without… archy. Honestly, if the word had never been used before, or even if I had just thought it up on my own, I’d still use it.
You and I, we have different definitions of that “archy” part, but, really, I don’t give a shit about that, either. Words are to facilitate communication, and the word “anarchist” in all its forms does work in that regard. Sure, I have to go on to qualify it, pin it down, tease out the precise meaning I intend, when I use it with people not familiar with the broad landscape of anarchist thought. But that’s fine. It’s more than fine, it’s a plus.
Good words are ones that start conversations, not end them. I’m happy, eager even, to have the conversation that comes after I tell someone “I am an anarchist”. If I used a more technical and precise term – which in fact would have to be a long string of terms unintelligible to most people – it would be no more informative to the uninitiated. In fact, it would be less informative, and the sheer weight of jargon that would need to be digested would not facilitate communication, it would shut it down. “Anarchist” has just enough familiarity, just enough baggage, that my conversational partner becomes curious rather than intimidated.
I certainly don’t use the word because I want to muscle in on your collective, to appropriate for my own purposes the cachet of your history and tradition. In fact, the usual immediate consequence of beginning that conversation is that I have to distance myself from all that. People who know me, even a little bit, and know that history, even a little bit, see a disconnect between the two. That makes them curious. It starts a conversation.
I usually go on to explain that, no, I’m not anti-capitalism, I am enthusiastically in favor of it, but that I am anti-corporatist (another conversation starter all by itself). I have to tell them no, I’m not out there vandalizing things every chance I get in order to destroy society (and I usually mention that most left-anarchists I know aren’t either), but that I have peaceful means in mind. I tell them that no, the people the media calls anarchists are not really anarchists, they’re just run of the mill socialists or communists who want the state on their side, which is hardly an anarchist position. I explain to them how I am not interested in taking over the government, nor really in even destroying it per se, but rather in abandoning it, being free of it, and letting it wither on the vine when enough people decide they’ve had enough of it and see those of us who preceded them living better than they do.
So don’t worry, I’m not trying to hijack your history. I wouldn’t if I could, because it is of no use to me – except maybe as a foil in conversation. I don’t want your traditions, though some bits and pieces of the intellectual work done in it are useful. Most of all, I don’t want to be part of your collective identity. I want nothing to do with it, I want no association with it, aside from a few friends who have at least one foot in it.
You can keep it. You just don’t get to keep the word all to yourselves. It’s a useful word, and I am damn well going to use it. And I’ll use it despite, not because of, its historical baggage. I don’t want to forge a collective identity, even with other anarcho-capitalists. We’re not a club or an identity group, just a bunch of individuals who share some, not all, of the same values and like the idea of cooperating wherever there is overlap. Most of us care about your collective history far, far less than you do. Your little collectives are safe from incursion by us.
So stop your whining… or don’t. Far be it from me to tell you what to do.
Jeff Peterson II
We the Individuals