Tuesday, August 04, 2020

My Favorite Anarchist

My favorite anarchist is Dorothy Day

I'll try and briefly outline why that is, but before doing that, it might be useful if I try and explain a few thoughts on the difficulty of using the written word to share ideas that can be complex, fraught with emotion, and have a high potential for misunderstanding both by the person trying to share the thought and the intended recipient(s).

In general words are insufficient to communicate the subtlety and complexity of this world and the people and things in it.

There simply are not enough precise words, and the words we often use have imprecise or personally defined meaning (ala Humpty Dumpty).  When words are insufficient, we may use; touch, music, painting, dance, sculpture or architectural structures to communicate meaning. If we are working in the non-human realm of physics, engineering or other hard sciences we use mathematics, some symbols and a set of words with an agreed meaning to communicate. 
In our everyday lives the complexity of the world and the people and things in it - force us to use stereotypes to both create our own world and communicate that world with others. A stereotype in general terms being any belief we hold that does not recognize differences or complexities in people or things. A stereotype may be fairly accurate, not at all accurate, harmful or useful. 

An example might help since many people think of stereotypes as necessarily bad. I stereotypically think of my car as something pretty simple; four wheels, a steering wheel, something that makes it stop and something that makes it go. If I want to repair or maintain my car, or design a better car, I need more knowledge than my simple stereotype provides.

There is an inverse relationship between the need for stereotypes and the depth of ones knowledge. More knowledge=less need for stereotypes, less knowledge=more need for stereotypes. In the introduction to his book Public Opinion Walter Lippmann who coined the modern usage of the word stereotype, wrote -
"The real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance" between people and their environment. People construct a pseudo-environment that is a subjective, biased, and necessarily abridged mental image of the world, and to a degree, everyone's pseudo-environment is a fiction. People "live in the same world, but they think and feel in different ones."
A couple of more thoughts on words..

In some instances the spoken word is more effective than the written word. In a conversation - body language, tone, and eye contact help us to communicate meaning. 

The best way to communicate religious beliefs is not to talk about them or write about them, but to live them, and that's what Dorothy Day did.

Dorothy Day was (among many other things) a Christian Anarchist. Christian Anarchists believe in promoting social change through non-violent means, they are pacifists, they work to build community and care for strangers in need through cooperative non-governmental means.

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin were instrumental in the Catholic Worker Movement, the Catholic Worker Newspaper and beginning the formation of houses of hospitality

The Sermon on the Mount and Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You are important sources for the Christian Anarchist.

This is a quote from the short book by Dorothy Day The Reckless Way of Love - Notes on Following Jesus that I found meaningful and touching -

I write to comfort others as I have been comforted. The word comfort also means to be strong together, to have fortitude together. There is the reminder of community. Once when I suffered and sat in church in misery while waves and billows passed over me, I suddenly thought with exultation, "I am sharing suffering," and was immediately lightened.

In patience you will possess your souls. Patience means suffering and suffering is spiritual work, and it is accomplishing something though we don't realize it until later. It is a part of our education, or pilgrimage to heaven. Heaven is within you. The kingdom is here and now.

So joy and suffering go together, pleasure and pain, work and rest, the rhythm of life, day succeeding the night, spring following winter, life and death and life again, world without end. 

Some Stoic philosophers propose that people who do evil suffer for their evil deeds not in a future hell but in a hell they create for themselves on earth. People with a conscience probably see some truth in this concept. 

This Stoic idea of creating your own hell on earth is the corollary to the Christian idea from the Gospels that the kingdom of heaven is within you. 

If the kingdom of heaven is within you then it follows that the pain of hell is also within you. I think a fairly close approximation for the word heaven in this context, is the word equanimity. It's harder to come up with an equivalent word for hell because there are so many varieties and we are always encountering some fresh hell - maybe some combination of fear, anger, guilt, hate, unhappiness, knowing you've let your self or others down, knowing you are not who you present yourself to be - combined with not having the individual, religious or philosophical tools for improvement, forgiveness or atonement? The Stoics were big on honor so maybe it's just not acting honorably? 

In the Buddhist tradition this internal suffering (hell) is transcended by calming our minds through some form of meditation (breathing, sitting quietly, riding a bicycle, walking or whatever works for you) which allows us to let go of our ego-driven desires, quiet our ever chattering monkey mind and find that equanimity which allows us to live in the world showing compassion and generosity towards all living beings.

This idea that heaven is within us can be construed as some woo-woo mystical idea where we get bonked on the head by the right guru, book, video etc. and are quickly and forevermore - woke. I believe a more accurate way of thinking about this idea is.... 

Heaven may be within you but you'll have to work like hell to find it.


For people who think this is scientifically/logically a bunch of bunk - that's fine - but I wouldn't waste too much time trying to "prove" your case. Philosophers and theologians have debated these ideas for thousands of years - maybe you've found "the" universal answer but it seems unlikely. If what ever answer you've found gives you - joy, peace, happiness, the ability to show compassion for all living beings, something of what the Greek philosophers called Eudaimonia - then you have your answer, go out in the world and demonstrate it. 

The gist of the matter is that people want meaning, comfort, joy and ways to alleviate or accept suffering. A culture of unlimited consumption and constant entertainment not only fails in meeting these needs it undermines them in a variety of ways. 

From a pragmatic point of view some religions and their cousins in philosophy offer a way to create your own heaven on earth (with some hell thrown in to keep things interesting). Pick the religions and or philosophies that work for you...and as long as they lead you to compassion, non-violence and a desire to work for a better world we'll be on the same page.


Since we are talking about anarchists...

Jacques Ellul was a Christian Anarchist. Jacques Ellul was a French philosopher and author of books such as The Technological Society and Propaganda - The Formation of Men's Attitudes. If you have the time and inclination he has some interesting ideas.

MIT Linguistics professor and well known political figure on the left Noam Chomsky aligns with anarcho-syndicalism.

Martin Gugino the 75 year old man who was shoved to the ground by police in Buffalo and suffered a fractured skull identifies with the Christian Anarchist movement and worked with the Western New York Peace Center after his retirement. 


In 1921 Walter Lippmann wrote in his book Public Opinion,
"The power to dissociate superficial analogies, attend to differences and appreciate variety is lucidity of mind. It is a relative faculty. Yet the differences in lucidity are extensive, say as between a newly born infant and a botanist examining a flower. To the infant there is precious little difference between his own toes, his father's watch, the lamp on the table, the moon in the sky, and a nice bright yellow edition of Guy de Maupassant. To many a member of the Union League Club there is no remarkable difference between a Democrat, a Socialist, an anarchist, and a burglar, while to a highly sophisticated anarchist there is a whole universe of difference between Bakunin, Tolstoy, and Kropotkin. These examples show how difficult it might be to secure a sound public opinion about de Maupassant among babies, or about Democrats in the Union League Club."
Note: The Union League Club was/is a club for wealthy Republicans.
In some respects things haven't changed much since Walter Lippmann wrote that book in 1922. Watching, listening or reading right-wing propaganda one would still be led to believe there is little difference between a Democrat, a Socialist, an anarchist and a burglar.

I started thinking about writing this post after our accidental president and shadow boxing wanna-be tinpot dictator used his twit account to spread lies about the 75 year old christian anarchist non-violent protester Martin Gargino who's skull was fractured by the cops in Buffalo. Hairspray head speculated that Martin was an Antifa provocateur which is about as far from being a Christian Anarchist as Donald Trump is from being an honorable man.