Foundations of an Anarchic Philosophical-Anthropology

742 Here I will propose a foundation in support of an anarchistic approach to reconstituting human community. But any effort to understand the possibility of such an enterprise begs a prior philosophical issue: “what does it mean to be human?” and, correlatively, “what does that imply principally about human socio-political arrangements?” Such a philosophical-anthropology is my mission in this and subsequent explorations.

I begin with a confession concerning my own pre-understanding. An individual person always, already finds him or herself thrown into a world, engaged and intertwined with other vital forces there — natural, animal, and human. There is never simply a single ‘lone-ranger’ or stranger, but always a community of persons, other animals, landscapes, and special places, all reciprocally affecting and influencing one another.

Now, in terms of the earliest stirrings of human community, archeological and paleontological research has shown that the Homo genus stretches back some 2,000,000 years, Homo sapiens, 200,000 years, and Homo sapiens sapiens, roughly 40,000 years ago. The evidence we have from ethnographic field research and the archeological record strongly suggests that the worldview of the earliest humans was one of a living, breathing cosmos in which they cooperatively participated. It was not a world of dead objects occupying empty space which they manipulated, but a world alive with powerful, vital forces with which they were engaged collaboratively.

The philosopher, Martin Heidegger, well understood that our more modern scientific conceptions of pure extension and duration — and so our commonsense notions of space, time and object — represented abstractions, transformations of a more primal, overwhelming experience of being. In the Austronesian language family of the Pacific Islanders, for example, this may be what was referred to as mana, a vitality residing in all things and places — animate or inanimate, or rather, a power in which all things naturally participated.

For these Pacific Islanders, there was apparently no such thing as empty space or simple, objective material extension, and such was apparently the case for other pre-urban cultures and hunter-gatherer tribes. Rather, their world seems to have been full of living, active forces lurking everywhere and residing almost anywhere – in the wind, the water, the stone, or the bush. Such an experience of being implicated them in a powerful web of relations — of cooperation, confluence, and consanguinity. This was the basis for what our  scientists have quaintly labeled animism and totemism. The implications for social relations and cohesion are immediately evident.

As Marshall Sahlins noted in his work, The Western Illusion of Human Nature,

the individual person is the locus of multiple other selves with whom he or she is joined in mutual relations of being. As members of one another, kinsmen live each other’s lives and die each other’s deaths. One works and acts in terms of relationships, with others in mind, thus on behalf of one’s child, cross-cousin, husband, clansmen, mother’s brother, or other kinsperson. In this regard… neither agency or intentionality is a simple expression of (individual will), inasmuch the being of the other is an internal condition of one’s own activity. (49)

In this light, it is understandable why, for traditional, kinship-based, simple egalitarian societies, sharing and gifting lie at the heart of community. This appears to be one of two defining characteristics among even the earliest of Paleolithic hominid groups. As Morton Fried states in his classic work, The Evolution of Political Society,

The paramount invention that led to human society was sharing because it underlay the division of labor that probably increased early human productivity above the level of competitive species in the same ecological niches. (Fried, 106)

Cultural anthropologist, Elman Service, validates this view in his own work on Primitive Social Organization, “The more primitive the society… the greater the emphasis on sharing; and the more scarce or needed the item, the greater the sociability engendered.” And as social anthropologist, Tim Ingold, confirms, what is important is “that food ‘go around’ rather than that it should ‘last out’. Whatever food is available is distributed so that everyone has a share.” The implications here for socio-political organization is apparent.  As Fried summarizes:

Of almost equal importance was the concomitant reduction in the significance of individual dominance in a hierarchical arrangement within the community. In part, the structural possibility for such a hierarchy was undermined by the demands of sharing. [Even] cooperative labor parties, whether for hunting or gathering, [took] place with very little apparent leadership. (Fried, 106)

In short, this was a world that relied upon sharing, reciprocity, and egalitarian relations, not because of some articulable rational principle or abstract moral imperative, but because it was just an essential element of being there — part of the infrastructure of the genus Homo, if you will. Such a sense of participation, and the concomitant impetus to share, itself militated against the development of hierarchy in the earliest hominid communities. And that situation lasted for nearly 2,000,000 years.

There was, accordingly, a profound sense of kinship among various participants in this dance of life — among tribal members, their predators, prey, totem animals, and the geography of the territory. Even with strangers, exchange or reciprocity were cornerstones of tribal behavior. In reality, due to reciprocal inter-tribal relations, one rarely ever encountered a complete stranger. Power inhered in all places and peoples, shared among diverse human and non-human forces. But things changed.

With the beginnings of agriculture, the domestication of animals, and the birth of literacy, suddenly everything began to look and sound different: “the stones fell silent…the trees became mute, other animals dumb.” (David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, 1996, 131) Men were now in charge of crops, animals, storerooms, as well as managing columns of numbers (the first instance of writing) that represented the king’s garrison. And standing armies were now tasked with guarding all the king’s goodies. It was in this moment, that history and hierarchy emerged with terror and teeth already bared. The city came into its own, servitude ensued, and the modern State was born. But there remained a mysterious longing, a not-so-faded memory-trace of a time before hierarchy, before domestication, before historical consciousness, as we find echoed in the archaic Mesopotamian tragedy of Gilgamesh, the presumed king of the Sumerian city, Uruk (See Marvin Bram, The Recovery of the West).

In conclusion, it appears that life in the prehistoric nomadic tribes and early Neolithic villages was profoundly different than that after the birth of hierarchy and the emergence of historical urban culture. Participation, exchange, and reciprocity held sway in those pre-civilized, prehistoric settings — socially, politically, and metaphysically. Yet, this was not participation in our sense of choosing to be involved (or not) with others, but rather as an involuntary given — that is to say, always, already being-outside oneself, being other-than oneself — immersed in a powerful and intentional universe; more than an ego locked up in a bag of skin, magically connected to the world one co-inhabits with diverse forces and other subjectivities.

In the pre-urban clan, the individual lived ecstatically, whether on the hunt, wandering in the territory, or absorbed in the life of one’s fellow clansmen and women. Lucien Levy-Bruhl named this “participation-mystique.”

In the collective representations of primitive mentality, objects can be…something other than themselves… they give forth and they receive mystic powers, virtues, qualities, influences which make themselves felt outside, without ceasing to remain where they are.

Owen Barfield, the twentieth century British philosopher and poet, termed this “original participation,” where our now common-sense distinction between subject and object is blurred, if not yet substantively undeveloped; where one’s engagement or intertwining (Merleau-Ponty) with nature is determinative and over-riding.

It seems, however, that the development of plow-agriculture changed all that. On the heels of large-scale cultivation of the land, and the concomitant rise of historical, urban culture, along came the loss of primal integration within a living environment, forgetfulness of that sense of original participation — an awareness of the power of nature, its influence upon us, and our own attachment to territory — together with the articulation of rigid social and political hierarchies. The question now before us is as follows: “How does a modern, urban person recover that sense of openness, of belonging, of original participation? Is it possible? And how does political anarchy — viz., fundamentally leaderless social arrangements — where the group is guided by a sense of belonging and the earned wisdom of age and experience — fit into the picture?” This is the issue facing us now. (to be continued!)

16 Responses to Foundations of an Anarchic Philosophical-Anthropology

  1. Pingback: Foundations of an Anarchic Philosophical-Anthropology | kulturCritic

  2. Disaffected says:

    Jack always manages to fit his comments into that netherworld between posts where they’re hard to access, but in answer to his speculation on how we’ll get there (back to a more anarchic state) from here, I suspect we’re about to find out, and it will happen in the only way that a severely bloated hierarchic world could ever get back to a simple, communal, and sustainable localized population: by the rapid implosion of industrial society and the rapid (within a few generations at most) elimination of the better part of 7B+ people. In that light, perhaps our (the industrial west’s) staunch resistance to change is the best medicine after all. And really now, what other choices have we left ourselves anyway? This was always going to be a one way ticket to either a global reset or extinction event once we got on to the magic contained in fossil fuels. We were and are no better than any other species on this planet in that regard. We simply couldn’t help ourselves.

  3. Good to see you back writing about solutions, and philosophical interpretation. I’m thinking the same for myself. All this ranting about politics, economics and warmongering is like Wendell Berry said more or less, moral indignation running roughshod over intellect.

    Anarchism is the original state of being human, and what we will return to eventually, esp as the species matures. The trick is, how do we structure society anarchically, while maintaining something like technological prowess?

    Eager for follow-up articles.


    • Disaffected says:

      The trick is, how do we structure society anarchically, while maintaining something like technological prowess?

      That’s the problem in a nutshell, but I think it contains some logical contradictions that simply can’t be resolved. “structure society anarchically”? I don’t think so. And we have an ongoing “discussion” over at Our Finite World about the “wonders” of modern technology, which in my view, will be clung to until the last as a magic bullet. But modern technology is for the most part is a product of of hierarchic civilization, and you simply can’t have much of it once you renounce the other. Lots of hard choices to make, most of which will be thrust upon us unwillingly, but the worst, because they will be so tremendously appealing while at the same time being so utterly useless, will be the half-measures, where we continue to try to have our cake (the benefits of a hierarchical based industrial civilization) and eat it too (renouncing the things we have to do that we live in such a society). While I agree that we’re at primarily a philosophical and moral crossroads right now, that quandary will have to be resolved very practically for it to actually mean anything, and the first thing we need to do is to wake up to the dire straights we currently find ourselves in and ask ourselves what it is we intend to do about it. If we don’t, USGov.Inc will continue to do it for us like they always have, with very predictable results.

      • kulturcritic says:

        To DA’s point, technology, as it has progressed, has undermined the very real universe we depend upon. We have soiled the place we live in order to live like gods. That hubris will cost dearly. Innovation was not a particular objective in social groups grounded in primitive anarchy. Traditions were held rather closely, as were members of the tribe. It is why our forebears carried on for so many millennia without vanishing down the rabbit hole of pre-history. Of course, certain technologies did assist Homo sapiens sapiens in outlasting (or, perhaps, eradicating, earlier hominids). But that is another story. So, tough decisions will need to be made in the next few decades (or less). Though, these decisions may be foreclosed to us depending upon natural or unnatural disasters lurking just up ahead in the bushes. Good luck to all!

  4. the Heretick says:

    It is the very longing for community that the modern fascist state uses to dupe the populace.
    BofA’s latest slogan is “Life’s better when we’re connected”

    “We’re working every day to connect you to what matters most, whether it’s growing a business, getting involved in your community or developing better financial habits.

    Hear from members of our team and our clients from around the world to find out why connections are important to us, and to you.”

    Thanks but no thanks, there are some to whom I would rather not be connected.

    I fear/hope that it will only be when this current abomination has bit the dust that it will be quiet enough for the human race to reconnect with it’s humanity.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Thanks for the sanity check, Heretick 😉

    • Disaffected says:

      I think you’ve hinted at the first practical solution, Heretick. Disconnect from the internet, the TV, and the cell phone, which in the latter case especially is now nothing more than a totally corrupted tracking device. Then comes the harder task of getting out of the banks, which is harder to do and will probably eventually be impossible within the current system. It’s definitely hard now, as any agency looking at you expects to see at least one bank account to assess your financial status, and paper copies of anything are rapidly becoming obsolete. But after the next crash that will be a lot easier, especially if you don’t have any money anyway. Then its about reconnecting with local person to person networks, where there are any. But once you start, its amazing how many people are thinking the exact same thing.

      • kulturcritic says:

        Well, suffice it to say… I CANNOT LIVE W/OUT INTERNET. LOL But you are correct DA. And these are the intransigent issues… virtual connectivity, finance, etc that must be addressed and allowed to, well, vanish. But, more importantly regarding connecting with neighbors… you need to have something to contribute to the relationship. And, I am afraid a philosopher (as I am) will not be needed, so I need to provide other services. LOL

        • Disaffected says:

          Au contraire, Sandy! I think philosophers will be very much in demand, although you’ll almost certainly need some practical skills too (which it appears you are quite busy developing over there in Siberia). But the ability to cope with our new predicaments will be in extreme short supply, and someone’s gonna be required to help people keep a mental/philosophical/spiritual lid on things too, perhaps more than ever before.

      • the Heretick says:

        We are seeing frustration and anger all around us, people are scared, I’m scared.
        As they say, wish in one hand, and sh*t in the other, see what you get more of………
        Wish I had the guts to move to Alaska in ’72 before the last vestige of the homestead act ran out…………..

        Why do some people like myself still have the desire to connect with the earth? Some Teutonic blood? Some Native-American in the mix no one knows about? Who knows?

        The books by Helen and Scott Nearing are good guideposts.
        Life in the woods may not be quite so desperate as it seems in the mind.
        Even if one were to starve to death, at least you would have gotten away from the insanity.
        Away from the cities there is bound to be a lot of game.

        We are so manic in the US, we are part of the Cosmos, what will be, will be.

        • Disaffected says:

          Good link HT. I’m reading Scott Nearing’s The Making of a Radical now. These days, finding woods that aren’t already exploited or claimed to be exploited is damn near impossible, though.

  5. Malthus says:

    Some one asked Einstein why he cared if the human species disappeared. He had no answer. That said the only how that seems plausible is to get people to learn to cooperate and share. That has to start from the bottom up. Think of your neighbour hood and think lawnmowers and hammers. Consider that in your neighbour hood every one has their own lawnmowers that they use twice a month or once a week. If the neighbours all shared one lawnmower that will be an improvement and a learning experience in sharing. The same with a hammer. How many times do you use a hammer? Think of your neighbours. How many times do they use theirs? Same thing. Share the hammer, share the car, Everything can be shared and there is no need for a leader to arrange this. Now of course the manufactures of lawnmowers and hammers are not going to like this one bit. The sell sell mantra and buy buy mantra is prevalent everywhere in this sick country. Of course anarchy is the answer although everyone has been conditioned to think that we need leaders to keep civilization from falling apart. Hog wash pure and simple. The truth is that no one wants to have to think of doing things for themselves and their kin, neighbours, or anyone else as long as they think they need a leader to think for them. As I feel that we are doomed because it is way to late in the game to even get the next generation to change their thinking especially since the coming generations all think in cyber space and are not even here in the now we my friends are toast. When things stopped being delivered it will be chaos and back to the dark ages although it seems we are in that period anyway at least with the economy and medical profession. Einstein was of course talking about socialism but every thing he mentioned still is true today. I do consider my self and anarchist. So as Sandy says good luck to you all.

    • Disaffected says:

      You make all good points here Malthus. But I’m still of the view that we in the west, in particular, will only embrace a local sharing economy well after the collapse has begun and decimated our numbers considerably, which should be expected, as there simply won’t enough to go around anyway. Personally, that’s fine with me, as I will be one of the first volunteers to be put out on an ice flow when the time comes. It’s not going to be a pleasant world, and the youth will be the only ones hearty enough to survive it. Better them than me is my motto, but I think they might end up sorry they got their “wish” when it comes to long term survival in such an environment.

  6. Helgrit Bruce says:

    Very interesting. just read the book of edward carpenter ‘pagan and christian creeds’ which had the same subject. he relayed the human development to creed. it is awsome to learn that the first humans, wherever they were located in the world, all had the same basic creed and that christianism is only an evolution to this. he was convinced that it was time for the next evolution to bring us back to a human society. he didn t connect the change of the “former paradise” to the upcome of agriculture but to a development of self-conscientness.

    • Disaffected says:

      Wanna spin up a Christian? Just dare to mention about all the ways their religion is merely a thoroughly derivative offshoot of previous creeds – even forgetting about the big ape in the room – Judaism! I tend to give Christians a break these days, as their myths and metaphors are so plainly threadbare that even they don’t subscribe them to anymore. But beyond all that, I think religions are only useful at all anymore if we finally wake up and realize that they are a non-rational, non-real, totally spiritual counterpart to our regular day to day existence, which would ideally advise our rational brains keep its shit inline. As in, while it might seem perfectly rational to rape the environment at will in order to squeeze every last drop of profit from it, and to kill off 7B+ of our fellow humans in the process so that we alone can reap the fruits of our success, that STILL might not be the best idea in the world, all things considered.

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