Changing Anarchism: Anarchist Theory and Practice in a Global Age

By Jonathan Purkis; James Bowen | Go to book overview

Part III
Being

One of the ongoing attractions of anarchism is that it constantly raises questions about the nature of being in ways often sidelined or suppressed by other political perspectives. Why do people rebel against authority? Why do they also feel compelled to offer alternative solutions to collective problems through co-operation? How interrelated or separate are humans from nature, as well as from very different human cultures? To what extent are technological systems creating new forms of identity which are not necessarily liberatory? How can one develop more 'spiritual' aspects of oneself without succumbing to forms of oppression such as organised religion or personality cults? Such questions have led anarchists into many different directions, embracing existentialism, Taoism, paganism to extreme forms of isolationism and even hedonism. Yet, for most, the process of being in the world is inextricably linked to that of becoming and linked to questions of strategy developed in the previous section of the book. Moreover, the question of being must be part of a holistic and integrated critique.

The contributions in this section each address notions of being and becoming within different areas of anarchist theory and practice. Indeed, it is the ontological dimension of contemporary anarchism – especially the placing of Self within a wider ecology of global relations, human and non-human – which distinguishes anarchism from radical perspectives that retain too much focus on materialism and political economy. The fact that anarchism has largely premised its critique on a psychological dimension to power relations, not just a material one, has been an advantage in this respect. Ecological anarchism, which has been the driving force behind much contemporary anarchist theory and practice, has been committed to thinking about the relationships between people and 'nature' in new ways and this is evident in the chapters by Karen Goaman (chapter 9) and Bronislaw Szerszynski and Emma Tomalin (chapter 11).

In recent years, the political perspective of anarcho-primitivism has gained considerable appeal and notoriety for taking anarchist theory into areas of anthropology and trying to ask challenging questions about the nature of 'civilisation' by examining the 'deep past' and the roots of humanity. In this respect,

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