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How can anarchists better discuss "the system"?

+2 votes
I'm interested in this because with the popularity of egoist and anti-political thinking by anarchists and post leftists, some of you all have lost interest in using the term "the system" because it is too broad. There are many different systems...but overall, there is a single capitalistic system that has control over almost every social relationship.
asked Jan 30 by anonymous
i think this question is interesting (and is also touched on here, http://anarchy101.org/15110/what-are-the-different-significant-pieces-in-your-critique)

but it also sounds like you're heading towards saying that capitalism is the answer to the question, which i disagree with in general, and also presupposes a particular, all-encompassing definition of capitalism that i only agree with some of the time.

first, there are plenty of people who i entirely disagree with who are against capitalism, so as an anarchist, capitalism is not the main/only piece that is significant. secondly, while it can be helpful in some conversations to talk about how capitalism is a bigger system than, for example, how ancaps talk/think about it, to say that capitalism is everywhere in other conversations is over-simplifying.

so, as funkyanarchy put it in that other thread, context is relevant (as always!)... other than that, i'm not sure i agree with your assessment of cause and effect either, but this comment is long enough!
anonymous...what do you think makes the discussion "better"? better than what? what discussion? what do you find lacking?

i like discussing "the system" within the context of my life, and how i make contact with that system through my interactions and relationships with other people, the earth, plants, air and water, animals....because i wouldn't give a shit about "the system" unless i could see, feel, and experience the effects of it in my life and the lives of other people, animals, and earth.
I really like this question. I frequently end up saying the system, which feels imprecise, but like we don't have the right words to talk about what we really mean.

there is a question on what the "totality" is. I feel like there is "one" great big "thing" we can point to or speak of, but feel that capitalism is only a part of it. doesn't have to do with stirner for me, personally I don't use it in conversation because it is too broad and I too wish for a better way to describe it. even the answers to the question what is the totality are vague and abstract.

1 Answer

+1 vote

Personally, I don't buy the idea that capitalism is a self-contained, internally coherent "system." Perhaps that's what it aspires to be, but that's not what it actually is. I am more in line with Deleuze & Guattari's thinking on this matter, who argued that capitalism functions by continually breaking down and thereby expanding its own limits. For D&G, capitalism is constantly undergoing a schizophrenic oscillation between deterritorialization and reterritorialization. As they put it in Anti-Oedipus,

Hence one can say that schizophrenia is the exterior limit of capitalism itself or the conclusion of its deepest tendency, but that capitalism only functions on condition that it inhibit this tendency, or that it push back or displace this limit, by substituting for it its own immanent relative limits, which it continually reproduces on a widened scale. It axiomatizes with one hand what it decodes with the other. [...] And it is impossible in such a regime to distinguish, even in two phases, between decoding and the axiomatization that comes to replace the vanished codes. The flows are decoded and axiomatized by capitalism at the same time. (246)

My objection to the term "The System" is not that it is too broad, but precisely the opposite: it's far too specific. It implies something that is localizable and clearly demarcated, something that someone can point to and say "that Thing over there that we are against." The reality is that the boundaries of capitalism are constantly dissolving and being rebuilt. The question that anarchists should be asking about capitalism is not, as Deleuze would say, "what is it," but "how does it work?" While speaking of capitalism as a "system" may be useful for ease of communication within the common vernacular, it also has a tendency to obscure how capitalism actually functions.

answered Jan 30 by Matt Dionysus (820 points)
edited Jan 30 by Matt Dionysus
MD - I really like where you are taking this. I dislike the term "the system because of how imprecise it is, but it als really does feel like we are oversimplifying when we say "fuck the system", etc.

Do you have more thoughts about how to be more clear in talking about our enemies and the targets of our attacks?
ingrate:

Your guess is as good as mine. In terms of anarchists having conversations with each other, I would say that a good place to start is a ready willingness to admit that none of us really has any clue what needs to be done or even how to speak about it in a way that makes sense. There can be no "ideal" vocabulary for describing the various "systems" of domination and, for this reason, misunderstandings will continue to be inevitable. With that said, a willingness to embrace this radical uncertainty frees up space for experimentation with both theory and tactics rather than continuing to be tied down by outmoded ideological frameworks. Something that I find sorely lacking in most anarchist activity today is a certain element of playful spontaneity. Whether consciously or unconsciously, most anarchists seem to act from a perceived sense of duty and obligation that isn't conducive to a free and autonomous life.

As new-agey as it might sound, there is truth to the statement that there's freedom in uncertainty. The sooner anarchists begin throwing their ideological sacred cows out the window and start injecting a little joy and spontaneity into their activities, the sooner they can begin experimenting with ideas and strategies that may never have occurred to them before. And it doesn't all have to be stuff that could get you arrested either. Personally, I see just as much radical cred in certain types of performance art as I do in, say, charging a line of riot cops or burning down a biotech lab. Sometimes, fucking with people's heads in a creative and humourous way that makes them think critically about certain aspects of their daily lives that they would otherwise take for granted can be more subversive than anything else.
The concept of "freedom in uncertainty" rings strongly with me. I think of Zerzan's critique of nihilism and the abandonment of hope, and how he sees not having a given path or end point as resignation, whereas I have always seen that as an invitation to take whatever path seems best in the moment.
Like you point out, on a tactical level, that means not being wed to predictable manifestations like black bloc, Food Not Bombs, etc, but rather being willing to play with new avenues of attack and confrontation that expose the tensions of everyday life.
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