Commodification and Linguistic Anarchism

Commodification

To think of things as commodities is to be part of a religion. This religion took the form of capitalism and dominates society today. Just as metaphysical Christian ideas have real, physical consequences, metaphysical commodity ideas have real, physical consequences. Just as Christian practices reinforce the belief in Christian values, capitalist practices reinforce the belief in commodity values.

Religions have come and gone, but since feudal monarchy was defeated in 1918, capitalism has ruled over all incompatible worldviews. The commodification of the planet is increasing as is the belief in commodity value and there is no indication that it will slow down. Competition between different worldviews leads to conflicts between worldviews if they include a system of reward for their believers. In addition, commodity values are limited by the demand for commodities, which creates competition over profit within capitalism.

The struggle for profit is increasingly focused on quick gains. The past is beyond more commodification and the future is difficult to commodify because it’s uncertain, particularly in the long term. Hence, the commodification of the present is increasing. Commodity values are not inherently evil, if they’re temporary or only occur on a small scale there’s not much to worry about, but once it becomes systematic the relative nature of these values establishes a praxis that overrules the real, subjective evaluation it’s based on and it is this systemic practice we call capitalism.

Waste

The supply of things you can do quickly, perhaps while also doing something else at the same time, is increasing. The games are faster, interviews are shorter, tweets are just 140 characters. Technology is developing so you can consume digital media wherever you are, the smartphone is expanding and it’s already vital for many people to keep it at arm’s length at all times. But it comes at great cost; our neurological reward system is affected by the constant need for new boosts, like shares and likes and getting new weapons and leveling up in games. We’re surrounded by things calling for our attention to the point that we stop thinking and just passively welcome and consume them. We’re not necessarily getting dumber, but our thoughts are getting more stuck in the mainstream, in the stream of commodities created for the sake of profit. There is no profit in teaching people about philosophy and alternatives to our current society.

But apart from maintaining the system, the urge to accumulate capital has serious long-term effects because the distant future is not profitable, certainly not for people who will be dead in a couple of decades, but that is secondary. Commodity values change really fast so to make profit you need to sell as soon as it’s worth it to be able to invest in something else as fast as possible and so on. We’re at the stage where stock traders need their offices as close to Wall Street as possible, literally counting the meters of cables because the milliseconds it takes for the signals to travel have an impact on the magnitude of the profit. Meanwhile, it only becomes profitable to e.g. recycle garbage mountains once they reach a certain size, a size well beyond what’s reasonable. The water is full of poison, whole neighbourhoods are abandoned and left to rot and the fucking atmosphere of our planet is accumulating energy. The consequences of a religion that exalts and cherishes the metaphysical blunder of commodity value are far too numerous to list here, so let’s move on to the overall strategy employed by the priests and congregations of the commodity church.

Divide-and-Conquer

As in all conflicts, divide-and-conquer plays a strategic role. To combat capitalism, we need a lesson in war strategy. First gather information about the enemy and then deceive the enemy by keeping secrets and planting false information. Infiltrate hostile organizations and reshape their narrative or at least make it seem as if it came from within. Reshaping the narrative includes demarcating political correctness and cultural appropriation in the sense of redefining isms and slogans and what various heroes stood for. Ally with and provide resources to elements among the enemy who champion issues of internal conflict. This can involve nationalism, racism, sexism, ableism or whatever internal problem can be magnified and made worse. If you gain superiority, use the advantage to delay and distract the enemy with trivial matters, decoys and scapegoats. Deny doing all this and use the belief that you are on the right side of the religious war to justify to yourself that you’re lying.

Hitler and Stalin are good examples; they both used these tactics to gain power in their empires, which weakened in the process. They both turned into useful idiots for the capitalist priests by sharpening the delineation of us-and-them between various groups. This gave capitalism a sharper narrative and clearer enemy, converted the agnostics into believers and turned refugees into crusaders.

Federalism versus Ally Politics

Commodification isn’t the only enemy. We got a lot of problems, like nations, racists, so called democracies etc and the more problems there are, the more likely it is that groups will band together, in particular if two of their enemies band together. The enemy of my enemy is only occasionally my friend. Don’t repeat the mistakes of emboldening delineations and unifying for the sake of strength. I don’t really know how to counter this strategy, but being aware of how it works is a good start.

I’m thinking it involves formulating a long-term goal for yourself and instead of being an ally and showing up to someone else’s protest just for show, you should cooperate with others only on equal terms as in a federation, joining forces when possible and breaking up when the short-term goals have been achieved or made irrelevant or the cooperation stops working, e.g. if one of the groups turn Stalinist you need to withdraw your support or the power you’ve lent to Stalin will eventually be used against you.

Linguistic Anarchism

So I’ve touched on how language is used as a tool in the religious war of commodification but I thought I’d devote a bit more space to this topic and deal with it more generally.

I heard an anarcho-capitalist say that there is an epistemological method for defining words which is based on etymology. I forgot what the method was called though. There’s more to epistemology than language, but nonetheless let’s apply this method to the word ‘state’. An analysis of the state based on etymology ignores the history of the people who have called themselves anarchists (which is convenient if you’re an ancap since most of them were socialists) and looks only at the literal history of the word ‘state’. This allows the ancaps to call themselves anarchists because they are opposed to the state, disregarding all the other things that anarchists have been opposed to in the past. However, it’s enough to take one more etymological step to find the next definition of anarchism, as meaning no ruler (etymologically from the verb ‘arkhein’ which means ‘to be first’) and obviously it can be argued that religions such as capitalism do indeed rule over us, but that’s not the argument I will make. The etymology of ‘state’ takes us in the third (or whatever) step to a word meaning status or condition, i.e. the current state of society. This is not a specific institution though, it is just a general description of how things work in our society at the moment. Whatever happens, society will always be in a state of some sort. I believe Hegel thought of the state in a similar way, as the accumulation of social constructs in a nation, where the Prussian nation was the pinnacle of evolution. I’ll disregard the idea of nations here and expand the argument against etymology to a more general level, but first I’ll use an example.

There is a long-standing, though friendly, debate about how to pronounce the Swedish word ‘kex’. ‘Kex’ means a thin, dry baked bread, corresponding to modern English ‘cracker’. ‘Kex’ is a loan-word from English ‘cakes’ and first noted in Swedish texts about 250 years ago. In turn, ‘cakes’ is an earlier loan-word from Norse ‘kaka’. Modern Swedish ‘kaka’ corresponds to modern English ‘cookie’. In turn, ‘kaka’ comes from proto-Indo-European ‘gog’ which means an object shaped as a ball. About half of Swedish-speakers pronounce ‘kex’ as ‘keks’ and the other half as ‘sheks’. The reason for this division is that they’re based on two separate patterns. ‘Keks’ follows the English pronunciation of ‘cakes’ and the standard pattern of pronouncing loan-words according to how they’re pronounced in the language they’re loaned from. ‘Sheks’ follows a different pattern. The standard pattern for ‘k’ is that it’s pronounced ‘k’ in front of ‘a’, ‘o’, ‘u’ and ‘å’ but pronounced ‘sh’ in front of ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘y’, ‘ä’ and ‘ö’. So, ‘koka’ meaning ‘to cook’ is pronounced ‘kooka’ but ‘kyrka’ meaning ‘church’ is pronounced ‘sheerka’.

The patterns we find in languages are generalized as grammatical rules, but these patterns are circumstantial and grammar evolves over time and space in the same way that words evolve. This is why there are so many exceptions to grammatical rules. And just like in biological evolution there is no right or wrong. Humans have flat feet that are good for walking but bad for hanging out in trees with. Our ancestors had feet that could grab branches but, because of mutations, this has changed. That doesn’t mean our feet are wrong, it just means they’re different. (This is also relevant in discussions on neurodiversity.) Difference is typically defined by comparison to what is normal, which in turn depends on categorization. We can learn from the work of Darwin that the categorization of lifeforms into separate species is misleading, because evolution is a continuous process without clear breaks between one generation and the next. Similarly, languages are not completely separate, they are just more or less related to each other. History is not completely irrelevant of course. Asperger and cerebral palsy might be caused by gene mutation and oxygen depravity during birth respectively. These causes are different, but even this causal categorization is only relevant to understanding the direct effects. Once we have the effects, how it happened does not change whether we should perceive them as good or bad, because that depends on a subjective judgement of the long-term consequences. Having Asperger can lead to a lot of problems in a society that is adapted to neurotypicals, i.e. what is right now considered normal for a member of the category human. But this is not an intrinsic wrong of the category Asperger, it only becomes a problem if we can’t handle it. Thus, just like any word in any environment, neurodivergence comes down to whether it’s functional or not, and that is co-determined by the context. No person, thing or word is dysfunctional in itself.

Language changes all the time. It’s not just new words and loan-words or new spellings and pronunciations of words. It’s not even just that we give words new metaphorical meanings or invent completely new meanings for words, but we also exist in a continuum of very subtle changes in meaning. These subtle differences can vary according to social class, dialect, field of work and over time. Such small nuances easily ebb and flow so that e.g. meanings that were considered archaic at one point or in one subculture become chic again and vice versa. Murray Bookchin, who abandoned the label anarchism partly because of the ancaps (and who is also the main influence on my thoughts on federalism) was critical of the post-modern idea that all things are relative. I am more of a post-modernist in this case though. I believe words only have meaning in context and since meaning and context both change we have to accept that words will be used to mean different things. I accept that ancaps are anarchists, it’s just not the type of anarchism I like and often not what I mean when I say anarchism.

Bookchin says that some anarchists laud the heterogeneity of anarchist history. I don’t, but that’s because I’m not concerned with the categorization of ideas and movements. I don’t think of isms as heterogenous or homogenous as the categorization into isms is already based on someone else’s judgement on the similarities between a number of heterogenous acts and theories. I’ve actually never expected to find a coherent and comprehensive philosophy and I haven’t found one either. I don’t believe anyone has a comprehensive worldview, a concept which has been called theory-lite. Just as in science I expect our theories to be corrected and improved ad infinitum. I take bits from any source I want and I think of isms as tools that are only valuable in a context where they’re useful. Still, I strive towards the ideal of a comprehensive theory, knowing full well it will always be beyond my grasp. This is what Nagarjuna means when he separates the practical truth from the objective truth. That doesn’t mean I approve of inconsistencies, it just means that we must accept them and can only do our best to get rid of as many as possible, prioritizing the bigger ones.

In linguistics there are a few terms that are relevant to explore. Hypernym/hyponym and holonym/meronym are among the concepts relevant to linguistic anarchists. These concern category levels or set theory and the relationship between the particular and the whole. The sum is not greater than its parts, so the definition of any word is only true if it includes all the pieces that make it true. This is the same as in logical deduction, where conclusions are only true if the premises are true. And of course the problem here is that those premises are only true if the premises they rely on are true and so on ad infinitum. In practice, perfectly defining even the simplest word would require a sentence that includes all things in the universe and how they are all connected. This doesn’t mean we should reject language altogether, it’s still a practical tool, but we need to understand the limits of the concepts we use to describe the actual reality.

With regard to political strategy, I think we need to roll with the punches and accept that our discourse will be appropriated and corrupted. We should evolve our discourse to match this and use words that are fit for their purpose. If you are talking to a friend who knows your views on politics you can throw out anarchism quite casually. If there is a chance this conversation will be broadcasted to the entire population of India you should be aware of how anarchism is used in mainstream media in India (it basically means being anti-India.)

I chose the phrase linguistic anarchism for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was inspired by relationship anarchism, which has nothing to do with politics but means that we should be open-minded about various constellations of relationships that involve sex and love and perhaps friendship, not certain. The idea is that we shouldn’t fixate our relationships in the form of marriage or other contracts, but allow people to do what they want to do. If you’re seeing two people at the same time, whether you do different things with them or not, it’s fine as long as everyone involved is ok with it. Polygamy has been mostly for the benefit of men’s sexual desires and relationship anarchism can be used to justify it, but we can also use our brains for a few seconds longer and separate consent from coercion.

Secondly, I chose to call it linguistic anarchism because I think anarchism, in particular the opposition to fixation, can be useful in linguistic theory and that linguistics, in particular aspects that relate to deconstruction, rhetoric and mutual intelligibility, can be useful in anarchist theory. Regarding mutual intelligibility, we observe how people talk more like each other the more time they spend talking to each other and so can more easily understand the other person’s point of view because dialects are no longer a barrier and because you know how the other person defines the words in their sentences without having to go on extensive tangents to explain each word. Apart from its application to political debates, this is helpful in organization theory, both because organizations are founded on principles in the form of sentences and because it tells us something about social interaction which of course is a requirement for organization.

Symbolism

“Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.” – Plato (although misrepresenting Heraclitus and turning him into Nagarjuna)

All words are metaphysical symbols. It seems difficult to communicate when you realize all symbols are defined by their context. Or maybe it’s only difficult if the people you are talking to don’t realize this. Or maybe it’s actually only difficult when you force words unto people before a common ground has been established. In an echo-chamber words simply serve an emotional purpose, but if you try to convince someone of something they don’t know it gets harder the farther apart you are at the start. Thus, it comes down to how much time everyone has to communicate. The balance between theory and practice is far from obvious and I don’t even know where to begin. I write without knowing if that is the best path. I write, relatively safe, all the while others give their lives in the war.

In the anarchist environment, whatever that means, there is a lot of sectarianism based on symbolism. E.g. if you’ve read deconstructions of philosophical concepts, like morality, philosophy or property, learned something you consider important and cultivated your new worldview to the point where you forget that you didn’t always know this, then you might be triggered by someone using this word in its earlier sense and without a common ground that can lead to a split. Those who call themselves anarchists should (ironically?) be the first to question the reduction of all they know and do to a single symbol. When it comes to words like democracy, liberalism, socialism and communism, these people tend to be relatively aware that these words have had and still have many different meanings. Other words I’ve occasionally seen being disassembled, critiqued and/or reconstituted are ethics, citizen, rights, leftist, authority, power, resistance, community, institution, intersectionality, identity politics, capitalism, neoliberalism, state, violence, radical and fascist.

To take an example: “For the postanarchist authors, critics of modern anarchism, it seems that modern anarchism is characterised by an insurrectionary revolutionary conception aimed at the destruction of the State and Capitalism. The revolution having been accomplished, power would be totally destroyed. For postanarchists, such a conception is illusory, because power is not concentrated in centers, but is immanent to every relationship.” – From On Vivien García’s L´Anarchisme aujoud’hui by Irène Pereira.

But there are other words that I’ve almost never seen questioned  and dismantled in this environment. Some of these words are symbolism, equality, bureaucracy, ideology, privilege, individual, organization, solidarity, society, social, time, space and matter. As an example, Japanese anarchists de-organized because they deemed it the correct strategy at the time, yet some people will argue that you can’t have a strategy outside an organization. On the one extreme organization is defined as inherently hierarchical or oppressive (like distribution of tasks or dictatorship of the majority) and on the other extreme organization includes any connection between two (organic?) things.

Obviously this may seem irrelevant because we’re dealing with a fraction of a fraction of the total communication today. However, at every level we must be aware that it’s a good idea to understand the words we use before we use them. Nothing should be taken for granted, although that’s probably practically impossible. Just to take an example, Aristotle analyzes the meaning of good. He uses terms like substance, form, honour, virtue and pleasure, which to some extent are restricted to his philosophical and historical context. He even considers whether the opinions of the dead are relevant to what is good, since the belief in an afterlife was pretty much assumed at the time. But a complete analysis would probably be infinite since all words are relative. I would reduce pleasure to subjective opinion, honour to the subjectively perceived opinion of others and virtue to a subjectively perceived objective opinion, that of God or the universe. I would also consider substance to be reality and form to be the subjective opinion of substance. Still I’d need to further dissect what subjectivity means and on it goes. I’d like to say that the key to communication is to consider what is relevant given a specific situation, but even the word relevance has more than one meaning.

Association

While I’m in the neighbourhood, I’d like to mention guilt by association and virtue or honor by association. Virtue by association can be seen in nationalism, tribalism and corporations where people take pride in and credit for the whole even though they only did a part. Guilt by association can be seen in racism and sexism where individuals are blamed for what others have done because they’re seen as members of the whole. The Left has allied itself with all kinds of bad bedfellows because of only one shared goal. Conversely, the Left has been criticized for these bedfellows doing only one bad thing. (By the Left I mean socialists and by socialists I mean democratic socialists and by that I mean people who agree with Marx’s definition of class… and so on.) On Twitter there are a lot of people who write in their account descriptions that retweeting doesn’t equal agreement. This is obviously because some people assume it does. Clearly, a retweet is a retweet and not an agreement. It’s not an agreement-button, it’s a retweet-button. Clearly. Yet, retweeting is not just retweeting. You are sharing an opinion, point of view or narrative of a fact, belief, event or phenomenon. This has consequences beyond clicking a button. E.g. you might reinforce the Overton window and/or drown out other communication and omission is part of the strategy of the powerful. This brings us back to relevance, which is ultimately necessitated by the fact that we need to eat every so often and will all soon die etc. Relevance brings a lot of problems, e.g. is it better to spend your allotted contact with others encouraging the destruction of private property and spread this symbolism or is it more worthwhile to highlight the need for constructive demonstrations using arguments comparing means and goals?

To handle these problems, we need to understand symbolism and organization. Symbols like ‘anarchism’ are used, like all words, as short-cuts to convey meaning in communication. Symbols like these are also absorbed and used to label people’s identities.  It should be obvious that one word can not describe a whole person, whether you place this label on yourself or on others, and considering theory-lite there is no two people, regardless of ism, who share exactly the same knowledge and opinions. Thus, we should be more careful with words the more is contained in them. This applies to bureaucracy, i.e. the words of organizations, as well. We may even say that simply talking to people, associating with them, is an association with a temporary bureaucracy. I think subsidiarity and federalism might be a good basis for dealing with all of this. Try to take the longer road and only use the short-cut when needed or if there is mutual understanding. Try not to make assumptions unless speed is paramount. Don’t surrender your power to a higher level of organization unless a specific situation requires it and take it back as soon as that situation is resolved. E.g. electing a person to an office is subject to virtue by association, though in this case it’s an association between what a person has done or said in the past and the inference we draw to things they might say or do in the future. Individuals do unique things in every situation, it might be a mistake to categorize them by generalizing their actions; rarely is one action the direct cause of the next action and even if it was, the effect of the second action is transformed by the context. This is why any office has to be temporary, limited to specific tasks and subject to retraction as soon as the present proves the inference wrong. Unfortunately, my advice is very general and not very practical, but if nothing else it’s theoretically coherent.

Media

To paraphrase Lucy Parsons, the rich will not allow you to vote away their wealth. Similarly, we can’t educate people through the mainstream media on their terms. The hegemony of the social superstructure is maintained in ways that are not always obvious. A newspaper is already in its very form furthering a focus on the present, in line with the commodification culture. Although each article may be good, the selection of topics is in itself steering the focus in society. Over a year, if 100 articles deal with finance and banking and only 1 article deals with waste and pollution, that in itself controls the cultural narrative no matter how good each individual article is. Editors and journalists are subjective, their choices regarding which articles to publish and which words to use (a trivial example is the choice between ‘terrorist’ and ‘anarchist’) are influenced by the rest of society. We don’t have access to the objective truth and shouldn’t expect that from journalists either.

I believe joining mainstream media and entryism in general are counter-productive in the long term. Historically, movements have consisted of active and passive participants, typically an educated orator followed by less principled masses. This is precarious and if the leader is arrested or turns into Stalin, the masses flow in a different direction, ebb out or get arrested as well. The movement is in effect appropriated for the enemy or destroyed.

What we need instead is unfiltered, mutual and participatory communication. I don’t know how to achieve this, but I’ll think out loud for a bit. Anonymous image boards are useful, but instead of images it should be expanded to torrents so people can discuss and share large documents and videos at the same time. The technology exists, VPNs can even hide your identity and you can choose to reveal yourself if you want. There are at least four problems with this idea though. Firstly, it’s illegal. Secondly, it takes time and money to get the servers, code the site and pay for subscriptions to Internet providers to gain access. Thirdly, cell phones or other infrastructure also cost money and a large percentage of the global population, in particular those who are most likely to want social change, don’t have any or very limited access to these resources. Lastly, it’s difficult to get rid of all filters. It’s easy to skip editing, censorship, ghost-banning and a requirement for signing up, but even on 4chan there are moderators and subsections. IRC is probably the closest thing, it’s even got file sharing options, but it has restrictions like separated channels with moderators. Ultimately, the format itself restricts users but, as before, we can strive towards an ideal even when we can’t reach it. Just for comparison, consider the fact that speech itself is limited by its format (sound-waves) as well.

It’s theoretically possible to build servers and forums and establish networks on your own, but the trend is pointing towards more control over the Internet by large corporations and states. As with the French Revolution 1789-1793, the Paris commune in 1871 and the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists in 1936, freedom seems to be short-lived and is soon reined in again. The Internet was like the Wild West at first, but slowly but surely the powerful are sinking their teeth into it as well.

If anyone is counting this is my third blog post under the umbrella of post-anarchism. Introduction is here and the second post is here.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: