Anarchy and Emotion: Toward a Softer Aesthetic for Freedom
Editor’s Note: The following is an article that really resonated with me. It was written by Sterlin Lujan, founder of Psychologic Anarchist. In November, I published an article discussing libertarian love and it was the first time I publicly stepped out into that realm; surprisingly, the feedback was good and I was not alone. Since I’ve begun digging through the (seemingly) endless literature on libertarian philosophy and Austrian economics, I have utilized the “hard” anarchist stance, with little to no regard for emotion. I still think there is a time and a place for that, yet I think other strategies need to be tested for their efficacy. One of those would be the approach Sterlin emphasized in this article. In summation, the ability to reason is what separates man from beast; similarly, ignoring basic human emotions amounts to little more than an automaton just going through the motions. Enjoy.
(Note: This is Part 1 in a 3 part series covering Hard Versus Soft anarchism, the doctrine of Relationalism, and movement toward the Sensual Society. This is my attempt to professionally reconcile the underlying truth of psychological findings with voluntaryist anarchism.)
“The world will not know peace until we learn to understand each other’s emotions”
― Bangambiki Habyarimana,
I made a unconscious, unwritten vow when I turned anarchist. I swore to sacrifice emotion and kill weakness and frailty. I would stop being soft, reactionary, and volatile. I would champion reason and brush aside feelings. I would be unflinching in my resolve to argue truths, and I would not allow emotions to spoil my articulation of them.
If there was one thing I internalized, it was that emotions were less than desirous. They were yucky and unacceptable. They represented human folly; they had to not just be controlled. They needed to be squelched. Emotions were the lifeblood of Statists, of sheep who could not think and who could be easily herded. Reason, on the other hand, was the domain of the übermensch—of the anarchist.
In this way, anarchists stood above the common person. They were immortal in their technique. They were like the Greek Gods atop Olympus, looking down smugly on the unwashed masses.
An Introduction to Anarchist Types
It is true: most anarchists shun emotion. They pretend they do not possess it, or imagine it as dichotomous to thinking. They infuse their rhetoric with straightforward, clearheaded logic. If too much emotion seeps into their philosophizing, they are no better than the voting cattle. This is and still remains the bedrock of anarcho-capitalist and voluntaryist thinking.
Ayn Rand‘s views on emotions are shared by most voluntaryists as well. She said,
“An emotion that clashes with your reason, an emotion that you cannot explain or control, is only the carcass of that stale thinking which you forbade your mind to revise.”
In Rand’s view, emotions that “clash” with reason appear problematic and useless. However, sometimes it may be important that the heart overrides reason, because reason does not account for closeness and empathy. It also denies the innate urge to connect deeply with other humans. Rand clearly placed thinking above emotion.
The anarchists who share the objectivist view of reason, with their disdain for emotions and sentiment are called “hard” anarchists, whereas emotionally intelligent anarchists are called “soft.” These are called the “anarchist types.”
“Hard” anarchists wrap their emotional lives in a straitjacket and imagine they can help change society through raw argumentation and brain power. “Soft” anarchists, on the other hand, believe community and love can foster change for freedom. They rely less on proving anarchism can work by constantly articulating formulaic plans.
Soft anarchism is the new aesthetic I am advocating. It is a unique stratagem, a different vision for creating change and building communities. And it appeals to human psychology rather than logical proofs.
The Hard versus Soft Continuum; ‘Feeling’ Our Way into Freedom
Hard and soft anarchists are not terms that speak to political leaning, like left-right or libertarian-socialist. Hard and Soft refers to the emotional availability of the anarchists within each category. Furthermore, hard and soft are not necessarily binary constructs.
The hard-soft designation can be seen on a continuum, where a middle to soft range is more acceptable for balance and healthy psychological functioning. But as I stated, most anarchists sit on the hard end of the spectrum, as I will soon demonstrate.
In addition, softer anarchists do not necessarily denounce reason or interact with their fellow humans in a volatile or illogical way. They simply reach out with their hearts in order to make contact with others. They practice what psychologist Daniel Goleman referred to as “emotional intelligence.”
On speaking about emotional intelligence, Goleman said:
“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
Goleman’s ideas eloquently illustrate why emotion trumps reason, and why soft anarchists may have a better chance for helping shift the dominate culture toward a more emotional-anarchic expression.
Soft anarchists have a sense of other people’s inner worlds. They grasp emotional content. They attempt to empathize and relate through compassion. This is how they spread anarchism. They wish to “feel” their way into a free society, rather than beat people over the head with dry, syllogistic wordplay.
The Culture of Anarchism
As I mentioned, I originally adopted the idea that I must promote anarchism from the pulpit of reason. I was a “hard” anarchist. I thought I must do everything to emit an aura of tough and unflinching confidence. And emotions were not part of the equation.
This anti-emotion stance was not explicit, though. It was embedded in the culture of anarchism. It had a life of its own throbbing beneath the surface. I remember witnessing it, but it was only a speck. It barely penetrated the edges of my psyche. But when I considered everything in retrospect, the truth struck me.
As I recall the anarchist books, videos, blogs, essays, podcasts, and other content I trudged through, the anarchist attack on emotion seemed clear. These anarchists wanted to be as rational as possible, to obliterate government…along with everything soft and sensitive.
If these hard freedom lovers were not writing about Aristotle, Rothbard, or Rand and their logical and economic rationales, then they were invoking their style and mentality. For them, empathy, compassion, connection, and love were banned from the anarchist lexicon. In their hunger for truth, they forgot about humanness.
Evidence of ‘Hard’ Anarchism and its ‘Logical’ Consequences
The Case of Molyneux
An example of a hard anarchist is Stefan Molyneux. He actively promotes the concept of defooing, which means to depart from family of origin based on logical, ideological, and principled differences.
Molyneux advocates the practice for those who have been hurt by their families, or spanked as a young child. I agree that abuse and spanking are horrible practices, but almost all families are corrupted by dysfunction in the current culture. Thus, blindly advocating for people to cut ties with their families is simply not realistic and does not solve interpersonal problems. Instead, it ignores emotional realities and creates further trauma.
Many people have complicated attachments to their family, and defooing them means to sacrifice any chance of reconciliation or shared understanding. It also means the opportunity for the family to comprehend anarchism is stymied and undermined.
The damage that could result from this, both emotionally and culturally, seems lost on Molyneux. His concerns have only congealed around an egocentric drive to free anarchism of statism, which underlies an extreme form of logical thought that destroys the possibility of helping some populations understand freedom. It is my opinion that Molyneux’s “reasoning” may have the opposite effect on some groups.
A Libertarian Gamer article put it this way,
“Defooing is an over-glorified act of cowardice and running away from opposition through not being able to persuade the statist that their statism is violent. If anyone wants liberty to grow, there are many people who need convincing.”
Molyneux allegedly caters to a train of thought in line with psychological reasoning, but what he does in practice is muddle psychological principles with personal ideology, corrupting the heart of interpersonal wisdom.
With that said, this is not a personal attack. My aim was to highlight the consequences of hard anarchism, and shine a little light on the rigid mentality that permeates anarchist circles and where reason can bump heads with emotion, leading to disastrous outcomes for the enterprise of freedom.
A few Thoughts on Brutalism
Economist and anarcho-capitalist Jeffrey Tucker also pointed out another possible manifestation of the hard anarchist mentality: the brutalist.
In an essay called “Against Libertarian Brutalism,” he condemned some libertarian segments for their malice, indiscretion with certain issues, and desire to apply anarchist logic to the extreme. And even though Tucker pointed out that Brutalism involves racism, sexism, and other divisive politics—I saw his underlying meaning to suggest that brutalists are utterly devoid of empathy and compassion for various groups.
“In the libertarian world, however, brutalism is rooted in the pure theory of the rights of individuals to live their values whatever they may be. The core truth is there and indisputable, but the application is made raw to push a point. Thus do the brutalists assert the right to be racist, the right to be a misogynist, the right to hate Jews or foreigners, the right to ignore civil standards of social engagement, the right to be uncivilized, to be rude and crude”
Christopher Cantwell acts the perfect representative of brutalism. He has taken his position so far as to throw around dehumanizing insults at anyone who believes or behaves differently from him, especially if they mildly appear on the “left” in terms of various proclivities.
But fortunately for many, instead of consolidating his position within anarchism, Cantwell has only alienated himself, made enemies, and has actively been blacklisted from various conferences and meetups. It turns out that taking anarchism to this kind of extreme does not pay in dividends.
Women and Anarchism
It is possible that this brutalist behavior also pushes women away from freedom communities. Anarchists have constant trouble appealing to women. Based on page statistics at The Art of not Being Governed, women represent a minority of followers.
There have been several theories as to why this is the case, but I believe it is because women are more naturally inclined to being emotive and empathetic. And all the hard-hitting, emotionally devoid argumentation turns them off. In this regard, they may view anarchist circles as men-only clubs.
This is not to imply that women do not think or exercise that capacity. It is only to say that women want more emotional variety and subtlety. They want their heart to be stimulated along with their mind, and it is my impression that a movement toward softer anarchism could raise appeal levels for women.
Since I started focusing more on the gut rather than the brain, I have already seen increases in woman followers on Psychologic-Anarchist. I expect that this increase will continue as I flesh the ideas out and continue build emotive communities, allowing everyone to move toward a more relational and caring version of anarchism.
Toward the Doctrine of Relationalism
As I have attempted to demonstrate, anarchist groups have mostly been comprised of people uttering the same “logical” truths, in a kind of echo chamber. They are stuck on the economic, logical, and moral vectors. They have not considered tackling the issue of anarchism and combating statism from other angles. And my goal is to observe the situation from an emotional, dialogic, holistic, and visceral perspective.
I think some people have been so swept away by the ongoing uproar of voluntaryist group think, that they have not sat down to contemplate the current situation of their own volition. I just hear a lot of people parroting Molyneux, invoking Mises, or regurgitating Rothbard over and over ad nauseum.
As an aside, that is not to say that these philosophies are bad or wrong, it is only to say that they appeal to specific groups, and anarchists have not moved far from them in their annunciations of truth.
But now, I feel like the community is maturing and branching out; more people are becoming interested in psychological expressions of freedom. The community is growing based on spirit, depth of character, human acceptance and kindness.
It is this intelligent, yet sensitive group that relates to others in a nonviolent and caring fashion, without necessarily needing to invoke the NAP at every turn light. It is the beginning of anarchist iteration that accepts the doctrine of relational voluntaryism or relationalism. This, I believe, heralds the next school of thought within the philosophy of anarchism.