Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Towards An Anarchist Spirituality...

“They therefore invented an idea of "primitive man" as a being whose total intelligence was supposed to consist in some rudimentary fumblings towards the kind of wisdom monopolized by Western civilization. Hardly dreaming that there are other and highly developed types of intelligence and wisdom, as well as different life/goals, than those contemplated by Western man, these anthropologists found only what their prejudices enabled them to see. Their premise was that their own culture as the "latest" in time represented the height of evolution. Earlier cultures must therefore be elementary forms of "modern” culture, and their degree of civilization and intelligence had to be estimated by the degree to which their values approximated to modern values.” – Alan Watts Myth and Ritual in Christianity

     To begin with, this quote by philosopher Alan Watts is in reference, immediately, to Christianity and it’s origins, it’s colonialist imperative but also applies more broadly to modern culture as a whole. I would find it hard to not relate critique of modern culture to Christianity, being that it has been, if not the most dominate religion of the past 500 years,could be called the most dominating with it’s imperative of conquest and control. We have seen in our lifetimes alone, a massive amount of repression, genocide, ecological devastation and oppression under the flag of divine right. From the conquest of the west to the colonization of the east (read Phillipines, South Korea, Australia, etc.) at the hands of not only the Church as an institution, but the force of will of “good” Christian missionaries, paving the way for development and providing reformist cleanup after genocide wrenches it’s deadly claim.

     This can be attributed, at surface level, to the defects of religion, but I fear this may be too easy. Without religion, would we not still have “progress” as a driving entity, in and of itself? This has long been written off as human nature, and in fact, is in the premise of the word progress itself to assume that this is a natural path.  Of course, there are deep seeded tones of colonialism in this thought process, not to mention the short view of the world and it’s existence, but the question we must put forth then, if not god, who takes the blame? If it is not in our “nature” to consume and destroy, then it must be in our nurture, and what better fall guy than the divine?  Anarchists have long been held to the account of atheism, and for good reason. The institution of god is no different than the institution of the state, if not worse. The development of the institution of mass religion follows closely with the development of civilization. When people began collectively living in sedentary spaces, developing large scale agriculture and relying upon the elements for bounty as opposed to their ability to maneuver towards more fertile hunting and gathering land, we see the rise of ritual. Ritual is the performing of duties not for sake of anything other than the duty itself, in hopes that repetition will bring forth the same results as in times of good harvest. To pay penance to the gods was a way of attempting to ensure that famine would not fall on you or your family, and at times, even attempting to force it upon your enemies. Warfare being a hallmark of confined living, what better ally than the gods to wreak certain havoc upon your foes?  Thus we find the beginnings of religion. The enforcement of communal ritual was a given, being that any sway may not be pleasing to the gods, therefore those unwilling to participate, or those defiant of the new lifeways, had to be silenced and alienated, or killed, so as to create a unity and confluence amongst the people. In order for this to take hold, there had to be specialists in determining who was and who was not sincere in their faith, and those rulers were appointed, not by consensus, but by divine right. God chose them. In this time, there was also the formation of the state, from the Latin word status meaning standing or position, words inherent to hierarchy that will be imperative to modern society. We see, from the beginning a tie in of governments and churches. From the murder of indigenous peoples and their land, to the assassination of spiritual prophets for the benefit of the state, the church and the state have remained, and will certainly always be linked.  This is not revelatory in any sense, and has been a part of the dogma of anarchy since it’s inception as a political force. This also, in many ways, holds to the same form of colonialism and imperative that our definitions of life-ways are the standard from which we compare all others. Where then is our spiritual concern? That which drives us to connect with life until there is no separation? Are anarchists to believe that all matters of the spirit belong to the church? And if this is the case, were they taken by the church or invented?

     I hold that spirituality is much older than elements of mass control, and must be explored to attain a wholeness of self that is necessary for reconnection with the world as a whole. The basic proposition of anarchy holds true only one thing: freedom. Freedom from oppressive controls and hierarchy, and freedom to adventure into one's life unfettered by the constraints of societal dominance. Tailgating freedom, within the context of mass society, brings forth additional baggage that is as fluid as the condition of the individual. Some may see non-violence as a strict doctrine of anarchy, because they have had an experience of violence from oppressive forces. Others may hold that violence nor non-violence are inherently anarchistic, but the tying bond between the two sets is freedom as an imperative. In modern western culture, it is remarked often that true freedom cannot ever really exist. Therefor, anarchy is merely an ideal that may be striven toward, but never actualized. 

 This concept of perpetual bondage is indicative of the omniscient nature of civilization itself. The gods of this culture reflect the same parameters of understanding. Where-as the gods of a polytheistic culture may retain certain powers over various realms, the god of a monotheistic culture is all knowing and cannot be escaped or hidden from. Freedom is not an option.  There is no escape from his all seeing eye. This, without elaborating, shows the patriarchal nature of the culture as well as the control imperative. What exactly does this god provide, outside of an archetype of the controlling beast of civilization itself? Is the god the root of the improprieties, or the outcrop? Being that the notions of gods have well preceded industrial civilization,  it is possible to conclude that the god follows the rod. 

  Upon the onset of colonization, being the widening of a particular culture for the purpose of conquest and resource control at the necessary elimination of the cultures of coveted regions, we have seen the encountering of "others", some with a set of gods all their own. It is no secret that the genocide of indigenous people's of the Americas was rife with stories of divine intervention and rite. The various tribal people's of this region had a set of gods that were revered for their different sources of power or kinship, but was the basic standing of these gods the same construct as the European Christian god? Most likely not, however there is substantial reasoning that points to shamanism as an elite form of religious rite as well. This is not indicative only of the indigenous of this region though, as we can go back to see pre-Christian peoples of Europe also held firmly their concepts of gods that had to be snuffed out for the propulsion of the Christian paradigm. What little we know of these gods in a mainstream aesthetic tells us that these societies functioned rather similar to that of the monotheists, but little evidence actually points to this. With the murder of a people also comes the murder of their knowledge, and we have very little knowledge of what the Celtic peoples, or the Picts may have had of their spiritual selves. Just as we have very little mainstream knowledge, beyond the blindly accepted and indoctrinated stereotypical of "pagan" cultures, we treat the indigenous of the Americas with same colonial swath. Narrowing down their culture's belief and spirituality to an easily digested mockery of the truth. Our priests are dominating and controlling, so it would play well that their shamans served the same purpose. We have no real understanding of the spiritual practice of these peoples, but apply to them the reasoning learned by our own oppressive system, despite the teachings from still living indigenous peoples who point otherwise. Of course, it does a colony no good to exchange with it's directive, only to steal and redefine. He who defines, in a large way controls. This is well known in the scientific world, and comes directly from the experience of the religious world. Science is, in fact, the new religion.  

  This taken into account, how can we presume then the spiritual practices of our ancestors were the same as the religious practices of our oppressors? What we know of the cultures of past are that they were not all oppressive, conquest oriented, gender based societies of dominance and control. Some, such as many Celtic clans, held no gender bias and had no concept of gender roles, division of labor (as labor, in modern terms, did not exist) and had no structure of punishment or imprisonment, yet they had many "gods". We do not know how the practice of ritual would have been carried out, if even at all, yet it is clear that there were archetypes within these cultures to represent various aspects of life and connectivity. It would put forth then, that the shamans of the Americas, whose tribal peoples also had "gods" of various ilk, held no power over others as well. Being seen a spiritual guide may have been as commonplace as being seen as a good hunter, or a good thatch builder. Could we then surmise that spiritual life held an equal importance to food and shelter? Yes, it could. What then of the concept of god, not as we know it, but as our ancestors may have it?

  Joseph Campbell has done much work in the field of mythology, the study of the myths of a culture, and came to many conclusions that the "god" archetype may have little to do with control, if the society was not interested in control.  "Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths. " Joseph Campbell
This could be said that the society manufactures the gods, but does not manufacture the desire of the spirit. The largest threat to the Catholic church was not war from outside, but disbelief from inside. Disbelief would not have brought down the church walls, but would have made them impossible to be built in the first place. The cultures we now know as "pagan" were diverse and many, and had to be converted or eliminated for the life-way of roman civilization to  prosper, just as the tribal indigenous of the Americas had to be converted or killed off for the foothold of western civilization to take hold and grow. Why then did people not just convert? Because the spirit is a real and important part of life, equally as important as food and shelter. This, of course, is not saying that conversion would have "saved" the lives of every person killed by the genocidal armies of progress, as the racism and divine right of white males was already ingrained into Europeans by that time, giving that their own colonization was completed many generations previous, but we can see that the adoption of Christianity did "allow" for many peoples to survive albeit stripped entirely of a basic element of life, spirit, which, again is as important as food and shelter.  Genocide, as Ward Churchill reminds us, is not merely the act of killing an entire people, but killing their way of life. Therefore, you do not have to be dead, to be a direct casualty of genocide. The UN defines genocide as such: any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:a. killing members of the group;b. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;c. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;d. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;e. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.With the understanding of the importance of spirituality to non-civilized peoples, it is easy to deduce that an addition to this definition is in order:f. control or destroy the spiritual connection to life of a person or persons. 
 It is clear that religion has for some time been used as an element of control, with it's dominant gods and forced behaviors, but spirit has been it's greatest enemy. With the control or destruction of the spirit, the greatest genocide has already, is currently, occurring. We place our bodies in the pews and our faith in the machines, be they computers or the textual gods of literacy, we are under control. To abandon the spirit is no different from murdering it, and modern living requires just that, an abandonment of adventure and experience with a reliance on ritual and technology.

 The secular notion of life put forth by modernity is for the purpose of technocratic rule and objectification imperative. If one can be defined, it can be controlled, therefor if one cannot be defined, it is out of control and must be eliminated or recuperated else the rule of normality ceases to exist. Politics is the normalization of control, and must be abandoned, while spirituality without religion is beyond the confines of normalization and must be embraced. Towards an anarchist spirituality, without confines, without constriction.


  1. I like this but I have read that the celts were warlike and did in fact conquer much of europe (ex. they conquered ireland from the people that were already living there, they had kings,etc.) In new guinea (other places as well but new guinea comes to mind) shamans lead war parties to attack other villages ritualistically. I think that the idea of a shaman having control of spirituality, being specialized in that role, (although you pointed out that that could be looking at it incorrectly), takes away some of the autonomy of the groups spirituality.

    Ward Churchill is an indigenous nationalist so I dont really like him due to the fact that I don't think that anyone can claim sole ownership of land and I think that some of the things he has said have been very authoritarian, regardless of what ethnic group he represents.

    I liked this though.

  2. Also if I'm not mistake the celts were also agriculturalists, so that would have most likely had some impact upon their worldview.

  3. that's funny that you added that, because i nearly posted a reply after your first comment to that effect. Also, it needs to be stated that our "knowledge" of any indigenous peoples is sadly reliant upon a few books written by a few academics and rarley based in oral traditional knowledge. some celts were agriculturalists and some were empiricists and some were sectarian religious fanatics and some were just folk doing their thing.

    1. Yah there was probably a lot more diversity then we think of. I mean these were people, like you and me, so they had to be at least as diverse as us.

      I still don't like Ward hahaha. I've noticed that you seem to like the black panthers as well?(from what I've gathered from looking at a youtube comment you made on a bp video"ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE) I think that they were Authoritarian as well. I mean I can get that they were trying to turn the tide ya know? reverse what was happening to them and take the power back. But to me it's kinda like what Freddy Perlman said in against his-story, that if you resist, while forming the same thing your fighting against, your bound to recreate civilization and power structures. Authority.

      So I'm wary about people like Ward Churchill or about romanticising certain cultures, or giving them this right to be authoritarian because they were colonized. I mean I'm definently down for Indigenous liberation, but that doesn't mean I'm down for Indigenous Nationalism you know? Or black, white, asian, etc. Nationalism.

      I've also noticed on one particular youtube comment you talk about "energy" and that sounds a little new age-ish, which seems strange because you don't seem very new agey. Then again this is just throught the internet and how can you judge someone through that right?

      I'm not dogging you or anything like that, and I enjoy what you do on here actually. This is Nolan by the way.

  4. right on nolan! yeah, i can be a bit hippy seaming to some. i definitely support many aspects of the BPP while remaining very critical. i have personal connections with some orginal BPP members like bobby seale and ashanti allston that may affect my feelings towards the party, but i do know that what we "learn" is a far cry from what was happening. it really was a very autonomous movement that brought consciousness forward towards liberation. they were not nationalists, in my experience, though some probably were. there is no revolution that i count on, however, all resistance actions hold merit in my eyes, including those with no analysis at all. not really sure. the next piece i am working out right now is titled All People To the Power. i think it will be torn apart by some. we'll see. hope you are well brother!

    1. I mean there are some "revolutionary" movements that are just plain ugly. There have been Revolutionary movements in places like nepal and Liberia that have been gruesome and cannibalistic, and that even coming from them, they'll admit to it. I realize there is a leap from the Panthers or the A.I.M. and Liberian guerilla fighters, but at the same time I'm wary of how if a group like the Panther gained power instead of destroying power, you could end up with just another, well, what we have now. I'm doing pretty good ;) you?

      Alls I know about the shaman thing is that if the shaman has some advantage or power over others because of there supposed gifts or that they communicate with the life around us or spirituality whatever you want to call it, better then everyone else, and that gives them more power over people, I say bullshit. Now, whether or not that is always the case, I don't know. I can definitively see how we might put them into the same roles as our religious leaders.

      Have fun out there.

  5. *I meant to say "I'm not down with Indigenous Nationalism you know? or white,black,asian etc. nationalism."

    1. Oh I did say that, hahaha, I'm reading terribly I guess.