Archive for the 'Radical politics & anarchism' Category

La espiritualidad post-religiosa

At times like these — when you notice you’re being linked to by what looks like a great blog written from Ecuador — I wish I knew more than the most rudimentary Spanish. An excerpt, from “Mi espiritualidad post-religiosa”:
Así entonces escogí considerarme cuáquero [= Quaker] (luego se salir del colegio), todo el que crea en […]

New non-Quaker blog: Evolt

I just started a new blog as a place to put everything I think about that doesn’t seem suitable for Quaker blog, called Evolt. I’ll write about politics and culture of all sorts there. I’ll explain the name later (there, not here). In case you’re interested, I’m pasting the text of the first post here, […]

Confessions of a moderate radical

“Even though I’ve always loved who you are, I also appreciate the fact that you never stop dramatically changing,” a friend of mine told me once.
I took it as a compliment. But it’s actually rather exhausting. And I’m in the middle of one of those “dramatic changes” right now, which is why I haven’t […]

Hating the oppressor

Ever since I and Matt started an “Anarchist Spirituality“ forum on LiveJournal a little over a week ago, I’ve been trying to get clearer on what specifically are the things that bother me about secular or “non-spiritual” radical political culture.
And yesterday I got a magazine in the mail (Bite Back #11) that has given me […]

Mysticism and social transformation

[A Hubberthorne intro is on the way, but I thought I’d cross-post something I just wrote for a LiveJournal community on anarchism and spirituality (info page) that I just started with Matt, who has commented here before.]
I just started reading a book called Mysticism and social transformation, edited by Janet K. Ruffing, which I am […]

Revolution and the Quakers that Friends aren’t

Recently Matt left a comment asking a question on anarchism — what is the way forward?
“I’m frustrated with the anarchist movement as a whole because it seems most anarchists feel that the only way to affect real, radical change is through violence. I’m of the opinion that we can’t have a political revolution without a […]

On ‘honest but timid souls’

‘The Friend speaks my mind’ – 19th-century political revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin on God, authority-lovers, and a group that sounds a lot (to my jaded ears) like liberal Quakers, in a memorable, withering passage:

bakunin expressionist.GIFThere is a class of people who, if they do not believe, must at least make a semblance of believing. This class comprising all the tormentors, all the oppressors, and all the exploiters of humanity; priests, monarchs, statesmen, soldiers, public and private financiers, officials of all sorts, policemen, gendarmes, jailers and executioners, monopolists, capitalists, tax-leeches, contractors and landlords, lawyers, economists, politicians of all shades, down to the smallest vendor of sweetmeats, all will repeat in unison those words of Voltaire:

“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”

There exists, finally, a somewhat numerous class of honest but timid souls. . .

Why green anarchist Quakerism? (Take 1)

As promised last post, I want to explain why I’m trying in this blog to put [green] anarchism into dialogue with this funky old religious sect know as the Quakers, speaking mostly to my non-Quaker readers. It’s a little messy, but that’s the scenario around these parts for the time being. (Compare: “My Shtick in a Nutshell,” where Orthodox Anarchist does something similar.)

There are basically two reasons, at least coming at this question from the G@ side of things. Coming at it from the Quaker side would require a different answer.


For one thing, I think anarchists in general have a problem gaining acceptance for our ideas. Right now we’re barely even a force to be reckoned with, and I’ve seen a lot of threads on Infoshop News where people seemed to realize this (and be frustrated about it). In terms of the relevance of our ideas, I think we are absolutely the bona-fide, where-it’s-at political revolutionists of the 21st century, yet somehow we can’t solve our image and outreach problems. (Funny, that sounds like Quakers…)

what indeed...So what’s the solution?

I don’t know, but one small piece of the puzzle that I think is promising is to try to influence this funky old religious community known as the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) to adopt more green and outwardly anarchistic habits.

Why them? Well, we already have a generally progressive political orientation, and are internally non-hierarchical (at least traditionally; some have abandoned this), so moving to anarchism and direct democracy in other spheres is less of a stretch than it is for most people. Also, for an international community numbering in the hundreds of thousands, we’re remarkably open to change. And historically Quakers have been an influential group, considering our numbers, so the odds are good that whatever happens among Friends will have an effect on the wider culture.

Hopefully, through the work of green-minded Friends, Friends as a whole will take stronger and stronger stands on the earth as time goes by. And I hope against coercive authority too, though I think I am in much smaller company in this endeavor.


So that all fits in a box labeled “why it may be good to try to get Quakers to become more green and/or anarchistic.”

The other box is “why it may be good to try to get (green) anarchists to become more Quaker-like.”

Why would I say that?

Well, what is politics about? For anarchists and their leftist ancestors, it’s about trying to solve the problems in the world by changing the social, political or economic structures of our world – granting rights, starting programs, protecting forests, and so on. Fixing the badness that surrounds us.

What’s missing from the picture in almost every case are the problems that cannot be solved by any structural change – the badness in individuals.

Ideally, we will find the perfect way of structuring (or destructuring) society, and then when we establish it we’ll be transformed from the petty, lazy assholes we are into kind, open-hearted angels. But that’s never going to happen, is it? If humanity were placed into a green anarchist utopia tomorrow, we’d find some way to fuck it up.

Because we need a “revolution of the human heart” every bit as much as we need an old-style political one. Which for me is where spirituality or religion comes in.

I absolutely don’t want to suggest that religion is the only thing that can help solve these problems of the individual, or even that it generally does so – in fact I often find that religion makes people more petty and spiteful, not less. But I have also seen the great potential for good that it has – both in history, in my own life and in my friends’ lives.

Which could all be used as an argument for religious anarchism in general, but I want to advocate for Quakerism in particular, because when it’s at its best it’s profoundly compatible with the anarchist ethic in a way that few if any religious traditions are.

pope.jpg(Case in point: a lot of Christian anarchists, a majority of whom, I reckon, are politically and economically anti-authoritarian but love and obey authority when it comes to religion. One Catholic anarchist wrote in a forum topic I started, It seems you find some tensions between political radicalism and theological conservatism. I myself find them to be quite compatible, however. I take my politics radical, my theology orthodox, and my coffee black. Shiver me timbers.)

In fact, one way of looking at Quakerism is as a sort of DIY, non-hierarchical group psychotherapy* with a strong political component, all couched in Judeo-Christian or semi-Judeo-Christian vocabulary (but friendly to non-Christians and beginning to be atheist-friendly).

In my somewhat limited experience in radical/anarchist circles, there is a hunger for something like that (maybe minus the vocab) – something that will speak to our inward condition and not merely our outward. Something that I think Quakerism, or at least more radicalized version of it, could provide.

(I’ll leave that phrase “a more radicalized version of it” intentionally vague.)

When I was in England, for example, there was an activist I met once who was talking a lot with people about trying to start something that sounded very like that.

The goal was to help activists deal with trauma inflicted upon them by the police and other authorites. He and his partner, for example, had been beaten by the cops before, and were having a hard time dealing with it, which, if I recall, he said was compounded on his or her part by childhood trauma from other abusive authorities.

I would set my sights for “anarcho-quakerism” higher than just activist damage control, to be sure. But I think there is a deep commonality between what that activist was seeking and what Quakerism could one day provide to the radical community.

*I know this “psychologizing” gloss of Quakerism will make many of my Quaker readers cringe. But I think much of this reaction may be because such readers have an unjustified prejudice against “psychotherapy” — as if trying to heal people’s souls/hearts/minds (or one’s own) were a tawdry thing — perhaps because they have issues with some particular version of psychotherapy (e.g. 19th-century precritical Freudianism), or can’t see the spiritual aspect of all things psychological and vice versa. (There’s a reason the root psykhe means “soul” as well as “mind.”)

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  • It seems to me to be a major issue for the Society of Friends today whether on the whole its emphasis is to be, once more, as in the beginning, for this type of open, expectant religion, or whether it is to seek for comfortable formulations that seem to ensure its safety, and that will be hostages against new and dangerous enterprises in the realm of truth.

    Rufus Jones, Rethinking Quaker Principles p. 12

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