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- I think my basic viewpoint is that everything the left and right say about each other is true. And the reason it's true is because they have so much in common.
- I look for the sources of domination and misery that are so deep down that they apply to the system and the apply to its supposed opposition also. … Basically, revolutionaries never go far enough, and if they're not going to go far enough, they should stop upsetting people. Or killing them, for that matter.
- As quoted in "Self-publisher takes sardonic aim at all views — including his", by Linda Barnas, in The Sunday Gazette (11 November 1990), p. H7
Preface to The Right To Be Greedy (1983 edition)
- "Preface" to The Right To Be Greedy : Theses On The Practical Necessity Of Demanding Everything (1974) by "For Ourselves: Council for Generalized Self-Management" (1983 edition + later additions "Preface to the Preface")
- I was never a member of For Ourselves, the San Francisco Bay Area pro-situationist group which wrote and self-published The Right to Be Greedy in 1974. The principal author was Bruce Gardner, who has long since dropped out of sight.
- Preface to the Preface
- I was coming from the New Left of the 60’s, but I was increasingly disgruntled with the left of the 70’s. It retained or exaggerated all the faults of the 60’s left (such as current-events myopia, theoretical incoherence, historical amnesia and — especially — the cult of the victim) while denying or diminishing its merits, among them a sense of revolution against the totality, a sense of verve and vitality, and a sense of humor. The left demanded more sacrifice and promised less satisfaction, as if there was not already too much sacrifice and too little satisfaction. I began to wonder whether the failure of the left to root itself in a substantial social base, or even to hold on to much of what base it once had (mostly on campus, and among the intelligentsia, and in the counter-culture), might not in part derive from its own deficiencies, and not only from government repression and manipulation. Maybe the leftists were not so smart or the masses so stupid after all. Guilt-tripping might not go over very well with ordinary people who know they are too powerless to be too guilty of anything. Demands for sacrifice lack appeal for those who have already sacrificed, and been sacrificed, too much and for too long. The future promised by the left looked to be — at worst, even worse — and at best, not noticeably better than the status quo. Why rush to the barricades or, for that matter, why even bother to vote?
- Preface to the Preface
- Most libertarians think of themselves as in some sense egoists. If they believe in rights, they believe these rights belong to them as individuals. If not, they nonetheless look to themselves and others as so many individuals possessed of power to be reckoned with. Either way, they assume that the opposite of egoism is altruism. The altruists, Christian or Maoist, agree. A cozy accomodation; and, I submit, a suspicious one. What if this antagonistic intedependence, this reciprocal reliance reflects and conceals an accord? Could egoism be altruism’s loyal opposition?
- The individualists have only worshipped their whims. The point, however, is to live them. Is this a put-on, a piece of parlor preciosity? There is more than a touch of that here. Or a mushminded exercise in incongruous eclecticism? The individualist egoist is bound to be skeptical, but he should not be too quick to deprive himself of the insights (and the entertainment!) of this unique challenge to his certitudes. The contradictions are obvious, but whether they derive from the authors’ irrationality or from their fidelity to the real quality of lived experience is not so easy to say. If "Marxism-Stirnerism" is conceivable, every orthodoxy prating of freedom or liberation is called into question, anarchism included. The only reason to read this book, as its authors would be the first to agree, is for what you can get out of it.
- Egoism in its narrowest sense is a tautology, not a tactic. Adolescents of all ages who triumphantly trumpet that "everyone is selfish," as if they’d made a factual discovery about the world, only show that they literally don’t know what they’re talking about. Practical egoism must be something more, it must tell the egoist something useful about himself and other selves which will make a difference in his life (and, as it happens, theirs). My want, needs, desires, whims — call them what you will — extend the ego, which is my-self purposively acting, out where the other selves await me. If I deal with them, as the economists say, "at arm’s length," I can’t get as close as I need to for so much of what I want. At any rate, no "spook," no ideology is going to get in my way. Do you have ideas, or do ideas have you?
The Libertarian as Conservative (1984)
- There are libertarians who try to retrieve libertarianism from the Libertarian Party just as there are Christians who try to reclaim Christianity from Christendom and communists (I’ve tried to myself) who try to save communism from the Communist parties and states. They (and I) meant well but we lost.
- My target is what most libertarians have in common — with each other, and with their ostensible enemies. Libertarians serve the state all the better because they declaim against it. At bottom, they want what it wants. But you can’t want what the state wants without wanting the state, for what the state wants is the conditions in which it flourishes.
- My (unfriendly) approach to modern society is to regard it as an integrated totality. Silly doctrinaire theories which regard the state as a parasitic excrescence on society cannot explain its centuries-long persistence, its ongoing encroachment upon what was previously market terrain, or its acceptance by the overwhelming majority of people including its demonstrable victims.
- To demonize state authoritarianism while ignoring identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient arrangements in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy is fetishism at its worst.
- If your language lacks poetry and paradox, it’s unequal to the task of accounting for actuality. Otherwise anything radically new is literally unspeakable.
- You might object that what I’ve said may apply to the minarchist majority of libertarians, but not to the self-styled anarchists among them. Not so. To my mind a right-wing anarchist is just a minarchist who’d abolish the state to his own satisfaction by calling it something else. But this incestuous family squabble is no affair of mine. Both camps call for partial or complete privatization of state functions but neither questions the functions themselves. They don’t denounce what the state does, they just object to who’s doing it. This is why the people most victimized by the state display the least interest in libertarianism. Those on the receiving end of coercion don’t quibble over their coercers’ credentials. If you can’t pay or don’t want to, you don’t much care if your deprivation is called larceny or taxation or restitution or rent. If you like to control your own time, you distinguish employment from enslavement only in degree and duration.
- Without even entering into the question of the world economy’s ultimate dictation within narrow limits of everybody’s productive activity, it’s apparent that the source of the greatest direct duress experienced by the ordinary adult is not the state but rather the business that employs him. Your foreman or supervisor gives you more or-else orders in a week than the police do in a decade.
- Some people giving orders and others obeying them: this is the essence of servitude. Of course, as Hospers smugly observes, “one can at least change jobs,” but you can’t avoid having a job — just as under statism one can at least change nationalities but you can’t avoid subjection to one nation-state or another. But freedom means more than the right to change masters.
- Most work serves the predatory purposes of commerce and coercion and can be abolished outright. The rest can be automated away and/or transformed — by the experts, the workers who do it — into creative, playlike pastimes whose variety and conviviality will make extrinsic inducements like the capitalist carrot and the Communist stick equally obsolete. In the hopefully impending meta-industrial revolution, libertarian communists revolting against work will settle accounts with “libertarians” and “Communists” working against revolt. And then we can go for the gusto!
- Murray Rothbard thinks egalitarianism is a revolt against nature, but his day is 24 hours long, just like everybody else’s. If you spend most of your waking life taking orders or kissing ass, if you get habituated to hierarchy, you will become passive-aggressive, sado-masochistic, servile and stupefied, and you will carry that load into every aspect of the balance of your life. Incapable of living a life of liberty, you’ll settle for one of its ideological representations, like libertarianism. You can’t treat values like workers, hiring and firing them at will and assigning each a place in an imposed division of labor. The taste for freedom and pleasure can’t be compartmentalized.
- Libertarians complain that the state is parasitic, an excrescence on society. They think it’s like a tumor you could cut out, leaving the patient just as he was, only healthier. They’ve been mystified by their own metaphors. Like the market, the state is an activity, not an entity. The only way to abolish the state is to change the way of life it forms a part of. That way of life, if you call that living, revolves around work and takes in bureaucracy, moralism, schooling, money, and more. Libertarians are conservatives because they avowedly want to maintain most of this mess and so unwittingly perpetuate the rest of the racket. But they’re bad conservatives because they’ve forgotten the reality of institutional and ideological interconnection which was the original insight of the historical conservatives. Entirely out of touch with the real currents of contemporary resistance, they denounce practical opposition to the system as “nihilism,” “Luddism,” and other big words they don’t understand. A glance at the world confirms that their utopian capitalism just can’t compete with the state. With enemies like libertarians, the state doesn’t need friends.
The Abolition of Work (1985)
- No one should ever work.
Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost all the evil you'd care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.
That doesn't mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic revolution. By "play" I mean also festivity, creativity, conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child's play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn't passive.
- These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don't care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.
You may be wondering if I'm joking or serious. I'm joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn't have to be frivolous, although frivolity isn't triviality: very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. I'd like life to be a game — but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.
- I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimum definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it's done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or "communist," work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.
Usually—and this is even more true in "communist" than capitalist countries, where the state is almost the only employer and everyone is an employee — work is employment, i.e., wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95% of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else. In the USSR or Cuba or Yugoslavia or Nicaragua or any other alternative model which might be adduced, the corresponding figure approaches 100%. Only the embattled Third World peasant bastions — Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey — temporarily shelter significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millennia, the payment of taxes (ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good. All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.
- Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it's forced. This is axiomatic.
- Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren't free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or-else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smaller details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to the higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent and disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing.
And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace. The liberals and conservatives and libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately de-Stalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or a monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each other's control techniques. A worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors; he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called "insubordination," just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation.
- The demeaning system of domination I've described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans. For certain purposes it's not too misleading to call our system democracy or capitalism or — better still — industrialism, but its real names are factory fascism and office oligarchy. Anybody who says these people are "free" is lying or stupid. You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are you'll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to heirarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they'll likely submit to heirarchy and expertise in everything. They're used to it.
- We are so close to the world of work that we can't see what it does to us. We have to rely on outside observers from other times or other cultures to appreciate the extremity and the pathology of our present position.
- Socrates said that manual laborers make bad friends and bad citizens because they have no time to fulfill the responsibilities of friendship and citizenship. He was right. Because of work, no matter what we do we keep looking at our watches. The only thing "free" about so-called free time is that it doesn't cost the boss anything. Free time is mostly devoted to getting ready for work, going to work, returning from work, and recovering from work. Free time is a euphemism for the peculiar way labor as a factor of production not only transports itself at its own expense to and from the workplace but assumes primary responsibility for its own maintenance and repair. Coal and steel don't do that. Lathes and typewriters don't do that. But workers do.
- What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a "job" and an "occupation." Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs which certain people, and only those people, are forced to do to the exclusion of all else. Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their airconditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There won't be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.
- No one can say what would result from unleashing the creative power stultified by work. Anything can happen. The tiresome debater's problem of freedom vs. necessity, with its theological overtones, resolves itself practically once the production of use-values is co-extensive with the consumption of delightful play activity. Life will become a game, or rather many games, but not—as it is now — a zero/sum game. An optimal sexual encounter is the paradigm of productive play. The participants potentiate each other's pleasures, nobody keeps score, and everybody wins. The more you give, the more you get. In the ludic life, the best of sex will diffuse into the better part of daily life. Generalized play leads to the libidinization of life. Sex, in turn, can become less urgent and desperate, more playful.
If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it; but only if we play for keeps.
No one should ever work.
Workers of the world. . . relax!
Anarchism And Other Impediments To Anarchy (1985)
- There is no need at present to produce new definitions of anarchism — it would be hard to improve on those long since devised by various eminent dead foreigners. Nor need we linger over the familiar hyphenated anarchisms, communist- and individualist- and so forth; the textbooks cover all that. More to the point is why we are no closer to anarchy today than were Godwin and Proudhon and Kropotkin and Goldman in their times.
- My considered judgment, after years of scrutiny of, and sometimes harrowing activity in the anarchist milieu, is that anarchists are a main reason — I suspect, a sufficient reason — why anarchy remains an epithet without a prayer of a chance to be realized. Most anarchists are, frankly, incapable of living in an autonomous cooperative manner. A lot of them aren't very bright. They tend to peruse their own classics and insider literature to the exclusion of broader knowledge of the world we live in. Essentially timid, they associate with others like themselves with the tacit understanding that nobody will measure anybody else's opinions and actions against any standard of practical critical intelligence; that no one by his or her individual achievements will rise too far above the prevalent level; and, above all, that nobody challenges the shibboleths of anarchist ideology.
- The history of anarchism is a history of unparalleled defeat and martyrdom, yet anarchists venerate their victimized forebears with a morbid devotion which occasions suspicion that the anarchists, like everybody else, think that the only good anarchist is a dead one. Revolution — defeated revolution — is glorious, but it belongs in books and pamphlets. In this century — Spain in 1936 and France in 1968 are especially clear cases — the revolutionary upsurge caught the official, organized anarchists flat-footed and initially non-supportive or worse. The reason is not far to seek. It's not that all these ideologues were hypocrites (some were). Rather, they had worked out a daily routine of anarchist militancy, one they unconsciously counted on to endure indefinitely since revolution isn't really imaginable in the here-and-now, and they reacted with fear and defensiveness when events outdistanced their rhetoric.
In other words, given a choice between anarchism and anarchy, most anarchists would go for the anarchism ideology and subculture rather than take a dangerous leap into the unknown, into a world of stateless liberty.
- In truth the anarchists who assume the name have done nothing to challenge the state, not with windy unread jargon-filled writings, but with the contagious example of another way to relate to other people. Anarchists as they conduct the anarchism business are the best refutation of anarchist pretensions.
- Every organization has more in common with every other organization than it does with any of the unorganized. The anarchist critique of the state, if only the anarchists understood it, is but a special case of the critique of organization. And, at some level, even anarchist organizations sense this.
Anti-anarchists may well conclude that if there is to be hierarchy and coercion, let it be out in the open, clearly labeled as such. Unlike these pundits (the right-wing "libertarians", the minarchists, for instance) I stubbornly persist in my opposition to the state. But not because, as anarchists so often thoughtlessly declaim, the state is not "necessary". Ordinary people dismiss this anarchist assertion as ludicrous, and so they should. Obviously, in an industrialized class society like ours, the state is necessary. The point is that the state has created the conditions in which it is indeed necessary, by stripping individuals and face-to-face voluntary associations of their powers. More fundamentally, the state's underpinnings (work, moralism, industrial technology, hierarchic organizations) are not necessary but rather antithetical to the satisfactions of real needs and desires. Unfortunately, most brands of anarchism endorse all these premises yet balk at their logical conclusion: the state.
If there were no anarchists, the state would have had to invent them. We know that on several occasions it has done just that. We need anarchists unencumbered by anarchism. Then, and only then, we can begin to get serious about fomenting anarchy.
I’ve Got A Nietzsche Trigger Finger! (1986)
- "I’ve Got A Nietzsche Trigger Finger! : (A Brag)", the introductory essay in The Abolition of Work and Other Essays (1986), p. 13
- Please allow me to introduce myself …
I am Black the Knife, I am secretly famous, I have designer genes. I’m on a macropsychotic diet, I’m anarchorexic, I underwent paleolithium treatment, I’m the 6-Pac-Man! I not only know Who Wrote the Book of Love, I edited out the mushy parts!
- I tell everyone not to do what I say! I’m behind the odd-ball, my ancestor was Putdown Man! Judge Crater freed me on my own recognizance, I ask: “What would Harpo say?”
For me, know ain’t nothing but no misspelled, and all cretins are liars. I go-for-baroque, I’m a lowlife hierarch, I picked the Locke and entered the Avant-Garden of Eden. I got Spartacus to take the rap for me! I’m the heavyweight Light-Bringer, I'm the out-of-court jester who won't settle, I up the vigilante, I'm a law unto myself but break it anyway! I made a forced landing on the Moebius Strip and now I want to know, which side are you on?
Anarchy after Leftism (1997)
- Cleansed of its leftist residues, anarchy — anarchism minus Marxism — will be free to get better at being what it is.
- As for "decadence," that is an eminently bourgeois swear-word for people perceived to be having more fun than you are.
- Chapter 1: Murray Bookchin, Grumpy Old Man
- Although it is by definition a union-oriented ideology, there is no perceptible syndicalist presence in any union. A syndicalist is more likely to be a professor than a proletarian, more likely to be a folk singer than a factory worker. Organizers on principle, syndicalists are disunited and factionalized. Remarkably, this dullest of all anarchisms attracts some of the most irrational and hysterical adherents. Only a rather small minority of North American anarchists are syndicalists. Syndicalism will persist, if at all, as a campus-based cult in increasing isolation from the main currents of anarchism.
- Chapter 11: Anarchy after Leftism
- There is life after the left. And there is anarchy after anarchism. Post-leftist anarchists are striking off in many directions. Some may find the way — better yet, the ways — to a free future.
- Chapter 11: Anarchy after Leftism
Quotes about Black
- Robert C. Black has gone on to celebrate Anarchy After Leftism, in a book whose smokescreen of insult and vitriol hides a basic lack of ideas about what "anarchy after leftism" really represents, apart perhaps from the supremacy of self-interest. In these writings anarchism's longstanding socialist dimension is jettisoned in favor of individual escapades. Black's personal conduct has mirrored his amoral views. In 1996, he acted as a police narcotics informant against Seattle author Jim Hogshire, resulting in a police raid on Hogshire's home. … one of the most disquieting observations that Bufe makes is that some anarchists have reacted to incidents of immorality and even violence with indifference: "Sure Bob Black is a destructive nut,"he quotes one as saying, "but he hasn't attacked us." Similarly, a comrade in the Netherlands —where Black's writings have, astonishingly, gained some popularity—has told me that when he tells Black's local fans of his violent and unethical activities, they respond with equal indifference. Currently in the U.S., despite Black's narcing on Jim Hogshire — a widely known betrayal of anarchist principles (contact Loompanics for details) — at least a few vocal "anarchists" continue to support Black and his brand of amoral egoism.
Such unconcern is a far cry from the left-libertarian ethos that once proclaimed, "An injury to one is an injury to all!" Apathy in the face of immoral and unjust behavior toward one's fellow anarchists, let alone toward one's fellow human beings, reflects a grave breach of the ethical standards with which anarchists have long identified themselves, in contrast to many marxists and, especially, leninists. Ethics lies at the heart of a truly libertarian movement that offers a vision of a cooperative and humane society. An anarchism that dismisses even gross violations of basic ethical standards with an anemic shrug has not only lost its moral high ground as the libertarian alternative to authoritarian or state socialism; it has undermined its claim to represent a movement for basic change, individual as well as social. Instead it has become a pseudo-rebellious conceit, a self-serving gloss, a passing stage of late childhood development, or as Bufe puts it very well, a fashion trend.
- Bob Black is the high priest of nihilarity. His confessional has Duchamp’s urinal bolted to its door. His ten commandments are a string of one liners. His faith is baldly heretical. It begins where the dictionary ends, not with the ZZZ of a snore but with the chaotic rumbling of a chortle that quickens the senses like an earthquake that sways a petrified forest. By virtue of his faults, Black derides the wheel without spokes, the mandala of zero, and demoralizes the mind forged hi-techtonics whose poison prescribes that one seismograph counterfeits all.
By virtue of genuine delight his texts are both alive and enlivening. He is the extraordinary magician who pulls the perpetually unexpected, the silk purse, from out of the squealing sow’s ear. Within these pages nothing is not as it seems, and the winged horse Pegasus flies forth from the neck of the beheaded Medusa.