Re-assessing positions

Dave – the editor

Preamble

The last twenty three months of the Covid crisis with the associated lockdowns, psychological manipulation and restrictions have caused me to question a lot of what I once thought were long held political beliefs and assumptions. It has not been an easy process – at times it’s been painful as I’ve lost comrades and friends who cannot even agree to disagree, let alone objectively look at an alternative point of view. While I’ve lost people over these disagreements, online and slowly in real life I’m finding new allies. When talking to activists I know, the one thing that comes up in the conversation is how in one way or another, we’ve all been obliged to re-assess where we are with our politics and analytical framework. Which to be brutally honest, should be standard practice for any activist and political operator as opposed to getting stuck into a rut and never even bothering to attempt to get out of it.

This process of re-assessment doesn’t just apply to myself and other apostate anarchists of my acquaintance, it also applies to those on the left who have come over to what can broadly be termed as ‘the resistance’. More interestingly, it also applies to many conservatives who have been left wondering what happened to their principles in a Tory UK government that has overseen the biggest intrusion of the state into people’s lives outside of wartime. It’s this that I want to look at in this piece which I hope will offer some way forward for the many people who have become politically homeless over the last twenty two months.

Emerging questions and doubts

Back in March 2020 when the Covid crisis first broke, because I didn’t know what its impact would be, the precautionary principle was exercised and I went along with most of the guidance on reducing social contact, social distancing, hand sanitising…the lot! By the middle of April, with ‘three weeks to flatten the curve’ looking like it was going to drag on for months and a growing number of things starting to not add up, I started to dig beneath the surface and ask questions about what was really going on and why. The simple act of asking questions about the narrative that we were being fed elicited a sharp reaction from a number of now former comrades who accused me of not following ‘the science’.

It was that short phrase, ‘the science’ that really started to rankle with me. Despite me not having a university education, I consider that I learned enough at school and subsequently throughout my life to realise that there’s no such thing as ‘the science’. Any scientific advance comes as a result of observation, experimentation and testing. With improvements in techniques and understanding, scientific understanding is always subject to being reviewed and re-tested to see if it still stands up to scrutiny or whether a re-think is required. Granted I realise this is taking a somewhat idealistic position of what science is supposed to be and doesn’t take into account the harsh fact that scientists can be bought and science can be twisted to suit a particular agenda.

Being an anarchist, I’ve tried my best in my practice to adopt an attitude of question everything and to not accept things at face value. I’ll confess there have been times where I’ve not always done that and have fallen into forms of groupthink which I later came to regret. The one thing the experience of the last twenty three months has taught me is to adopt a more open minded and curious approach, and to not be afraid to read and listen to commentators whose views do not agree with mine. Which is why when a fair number of anarchists started to almost slavishly follow what they saw as ‘the science’ and to denigrate those of us asking questions and doing our own research as ‘conspiracy theorists’, I started to realise that my association with the broader anarchist movement was going to finally come to an end sooner rather than later.

This process of disengagement with the anarchist movement accelerated with the rise of the anti-lockdown currents in 2020. From what I made of them at the time, these currents appeared to be a completely new political phenomena that cut across what had been accepted as normal boundaries and classifications. The closest parallel I could see was the Gilet Jaunes movement over in France. Being an anarchist, obviously I’m going to be curious about any new social / political currents and seek out ways of engaging with them. For me, that’s just a standard part of the practice of being an activist where I constantly re-assess the situation and context I’m operating in. Not so for a fair few anarchists who denigrated the various anti-lockdown currents as little more than an alt-right affair and castigated any of us showing any interest in it.

Come the late spring of 2021, rather than rely on reports of what the anti-lockdown protests were like, I decided to start attending a number of them to find out at first hand, who was attending them and why. Apart from one protest last December when I went along with a camera to produce a photo essay, the vehicle I used to engage with people was handing out printed copies of The Stirrer. Sure, there were a few alt-right types skulking around in a bid to exploit people’s growing frustrations with lockdowns and restrictions. By and large, what I found was people whose views stretched across the political spectrum and also, sat outside of it. I did meet a few disgruntled people who used to identify as left wing but like me, found themselves on a journey of re-assessing where they were politically. I also found a healthy level of diversity in terms of class, age and ethnicity. Basically what I found was an emerging new social movement that was worthy of investigating and where possible, engaging with. When I published accounts of attending these protests, I got some serious grief from a number of anarchists – this was the point where I thought it would be best to make a formal statement of my departure from the anarchist movement: Going our own way – November 21, 2021.

Going our own way

To be honest, the process of disengagement with the anarchist movement started with the toxic aftermath of the ill fated 2017 London Anarchist Bookfair where it was made pretty clear by some of the attendees that questioning a number of aspects of gender identity politics was off limits. After an initial attempt to try and have an open discussion that resulted in some terse and unproductive exchanges, I concluded that it wasn’t worth the grief of pursuing the line of questioning I wanted to and opted to partially withdraw and focus more on what was going on out here in Essex. The emergence of a critique of the great reset / fourth industrial revolution (4IR) that the Covid crisis was leveraged to promote was another flashpoint. In my naivete, I though anarchists would be against what too all intents and purposes is a bid to merge humanity with the digital machine that would rob us of what it means to be truly human – basically, transhumanism. Critiquing transhumanism already seems to be off limits for some anarchists. Curious to find out why, I soon discovered a strong correlation between a support for gender identity politics and transhumanism. This is something I would like to return to at some point to examine in depth – for the moment, I would encourage you to undertake your own research and draw whatever conclusions you see fit.

What have I learned over the last twenty two months? The big takeaway is to avoid groupthink and to always question what’s passed off as accepted wisdom. Another is to be open to listening to and reading views that I don’t agree with, for the purpose of encouraging open debate rather than cancel culture. Then there’s taking a few steps back from what’s going on and trying to place things in a broader context rather than respond in a set and predictable way. It’s learning to try and seek out the truth of a situation and then do what I think is the right thing rather than conform for the sake of maintaining political relationships which are becoming more one sided and less productive or useful.

An important lesson is that in a bid to defeat something as profoundly damaging to our humanity as the 4IR, alliance building with people I formerly would never have considered working with is an essential skill. That means listening and understanding where someone else is coming from, even if we have a number of differences. If they’re onside with the big stuff, the other differences can be worked around.

We’re not the only ones having to re-assess our positions

It’s not just a number of us who would have defined ourselves as anarchists or being somewhere on the left who are having to re-assess our political positions. Given that a Tory government has implemented the biggest reach of the state into our lives outside of wartime, a number of conservatives, small c and big C, are also having to re-assess where they stand politically. Most conservatives want the state to leave them alone to lead their lives as they see fit without being hemmed in by arbitrary state imposed restrictions and constant hectoring about how they should behave. Coming from a political background that has stressed the collective rather than the individual, this was a point of view that I once wrongly equated with selfishness. Sure there are some greedy exploitative bastards about but most people are pretty decent and will co-operate to get things done for their benefit and that of the wider community they live in. In general, people are naturally co-operative but that’s something they want to volunteer according to their conscience rather than be obliged by the threat of state coercion to do. After the experience of the last twenty two months, it’s a viewpoint that I’m coming to have some sympathy with.

I’m currently following a number of conservative commentators across various platforms to see how they are approaching the re-assessment of where they stand in light of what a Tory government has done with the massive overreach of the state. Suffice to say it will be an interesting exercise. When it comes to voluntaryism, there may well be areas of common interest. The point is to get beyond the labels that people adopt or have ascribed to them and be open to trying to understand where they’re actually coming from.

A tentative conclusion

It’s time to bring things to some kind of conclusion, albeit a tentative one. The last twenty three months have been a learning curve for many of us as unprecedented events have forced us to re-evaluate where we stand politically. As mentioned in numerous previous posts, there’s a lot vested in the 4IR and the leveraging of the Covid crisis to speed this up shows how determined the actors promoting this agenda are. That means we have a long way to go before we can see an end to this. I’m in the latter half of my 60s and to be brutally honest, I can’t see an end to this in the time I have left. That means the years I have left will be ones of ongoing political and social struggle in one form or another. To achieve what we have to in order to defeat the 4IR, we have to be prepared to constantly re-evaluate our positions and as a consequence, our alliances.

That’s not a burden though… Being able to think freely and to not have to self censor because of the fear of disagreement or giving ‘offence’ is actually very liberating! It’s also something that keeps me sharp and on my toes – that can only be a good thing. That’s what many of these pieces are – me thinking out loud and sharing the fruits of that in the hope of generating debate and discussion. At some point in the not too distant future as part of this process of re-assessing positions, I need to write down what I think my anarchism is about…

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