Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Against the Logic of Submission - Audio Anarchy

An audio book of Wolfi Landstreicher's essay Against the Logic of Submission. Created by the group Audio Anarchy.

"Submission to domination is enforced not solely, nor even most significantly, through blatant repression, but rather through subtle manipulations worked into the fabric of everyday social relationships. These manipulations — ingrained in the social fabric not because domination is everywhere and nowhere, but because the institutions of domination create rules, laws, mores and customs that enforce such manipulations — create a logic of submission, an often unconscious tendency to justify resignation and subservience in one's everyday relations in the world. For this reason, it is necessary for those who are serious about developing an anarchist insurrectional project to confront this tendency wherever it appears — in their lives, their relationships and the ideas and practices of the struggles in which they participate. Such a confrontation is not a matter of therapy, which itself partakes of the logic of submission, but of defiant refusal."

MP3 download link.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The Great Treason Incident - Anarchism in Japan

From Episode 81 of Isaac Meyer's History of Japan Podcast
In 1910, an anarchist plot to assassinate the Meiji Emperor was uncovered. Seizing the opportunity, conservatives in the government pounced in to arrest 26 anarchists. The background of this confrontation between the government and the radical left, the trials themselves, and their modern legacy are our topics

I've become something of a podcast junky thanks to my work schedules, and I've slowly been working my way through Isaac Meyer's History of Japan podcast. Meyer has spent several years in several cities across Japan, has a PHD on the nations history and can speak the language to a degree so he's quite the expert. This episode 81, caught my interest as its about the history of Japan's anarchist movement, an often overlooked subject despite the roots anarchism was able to spread within Japan. In the 1910s-30s Japanese and Korean and Chinese anarchists were a major thorn in the increasingly militaristic and imperialist governments side. And as such they were singled out for repression.

Unfortunately there is not much material about or by these early Japanese rebels in English though speakers of Japanese, Russian and Esperanto have a wider selection thanks to the popularity of those languages amongst the group. And books covering Japanese feminism do have some information on female anarchists from this period like Kanno Sugako and Ito Noe. Here's what I've been able to find in English.

Kanno Sugako 
Ito Noe
Osugi Sakae
CIRA-Nippon An anarchist group active in the seventies that occasionally included historical sketches on this period.

Added Transcript.

The Great Treason Incident

Anarchism in Japan

Isaac Meyer December 6th 2014

Hello and welcome to the History of Japan Podcast, episode 81 the Great Treason Incident. Picture the setting, a small room in Nagano Prefecture in 1910, home to one Miyashita Takichi a lumber mill employee. The date is May 20th and outside the police are lining up to prepare to raid the place, they break in and begin to search, only to find exactly what they feared would be there, parts to produce a bomb. This confirms their worst fears, it’s exactly as they suspected, someone is plotting to kill the Meiji Emperor.

The raid on Miyashita’s home was the climax of an investigation which came at one of the most unsettled point’s in Japans national history. Only five years early crowds had rejoiced in the streets of victory over Russia, but that rejoicing had been short-lived. The military had done an excellent job of keeping a lid on just how hard things had been going in Manchuria and as a result the majority of Japanese were simply not aware of how much they had sacrificed for victory. In particular they had no good explanation for the fact that their country’s debt was not being wiped out with a massive war indemnity- the Japanese had in fact decided their position was not good enough to demand one from Russia- for the fact that their country was not annexing everything up to the Amur river in northern Manchuria -same reason- and for the fact that rice prices were spiking inexplicably.

Military requisitioning was driving up the prices, but most people assumed it was just war profiteering. The result was riots that started in the Hibiya district of Tokyo but spread across Japan’s big urban centres and in which over 1 million people participated. For the Meiji leadership this was some of their worst nightmares. They were dangerously close it seemed to losing control of the masses. You see perhaps because some of their first experiences abroad really coincided with the high water marks of the European left, the Paris Commune for example or the steady rise of the German Socialist Party, or the early days of the British Labour party. The leaders of Meiji Japan were always very worried about the threat of leftist ideologies Marxism, Anarchism or Socialism.

They worried that Japanese industrialisation would naturally bring these same problems to Japanese shores. In part that fear actually spurred these leaders to be more progressive than they otherwise would have been. Borrowing from the playbook of Otto Von Bismarck, did the exact same thing in Imperial Germany. The Meiji leadership lead by Ito Hirobumi, Yamagata Aritomo and the fiscal expert of the bunch Matsukata Masayoshi decided to implement several reforms to pre-empt a lot of the issues socialists traditionally drew support from.

In particular they arranged for the passage of factory acts regulating working conditions and hours in the 1880s, at which point Japan had less than 50 factories across the entire country. The idea basically being, `We’ll need these laws eventually, so we might as well have them now`. This kind of system is referred to as a Social Monarchy. In essence the Monarchy provides reforms normally associated with socialist parties, in a sort of paternalistic way designed to attach the people more directly to their ruler. [Sarcastically] Who cares clearly, so deeply for their well being [/sarcastically].

Despite their best attempts to keep a lid on things however, the radical left began to gain strength in the early 20th century and that scared the hell out of the Meiji leadership. It’s kind of hard for those of us born at the tail end of the Cold War to really grasp, because we tend to think of ideologies like Anarchism or socialism as `that thing your slightly stoned friend from college won’t shut up about` but at the time these were really potent ideologies that scared a lot of establishment people because of their potential for forcing radical change.

This was particularly true of Anarchism, which as an ideology had motivated a wave of assassinations in Europe and America during the latter half of the 19th century. Tsar Alexander II in Russia in 1881, President of the Republic of France Marie François Sadi Carnot in 1894, Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary in 1898 -incidentally her corset was laced so tight that after she was stabbed she didn’t start to bleed seriously until it was taken off- and President William McKinley of the United States in 1901. And those are just the highest profile ones, there were plenty more.

Thus the Meiji oligarchs decided to complement the old velvet glove with a little bit of the old iron fist. If playing nice didn’t work, well how about a little good old repression. The first targets of their wrath were organisations like the Japan Socialist Party, which was first formed in 1901 and then shut down by police within and I’m not kidding; three hours of its formation. Also in the crosshairs was an organisation called the Heimin-Sha, the Commoner’s Association which produced a newspaper called the Heimin Shimbun the Commoner’s Newspaper.  Its editor a young intellectual named Kōtoku Shūsui had produced in that paper among other things the first partial Japanese language translation of the Communist Manifesto as well as the works of Russian Anarchist Peter Kropotkin.

The Heimin Shimbun was also shutdown in 1905. Kōtoku by the way is both a fascinating person and central to the story, so we should talk about him for a little bit.

He was the descendant of a rather well-to-do samurai family `because no the stereotype about rich kids embracing Marxism or Anarchism is not a new thing`.  From what would have been Tosa domain and what was now Kochi Prefecture, in Shikoku in 1871. In his 20s he fell under the influence of Katayama Sen a prominent Christian Socialist. Kōtoku embraced socialism and was one of the founding members with Katayama of the aforementioned socialist party. Like everyone else he was arrested within a few hours of its formation.

However technically speaking there wasn’t anything they could be charged with so while the party was shutdown they were released. Katayama and Kōtoku however ended up splitting. Katayama moved away from Christian Socialism which was a big thing in the 19th century but not so much in the 20th, towards communism. He would eventually join the Communist International, helped found the Japan Communist Party in 1922 and spend the remainder of his life in exile in the Soviet Union.

Kōtoku meanwhile began moving towards Anarchism. He left Japan in 1905 for the United States, where in the age old tradition of Hippies everywhere -again not making this up- he moved to San Francisco and joined a commune, because some things never change. His rationale for leaving was his desire to openly critique the Emperor and the Imperial family, whom he saw as the legitimising force of the evils of Japanese capitalism.  He returned to Japan a year later, after incidentally having lived through and helping rebuild from the great San Francisco earthquake in 1906. A very different man from the one who had left for the U.S. Now he was a committed Anarchist and among other things he abandoned some of the more moderate goals of socialism, including universal voting rights, in favour of a more radical position of direct action against oppressive structures of government.

Direct action of course makes the authorities think of the fates of all those world leaders who had been killed by Anarchists. Because what’s more direct than a bomb throwing or a stabbing? In fact reading his writings its more likely Kōtoku was calling for general strikes than assassination.

Now its worth stopping here to note because if I don’t, any Anarchist who listens to the show will likely flood my e-mail with messages reminding me that most Anarchists, then and now did not advocate violence. Just as with a great many ideologies over the course of human history it was only a small lunatic fringe that did. But of course as a general rule the lunatic fringe out there is always better getting noticed than the down to earth people.

Anyway between his previous past as a socialist and his current one as an Anarchist Kōtoku was now definitely a person of interest for the government. They were watching him very carefully, this despite the fact that after his return most of his public energy seems to have been expended on that great pastime on the left-leaning, internal structures between functionally identical factions. In particular the Japanese left was split between Anarchist, Christian Socialist and Marxist socialist camps. With a smattering of other folks thrown in to keep things exciting.

It’s all very Byzantine and vaguely reminiscent of the whole People’s Front of Judea versus the Judean Peoples Front bit from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. However the fact that Kōtoku and his allies descended into squabbling that would be incomprehensible to most people, didn’t seem to change the pictures much for the authorities. He and his friends were dangerous.

This impression was confirmed in 1908 by what was known as the Akahata Jiken or the Red Banner Incident. On June 22nd of that year a prominent anarchist named Yamaguchi Koken was released from jail after serving out his term. He was greeted by a giant Anarchist rally. Several hundred Anarchists waving banners with slogans like “Revolution” and “Anarchy and Communism” greeted Yamaguchi and the police terrified of this human mass decided that something had to be done. They went in and started beating and arresting whoever they could get their hands on, to disperse the rally.

In the wake of the incident the new Prime Minister Katsura Tarō, -who had taken over a few weeks earlier from our old buddy Saionji Kinmochi, future Japanese delegate to Versailles and tutor of Konoe Fumimaro,- decided that he would crackdown on the troublemakers. He began to push for even more police power to be deployed against Socialists and Anarchists. And that leads us to where we started, on Katsura’s orders the police began digging and through their infiltration of Anarchist cells -sometimes I really wonder how many of these cells were actually Anarchists and how many were all just police informants snitching on each other- they came across a plot.

Someone had talked about killing the Emperor and apparently one of the people they’d spoken to was Kōtoku Shūsui. So the investigation continued given more urgency by the assassination of Ito Hirobumi, since his assassin An Jung-geun was often incorrectly described as an Anarchist, a label he is sometimes still given today though he was not, he was very much a Nationalist. The plot the authorities had come across was very real though only five people were involved in it. One of them by the way is someone we’ve talked about before, Kanno Sugako.

She was one of Japan’s leading Feminists and like Kōtoku Shūsui had started out a Christian Socialist and moved towards Anarchism over time. Kanno had also been in a relationship with Kōtoku Shūsui though by 1910 they’d broken things off. Her life story is absolutely fascinating, she was born in Osaka to a family of merchants in 1881 and became involved in socialism because at the time it was one of the few ideologies out there unquestioningly dedicated to the idea of women’s liberation. She became a social critic and a journalist, but over time more committed to direct action.

Unlike in the case of Kōtoku who was definitely not involved in this assassination plot against the Emperor, she definitely was. Someone talked though and the police pounced. In addition to grabbing the five people actually involved in the plot Kanno Sugako, Miyashita Takichi -the guy with the bomb components in his home- and three others. They also took the time to round up 21 other suspected Anarchists. Prime Minister Katsura decided that now that he had the excuse it was time to crack down hard.

Kōtoku Shūsui was one of them, he was arrested at an onsen while recovering from a bout of respiratory illness. [sarcasm]Because obviously when you’re plotting high treason you have to take care of your lungs[/sarcasm]. Ironically enough there were a bunch of other Anarchist leaders the government wanted to arrest as well but couldn’t. People like the Anarchist and labour leader Arahata Kanson. They were in jail as a result of the Red Banner Incident back in 1908 and thus even by the loosely defined standards of evidence which surrounded the whole affair, they couldn’t really be said to be involved.

Now the trial these people were given, well if you described it as a farce it would be a grave insult to the farcical arts. The 26 defendants were brought up on charges from articles 73 to 76 of the Penal Code; which allowed death sentences for those who harmed or attempted to harm the Imperial family and hard labour for those who “disrespected” the family. Which could for example include destroying or damaging a Shinto Shrine. The Chief Prosecutor was a man named Hiranuma Kiichirō, who had gotten his start in the Justice Ministry and was generally considered to be a star prosecutor. He was also very much of the `Tough on crime school` and pressed for the death penalty in every case, even those only guilty by association.

Incidentally he’s come up in our story before but later on in his career as one of the prime ministers of the 1930s. I’d said we’d be only dealing with him one more time on the show but it turns out I was wrong, I actually didn’t know he was involved with this case until I started writing this episode. He’ll come back next August when we turn to the events of 1945 and you probably won’t like him much then either.

 Very recently, in fact only a few years ago, a letter from Kanno Sugako to a journalist at the Asahi Shimbun named Sugimura Jyuou, dated directly before the trial came to light. It has shed some light on what was going on in her head during the lead up to the sentencing. The way she wrote it was actually very ingenious, she used a needle to poke characters into a piece of paper so that it looked blank but the writing was visible when you held it up to a light. The letter itself flatly states that Kōtoku Shūsui knew nothing about the plot and implores Sugimura to find a lawyer for Kōtoku. It also correctly predicted the sentencing.

The chief judge [can’t understand name] apparently decided that this was no time to look soft on treason because he went with Hiranuma and sentenced 24 of the 26 defendants to death. The remaining two were given varying terms of imprisonment. Things were getting out of hand, a message had to be sent. This provided an opening for the Imperial House to show its benevolence, the Emperor who at this point was already ailing and would die of natural causes two years later, personally intervened to commute the death sentences of thirteen of the defendants. However neither Kanno nor Kōtoku were among them.

Kōtoku and Kanno spent their remaining months in prison. Kōtoku#s own mother actually died when she came down to Tokyo to visit him and Kanno Sugako, whom she was extremely fond of, and then caught pneumonia. Kanno who was quite the writer left a testament of her reflections during the lead-up to the final carrying out of the execution. It’s very moving and deeply depressing, she describes the outcome of the trial quote “ my poor friends, my poor comrades, more than half of them were innocent bystanders who had been implicated by the actions of five or six of us. Just because they were associated with us they now are to be sacrificed in this monstrous fashion simply because they are Anarchists, they are to be thrown over the cliffs to their deaths. We had sailed into the vast ocean ahead of the worlds current of thought, and the general tides of events. Unfortunately we were shipwrecked, but this sacrifice had to be made to get things started. New routes are opened up only after many shipwrecks and voyages. This is how the other shore of one’s ideals is reached. After the sage of Nazareth, Jesus that is, was born, many sacrifices had to be made before Christianity became a world religion. In light of this I feel our sacrifice is miniscule.”  End quote.

The majority of executions including Kōtoku’s were carried out on January 24th 1911, Kanno Sugako was executed the next day. Her execution was particularly politically explosive since she was the first woman ever executed by the Meiji government. The story has a sad postscript, after his death Kōtoku Shūsui became a martyr to the Japanese left, both because of his intellectual presence before his death and because of his show trial leading up to it. 

The trials rather than undercutting the Japanese left actually galvanized it to a degree. In fact in 1923 someone tried to avenge him. As then Crown Prince Hirohito was riding to the Diet to open a new session he passed Toranomon an area between the Imperial palace at Akasaka and the Diet building in Nagatachō. A gunshot rang out, the shot missed the Crown Prince, though it did hit a chamberlain in the entourage. The perpetrator was tackled shortly after and reveled to be one Namba Daisuke.

Namba Daisuke was actually the son of a prominent Diet member representative. Who had started his life fairly nationalist, he actually considered joining the army but was converted to radical leftist politics. Among other things he said that he planned to assassinate Hirohito in revenge for the death of Kōtoku Shūsui. Unsurprisingly Namba Daisuke was convicted of high treason in short order and hanged. But now the fear was back. The radical left had not been forced underground by the trials and now someone had yet again tried to assassinate a member of the Imperial family.

To make matters worse the hard left was even more entrenched than it had been before. Like we covered earlier the Japan Communist Party had been founded a year earlier in 1922 and while the Socialists had gone under the Anarchists had not. The Communists if anything were growing far beyond anything the other two had ever managed. They were even openly getting into academia in the form of Marxist economists like Kawakami Hajime. Clearly the crackdown initiated by Katasura was not working – he by the way had been forced out of office shortly there after by a scandal covered in another episode, basically he proved unable to control the army- something even harsher was necessary.

The result was the Peace Preservation law of 1925, easily the harshest and most authoritarian law in Japanese history. And used to justify the vast majority of the oppression that would happen in the 1930s and 1940s. The law was written by the Home Minister who was -wait for it- no one other than our old friend Hironuma Kiichirō, the prosecutor from the treason trial. The first two articles read quote “ Anyone who organises a group for the purposes of changing the national polity or of denying the private property system or anyone who knowingly participates in said group shall be sentenced to penal servitude or imprisonment not exceeding ten years. An offence not actually carried out shall also be subject to punishment. Anyone who consults with another person on matters relating to the implementation of these objectives described in Clause one of the preceding article shall be sentenced to penal servitude or imprisonment not exceeding seven years.”

The remainder of the law went on to specify that inciting others to these activities was also punishable by penal servitude, that financially supporting anyone found guilty of these crimes was illegal and incredibly that you were still guilty even if you broke the law outside of Japanese Jurisdiction. A Japanese citizen writing an editorial in the United States about changing the Constitution would be arrested upon returning to Japan. When a Dietman questioning the utility of the new law attempted to undercut Hironuma by pointing out that the way the law was currently worded a legislator could be arrested for suggesting an amendment to the Constitution Hironuma responded that that Dietman was absolutely correct, it says right in the Meiji Constitution that only the Emperor can propose amendments, so anyone else doing so is a violation of the peace preservation law.

This draconian bit of law making would become emblematic of Totalitarian Japan and incidentally it would also be one of the first laws repealed under the US occupation government. The Peace Preservation law really is the ultimate legacy of the Great Treason Incident. The fear with which the Japanese elite looked at the radical left prompted them to put into place a Totalitarian system of repression that was then seized by the military and turned on the society it was supposed to defend from radicalism.

Kanno Sugako and her four compatriots thought they were attacking the lynchpin of an oppressive system. In reality they never had much of a chance of getting their plan off the ground and all they did was provide an excuse for a crackdown.

Kōtoku Shūsui and all the other innocent Anarchists meanwhile became sacrifices in the name of abstract notions of social stability and national security. They were among the first, but they would not be the last. In a final sad note, after the war the families of the victims tried one last time to get justice. They requested a retrial of the case since legally speaking the original verdicts were still on the books. Even after the war Kōtoku Shūsui was still legally a traitor, their request for a retrial was denied by the Supreme Court of Japan in 1969.

Prior to his execution Kōtoku Shūsui etched the following onto the wall of his cell “how has it come about that I have committed this grave crime? Today my trial is hidden from outside observers and I have even less liberty than previously to speak about these events. Perhaps in 100 years someone will speak out about them on my behalf. “

Well I guess I’m three years late and I’m not the first to bring this up, but for what its worth Kōtoku you were right. That’s all this week.

Saturday, 2 June 2018


A favourite publication of mine that's still going on is Organise! produced by UK's Anarchist Federation. Currently it comes out twice a year, fortunately all its issues are available for free online here. Issue 90 the Summer 2018 edition that was published online in time for May day, though issues with the printers delayed the physical distribution a bit. I just got my copy in the post today. I've been waiting for it for awhile and not just because I'm in it.

Shortly after writing Listen Gamer! I was contacted by a member who was on its publishing committee asking if they could print it in their next issue as it was supposed to have a theme about depictions of socialism and anarchism in the media. I was quick to agree, aside from being really flattered I've really enjoyed the magazine and so the thought of being in it was pretty overwhelming.

Though if you look at the cover and the issues table of contents, the theme seems to have taken a bit of a back seat to other issues. I don't mind to be honest I think its better that the magazine tackles important issues as they're developing.

To quote the opening of the Editorial "We Fear Change"

The paradigms and assumptions we've cemented into our zeitgeist as a society are often all too comforting and reliable and even for the fearless (and reckless), ready to build the new world, the way forward can seem impossible, the suffocating fear of change, of transition permeates every thread of our community, suppressing and restricting progressive development at every juncture. In this edition of Organise! We dip our toes into two very differant forms of transition, the personal and the Social and we look at how the fear of new ideas and change is having an impact.

  Oh, if you're not aware at the time the collective was gathering articles for publication there had been an increase in activity by a group of anti Trans feminists in London. I actually don't have any connections to London aside visiting it, so I'm pretty much out of the loop concerning what goes on down there, but apparently a group with some connection to the Green party (a couple were Green party parliamentary candidates) has been confronting public spaces in London to spread propaganda opposing the Gender Recognition Act. One of the places they turned up at was the London Anarchist Book fair (never been myself) it caused quite a stir as some of the participants were long time activists and campaigners. To cut the story short its lead to some fallouts and splits, there's a thread on libcom about it here. It has a lot more information, but it also has a lot of ugly language and some deliberate misinformation so read with caution.

Anyway, I've been working through the issue and its very interesting. I also really like the design and the layouts of the articles, its a lot more distinct and attention grabbing then most political magazines and journals.

Friday, 1 June 2018

An Introduction To A Critique Of Technology

An Introduction To A Critique Of Technology

Mp3 download link


Hello, this is Audio Anarchy Radio, we’re starting off with a series that introduces a few different concepts from anarchist perspectives. And today we’re going to be talking about technology. The idea isn’t to give you a line about what is right and what is wrong, but to explore some of the aspects and critiques of technology that might not be regularly discussed. We have Javier here, who is going to talk over some of the things that he has been thinking about.

So, Javier, let me start by asking how you define technology. “Well a dictionary definition of technology is the general term for processes that which human beings fashion tools and machines to increase their control and understanding of the material environment. The term comes from the Greek words techne which refers to an art or craft and lochia meaning an area of study. So it means the study or science of crafting. For me I use it to refer to all the tools and machines that humans use to shape, modify, or understand their environment.”

And do you make a distinction between certain types of technologies, or consider technology to be socially neutral?

“Well I think each technology, each tool, or each machine should be considered separately. I think each individual technology has different social consequences, that I definitely don’t think they should be considered neutral for society. But I also don’t make too many distinctions or aggrupation’s in like, oh good technology, bad technology or things like that. I just think that we should take into consideration each technology individually, notice what characteristics it has, and how it shapes the social institutions and deal with those questions. “

And what do you think some of the most prevalent popular or interesting analyses of technology have been throughout history?

“yeah well, the one that comes to mind first of all is Marx. He uses the term `means of production` vaguely to what I would refer to as technology. And it’s a very central concern for him, however his analysis of the way in which technology affects social institutions is limited to who controls the technologies, or the means of production. And he does a class analysis based on this where the bourgeoisie control the technology  or means of production then you have a class society. If the Proletariat controls the means of productions there will be a classless society. Stuff like that, I think that Marxists -most Marxists- follow this analysis, I also think a lot of other people do. Anarcho-syndicalists are very influenced by this kind of thought, but others have been a lot more sceptical about this kind of simplistic view of technology. There’s been for example the appropriate technology movement, and more drastically the anarcho-primitivists, definitely think that there’s a lot more to technologies than just who controls it.”

And what do you think are popular perceptions or critiques of technology today?

“Ok, well I think today, some environmentalists do have certain critiques of technology which is you know they question technologies themselves and who controls it. Their critique or analysis is based purely on environmental aspects and not social that much and those I think in general today people take technology kind of for granted. And they refuse to question it because they think it’s kind of like a natural thing for humans to have. Theirs I think a couple of myths that really kind of inhibit our analysis of technology. For example I would say the myth of progress is a very basic myth, well it basically states that humans have never lived in a better situation than today. And that throughout history continually progressing towards a better state, things are pretty much getting better. It also demonstrates that progress is inevitable and we can never go back because of where we try to do something like that and we will eventually advance again, back to the way we are now. This myth is really annoying to me because it kind of served the purpose of justifying our current institutions and makes it kind of impossible to criticise technology or a lot of other things that are considered progressive. I can’t say there isn’t some truth to that, but whether progress has made things better or not is just a matter of personal preference. I think of an important thing to point out though is that humanity did not get to its present state of technological or social development by a process of you know continual progress. It was not a process of like consensus, democracy or any other kind of libertarian philosophy or any you know practice that really respected individual freedom. I mean a great amount of cultures were forced to accept specific kinds of agriculture. You know through imperialism they were forced to for example massively harvest coffee or other products for Europeans. And even some cultures were forced to take on agriculture when they were hunter-gatherers. Other than in the Industrial revolution people were taken off their lands and in a lot of cases chained to machines in order to have the industrial revolution really work. So these things that are usually seen as advancements were not so much a product of human ingenuity but in a lot of ways a product of tyranny and oppression. To say that humans naturally developed industrialism and that we can never, that we would always inevitably develop it again if we go back, if we abolish industrialism is to say that authoritarian institutions are a part of our nature, I think.  

Another myth that a lot of people take it as truth is that progress and technological progress has a consequence that we have more leisure. Most anthropologists agree that almost every society that has less advanced technology has more leisure time. So even hunting and gathering provides for more leisure time than farming. However its easy to see why some people think that more or more advanced technology leads to more leisure. I mean a superficial analysis would conclude that you know pushing a button is easier than doing manual labour. The problem with this analysis is that it doesn’t take two things into consideration; what goes into building the machine that allows for you to just push the button so the machine does the work for you. For example its less intensive, less labour intensive to drive a car than to walk, but if you take into consideration the labour involved in manufacturing the car from extracting the raw materials, extracting the oil for it to run, to run the factories that build it, extracting the metals to build the car, rubber to build the tires etc, you know that’s a lot more labour intensive than just walking. The thing is that traditionally I think the distribution of leisure and labour has you know favoured the ruling classes. It hasn’t really been distributed equally. Some people have to do a lot of labour and pretty much finance the leisure of the ruling class. That’s why some people have to work really hard and don’t have any cars and some people just go to an office building and have the most luxurious cars. So you know that way you can see that it doesn’t provide for more leisure to have more technology, at least not necessarily.”

And so, what are some of your thoughts about technology and how it affects the environment today?

  “Well definitely I think this is perhaps the most, or these are the most obvious consequences and people you know talk about it continually how cars pollute and stuff like that. I think its useful however to try to find some general characteristics of technologies that tend to intensify the environmental impact. I’ll try to mention a few that I think are not as commonly discussed. One of them, one of these general observations, I would say that technologies that are labour intensive are usually more or have a bigger impact on the environment. This is because changing the environment is something that requires labour, so the greater impact usually is because there’s more labour involved and required to do it. Also centralisation is something that generally increases environmental impact, and this is because it concentrates the impact in a small area, making it harder for natural mechanisms to repair the damage. I mean most environmentalists are aware of this. The environment can modify itself to make impact not as damaging if its done in a scattered way and not concentrated in one place. Also technologies that require homogeneous persistent human activity increases the impact because they make it harder for nature to slowly adapt, so I mean for example assembly lines come to mind where you know what is done is continually done it’s like massively done, and this doesn’t allow for the environment to adapt to allow to small changes.

So, an important thing to notice about all these implications is that these kinds of activities and technologies are almost exclusively found in authoritarian societies. You know the observations that I made that recognises that are labour intensive, centralised and homogenised human activity. You know people when they are free from many authoritarian institutions they tend to preform tasks that involve the least amount of labour to achieve, they make decisions in a pretty sporadic manner, and decentralise and also they like usually to engage in a variety of diverse activities. There’s only one coherens where people engage in dangerous and unpleasant labour intensive activities like mining, these activities are the ones that have such a great environmental impact. So I think realising this, leads to a very different approach to a problem of environmental destruction than the one I think most people argue for right now. I think most people now argue for more centralised control, you know the government regulating factories, regulating emissions, you know more rules or you know everything that we do because we can’t seem to manage ourselves without causing environmental problems. But this analysis actually states kind of to the contrary; it states that humans when free of authoritarian institutions produced the least amount of environmental impact.

So I think, I mean as an Anarchist I think this is the analysis that you know that’s more useful, from my perspective. Yeah, another useful thing to notice is that advanced technologies tend to have a high environmental impact. What I mean by this is that when I use the term advanced technology I mean that technology that depends on previous technologies to function, so therefore its total impact becomes not only the impact that the specific technology has but the added impact of all the technologies that are required for the specific technology. You know like the examples are I think pretty easy to see like you know electrical appliances need energy supply or power supply and so the power supply has I mean you know like maybe a little electrical appliance doesn’t have that much environmental impact but the whole electrical infrastructure that is needed to power it does. And you know different technologies like that, I think what this analysis leads to is that it doesn’t make much sense to make more advanced technology that is supposedly going to be more environmentally friendly.”

So, what are some of your thoughts about the social implications about technology throughout history and today?

“Okay, and this I think is something that is not usually talked about, so I think its important to consider. Okay, so technology claims to provide society with the tools to achieve its goals. Society however is not like a monolithic entity formed of homogeneous individuals with identical goals. Different individuals in society have different goals and the technologies used will inevitably provide society with the tools to achieve the goals of some and not all members. And it also, I mean also technologies not spread like equally amongst all members of society. It will provide some members of society something while maybe refusing something else to others. So, taking this in mind that considers some of the implications of technology in society. First of all, organisation, different technologies require for their application different social settings, in terms of centralisation or spreading social activity, technologies can have several implications. If a technology requires for its use many individuals, social activity is centralised around the technology. If the technology allows for only one or a small number of individuals it promotes decentralisation. So centralisation implies that a form of decision making where a single consensus has to be reached by the group, not allowing for individuals to reach different decisions and be autonomous. In big groups this phenomenon usually leads to representation or other forms of mediation for the individual to make his or her decisions. So there are you know an individuals ability to make their decision is taken further and further away from them. To put an example, a factory can be well it can be owned by a single boss that has authority over many individuals who work there, or it can be cooperatively owned by the workers. In any case each individual will have to adapt his or her schedule to the factories, they will have to preform the job that the factory assigns and they will have to receive from their work what the factory decides. They will have to produce what the factory decides when it decides and how it decides. Obviously cooperative ownership offers the individual worker more of a say in the decisions of the factory than the owner model, but the individuals will never be able to reach a decision that’s different from the one assigned by the factory. The individual is alienated from the decision-making process, in the case of the capitalist process the alienation is pretty complete, like you don’t have absolutely any input into the decision making; in the case of the worker run factory this alienation is mediated by a process that can be you know in different ways it can range from consensus to some kind of representative democracy. Or you know the level of let’s say authoritarianism that you can have is can vary, but autonomous decision making is pretty impossible in the context of a factory. Whereas other technologies allow for individuals to make their own decisions.

Okay another interesting aspect is the distribution of technology. Proportionately to the energy and labour required for its production technology becomes a scarcity. The more labour is used to produce a machine the less the number of machines society can produce. In class societies this usually implies that the members of the ruling class have access to the technology and the others don’t. This causes a widening in the power gap between the classes, the ruling classes are provided with more tools to control their environment and society and the rest loses control in the same measure.

Another aspect is the shaping of human resources. It’s obvious that technology has a profound impact on the educational system of a society, you know whether the goal of the educational system is to modify the individual so that he can better serve society. Or just to provide him and her with the knowledge and skills needed to preform the social roles, to provide for themselves, it would always take into consideration that society uses. If the technology is very complex and complicated the educational process will be long. If the technology requires monotonous centrally organised work, skills like discipline and obedience will be encouraged in the educational process. A point may be reached where the society needs for its survival to produce a certain kind of individual, this will very likely tend to make its educational institutions coercive rather than voluntary.

Another point is specialisation. Certain technologies demand that the division of labour in society that tend to produce specialisations. This means that certain individuals are required preform a socioeconomic role and others are obliged to preform these tasks through this class of specialised individuals. So individuals cannot perform or individuals that are not specialists cannot preform these tasks by themselves. Our current society has many examples; individuals need lawyers to legally defend themselves, cops to physically protect themselves, media to be aware of things that influence our lives, architects to build houses etc. It is important to know how specialisation is not simply an individual having an extraordinary ability, it is the assigning of an individual or individuals to perform a social role and excluding others from performing it. To put an example of a specialist which is I think a useful example and perhaps the oldest example is the priest. In certain societies it is assumed that the only person or class of persons that can communicate with the deities is a priest. Other individuals are forced to perform only through the priests. In this way the class of priests effectively control the spiritual aspect of the society, and often this is used to also control other aspects like the moral standards and other taboos and customs of the society. So that obviously has like enormous power of consequences on the power relationships of the society. There’s different ways in which specialised roles are imposed or assigned for some you know to perform certain things you need a diploma, a certificate or some kind of authorisation from an appropriate authority to perform it. Technology works in a different way to assign these roles increasing in complexity, technologies become impossible to be wholly understood by an individual and individuals have to specialise in a particular aspect of the technology and depend on others to specialise in the rest and you know when this happens everybody loses their autonomy and their ability to perform jobs by themselves.

Another important consequence- social consequence of technology is the creation of environments. Every technology as we have said before is essentially a modification of the environment, from an environmental point of view the implications you know have obvious consequences, but its also very relevant from a social point of view. Some relevant questions are you know who gets to modify the environment for others or whose environment do they modify? And how do these modifications impact the lives of the individuals who live there? To me the issue of empowering versus disempowering environments is noteworthy. Certain environments provide each individual with the means for his or her subsistence in a quite egalitarian way. If each individual is able to access the resources they need to survive in an autonomous way then this is an empowering environment. But other environments do quite the opposite, for example modern urban environments pretty much eliminate all of the resources from our environment and the ability to access the resources that we need to survive is pretty much denied. So you know the modern urban environment pretty much puts the resources in the hands of the few people and then all the rest of the people has to acquire these resources through monetary exchanges. The individual is forced to participate in socioeconomic and political institutions set before her to be able to have access to the resources needed to survive. With the impossibility of directly accessing resources one has to acquire money which is the modern socially imposed means to access resources in order to survive. And then those who control the money; have most of it, effectively control both resources and the individuals who want access to those resources. In Ivanovitch’s words “modernised poverty deprives those affected by it of their freedom and power to act autonomously, to live creatively. It confines them to a survival through being plugged into market relations, the opportunity to experience political and social satisfaction outside the market is thus destroyed. I am poor for instance, when the use value of my feet is lost because I live in Los Angeles or live in the 35th floor .”

Mediation and autonomy. Direct action is a commonly used word in radical circles, it is usually considered an anarchist value. The reasoning goes that if to achieve our goals we must go through others then we’re not in direct control of our lives, we’re not in direct control of the consequences of our actions. And so mediated action is the opposite of direct action, autonomy increases as mediation decreases. Technology is always a medium through which we interact with our environment, a medium through which we accomplish our goals and access our resources. So the same reasoning applies here, to increase autonomy we must decrease mediation. This is especially true when technology also implies a social mediation, when the technologies we use and the technology we need  to preform our activities are controlled by others. Then our actions are not only mediated by material objects but they’re also mediated by social institutions, which we might not like and which in effect can become quite controlling of our actions.

So as a conclusion I would say that the implications of technology has, goes well beyond its stated purposes. By this I mean that you know like if a technology says that it will just transport people like cars for example, well yes the consequences are that it transports cars but also that we need streets, that it also implies that not everybody’s going to have access to cars because they are very labour intensive and so therefore a class of people can own cars will exist and one that doesn’t have access to cars is etc. an important thing to note is that all the implications that I found are inherent in the technology itself and do not depend on who controls or uses the technology. Only by being aware of all the implications the technologies have will we be able to make those decisions that will help us to achieve the society we desire".

That’s it for todays introduction to a critique of technology. Check out Audio Anarchy on the web

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