Essays by Thomas Moran, Jonno Revanche, Michael Griffiths and Abigail Fisher. New poety and fiction from Aidan Coleman, Alan Fyfe, Gareth Morgan, Janet Jiahui Wu, Dan Hogan, Kerry Greer and more.
WEB CONTENT ONLY
published 24 November 2008
John Kinsella interviewed by Tracy Ryan.
There are many different historical aspects of anarchism, some of which you would probably define yourself against. And I’m thinking particularly of the aspect of violence. So I’m going to start with a quote that I will run by John, that I read recently in a post-graduate French course studying Sartre’s play Les Mains sales, in which a lecturer gave the following definition for the benefit of students: ‘An anarchist is a person (this is a very dated definition) who seeks to overturn by violent means all constituted forms and institutions of government and society, with no aim of establishing any other system of order in place of that destroyed.’
So, what I’m going to ask John is, Would you comment on that definition and perhaps contrast it with your own understanding of what an anarchist or anarchism might be?
Today I don’t want to get into an historical discussion of anarchism. I don’t want to regurgitate nineteenth-century anarchists, but Malatesta made a great point about anarchism being the abolition of government and not the abolition of society, and I kind of concur with that. The replacement of governing institutions and hierarchical bodies of control with co-operative, with mutual aid organisations, people interacting to support each other. It’s a very viable and practical alternative to me, if not the only alternative. So from the start what I’m talking about is a world without government, and not a world without social institutions or interactions. Institutions is the wrong word – social interactions. I think that’s extremely important.
Obviously I would say […] that such a definition was absurd. A dictionary definition that’s very convenient, immediately isolates, and removes any debate about anarchist issues. Anarchism isn’t, and from the most aggressive anarchists I’ve never heard it put as, simply a violent overthrow of the state with nothing in its place; that’s nihilism and not anarchism. I’m a pacifist above and beyond everything else, and veganism, the kind of non-use and non-abuse of animals, is the basis of my anarchist thought. I start from there and move out. So an anarchist’s world is one in which animals are equal, if you like, as much as humans.
The very starting point of a violent overthrow is not possible from my point of view. I don’t believe in ‘revolution as such’; I believe in change by example. And I’m going to be referring, as I know Tracy will as well, to a guy named Colin Ward. This is a book of his just come out called Talking Anarchy. Colin Ward is an interesting British anarchist, who is very much involved in architectural solutions to housing for people. And his anarchism is a very pragmatic and a very practical anarchism that works within the context of the existing state. He believes that the state can be best changed by good example. So if you behave in a way that’s better than the government is behaving, then people will gradually see that as a viable alternative to living, living communally. There is a lot I disagree with in Ward, but that basic principle I really do agree with. So, just as a starting point for this, I totally reject any kind of violent overthrow of anything – it seems a contradiction in terms to me.
We are working towards a better world of egalitarianism and equality especially in terms of what people have or don’t have. Then the moment you introduce violence, you are introducing a hierarchy already. Violence is the ultimate form of hierarchy. It’s the most controlling form of hierarchy. [ …] And I think that is a very personal view, as I said, that comes out of pacifism and veganism. That’s where I start.
Thinking about that better world you mentioned and looking at the quote that we have there which is from God and the State, where Bakunin says ‘the liberty of man consists solely in this, that he (and he says ‘he’ because he is using the word ‘man’) obeys natural laws because he has himself recognised them as such, not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic world whatever, divine or human, collective or individual’.
Now what I’m going to ask you about that is the following: Many people find it hard to believe that a human being can or would follow what Bakunin calls ‘natural laws’ without the existence of the whole paraphernalia that polices, punishes, regulates them and so on.
So this is linked to the popular beliefs that anarchism means ‘chaos’, that if we didn’t have those things we wouldn’t do the right thing.
There are a few questions coming up here that are kind of related. What do you make of the common complaint that anarchism as an idea is too optimistic or utopian? Does it rely too much on the concept of human goodwill and altruism? Is it naive, vis-à-vis the selfishness and the violence we see enacted around us daily, I mean in the world that is, rather than the better world? A similar accusation is often made regarding pacifism, you know, people say: if we try it, will all the pacifists be wiped out straight away? So I’m kind of playing devil’s advocate here, and asking John – is it too optimistic to think this way?
Well, no, you see, I don’t see anarchism as utopia. I see it as something incredibly realisable. Speaking of Malatesta again, he also made the point – you can’t expect us all to know what will happen after changes come. He said after revolution – as I’ve already indicated, it’s a term I have a lot of problems with for all sorts of reasons, which might become evident as we go on. But certainly the point is that people and things find their own level of interaction. The basic principle of mutual aid, which is fundamental for understanding anarchist thought, is that people naturally help each other because it is in their best interest to help each other, and when Kropotkin wrote about mutual aid, he looked at the false nature of the Darwinian model in which people compete to beat each other, which is the system capitalism is based on, and basically, eventually, some of the strongest will survive and conquer. The other way of looking at it, he makes the point, is that animals have always had to work together to survive in their communities, and he gives interesting examples of that.
This kind of mutual aid is fundamental not only to the existence of animals, but to the existence of humans. We don’t have a policeman sitting watching over us – we might have in the audience! – we don’t have someone policing in this room, and we are sitting here listening to an argument we may not agree with. However, basic mutual aid is there in the sense of co-operating together to actually hear something, and maybe express ourselves at the end… People can interact, people can respond in a responsible way towards each other without being told to do so, and the idea is that without governing bodies, without the judiciary, without the different constabulary, without the kind of legislature and these kind of things, we can actually do this anyway. So there is a very practical side, certainly, to the anarchist thought that I’m interested in.
The other thing is that, apart from these ‘what will happen’ scenarios, the idea that we are fundamentally good and not bad drives my thought. Many people say that a lot of the stuff I write about seems very negative. Well, negative in the sense that I criticise things I see as wrong. I see the treatment, the locking-up of refugees as wrong, I see the war in Iraq as wrong – I can list the whole series of wrongs I feel. My subjective take on it is one thing, but fundamentally what is being talked about here is an ethical way of living. Now, you may have very different ethical views, but at the same time you have some form of ethical system where you denote good and bad, and I think intrinsically people have that ability, and I don’t think it’s a class ability, and I don’t think it’s something you are taught. I think it’s very inherent. I think that in the same way that an animal is neither good nor bad, they are – I think that humans are neither good nor bad, they are inherently good because of that – if you know what I mean. You can have both because both exist in you; goodness exists in you as well.
So my kind of take on it comes from an ethical standpoint, and Bakunin is a problem for me in a variety of ways. I strongly believe that many ills of the world have come about because of the abuses of science. I have no problem with the accumulation of knowledge and the use of knowledge; I do have a problem with the systematising of knowledge, when knowledge is used to create a hierarchy, and science more than anything else has created hierarchy. You know the addiction of discovery isn’t always to benefit human kind; it’s to benefit the ‘discoverer’ or the ‘culture’ of discovery – the actual pleasuring of discovery – to ‘enlighten’ becomes to fetishise… in a marketed sense to add value to science. Now Bakunin recognised the irony of science but he still, like many anarchists in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, and indeed some people I would consider having very similar views who were involved with Freedom Press in Britain, strongly support/ed the kind of scientific approach to an anarchist solution.
So they say that when the government is gone, what we will have is a kind of knowledge, science will continue and the hospitals will be hospitals, and so on. And I have a more agrarian view of the world, and I think that society would naturally break down into smaller component parts. They are talking about a decentralised world, obviously, but I’m talking more literally about a very small component part, a very agrarian kind of anarchism.
I believe in direct contact and preservation of the land, and I think the only way you can do that is by actually understanding what the land physically is. Bakunin makes this very interesting point, and I strongly disagree with it. He says ‘What I preach then is, to a certain extent, the revolt of life against science, or rather against the government of science, not to destroy science – that would be high treason to humanity – but to remand it to its place so that it can never leave it again.’ On one level he is talking about the fact that governance isn’t just literally the bodies that govern us; it’s the way systems operate, and science becoming a system, the kind of move towards cloning a human being isn’t about the survival of the human species, it’s about a kind of value-adding to humanity, which is a very big problem for me. Bakunin is challenging that, as he would if he was standing here, I imagine, challenge the art of cloning and these sort of things. But he is still reserving a place for science as rational. Science for him is rationality; it’s an Enlightenment thing, and he believes very much in a kind of logic. Anarchism for Bakunin was a very logical thing. His logic extended to violent revolution – mine doesn’t, and that’s where we strongly part; but it’s an interesting point.
Science, rational science, as we see it practised, has a lot of problems of course for the vegan, in ways that are perhaps obvious; and also, thinking of mutual aid, there is a kind of implicit recognition there, even if it’s not followed all the way through, of the relation between animals and humans, because he’s arguing that it’s not only in the competitive sense that we draw on our animal origin, but also in a sense of mutual aid.
Thinking about veganism: in my experience, many people, if they have heard of veganism and know what it is, believe it to be a dogmatic and authoritarian type of outlook. This may be partly a fear of difference, because it is potentially threatening to meet someone whose lifestyle implicitly rejects your own, and especially when it comes to food, because eating together is such a communal activity, some feel very rejected by someone who doesn’t eat the same.
But it’s also true that some vegans are very loudly critical of non-vegans and may appear to be rigid and fanatical. Could you comment on this image – how it squares with your own personal outlook, and also with your anarchist beliefs, because that kind of rigid authoritarian stance would be directly in opposition to anarchism.
One of the things that has always disturbed me in talking to fellow anarchists is that as soon as you mention that you are a vegan, most anarchists I’ve known haven’t been vegans or vegetarians – some have, but most haven’t – the objection has been that you’re imposing just another authority, another kind of hierarchy. But if you see an equality between animals and humans as a starting point, it’s not possible to have a hierarchy of imposition or declaration in that ‘equation’, and that’s the way I see it.
One of the scariest moments of my life when I was at Cambridge, where I lived part of the year, was when I met my first vegan straight-edge. He was a young guy and he had engraved in his arm a statement – it wasn’t ‘meat is murder’ but it was something very similar – he did have some line from the Smiths on his arm, and I got talking to him. He went through his list of absolute ‘don’ts’, including no sexual activity – basically it was no pleasure on any level, and intellectually I can appreciate where he was coming from, I could see there was a kind of abstaining that was almost the ultimate control, and I can respect that even if I don’t subscribe to it.
But where I don’t agree is that he said basically: those of my friends who have betrayed us have been branded, physically with a branding iron, and I said to him, ‘That’s not a vegan activity. Vegan activity is not to damage or utilise or abuse any animals, humans included, for your benefit or for any other purpose.’ And he said, ‘No, we don’t see it that way. We see the only way of creating a revolution against the damaging and hurting of animals is to be really strict and rigid in our thinking.’ I could see where he was coming from, but it immediately defeated the ethics of his veganism, for me.
Near Cambridge there is something called Huntingdon Life Sciences, which is the main place for animal vivisection and animal research, and straight-edgers have been very prominent in direct action against this, literally breaking into it and damaging it and so on. Now I can understand, and in my younger years I was involved in direct action against property, but I learned that this can develop its own hierarchies of behaviour and overwhelm itself with contradictions. I have felt over the years that violent direct action – even against property – delays but doesn’t solve… I was prepared to try anything to resist and challenge what I considered to be state-imposed oppressions. I thought, well, maybe it’s worth trying. Mostly it was yelling and screaming at the tools of state and corporate capitalism, which I was very inclined to doing, certainly around the time I met Mar [Bucknell]. When I met with Mar and ‘his’ group in Fremantle, it was a really amazing experience. I had all this intellectual stuff, I had read all this stuff and I thought – this is where I’m at, this is what I think. But what struck me with these people and what deeply interested me in them – even though my behaviour was reprehensible and I apologise to them for my nihilism at the time – was their dedication to idea and action operating in tandem. Everything had to be discussed and worked through as a group of individuals. A consensus operated, as opposed to my individualised martyrdom for what I believed to be right.
This is going back how many years?
This is twenty or twenty-one years ago, it would be 1983/84; and as Mar told me at the time I was a nihilist, not an anarchist. I just wanted to basically remove everything that was a problem very rapidly. What interested me about this group was that they actually had practical solutions. They had this wonderful newsletter (and this is how I discovered them, when someone gave me a newsletter, New from Nowhere) where I saw this thing about someone who was in academic life, who was an anarchist, who’d drawn up this plan for a possible agrarian commune – with practical outcomes like ‘that’s where the water-tank should be’ – the kind of background information needed, and it made sense and it was very practical and I loved that practical side to it. These guys were very practical – direct action to them was something that was mediated by a kind of a longer view of things and that impressed me. Although I didn’t fit in, because I wasn’t capable of fitting in with anyone, pretty well, at that stage, I have thought about it over the last ten years and tried to put a lot of those things into effect.
I want to pick up on that idea you just mentioned – at that phase of your wanting everything to be sort of gone, destroyed, whatever. The anarchist writer, Colin Ward, whose book you have already mentioned, suggests that the people who most readily attack the ideology of non-violence are those with little experience of the ugliness, squalor, and arbitrary nature of violence, so he’s saying those who say that non-violence doesn’t work are the ones who really haven’t had much to do with violence. Could you comment on how your witnessing or experiencing of violence may have influenced your vegan, anarchist, pacifist beliefs? I’m thinking of poems of yours like ‘Shootings’, in which you write about early experiences with animal death on farms, but also of any other experiences that you felt were crucial.
I was pretty aggressive. I had a major substance and alcohol problem for a long time and I was an aggressive person, and I tried to deal with things very directly, and very ineffectually, in the long run – I certainly learnt that. I suppose having a sense of aggression about you makes you think about it generally, but more than that, I grew up shooting everything. I had guns, and on the farm – when I sent and spent time there – it was considered to be what you did; you literally went out and collected trophies, and that kind of trophyism was a very big part of my life up to age sixteen. I shot everything that walked, crawled and flew – that’s what I was. I shot the things I liked the most, I loved ‘twenty-eight’ parrots, they were beautiful; I shot them because they were there, and what was disturbing about this was that I actually understood what I was doing. I wasn’t some kid who was conditioned to this; I pursued it as an art form because it struck me that it was a kind of masculine thing that someone who was very directly non-masculine as a kid could do.
It struck me as a way of kind of identifying with that part of the culture I was invited into, so it was that kind of violence, and I stopped this because of two incidents – one when I saw an animal chew off its forepaw because it was entrapped and it chewed off its entire limb trying to escape; and the second was when I hit a ram driving past a ute on this gravel road near the farm. I was actually eighteen when that happened – I was farm-minding at the time. I shouldn’t have been driving, but that’s another issue – I hit a ram that ran out and fell over a fence and ran just in front of the vehicle, and it had a broken neck, and I was terribly distraught, as I didn’t know what to do with this animal, and I shot it in the head and killed it, and pretty well everything changed for me from that period on. It took a while before I became a vegan, but that kind of event really stood out.
Also as someone involved in that kind of lifestyle of drugs and alcohol, I saw a lot of violence, a lot of serious violence, and it used to repulse me. So my activity against violence, my pacifism has come from experience rather than from just a concept. I have experienced a lot of violence as an addict, but also since cleaning up my act – as a pacifist being physically challenged for being a pacifist. Being tested. People are so affronted by non-violence, it’s even a far more effective device than violence anyway, and if you want to bring change, you can bring it most effectively by not biting back. So my non-violence is something that’s come through a kind of fire if you like, and there are many other things I’ve seen over the years that confirm that, especially in other countries – that I won’t go into, but I’ve been involved in the middle of things on a number of occasions where people have been literally fighting with guns and stuff. I found myself in the middle of battle in the mid-‘80s and saw people shot. It changes you.
Your veganism connects you in other ways to the environment. We heard Mar say earlier how anarchists recently have been involved with the tuarts at Ludlow; we also heard, in a previous lecture in this series, about your concerns for the environment, in the forest lecture. Is an anarchist necessarily an environmentalist, and what forms of action then, or attitude, might that take?
I’ve not met any anarchist who is not an environmentalist, but as Colin Ward points out, they are most often environmentalists of the urban. Certainly in the London anarchist groups, as you would expect, in the British anarchist groups, they are very urban-centred, big populations in urban places, and Colin Ward talks about the urban environment as someone who is concerned about how people are housed; it’s a very important thing to him. I have an interest in that, but I am very much what you would call a ecological environmentalist. After I gave the forest lecture I went down to the tuart forest, and it’s the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen; this is a set-up, it’s not even owned incidentally by Cable Sands, it’s owned by a different mob altogether, manipulation of legalities, the crossing of boundaries and the violation of measurement; it makes it actually illegal within Australian government terms as well.
We’ve got the anarchist activists in the forest, and we need them, and that’s good, but my argument to them, when I was talking to them, people I feel deeply akin to who are pacifists as well, but they were doing a lot of locking-on to machinery and I said that’s a very pacifist resistance, but it’s a very finite effectiveness once you’re locked up. You’ve been locked up a few times, you are disempowered, the state will get you, believe you me, it does. And then the defence is gone, then the trees get knocked over, and as I was talking a tree was going down. I think the solution to a lot of these problems is one in which we use our mutual aid and work together. We live in a world that is not anarchist, unfortunately, and we must work with people who aren’t anarchists and may have very different views, and I don’t have a problem with that. I’m very pragmatic in that way: I’m quite happy to work with people for a cause and work together and have a number of different approaches to a situation, because I think if we get very monolithic in the way we view a problem, then we are really serving our own interests, and our own emotions, rather than the actual cause of say, saving the forest. I’m not suggesting these people are serving anything but the cause of the forest, I’m saying there has to be a more interactive approach to preservation of environment because you can save something for six months, but then six months later…
We went up to the Avon Valley National Park, not far from Perth, a beautiful park where the Avon River runs through. You only get to see it basically when the Avon Descent is on and people go and watch them going down the rapids, but Boral, the large mining conglomerate that mines stone, their mining operations are based on the edge of the park, possibly going into the park, that’s an issue, as well, I’d like to find out about. The government doesn’t survey its own wrong; it surveys your wrong according to itself, and that’s a truism. It strikes me that one of the most effective pacifist ways of dealing with governments is to kind of legally dismantle them from within, as with defending the tuart forest, get a few really good lawyers down there and get those boundary lines checked out where they have violated the lease and get them, and gradually the process of decomposition takes place. So I’m into very practical solutions.
You more or less absorbed my next question there, which is good, but I’ll just add one aspect of it. It was to do with Maletesta having said that ‘we have to find ways of living among non-anarchists as anarchistically as possible, because history is always a result of all the forces acting in society’. So is it really feasible? You’ve just been talking about ways in which we might live as anarchistically as possible under that umbrella, even when we differ from it. Is it really feasible; are we inevitably going to get drawn into complicity with the State?
I actually have such a negative view of the State, that it’s so oppressive I don’t think we could ever be complicit with it, because it’s always going to get us in some way or another. The welfare state is obviously set up in a paternalistic way to protect people, theoretically, but the further you move away from who is actually doing the governing, the process of representation, the less you are going to be represented. Democracy for me is not a free society; it’s the opposite because you’re abdicating your responsibility and your right to have a say in how you live. My local government member for York for the region – he doesn’t know me and I don’t know him – we might meet socially, but the point is I’ve abdicated the responsibility to him.
Democracy is not about giving you your rights and freedom. It’s about working through a totally delayed and distracted and deferred system of response to needs, where responsibility is in essence entirely removed. The more welfare-state it is, the more paternalistic it becomes, of course. On the other hand, thinking about Ward… Thatcherite individualism, for example, yields right-wing selfishness. Ward notes certain things that were in some senses more anarchistic than the Labour government that followed, and that’s not to say he supported Thatcher – he loathed Thatcher and his whole life was campaigning against Thatcher, but the idea for example, the example he gives is when council houses were sold at very cheap rates to the occupants because basically the Thatcher government did not want to spend any money on the upgrade and the upkeep of these houses, so the houses were sold for £30,000 – half their price – to the occupants. So suddenly a group of relatively underprivileged people had property, and unwittingly what the government did was empower ‘working class people’ through property ownership which they normally wouldn’t achieve under the rigours of wealth-marginalisation, for want of a better expression. Ward picks up on the point that governments actually don’t understand what they are doing when they are working in other directions and the Thatcher point is a very good one, there, in every way.
As regards individualism in America, of course, historically, there is a whole thread of right-wing anarchism, individualist and liberal anarchism that is very much packed into the ‘what’s good for me is best, and bugger everyone else’ school of thought. But it’s a lot more complex than this. The American dream of doing pretty well what you want without government strictures, at least from the ‘Feds’, or without interference, is so much tied up with property – a kind of liberty through the rights of property accumulation.
Umbrella anarchism is a co-existence but not an approval of the state. Anarchism on a ‘micro-level’ can bring change in quite dramatic ways. ‘Umbrella’ both protects and deflects (literally, from rain). The anarchist is protected from the physical abuses of the state’s legal and military apparatus by ‘co-existence’ on the least directly compromising levels (purchasing food, use of water and hospitals, and so on), but is also deflecting its intrusions by making use of facilities and means outside the state’s control (and corporate-state capitalist control) as much as possible (not banking, exchanging and bartering where possible, growing one’s own food, capturing one’s own water, refusing to vote, being involved in public and private protest, deschooling – I am thinking of Ivan Illich here – and so on).
I’ve got a couple of things which relate to what you are saying. Malatesta again: ‘The real being is man, the individual… in the age-long struggle between liberty and authority, or in other words between socialism and a class state, the question is not really one of changing the relationships between society and the individual; nor is it a question of increasing the independence of the individual at the expense of social interference or vice versa. But rather is it a question of preventing some individuals from oppressing others; of giving all individuals the same rights and the same means of action; and of replacing the initiative of the few, which inevitably results in the oppression of everybody else.’
I think a lot of people who aren’t anarchists have problems with the individual and how it’s balanced against society. Do you want to comment a little more on that, on your notion of what individualism is, for you?
You have two functional notions of the individual, we have the individual that we know, where what we think and what we feel are very much connected to this physical body we have, and that’s a very observable state. It is also the individualism that comes in how we interact with other people, within a social situation – say five or six of us might get together and watch a television, and we have very individual views regarding what we should watch – regarding the matter of ‘choice’… all arguing what is good for us is good for others because… and so on. Struggling towards consensus, creating a comparatively egalitarian and acceptable pattern of watching. So there are two issues there – one of consensus where we have agreed to actually do something together, and one of actually having an individual view within that consensus (and a desire to have our own way).
In a non-centralised world, it seems essential that property is held in common, and pretty well most anarchists would agree on that – there is not individual ownership to the point where people can have actually more than someone else, because we are sharing in a distribution of wealth. But it is a kind of wrong thinking for me, an illogical thinking, in that property as such, as a definition, shouldn’t exist at all, as far as I’m concerned. The problem is in the emotion of ownership. The desire to fetishise the object and exclude others having a right to it. To invest it with a personal spirit that makes it exclusive. The existence of property would be contingent on rights of access: to have access to the things that are required/needed at a particular time; so I might have this book, but you have access to it if you need it, only if it becomes ‘relevant’ on a basis of need. I might have made this book, I might have sat down and made my own paper, written it up and have it in my own possession, but it is something anyone can have. Same applies to a shovel or bedding or any other ‘possession’. Some ‘property’ would need to be used constantly, and this is factored in: clothing, eating utensils, health items…
It’s a kind of public moment, you are not hiding it away and keeping it for your personal edification alone; there are different levels of possession and materiality depending on need. I think that there are very literal and very obvious and pragmatic solutions to these issues of ownership or not. Things are not only in common – obviously they are in common – but I think we have access. So if someone’s got a rake, then I will use it and then so on. It is a very feasible thing. For me it’s not a matter of what you own; it’s a matter of what you share.
I’m thinking in terms of how that’s organised in a wider context, with your ideas about international regionalism, which you’ve talked about in relation to poetry and landscape – you’ve written about it as well. This is the sort of wide picture rather than person to person, because the world, so we say, is very global now… Would you just like to talk about the idea of international regionalism, how it relates to anarchism for you and to your views of environment and pacifism as well?
International regionalism, in a nutshell, is basically interacting with communities outside one’s own, respecting others’ regional integrity, and confirming your own identity. So it might be applied to a social group, it might be a geographical region. Obviously the integrity of tribal or nomadic social groups that have a differing ‘definition’ of region, that cross lines of other community identities, is respected. Respecting that, and at the same time opening communication between those groups where communication might be desirable, or allowing communications. Or silences.
So in this regional philosophy the possibility of lines of communication (visual, verbal, exchange – a variety of modes of interaction) is key. I developed this idea in dealing with poetry, in writing a very physical, a very regional poetry – I write a very specific area – and being very involved in international discussion on how things might change or what we might do. So this kind of theory evolved out of a necessity.
Within this philosophy, people sometimes ask, what about identity groups, indigenous identity groups or migrant identity groups, and so on?
Well, this isn’t an issue of identity-as-hierarchy, but identity-as-choice against state hegemony. ‘Identity’ is completely respected and surely it is logical that ethnicity and social groupings or beliefs connected to land are enough to generate a kind of social structure, rather than having a government tell you what to do? And that is a very interesting differentiation. Bakunin thought that everything problematical began with the concept of God, that we immediately start with the hierarchy. The point is being made that there is a hierarchy for relationship in the way we worship. Now, I am not suggesting that people should suddenly not worship, but what it means is that the power structure dictates how one worships or how one believes or how one has faith. I’m not serving anyone, they are serving themselves – it’s a matter of allowing people to recognize that the ‘church’, for example, whatever religion we are talking about, is dictating to you how you will believe. You are quite capable of discovering how to believe yourself. Through your experience socially and otherwise, there are a lot of other directions available to you. I think it’s a good point.
It sort of also relates to another question I had prepared. Colin Ward, when asked about religion, said that rather than being the opiate of the people, in that famous saying, he said, it’s rather the stimulant of the people. Exactly like nationalism, it stimulates hostility and aggression towards others. Many have observed that people who are kind and considerate in their personal life can become mass-murderers under the banner of God and the State, and we are seeing a lot of religious strife, daily, or things that are connected to it. Would you agree that it is a stimulant of aggression and hostility, and why? Can veganism, just as a matter of interest, be a form of religion or equivalent to religion, and does it thereby risk similar problems?
I think straight-edge is a religion; I think there is a kind of hierarchy within the group that commands people to do something. Veganism is a personal choice to me. I don’t tell you that you should be a vegan. I became a vegan for the reasons I’ve described very clearly. I realised I was certainly not better than the things I was killing and it came about in a very literal kind of process. I believe very much in people finding their own way – and that’s what an anarchist world is, people finding their own kind of place in their own way in a social context. But the idea of being called or forced into any activity, for our own benefit especially – that deeply bothers me. So yes, I do see organised religion as being part of – as much of the state part of a controlling liberty. Free will is a slogan as much as freedom of the vote! Propaganda of souls.
John Kinsella is the author of more than thirty books, whose many prizes and awards include the Grace Leven Poetry Prize, the John Bray Award for Poetry from the Adelaide Festival, the Age Poetry Book of the Year Award, the WA Premier’s Book Award for Poetry (three times), a Young Australian Creative Fellowship and senior Fellowships from the Literature Board of the Australia Council. He holds academic appointments at Churchill College, Cambridge, Kenyon College, Ohio and Edith Cowan University in Perth. His work has been or is being translated into many languages including French, German, Chinese, Dutch, Spanish and Russian.
Tracy Ryan was born in Western Australia. She has published five books of poetry and three novels. She has worked in libraries, bookselling, editing and community journalism, and taught at various universities.
© John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan
Like this piece? Subscribe!