I am deeply satisfied by not just political but ideological agitation, by radicalizing people, by stirring up conflicts when all else fails. There have been times in my life when I was depressed, and it was always when I was not agitating. It took me over a decade to figure that out, but it’s true. And it makes total sense if you think about it. If you were watching your family fight amongst itself, and if you had a good and loving family, you would naturally feel inclined to step in and help negotiate. You would feel depressed if you felt powerless to help and watched people you cared about fall apart. It would make you deeply satisfied if you re-united your family, and the situation would improve for all involved. This is exactly why everyone should be an agitator. Anarchist political agitation is a radical endeavor. Thus, being an agitator is being a conflict-resolver because radical awareness leads to understanding and thus resolution of conflict.
Agitation is the most key thing we can do in a time like this. Looking at the situation strategically, we first want to consider the constraints. Ecologically, the environment is suffering to the point where it will not be able to support the demand on it much longer. So that is one constraint on our strategy; it must be effective within that time scale. The other constraint is nuclear devastation and the like. The strategy needs to not incite such a thing, and frankly many feel the risk has been far too high for far too long already. These are both constraints anyone interested in sustained life on earth from any moral background can agree on because these are merely extensions of scientific facts and thus hold no “moral” questionability.
Within these constraints, it is obvious that we need immediate change and that it cannot incite serious international war. People don’t like utilitarian arguments. When they hear about the trolley problem, they want to opt out. But in life, we cannot opt out. We’re headed toward certain catastrophe for all life on the planet above a very minimal level of complexity. Broken windows are not going to matter even in the most conservative utilitarian calculus. Even dead Nazis are not going to matter, the story goes. Obviously engineering our way out in preferable, but short time scales and complex engineering are kind of inversely related. Sometimes in life making the hard call is the ethical thing to do, which I am willing to admit even as someone who is extremely skeptical that a situation ever truly is that dire.
So I’m reluctant to fully embrace those arguments without qualifications, as are a lot of anarchists. I also believe we have to consider that humans are nonlinear systems, and groups of them are extremely chaotic in behavior– meaning a small push can have drastic results, for better or worse. So I do believe violence should be avoided whenever possible. But sometimes, it will not be possible to avoid because of the constraints on the system that I just mentioned. I really think now is one of those times when it is appropriate to lower the bar for the amount of backlash an action could risk while still finding it ethically justified. It’s hard to argue otherwise, when reports say there are only 60 years left of viable farming on the Earth. You just cannot really argue with the necessity of action right now based on that alone. That’s not even to mention the equally obvious but more generally contentious fact that a fascist regime is rising to power in one of the nations most equipped to cause global catastrophe.
What I have just done is made an inductive argument so sound that it might as well be deductive. The probabilities of each statement in the argument being true are so high, it’s hard to argue that any conclusions I draw can’t be taken with the utmost confidence. Even being very conservative here, no matter what your ideological background, even if you are a pacifist: the consequence of these arguments is that at the very least it is time to agitate, by which I mean even the most staunch pacifist should be aggressively questioning the foundations of the ideologies of their peers. Even if you incite an ex-liberal to violence in their naive fervor and it has unintended consequences, it is still the time to agitate. Not risking these unintended consequences of agitation will result in more aggregate violence as we do nothing. It will play a part in the end of the world. Some will wonder how much good it can really do to try to talk pacifists into being slightly more aggressive, but I believe small shifts such as this can grow to have huge effects quite quickly. People are overly cynical about their ability to affect their surroundings.
People get skeptical when you start talking about the end of the world, but there’s absolutely no reason to think humans won’t go through a mass extinction. Every other life we have known about is either extinct or extant, and the universe is not crawling with complex life. It’s now just a consequence of binary logic that either we ensure we don’t get extinguished, or else we die as a species. It’s just a matter of time, and the odds don’t look particularly good. People feel at their core, in a very subconscious way, that human society is Timeless and Official, that the status quo is Timeless and Official. Things were meant to be the way they are on television, and they always will be that way, somewhere. That is why we must agitate now, more than ever. Radical change will never happen in time if we don’t see a huge explosion in people embracing the ideas of anarchists, and in people questioning and shedding their false conceptions. Ideas can catch on and travel really fast, especially in the age of the internet. If we can convince people of what is at stake, I think we will witness a quick and massive state change around the world.
People know a dead and barren Earth is a possible future timeline, in even a year or a day, based on decisions we make right now. But they don’t really feel that a dead and barren Earth is possible. It just doesn’t really quite sink in. But if you consciously try to come to terms with these facts, to fully realize them like the touchpad under your fingers and resist the brainwashing of socialization, you will come to see that even the most conservative view from any ethical stance that admits the existence of these scientific facts must agree that we should all be agitating to the best of our ability, engaging in some process which will naturally select ever-better approximations of the truth to stand as our shared consensus reality. This is why all people engaging in a modicum of rational dialogue can be convinced to become radicals. The scientific facts basically require it. The only question is how long it will take to convince any one person.
Agitation is not a burden, it is a joy. I’m depressed when I don’t agitate because agitation is the natural and logical response to living in a society that is coercive as a matter of culture. Not to agitate is to be powerless, to succumb to a life of minimal freedom, to embrace either slavery or apathy. To stop agitating is to give up the most vital part of one’s agency. It is to resign to a small life, to hide in a cellar while the world perishes, to hide from one’s own potential and one’s own life. It is to limit oneself, to deny boundless possibility, to refuse the chance to “beat death in life, sometimes.” It is to refuse the only thing we were given that isn’t shit. Agitation is empowering, whether by talking or other physical acts. Changing people’s minds is the most empowering fucking thing on this Earth. Sure, sometimes we need a break. And sometimes we need to hate on the tactic for our own mental health. But we should always find ourselves returning to agitation. And we should never be like I once was, living in fear of how our ideas will be received and unable to argue.
The present situation is exactly the time to be agitating. It is very easy to make the case that we have no other option but to act. Because this is so obviously supported by the facts as people see what is happening with the Trump regime, more and more people are ready to accept it. I’ve made more anarchists and anarcho-curious in the last two months than I have in at least the last six years combined. It’s deeply satisfying and I highly encourage you to try it– try talking a liberal into supporting property destruction. You would be surprised how willing some people are to respond to reasoned arguments. It also helps that resistance is becoming so normalized, it’s easier than ever to get people to think they could safely and openly be an anarchist.
Agitation calls for a true diversity of tactics. In The Meeting That Never Ends, people are eternally arguing about which tactic is better than which other tactic. Some people accept diversity of tactics begrudgingly as a sort of peace treaty among left factions. But diversity of tactics is a necessity, it is very desirable in the same way diversity is desirable in an ecosystem for the sake of resilience. It’s not just some annoying peace treaty that could ideally be done away with if only people have the “correct” viewpoint. This idea is the key to effective agitation.
Agitation comes in many different shapes and sizes, and you should use the tool best fit for the job. Sometimes punching a Nazi will produce optimal effect, and sometimes making them look a fool with words will achieve optimal effect. Use your brain and develop models which will allow you to predict by some method of logical inference what effect your actions will have. Yes, you will often be wrong, but not acting is not a choice you have if you want to remain in ethical good standing. And you would be surprised what mathematics and intuition can do. I, for one, definitely was able to predict based on my own models that punching Richard Spencer, among other things, would result in the explosion of interest in joining antifa and news reports like this. However, it might be better to argue with a 16-year old Nazi than to punch them. You have got to have models that handle subtlety and prescribe the best action to move toward your desired outcome. This also requires some level of anticipating the ways in which you are likely to be wrong, the consequences of those errors, and accounting for that when choosing an action.
When someone is not engaging in rational dialogue and something really important is at stake, it is then ethical to consider using methods other than rational dialogue. Whenever rational dialogue is possible without furthering considerable violence by forgoing other action in its place, rational dialogue should be treated as preferable. This is because it will be less likely to have unintended consequences on the longer time scale compared with violence. Anarchists, collectively, should be just as ready to punch someone in the face as to confidently and kindly tear apart arguments and persuade people into becoming anarchists. They should be just as ready to provide group therapy for oppressed anarchists who need support to enable them to more fully resist. Otherwise anarchism is doomed to be a niche philosophy inside the dominant ideology forever. I don’t want people to be having anarchist general assemblies in 30 years. I want people to be free.
In order to make this happen, we have got to respect, encourage and utilize the diversity within our ranks. Too often ideological diversity in the anarchist milieu is looked down on, when really it is our greatest asset. I am so proud of our many-colored flags (the fact that I’m not fond of flags aside), even the ones I disagree with, because I am proud that we are basically the only ideology with an organic, non-hierarchical way of allowing our ideas to evolve and then autonomously recognizing and confederating them, even given the conflicts it has caused.
For very physical reasons, it is not easy for one person to be good at firing a weapon, hand to hand combat, rational dialogue, hacking, and theory/research/model building. Yet, all of these are necessary to stop oppression now. Our militant members need to learn how to work with pacifists in a broad coalition that utilizes the strength of each in the right situation, as well as nearly any member of every other such divide in anarchism and much of the libertarian left. If a Nazi is beating someone, people in an anarchist milieu who excel at and enjoy martial arts should be enabled to handle the situation. If a person who is called a minor by the State is having problems with their parents because their parents are bigoted against their queerness, then I’m sure anarchopacifists who aren’t into beating Nazis would be more than glad to sit down and have a talk, or to become further trained in conflict resolution or even infiltrate and start radicalizing in social work milieus. The solutions seem so obvious.
A lot of anarchists will react to this by saying that bigots can’t be reached by rational dialogue ever, so pacifists are dead weight, but this is just reactionary. Some bigots can be reached and some cannot. It is up to you to determine which is which, and I am an anarchist because I believe you can handle that task. And certainly some liberals and libertarians of all kinds can be reached quite effectively with rational dialogue. The main reason I am writing this essay is to tell you that ideas can be used just like hammers, rocks, and crow bars. And just like those tools, some ideas are better for the job than others. As agitators, we need to develop a repertoire of tactics we are good at using. If you are good at using ideas, then you should collect essays, comics, videos and memes that destroy particular arguments for the sake of the people watching the argument who have not yet decided their position or who may be secretly in the market for a change of ideology. If you happen to be close to someone with poor ideology, befriend them because people only listen directly to friends, not enemies.
Don’t be afraid to use a multitude of arguments that are different for each situation. The end goal is to get the person to see why they are wrong, not to stay pure to some ideal in some abstract sense. The consequences of your dialogue are what are important, not some scorecard where you unhappily tally how many times you gave someone a point they didn’t really deserve. Social capital in radical milieus often causes people to continue using blatantly stupid tactics so that they retain anarchist “cred.” I once knew an extremely underprivileged person who harbored racist thoughts because of legitimate trauma they endured in the past. I did not attack this person on their ideology. Instead I listened to them about their trauma, and in their own time, one day they told me they were ashamed of their previous ideas and no longer felt that way. I predicted this would be the best way to change this person based on my private models. I feel fully confident this result would not have been achieved if I had attacked this person. What’s more interesting is that if other anarchists had overheard me not attacking this person’s racism, they might have attacked me.
This is the kind of reactionary assumption-making we need to seriously discourage. We have got to cultivate a climate of understanding of subtlety so that we can be maximally effective at every turn. The fate of the world is seriously in the balance. We don’t have any room to be sloppy. When you are a true radical, when you pursue a radical understanding, that will lead you to the happiest kind of agitation, whether by word or by weapon. We are anarchists for the benefit of all. That means when you take the time to tear apart someone’s ideas with them so that they can embrace anarchism, you are liberating them and you are liberating yourself. In the same way that the master-slave dialectic is oppressive to both master and slave, true radical inquiry can liberate everyone from their suffering, even if sometimes it leads to the conclusion that someone needs to get decked.