Eccentricity

Nudists have a hard time getting taken seriously, I think. This is true in the world at large, but it's also true among anarchists.

I have personally had the benefit of friends who actually take me a little too seriously. They're mostly nice about the nudism thing (as a conversational topic, at least); I do get teased occasionally, but it's typically pretty good-humoured and well-intentioned.

But there are some some people who aren't my friends, who dislike me as a result of one thing or another. Some of them, who might generally be on board with the idea of nudism themselves, would never cite my own inclination towards nudism (if they know about it) as a mark against me – and I appreciate that! But others, who are less into nudism, might indeed talk about that inclination as another reason that I'm a creep, that I have bad politics, that I shouldn't be trusted, etc., even though it is certainly completely unrelated to the reasons that our relationship is not completely amiable.

Most people in most anarchist scenes should, I think, be able to relate. Shared investments – into collective living situations, into projects of mayhem and mutual aid, into strong friendships and other intense relationships – often lead, at some point, into disagreement that metastasizes into bitter conflict that, oftentimes, either can't be resolved or at least doesn't. And then, particularly among the assholes who love gossiping about comrades and shit talking perceived enemies (which is probably the majority of people in most scenes, be they anarchist scenes or not!), other details start getting added to the story, all of which paint a picture.

Most people are assholes – at least sometimes, to some (sorts of) people. I'd like that to change, and I really do think there are deliberate things that can be done to help people not be assholes, to blunt that the tendency towards being-asshole that exists in so many people, but all of that is kind of separate from the concern of this post.

In this world, where people are assholes, what does that mean for people who have eccentric interests? For instance, nudism? (This applies to other outgroups, too: sexual minorities of all types, furries, in past ages queer people and freaks and geeks of all kinds.)

My assessment is that, in North America at least, an inclination towards nudism is considered eccentric at best in anarchist scenes, and considered perverse at worst. In this respect, too, I don't think that North American anarchists have very different attitudes about nudism than is the case among the larger population of basically secular liberals. The attitudes might even be more markedly negative among certain subsets, e.g. the Marxist, quasi-Marxist, and otherwise workerist anarchists who understand nudism, and perhaps a few other things, as a bourgeois affectation – or, at the very least, somehow unstrategic with respect to serious political objectives of one kind or another.

Anarchists, of course, are very much of a part of the mass society in which they grew up and in which, in most cases, they continue to live. In a mass society affected by social movements, leftist ideology, and so-called identity politics, they will be caught up in current events (hopefully local ones), in dogmas of one kind or another, and in confused and off-kilter understandings about what the stakes are or what the issues even are. Even if anarchists manage to escape to some kind of remote and autarkic existence, where at least some of these mass society problems might go away, they will still carry some ideas with them.

The best things about anarchist subcultures is that sometimes (not always, never perfectly) they are markedly more accepting of various kinds of differences between people – or certainly less actively shitty about, say, looking like a freak, being into weird shit, having specific issues, being broke and/or homeless and/or going through a hard time, bearing different markers of race and caste, etc.

This isn't really the case with nudism, though. I am sure there are many reasons for this. First off, to be a nudist is hardly a sacrosanct identity among anarchists – and to be clear, as I have written about before, I wouldn't want it to be, because I don't think we should do identity politics with respect to nudism.

Second, there is very little in the way of good analysis circulating in anarchist scenes, or in society at large, about nudism (and what it can do for you) or about dists (and why anyone is trying to live their life that way). There is also a lot of history that people just don't know – from local histories of landed nudist clubs and associations, many of which may have gone out of business years ago, and which were in any case cloistered, hidden, and far away from larger concentrations of people – and which, to be sure, most people don't usually think too much about.

Third, there's really not a whole lot of possibility (or easy possibility, anyway) for people to be naked in “normal situations” in these scenes. Nudity often causes a lot of friction with laws, with police, or – and this is true even in relatively ungoverned spaces – with established cultural norms, not to mention various sorts of individual attitudes and ideas about sex, nudity, and ethics that may circulate in our subculture or among any of our neighbours. Even in societies where there is no law against backyard nudity and where police (evidently) will not bother to harass anyone over the matter, there are still going to be some people who object to nudity on religious-ideological grounds, for instance.

All of this has real effects, and not just on whatever minority of conspicuously nudism-inclined people there are who might have some interest in participating in anarchist scenes.

Like, sure, people like me exist. But everyone is occasionally inconvenienced by the obsessive and compulsory attitude around wearing clothing. There are health consequences, financial consequences, ecological consequences, and fun consequences. The importance of them need not be exaggerated, but these consequences are real. This is also true whether or not anyone recognizes that this is, or may be occasionally, a problem for them personally. Just because the problem feels normal to these people doesn't mean it isn't real.

Now, anarchists also have a hard time getting taken seriously. It's not that it never happens, but most of the time, anarchists either need to water down their own politics to the point that they are effectively just democratic socialists (at which point I wonder why you call yourself an anarchist at all, other than to give yourself some edgy cred) or they need to omit the fact that they are anarchists (by lying, avoiding the question, using a headscratcher of a euphemism, whatever). There are many reasons for all of this, a number of which could warrant whole essays in and of themselves, but the thing I want to bring attention is the manifest incuriosity of so many people – journalists, neighbours, partisans of other dogmas – to learn anything about the anarchist tradition or about anarchists. So many people are content, instead, to know nothing, or otherwise, to “know” just the things that they have been told by the police (on Twitter or in cop shows), by patriarchal figures of all kinds, by their own unexamined assumptions (which, because they have high opinions of themselves, they may simply assume to be correct assumptions), etc.

It is an unfortunate thing, then, whenever anarchists are themselves incurious about the lives, experiences, and ideas of others.

Obviously I am a bit salty as a nudist or something, and I think my ideas about nudism are worth taking seriously – but this is a broadly applicable point, that against goes beyond the specific shit that I'm into.

Many anarchists seem to understand that, with respect to adversarial ideologies (nationalism, fascism, etc.), there is a value in understanding where those ideas come from, why they are appealing to (certain kinds of) people, and so on. When it comes to conspiracy theories, many people understand that it's a good thing to familiarize oneself with the theories so that it is possible to recognize why people in our lives think the things they do, and so that we have a better chance of talking them out of it, if that's something we care to try.

But not so much with groups defined by a quality of grossness. Where did that idea that certain groups, or certain bodies, or certain activites, are gross... where did that idea come from?

An ascribed quality of eccentricity (“you're weird”) or perversity (“you're evil”) is really just the same thing, viewed from s different angle or maybe through a different lens. In either case, it terminates the possibility of any kind of serious conversation about the why of it all, the ideas or experiences that motivate a given behaviour, etc. I don't think that's ever a good thing in and of itself, even with respect to ideas and/or associated behaviours that I truly think are awful (e.g. not the ideas that are the topic of this blog!), because so long as certain things aren't up for discussion no matter what, I suspect it will be hard to figure out how and why some people – and here, I mean some people specifically – end up with these ideas and/or maybe doing some of the associated shitty things that most right-minded people worry about.

Said differently, it is my contention that the so-called eccentric, the so-called perverted, learn to be cagey about what they think and feel in a society that treats the object of their interest as something that isn't normal. To the extent that they might have something actually really bad going on, I think this makes it that much more likely that, when bad shit actually happens, it will happen in a way that is more unpredictable for everyone else (y'know, neighbours or society or whoever) because they were always so secret about where their thoughts were going, where their thoughts were taking them.

The option of nudity is not bad shit, though! And I would never want to overemphasize its importance with respect to, like, a concrete practice of anarchy (whatever that means for you, and assuming it would be important to you at all), but I do think there are several things to be said about body freedom, the benefits of ridding ourselves of anxieties about nudity, all sorts of incidental benefits with respect to projects we may already be engaged in (such as collective living projects), and so on.

This can't happen, though, so long as the idea of an option of nudity is considered just a weird thing that only “some people” are into, and that (supposedly) has no implications for anyone else.