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from Staring Into the Abyss

Pages 247-257

Welcome to Chapter 4!

This is one of the shortest chapters in the book, but probably one of the most important. Up to this point we have approached the concept of money as a mechanism of the transfer of value in circulation, and hoarding being what occurs when that money is taken out of circulation. Most anti-capitalists I have spoken to over the years utilize the terms capital and money interchangeably, but there is actually a really nuanced distinction between the two that has some profound impacts on the ways that economics functions on an ontological level.

This initial formulation, of money as a mechanism of transference, is able to explain how the structure of commodities, as material objects alienated from themselves and valued abstractly and quantitatively, allows for exchange and circulation to occur. It is even able to discuss certain aspects of the commodity form, such as the fact that the materiality of the object disappears in commodity circulation. This is all well and good when we are merely trying to discuss the ways in which commodities are bought and sold.

This formulation hits a distinct limit, however. Within this mechanism there is no way to explain the movement of money within a process of circulation in which money itself is the outcome, and not circulation. This is a structure that we call capitalism, and the nuanced shifts between capital and money interact with this initial formulation to allow us to explain much more complex phenomena, like credit, stocks, investments and so on.

That is what we will be discussing for this week, how money differs from capital, and how that distinction comes to shape some pretty critical elements of the discourse on capitalism.

Oh, I figured I should mention, I published my first article on economics, centered around the Chinese housing market, the collapse of Evergrande, the paradoxes of global economics at present and how this could all combine to generate economic crisis conditions globally. If any of you are interested you can find it here:

https://territories.substack.com/p/the-grand-crash

  • Marx begins this chapter by restating a core, and often misunderstood point; that the core of capital resides in commodity circulation, and thus the commodity form, of which production is only a part. This firmly positions the point of intervention broadly, on a wide social scale, at innumerable nodes, with not all of these existing within the realm of commodity production. I repeat this point often, but it is critical in the actual task we are undertaking here, which is not merely to read and understand Capital, or to even understand capitalism, but to identify and locate effective points of intervention within that circulation. Those that want to confine this to workerism are completely missing the vast array of terrain outside of the mechanisms of production (which is a question that in itself has been vastly disrupted in the move away from purely industrial production).

Commodity circulation forms the ontological core of capitalism, as we have been discussing, and this is embodied in the commodity form itself, the paradoxical construction of a material object in which its material particularity is irrelevant. It is in this process of rendering all things equivalent, and able to only be differentiated by magnitude or quantity, that the commodity gets displaced from itself, its material form is rendered irrelevant and it is reduced purely to a means through which value is transported between transactions.

The paradoxical construction of the commodity, and the alienation of the object from its own conditions of possibility, forms the foundations of the abstraction of the object, which allows for it to come into contact with all other commodity flows, and have those flows all function as a movement of value, regardless of the materiality marginalized by that abstraction. Without this dual removal (from itself as an object and from its conditions of possibility), the entire attempt to discuss circulating value, which is a precursor for capital, would be incomprehensible. The social and historical manifestations this ontological alienation finds its expression in circulation, and by extension production.

“If we disregard the material content of the circulation of commodities, i.e. the exchange of the various use-values, and consider only the economic forms brought into being by this process, we find that its ultimate product is money. This ultimate product of commodity circulation is the first form of appearance of capital” (247).

  • Money and capital are not purely equivalent terms. In its most basic form money only refers to the mechanism through which abstract value is transported through circulation outside of the commodity. In this form, where money is used to facilitate commodity circulation, where money has a direct use-value as a mechanism of exchange, it remains only money. When money is used to purchase or produce commodities purely for for the sale of the object, without this implying that the money acquired stays within circulation, it already functions as capital.

In this process where money is used to acquire the commodity for sale the commodity itself, as a material object, vanishes from relevance, and becomes nothing other than a mechanism through which value is transferred as well. Functionally what occurs at this point is that money is being traded for a different quantity of money. To put this another way, when we are engaged in circulation purely for the ability to extract value from the transaction, separate from the use of that value, what occurs is that the shape of the commodity and its material existence cease to matter, and what happens is that value is used to acquire the commodity, which results in getting value back from the sale of the commodity. In this scenario the commodity exists as a mechanism through which magic occurs, a mechanism through which one can “make” money. Money, when it is used in this form is capital.

Marx uses the example of buying bushels of corn. Say someone buys a bushel of corn for $100, and then they turn around and sell it for $110. What has occurred here is that $100 has become $110 simply by shifting form from money to commodity and back to money again. The materiality of the commodity can be anything in this space, all that matters is that it conveys value from money to money.

The quantities of money that are moved through in this process must be different between the beginning of circulation and the end of the circuit; if they were the same there would be no point in engaging in the activity. Capital only functions as capital due to a differential between money invested and the quantity of money acquired in exchange.

“In the circulation C-M-C, the money is in the end converted into a commodity which serves as a use-value; it has therefore been spent once and for all. In the inverted for M-C-M, on the contrary, the buyer lays out money in order that, as a seller, he may recover money. By the purchase of his commodity he throws money into circulation, in order to withdraw it again by the sale of the same commodity. He releases the money, but only with the cunning intention of getting it back again. The money is therefore not spent, it is merely advanced” (249).

  • As such, the core differentiation point between capital and money flows along around questions of circulation, of which production is a part. This introduces a tension that we see play out in a myriad of ways within everyday life in the 21st Century. Money becomes capital to the degree that money becomes an end in itself, to the degree that the objective is money itself, and not the use-value of money as a mechanism of purchase. This firmly attaches capital to accumulation, by definition, and as such, constructs capital as a flow of circulation which then pulls money out of circulation. It is only here that we start to see phenomena, such as the accumulation of wealth and wealth stratification, where accumulation exceeds the ability of commodities to circulate. At the end of this process, in theory, is the possibility of one person dominating all economic assets, but in that space commodity circulation ceases to occur. So, on this level, the very structure of capital itself exists as a self-destructive paradox in which the more capital functions as capital, and not as money, the less likely it is that commodity circulation can continue within a capitalist context.

We saw this dynamic play itself out in the formation of the New Deal, for example. The New Deal was an attempt to restart commodity circulation after the Great Depression, and construct a mechanism to always preserve the ability of consumers to spend by providing subsidies and social assistance. The Great Depression was largely caused, or at least heavily facilitated by, the fact that preceding the Depression the US saw the worst stratification of wealth in its history, with the exception of right now. In that condition there were not enough consumers (people with money) to be able to sustain the economy when the stock market crashed due to the failure of over-leveraged investments.

The Depression posed a systemic risk to capitalism as a result of the collapse of the consumer. The New Deal was structured specifically to build what they referred to as a “stable consumption index”, namely a base amount of consumer spending guaranteed by government programs that companies could base investment decisions around. By providing programs like the GI Bill, Welfare and Section 8 the state was able to keep consumers spending money by providing the money they would spend. In other words, the New Deal was less of a move toward some sort of odd market socialism, and a lot more about providing subsidies to companies through subsidizing consumption.

It is at this point that we start to see commodity circulation metastasize into capitalism through the medium of abstract value. To the degree that capital functions to extract money through commodity sale, and to store that money as an end in itself, then necessarily, to the degree that capital functions, the conditions of possibility for existence is fundamentally bound up in the conditions of circulating abstract value. This interplays with the core of the commodity form, the rendering equivalent of all things as quantities, which already displaces the conditions of existence away from materiality and into the circulation of abstract value. In this structure all activity becomes premised on exchange-value, rather than just exchange, or the use of money. The world floats into the background entirely.

“The process M-C-M does not therefore owe its content to any qualitative difference between its extremes, for they are both money, but solely to the quantitative changes. More money is finally withdrawn from circulation than was thrown into it at the beginning...The value originally advanced, therefore, not only remains intact while in circulation, but increases its magnitude, adds to itself a surplus-value, or is valorized. And this movement converts it into capital” (251-252).

  • The process starts to approach a limitlessness. When accumulation enters stasis in the hoard, technically capital is timeless within an infinite hoard, removing it from history in an active sense. We see this with Bitcoin, for example, where coin can persist indefinitely as long as there is still a blockchain in operation, regardless of whether anyone can actually access it. It is in this limitlessness that money itself changes form, from a mechanism of exchange where the result is use-value, both for money and the object, into a form in which money, like the commodity, ceases to matter in its physical shape and use. As such, it becomes nothing but a mechanism through which value is circulated, but is not value itself.

This means that with the emergence of capital value becomes decoupled from money, and starts to function as an autonomous element, one separated from history and the world, and one that comes to determine the possibilities in the world to the degree that it functions. In other words, value is no longer tied to money, and money itself becomes confined to the use and physical manifestation of the means of circulation. This is the only context that we can understand things like credit cards, stock trading, derivatives, fractional reserve banking and so on; these are all mechanisms of value transfer that exist outside of the constructs of money in its physical sense (its not like you get a bag with thousands of dollars in it when you get a car loan, for example).

The most obvious manifestation of this is fractional reserve banking, which is what the entirety of the economy functions based on. Let's take a situation in which I run a small bank with one customer that deposits $100. The next day someone comes in and asks for a $10 loan, which will be, say, $12 after interest. Obviously the bank only has the money of the other customer. So, the way that banks create debt begins with essentially borrowing from the accounts of their depositors. In this case we take $10 from customer 1s account and give it to customer 2. That is all fine unless customer 1 comes and asks for all of their money back, at which point you have an issue; this is what happens when there are runs on the banks. But, for the bank they just performed a magic trick. Rather than having $100 in assets, or the actual $90 that they physically have access to, now they have $112 dollars of assets, the $100 in that account and the $12 the bank will receive in payment for the loan. In this process $22 was manifested out of thin air. This is how the amount of money in circulation grows, and this is also why weird Ron Paul people complaining about the Federal Reserve controlling currency have no idea what they are talking about.

“In truth, however, value is here the subject of a process in which, while constantly assuming the form in turn of money and commodities, it changes its own magnitude, throws off surplus-value from itself considered as original value, and thus valorizes itself independently. For the movement in the course of which it adds surplus-value is its own movement, its valorization is therefore self-valorization” (255).

 
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from nudism as an illegalism

CW: some inaccurate information (see update below), child abuse mention, discussion of genital terminology

Two notes before beginning:

Instead of the overly Latin and slightly nauseating word “penis”, I have chosen to instead to use something a bit more whimsical and fun in this piece, namely “johnson”. For etymologically obvious reasons, this term does not pertain very well to the transfeminine penis, more colloquially known as “girldick” – but alas, for those who can only see a dick as chromosomally shaped mounds of flesh, blood, and other fluids, it might as well be a johnson for all they're concerned, no matter the precise context.

Second, with respect to people who read this may just a touch “gender-critical” themselves, I already know how and why I disagree with you. I think your views are a combination of boring, outdated, and too amenable to authoritarianism that's either rightist or might as well be rightist (never mind all the left-wing and/or anarchist bona fides certain people may harp on about); I'm not interested in wasting my time discussing it. To the extent you want to some spaces to remain “cis women only”, I hardly even care, but I don't see it being very difficult to do that in your own spaces. You have them and you will, in all likelihood, continue to have them; they just may not be the only spaces anymore.

So, at the time of writing, the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia article on the “Wi Spa controversy” reads as follows:

On June 24, 2021, a woman posted a video to Instagram in which she angrily confronted staff at Wi Spa, a Korean spa in Los Angeles, about the apparent presence of a nude individual with a [johnson], most commonly believed to be a trans woman, in the women's section of the spa. The video went viral, attracting significant attention from [trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) and right-wing] media, which led to protests and counter-protests on July 3 and 17 over the alleged access. Some media initially questioned whether the alleged incident had been a hoax.

The article goes on, stating that on August 30, someone “commonly reported to be a transgender woman” was arrested in connection to the original reported incident. There is at least one real person involved at the centre of all this, in other words – and things are still very much shaking out for her. I have not followed this story closely, and I don't even know how many details are easily available, but I suspect that she is in pre-trial lock-up at this time.

As an anarchist, I think that sucks, and that, furthermore, all the prisons should be burned down. I am also open to the idea that this person genuinely sucks too, because I do not know what happened. My gut reaction, as a partisan in the culture war, is that this is (as some have claimed, because there was initially no evidence at all to suggest otherwise) a hoax, and that now some uninvolved trans woman is dealing with a lot of shit as a consequence. But I don't know – and hey, maybe that person has done some things I don't think are cool, at Wi Spa or elsewhere.

An aside: evidently, she was not arrested because she is necessarily known to have been at Wi Spa – although perhaps some witness testimony will, I suppose, come out in whatever court-and-media circus that may emerge from this some months hence. It was, instead, her history of “indecent exposure” dating from about 2003 that is documented by the judicial system. She has apparently also been designated by the state as a “registered sex offender” since 2006, presumably for related reasons.

This woman, and the original incident in the Wi Spa women's changing room (be it a complete fabrication or not), is not really important, though. What is important is that there were, just outside of Wi Spa's location in Los Angeles, large rallies and counterrallies between rightists, on the one hand (including in some cases fascists, parafascists, as well as several people who are completely out of touch with reality), and on the other hand, a coalition of anti-fascist activists, e.g. various leftists, maybe some anarchists, the odd, essentially liberal concerned citizen, and so on. These events, on July 3, July 17, and possibly on other days since, were all overseen by the police.

What happened at Wi Spa was part of a larger story as soon as that went viral. It was, in fact, for at least a brief moment, The Story for both the “gender-critical” and anti-fascist commentariats, in the United States at least. This is what led to the rallies, which I am sure would have had various negative effects if left unopposed (difficulty for staff just working a job at Wi Spa, difficulty for many customers but certainly customers who are trans or might look trans, a sense of victory for the anti-trans side and/or their buddies the Nazis and the “Western chauvinists”), and so then there was also counteraction (widely framed as “antifa”), with all of its inherent risk for the side that, on other days of the week and/or with every breath, also happens to oppose the police, the colonial state, capitalism (of all kinds), the American flag, etc.

There were real stakes for both coalitions, in other words – both the rightist, TERF/“gender-critical”, religious conservative, and -adjacent coalition “opposing gender ideology” et al., as well as the trans, anti-fascist, liberal-progressive-secular, and -adjacent coalition that stands for “trans and queer liberation”, “LGBT rights”, etc., to one's tastes.

As an insurrectionary anarchist – which means, in the North American context today, a tradition within anarchism largely informed by people who had some close connection to struggles in Italy or in the Italian diaspora in the past, from Malatesta and Galleani about a hundred years ago, to the forebears of those forebears, and also to the lives of anarchists still living today like Bonanno, Weir, and others who got caught up in the biggest event for anarchists of the whole 1990s, which has been significantly degree identified with individualist currents as well in North America, also bringing names like Novatore especially to the fore – I inherit a tradition that, in its more modern, local, and generally English-language iterations, is extremely ambivalent about and wary of coalitional politics, insofar as it knows well that coalition partners, on the whole, aren't gonna fuck with what we think, aren't gonna put resistance to authority at the centre of their analysis and practice, are pretty likely to betray us and/or disappoint us eventually.

All that said, there is a social-insurrectionary current too, which doesn't forget that it's not just insurrectionary anarchists or any other conspiratorial “elite” that makes the revolution – it's everyone, together. At least where I live, the individualist and the social-insurrectionary currents still exist in an uneasy tension, together sustaining (with difficulty) a form of anarchism that isn't just contemporary Blanquism lazily described as such.

Thus, in the spirit of realizing the perennial social-insurrectionary fantasy, of diverse demographics coming together, vanquishing various threats, and creating space for joyous novelty (also identified, by some, as “anarchy”), I wish to bring to the fore that there is also some stake in this for anyone who wants to “normalize nudity” in society at large.

The original controversy stems from the fact that a johnson visible to others for a brief moment in the women's changing room at Wi Spa on June 24 of this year; and if that was not the case, we can still concede that such a thing could happen, certainly has happened somewhere at some point, that it is in fact a logical consequence of a limited trans liberation taking place within the parameters of an otherwise unchanged society (i.e. a society that has commercial spas, which have bigendered changing rooms, and so on). And, either you're cool with that, or not.

Personally, I am cool with it, and not even on behalf of some especial militancy in favour of trans lib. It's more like, as a nudist, it is hard for me to understand what the big deal is about a loose johnson or a loose anything. “Don't look if it makes you uncomfortable” is my position, in more or less any setting, including in changing rooms, locker rooms, etc., to your preference.

Furthermore, I don't really believe that the specific “sanctity” of any space should be the most important principle in any ethical conundrum or social question, nor do I think it is acceptable or a good idea to accommodate ungrounded panic about sexual predators and pedophiles, especially if trans women and other groups are also being identified as the avatars of this threat. I suspect the rare event of a loose johnson in a women's locker room will be uncomfortable for some (I would think the discomfort would be with among isolated pre-op trans women especially, not among the cis women and girls in a space that is overwhelmingly used by cis women and girls), but life is uncomfortable for everyone sometimes. Alas! Would that it were not, for everyone!

In men's changing rooms, there has also been a sort of drift towards less tolerance of loose johnsons in public view, which long predates more recent hysteria animated by the gains of pro-trans social movements. For example, where I live, local authorities have, in recent years, mandated that nudity is not to be tolerated in changing rooms for public pools, whether to change from a street outfit into swimclothes or to take a shower beforehand or after.

Although the policy applies across the board, the rhetorical focus was on the men's changing rooms, and the arguments were the same as those with respect to the Wi Spa controversy. Some people are uncomfortable with nudity, first off; it was implied that the people who were doing the complaining were mostly non-white immigrants, so when the policy was announced, both a potential “left” opposition to the policy was undermined for fear of association with racism, while a scapegoat was offered up by local authorities to magnetize the animus of any potential “right” opposition to the policy. A skillful maneuver.

There are also children present in men's changing rooms, just like in women's changing rooms. Apparently this matters because there is an epidemic of child sex trafficking happening at the public pools where parents and older siblings take young kids to cool off in the summer (fact check: there is not). What's really happening is that 6-year-olds are seeing normal human bodies in the locker room, and then potentially asking questions of their fathers and older brothers that can cause these men, young and old, quite a bit of discomfort and confusion. If we accept that the policy was adopted for exactly the same reasons as local authorities said it was, then the decision making doesn't give much credit to these men (among whom I suspect there are plenty of white “locals”, incidentally). Nor does a narrative that assumes crowds of cis women are uniquely threatened by the odd trans woman in a women's changing room (including the even rarer type of trans woman who is a bit large or a bit rude).

Even in the very limited number of spaces where public nudity has heretofore been considered acceptable because it is, in fact, quite practical – like, me being me, the nudist blog guy, I'd obviously prefer both the pool and poolside facilities to be comprehensively nudity-optional, but that's just not what's up – there is a push to keep “private parts” covered to an even greater point of impracticality than what was, mere decades earlier, still quite common in North America. And like, I think it should be as easy as possible, for everyone, for people to change their outfits when that is something they need to do just to enjoy their lives.

There may be more than one solution to this, none of which is likely to work for everyone, but a trans-inclusive policy with respect to bigendered changing rooms seems significantly better than simply ignoring the specific needs, experiences, or desires of trans women writ large in order to satisfy a bigoted sentiment among, for the most part, cis people, both women and men.

But, that's not what's going. Anti-sexual hysteria is the principal reason. There are confused efforts to solve real sexuality problems. These efforts have no strategic sense, or otherwise, that sense is wholly animated by paranoia and violent fantasy vis-à-vis identified enemy groups.

This sort of thing never affects just one group of people. It has ripple effects. Certainly it has gotten into all of that QAnon and -adjacent stuff at this point, meaning the currents that presently animate the most incidents of fatality-inducing stochastic terror incidents in the United States.

Among naturist spaces on the internet, the only one I am aware of that has any space at all for present-day political discourse is the r/naturism subreddit. At the time of writing, there is a wiki page “dedicated to resources to help the Black Lives Matter movement” as well as links to a “Belarus Solidarity Fund” and a “Hayastan All Armenian Fund” on the sidebar, presumably related to the ongoing situation in Belarus and last year's war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I don't want to be too mean or critical, but I find this sort of thing a bit confusing. It is clear to me that one or more of the subreddit's admins care about things beyond the concerns of nudism-naturism, that they want to help with apparently urgent matters like social uprisings, wars, and dictatorial crackdowns on dissent, and that they think the users of r/naturism – who mostly post blog articles about “nakations” or their own experiences as nudists or other very much subcultural and individual concerns – should also give at least some amount of a fuck. And, that's great, but there is not much of an explicit argument being made to explain why anyone should care (apart from already agreeing with some cliché principles of anti-racism, anti-imperialism, internationalism, etc.), what any users of r/naturism are supposed to do about that, and why any of the suggestions of places to donate or things to keep in mind might actually be helpful, fit into a larger strategy, etc.

With respect to the Wi Spa situation, it's different. First of all, it is presumably a place that many SoCal nudists already know of, or that they may even frequent occasionally. Second, the original controversy is about an exposed “private part”, a linguistic and philosophical construction that is a perennial bugbear for would-be nudists. There is, in other words, some space for nudists to participate in the social eruption around the controversy – just one beat in the pulse of a larger, more diffuse cultural conflict across the whole anglosphere and beyond – as nudists (or perhaps more accurately, as partisans of nudism, i.e. it may not be useful to participate actually naked) and in solidarity.

In so doing, they could link struggles and also sharpen ideas about, in this case, issues of apparel and nudity more broadly. Out of that, there is a possibility for something beyond mere defense of reason and decency in a space where it is threatened (which is, frankly, a straightforwardly conservative goal, whether it is articulated by defenders or opponents of trans lib). Instead, the Crucible of Politics and the Arena of History could do as they have done before, forging new affinities which might lead, in turn, to new architectures (both physical and sociocultural) and new understandings of the world that do not subordinate exuberance and personal freedom to tradition, paranoia, and/or negative stereotypes about certain kinds of people. And I genuinely think that, apart from what nudists can do for the right side in this struggle as people like any other (e.g. we can throw down, provide first aid, donate money, etc.), there is also something uniquely useful we can contribute to this specific struggle that emerges from a nudist political sensibility (e.g. the argument that no one should rightly care too much about a hanging johnson being in potential sight range every now and then).

An effort to create a more actively solidarious culture among nudists (or among any other group of people, of course) shouldn't be directed first toward “issues” that are simply serious, be they geopolitical issues (“Belarus”, “Hong Kong”, “Venezuela”, etc.) or social justice issues (like trans lib or whatever). The primary focus instead should be to identify situations where nudists could understand that they have some skin in the game, as it were – situations such as those around the Wi Spa stuff this past summer, as well as the larger backdrop of both a widespread social precariousness and a multiplicity of rightist factions that want to seize power, exterminate the human avatars of perceived “corruption” (which presumably includes a lot of nudists), and generally make the world worse for everyone.

The Wi Spa situation has been on my mind since it happened in 2021, but not long before that, in the context of nationalist campaigns to punish people for wearing certain kinds of apparel associated with non-Christian religions in places like France, Québec, Austria, and elsewhere, I have also thought that it would have been great if some organized association of nudists could have intervened strategically in the discourse (i.e. in podcasts, in writing, in which there are no distracting representations of naked people, so that the ideas can take centre stage).

“From burqini to naked,” their slogan could have read. “We believe that what others wear is none of your business.”

As an anarchist who has participated in black blocs before, I would have appreciated even symbolic and rhetorical efforts at solidarity from nudists in the face of previous years' (and obviously pre-2020) efforts in various places to demonize and specifically criminalize face masks and other types of sensible apparel for street fighting in the context of political demonstrations and/or just in general. (Probably a bit spicy for the vast majority of nudists on the liberal-to-conservative political spectrum, sadly.)

It is important to note that solidarity is the only means by which any sort of anti-systemic social movement has ever achieved its objectives – and it's generally pretty useful for social movements that are significantly less anti-systemic, too. Nudism-naturism (the dominant “philosophy of nudism”, e.g. a set of ideas about how to understand humans' relationships to nudity, apparel, and other aspects of their lives, as well as to how imagine better ones), nudism-comfortism (a different philosophy informed by anarchism, articulated here), and any kind of anarchist and/or radical egalitarian politics seem pretty much destined to remain positions of the small minority for the foreseeable future. The experiences of minorities of various kinds, too, will remain obscure to most people, especially while there is an ongoing, well-supported campaign in the anglosphere countries (and beyond) to remove purported “gender ideology” (a bogeyman evil that overlaps with other evils in a suspicious rightist's mind) from existence, perhaps alongside those who promote it and those who embody it.

We (nudists, anarchists, people who are both) can make our own spaces, and we can take our own spaces. Unless we have money, though, we will need to develop other skills, including social skills. We need to know, and have a good and trusting relationship, with as many of our neighbours as we can – and sometimes, with people who are further away, too. We need to show our friends, or the people we wouldn't mind having as friends, that we will have their backs if they're dealing with a crisis. And then, maybe they'll help us out, both when we need help due to a crisis of some kind, or because we have aspirations of our own that we want to realize, that we hope others can help us realize.

(Update, October 2, 2021: a comment on AnarchistNews.org led me to type a name into my search engine, which brought me to this article, by Andy Ngo, in the New York Post. I do not like Ngo or the Post, but the article provided new information that I expect is accurate. For instance, what happened on August 30 is that the Los Angeles police issued a warrant for a suspect in the Wi Spa “indecent exposure” case; no one was arrested on that day. The individual named in the warrant then spoke to Ngo for his September 2 article, and announced that she would turn herself into police afterwards. I got these facts wrong. In the Post article, the sought-after individual also admits to having been present at Wi Spa on June 24, meaning that, at the very least, the initial incident was not a hoax. I do not think these facts do not invalidate the overall thrust of my argument – I stated that the person at this centre of this story could very well be a person who I would think sucks, and that it's not about her – but I do regret using an evidently inadequate Wikipedia article for most of my research.)

 
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from Staring Into the Abyss

Pages 208-Conclusion

Chapter 3 of Capital is not the most enthralling text ever written, but in the notes from this week we will see the points of culmination. So far we have discussed money and the role of money both in the exchange of commodities and in the construction of an object as a commodity. As a universal equivalent that is in itself positioned as an object of the future, we spend money later, and as a structure of social functionality, we can see how capital starts to orient the possibilities of action around some market mediated understanding of future moments. This displacement into the future comes to then shape the conditions of possibility for the present around this displacement of value into a dynamic of commodities in circulation.

For the remainder of this chapter we will continue this discussion of futurity, and get into some of the more technical elements of how futurity functions, the ways this comes to impact commodity forms and circulation and, ultimately, what the social and ontological impacts of that displacement are. I am going to keep the introduction to the material for this week minimal, to allow for the content to stand on its own.

Away we go...

  • Marx begins this thread of discussion with the concept of commodity circulation operating as a circuit. In this discussion the core element is not so much the metaphor of the circuit, or even the metaphor of metabolism, but is the way that this repositions the temporality of the act. Within the process of circulation each act is displaced from its own present, and inserted into a hypothetical future, which in turn operates as a condition of possibility for the present. We can see this in a simplistic example. The act of production is premised on the exchange of the commodity for money, which is then accepted based on the assumption of its future social relevance (others accept this money as an equivalent for commodities in a future moment).

In this simple example of generic commodity production the act is displaced from itself and inserted into some outside moment which has yet to occur. This moment is not just confined to the specific anticipated exchange. Rather, it is the projection of a whole structure of social circulation and existential possibility. We will discuss the concept of circulation as point of intervention later, but for now suffice to say that this circulation is one which tends toward totality. The more people accept currency as money, and the more “stable” the political conditions are the more that these conditions facilitate commodity circulation. As such, capital only functions to the degree that all present moments are defined through the construction of the social structure of the future.

Clearly this is impossible, one cannot predict a moment that has not occurred unless we posit an existentially nullifying deterministic universe (which essentially means that all of these questions, including all of politics and the entire anarchist project are just events that were determined to occur by some controlling entity). So, if actions create contingent effects in their collision with other dynamics, and the aggregate of these effects constructs future moments, then the only way to attempt to construct the future is to limit the possibilities of the present. We have a name for the institution built to impose sovereignty as a limitation on possibility, we call them the police. It is in this sociality and futurity that we see the necessity of policing for commodity circulation to occur, and thus the necessity of the state for capitalism to function.

  • In this process of alienation from the present there is a dual displacement at work. Firstly, the commodity is displaced from the present in its mere existence as a commodity, or as an object produced for exchange only. In its existence as a commodity the condition of possibility for the object is not the object, or even the material use of the object. Rather, the object only exists as a carrier of abstract value, it is completely alienated from its materiality.

When sold the object is transferred both between owners but also between structures of value. For the seller the commodity is only relevant to the degree that it carries abstract exchange value; its material form or manifestation, whether pencils or ammunition, is irrelevant. For the buyer, however, the object fundamentally changes ontological shape, morphing from this object in which materiality has been completely alienated to an object which, again, is able to hold use-value; namely, the person that buys something uses it, and returns the object to its materiality. For the seller the commodity sheds its material guise, and carries forward in the form of pure quantifiable value, or money. This separation of abstract exchange value from the materiality of the commodity becomes really critical later when we discuss savings and hoarding.

The second displacement occurs here. Money, which is the form that value takes when decoupled from the material elements of the commodity (which are relevant to the degree that they carry value through a material object, in which the shape of the object is irrelevant), only matters to the degree that a second future is posited, the future of purchase. For money to function it is not enough for it to function for two people in an exchange in the present. For a seller to accept money they have to predict that some anonymous other in some unknown future moment will accept this as money. This is important, in that the other never needs to be specified, but needs to apply to all possible others, and the unknown future does not need a date, it must apply in all possible futures.

“The two opposite changes undergone by the same commodity are reflected in the displacement, twice repeated but in opposite directions, of the same piece of coin...The frequently repeated displacement of the same coins reflects not only the series of metamorphoses undergone by a single commodity, but also the mutual entanglement of the innumerable metamorphoses in the whole world of commodities” (212).

The commodity comes to exist both as an object with material particularity, for the buyer, as well as a structuring of value and the transportation of value that renders the material shape of the object irrelevant. The ability to nullify the material shape of the commodity in circulation is a product of the way that exchange value functions to render all things equivalent, as a magnitude of quantifiable exchange value. This reductionism, however, only exists in relation to the social logistics of circulation itself, and not just production, which, is itself just a product of circulation as well.

Circulation is where the dynamics of the market come into play, it is a calculus grounded in futurity and, in itself, necessitates this equivalence. So, therefore, we can say that it is circulation, and not production, that actually lives at the heart of the logistics of capitalism; without circulation, of which production is a part, capitalism would cease to function. A similar argument was made in 20 Theses on the Subversion of the Metropolis, which made the argument that the most effective points of intervention were within the logistics chains of capital themselves.

  • Money functions to the degree that the use of a specific commodity is standardized as a medium of representational value. In other words, money exists both as the marker of abstract value, and is a commodity in itself; in Marx's context he is using gold here, but today we can speak of paper and coin metals. This constructs the object of money along the lines of three distinct existential structures; the commodity, the mechanism of abstract value circulation ans as material object with use value. It is this structure that allows us to think of money as something that is able to be separated from circulation.

In the initial incursions into this area Marx discusses money through the lens of spending, leading to the impression of a smooth transition from sale to purchase, with all money staying in circulation. But, if this is the case then something like a bank becomes impossible. To the degree that we can separate money into a mechanism for conveying value, separate from its material commodity form or its use-value as a mechanism of circulation, we can begin to speak of the movements of value, and the storing of value for use in the future. In this existence as a mechanism of circulation money functions as coin, but when it is immobilized, removed from circulation, either through savings or interruptions in circulation, it only functions as abstract money devoid of a physical form.

“The continuous circular movement of the two antithetical metamorphoses of commodities, or the repeated alternating flow of sale and purchase, is reflected in the unceasing turnover of money, in the function it performs of a perpetuum mobile of circulation. But as soon as the series of metamorphoses is interrupted, as soon as sales are not supplemented by subsequent purchases, money is immobilized. In other words, it is transformed, as Boisguillebert says, from 'meuble' to 'immeuble', from coin into money” (227).

So, here we can see that money, as store of value, need not take the form of coin, or money in circulation. Rather, it is able to store value, as a conceptual quantity, separate from its utility in purchasing. It is this potential of to store immobile money that shifts the calculation. Money changes role from mechanism of circulation to an end in itself.

“When the circulation of commodities first develops, there also develops the necessity and the passionate desire to hold fast to the product of the first metamorphosis. The product is the transformed shape of the commodity, or its gold chrysalis. Commodities are thus sold not in order to buy commodities, but in order to replace their commodity-form by their money-form. Instead of being merely a way of mediating the metabolic process, this change of form becomes an end in itself. The form of the commodity in which it is divested of content is prevented from functioning as its absolutely alienable form, or even as its transient money-form. The money is petrified into a hoard, and the seller of the commodity becomes a hoarder of money” (227-228).

To the degree that money functions socially everything becomes represented in a commodity form, giving the one who accumulates money “social power”. In other words, if all action, and therefore all possibility, falls within the commodity circulation process, as it necessarily must, then the accumulation of money allows for the purchasing of greater quantities of possibility, but a very limited form of possibility. Capitalism, unlike state run economies, prioritizes movement and a certain form of experimentation. Capitalists use this to claim that this means that capitalism is an expression of all life, when in reality it merely means that the categories relevant within capitalism displace life entirely, and reshape it within its image. As such, we can take whatever action we want, to the degree that it is commodified or commodifiable, and the more money we accumulate the greater the possibility of action is. Actions like looting, riots and the burning of police stations necessarily escapes commodification to the degree that these acts wholly live within the realm of the disruption of circulation.

  • The drive toward accumulation is grounded in a contradiction in the money-form. On the one hand money is boundless, it can be used as the equivalent for any commodifiable entity. Yet, on the other hand, there always exists a finite quantity of money, meaning that one can never accumulate enough to ever have maximal possibility.Money must always be finite for a relatively simple reason, exchange value is practically based on scarcity, or the imposition of scarcity.

For example, say that there was enough food to feed all the people on the planet, and there is plenty to do this. If that food were available openly then there would not be much of a reason to pay for it; the same applies if there are not police preventing theft. So, food becomes a commodity with exchange value to the degree that there is a scarcity of food. Now, we do actually produce enough food for all humans, so scarcity is not a product of limitation in supply, but is a product of limiting the possibilities of acquisition. This is why stores have loss prevention teams and why starvation can still occur on a planet with an abundance of food.

The same applies for money. During the time of this writing this would have existed within the calculations around commodity based currencies, such as the gold standard. In that space the value of the currency is directly connected to the quantity of gold divided by the amount of currency units exist in total, with each currency unit representing a fraction of this gold supply. In this structure every unit of currency created, either through printing money or the magic of fractional reserve banking and debt creation, adds to the total quantity of currency, lowering its value per unit in relation to gold, and driving up inflation. If an infinite supply were to be created, then it would be essentially worthless, hence people in Italy in the interwar period wallpapering and insulating their homes with money and, in many cases, reverting to a barter economy. The calculations are now based in supply of a currency compared to the demand for that currency in international currency markets, but the same principle applies in its core tenants, even if the actual math has changed.

As such, there is always the possibility of accumulating more money and, therefore, more social power, but this can never lead to a total accumulation, which in itself would lead to the end of commodity circulation. Therefore, though money can be accumulated, and the drive to accumulate is directly tied to power and possibility within capitalism, one can never accumulate all money, and must preserve the money of others in order for the economy to function. This is the core of the continual drive toward accumulation, but also the economic danger of wealth stratification (trickle-down economics is an attempt to disingenuously work around this, but at its core it is just bad, speculative economics theory with no veracity or much support outside of conservative circles in the US and UK).

“This contradiction between the quantitative limitation and the qualitative lack of limitation of money keeps driving the hoarder back to his Sisyphean task: accumulation. He is in the same situation as the world conqueror, who discovers a new boundary with each country he annexes” (131).

 
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from Staring Into the Abyss

Pages 188-207

Welcome to Chapter 3, where we start to pull together the threads drawn out in the first two chapters. As I am sure many of you have anticipated at this point, we will begin the discussion of money here. But, before we do so, let's rehash some of the relevant points, for this discussion, from weeks past.

The construct of money becomes relevant due to the centrality of abstract value in relation to the existence of the commodity. The commodity itself is an object that is produced for exchange, and has exchange value. This production for exchange displaces value from use and into exchange, and, as a result, displaces the conditions of possibility for the object or the act into the abstraction of quantifiable value.

This focus on exchange also generates this necessity of prediction, the prediction not only of the exchange, but also of the continued social operation of abstract value and exchange into the future. This is where we start to see capitalism colliding with policing, and where the concept of stable investment conditions emerges; more on that as we go along.

For this week, the critical point from these past discussions centers around the mechanism of exchange. For objects to be exchanged as commodities a third element must enter into the equation, the form of abstract value. This form operates as a universal equivalent, or a form that all things can be rendered in. So, clearly there is foreshadowing in play here, and clearly money comes to play that role.

In this week's reading, there are a number of concepts introduced, including the concept of the money commodity, the separation between the money commodity as money and money commodity as commodity, and the concept of social metabolism. Now, I will caution, this week's reading is largely a bridge. It lays out critical concepts to understand the second half of the chapter, which doubles back to discuss the commodity form in an interesting and impactful way (but I won't spoil that here).

Here we go!

-Money, and Marx is using gold here as the standard token, only becomes money to the degree that it fulfills a dual role. The first, most obvious, role is that money functions as this third item in the exchange, or the element that brings the other elements into equivalence with one another. In other words, for exchange value to function all items need to be rendered equivalent, they all need to be able to be abstracted into a quantity of value that can be exchanged for the item. Money is able to play this role to the degree that the exchange is broken apart. Rather than exchanging a thing for a thing, now one exchanges a thing for value and value for a thing (Marx articulates this in the M-C-M, C-M-C formulations in this chapter where M is money and C is commodity).

The second role money plays is that, by serving as the conduit for exchange, it allows the object to even be expressed as a commodity. The construction of the commodity involves the removal of the object from its material conditions, and the valuation of that object through a quantity of exchange value. Money is the form in which that quantity of value manifests, and without that functionality of abstract value the object cannot take on the commodity form.

  • The quantity of value carried by the object is not an expression of some qualitative value of the object rendered as a quantity. Rather, due to the materiality of the object being negated in the construction of the object as commodity, the quantity of value is in relation to the abstraction of work as labor-power. This is an extension of the labor theory of value, where labor is said to construct all things, and take materials and render them into objects with use-value. As a result it is labor that gives things value, and it is that value that is abstracted as a quantity, not a value of the object itself, which is negated in the commodity form. One may say, and many economists have, that the labor theory of value cannot address supply and demand, questions of monetary valuation, etc, and we will get to why that reading is wrong in a second.

“Money as a measure of value is the necessary form of appearance of the measure of value which is immanent in commodities, namely labour-time” (188).

Here Marx introduces the concept of price, as opposed to value. Price refers to the value of the commodity rendered as a quantity and expressed in money-form. This creates the opening for Marx to be able to discuss economic dynamics in relation to the cost of items. Obviously, the cost of items fluctuates, which would not be possible if labor determined price. But, if we decouple price from value, and discuss price as the mechanism through which commodities interact with market conditions, then we can say that price and value diverge based on conditions.

This simplifies exchange by eliminating the complexity of the material world, the complexity of trading commodities for commodities, which do not have an equivalent value materially, and in which a structure of valuation must be constructed that is unique to that exchange, what Marx refers to as complex relative value. With the advent of money, the commodity no longer exists in relation to another commodity, all commodities are isolated expressions of value, but only exists in relation to money, which is a simple relative value that can be carried between exchanges.

  • Though money allows for price, and even though the physicality of money is a commodity, money itself cannot have a price. Namely, money cannot be used to purchase money, it is a tautology. Now, of course there are currency exchanges, and the language used in that industry is based on the concept of buying other currencies, but this is a misnomer. When a commodity is purchased it transforms back into a use-value for the buyer. Money cannot function in this way, it can only be an equivalent of things that have use value. When a currency is exchanged for another currency one is trading abstract value for an equivalent amount of abstract value. Money is extracted through that process in the form of fees, which are valued in relation to labor, and market manipulations, which just allow one to store abstract value in the form of money, and then exchange that at a future time for the equivalent value at that future time. But, nowhere is money bought in a formal sense; it is merely traded or transformed.

  • “The price or money-form of commodities is, like their form of value generally, quite distinct from their palpable and real bodily form; it is therefore a purely ideal or notional form” (189).

Due to the abstraction of value in the money-form, the valuation of the commodity is not OF the object, it is not a part of the object in its material form, but it defines the object from this exteriority. To the degree that this valuation exists in relation to labor, and labor exists as a production of commodities, then the ability to exchange value also comes to be the condition of possibility for labor as well. In other words, activity produces value, but when the activity itself is premised on the production of objects for exchange, then the predicted futurity of exchange comes to determine the possibility of the action, rather than utility, use or necessity. But, even though labor creates value, and this value is quantified in price, the concept of price is independent from that of value in the sense that price can be impacted by the dynamics of exchange (supply and demand for example), and can fluctuate even if the amount of labor in the object remains the same. Remember, and this is something capitalist economists get wrong all the time, it is the labor theory of VALUE, not the labor theory of price.

  • This construction of the commodity around the dynamics of exchange at a future moment (we will return to temporal alienation in the next section) centers the commodity around a dual displacement. The very construct of the commodity is a removal of an object from itself, as well as from its present. To be able to engage with exchange, the commodity must become abstracted, with the dynamics of the production and circulation of that abstract value being determined by some speculation about the future.

“Though a commodity may, alongside its real shape (iron, for instance), possess an ideal value-shape or an imagined gold-shape in the form of its price, it cannot simultaneously be both real iron and real gold. To establish its price it is sufficient for it to be equated with gold in the imagination. But to enable it to render its owner the service of a universal equivalent, it must first be replaced by actual gold” (197).

  • Social metabolism is a term Marx uses to discuss the production to consumption process of the commodity, as a series of social relations within a wider social structure of commodity circulation. The commodity is produced for exchange, but following that exchange it morphs back into the object, as a use-value for this purchaser. These inflection points in the metamorphosis of the object all occur in exchanges of commodity for money-commodity, through the abstraction of price. In this process a dual move occurs, the metamorphosis of value in the commodity and the morphing of a commodity into money.

“Commodities first enter into the process of exchange ungilded and unsweetened, retaining the original home-grown shape. Exchange, however, produces a differentiation of the commodity into two elements, commodity and money, an external opposition which expresses the opposition between use-value and value which is inherent in it. In this opposition, the commodities as use-values confront money as exchange-value. On the other hand, both sides of this opposition are commodities, hence themselves unities of use-value and value. But this unity of differences is expressed at two opposite poles, and at each pole in an opposite way. This is the alternating relation between the two poles: the commodity is in reality a use-value; its existence as a value appears only ideally, in its price, through which it is related to the real embodiment of its value, the gold which confronts it as its opposite. Inversely, the material of gold ranks only as the materialization of value, as money. It is therefore in reality exchange-value. Its use-value appears only ideally in a series of expressions of relative value within which it confronts all the other commodities as the totality of real embodiments of its utility. These antagonistic forms of the commodities are the real forms of motion of the process of exchange” (199).

It is in this process where commodities are produced to exchange that the predictability of the totality of future dynamics comes to be at issue, as it implies the exchange of commodity for money, and money for commodity, in the future. The purchasing of the commodity for sale, likewise implies this future; one purchases to sell to another later.

“We see here, on the one hand, how the exchange of commodities breaks through all the individual and local limitations of the direct exchange of products, and develops the metabolic process of human labour. On the other hand, there develops a whole network of social connections of natural origin, entirely beyond the control of human agents” (207).

 
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from nrg

No longer human

Collectively as individuals we’re growing sicker and sicker of theory, so for next week we’ll be reading Junji Ito’s version of No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai. It’s a longer book so just read what you can/want and come chat about it :)

I’ll upload a cbz of it later on, but it’s readily available for pirating. Yeah

11UTC

https://meet.jit.si/actualstallsbecomethus

 
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from Staring Into the Abyss

Pages 178-187

Onto Chapter 2.

This is a really short chapter, but not a chapter without consequence. In Chapter 1 we were able to establish the odd ontological structure of the commodity, and how the alienation of value into abstract value, and then the positing of a quantitative equivalence of value, displaces the conditions of possibility for action into the abstract. This fundamental alienation mirrors the same alienation found in all conceptual frameworks, which then frames the question not around thought (which is flawed but necessary), but around the return to the material.

In other words, the question is not about ideas, those can be debated on their own merits, but always must be acknowledged to exist at a fundamental distance from the particularity of moments within time and space. The question is, rather, a question of operationality, or the attempt of capitalism to actually manifest materially. This attempt can never be total, unless capitalism, and the structure of ontological abstract value that forms it foundation, was somehow able to rise to the position of universal truth and, therefore, become the foundation of a deterministic universe.

Barring this sort of cosmic catastrophe (for any definition of life to function materially as a totality, all contingency must be eliminated, which eliminates existence as such), capitalism is not a process of inevitable systemic action. Rather, it is a social construction, one which ebbs and flows, yet somehow also comes to function as a condition of possibility for existence. In other words, capitalism simultaneously exists as a product of activity and social arrangement, but also comes to entirely define these arrangements to the degree that it operates materially.

In Chapter 2 we begin the process of discussing how this occurs, which necessitates a formal discussion around the movement and circulation of abstract value in exchange through the commodity form. As I am sure many of you have come to see, the discussion in Chapter 1 definitely sets up the concept of money, that which conveys abstract value, but we are not there yet (that is Chapter 3). For this chapter we are going to be focusing on exchange itself, and the implications of exchange within the assertions of the commodity form.

So, here we go...

  • Commodities are not entities that can circulate themselves; the market does not function either inevitably or passively. Rather, commodities exist in relation to a concept of possession and exchange. For exchange to occur different parties, isolated from one another as different wills (to use Marx's term), must utilize commodities, which are also conceived of as isolated carries of value, to express this will. In this construct we can already start to see both the construction and absurdity of the conceptualization of the self here, which also flows along the lines of this isolated alienation. This Randian subject is a subject that does not have the ability to socialize, being an isolated economic entity.

The issue with this vision is that it functions as an impossible paradox. For the subject to be an owner of the commodity it must be thought in reference to its isolation, both the isolation of the subject and also the isolation of the commodity. Each entity within the exchange comes to it as a mechanism to convey value; both as entirely isolated and entirely equivalent at the same time. The process of exchange only occurs to the degree that the isolation on which capitalist ontology is based, in part, is fundamentally eliminated in a social transaction.

The transaction is social in two different ways. Firstly, exchange involves another party, someone that wants to engage in exchange, and this requires interactivity. Secondly, the entirety of the terms of the exchange, from the recognition of ownership to the assumption of the continuation of the ability to exchange in the future (money implies being able to spend it at a future moment), requires a structure of social construction, a dynamic in which we construct the conditions of our own alienation. Now, this clearly does not happen passively, or even necessarily through consent (political repression is definitely real and the state functions to operate capitalism within this construct), but it is social nonetheless. This means that the plane of operation for capitalism and the commodity form it is grounded in, is not conceptual or even economic, it is fundamentally grounded in the structuring of and through the dynamics of the social.

  • To the degree that capital frames the relation the structure of the object fundamentally shifts in relation to value. The commodity, for the owner, represents nothing but exchange value, rendering the shape of the object irrelevant. In other words, to the degree that the object becomes the commodity, the shape of the object, what sort of object it is, becomes irrelevant, as the object becomes reduced to nothing more than a vehicle to convey value in exchange. It could be pencils, organic food or book printing, it does not matter as long as it carries a quantity of abstract value. To the consumer, however, the object conveys use value, or has some qualitative value in actual use.

“But this changing of hands constitutes their exchange, and their exchange puts them in relation with each other as values and realizes them as values. Hence commodities must be realized as values before they can be realized as use-values” (179).

To the degree that this construct functions, therefore, the ability to obtain use values is directly premised on the objects conveying this use value being produced, which in turn is only based on their ability to be exchanged. As such, without the conditions to predict that the object will be able to be exchanged for abstract value the object is not produced, even if the use value is critical for survival. For example, we produce enough food in the world to feed everyone a well rounded diet, but people starve. That starvation is no longer the product of localized conditions, there is a whole global supply chain. Rather, starvation is based on the inability to obtain food, or to be able to mobilize enough abstract value to exchange abstract value for food. In that scenario, under the terms of exchange, starvation occurs, even though there is both supply and need. It is here that we can see the fundamental problematic of capitalism express itself; the premising of life on the exchange of abstract value displaces the conditions of possibility away from needs and capacities, and into the dynamics of abstract exchange, which is premised on the alienation of objects and acts from themselves.

  • Now, this dynamic not only forms limitations in the present, but also comes to frame the ways that futurity is thought. When the commodity is produced, this act is undertaken directly for exchange. Now, given that exchange is not instant, the production of the commodity ceases to have to do with the present, the moment of production, and becomes framed around the future, or the ability to exchange the object at another moment. This creates very specific social and political conditions that are often absent from discussions of economics.

For capitalism to function, for commodity exchange to occur, and thus for the commodity to exist at all (it is only relevant in reference to exchange), it is not only the present that needs to be framed within the limits of this construct, but the future as well. If the condition of possibility for production is future exchange, then the ability to produce is itself a framing of the possibilities of the future. If these future conditions cannot be predicted then production does not occur and commodity exchange ceases.

This sort of dynamic directly shapes policy around political repression. Things like disasters definitely disrupt exchange, but also so does strikes, uprisings, social unrest and so on. The International Monetary Fund has a term called “stable investment conditions”. This means that the conditions are predictable enough that the futurity of production and exchange can be guaranteed. This is why the IMF has always recommended an increase in the numbers of police forces as a part of structural adjustment programs, it is to eliminate any possibility of unrest in order to allow for commodity circulation to function. This is also why capitalism can only exist to the degree that it is a content operated by the form of the state; policing becomes integral to this predictability of the future.

The predictability of futurity is not only in relation to the commodity, but also exists in relation to money itself. Money is a commodity, like gold or paper, that functions to convey a quantity of abstract quantitative value, and that can be exchanged for any commodity, including that of which the money itself is made. As a result, it must carry with it a socially accepted meaning, one that others also recognize. Milton Friedman discusses this dynamic, in strikingly similar terms to Marx, in the text Money Mischief, which is a very useful piece of enemy literature. In the functionality of money it is not only that one exchanges money for a thing. Rather, the person accepting the money must also assume that in the future they can use this money to buy other things, which in turn implies that the person selling them this thing assumes the same and so on, and so on.

“Through the agency of the social process it becomes the specific social function of the commodity which has been set apart to be the universal equivalent. It thus becomes-money” (181).

  • This implies a very specific social structure of ahistorical fragmentation, where the objects become simultaneously produced based on this broad social construction, but isolated from this same material social dynamic in their abstraction and separation as a carrier of value; for the commodity to function it must abstract away the very material dynamics that allow it to function.

“In order that this alienation may be reciprocal, it is only necessary for men to agree tacitly to treat each other as the private owners of these alienable things, and, precisely for that reason, as persons who are independent of each other” (182).

Capital, in this sense, is an attempt to replace historical, material, dynamics with an endlessly cyclic affirmation of capitalist ontology. All history, all locality, all immediacy, the very substrate of life, is captured, modified, ripped away from itself and rendered a quantity equivalent to all other quantities. This capture is odd, in that it encourages movement, it encourages action (production, exchange, the creation of new products and new markets) but only to the degree that this action can be alienated from itself, both in its very possibility, but also in its existence and effect. It is on this level that the imposition of this ontology operates microscopically, in every act, as all acts are framed around their utility for exchange. This is very clear in something like Taylorism, where every act is measured in order to maximize efficiency, but can also be seen in the fact that clocks appeared in many European cities only when factories consolidated and wage labor became common.

“Men are henceforth related to each other in their social process of production in a purely atomistic way. Their own relations of production therefore assume a material shape which is independent of their control and their conscious individual action” (187).

 
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from Staring Into the Abyss

Pages 152-178

With these notes we will be closing out Chapter 1 of Capital. The content of this chapter requires this sort of depth of reading, for a really core reason; the ontological argument made in Chapter 1 completely realigns a number of assumed givens in the discussion of capitalism and resistance.

The first realignment, and I mentioned this in past notes, is a realignment in how we understand capitalism. Far from the monolithic system that is often portrayed in radical literature, the understanding of capitalism developed here begins at the core level of the universe capitalism creates conceptually, the commodity. From this perspective we can see how the development of the commodity form not only forces a certain series of relations into being, namely those of ownership and exchange, but does so through the construction of an odd sort of ontology.

This ontology of the commodity is centered around an impossibility, the generalization and rendering equivalent of the particularized actions that occur in unique present moments (which are all present moments). The construction of this structure of conceptual equivalence in itself does not mean anything, all concepts participate in this sort of process. What emerges, however, is a structure in which the abstraction of the object must come to substitute for the object in exchange, and to the degree that value is displaced in exchange value, the ability to exchange the object reduces the object to this quantitative value. As such, the object does not come into being as a result of need, but, rather, emerges from the abstract imperatives of commodity circulation. We will discuss this much further in following chapters.

Secondly, this positing of a paradox between the object and the concept of the object, embodied in this case as abstract value, also has to realign how we understand the resistance to capitalism. We will begin to approach this question in this week's notes, and will expand on our prior discussions to enumerate the ways that the framework Marx lays out disrupts the traditional concepts of revolution, the overthrow of “systems”, and completely forecloses on the argument for historical materialism.

So, without any more delays, here is the end of the first chapter.

-With the movement of the value away from use value and into exchange value, the value of the object in exchange for other objects, the particularities of qualitative value are eliminated, and replaced with quantities of equivalent abstract value. If we remember back to past weeks, the use value of the object is directly in relation to the qualitative value that object has for the participants of that moment in relation to their needs in that moment. When we combine this with earlier arguments, around the particularity of the object in the moment, the object itself is only expressed through this particularized value. Now, these particularized values are understood by all parties differently, and cannot be the foundation for commodity exchange. What typifies the commodity, then, is not economics. Rather, the commodity is a sort of existential category, a paradoxical category, and this forms the basis, the conditions of possibility, for capitalism as such.

Value, in a general sense, for Marx is created through labor; it is labor that turns materials into use values or exchange values. When value becomes an abstract quantity this reduces labor to a quantity as well, which accumulates in the value of the object through production, destroying the qualitative distinction between forms of labor, and therefore alienating labor from itself. “The linen, by virtue of the form of value, no longer stands in a social relation with merely one other kind of commodity, but with the whole world of commodities as well...At the same time, the endless series of expressions of its value implies that, from the point of view of the value of the commodity, the particular form of use-value in which it appears is a matter of indifference” (155).

  • For value to accumulate in the object we have to conceive of this value as aggregate. In other words, it is not just the labor utilized in the immediate form of production that determines the value of the object, it is the labor involved in every step of the supply chain. For many products in the contemporary world, those supply chains can be long and complex. Marx articulates two issues that arise from this point.

The first objection, and the less relevant issue in the political reading of Capital, is grounded in economics. In theory, two objects which require the same amount of labor would carry the same value, and objects that do not require as much labor would carry less value. In the realm of particularized use values, this is fine, all value is relative. But, when we move into commodity exchange, where value has to be standardized as a quantity, this leads to some odd outcomes. For example, gold is a component in computers, and that would mean that the value of gold would be added into the computer, but, somehow the computer costs less than the gold. This is a problem that is related to the abstract of abstracted exchange value into money, and then into price, which involves larger market dynamics, and which we will discuss more in Chapter 3.

The second issue centers around the elimination of the uniqueness of moments of labor, action and history as it relates to this particular object in this particular time and space. “And, lastly, is, as must be the case, the relative value of each commodity is expressed in this expanded form, it follows that the relative form of value of each commodity is an endless series of expressions of value which are different from the relative form of value of every other commodity” (156). The commodity, as a product of a particular historical time and space becomes alienated from this particularity to the degree that it is rendered in the commodity form, or to the degree that its value exceeds this particularity and begins to be constructed around abstract conceptual equivalences. The object is removed from this complexity of history, and becomes rendered in a form that can be considered equivalent across time and space.

The implications here are critical. Marx is arguing that to abstract a moment, act or object into a conceptual form, which we all do, is to alienate the particular thing from itself. Each moment becomes, in this view, a convergence of the effects of everything that has ever happened ever, and each act changes those dynamics entirely. As such, history is not some sort of deterministic and understandable form of objective reality, which Leninism relies on for both claims of authority/legitimacy as well as the foundations for historical materialism. Rather, it is a chaotic, dynamic, contingent dynamic typified by activity and effect, and not some singular deterministic, understandable reality. To render history in that form is to fundamentally remove history from itself and render it in an alienated form. This element of Marx is ultimately by people like Debord identified as Marxists but rejected Lenin (this is not my position, I identify as a nihilist, but this is a valid argument to make).

  • This second issue that Marx identifies in the removal of value from particularity leverages a critique of reductionism to construct a discourse on the ontology of capital, as a structure which imposes definitions of objects and labor, both as a foundation of and result of historical reductionism. The question, therefore, becomes one of equivalencies that function within conceptual structures, in this case the construct of abstract value. In this structure of equivalency, which occurs in all concepts (not all concepts become or aspire to attempting to define life materially, which involves policing), the concepts functions to eliminate the particularity of the thing being named by the concept, freezing it in time and space and rendering it equivalent to all other things within this conceptual category.

On the level of exchange value, the commodity must come to function, materially, as equivalent to all other commodities, only separated by magnitude, or the amount of abstract value carried by the object. This requires the establishment of a universal equivalent value, a thing that can carry and mark that value, and that can be exchanged for all other things. “Finally, the last form, C (this is from a prior example), gives to the world of commodities a general social relative form of value, because, and in so far as, all commodities except one are thereby excluded from the equivalent form” (161). In other words, the equivalent form of value, where all commodities are rendered equivalent to one another, has morphed into a new form. Now, the ontology of the commodity is asserted and valued in relation to a single commodity which marks this abstract value. Conceptually this functions by reducing the object to this equivalent form. But, socially, this involves a social agreement, where the relevance of this universal commodity is accepted, and becomes exchangeable for all other objects. To mirror an argument Milton Friedman, the father of neoliberalism, made, money only exists because of the social agreement around its existence. To put it another way, this universal commodity has value to the degree that we posit, socially, that it has value.

The object is typified, therefore, by a social-political structure, which assumes the positionality of objectivity. Each object affirms this objectivity to the degree that it is rendered as a commodity, and becomes affirmed by the social operation of this supposed objectivity. This removal of the object from the material world, and its reinsertion back into the world as an expression of a conceptual framework is what Marx refers to as commodity fetishism, the study of which is political economy.

 
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from nrg

This is a talk about devotional witchcraft that was presented by Peter Grey, co-founder of the occult publisher Scarlet Imprint, at the Trans-States conference in 2017.

From the conference proceedings: “The transformation of the male erotic landscape through magical and witchcraft practices as constellated about the female mysteries of Babalon. Special attention is given to the pact of transformative blood rituals: menstruation, modification, ordeal and the meaning of animal sacrifice. An account of ongoing magical work by a modern practitioner following the skein of menstrual magic anticipated in such partnerships as Marjorie Cameron and Jack Parsons, Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove.”

Add-on: so far as I can tell, Grey is most widely known in anarchist circles for an essay from 2014, “Rewilding Witchcraft”, a polemic assertion that witchcraft is “quintessentially wild, ambivalent, ambiguous, queer. ” That pamphlet is available here: – Audio: https://immediatism.com/archives/607 – Text: https://scarletimprint.com/essays/rewilding-witchcraft – Also in The Brazen Vessel (linked above), and via littleblackcart.

11UTC – https://meet.jit.si/actualstallsbecomethus

 
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from nrg

For this week we've decided to give our minds and hearts a little break, by reading some short stories by Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges and I – only 1 page (really an introduction) The Circular Ruins – 3 pages The Lottery in Babylon – 4 pages. from wikipedia: “The story is about the role that chance plays in life, whether occurrences are genuinely deserved or whether all of life is merely based on luck or loss. The story references Zeno's paradox by using the lottery as a metaphor for all the possible random occurrences that could occur between any two points in time.” we are enacting the phenomena and it us!

lastly, The Garden of Forking Paths – 8 pages

 
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from nrg

pretty paintings

11 UTC

In an effort to decenter the so-called human, we’re confronting Karen Barad’s framework of agential realism. They propose a performative understanding of matter. The author is a theoretical particle physicist playing with time and space to propose the inseperability of ‘intra-acting agencies’. For Barad, all phenomena emerge through intra-action. Their coming-into-relation is a condition for their existence.

Barad’s wider project is concerned with the legacies of Niels Bohr, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Merleau-Ponty, Ian Hacking, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, and others. By Barad’s account, entanglements breed responsibilities, and acknowledging that one is a part of reality demands a response in turn. Avowedly concerned with power, which they describe as an immanent set of force relations. Starting from the basic propositions of quantum physics, Barad troubles any categorical faith in the stability of things, or faith in their representations. All is intra-acting, moving, shifting.

“We are responsible for the world in which we live, not because it is an arbitrary construction of our choosing, but because it is sedimented out of particular practices that we have a role in shaping.”

Agential Realism, Karen Barad: http://library.memoryoftheworld.org/#/book/7ad3e8f9-3423-4e1d-9f1e-2df98abd2b81 (chapter 4, pages 132-185) (pdf pages 149-202)

Reading 132-161 for Thursday, stopping right before subsection “The boundaries of an apparatus”

 
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from nrg

New time new place!

Since the de Castro text was so dense we have allotted time for continuing its discussion in this upcoming session.
As well, we will be doing some meta chatting about the future direction of the ni.hil.ist reading group, both for scheduling stuff and content-wise [either continuing the human/anti-/non-/trans-human question, and/or what direction to take it (anti-blackness/afropessimism being an earlier proposed avenue).] If you've got thoughts then bring em!

link to the reading

 
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from nudism as an illegalism

In the legend of the Garden of Eden, the original humans, Adam and Eve, were unashamed of their nakedness. Then they ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and God cast them out. At some point, either after the fruit or after leaving the garden, they became ashamed of, at minimum, their “private parts” – and thus they covered up. Thus were clothes born, thus did humans come to know something called modesty, and thus was nudity made into sin.

The two most important salvation religions that the world has ever seen, Christianity and Islam, take the story of the Garden of Eden seriously. While the individual faithful, across centuries and vast geographies, have occasionally been anywhere between easygoing about nudity to committed nudists, the most politically important currents in both religions – which is to say, not short-lived heretical movements and libertine rebellions, but the Christianity of kings and popes, the Islam of sultans and scholars, the ideas of religion as promoted by states and elites – have promoted and enforced standards of dress that are quite covered up.

There are other religions, of course, and it's not as though people weren't wearing clothes in, say, Japan circa 1200 (e.g. long before Abrahamic religion or its adherents started making any big local impact). Clothes seem to be a common part of almost all of civilization, which is defined in various ways by different people, but which I will characterize as a societies organized around the provision of resources and ruled by bullies, cult leaders, and the interests of people who have inherited generational wealth – all categories that overlap to varying degrees. This was true in ancient Mesopotamia, at the point in time when there were individual cities, sometimes at the centre of empires, but whose geographic scope was limited by mountains, deserts, endless steppes, and the sea. And it is true today, in the moment that civilization has expanded to almost every part of the planet where humans can live comfortably, plus some. No one is going naked.

Never mind the hype about Europe, by the way. I am not certain that I could think of a non-European city where it would even be conceivable that a subway advert featuring head-on full frontal nudity (of a trans woman, no less!) would ever even make it to the train, but that's what happened in Vienna in 2014. Over in Europe, representations of naked people are more common in public spaces and on primetime TV than they are in North America, where I live, or possibly anywhere else – but that is completely immaterial to the fact that most Europeans still don't go naked (or even near naked) as a matter of course. They wear clothes, sometimes lots of clothes, even when clothes are stifling. When they strip down – for instance, at sandy beaches with access to nice ocean breezes – they mostly adhere to the broadly global norms of beach attire, e.g. they wear (highly bigendered) bathing clothes such as shorts and bikinis.

It's not a safe option to get naked at most of the best, most beautiful, and most accessible beaches throughout Europe, at least not without an army of people who support you and/or get naked themselves. It often isn't legal, even in European countries. Even if it is legal, the cops, other local officials, or simply other beachgoers may not know that or they may not care, which may lead to unpleasantness that feels all the more unpleasant when you're naked and physically vulnerable. This doesn't stop everyone from getting naked, and of course there are lots of (generally still more secluded and inaccessible) nude beaches and such. But it stops a lot of people, most of the time – even the people who might be home nudists and/or philosophically at ease with naturism. Few people are going to ride the Berlin subway or visit a Brighton basketball court without at least one clothed back-up person with a camera following along. It's just not worth the trouble.

In the hot, humid, and largely tropical regions of the world (possibly including Mediterranean Europe), and especially outside of cities and regions exploited by cities, I am led to believe that near nudity as a norm of dress was once much more common. It's hard to know for certain what the situation was at points further back in time, of course. Many clothes were made by illiterate people, and made from biodegradable materials. There are some descriptions of “naked” people provided by others who were, by and large, either involved in efforts to conquer them, Christianize them (or occasionally Islamicize them), and occasionally either outright assimilate or exterminate them, or failing all that, at least invested in the idea of their own cultural superiority over these people and partial to the notion that nudity was a sign of inferiority. Suffice it to say, however, that I think – in the broad span of human history – there really were people who were out-and-out naked and just living their lives until some combination of state agents and/or adherents to a faith of Middle Eastern origin showed up. But I suspect out-and-out naked people were a small minority, too. Based on documentary evidence I have seen that was produced from the 19th century onward, I think it's fair to say that the most naked of the people in Amazonia, Africa, and Southeast Asia who were photographed or videotaped (on a scale of how much of their skin was exposed to air and the camera) were, most of the time, still wearing some amount of clothing and/or ornamentation.

At some point, there is an arbitrary choice to be made in distinguishing “naked” from “near naked”, but given that we are talking about people with other cultural ideas about dress and nudity, I think it's probably accurate to say that, if any of these people had ideas about “nudity” that were more or less analogous to common modern ones (e.g. shame, embarrassment, inappropriateness, vulnerability), these people simply were not naked by their own standards – which I think are the ones that should matter, most of the time. Yet, to the extent that most of their skin was exposed, most of their ass cheeks were exposed, and almost the whole front chest was exposed, then I would consider those people, perhaps not absolutely naked, but certainly more naked than would be the global norm today.

This sort of near nudity, even in the regions of the world where it might make a lot of sense given local conditions, is vanishingly uncommon today. To the extent that it still exists as a norm of dress in some places and among some people, it is under threat from a combination of missionaries, national governments (e.g. especially when brazenly conservative and chauvinistic factions are in power or close to power, as is often true or increasingly true in Brazil, Indonesia, and India, for instance), and the myriad other forces that push toward either cultural annihilation and/or cultural change. At a time when the climate in colder, more temperate zones is literally tropicalizing, e.g. becoming hotter and more humid, there are people in the world like the late John Allen Chau, who want to impose themselves, their Saviour, and (presumably) “more modest clothing” as well upon the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island. Never mind that the people were doing just fine already, and never mind the historical experience of Operation Koteka in western Papua, in which the heretofore mostly forest-dwelling locals were obliged by force to wear clothing (they didn't know that they had to wash clothing, and probably weren't informed of that fact in their own languages, so many of them got sores and rashes all over their bodies). Never mind that the globalized clothing industry is an ecological nightmare that every person should be seceding from as much as they possibly can right now, so that it, and the larger edifice of capitalist industry, falls apart as hastily as possible and while there are still humans around who will be able to dance on the ruins.

Throughout the history of civilization – both in the tropics and elsewhere – fancier clothes and large, diverse wardrobes have always corresponded to wealth and high status. They have been used, in fact, as indicators of such status. Occasionally, in feudal societies, there were laws that aimed to prevent “commoners” from wearing fabrics, colours, and other accoutrements that were associated with more privileged classes of people, even if some of those commoners, in their role as merchants or whatever, would have been able to procure such luxury items for themselves through the market.

The poor in civilization, for their part, seem to have mostly always worn clothing as well. To be sure, without lotions that can protect the skin from the Sun's rays, it is probably not a great idea to be completely nude when doing backbreaking farm labour at the height of noon. Even if there was lotion available in a given society, it may have been expensive and/or time-consuming to procure. Living and/or working in some places might also mean biting insects, sharp blowing sand, intermittent violent conflict, and other hazards. If you were poor but a resident of a city or a market town, your living conditions were often cramped and unhygienic no matter what you did, and being naked in such circumstances, if the weather was permitting, would certainly make you more vulnerable in a dangerous situation: fires, disease, an outbreak of fighting of any variety. In addition, a lack of appropriate clothing might limit one's ability to carry (and sometimes also conceal) useful items from place to place.

And of course, the poor in civilization have never been completely immune to a tendency of emulating and replicating the values of the rich. Poor people aspire to be rich. A number of people invest significant time and/or resources in projecting a wealthy status (or at least a relatively well-off status) to others. They do this for any number of reasons, not least of which is that they may want to attract partners, and projecting wealth or well-offness is often part of a healthy strategy for that sort of a thing. All of this is contrary to an idea of simplicity that is important to a lot of nudists, and reflected in the affect of spiritually guided naturism, be it Christian naturism, gay pagan nudism, or whatever else.

For anarchists today, and throughout history in fact, clothes have been a way of signaling to one another what one is about (be that community activist, insurrecto-cool, or “hello, fellow worker!”); and in this, we aren't really different from other political subcultures, because other people wear t-shirts with slogans on them, too. Anarchist “fashion” and/or anarchists' norms of dress would have looked different in and around a Parisian salon in circa 1899 than it would have done in a punk venue in the United States or Indonesia circa 1999, but similar dynamics are beneath the surface. There is a desire to indicate certain affiliations, to indicate that one belongs in a given space, and of course there may also be an effort to have a distinct look that speaks to an important part of a person's identity, which for same people may be their self-conception as an anarchist. Something that is interesting, today, is that the principal channel for indicating affiliations and expressing personality to others avant la lettre (i.e. before talking to someone) is the social media accounts, which may indeed feature photos of a person (probably wearing clothes, most of the time); this is a very different dynamic than hanging out in a physical space, like a bar or a student association building or wherever, and signaling these things to others first through the medium of clothing.

Clothes, when they aren't symbolic in and of themselves, are often canvases for symbols, indicating adherence to a particular worldview and/or membership in a particular tribe in the most generic sense (and sometimes a particular national project, which is just a tribe on a much larger scale). A major rhetorical focus within naturist discourse, which is typically liberal by default, is that with nudity, all of that shit goes away: class, creed, politics, etc. I don't believe that for a minute, but I am certain that – absent some explicit and/or very specific tattoos or some particularly pointed and controversial hairstyles – nudity generally does succeed in obscuring one's chosen affiliations (although not necessarily any more than, say, a normcore dress aesthetic).

In the current moment, we are seeing a resurgence of nationalist and authoritarian politics (and corresponding apparel, either the Dionysian insanity of Trumpists-qua-Landsknechte or the Apollonian uniformity of police, paramilitaries, and all the quasi-serious wannabes), largely correspondent to many ideas about what “fascism” constitutes. We are also seeing global temperatures soar as a result of the carbonization of the atmosphere and other such things. At the same time, there is sort of a crisis of relevance in anarchism. It's hard to really measure this in a global sense, but it seems that there are fewer partisans, specifically, of anarchism, at least in North America and/or the part of it where I live. I think a lot of this has to do with the end of subculture, which itself has to do with the internet. People are no longer involved in relationships with people with whom they share space – which is to say, embodied space – and with whom, in many complicated ways, they can articulate a shared way of understanding the world, of signaling belonging to a group, of living together, even for a short time. Instead, people are largely involved in relationships on the internet, many of which are one-sided and “parasocial”; they do not share space, which is bounded and specific, but “platforms” that are, at least at the level of user perception, effectively infinite and boundless, such that anyone can go off and spin up their own supposedly cooler Discord server or subreddit or whatever. Eclecticism and idiosyncrasy are thus no longer incidental, the product of uniqueness, but instead often the goal; to have varied interests and diverse sources of inspiration is an indication of the breadth of a person's knowledge and experience.

From this emerges a recuperative monoculture, made up of images from the past, often from other places. A lot of people, including myself, view this as vapid and unfulfilling, and so they look for something more authentic, which more often than not ends up being some kind of sanguinary rightism.

Many people do not understand anything about the real history corresponding to these images of the past – or if they do, they have not thought about those understandings and tried to reach a better understanding through carefully and logically putting different aspects of their knowledge into dialogue with one another. Instead, they just appreciate the image's most shallow aspect, its aesthetic – that is, the recombination of all its apparent characteristics into a singular value whose purpose is to determine how an image, an outfit, a style, a person, is to be categorized.

In images of the past, what are we looking at? Is it a real image of people living their lives, captured more or less candidly, or is it an image that was constructed and staged by someone with an agenda or a vision? Why are people wearing the clothes they are wearing? Where did they get those clothes? What was the history of those clothes – the raw materials that made up those clothes – before anyone ever wore them? What did those people think about clothes in general, either their own or clothes in general? What kind of lives did they live, and how were those lives different from, say, yours or mine?

Clothes originate somewhere between 50,000 and 500,000 years ago. As someone who doesn't know shit about shit when it comes to prehistory, but who is predisposed to confidently saying things about history anyway, I am gonna put my money on more or less 222,222 years ago as the time whenabouts the plot of this episode of Animals. happened in slow motion among a group of humans' ancestors for the first time – or, if you don't want to watch the episode (even though it's really quite good), in which people started to wear clothes.

Humans are descended from ancient primates; we have a common ancestry with other species to primates in the world today, several million years ago. The other living primate species don't wear clothes like we do, and to a species, they are mostly covered in fur – though often with “naked” patches, either without hair or perhaps with very thin, very sparse air.

Modern humans vary quite a bit, but once our clothes are gone, most most of us are “naked” (e.g. hairless) almost all over our bodies. Even the hairiest of us – those with facial hair, chest hair, back hair, butt hair, leg hair, the works – still don't approach the furriness of most primates.

Our ancestors hunted game, and often their greatest strengh was not any tool they possessed (which certainly may have been important), but their superior endurance, their ability to give chase for a long time. Sprinting, they were perhaps significantly slower than what they were chasing, but they could keep going without completely stopping and completely overheating. In tropical environments, this corresponded to a decrease in fur over time, which led to the “nakedness” of comparable hairlessness compared with other primate species. Later, this in turn gave rise to a practical need for clothes when later generations would expand into climes where protection from the cold, the rays of the Sun, and the other elements was important for survival.

An important quality about clothes is that, until very recently in history, they were almost always handcrafted. Clothes were not made in factories and sold for money, which is how things have unfolded since capitalism emerged and took over the world. There were, in some places and some times, craftspeople, often called “tailors” or “cobblers” or whatever, who made clothes of a certain type if people could pay up in some useful currency. But for most people throughout history, who have mostly been poor, clothes were made by people who knew how to do such things, who were part of a person's family or community. This was often “women's work” in patriarchal societies, but that's not the point. What's important is that this is now rare because these skills have largely been lost in societies affected by mass consumerism. There are patches of people in these societies who still mend clothing, stitch quilts, and so on – and often such people have been found adjacent to anarchists, as punks – or who are at a distance from the global clothing industry (again, places like North Sentinel Island), but generally speaking, most people, even the very poor, wear clothes that were made somewhere else with the intention of turning a profit.

Today, incomprehensible quantities of garments are produced; the scale of the industry is beyond fathoming. Many people own many, many more garments than they could ever possibly use. Lots of people in affluent societies own clothes that they never wear. It is difficult to not own any clothes, so the absolutely destitute usually still own something, which tends to be worn out more quickly than would be the case if they didn't live on the streets. Clothes that no one wants feed into the international development charity racket, flooding places in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere to the point that local garment industries will always be undercut, which is why the whole world wears t-shirts and other types of “Western clothing” now. The products that are sold and/or worn in places are commodities, which is to say, all the history of violence that goes into their manufacture is obscured to the people who encounter them at the point of purchase or afterwards. Most people don't know how bad it all is (all the hell of production), but lots of people do, and yet they buy clothes anyway, at least in part because they do not really see any alternative way of doing things as viable. They don't have the skills, or the time, or the community, to make clothes. If they are even interested in living a less alienated life, clothes may not be a major priority for where they want to start with things.

I think clothes are pretty cool, personally. Like, specific items of clothing that I own and that I like, as well as certain types of clothing in general, as well as the entire concept of clothing. It is all swell to me.

But I do not like how clothes are in this society – which is to say, how they are both pretty much mandatory in all social settings everywhere as well as how, like lots of other things, they are generally ecologically destructive. But in a different kind of society, things could be kind of different. I am, incidentally, entirely unsentimental about nudity in public as such. I personally believe that there should be no laws against it, and no involvement of police in resolving disputes about such things (because I suspect there would remain disputes about the inappropriateness of nudity in certain settings, among certain people who have particular beliefs about clothes and such, etc.), but I would be pretty happy with a new norm that allowed for looser clothing (e.g. loincloths, sarongs, dresses – fuck gender by the way), more easygoing attitudes around clothing (e.g. maybe a little leeway to, say, change clothes without having to do a towel dance or squat behind a shrub or whatever), and a broad dismantling of the global clothing industry (and others industries, for instance those that encourage self-doubt and anxiety with respect to personal appearance, the body, et al.). Maybe that's reformist of me, but a revolutionary horizon in which the norm is that everyone is actually naked when unperturbed by, say, a cold snap, is just not that interesting to me.

That being said, I do like getting completely naked – and I figure that nudity could be a larger part of anarchist collectivity, prefiguration, and direct action than it is currently.

I don't care to get into specifics of what that could look like, but most projects – and really, all projects, when you think about it – require space. Nudity is, almost by definition, vulnerability, and if people are able to feel actually comfortable when naked in a space, that is an indication that they feel pretty safe in that space, which is perhaps an indication that something is working. There is a certain degree of trust that nothing bad and/or unpleasant and/or undealwithable is gonna happen as a result of a condition of nudity (or something worse than normal is going to happen, if conditions are just more generally difficult for a person for any number of reasons).

Besides, it is sometimes practical to be more vulnerable, with respect to certain hazards, if that means being more able with respect to some other problem (for instance, how to conserve hot water, which may be scarce) or perhaps simply more physically comfortable. We have to trust, of course, that people won't run off with our clothes (or the things in our clothes' pockets); we would need to trust that, even should the worst thing happen (e.g. the intervention of an external enemy, taking advantage of vulnerability), people would have each others' backs; we would need to trust that nothing uncomfortable (more often than not, in mixed company, meaning nothing sexual) would happen as a result of people being naked.

This sort of thing isn't impossible, even in a world where clothes are integral to civilization writ large and civilization is still apparently triumphant. To whatever extent a spirited culture of nudism among anarchists would allow us to free up time, resources, and mental energy that might otherwise be occupied, or allow us to construct a collective infrastructure of hygiene that would be superior to the shitty small bathrooms that many of us are stuck with – or even just decrease our reliance, even in a very small way, upon the destructive and doomed economy to which the global clothing industry is party – that, I believe, would be to the good.

 
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from Dyscommunication

notes about the reality of the MOVE organization from The Inquirer

being forced to live on a diet of raw vegetables and fruit while the adults ate hearty cooked meals, of being denied schooling and neighborhood playmates, of stealing toys and burying them in the MOVE compound.

“I'm still afraid of them, of MOVE,” he said. “Some of the things that went on there I can't get out of my head, bad things, things I haven't told anybody except my father.

“But I'll tell you this: I didn't like being there. They said it was a family, but a family isn't something where you are forced to stay when you don't want to. And none of us wanted to stay, none of the kids. We were always planning ways to run away, but we were too little. We didn't know how to get away. And we were scared.”

But that was the life he had always known. His earliest memories, he said, were of growing up at a MOVE commune in Virginia.

He said his mother tried to leave MOVE, but threats to her and him made that impossible. Instead, they lived in fear of everything: police, the neighborhood, MOVE founder John Africa, and anything else that came their way.

“The only regret I have is about me being hurt and my mom dying and the other kids,” he said. “I feel bad for the people who died, but I don't have any anger toward anybody. See, I got out.”

 
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from mycelia

Pickled carrots

Tools: – heat-proof container for storage (preferably glass), with a lid – a pot – a heat source

Ingredients: – carrots – any kind of vinegar (e.g., cider, white wine, plain) – 1 Tbsp salt – ¼ cup sugar – (optional) mix-ins (e.g., garlic, dill, peppers)

Directions: – Fill the heat-proof container with roughly equal parts water and vinegar, and then pour this liquid into your pot. – Add sugar, salt, and mix-ins in to the pot and bring it to a boil. Once it boils, simmer for a few minutes while you prep your carrot sticks. – Peel and cut the carrots into sticks and pack them into your heat-proof container. – Pour the simmering liquid and mix-ins into your heat-proof container so that the liquid covers all of the carrot sticks. – Let cool uncovered on a counter and then cover and optionally transfer to a fridge.

 
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from nudism as an illegalism

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, in other words to blunt the tendency towards being-asshole that exists in more or less all of us, 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 ideologies, 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 nudists (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 a 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.

 
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from bugs

boat in water

Recently I've been playing with the idea of a body of water as representative of life, consciousness, time, or whatever the fuck. So in that image; initially anarchism came as a wave, at a time where the waters were already choppy, a wave which graciously hit the stern of my little boat, propelling me forward in some direction rather than capsizing me. This wave maintained my course through many other swells that sought to extricate me onto another even more enigmatic course, and pushed into clearer waters, where I found the weather improved and the horizon more expansive.

Of course being bad at poetry as I am, that extended metaphor simplifies things a little. Rather than being one large wave of anarchism there was instead many, dozens of small chance encounters with nothing more than the word itself, which upon a more curious investigation yielded a bounty of treasures. Garnished with a new worldview that played into my intense curiosity, a worldview that placed me in opposition to a staggeringly powerful set of forces, my discovery of anarchism sent me to my first punk show, gave me my first experiences of queerness, and inoculated me against conformity. However, none of my early exposure prepared me for the complexities of living an anarchic life.

Recognizing the expansion of pleasure to be found in symbiogenesis I sought others like me but wound up only really finding Activists who, despite speaking the same language I did, looked at me with an unsettling gaze. Their eyes were hungry, which at first I mistook for affection until I noticed their drool, and realized that all they saw in me were their favorite cuts of meat. I was lucky to escape with all my limbs attached, and since then I search for their familiar grey dorsal fins before I enter the water.

Sadly, getting my sea legs took a bit more than that. Through my interactions with the sharks I discovered the dangers of optimism and in turn, activism, and began to recognize just how many different beasts really wish to swallow me up. Also, being shaken by death (one that I wrote about under the title Substrate, and others which I have not shared) directed my rage at far bigger things, and gave me a taste of the existential. I didn't learn how to walk when the deck is wet and the winds are wailing in a progressive fashion, instead it happened all of a sudden, after a few especially bad nights.

Though I've weathered a few storms, long months alone can trouble even the saltiest of dogs, troubles which I have been only beginning to wrestle with by engaging with nihilism, egoism, and anarchy, rather than anarchism. At this point, anarchy is just an aspect of things, still one which I am very fond of. It accentuates relationships and dynamics, problematizes rather than solves, it's place is not in the Future and only becomes clear now and then but never for very long. Perhaps anarchism has become the sea I sail in.

We are two ships each of which has its goal and course; our paths may cross and we may celebrate a feast together, as we did—and then the good ships rested so quietly in one harbor and one sunshine that it may have looked as if they had reached their goal and as if they had one goal. But then the almighty force of our tasks drove us apart again into different seas and sunny zones, and perhaps we shall never see one another again,—perhaps we shall meet again but fail to recognize each other: our exposure to different seas and suns has changed us! That we have to become estranged is the law above us: by the same token we should also become more venerable for each other! And thus the memory of our former friendship should become more sacred!


Note: This essay started as something to share during the May Day session of the ni.hil.ist reading group (chi.st/nrg), in response to the prompt, “What does anarchism, or anarchy mean to you?”. However, I've altered a fair portion of it for clarity and flow reasons

 
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