Writing About Politics in Times of Informational War (Part 2)…

Of pretty much all political perspectives, radical anti-authoritarianism is one of the most optimistic about humans’ individual and collective potential for self-government, and it sets some of the highest expectations and demands on individuals to make that self-government work. Anti-authoritarians really want a hell of a lot from people: cooperate to run your own workplaces, cooperate to run your own neighborhoods, and even cooperate to have a say about your whole region, continent, planet. It implies participating in meetings, closely following current events, staying up-to-date about nuanced policy debates–all while constantly avoiding being too much of an asshole. Now, the benefits that anti-authoritarians promise for this mass deliberation and collaboration is unprecedented freedom and equality, but the slope that humanity must climb to get there is kind of cartoonishly steep. That’s why so many people, though they might admire our ideals, dismiss our ideas so breezily.

A unique burden for anti-authoritarians, then, is to convince people not only that they, as individuals, are capable of this high-level democratic empowerment across pretty much all areas of their lives, but also that their neighbors, co-workers, and those other people across town or across the country are equally capable and deserving of that empowerment. In my experience, the first part can be tricky in spots, but it’s overall quite doable. It’s the second part, convincing people to trust in the empowerment and liberation of ‘the other,’ that’s really damn hard.

Today’s reality of informational war makes it so much harder.

If informational warfare were just about conflicting forces competing to overpower each others’ messages(“We’re right.” “No, we’re right!”), that would be difficult enough, and that would mesh with the reality of counter-revolutionary propaganda that anti-authoritarians have always had to contend with. But informational warfare–especially like Russia, the right wing trolls, and even COINTELPRO have fought it–isn’t about competing messages. It’s about pumping out so many contradictory, yet plausible enough, messages that targets become so confused and fatigued that they deactivate themselves altogether. In this form of informational warfare, repressive forces don’t need to convince people that the change we want is bad and that they are better; they just need to confuse, distract, and exhaust us enough that we don’t even really try. This was the Trump campaign’s explicit final round campaign strategy in the fall of 2016: voter depression. Get the other side so confused and demoralized that they just don’t vote. It happened again with the Mueller probe. The majority KNOWS that Trump committed real crimes, but people are too numb and tired to do anything. In our case, it’s about getting people so overwhelmed by the idea of controlling their own lives and having to share that control and those resources with others that they just don’t even consider that it’s worth the effort.

For the electoral left, the democrats and democratic socialists, the challenges of this informational warfare environment are very tough, but they can funnel their efforts into concrete, on-the-ground campaigns toward clear-cut voting choices. They can make it about clear, binary votes in established districts and zones of conflict. In the 2018 midterm elections, a simple focus on protecting health-care helped them make some gains. It’s hard for them, but they have possibilities to chalk up at least small victories within the spaces of the informational war. However, that clarity and simplicity would evaporate in any real policy push for something like Medicare for All or the Green New Deal. If the electoral left actually got to that place, we’d see informational warfare shock and awe like we’ve never seen before, and the ability to prevail would require unprecedented popular mobilization–basically you would need a political revolution, just as Bernie Sanders says. And, well…if it takes a full political revolution just get to medicare for all, why not just go for a full anti-capitalist, anti-oppression revolution while we’re at it?

For anti-authoritarians, we just don’t have any luxury of binary voting choices like the electoral left has. We actually have to cut through the noise of the information war in order to help people establish their full political agency and democratic faculties, so that they can grapple deeply with complex issues, tied to complex emotions, and then work together to move on those issues, often in novel and risky ways. This requires a form of political communication, mobilization, education that the more traditional left just doesn’t have much practice with–precisely because the traditional left has an instrumentalist view of people power and thus rarely has had a practical need for deeper development of their base. And it’s not something that anti-authoritarians ourselves invest in nearly enough, because we are too busy copy-catting other left tendencies without realizing that this is what makes us unique.

Being anti-authoritarian means helping people step into political wholeness and complexity. It’s about cultivating nuanced, deeply personal politics of practical solidarity and daily mutuality It’s not about ultra-left positions. It’s not about sub-cultural fringes. It’s about deep human development. All the other stuff is extra. This is the core.

The unique needs and positions of anti-authoritarians within an informational war, then means that we need unique strategies and methods. We need ways of talking and writing about our ideas that can break through, subvert, expose the tactics of informational war against us. For me, I think this means a political style that is patient, deliberate, thoughtful and thought-provoking. It means a style that is humble, considered, empathetic, personalized. It means a style that definitively breaks from the Leninist polemics and aggressiveness of the traditional left, as well as the flashy, self-righteous, and simplistic sloganeering of many of our own punk-rock or street activist (or social media!) roots. Within the storm of the informational war, when truth itself is meant to not be knowable or even much worth thinking about, anti-authoritarians should have unique reputations as honest and vulnerable, as asking more questions than giving answers, as people who will discuss all possible options, even if they make our own anti-authoritarian options feel less favorable sometimes. The local neighborhood anti-authoritarians really should have a certain community trust and gravity to them, to the way they treat people and talk about problems. This is how Communists have sometimes talked about cadre, but have often (but admittedly not always) failed to follow through–once again because of their instrumentalist tendencies.

I’m still trying to get my head around what this would actually mean practically. I mean, how would it actually look different in real political communication?

I want to try some things out. Specifically, I want to look at three interesting sets of ideas within the radical/anti-authoritarian milieu, and I want to try to explore those ideas with a style that feels different from the styles that I think are more typical of the left. I want to explore the ideas of Black Rose/Rosa Negra, Left Roots, and of Symbiosis. I’m curious what I’ll learn!

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi