Tag Archives | Anarchy

An Agorist in the Agora, Plus a Hydrofoil to Hydra

As those who follow me on facebook will know, I recently got back from a trip to Greece. (My third; see my notes on the first and second – in each case for the annual AtInER philosophy conference).

I’m reproducing here the most salient excerpts from my facebook posts. But if you want to see the full story, including more commentary, banter with my facebook friends, and lots and lots of photos of Hydra, check out my facebook page for the past couple of weeks. Other photos, taken with my regular camera, will be posted in due course.

My voyage to Greece:

I’m on an airplane in flight, posting to facebook via my new smartphone. I have finally entered the 21st century.

So, this morning I flew from one city with a Greek name to another city with a Greek name. Now I’m crossing an ocean with a Greek name, on my way to yet another city with a Greek name. Any guesses?

My free weekend before the conference:

Last night my waiter tried to dissuade me from ordering a second iced coffee, on the grounds that it would keep me awake. “Too strong!” he said, miming a strongman’s pose.

But caffeine is a drug that has surprisingly little effect on my system. (Morphine is another, as I sadly learned 21 years ago when I was hospitalised with 4 broken ribs after a car crash.)

I was also warned at my hotel that the room I had chosen had too much street noise and would keep me awake. Everyone seems to be concerned with my sleep cycle! But street noise is another thing that never keeps me awake, city boy that I am. …

Right now I’m having lamb pilaf and ginger lemonade in the Acropolis Museum. …
The menu did say this was a Cretan dish. But that was probably a lie. …
All Cretans play the lyre. …

The view from the Acropolis Museum restaurant is kinda purty. It’s a big hill with some old building on it. …

Spent the morning hiking up to the Pnyx, site of the old Athenian Assembly. Now I’m in a sidewalk cafe across from the ruins of the Sanctuary of Zeus in the street leading down from the Pnyx, sipping lemon mint iced tea.

Robert Louis Stevenson said it was better to travel hopefully than to arrive. (This was even inscribed on the entrance to my freshman dorm.) When I contrast my process of getting here (TSA hassles, plus being crammed in an airline seat for eleven hours) with being here, I find it hard to agree with him.

Side note: I notice on the menu that the Greek for “appetizers” is “orektika” – from “orexis,” Aristotle’s word for desire or appetite. Constant such linguistic reminders of antiquity everywhere here.

It was hot on the hike up, but I’m under an awning here and there’s a cool breeze. A band of musicians just came by. Also a group of cyclists on wooden bicycles. …

Now I’m having lunch at To Steki Tou Elia, a place famous for its lambchops. I accidentally shared some with a cat.

I’ve now stood on the spot where Pericles, Demosthenes, and Alcibiades addressed the populace. But it didn’t make me hungry for power. It did, however, make me thirsty for lemon mint iced tea.

The speaker would have had a nice view of the Gulf, assuming there weren’t trees or buildings in the way back then. …

Another ancient callback: on the metro the word for “gap” in “mind the gap” is the same as Democritus’s word for the Void. … Mind the Void!

Continuing the Democritean theme, “atomic cigarettes” are prohibited on the metro. …

Tonight I’m sampling more purportedly Cretan cuisine – this time, a cocktail combining raki, grapefruit, and blackberry. I’m turning into a real Minoarchist.

Tomorrow morning the actual conference begins.

The conference was held in the Titania Hotel, a short walk from my hostel. My first time here the conference was rather disorganised, but it has greatly improved both in organisation and in quality of presentations. My talk was on a left-libertarian analysis of labour exploitation, originally planned for a volume project that fell through but may possibly be revived. Got some useful feedback.

This conference hotel has meeting rooms named after Socrates, Plato, Homer, and Solon. No Aristotle! I am offended.

I’m going to protest by engaging in a sit-in. I’m going to sit down right here and listen to this lecture. …

This is a truly international conference, with speakers from Poland, Chile, Taiwan, New Zealand, India, Germany, South Africa, Israel, Spain, Sweden, Mexico, Switzerland, etc.
Whenever I mention that I teach in Alabama, people react as though I’d said I was from a Taliban enclave. We’re famous!

Conference highlights, irony edition: a debate between a white German male who was attacking Kant for having racist, sexist, and colonialist views, and a Chilean woman of indigenous background who was defending Kant on those points. (I agreed with most of what both of them said, actually.)

Then the first conference tour:

Today, a tour as part of the conference: we’re headed to Poros, Mycenae, and the Corinthian Canal. I’ve seen Poros before but not the other two.

Mycenean civilisation, also known as the Mycelial Network, was of course the inspiration for Homer Simpson when he composed the Idiocy and the Oddity. Mycenae is particularly famous for its Lyin’ Gate, the greatest ancient monument to mendacity outside of Crete.

As Ludwig van Beethovstein wrote in his Philosophical Convolutions (at least according to Epimenides’ recension): “If a Mycenean could lie, we would not understand him. A mouth can lie only in a Cretan face.” …

So far this tour guide is highly accurate – way better than my Delphi guide on my previous visit to Greece.

The drive from Athens to Mycenae is really beautiful, as is the view from the fortress. The canal and the fortress (monumental structures from very different centuries) are duly impressive (sublime).

Hard to believe, but before Schliemann, archaeologists weren’t much interested in Mycenae; they were focused on the Classical era.

Lovecraft is always referring to monumental structures as “cyclopean”; this derives from early Greek assumptions that Mycenae ruins must have been built by Cyclopes (because they were giants, not because they were one-eyed), since the stones seemed too massive to have been piled up by human beings.

The modern equivalent is the assumption that the pyramids etc. must have been built by aliens.

The Anglo-Saxons had the same view of monumental structures (such as Stonehenge) in Britain, calling them “orthanc enta geweorc,” “the cunning work of giants” – which Tolkien reinterpreted as “Orthanc, the fortress (taken by) the Ents.”

I remember seeing a special in which people of Aztec, Inca, or Mayan ancestry (I forget which) described how they’d wept when they realised that their own ancestors had built the monumental buildings there.

Similarly, the European rulers of Zimbabwe always insisted that the fortresses there had been built by a lost white race because they were too impressive to have been built by black natives; it was a liberating moment when the Zimbabweans realised the Europeans were mistaken.

Just came back from our second Mycenean site, the “Treasury of Atreus” (actually a tomb), which was also pretty damn impressive.

Mycenae really was like something out of fantasy or science fiction.

Then from Mycenae to Epidauros, then a crazy beautiful drive along the coast to Galatas, then a ferry to Poros, now lunch on the waterfront.

Just today I’ve passed within sight of so many places that are legends to me: Acrocorinth, Argos, Parnassos, Arcadia … Eleusis, Megara ….

Our tour guide said that the length of Greece’s coastline is the same as the length of Africa’s coastline.
Well, yes and no. It depends on the degree of resolution.

Our tour guide says that the Greek govt is deliberately destroying the independent fishing industry. When fishermen retire they sell their fishing licenses back to the govt (at a loss) and the govt isn’t issuing new ones. So there’s no way for a 20yo to become a fisherman. When you turn your license in, the govt also sends a bulldozer to demolish your boat.
The official reason for this is environmental protection. But, says our guide, not all fishing practices are harmful to the environment; the real reason, on her view, is that the govt is promoting and subsidising large corporate industrial fish farming.
Wish I were shocked. …

In the Meno, Plato inquires whether true belief about how to get from Athens to Larissa is as valuable as knowledge of how to get from Athens to Larissa.
In the Physics, Aristotle inquires whether the road from Athens to Larissa is the same as the road from Larissa to Athens.
Those are both texts I’ve been familiar with for around 35 years.
On the highway leading out of Athens on the bus trip yesterday, I saw signs for Larissa. It was a surreal feeling, as though I’d stepped into a philosophical example.

Rather than revisit Delphi, I took a free day in Athens, where I first revisited the Agora:

Sitting on a shaded bench in the Agora, absorbed in my thoughts, only half-listening to a nearby tour guide talking about Plato, Aristotle, etc.
Suddenly I think: “wow, it’s amazing how much of what she’s saying I can understand, given that it’s in (modern) Greek.”
Then I think: “wait, there’s no way I should be able to understand her this well.”
Then I realise she’s actually speaking in French.

Touristic informations: in the Athenian Agora, you do NOT need to climb the steep path with many steps to reach the Hephaestion. Approach it from the left instead of from the front, and there is a gently sloping path with NO STEPS that takes you there. … Particularly useful to know because the steps are a bit slippery and there’s no handrail.
You’re welcome. (imagine sung by Maui)

Further info: the cave exhibited as “Socrates’ Prison” on Philopappou Hill is no such thing. The likely actual site is in the Agora itself, near the extreme southwest corner (in the same vicinity as the beginning of the easy path to the Hephaestion).

Then the Byzantine Museum, which I hadn’t been to before:

St. Christopher Cynocephalus was a Good Boy. Yes he was.

Saw this icon in the Byzantine Museum (which incidentally seems to be bigger on the inside; it looks fairly small when you first enter, but every time you think you’ve seen all the rooms, there’s another, and another).

The story with dogheaded St. Chris, apparently, is that some scribe misread a phrase meaning “Canaanite” as “caninite.” Oops. I mean, woof. So I guess it’s not Anubis sneaking into the Christian tent.

In other news, more Democritean signage: a notice in an elevator says in English “no more than four people,” but the Greek, instead of “people,” says “atoma” (atoms = indivisibles = individuals).

Then the Lyceum, which I’d only sort of been to before:

The signage at Aristotle’s Lyceum repeats the late Roman myth that his school was called “Peripatetic” because he lectured while walking around.
No, it’s because his school was located in a peripatos, a covered walkway (just as the Stoics were so named because they met in the Stoa Poikilē [Painted Colonnade]).
Indeed, Aristotle’s texts strongly suggest that he lectured from notes while pointing to diagrams and other classroom fixtures. Difficult to do so while wandering about.
At least the Lyceum signage cites the rather late Aulus Gellius as a source for the walking-about theory rather than just asserting it as known.
Everyone knows that Aulus Gellius spent his nights in his attic, so what does he know anyway?

On my previous visit to Athens (2013) I blogged:

“On my last night, right behind my hotel I found, and had dinner in, a delightful neighborhood called Psirri/Psyri/Psurrhē … that was somehow off my radar last time I was there. The entrance to the neighbourhood looks really unpromising, a dark dingy alley that seems like it leads nowhere or at least nowhere safe, but two blocks in and you’re suddenly in a lively area filled with music and sidewalk cafes.”

Well, Psirri has now expanded down that formerly dark and dingy alley, so it no longer looks unpromising. I both sorrow and rejoice.
Why sorrow? Because the magical Secret Entrance is now obvious. It’s as though Narnia were always clearly visible through the wardrobe door.
Why rejoice? Because my love of free and open information is greater than my love of secret entrances. Besides: more Psirri!

FYI, the alley in question is Protogenous Street, leading from Athinas St. into Psirri. The neighbourhood on the other side of Athinas St. is also worth a look.

The next day, another conference trip:

Today, the final conference trip, to Corinth and Sounion. I’ve been to Sounion before, but not Corinth (except for seeing the Acrocorinth from the distance on the way to Mycenae on Wednesday).
People tend to forget Corinth, but it was a major power in its day, in the same league (though not the same League) as Athens and Sparta.
Yesterday was a Delphi trip, but I did that one in 2013, so I decided in favour of more time in Athens instead.

Our tour guide just said, “I’m not an expert. Well, I am, but I’m not saying I am.”
Must be from Crete.

The tour guide seems to think we’re primarily interested in St. Paul, whoever he was. Minneapolis’s brother, I’m guessing. …

More ancient throwbacks: the place where you stop to show your ticket is an elegkhos (usually transliterated “elenchus”), examination. …

I’d forgotten how beautiful the drive to Sounion is.

Sounion itself reminds me a bit of Cabrillo Point in San Diego. …

The Corinth/Sounion tour was actually two tours back to back. According to the schedule, there was supposed to be lunch break in between; but owing to some lamentable misprision we were hustled from the Corinth bus to the Sounion bus with no lunch break. …

I forgot to mention that on one of the tours – Corinth, maybe? – I saw a couple of tour buses with a sign in the front window saying “Victor Davis Hanson.” And I see from the internet that classical scholar Hanson – author of a book comparing Trump to a Homeric hero, another book calling for the u.s. to wage war “hard, long, without guilt, apology or respite” in the Middle East, and an article about the need to warn white children to beware of blacks – does indeed conduct week-long guided tours of Greece with explanatory lectures, for prices ranging between $7200 and $12,500 per person. So Hanson’s group and mine must have been roaming the ruins at the same time. Such a close brush I had with greatness.

After the conference, a brief stay in Hydra:

I first discovered Leonard Cohen’s music in the mid-1990s, and soon hunted down a documentary about him in the local video store. The clip I’ve linked to here is from that documentary. Cohen soon became one of my favourite singer-songwriters (and maybe my just plain favourite). The Cohen connection certainly wasn’t necessary for me to fall in love with Hydra, but it didn’t hurt.

It’s funny how much I like Cohen when the sensibility of his songs is often so alien to me. But the ear wants what the ear wants.

Actual headline from a Leonard Cohen obituary three years ago: “Genius songwriter of music from Watchmen sex scene dead at 82.” …

The conference is over, but I have one more trip, this time to Hydra. I’ve been twice before, but each time for just a frustrating 90 minutes (as part of a 1-day, 3-island tour of the Saronic Gulf). This time I’ll be there for two nights. While, unlike Leonard Cohen (see the video in my previous post), I have no desire to spend ten years there (I’d go batty), 2 nights still seems frustratingly short; but it beats two 90-minute bites.

Farewell to Athens (though I’ll pass through again to get to the airport). I was in the Fivos again. Minuscule rooms and no elevator – but for $60 a night, a central location a few steps from the metro, and a view of the Acropolis as soon as I step out the door, it’s hard to complain. Plus the Fivos staff have been very friendly and helpful.

I’m in a cafe in the Piraeus, having breakfast while I wait to check in for my ferry. The wifi password at this cafe is one of those long strings of numbers I haven’t seen in over a decade.
This cafe can’t decide whether its name is Porto Grill or Porto Chill. I suspect that the former is the real name and the latter a self-assigned nickname. But the signage (sorry, Gary) for the latter is more prominent than for the former.
Well, the bill says “Porto Mediterranean Food,” so who knows?
Looking at the storefront as I depart, I think Chill and Grill are the cafe and restaurant sides of the same establishment. …

Unhappily, just spent 45 minutes in the wrong line. Happily, I arrived well early in anticipation of possible screwups, whether theirs or mine. (Not sure which category my 45-minute diversion falls into, tbh.) Anyway, I’ve now got my tickets and I’m on the boat. Taking the fast route (hydrofoil) thus time rather the slow and scenic, so I should be in Hydra in a bit over an hour.

The island is called Hydra (originally hydrea, “watered”) because it had a source of fresh water. (It no longer has; all drinking water is imported from the mainland.) It’s no connection to Heracles’ multiheaded monster, which was called Hydra because it lived in a lake.
Nowadays it’s pronounced EETH-ra. Sometimes spelled Ydra, Idhra, etc. …

I’m on Hydra, in the Mistral Hotel [or Hotel Mistral; both names are used] – a level walk from the harbour, unlike some hotels here that involve many steps and bring a donkey to carry your luggage. (No cars on Hydra.) This hotel is much more expensive than the Fivos (that’s why I’m only staying two nights) but of course also much nicer.
It’s also right off the courtyard of the restaurant Douskos Xeri Elia, where Leonard Cohen (a singer I may have mentioned once or twice) used to hang out, which I didn’t know when I booked it but it’s a welcome bonus.

It’s a bit cloudy here right now, but it’s supposed to be sunny all day tomorrow.
After this trip I’m going to need new shoes. I seem to have treated these in a shockingly abusive manner.

At the moment I’m sitting on a stone bench gazing at the sea while cats climb around me. It’s very de-stressing (the opposite of distressing).

One of the cats has claimed me and driven the other cat off.

The cat had staked out a space on the bench behind my head. A dog just came along, jumped up on the bench, and tried to hassle the cat. A burst of angry hissing and sharp claws sent the dog running. The cat then quietly reclaimed its place. Now the cat has its paws on my shoulders, rubbing my head, purring, and starting to fall asleep. Well, I can’t leave now.

Now the cat has managed to perch precariously on my chest. I may be here for a while. …

The other cat came back to get in on the petting action, but the first cat was not inclined to share. I did indeed end up spending a while there. Well, there are worse ways of spending an evening than watching a Mediterranean sunset while petting a purring cat. Probably a flea-infested cat, but ya gotta go with the moment. …

I came to Hydra, met a cat, and stayed on a stone bench for an hour and a half.
Yeah, that’s the way it was in those days. …

Now I’m in Xeri Elia, the restaurant where Cohen used to hang out. (I’m such a fanboy.) You can see [on my facebook page] musicians playing, and the two large trees (there are photos on the interwebs of Cohen and friends under one of the trees). …

Xeri Elia closed at midnight and I made my way back to my hotel like a drunk in a midnight choir only not drunk and not singing and not with a group.

The next day:

Free breakfast in the Hotel Mistral: it’s not a buffet, you sit down and they just bring you all this stuff.

This morning I hiked up to Leonard Cohen’s house; it’s undergoing renovations and has a new owner. There’s supposed to be a plaque and a new street sign, but these are missing (perhaps stolen by fans as souvenirs; perhaps stolen by the new owners to make it harder to find). My GPS is rather vague, but I came across a group of Canadian Cohen fans, and each of us had some info the other lacked, and together we found it!

A guide to fellow Cohen house-seekers (oikozetetics?): the house and street aren’t on GPS, but Kriezi Street (“had to go Kriezi to love you ….”) is. Along Kriezi St. is a grocery store with mustard-coloured walls …; the short street leading to Cohen’s house is directly opposite the store.
Cohen’s door has a door knocker in the shape of a hand, with a Star of David behind it. (Unless the new owner changes it.) …

My afternoon walk ….
There are two seaside paths from the main port, one eastward (less pretty) and one westward (prettier). I’ve been down both of them a little bit on previous visits, but not very far (since each visit was just 90 minutes), so I wanted to explore both a bit farther on this trip.
I did the less pretty eastward one yesterday afternoon, saving the prettier westward one for today. …

The Society for Dedicating This Bench to Leonard Cohen dedicated this bench to Leonard Cohen. Yay. On the down side, it looks uncomfortable and there’s no shade. But maybe that’s appropriate, at least for some of his songs.

Sorry, Leonard Cohen Bench Built By Leonard Cohen Bench Builders, but I like this bench better ….

[see my facebook page for the photos]

That’s the Peloponnese across the water. Don’t know if it’s visible in the photo, but the hills are covered with those modern Martian-invasion windmills (as opposed to ye olde picturesque non-functioning windmills on this side).

Dinner at Xeri Elia / Douskos again. Note the Cohen poem (and pragmatic self-contradiction) on the back of the menu:

A person at the next table just told the exact same story twice in a row with somewhat different wording, and no one seemed surprised by this. Someone at the table next to me just told a story, and afterward then repeated the story in slightly different words; apparently no one else at the table found it puzzling.

The saffron broth on the mussels was excellent.
Their lemon cake is not as good as their orange cake. …

Hello, Hydra-foil.
Farewell, Hydra!

Two nights is definitely not enough time in Hydra. See my poem.

Back in Athens (the Attalos Hotel this time) for one last night.

Random observations:

a) Why do European hotels generally have no washcloths? Europe has washcloths; I’ve seen them in stores there. But in a hotel, when you shower you either have to use soap alone, or else you have to use a large handtowel that becomes quite heavy and unwieldy once it gets soaked.

b) The metro trains in Athens (at least on some of the lines) make retro-futuristic electronic whooshing/zooming sound effects when they arrive or depart. They sound a bit like the sounds that spaceships or rayguns in a low-budget 1970s sci-fi show might make (not talking Star Wars or Alien here). Or even just part of a disco track from the same period. …

On my 2008 trip to Athens I mentioned:

“Some years back Athens solved its stray dog problem by declaring all the stray dogs to be city property. The city gives them all collars and tags, and takes responsibility for vaccinating them, and feeding any who need it. The result is that Athenian dogs behave differently from dogs I’ve seen anywhere else; their behaviour is neither “domesticated,” nor “stray,” nor “wild.” They move about the city, not in packs, but singly or in pairs; or they sleep on the sidewalk, unperturbed at people walking past or over them. They show no fear or hostility toward humans (apart from one incident I witnessed when a dog suddenly took a dislike to one of the passers-by and chased him down the street), but they also don’t fawn on them for food or affection. (Very different from the ingratiating packs of stray dogs I met in Italy.) They may join a group of human pedestrians for a while, but if so they do it with an aloof air of pretended indifference that seems more feline than canine. They stroll with assured self-confidence, like independent citizens, and are more competent at crossing busy streets than any dogs I’ve ever seen.”

On this last trip, by contrast, I noticed almost no stray dogs in Athens. An internet search reveals the reason:

In 2003 Athens “launched a plan … to sterilize more than 10,000 stray dogs ahead of the [2004 Olympic] Games … ‘The sight of thousands of stray animals living without care in the city streets constitutes an insult to us as civilized people,’ [said] Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyann ….
I guess you could call this the 15 year plan for ridding the city of stray dogs. Fifteen years because that is the average life of a dog. The idea is that if you neuter all the dogs and then set them free again, they won’t be able to have puppies and in 15 years they should all be gone ….”

And so a fascinating and inspiring experiment in the triumph of nurture over nature was ended.

As was, all too soon, my trip:

I’m in Philadelphia, awaiting my connection to @lanta.

I got selected for additional screening in the Birthplace of Democracy this morning, and then a full-body patdown in the Birthplace of the American Republic just now. I can feel the freedom! (Or is that a hand?)

Spooner Volumes Published

[cross-posted at BHL and POT]

Phil Magness has performed a great service for the history of individualist anarchism by tracking down and publishing some of Lysander Spooner’s hardest-to-find works, in two volumes:

Two Treatises on Competitive Currency and Banking

“Available for the first time in over 140 years, these two ‘lost’ treatises [What Is a Dollar? and Financial Imposters I-IV] by libertarian legal philosopher Lysander Spooner present his vision for a radically decentralized monetary system rooted in privately issued competitive currencies and free-banking. …

Once presumed to have been destroyed in a turn-of-the-century fire, these writings contain Spooner’s most extensive foray into economic theory and reveal new insights into his distinctive and uncompromising free-market vision. …

Spooner’s articulated theory of radically decentralized competitive currencies might be seen as something of an intellectual grandfather to the rise of cryptocurrency in the present day.”

Public Letters and Political Essays

“This collection brings together the political writings and short essays of Lysander Spooner for the first time in a single volume. Spooner’s editorials span topics ranging from abolitionism and the Civil War, to free banking and currency, to the trial of President Garfield’s assassin, to government corruption in Massachusetts during the Gilded Age – all with biting wit and an uncompromising disdain for politicians.

Containing over 40 years of newspaper editorials as well as the complete set of Spooner’s contributions to the magazine Liberty, many of these essays have been out of print for over a century. For any fan of Spooner’s political philosophy, and the idea of human liberty generally, this collection is essential reading.”

Smashing Fences and Fascists

[cross-posted at BHL and POT]

I’m excited to announce the publication of two new anthologies from C4SS (the Center for a Stateless Society): The Anatomy of Escape: A Defense of the Commons (357 pp.; buy at C4SS [$12 plus shipping] or buy at Amazon) and Fighting Fascism: Anti-fascism, Free Speech and Political Violence (479 pp.; buy at C4SS [$14 plus shipping] or buy at Amazon).

The Anatomy of Escape explores the role of common property in a market anarchist system, while Fighting Fascism features debates over the ethical, political, and strategic/tactical considerations that should inform resistance to fascist movements. (Both books include contributions by me – although my piece in the fascism volume is a bit of an outlier, as it concerns fascism in a somewhat different sense of the term from the one addressed in most of the other pieces.)

From the introduction to The Anatomy of Escape: A Defense of the Commons:

Many market anarchists – especially, though not exclusively, those associated with market anarchism’s “right” wing – tend to envision a fully free market as one in which all resources are privately owned. The essays in this book offer a different perspective: that a stateless free-market society can and should include, alongside private property, a robust role for public property – not, of course, in the sense of governmental property, but rather in the sense of property that is owned by the general community rather than by specific individuals or formally organized groups.

From the introduction to Fighting Fascism: Anti-fascism, Free Speech and Political Violence:

Anarchists are, by definition, anti-fascist. They oppose all forms of fascism just as they oppose all forms of statism, domination, and oppression. What’s left to be settled, however, is what our anti-fascist commitment entails in practice. What should our theoretical debates surrounding the nature and danger of fascist ideas imply for our practical strategies for creating the new, anti-fascist world in the shell of the old, fascist one?

More specifically, we need to understand just what fascism is and how it spreads. We need to know why fascism has any appeal at all and how to stem that appeal. We need to see how concepts like freedom of speech figure into anarchist praxis. We need to discuss what free speech is. We need to explore what constitutes mere speech and assembly and what constitutes intentionality and violence. We need to differentiate between self-defense and aggression. We need to seriously interrogate the morality and efficacy of different kinds of political violence. Most importantly, we need internally consistent ethical and strategic insights into replacing fascist ideas with anarchist ones. Failing to clarify these issues could cost us, not only our souls, but any fighting chance for anarchy left in this fragile world.

You can view the tables of contents at the links above.

And for more LWMA (left-wing market anarchist) books and other swag, check out the C4SS Store.

Expand Your Mind

[cross-posted at BHL and POT]

For Game of Thrones / Song of Ice and Fire fans, now that the tv series is winding down, and neither the prequel tv series nor the next book will be here any time soon, the question is what to read and/or watch next. The answer a lot of people are recommending is the science-fiction epic The Expanse, which even gets frequently described (somewhat simplistically, but not entirely unreasonably) as “Game of Thones [and/or Song of Ice and Fire] in space.”

I want to add my own enthusiastic recommendation to that throng; The Expanse isn’t as popular as Game of Thrones, but it deserves to be, because it’s good in many of the same ways (complex politics viewed with a cynical eye; engaging but flawed characters; redemption arcs successful and otherwise; exciting action; willingness to kill off major characters; and a creepy menace growing on the periphery of the known world, to which the main players are initially oblivious). Moreover, while I don’t believe that the authors are either libertarians or anarchists, the series offers a great deal to interest libertarians (especially left-libertarians) and anarchists alike.

WARNING: While I’ll keep my descriptions mostly vague, some minor spoilers do follow.

The Expanse is both a series of books, and a tv series based thereon. Of the books, by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), eight volumes have been published, and a final ninth volume is on the way. (The authors have been setting a rather faster pace than G. R. R. Martin, averaging a book a year.) There are also a handful of short stories (thus far available only as eBooks) and a prequel comic. (These additional stories are sometimes dismissed as “optional,” but I don’t think they are; they offer vital backstory for the characters and situations in the main books. Plus they contain some of Corey’s most beautiful writing. I offer a guide to reading order below.)

The tv series ran for three seasons on SyFy before being cancelled there (less because of low viewing figures than because of what are being described as “restrictive distribution arrangements”), but it’s been renewed for a fourth season on Amazon Prime, and the first three seasons are likewise now available there. As with Game of Thrones, the authors of the books are more involved in the adaptation than is typical, and the tv series’ degree of fidelity to the books also seems to be about the same as with Game of Thrones (overall the same story and characters but with lots of smaller-scale changes).

The similarities aren’t coincidental; Ty Franck (one half of “Corey”) has worked as an assistant to Martin, and the series began as an RPG in which Martin was a participant. The books in particular follow a structure similar to that of Martin’s books, rotating among different viewpoint characters for different chapters (though without quite so many characters as in Song of Ice and Fire), with each book having a prologue featuring a different viewpoint character from those in any of the later chapters. Moreover, the prologue to each of the first books in each series teases the ominous-threat-from-beyond before initially leaving it behind for the later chapters.

But I don’t want to give the impression that The Expanse is just the saga of Westeros transposed to space. The Expanse is definitely its own thing, and I’d say owes less to GoT than GoT owes to, say, Dune.

While I’ve read all the (thus far extant) books and stories, I haven’t yet gotten very far into the tv series, but what I’ve seen so far is amazing. The setting, for both books and series, is a near-ish future, a couple of centuries out, in which humanity has spread through the solar system but as yet no farther, and the governments of Earth and Mars, settlers of the “outer planets” (the asteroid belt plus the gas-giant moons), and various corporate interests, rebel alliances, and black market actors are all jockeying for power and resources. Earth is an overpopulated, environmentally devastated, over-bureaucratised one-world polity whose wide but shallow welfare state (provider of basic economic assistance, known as “basic”) has ended the threat of starvation but left the bulk of its population with few opportunities, at the mercy of predatory criminal gangs and sex traffickers, and with a kind of spiritual malaise:

Time had not been kind to the city [= Baltimore]. Its coastline was a ruin of drowned buildings kept from salvage by a complexity of rights, jurisdictions, regulations, and apathy until the rising sea had all but reclaimed them for its own. … Sparrows Island stood out in the waves like a widow watching the sea for a ship that would never come home, and Federal Hill scowled back at the city across shallow, filthy water, emperor of its own abandoned land. Everywhere, all through the city, space was at a premium. Extended families lived in decaying apartments designed for half as many. Men and women who couldn’t escape the cramped space spent their days at the screens of their terminals, watching newsfeeds and dramas and pornography and living on the textured protein and enriched rice of basic. For most, their forays into crime were halfhearted, milquetoast affairs – a backroom brewer making weak, unregulated beer; a few kids stealing a neighbor’s clothes or breaking their furniture; a band of scavengers with scrounged tools harvesting metal from the buried infrastructure of the city that had been. Baltimore was Earth writ small, crowded and bored. Its citizens were caught between the dismal life of basic and the barriers of class, race, and opportunity, vicious competition and limited resources, that kept all but the most driven from a profession and actual currency. (“The Churn.”)

This age, this generation, traded its demons for the void. When I was young we were poor, and we are poor again now but differently. When I was young we were afraid to starve, to be without medicines or homes, and the teeth of it gave us meaning. Now we fear being less important than our neighbors. We lost our junkie’s need, and we don’t know what to put in its place. (“The Hunger After You’re Fed.”)

Mars, by contrast, is an independent, prosperous, somewhat militarised, regimented, and gung-ho society collectively dedicated to a multi-generation terraforming project (though some of its citizens dream of a freer lifestyle they might enjoy in their own lifetimes, elsewhere). The denizens of the outer planets, meanwhile, are a decentralised and increasingly resentful underclass who have developed a distinctive culture, language, and (thanks to low gravity) physique, and who have long been exploited by the governmental and corporate powers based on Earth or Mars – yet this oppressed region still represents a desirable frontier for Earth’s underclass yearning for a fresh start:

It was impossible to know how many unregistered men and women were eking out lives on the margin of society …. They congregated in condemned buildings and squats, traded in the gray-market economy of unlicensed services …. all breathing the same air while the plume of the orbital transport marked the sky gold and black above them. … Erich looked up at the sky with a longing he resented. … The blackness of space where merit counted more than the placement on a bureaucrat’s list, where the brothels were licensed and the prostitutes had a union, where freedom was a ship and a crew and enough work to pay for food and air. It called to him with a romance that made his heart ache. (“The Churn.”)

But all of this is background for the main focus of the series, which is precisely on the freedom of “a ship and a crew and enough work to pay for food and air” – specifically the crew of an independent (well, salvaged) (well, sort of stolen) ship called the Rocinante (named after Don Quixote’s horse – as well as, I’m guessing, after the spaceship in Rush’s Cygnus X-1 song series, as the authors are known to be Rush fans). The Rocinante’s crew of misfits, outlaws, and losers, drawn alike from Earth, Mars, and the outer planets, are thrown together by an unexpected catastrophe and initially have little in common, but over time come to bond together into a family even while they become entangled in some fairly massive conflicts and discoveries that will affect the future of all humanity. The story can be quite grim, but also at times quite funny.

With the exception of some ancient and unfathomable alien tech (which follows Clarke’s Third Law), The Expanse goes in for scientific and technological realism in a way that is rare in tv or movie science fiction (though less rare in books). Where many shows treat such details as zero-gravity and its physiological effects, or the lightspeed limit on communication and travel, or the likely inhospitability of alien ecosystems, as impediments to the plot (or, reasonably enough, the budget) – factors to ignore, work around, or drop entirely – The Expanse leans in to them, making them crucial elements of the plot.

Another thing The Expanse does well that was formerly uncommon in science fiction tv series, though it’s rather more common nowadays, is to present our future society as clearly multiracial and multicultural. Admittedly, the series (especially in the books) starts off focusing primarily on two white guys (perhaps not surprising given that the authors are likewise two white guys); but it swiftly becomes an ensemble drama with strong central roles for female characters and characters of multiple ethnicities. (The Expanse definitely features greater racial diversity in its main characters than does Game of Thrones, whose main characters are nearly all drawn from a handful of very white aristocratic families.)

Here’s a helpful video detailing both the scientific realism and the three primary power blocs of The Expanse:

While in its visual look, mournful soundtrack, flawed characters, and political conflicts the tv series is often reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica, the movies and/or tv shows it most brings to mind, for me, are Blade Runner, Alien, Firefly, and Babylon 5: Blade Runner for the noir-detective aspects; Alien and Firefly for the focus on ordinary working stiffs and/or black-market entrepreneurs hauling stuff from planet to planet on a very lived-in spaceship; Firefly and Babylon 5 for the background of interplanetary conflict; and Alien and Babylon 5 for the perilous attempts, by corporations and/or governments, to exploit and weaponise ancient alien biotechnology they’ve discovered but don’t fully understand. (The fact that one female character is a former terrorist wrestling with her past might also be a nod to Deep Space Nine.)

As for literary influences, the authors have mentioned the impact of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination and Frederik Pohl’s Heechee series; and I think I also detect nods to Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. In addition, I’m reminded of Vernor Vinge’s Fire Upon the Deep and Joan Vinge’s Heaven Chronicles, though I’m less sure they’re an influence.

There’s a popular internet theory that The Expanse takes place in the same universe as Andy Weir’s The Martian, based on the fact that one of the Martian ships mentioned in passing in the books is named the Mark Watney. But outer-planet ships named the Dagny Taggart and John Galt likewise get a mention, and nobody thinks this means that The Expanse takes place in the same universe as Atlas Shrugged. (There’s also a ship named the Andreas K, a clear homage to the late Andreas Katsulas, one of the lead actors on Babylon 5 and also an occasional guest star on various iterations of Star Trek.)

Among the various political factions portrayed, none is monolithic; each contains both sympathetic and unsympathetic characters and viewpoints (and those individual characters themselves tend to be a mixture of sympathetic and unsympathetic traits, although there are always a few who are just unredeemable assholes). The authors, while fairly even-handed, clearly favour the O.P.A. (Outer Planets Alliance, the asteroid-belt group resisting centralised control from Earth or Mars) a bit more than the other factions; but the O.P.A. (or certain sub-factions within it, anyway) are also responsible for some of the series’ worst acts of terrorism, and the story’s main protagonists (the crew of the Rocinante), while they’re willing to work with each of the major factions when necessary, prefer to remain independent of any of them so far as possible.

The O.P.A. rebels are likewise politically diverse. Some are described as devotees of “neo-Libertarian property theory” and the idea that “taxation is theft”; but others seem more traditionally left-wing, and in any case most of them certainly show no rigid attachment to the nonaggression principle. The O.P.A. symbol, described rather vaguely as a “split circle” in the books (possibly intended to be a circle representing the solar system, bisected by a line representing the asteroid belt, although this is never made explicit), is made to look more like the anarchy symbol (or even the ALL symbol!) in the tv series:

and there’s also a version floating around on the internet that is even more clearly the anarchy symbol, though I can’t recall seeing this version on the show itself so far:

The O.P.A. does not seem to be an anarchist organisation, however; at least the main, “respectable” faction within the O.P.A. is trying to become a government (though not all of the other O.P.A. factions are on board). Interestingly, Ty Franck himself can be seen wearing an anarchy version of the O.P.A. symbol in this video:

While the books don’t offer clear support to any one political ideology, there are two political morals that get repeatedly stressed. One is that highly centralised authority is generally likely to be a bad idea. The other is that while collateral damage may sometimes be necessary, if you find that the political and/or military objective you’re committed to requires a whole lot of collateral damage, you probably need to find a different objective; or, more briefly, that humanity trumps politics.

One can also find such anarchist-friendly insights in the books as these:

“There has to be a way to come to a final decision.”
“No, there doesn’t. Every time someone starts talking about final anythings in politics, that means the atrocities are warming up. Humanity has done amazing things by just muddling through, arguing and complaining and fighting and negotiating. It’s messy and undignified, but it’s when we’re at our best ….” (Persepolis Rising, p. 394.)

“Governments exist on confidence. Not on liberty. Not on righteousness. Not on force. They exist because people believe they do. Because they don’t ask questions.” (Tiamat’s Wrath, p. 357.)

There’s also a major plot point in the books that turns explicitly (and I mean explicitly, with the standard grid reproduced and everything) on the question of whether iterated prisoner’s dilemma situations can still be relied on to produce cooperation when the impact one side can make by defecting is massively greater than that of the other, as in puny humans versus incomprehensibly powerful alien juggernauts. (I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal that the answer turns out to be a very Humean “not so much,” given that the likely outcome is foreseen well ahead of time by every character whose head is not inserted in his or her ass.)

An interesting feature of the books’ titles is that each contains some mythological or historical or literary metaphor that is never referenced in the actual books themselves. For example, Persepolis Rising implicitly compares one of the books’ factions to the ancient Persian Empire, but in the books that faction is instead named “Laconia,” after ancient Sparta, and no Persian analogy is mentioned. (While the historical Spartan and Persian systems were politically very different from each other, and of course were also enemies, both comparisons make sense in context.)

The Books (and short stories):

Below I list the short story “The Hunger After You’re Fed” as part of the series, even though it’s not quite officially so; the authors have described it as “almost … a prequel” to The Expanse. But it coheres well with the overall series, it’s haunting and thought-provoking, and it sheds light on the workings and effects – both positive and negative – of the future Earth’s universal basic economic assistance policy that’s part of the background of the rest of the series. Plus, appropriately to its subject matter, it’s free!

Publication order:

Diegetic chronological order:

My recommended reading order:

The TV Series (so far):

And finally, some videos to give a flavour of the series:

Vernal Venturings

Two weeks ago I was in New Orleans for the PPE conference. I gave a talk at a panel on self-ownership, and moderated two panels I’d organised, one on anarchist legal theory (with [a subset of] the Molinari/C4SS gang), and one on race and social construction. We discovered a great 24-hour Middle Eastern restaurant, Cleo’s (the new one on Decatur, not the old one-inside-a-grocery on Canal).

Last week, back in Auburn, I attended our department’s 11th annual philosophy conference, this one on explanation and idealisation in science. During Q&A I rode my precisive/non-precisive hobbyhorse as usual.

Right now I’m in San Diego for the WPSA, where I’ll be presenting my Shakespeare/Godwin/Kafka talk. Yesterday I stopped by the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore and bought volumes 6 and 7 in the Expanse series (which I’ll be blogging about in due course; just for now I’ll say: it’s good, read it). Had a delicious farfalle al salmone last night at a sidewalk table at Buon Appetito in Little Italy, and enjoyed an omelette-and-bagel breakfast this morning at Harbor Breakfast to the sound of great jazz songs old and new. (I’ve also been violating the laws of physics, because why not?)

(The day before catching my plane from Atlanta to San Diego, I’d planned to drive up early, go to a bookstore in Atlanta, have a leisurely dinner, and then spend the night at a hotel. But the threat of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and two-inch hailstones kept me in Auburn until the evening when the forecast expired, so by the time I got to Atlanta there was time only for a quick bite at the 24-hour Waffle House across from the hotel.)

Next week I’m off to Prague, where I’ll be giving a workshop on praxeology at the CEVRO Institute, and then presenting a slightly revised version of my Čapek/Kafka/Hašek talk (yes, more Kafka!) at the PCPE. (The revision is a very slightly fuller discussion of my suggestion that Kafka’s bureaucratic nightmares are intended to be read at two levels – a political level, where they’re condemned, and a theological level, where they’re not. There’ll be a print version eventually, inshallah.)

To Pelias Thus the Hasty Prince Repair’d

Another LWMA interview: Joel Williamson interviews Jason Lee Byas on (inter alia) radical liberalism, right-wing tribalism, the wage system, and the importance of having an intersecting mix of market-based and non-market-based social forms in an anarchist society:

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