Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Lifestyle Politics, Anarchism, and Living Well

I've been talking with friends and family about anarchism a lot lately, and some of it has made me think about the old debate we used to have in Love and Rage about "lifestyle" politics, aka "Counterculture." (Officially, we were against what some called "lifestyle anarchism" but many of us, like the guy in the linked article above, had come to anarchism through punk-rock, and we also advocated the creation of an oppositional, anti-white, queer friendly counter-culture, which we seemed to hope to create through having multi-racial hip-hop dance parties and appearing at protests against Christian fundamentalists in drag).
Today, as I'm on my way to the library to switch between books on the US CP, the Friends of Durruti, and the purported relationship between Italian anarchism and fascism, I've come across two distinctly cultural-political mixes that make me feel once again, the importance of the acting out of one's political ideals in either the culture of every day life or in the production of music, film, or some other arty thing.
The first one was a story about Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame, and her "edible schoolyard " in Washington, DC. Waters is decidedly bourgeois, but her gardens are a great idea, and it's certainly worthwhile to teach kids about vegetables and healthy eating in a society with such a serious junk food problem. I had no idea, as I knew of Waters primarily through her rep. as a chef, that she had been involved in the Free Speech Movement. While you might be raising your eyebrows and doubting the importance of food and politics, just think about the cost of not eating locally grown produce, and the problems of industrial agriculture. This is a serious problem directly related to global inequality, capitalism, etc.
The other anarchist reminder I just came across today was Gogol Bordello, one of my favorite bands to see live. They represent the opposite side of counter-cultural politics, the drunken, unhealthy, decadent debauched type. But, despite the drunknenness, those guys have done some really interesting projects, including a Romany hip-hop album. The problem is that it's perfectly possible to enjoy Gogol shows, listen to their records, etc. and get primarily a message of non-stop drunken partying and pro-globalization cosmopolitanism, both of which work very well in the context of capitalism. I am not in agreement with economistic pessimist Thomas Frank on this issue, but I think he does have a point, when he argues that in our current global economy, The key myth, endlessly repeated, is that of the Rebel Consumer, whose lifestyle choices are too extreme to be accepted by stuffy old losers, and who demonstrates his noncomformity and antinomianism by his purchasing habits....Between Rebel Consumers and Rebel Executives, we are all antinomians now; antinomians with day-planners, Nietzscheans taken beyond good and evil by Visa.
Is it possible to create an anti-capitalist counterculture that can't be coopted by consumer culture? Neither punk rock nor hip survived. The only example I've ever seen is those kids who travel on box cars and either grow their own, or scavenge in garbage dumpsters outside the supermarkets (easier in cold climates than hot ones) for their food.

1 comment:

sf_gary said...

The non-co-opted counterculture... does it exist? In the context of your essay I'd offer the moontribe of California, doing regular events for over 12 years that do not allow commerce and avoid publicity, kind of a Burning Man without the entry fee or regulations. And they're not alone.

Hip hop may have been encroached upon, but some the movements it spawned are thriving. Trance and electo, no doubt due to a certain inaccessiblilty, have stubbornly remained below the radar, at least at the core.

I have almost the same feelings about culture and counterculture that I understand you to have about whiteness - the dominant culture is the death of us, defining nirvana in terms of consumption. No matter how the culture defines counterculture (and the point about rebel consumers is *so* right on), to me its defining characteristic is non-consumerism. It sounds like semantics... but when I dance I don't want to buy.