Advaita has been described as the ultimate anarchy: no "I", no boundaries, and a vista of total sensory liberation ...
Anarchism is perpetually dismissed as the ideology of choice for zit-raddled teens as they car crash through adolescence ... Our corporate media trots out the usual fear-based nightmare scenarios, spun from movies like Mad Max, as an example of the hell world that awaits us if we succumb to this dangerous and immature ideology. But what if anarchism is not a political "-ism" but a way of being where all the barriers of conditional existence have fled the stage and totally cease to impinge on our lives?
Some cite Taoism as the earliest form of anarchism, particularly in the figure of Chuang Tzu who famously remarked that the world does not need governing. He said it should be left alone to allow natural and spontaneous order to flower. Chuang Tzu lived during the Warring States period (4th century BCE) when China was in one of its peak phases of disintegration. The Taoist classic of the Tao Te Ching also roughly dated to this time states: "The world is ruled by letting things take their course. It cannot be ruled by interfering" (verse 48, lines 4 & 5). The core of Taoism is to focus on wu-wei, often translated as "non-doing." This is not the total absence of action. Rather, it is action wholly in accord with nature. In the early societies of ancient China, survival would have depended on intuiting and co-operating with the forces of nature in order to successfully grow food. Plants were found to grow best if they were left to follow their own nature. In the same way humans would flourish when least meddled with. In his Inner Chapters (No.11 entitled "Let It Be, Leave It Alone," verse 1), Chuang Tzu tells us that governance can even be dangerous:
I have heard of letting the world be, of leaving it alone; I have never heard of governing the world. You let it be for fear of corrupting the inborn nature of the world; you leave it alone for fear of distracting the virtue of the world. If the nature of the world is not corrupted, if the virtue of the world is not distracted, why should there be any governing of the world?
Here the prevailing ethos was not to forget the interests of others. This was not a sullen selfishness but a pursuit of personal good, which involved a concern for general well-being. The more a person does for others, the more he has. The more he gives to others, the greater his "dé" (德) or virtue ...
The similarity between wu-wei in ancient Chinese culture and an-archos in ancient Greek is quite striking. Wu-wei is being without "wei": that is, an absence of contrived behaviour. In the political context, the imposition of authority would be entirely absent. Meanwhile an-archos means "lack of a ruler." But anarchism is much more than this. Not just seeing governance as undesirable, unnecessary and even harmful, it entails opposing authority and hierarchy in human relations as well as politics and big business. Anarchism is therefore a reaction to the ego as represented by the machinery of society and the state. In the popular imagination (often encouraged by right wing discourse), this has fuelled images of rioting in the streets and violent insurrection. In fact anarchism is subtle, because it is so entirely anti-dogma. It does not offer a fixed doctrine; it draws on multiple currents of thought; and it weaves and flows as an ever evolving philosophy.
Modern anarchism as it is espoused by contemporary advocates such as Noam Chomsky is usually a form of libertarian communism. Here the needs of the individual and the collective flow seamlessly and organically together. Common ownership of the means of production predominates in a society whether there is neither state, capitalism, wages nor private property. Critically however, production and consumption are based on each person's precise needs and abilities. People still retain personal items and engage in pure democracy (voting directly on political policies without a political representative). These ideas developed out of the radical socialist currents of the French Revolution. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, was the first to call himself an "anarchist." He favoured workers' associations and co-operatives over nationalization of land and the workplace and is famous for the slogan, "property is theft." Meanwhile the Russian revolutionary, Mikhail Bakunin, laid down the foundation of collectivist anarchist theory. For him, workers should directly manage their own means of production with "equal means of subsistence, support, education, and opportunity for every child, boy or girl, until maturity, and equal resources and facilities in adulthood to create his own well-being by his own labour."
What would a libertarian communist society look like? During the Russian Civil War, in late 1918, a stateless society known as the Free Territory operated in the southeast of the Ukraine under the protection of Nestor Makhno's Black Army. This was organized according to the theories of Peter Kropotkin with voluntary associations and a type of free exchange occurring between rural and urban communities. He expanded the definition of libertarian communism by developing its pro-organizationalist and insurrectionary anti-organizationalist aspects. In particular, Kropotkin emphasised co-operation over competition alongside the gift economies and non-accumulation of private property practised by the indigenous peoples of Siberia. There were also the anarchist territories that operated during the Spanish Civil War. A social revolution in 1936 saw much of Spain's economy placed under worker control. Factories in the stronghold of Revolutionary Catalonia, most of Aragon, and parts of the Levante and Andalusia were run through worker committees; agrarian areas were collectivised and run as libertarian communes; and even shops, restaurants and hotels were managed by their workers.
These two examples were birthed during the stress of war. One played out against the backdrop of the collapse of imperial power in Russia while the other was the product of the fight against Fascism in 1930s' Spain. This was a clear battle for dominion between known forces. Our globalist quagmire today is born of the Baby Boomer culture of narcissism. This is a society of supposed individualism where Freudian psychoanalysis has been used for decades to give the illusion of choice and freedom. In his documentary, The Century of the Self, the polemicist Adam Curtis exposes how from the 1920s onwards, the ideas of Edwards Bernays were used first by governments and then by big business and the CIA, to control "the dangerous crowd" in an age of mass democracy. Bernays invented public relations. He took the theories of his uncle Sigmund Freud and showed America's corporations how to make people want what they didn't need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious mind. Freud introduced us to the notion of the control-complex named the ego. He believed that man had a monster lurking in his psyche in the form of hidden passions and dark instinctual drives, which must be repressed. His ideas were born out of a deep pessimism which only intensified with the mass slaughter of the First World War and they were taken further by his daughter, Anna Freud. She said that not only should the ego be strengthened in order to help repress our inner drives for the good of the individual and the stability of the society, but that those drives should be removed. Bernays therefore suggested that as passive recipients of material goods, man's irrational and aggressive tendencies could be managed and eventually eliminated. By stimulating the people's inner desires - then sating them with consumer products - they would be made happy and thus rendered docile.
This was the start of the all-consuming self, which has come to dominate our present world. In a later development in the history of psychoanalysis, the ideas of Wilhelm Reich came to the fore. Once a devoted disciple of Freud, Reich believed that rather than being bad, man's animal instincts were good. It was their repression by society that distorted human consciousness and made people dangerous. This led him to teach that sexuality was the primary energetic force of life. He named this orgone and said that if the libido was released and allowed to express itself, the human being would flourish. In the 1950s, Reich and his students were condemned as a "cult of sex and anarchy." But his ideas ultimately provided an even bigger opportunity for the political and corporate elite. Now there were unlimited feelings and desires, these could be satisfied by unlimited products. This cycle further intensified with the protests of the American Student Left against the illegal Vietnam War, segregation and Western consumerism. When the state proved simply too powerful and the activists were ruthlessly put down, they again invoked the Reichian self. The idea was that they would change society by changing themselves. Using new forms of therapy such as Gestalt and EST, they would unleash their "true self" and produce an "I" capable of overthrowing the old order. This fed the corporations even more. With the further expansion of the parameters of emotional expression, a much stronger sense of personal identity emerged. Now the companies could design more targeted products linked to people's values, attitudes and lifestyle (VALs). Today the battle lines have become blurred and we are led by the nose, victims of a sinister "engineering of consent." (What do you think Starbucks and Facebook are up to: quality coffee and a nice cosy chat?) The 60s was supposed to be a radical epoque, but gave birth to a ruthless Counter Reformation led by corporate elites fed on the milk of the Randian cult of supreme selfishness. Now all the old hippies have become rightwing CEOs!
The novel, Q, by Luther Blissett (a pseudonym for a collective, bizarrely named after the Watford and A.C. Milan footballer!) offers us a potential anarchist response to today's neo-liberal hegemony. The book has been interpreted as an allegory of the decline of European society after the 1960s and 1970s, based on what occurred during the Anabaptist Revolts and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, which repressed any heretical theological current or alternative social movement. This is a metaphor for the vengeful rebirth of conservative ideologies towards the close of the 20th century. An IMF-driven corporate globalization of the economy has been ruthlessly deployed to rout any form of resistance. The story chronicles the journey of a nameless Anabaptist radical across Europe in the first half of the 16th century. Over a 30 year period, he joins numerous causes which have grown out of the Protestant Reformation and each time adopts a new name. This is because he is constantly being stalked by a Catholic spy named "Q" who has infiltrated these revolutionary movements in a deliberate attempt to undermine them. Here the anarchist is a collective "phantom" of dynamic, transformative capacity with a subversive, shifting identity. The protagonist has no name. His influence reaches every part of society. He incites rebellious acts and organises hoaxes, swindles and mischief to undermine authority and its institutions.
The emphasis here is on anonymity. It is the act which is important - not the actor - and this act could be done by anyone. In contemporary terms Wikileaks is a prime example, publishing secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources. Its Twitter account provocatively promises: "We open governments. Everywhere." This is the world of the cyber attack and hacktivism: the work of the faceless saboteur who continually pokes our moral conscience. It can also be no coincidence that the Luther Blissett collective writing the book Q, later changed their name to Wu Ming. In Mandarin Chinese (无名), this translates as "without a name" or "nameless." It can also mean "anonymous." In China the term is used to pay tribute to dissidents and as a rejection of the machinery by which an author becomes a celebrity. It is also employed by Chinese citizens to demand democracy and freedom of speech. Further, in Literary Chinese, wu-ming (無名) alludes to the beginning of heaven and earth, mentioned in verse 1, line 3 of the Tao Te Ching (無名天地之始 - wúmíng tiāndì zhī shǐ). The collective may also be claiming a metaphysical status for their work, where writing itself is seen as an anarchic act.
But does anarchism really work? The evidence suggests not. First of all we are not ready for anarchism. In his current state, man cannot even engage in a simple act of sharing. One of the most persuasive descriptions of an anarchist world is provided by the science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin in her novel, The Dispossessed. But even this puritanical and selfless utopia is riddled with jealousy and the corruption of subtle hierarchy. Le Guin writes of a planet named Urras and in particular its moon Anarres, where there are no government or coercive authoritarian institutions. The main character, Shevek, discovers that the revolution which brought his world into being, has resulted in massive stagnation with power structures relentlessly starting to creep back in. Meanwhile both the anarchist societies formed out of the Russian and Spanish Civil Wars were transient flashes in the pan, lasting in both cases no more than two or three years. Even the legendary Spanish anarchist, Durruti, was rumoured to have been murdered by one of his own men for imposing too much discipline on his militia.
In fact anarchism is a reaction to the state and subtly reinforces it. The two are hopelessly intertwined. The yin-yang symbol of Taoism expresses this dynamic. It depicts seemingly contrary and opposed forces as inseparable with one never being found without the other. This can be seen in the ironic juxtaposition of how an agent of the Catholic Counter-Reformation has become the modern cultural image of anarchist insurrection. Guy Fawkes unsuccessfully plotted to blow up the parliament of King James I of England but his mask - spawned by the 2005 movie, V for Vendetta - has become the accessory of choice for both the Occupy Movement and the Anonymous group. Separated from religion, Guy Fawkes' image has been usefully inverted from that of a traitor to a modern-day hero fighting an unjust state. But there's an even more ironic twist ... The mask is licensed by Time Warner, which released V for Vendetta. So anti-big-corporation protesters buying these masks are helping to enrich one of the targets of their demonstrations! Any attempt to challenge social and economic inequality is found to be hand-in-glove with the capitalist state. Who's fooling who?
Additionally, we seem to be confined to an endless swing between "inner" versus "outer" solutions to state domination. Neither solution seems to work. There are those committed to transforming the world through working internally on their fixations and emotions, while others attempt to build externally, the sustainable communities and cashless societies of the future. Anarchism offers an outer solution: a practical political alternative to the madness of a system which installs an all-powerful elite in order to force (so-called) democracy and capitalism on to the populace, ensuring they will never think or act for themselves. But exterior political forms reflect our interior worlds: so where shall we start, on the outside or on the inside? One thing is for sure: past revolutions have created a greater tyranny than the ones they replace. This sees us back once again with institutional oppression and the reinstatement of kings. As it is, in a world where everyone is reduced to being buried alive under the bullshit of hierarchy and authority, people retreat to their own private fascist universes, sculpting themselves in the image of exactly the same mindset of oppression ...
But isn't the biggest problem, fixed views: attempting to apply a formula to what is essentially, a mystery? Anarchism still presents us with a theory and a set of rules for solving a problem. Any formula is an imposition and not an organic arising (i.e. free from control and hierarchy). Returning to the Tao Te Ching, we have its timeless first line - 道可道非常道 - dào kě dào, fēi cháng dào. It means that anything which you can speak of, tell, express, describe or explain can never be living or eternal. That is, to attempt to encapsulate or grasp something is to lose it. Verse 1, line 9 describes life as 玄之又玄 - hsuán zhī yòu hsuán or "mystery and again mystery" - pointing to its wonder and the total impossibility of it ever being understood. The human tendency is always to form hierarchy and modes of dominance out of spontaneity and immediacy, fuelled as we all are by self-interest and personal ambition. While life is dynamic, fluid and ever changing, to be an anarchist is to preside over that dynamic and demand that certain things or actions do or do not occur. There is a belief system in place; a given way of thinking. Surely this is the act of violence: insisting that the world sees everything the same way that you do!
Anarchism is engaging in an act of oppression similar to that of the state. But despite its fundamental flaws, anarchism is an expression of what is best in us, an invocation of our hopes for a more open and inclusive society. It is an outburst of idealism in a dark world where nothing seems to be working and the relation between domination and subjugation is becoming ever more extreme. Anarchism is simply an outer materialist expression of an inner knowing: our fumbling attempt to know what cannot be known. Critically, from birth the human psyche is inducted into social and cultural straitjacketing. Layer upon layer of mental and emotional conditioning breaks our connection with the primal source. We've never had a chance: what links the inner and the outer and flows across them has never been left alone to flower. In the ancient Vedic cultures, for the first 40 days, a newborn baby was reared in nature without any human contact beyond that of its natural parents. This allowed the child to become strong in an unbroken communion with itself and the raw universal forces by which we are all shaped. The need for liberation was never envisaged because we were already born free.
Advaita also offers the promise of eternal freedom. Its strategy is to focus on the inner world at the expense of the outer. Through an internal journey of contemplation and self-enquiry, it negates the external world in order to surrender to the ultimate reality of the Self. Even Ramana upheld the basically Hindu belief in fatalism where everything unfolds according to a pre-ordained script. Steeped in predestination, he had nothing to say about the inequality of the caste system or the prolific sexual violence against Indian women. This was because as far as he was concerned, these things did not need to be any different from what they were. For him, political action constituted a conscious turning away from the Self in order to pursue a self-centred agenda, entirely ignoring the Self's plan. Change was only necessary or possible at the personal level, with Self realisation being the sole means of helping the world. This fission between politics and spirituality is well known in Indian society. The famous anecdote of Mahatma Gandhi's 'non-meeting' with Ramana is a good example. In the 1930s, Gandhi was scheduled to give a talk some 400 yards from Ramana Ashram and it was hoped he would first visit Ramana. But when the time came and the car stopped near the ashram gate for a few minutes, Rajagopalachari, an accompanying congress politician, ordered it to drive straight on. Ramana himself said that Gandhi had wanted to visit him but that Rajagopalachari had prevented him from doing so. Knowing that he was an advanced soul, Rajagopalachari feared that Gandhi would fall into samadhi and fail to fulfill the political destiny of the Indian nation.
This 'split reality' is symptomatic of the problem inherent in both Hinduism and Advaita. Brahman alone is real so the rest of the world is unreal. Effectively this is saying that things like maiming Indian beggar children in order to make money doesn't really matter. Not only is this a clever control mechanism for diffusing dissent, it's a mandate for a dangerous passivity and enforced victimhood. It's a pitiful exploitation of the human being. Because the Self is an ultimate, unchanging state, it is the individual self which must always change - necessitating a theory of man's worthlessness and inner corruption to be corrected by spiritual practice. Advaita is rooted in a Manichaean mindset of moral dualism where the key to heaven is a stark choice between the forces of good and evil. Man is deeply flawed and nothing is ever perfect. Everything is hopeless and beyond salvation, derived of a dark, pessimistic mindset where only the internal spiritual world has value. This is the crucible in which Saint Augustine's ideas of original sin were formed: these have travelled to South India via British Colonialism irrevocably shaping 20th century Advaita. Thus today's Tiruvannamalai exhibits a highly disturbed blend of extreme Hindu moral conservatism. Upper class Indians and wannabe sadhaks alike, sneer at "low caste locals" and "inferior Westerners." Then they dismiss everything with their mantra of supremacy: "But who is the one who is doing/saying this?" You only have to take one look at the fucked up fanatics in town to see the future ain't so bright!
Advaita is a schizoid religious response born of a beguiling paradox: in order to be free we have to submit to the narcotic glamour of yet another control regime of domination, hierarchy and subjugation (a bit like a Stalinist dictatorship!) We're back in the sadomasochistic world of states of spiritual attainment and the deviant pleasures of sadhana and self-denial (see A prison without bars). Advaita will never be truly anarchic. It exists only to uphold the authority of the Upanishads: it is a secondhand philosophy featuring a set of rigid rules to be followed without question. Shankara was far from being a radical: he merely systematised Gaudapada's earlier attempts to patch up Vedanta, which was badly in need of rebranding. And he stole these ideas from Buddhism, corrupting them for the purposes of his new super-theology. Today's Advaita is actually produced out of two control regimes conjoined: the world of ancient Indian philosophy and spirituality and the modern corporate world of individualistic, commoditised desire. Just look at the cross-cultural disaster of Rajneesh's famous fuck factory/ashram in Pune, which has successfully manufactured some of the most self-obsessed, sociopathic entities in the known universe! Back in the tight assed world of Advaita, with its focus on the inner world so similar to the Freudian model, desire originates internally and is objectified as something evil and immoral. The Self is found within and Advaita's version of the ego - the small self - oversees final realisation. In the hell-hole of our hidden urges, we must repress our sexuality and turn celibate or risk succumbing to a Dionysian orgy of excess. According to Reich, all those dried up sadhaks need is one hell of a good orgasm!
Freedom can never be born out of oppression, whatever form it takes. Anarchism and advaita are not so different: they are both caught in the jaws of the infrastructure of the "above" and the "below." But surely the issue is no longer about coming up with new political or religious theories: in the end both are an epistle of "I" beholden to the apparatus of state domination. This is not about filling the never-ending inner void with the light of spiritual fixation. Neither is it about the feeding of our limitless desire for enlightenment in the outer world. It is about an end to the system of hierarchy and imposition which keeps these activities in place. The question is whether we wait for the inevitable collapse of the machine which so obviously enslaves us or whether we initiate for ourselves, a new way of being. To make the switch away from hierarchy and imposition, we are speaking to a different kind of human impulse. One that finally leaves behind the cacophony of mad ideas all serving to build up the illusion of a separate self, which must then be done away with. This would be to abandon the vicious circle of bondage and liberation: to never enter into it. It would require a quantum leap in consciousness with anarchism becoming a metaphor for primordial freedom - rather than a collectivist solution to the ills of society. All it takes is the 100th monkey ... What will be the evolutionary tipping point?
It's a glorious endeavour even if it is doomed to failure ... But just like Don Quixote, is it not better to dream the impossible dream than live a sham shadow life as slaves to the self? We may be chasing windmills but in our imaginations we are slaying dragons. When one fire is lit, it can start a conflagration ...