Anarcho-Primitivism: Civilization, Symbolic Culture, and Rewilding

Dr. Layla AbdelRahim is an anthropologist, author, Revolutionary, and anarcho-primitivist thinker who urges us to examine civilization, its premises, its psychology, its pathologies, and its manifestions (including capitalism). She sits down with Brett to discuss the philosophy of anarcho-primitivism and debunks myths that many leftists have about the tendency and the philosophy that goes with it. It’s not a call to dismantle everything with no concern for who it hurts; rather it offers a way *forward* by insisting on an analysis that goes deeper than capitalism, and cuts to the core of our civilization, our evolutionary history, and our psyches. This is a must-listen episode! 
Topics Include: Civilization, language, anthropology, symbolic culture, the use of language, the agricultural revolution, Marxism, the concept of “rewilding”, meditation, train journies across Russia, going into nature, and much more!!!
 
HERE IS THE INTERVIEW: http://revolutionaryleftradio.libsyn.com/anarcho-primitivism-civilization-symbolic-culture-and-revolutionary-rewilding

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Links to Layla’s websites, where you can find her books and writings:
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Interpreting ‘Firefly’: Libertarianism Vs. Anarchism w/ Dr. James Rocha

Dr. James Rocha is a professor of philosophy at Fresno State University. He wrote a paper entitled “The Black Reaching Out: An Anarchist Analysis of Firefly” in which he argues for an anarchist interpretation of the show over the more prevalent libertarian interpretation on the show. Him and Brett discuss the paper and the arguments therein.
 
Topics include: Anarchism, Libertarianism, morality, feminism, the genre of Sci Fi, analysis of the State, and much more.

HERE IS THE INTERVIEW: http://revolutionaryleftradio.libsyn.com/interpreting-firefly-libertarianism-vs-anarchism-w-dr-james-rocha

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Christian Socialism: The Fusion of Faith and Revolution (Feat: The Magnificast)

Matt Bernico is the assistant professor of Media Studies at Greenville College, where his teaching and research concerns cultural studies, media theory, and the history of science and technology.

Dean Dettloff is a Catholic PhD candidate at the Institute for Christian Studies, where his research deals with the intersections of media theory, religion, and politics.

Together, they host the Christian Socialist podcast “The Magnificast”. Brett sits down with Matt and Dean to discuss the philosophy of Christian Leftism.

Topics include: Key figures on the Christian Left, Marxist Materialism, political violence and pacifism, Nietzsche, New Atheism, and much more.

HERE IS THE INTERVIEW: http://revolutionaryleftradio.libsyn.com/-christian-socialism-the-fusion-of-faith-and-revolution

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Omaha To Denver: RevLeft Radio in Dialogue w/ Solecast

Brett travels to Denver to meet Sole from the Solecast IRL and have a discussion in Sole’s home together.

Topics include: their Podcasts and why they started, being a leftist parent, hip hop, the responsibilities of white rappers, the differences between organizing in Omaha vs. Denver, gentrification, what different tendencies can learn from one another, and much more.

HERE IS THE INTERVIEW: http://revolutionaryleftradio.libsyn.com/omaha-to-denver-revleft-radio-in-dialogue-w-solecast

Check out Sole’s podcast and music here: http://www.soleone.org/

And here: https://sole.bandcamp.com/music

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Anarchism: Philosophy and History (w/ Dr. Mark Bray)

Mark Bray is a historian of human rights, terrorism, and political radicalism in Modern Europe. He completed his PhD in Modern European and Women’s and Gender History at Rutgers University in 2016, and is currently finishing his manuscript “The Anarchist Inquisition: Terrorism and the Ethics of Modernity in Spain, 1893-1909.” “The Anarchist Inquisition” explores the emergence of groundbreaking human rights campaigns across Europe and the Americans in response to the Spanish state’s brutal repression of dissent in the wake of anarchist bombings and assassinations. At GRID, he will begin work on his next project which explores the cultures of violence and street resistance that emerge in the social movements of postwar Western Europe and their impact on conceptions of leftist masculinity in the context of the emergence of competing conceptions of feminism. Bray is the author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook (Melville House, 2017) and Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street (Zero Books, 2013) as well as the co-editor of the forthcoming Francisco Ferrer and the Modern School (PM Press, 2018).

Brett sits down with Dr. Mark Bray to discuss the political philosophy, history, and future of Anarchism.

Topics include: Bakunin and Marx, the first international, the Spanish Civil War, Stalinism, listener questions, the anarchist view of the State, Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, and much more!

HERE IS THE INTERVIEW: http://revolutionaryleftradio.libsyn.com/website/anarchism-philosophy-and-history-with-dr-mark-bray

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Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia and the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche

Last night I was home alone during an odd storm which beat on my windows all night. It started as a thunderstorm of rain and developed into a thunderstorm of sleet/hail and then eventually into a thunderstorm of snow; fully equipped with lightening all the way through. It was the perfect setting within which to watch the dazzling Lars Von Trier film “Melancholia”, which portrays the strained relationship between two sisters, Justine and Claire, as an unforeseen rogue planet barrels into the solar system and heads straight for Planet Earth. The purpose of this short essay is not to give a review or a summary of the film (I am assuming readers will have already watched the film), but rather to explore a philosophical aspect of the film that I have not heard others comment on (although perhaps some have). It is my contention that this film, which examines the depths of depression, isolation, nihilism, and annihilation, is heavily influenced by Nietzschean philosophy.

During the first half of the film, Justine is suffering from a particularly intense episode of near catatonic depression, while her sister Claire, sober and stoic, helps her through it. Half way through the film though, Justine begins to slowly emerge out of her depression, just as Claire slowly descends into a chaotic panic as it becomes increasingly clear that the rogue planet “Melancholia” is on a collision course with the Earth. The sisters effectively switch emotional positions. What marks this stark role reversal is a scene in which the two sisters are out riding horses together and Justine, still depressed at this point, tries to urge her horse to cross a bridge which it refuses to cross. In a frenzy of anger, Justine beats the horse with her whip and kicks it with her feet until the horse collapses; she continues to beat him as her sister Claire, riding around in small circles on her horse, yells desperately at Justine to stop. This scene sets into motion the emotional role reverasal between the sisters. Claire, from this point forward, slowly gets more and more anxious and eventually descends into full blown panic attacks as well as completely irrational (and utterly futile) attempts to flee with her son in the face of oncoming armageddon.

The scene with the horse is eerily reminiscent of the famous story of the 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. The story goes that one day while walking in streets of Turin, Nietzsche came upon a horse being beaten by its owner. Nietzsche, in an emotional frenzy, ran over to the horse screaming, draped his arms around it desperately, and then collapsed onto the cobblestone streets. He was arrested by two nearby policemen for causing a public disturbance. But this event signaled his complete mental breakdown from which he never recovered. He lived the rest of his life under the watch of his sister, and never contributed to philosophy or literature again.

The connection seems obvious to me: just as Nietzsche went crazy after seeing the beating of the horse, so did Claire. Her usual calm and commanding demeanor slowly evaporated away (not unlike the atmosphere of Earth as Melancholia approached) until she was left in emotional ruin. Furthermore, Nietzsche’s philosophy centered around the problems of a post-god world, and the subsequent creep of nihilism into the human psyche, which Nietzsche saw as a terrible thing that humanity had to overcome; not by reverting back to the old religions, but by pushing through nihilism and transcending it (for those that were strong enough to do so). The relentless approach of the rogue planet Melancholia can be seen as a loose symbol for the approaching nihilism that Nietzsche was so concerned about: both representing the total destruction of all human values and meaning.

The connection between the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and the themes of the movie is made even more explicit by Von Trier’s use of Richard Wagner’s music to underscore the film; namely Wagner’s famous opera, “Tristan Und Isolde” (which was inspired by Arthur Schopenhauer, another German philosopher, who was famous for his philosophical pessimism and was a huge influence on Nietzsche). Richard Wagner was a famous German composer and contemporary of Friedrich Nietzsche. In fact, Nietzsche and Wagner were, at one time, very close friends, and Nietzsche wrote one of his most famous works, “The Birth of Tragedy”, which trumpeted Wagner’s music as the “rebirth” of European high culture. Soon, though, their friendship became strained, and then ended bitterly, as Wagner moved his music in a new direction that Nietzsche hated. It is not accident, then, that Wagner’s music would be used in a film that is heavily influenced by Nietzsche. The assertion, were it to be made, that this is all mere coincidence strains credulity.

To take my theory about the connection between Nietzschean philosophy and this film a step further, I think it is worth noting that another fundamental element of Nietzsche’s philosophy (which was thematized in “Melancholia”) was a skepticism of scientific truth and human reason. He appreciated science and he clearly used reason, but he was intimately aware of their innate limitations and criticized those who had too much faith in them. This is reflected in the film in the form of Claire’s husband, John, a rationalist, who is hyper-confident throughout the entire film that “the scientists” are certain that the rouge planet will not collide with Earth, but rather perform a safe fly-by; it will appear beautifully in the sky, but humanity is not in danger. He carries a telescope, a scientific instrument and a symbol of the scientific method and worldview, around with him most of the film, through which he gazes at Melancholia amusedly and excitedly. For him, it is just a spectacle of science. Later, when he realizes that the scientists were wrong, and that Planet Melancholia is in fact going to collide with Earth, he commits suicide by swallowing poison in the horse’s stable. The certainty that science and reason had provided for him evaporates, and the existentially destabilizing pain caused by the catastrophic failure of his faith in science proves too much to cope with. His very identity was tied up in his belief in science, reason, and order, and when those broke down, so did his entire sense of self. When his wife, Claire, finds his dead body, she covers him with a thin layer of straw from the floor of the horse stable. He dies an animals death.

To conclude, the beating of the horse which leads to Claire’s emotional breakdown, the exploration of nihilism and the (literal) destruction of all values, the use of Richard Wagner’s music throughout the film, and the depiction of a dogmatic faith-in-science, and its tragically complete failure, all stand as strong evidence that there is, in fact, a clear and distinct strain of Nietzschean philosophy that Von Trier consciously put into his film.

I love this gorgeous and melancholy film. It is, like all of Von Trier’s work, as beautiful and emotional as it is intellectual. It is a true masterpiece of cinema and of art generally.

 

Six Ways of Approaching and Interpreting Marxism

Marxism, like many philosophical traditions, is a huge series of concepts and ideas with plenty of complexity and nuance. Too often discussions of Marxism are befuddled and unproductive because people are using the term in different ways than their conversational partner, and so they end up talking past one another. What I want to do here is propose six basic ways of approaching and studying Marxism in an effort to bring some of these complexities and nuances to light, and thereby, hopefully, increase clarity and understanding with regards to discussions of Marx and Marxism. I am motivated to do this because I think Marx, more than ever, offers an essential and important way of orienting oneself to current social, political, and economic events in the pursuit of understanding them fully. However, for a plethora of reasons, there continues to be a stigma attached to Marx and Marxism, and a large reason for this is because so much confusion exists as to what exactly it is; I hope this short essay will clear some of that confusion up.

Here are six general ways of understanding Marxism (in no particular order):

1) As a historical, empirical subject of study: If you were asked, for example, to do a paper on Marx in a college class, you would likely approach him in this  way; as a subject of third-person research or of a biography, in which the historical facts of his life and writings are explicated in as objective a way as possible.

2) As a doctrine: as a core set of ideas. This is done by extracting what one considers to be the central points of Marxism, and molding them into a coherent doctrine that can be subscribed to or refuted. This involves abstracting away from any changes in his thought over time in order to put forward a cohesive net of basic ideas. It is a rational reconstruction of Marx’s thought based on what one believes to be the most important, or most central, aspect of his thought. 

3) As a conceptual revolution: One could view Marx, fundamentally, as starting a *tradition* of thought; as re-conceptualizing capitalism and history, and thereby spawning a philosophical and political tradition. Much like Darwin and Freud re-conceptualized biology and the mind, starting long traditions which expanded on, edited, corrected, and carried forward those basic ideas.

4) As a branching-off: You could study the thought of *the people who called themselves Marxists* throughout history (Lenin, Adorno, Althusser, Gramsci, Debord, Kautsky, Luxemburg, etc.). So Marxism just becomes a loosely connected net of different strains of thought as represented by different thinkers after Marx. In this interpretation, Marxism becomes identical to the thought of historical figures who called themselves Marxist.

5) As a historical application: You could study Marxism merely by studying the ways in which his ideas were put into practice, focusing more on how they operated in the real world (Soviet Union, Cuba, China, etc.) instead of on the ideas themselves or the methodology he proposed. In this interpretation, Marxism most often becomes synonymous with Leninism and Stalinism. Many of Marxism’s opponents take up this interpretation as the ONLY valid interpretation for obvious reasons.

6) As a methodology: as an interpretive lens through which one can make sense of historical and political events and through which one can analyze the economic paradigm. It can be seen as a continuing project of consistently applying the methodology that Marx put forward. Under this view, it matters less what the exact ideas of Marx himself were, and instead focuses on the WAY in which Marx proposed we analyze the world.

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I study Marxism largely via #3 and #6. And insofar as I call myself a Marxist, I mean that I view him as a conceptual revolutionary who put forward an interpretive lens and a methodology (namely historical and dialectical materialism, theory of alienation, the critique of political economy, etc.) that I find particularly useful in analyzing current social, political, historical, and economic events. It is not a dogma or a doctrine to which I blindly adhere, rather its a general approach I take, fully backed up and informed by my own critical thinking, ethical values, and political / historical context. Beyond that basic orientation to Marxism, I also find #4 extremely important. Marx was just a human being, and as such he was wrong about a lot, and many thinkers that came after him took his thought in new and exciting directions, and expanded on his philosophy in such a way that it was improved and updated, and continues to be improved and updated. I place myself in that long tradition of people who studied Marx and his philosophical heirs, and who continue to update Marxism and apply it in new and unique contexts (as Marx himself would have wanted).

But NONE of these ways of interpreting Marxism are completely wrong. All of them are valid ways of studying Marxism, its just a matter of realizing that all these approaches exist and are valid in their own ways, and then being conscious about how you are using the terms involved at any given moment.

Lots of confusion stems from people talking past one another by using different approaches without being clear, in their own minds as well as explicitly, about which one they are using. I’ll often get into arguments with people interpreting Marxism STRICTLY as #5, when I am using it in the ways outlined by #3 and #6. Such discussions are bound to fail because we are literally talking about different things without realizing it, and no constructive dialogue can blossom out of that fundamental miscommunication.

So, whether you are sympathetic to Marxism or are firmly opposed to it, I hope you keep these distinctions in mind going forward, and do your best to articulate them explicitly when engaging in dialogue about Marx and Marxism. It’s not only an intellectual obligation, its also a moral one, because in these times of rapid change, ubiquitous corruption, and constant upheaval, understanding Marx, and what he had to offer, is more important than ever.