Radical “language anarchists” are failing to convince traditional anarchists of their message, says a report from the James Seymour Center for Public Policy.
Since the mid-1990’s, dozens of “anti-meaning” anarchist factions have broken off from traditional anarchist groups. These anti-meaning groups have developed a political philosophy based on the idea that power is exerted through language, which is oppressive through its inherent sexism, racism and capitalist leaning. The only way to destroy power, these groups say, is to destroy language.
Moderate anarchists — those who believe in traditional modes of attack on all forms of government, capitalism and possession — are not being swayed by their more revolutionary counterparts.
According to a national survey of anarchists, 89 percent still believe that we need words, no matter how inherently sexist or classist they may be. And while 69 percent of respondents believe that English is “probably more oppressive” than the thousands of other languages in the world, only 11 percent believe the problem can be fixed.
“The idea of castrating power by cutting off its swollen tongue is thrilling,” says Natasha, a 19-year-old anarchist from Oakland. “But it somehow seems unfeasible. I mean, how are we supposed to communicate. With hand signs?”
Anti-meaning anarchists counter that using the language of the oppressors shows agreement with their system of signs and signification. By speaking and writing in English, one explicitly shows support for the American-capitalist-warmonger regime — and all regimes.
Because of this fundamental split between traditional and anti-meaning anarchists, skirmishes between the two group can become very heated. Last year, seven people were injured when anarchist protesters in Chicago were set upon by hundreds of anti-meaning anarchists who provoked a confrontation by silently mouthing profanities.
“Bob” is an anti-meaning anarchist from Seattle who only agreed to use a name for the sake of this article. He said he usually communicates with gestures, simple grunts and “the oldest and most natural way to get a message across”: allowing his pheromones — odors produced by chemicals in his body — to speak for him. Because of the difficulty of conducting an interview using pheromones, Bob agreed to engage me for a few minutes in the language of the “poisonous pigs and soul-sucking enslavers.”
Language creates a system of possession, Bob said, both literally and figuratively. For this reason, he and many anarchists for a long time have advocated giving up possessive apostrophes, such as in “John’s credit card” or “Tania’s loan refinancing.”
If you take this concept further, Bob said, the very structure of language is supportive of capitalism. By breaking the world down into subjects, verb, and objects, we assign roles and we say “this thing is the doer, and this other thing is that to which something must be done. And that’s not right. No one thing should have supremacy over any other thing.”
Furthermore, Bob said, description — using adjectives and adverbs like “violent” or “unfairly” — creates a cultural-centric position of power, a privileged spot in which the “I” is reference for all.
“Another thing,” Bob said. “Every word is laden with meaning. What is a drone? Some politicians say ‘drone.’ I say ‘killing copter.’ You might say ‘pilotless pigeon.’ Which is it? The answer is none. By using another person’s word, I agree he is master over me.”
“Think about that,” Bob added. Afterwards, he refused to speak. I understood the interview was over when he opened the door.
Natasha, the anarchist from Oakland, said that while she is sympathetic to people like Bob and other anti-meaning anarchists, she doesn’t see a future for them.
“How are we supposed to organize protests if we can’t communicate a time and a place? Point to a clock and a spot on the map? And how am I supposed to know if it’s eight in the morning or eight in the evening? Just by guessing?”