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What is alienation? Is there a specifically anarchist conception of it?

+2 votes
I have an idea of what it is from context clues, but I feel like I'm lacking a larger understanding of this word. I understand Marx wrote about it (and maybe popularized it?) but is there any specifically anarchist analysis of alienation? Something beyond the alienation of labor? What is alienation?
asked Jun 10, 2013 by formyinformation (2,400 points)
zerzan talks about alienation a lot. i'm not sure which of his writings would be the best for getting a clear sense of what he means by it, but i can't imagine it would be marxist.
It may not be Marxist, but only because Marxists aren't very interested in alienation to begin with. John Zerzan's account of alienation must have some continuity with Marx. I can't think of any reason why it shouldn't.

I should parse the John Zerzan Reader that I have.
yes, i think any understanding of alienation (in political circles) is related to the marxist definition.

i think ingrate's is closest to my understanding, but if the answers below don't satisfy, i believe society of the spectacle might be the best next step...

3 Answers

+1 vote
First thoughts that comes to mind: physical, psychological, spiritual distancing and separation from the innate or authentic relations we can have in less mediated or more intimate way; when the product of our efforts become strange and hostile to us.
answered Jun 10, 2013 by AutumnLeavesCascade (8,890 points)
Unfortunately, you've not really clarified the concept that much; you've merely used some broadly vague terms ("innate" and "authentic") that are presumed to be the opposite of "alienated." "Less mediated or more intimate" is also vague.

Zerzan overuses such terms as well, preferring the emotional appeal of a search for "authenticity" and "intimacy" to any kind of rigorous analysis of how people in class-based cultures are fucked up. This allows the critic to posit intimacy, authenticity, and love in contrast to alienation, atomization, separation, and psychosis. There is definitely an attractive and compelling quality to discussions of healthy intimate relations overshadowing hostile ones, but most of those discussions (like Marx's few scribblings on the topic) remain unconvincing.

I also don't like the phrase "the product of our efforts" since it's framed in an economic manner. I wouldn't classify behavior as a "product" for example. Maybe a better way to express that last phrase would be "when the effects of our efforts and relationships become unrecognizable and even hostile to us."
The point was to look at the rhetoric as kinda problematic and nebulous. This was a starting point to demonstrate a bit of the difficulty in dealing with the existing styles, not a great answer.
The product of our efforts was half meant to point to the economic side, which anarchists do focus on, but also in the vein of the power process as articulated in my earlier posts about psychological motivation.
theres surely interesting things to be found in something like a scientific or rigorous accounting of what "alienation" is, but that is actually the abstraction, its the explaining and representing of, because we dont experience alienation (or at least i dont) as a conceptual understanding of deterministic cause and effect, but rather at the most personal level is a feeling, or affect, produced (if i may use the word) by certain types of interactions. so, while there is perhaps a limitless amount to criticize about JZ lack of depth in all things, i dont see an appeal at the emotional level to be so ridiculous.
My answer was a crap start to get momentum going, which I see is succeeding :-) Emotional appeal has relevance and use.

Something that's a really big part of it for me, that I forgot to mention, is ignorance. Ignorance about my own body, induced by the dominant cultures. Ignorance of my neighbors, human and non-human. Ignorance about how to autonomously meet basic living needs.

All of this does connect to a more "authentic" and "intimate" way of life (in my view, as an anarcho-primitivist), it just needs better explicating. Authentic: "Made or done in the traditional or original way". Is that really what I care about? Maybe not. I think my understanding of "authentic" has a connection to evolutionary adaptation and fulfillment of the psyche and spirit rather than just doing things the first or normal way. Maybe JZ as well.
+3 votes
Alienation as I have come to understand in anarchist terms has to do with a sense of disconnect or discomfort with direct experience. This is, so far as my (not good) understanding of Marx's idea of alienation, consistent, but also broader, in that Marx focused on workers being disconnected from what they produced.

Insofar as anarchists talk about alienation they are often talking about not only the narrow sphere of industry, but also of our connection to the world, to other people, and to our own; I hate the world in which I live, so I am alienated from it. At the same time, the world I would like to live in is something I can't even conceive, meaning it is alienated from me (or perhaps vice a versa ). A feeling of hostility (as ALC alluded to) is primary to alienation, and anarchists are hostile to pretty much everything.

So maybe an anarchist idea of alienation is something like,  "fuck the existant because we hate it, and fuck all the things we'd make, because we'd imprint out horribleness on them."?

ps- also fuck the oter things and people that make it all so horrible. hit them with a hammer or another object.
answered Jun 11, 2013 by ingrate (21,400 points)
i think alienation has less to do with hostility, and more to do with a dullness, an inability (perceived or otherwise) to have an impact on our lives, or even the idea that we should want to. so it's more about the disconnect you mention in your first paragraph.
i think the hostility and hammers are an anarchist (and other) reaction to alienation.
as ingrate alludes to, probably any anarchist tint to this idea has to do with the breadth of what alienation is based on--ie not just work but family relations, religion, schooling, home, etc.
dot -you're right about alienation having to do with the pervasive nothing, the sense that whatever we do we remain ineffectual. I have a hard time extracting the anger and hatred I feel about that being my overwhelming experience from the experience itself.
0 votes
for this anarchist, alienation refers to a very personal sense of disconnection from direct, lived experience.

"direct, lived experience" is obviously a subjective phrase.

for me, (eg) growing my own food, harvesting it, preparing it, and eating it, is just such an experience. while going to a supermarket to purchase some food grown by someone i don't know (using methods i don't know about) a thousand miles away and shipped to my bioregion, is alienating.

but for some, the act of going to the supermarket, choosing what they want, maybe seeing and talking to folks they know, and taking that food home to prepare and eat, is entirely a direct, lived experience. and who could really argue otherwise?

i think the more mediated a given activity is - that is, the more crap/people/processes/institutions/etc that sit between myself and the fulfillment of my needs and desires - the more alienating i find it.

where this ties to my anarchist perspective is regarding my individual autonomy. if i need to rely on crap/people/processes/institutions/etc to meet my needs/desires, i feel both alienated and less autonomous.

alienation is also how i would describe what i feel when i see how different my desires for life are, when compared to most people i come across (even many that i care deeply about).
answered Jul 12, 2014 by funkyanarchy (11,470 points)