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+4 votes
i hear lots of shit talking about (anarchist) subculture. i assume any subculture has problems of insularity, jargon, short cuts that don't always work, etc, and of course the @ team is no different.

do people find anything good about it/them? i have made my home pretty much entirely in it, and i don't regret it (though perhaps my circumstances are anomalous somehow?)...

what do folks think?
by (53.1k points)

I keep my little toe in the subcultural anarcho-mud puddle, but I am wary. Not critical in exactly the ways I see a lot of people being. If I could find enough anarchists I liked and wanted to work with I would happily wallow in that mud. I don't.
My criticism is that I often see it as being insular, and also temporal, being largely a youth-centric subculture. I know it isn't the case everywhere, and can pick lots of examples to disprove the premise, but they tend to be the outliers.
The subculture becomes an echo chamber for itself. At one point anarcho-primitivism was echoing a lot. Later it was tiqqunista echos, insurrecto/strugglismo, anti-civ nihilism, and now the zeitgeist is antifa.Subcultures tend to be easily swayed by the breezes of the moment, and while I think it is important to understand the shifting realities of the world we live in, I find the constant chasing of one hot topic to the next tiresome and shallow.
Or I just don't like people very much...

Do you mean you've lived your  most of life within the anarchist/leftists subculture, for the most part? Just out of curiosity, since you don't regret your choice, does mean that you've never had a midlife crisis?  I was talking to someone the other day about anarchists & the midlife crisis.

I'm not sure what would be considered a subculture? They seem like they're possibly similar to cults from subculture by the dictionary definition of "subculture".
human, nope. no midlife crisis so far (at least, not one that i've noticed!). and no, i've been in the scene 15 years or so. so not most of my life--an anarchist for longer than that, but peripheral to scenes, previously.

i'm not really sure what i consider a subculture either, which is partly why i notice it when folks speak of it so bitterly. and hence some of the rest of the commentary on this thread.
Glad to hear that. I hope I don't have a midlife crisis in a few years. I don't think i will.

I think most of the trash talking is meant for the scenesters rather than the subculture itself. The scensters of all subcultures are generally the exact same and have the same downsides you mentioned in your question. The anarchist subculture, imo, is too broad and the benefits of it may be for personal stuff.

The scene is a very specific thing in subcultures and is the most toxic part of the subculture imo. You happen to live in one of the areas where a lot of the scenesters are, whether they were already lived there or set out on a pilgrimage to. In ways, your general area seems like it is the Mecca to 'Murican anarchism. I just imagine the scenesters all wear skinny jeans, a few of them sport the v-neck or lower cut shirt to showoff the chest tattoo, and someone is wearing a white belt. I've came up for a silly for why a lot of them flock there like a flock of seagulls, but it is pretty ridiculous.

Anyways, scensters of different subcultures all are an insular group, use a lot of jargon when speaking other scensters or to outsiders, repeatedly commit actions that never has been really worked for them, have newer and newerer forms of the purity litmus test, thinking they're fighting the "good fight" for whichever cause...etc, and generally doing stuff that causes a huge amount of drama (and wearing a white belts). :)

"I think most of the trash talking is meant for the scenesters rather than the subculture itself."

This is an interesting distinction that I hadn't really stopped to consider. Can you maybe say a little more about why you think 'scenes' and 'subcultures' are two different things? The implication here would seem to be that a subculture is shaped solely by the personalities of those involved. I'm not sure I agree with this, but I'd still be interested in hearing you flesh out the distinction between 'scenes' and 'subcultures' a little more.

Personally, I think that urbanism and the physical layout of cities plays a major role in the formation of subcultures. The striation of urban spaces into distinct 'neighbourhoods' that attract certain 'types' of populations and repel certain others plays a major role in determining how and where people choose to congregate together. Certainly, the level of insularity will vary depending on the personalities of the people involved, but the urban setting has a way of 'channeling' movement and weeding out 'undesirables' within particular neighbourhoods.

To my way of thinking, the fact that subcultures tend to be a largely urban rather than rural phenomenon is not by accident. Nor is the fact that what you rather humourously describe as "the Mecca of 'Murican anarchism" seems to be so tightly focused around the San Francisco Bay Area. I'm having pictures of Haight-Ashbury during the '60s flash through my mind - except the VW Microbuses have circle-A's spray-painted on the outside instead of peace symbols. ;) j/k

The scene consists of elitism, who or who doesn't belong, petty exclusive cliques that makes it hard for folk that aren't already involved or are newbs to participate. Scenesters are the ones that believe they know what it means to be true and pure of any given subculture, they're very vocal about it, and try to enforce it. Basically they start drama if folk divert from the scenesters rigid outline on what it means to be pure. Like if something doesn't follow their rigid rules, there will be drama over it. You could kinda view scenesters as being similar to a vanguard of whichever subculture, in a way. In another way, you could view them as a soap opera that are unintentionally stereotyping themselves. Scenesters tend to buy their clothing at Hot Topic, not all, but a lot.

Subculture is just a broader group that encompasses a bunch of different ideas and crap within itself. The subculture folk don't necessarily have to know or interact with each other. There are many ways to partake in different things within the subculture. The subculture is more individualized, whereas the scene is not.

Hope that was coherent. :P
honestly, if I liked god and stuff more than people, I would be hella amish. I'd be raising barns, growing beards, and generally driving horse-drawn carts all over town. It is like crimethinc, but a coherent program.
ingrate, the hutterites are more about the mutual aid thang and communistic like than the amish. The amish are a capitalistic like community. You could grow a cool beard, but you'd have to work in a amish factory to save up for your carriage and horse while the amish owner profits, and maybe when not working you could help raise a barn with your fellow buddies with cool beards for the amish slum lord. :P

3 Answers

+2 votes
Best answer
i have been around @ subcultures periodically, though i have never thought of myself as being a part/member of them. most predominantly, i spent some real time in eugene in the early 00's, where there were a few conflicting subcultures, one of which was very much aligned with myself in terms of anarchist perspective. i made some very good friends from that group, and engaged often in projects and discussions with them, most often to my benefit and enjoyment. as dot mentioned, the overall affinity i had with them - both as individuals and as highly opinionated and outspoken proponents of a particular set of anarchist perspectives - was the primary attraction for me. but the insularity and relatively rigid (and predictable) way of interacting with others outside that subculture were aspects that i did not enjoy or see as particularly useful for me. not to mention the fact that there was, (very) informally, a kind of uniform approach to appearance that always rubbed me the wrong way (even as i myself sometimes adopted that approach).

i will say, in that particular subculture, i would be hard-pressed to imply that the individuals were subsumed to the group identity. there was, absolutely, a group identity of sorts; but with one exception, they were all strong-willed, critical individuals that definitely would not be subsumed to a group identity.
by (13.4k points)
selected by
–1 vote

To be honest, there isn't a whole lot about the anarchist subculture (or any subculture, for that matter) that I would consider "good." I suppose you could argue that it provides people with a social circle and with an opportunity to discuss ideas with folks who look at the world similarly to themselves, but this can be considered just as much a weakness as a strength. Whatever limited positive aspects that the anarchist subculture might have are more than offset by the insularity that you referred to.

Does this mean that folks such as yourself who are critical of "the Scene" can't still participate in it in order to mitigate its negative aspects? No. However, simply resigning oneself to it or inflating its positive aspects into more than what they are is a huge mistake in my estimation. With that said, while I have made a personal decision not to participate in the anarchist subculture in any way whatsoever, I get the fact that not everyone is ready or even inclined to do that. I'm not going to tell anyone that they should simply stop participating in the anarchist scene if that's what they really really want to do, but I would only encourage them to not get too comfortable in that scene or too complacent about its problems.

A critical engagement with the anarchist subculture, even if one chooses to participate in it, should never lose sight of the need to explore possibilities outside its confines - with a view toward eventually getting rid of it entirely. Even if other options for anarchists to interact and co-ordinate projects with one another aren't immediately available, a willingness to explore possibilities outside the anarchist subculture and to walk away from it if necessary is an absolute must. That may sound blunt to some people but I think it's something they need to hear.

by (840 points)
0 votes
the reason i hang out with anarchists, whether one calls that a subculture or not, is because i'm interested in developing lines of thinking that i can't do (or that takes a whole different kind of work that i'm not very good at and that frequently bores me) with other kinds of people, assuming i could even find a group of them to talk to me about it.

since people have already talked on here about the downsides, i'll let that be for the moment.

part of the subtext of this question is what exactly subculture is. people talk (or have talked) a lot about community, usually as some sort of Good(TM), and to me there's a question, vague line, no line, something, between subculture and community.

seems to me frequently people use one of those words to talk about what they DON'T like about a bunch of people who have some sort of affinity, and the other word to talk about what they DO like about a bunch of people (sometimes the same bunch, and sometimes some other romanticized group of people) who have some kind of affinity.
by (53.1k points)

To what extent do you suppose it's even possible to make a categorical distinction between 'community' and 'subculture?' I wonder if the inherent slipperiness of this distinction is part of what makes it so difficult to have a critical discussion about 'subculture' that everyone can understand. Personally, I would suggest that the distinction between community and subculture is based on at least 3 factors:

1)The boundaries of a community are deliberately permeable to 'external' cultural influences rather than seeking to cut themselves off from them.

2) In a community, individual desires are not subsumed by the interests of an abstract group identity; and,

3) In a community, interpersonal relationships are forged on the basis of voluntary reciprocity rather than mutual self-sacrifice to an alienated 'Cause.'

However, my distinction is obviously value-laden and in no way categorical. Communities always have the potential to devolve into subcultures and, in actual practise, usually exhibit at least some of their characteristics. While this devolution need not take place, I will suggest that, in the case of anarchists, it usually does. If I had a nickel for every time I heard an anarcho-activist scenester type speak off the cuff about the "radical community" when the word 'subculture' would have clearly been a more apt description, I would be a rich man.

yea, it seems like your definition is re-making my point.

how would your answer to this question change if i had called it anarchist community instead of anarchist subculture? (not a rhetorical question, a sincere one.)
It's hard to say how I would have responded to a question that wasn't even asked. I can see one of two possibilities: either I wouldn't have responded at all because the question wouldn't have interested me enough to provoke a response; or I would have responded by asking you to qualify what you meant by the word 'community' and why you thought 'subculture' wasn't a more fitting description.

md: i like your comment above (distinguishing between subculture and community), but i wonder about this:

"2) In a community, individual desires are not subsumed by the interests of an abstract group identity; "

it seems you are implying a use of "community" that seems idealistic but not particularly accurate in my experience. are you expressing your desires there, or your actual experience?

hey matt, sorry if the question irritated you. another way of asking it could have been, since you say that a community can easily become a subculture, isn't it also possible that a subculture can become a community, and that both change? i guess i think that they are both aspects of people expecting things, hoping for things, and needing things of each other, and not being good at certain kinds of things (especially these days)...

also, you have pushed the button in me that gets irritated when people talk shit about anarchists in a shortcut way.


"are you expressing your desires there, or your actual experience?"

Definitely my desires and not my actual experience - at least insofar as anarchists and their efforts to create 'communities' are concerned.


"hey matt, sorry if the question irritated you."

There's no need to apologize. I wasn't irritated, I was just trying to provide a direct answer to a direct question.

"since you say that a community can easily become a subculture, isn't it also possible that a subculture can become a community, and that both change?"

It's certainly possible, I just think that, in most cases, it's not all that likely. Then again, maybe the anarchists that I used to hang out with were the wrong anarchists and my perception of the likelihood that a 'community' can emerge out of a 'subculture' is coloured by those negative experiences. If you've found a solid crew of people with whom you feel that you can have interesting conversations, engage in projects that you think are worthwhile, and not cloister yourselves up in your own little echo chamber, then I think that's great. I just have my suspicions that this is probably the exception rather than the rule.

"also, you have pushed the button in me that gets irritated when people talk shit about anarchists in a shortcut way."

From my perspective, I'm not "talking shit about anarchists," I'm just talking shit about the tendency of many anarchists to hole up in their respective subcultural bubbles and reinforce one another's prejudices. If you maintain an active awareness of this tendency toward subcultural insularity and are taking steps to push back against it, then I see no major problem. But, as I said in my answer to the original question, it's also easy to get complacent and think you're pushing back against this tendency when, in fact, you've just gotten too comfortable in your local scene. I'm not saying that this is what you've done, but that I suspect it's a pattern many well-intentioned anarchists have unwittingly fallen into.