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Is it populist to drop anarchist jargon in the hopes that non-anarchists will better understand your ideas?

+3 votes
asked May 16, 2012 by anonymous
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4 Answers

+2 votes
Sure it is, if you mean that it is being done with the intent of making the ideas understandable to people unfamiliar with particular jargon.

Anarchists have a long history of appealing to "the masses" through plain speaking. Alexander Berkman's "What is Anarchism" is a good example of this, as are many of Crimethinc's publications ("Fighting for Our Lives", "A Civilian's Guide to Direct Action", "Don't (Just) Vote..."). This is an important part of propaganda.

While there are anarchists who are critical of such things, I think that in many cases it just makes sense to appeal to and discuss ideas in language that the other conversant will understand. Otherwise, what point is there to doing so? While that might be dismissed by some as cynical, manipulative, or condescending, I reject that. While it certainly can be done for such purposes, it could also simply be so that the language, contexts, examples and so forth are ones that the other person can relate to. If the goal of a particular action (such as talking to someone) is to spread ideas, it is important that those ideas are understandable.

To be clear, not every situation is a place to drop anarchist jargon (though to be fair, if you use a lot of jargon, I would encourage reading dot's "Breaking the Code" http://www.theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/dot_matrix__Breaking_the_Code.html, as well as other similar critiques - Crimethinc included some in issues of Rolling Thunder), and anarchists ought to ground their actions in what they want to do, not in mass-movement thinking (if I can deign to say what anarchists *should* do)

Where I do have a problem with this sort of thing is when people do so while obscuring their end goals (ie their anarchism) in the hopes of gaining more popular support. This is the sort of trick that lots of Marxist groups use to try to recruit new newspaper vendors (er, militants! proletarian militants!) I don't adapt my language to win converts, I adapt it to communicate effectively. In some cases, jargon is helpful, in others not. If one is always on one side or the other of that, I'm suspicious of them.

After all, the other side of this question might be: how does using anarchist jargon cause non-anarchists to react to my ideas? Again, it depends on the situation. Sometimes it shuts people down; they experience that jargon like a bat i am wielding within the conversation. At other times it is helpful, in that it has more precision. When you drill a tooth, you want a finer tool than when you beat a nazi.
answered May 16, 2012 by ingrate (21,970 points)
edited May 18, 2012 by ingrate
edited because I overuse commas, I know it, and yet I can't seem to avoid it, this sentence being the exception.
0 votes
No, I don't agree that anarchist rhetoric has to be populist. One key difference is the reform that characterizes populism. Obviously, this is one reason why anarchist jargon would not be populist. Secondly, if you're just explaining yourself, you're not trying to appeal to the masses as some populists do. You're just trying to get non-anarchists to understand you even though they probably won't agree afterward, but they might. All American politics became populist at the end of the 19th century because politicians could no longer ignore common people. Clearly, anarchists are not like the democrats and republicans except when a liberal or leftist endorses Occupy or something like that and still tries to call themselves "anarchist".
answered May 16, 2012 by frenzy (720 points)
+3 votes
Nah.

I think it could be considered populist to water down anarchist ideas in order to better suit other people (in such a way that it obscures or omits certain integral parts of anarchism).

But speaking in language that can be understood by your intended audience? That's just basic communication skills. In the same way that you wouldn't try to speak Italian to someone who doesn't speak Italian, it doesn't make sense to speak Anarchist to someone who doesn't speak Anarchist.

Although I think it can be hard to find the proper balance. "Jargon" can be either obfuscating or convenient - not every single point of reference can be explained in detail every time it's brought up (unless maybe we all start attaching glossaries to our writing).
answered May 16, 2012 by Rice Boy (8,680 points)
I misunderstood the question, thinking "drop" meant "mention", but I think you're right because I didn't think of the actual "jargon". I was thinking "theories", but like trades, anarchists might have words that wouldn't mean the same thing if used in most other situations; and it doesn't hurt to leave out those words unless you can explain those, too.

PS—One theory I would drop is Debord's theories of the spectacle.
Although I said it was populist, I actually agree with both you and Frenzy (even with frenzy's misunderstanding), based on how I think you are defining "populist." I don't ever use the term in a positive light, and I think, based on the tone of the question that it was meant as a pejorative,  but without details beyond the question to clarify, I decided to interpret the term broadly, as opposed to my usual tendency towards specificity. It's problematic to throw  around words like "populist, " which have both specific and more, um, popular understandings without clarifying what one means, I was, in some ways trying to play devils advocate without betraying what I actually believe.

I like this answer though. It is good and concise, which is where I normally fall short (along with my prolific comma's and poor punctuation).
i like ingrate's answer better than rice boy's actually. partly because i think the analogy of italian is slipshod.
there is a reason why we use the language we do (at least, if we're paying attention - admittedly many people don't pay attention), and english speaking people can either ask if they don't understand something, or go look it up. (some of my favorite thinking people have argued this with me, that they would rather expect some effort on the part of their readers, partly as a way to engage people, and partly as a way not to talk down to people...)

but the underlying points to the two answers seem the same to me, so... there you go. :P

edit: made mostly into partly.
@ dot - Now that you point this out, I think I may have unknowingly made a massive assumption in my answer by taking it for granted that the purpose of communication is to transfer an idea from yourself to an audience with as little effort or complication as possible involved on the audience's part.

I feel like this assumption might have been implied by the question itself and led me to respond within that framework.
indeed. framing and context-setting are very important. perhaps more important than anything...
that assumption of the goal of particular communication is important - I also interpreted it to be to communicate specific (anarchist) ideas to non-anarchists, the presumption on my part being that the goal was to more clearly communicate the reasons for something. There are times it is better to make the reader look, though often, this is just alienating, even to this longtime anarchist (I read such as holier-than-thou. That might have to do with my specific path to anarchism, but it is what it is).

What I didn't say in my answer is that there are also times where neither jargon nor plain-spaking is relevant. an example might be sussed out of a critical reading of this: http://www.anarchistnews.org/content/anarchists-have-great-day.
i'm probably going somewhat off topic, but i think that communication isn't necessarily a helpful word here. socrates (or the story of him anyway) was communicating when he was asking questions. those zen folks were communicating when they were talking about koans, etc. whether the line is understood to be straight or not (as posited by rice boy) depends on perspective and what is being attended to. all questions (and answers, of course) are holograms of a cultural perspective.
+1 vote
No, not necessarily. What's really important to understand when considering the problem of communicating anarchistic ideas isn't whether they're difficult to grasp intellectually—they can be difficult in that way, but that difficulty is no excuse for withdrawal from thought—but that they are fundamentally difficult, perhaps impossible, to fully receive in their actual, radical implications.

The real virtue of simplicity in communication—advocated as it has been by figures like George Orwell—isn't about appealing to the common political denominator but in constructing language that errs towards clarity and mutual honesty between interlocutors, and against the manufacturing of ideology. However, nested within this virtue is a complication. Orwell was a linguistic prescriptivist—talking properly has an important purpose—because he had the luxury of being so. He was middle class and writing was a part of his livelihood. Many people aren't given that luxury of modifying or selecting the articulation of their ideas. So, from that angle, Orwell was really just another middle class prig talking down to others.

And so, there's this bizarre practice among anarchists—quite a few of them who are scholastic professionals—where they delicately construct their language so as to ease the communication of ideas that are often impossibly radical. They interject countercultural images into it or they deliberately deconstruct or even obscure the radical dimensions and complex breadth of their notions for that purpose. Things tend to get lost in translation, and many times the modified transmission of their ideas obfuscates details that otherwise would be very important for anarchists to elaborate on and encourage others to think about.

A close to home example is that during the peak (pique?) of anarchists' enthusiasm for Occupy X, anarchists warned Occupationalists of the terror of police action but invited confrontation with it by confirming, or even lionizing, the brutality of the agitated, enraged crowds in patriotic Egypt while omitting the barbarism of it all. Several acts of rape and bloody beating were perpetrated by furious men in Tahrir Square. Massacres of Christians by salafi Muslims (and retaliations, most likely) exploded in Coptic neighborhoods. Combats between thuggish men protecting property and looters. (Men who were being lauded by some initially for their spontaneous “self-organization”.) If I recall correctly, none of this, and more, was ever truly recorded in anarchists' pro-Egyptian propaganda and all of it was well outside the constraint of Mubarakism.  All of the minutiae of police assaults on Occupationalists was recorded though, and continues to be. (Including personal accounts of groping and rape tactics used by the NYPD, which is commendable of course.) This was done in the hopes of generalizing revolt by coopting Occupationalist propaganda, which has been commanded by pacifist demagogues. In doing so they failed to provide a voice for resistance to the barbarism that unfolded during those days of rage. They may have disregarded real clarity with their gratifying political realism and so have become demagogues themselves.

Often what instigates this problem is the lack of intimacy in the circumstances of communication when these ideas presuppose intimacy to a great deal. Anarchist ideas cannot properly be spoken for or heard within the massive dynamics of agitated political bodies. It's too loud in the cacophony of the public discourse on an ideal social order for our ideas to resound, never mind being renowned. And even in the personal meeting of minds our ideas and admonishments often cause others to shrink away. We have too much to say about too many things. We are unrealistic. We are hypocrites who don't follow through on our own beliefs. Or maybe we're just damn anarchists.

“Objectively, the social revolution supposes that the human race must very rapidly process the vast accumulation of its inheritances and work through its history, in order that it might escape from it and engage with itself otherwise.

We are presented then, in the absence of such a flourishing, with the task of manifesting negative thought... of othering that which passes as belonging to the world. Far from seeking further influence within the array of all that is already in play, communists must self-separate themselves from enthusiasm and irrationality, from driven and barbaric practices.

Communist intelligence is defined solely in the act of critically identifying what is absent.

The communist is never more than society’s uninvited guest, its spirit guide, its relentless Virgil, its interpellated Jeremiah.

In his relations with others, the communist supplies, in the objective absence of spontaneous new relations, routes into defamiliarised territories, through provocations, doubts, telling criticisms; any and all of which may only be resolved beyond him and his interlocutors, at the level of social relations.

With regard to his own project, the communist must be prepared to think  against his own prescriptions, as the only means of escaping his own dogmas. The ‘Russian Road’ is not a Roman road.

I also asked Isaiah what made him go naked and barefoot three years? he answer'd, 'the same that made our friend Diogenes the Grecian.'

I then asked Ezekiel why he eat dung, & lay so long on his right & left side? he answer'd, 'the desire of raising other men into a perception of the infinite; this the North American tribes practise, & is he honest who resists his genius or conscience, only for the sake of present ease or gratification?'”
answered May 18, 2012 by madlib (2,730 points)
edited May 18, 2012 by madlib
I realize that this may be provocative for some. I wouldn't dismiss corrections of what I said. I wrote it creatively, without pretense to mastery of world events or journalistic insight. But I simply cannot recall any record of the rape and sectarian massacres that coincided with the more approachable images of protestors throwing paving stones at police in anarchist propaganda. I cannot accept that these things are mutually exclusive from each other. I am not convinced by the notion that the Egyptian's “fought back” and so are the good guys. If you are going to confirm the violence of the politically agitated then confirm all of it.

My conclusion was a bit dull—I might have to rework that. I may have to rework all of it. I added in the much better quote to make up for my dissatisfaction.

Also, by “gratifying political realism” I meant the gratification that was to be had in confirming the starkness of violent protest against the thin veneer of pacification.
http://thecloud.crimethinc.com/pdfs/anarchism-and-the-english-language.pdf

This is an essay that explains the errors of anarchist's use of the English language and, I think, a rebuttal of it.
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