Wake up and smell the anarchy
January 09th, 2016
Some people prefer to read newspapers and magazines from back to front. They would be ideal readers for Ron Sakolsky’s awkwardly brilliant Breaking Loose: Mutual Acquiescence or Mutual Aid? (LBC Books 2015).
At the tail end of Sakolsky’s erudite but dense meditations, the Denman Island anarchist describes an event that occurred in the New York subway in 2012 that set him thinking about where we are headed as a species.
“A man ended up on the tracks in the path of an oncoming train. Bystanders on the platform, instead of acting to rescue him, whipped out their smart-phones and cameras to record the event for their Facebook pages.”
With his inveterate knack for preferring overlong sentences that sometimes blur his content, the New York-born Sakolsky posits, “The disposable digital camera posts that have increasingly replaced real-time relationships based upon mutual aid with a superficial Facebook connectedness have caused in-depth cooperative interactions to suffer a profound loss.”
The key words in that paragraph are mutual aid, arising from Peter Kropotkin’s 1902 book in response to social Darwinism (ie. Dog-eat-dog capitalism), Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. It inspired the likes of Kropotkin biographer George Woodcock to write his definitive work, Anarchism, to explain why anarchist philosophy has precious little to do with bomb throwing and more to do with interpersonal responsibility.
Still with us? The 2012 subway incident reminded Sakolsky of an incident when he was once on his way to Brooklyn. It was 3 a.m. on a weekday morning. The lower Manhattan platform was empty.
“Looking across the lines of tracks while waiting for my train,” he writes, “I saw an apparently drunken man, who had been tottering along on the farthest platform, inadvertently stumble onto tracks below.
“Without a moment’s hesitation, I was in motion, running up and down stairways at full speed to get to the spot where he had fallen.”
He could hear the sound of a train coming. He reached down to grab the man’s upturned hand, pulling him onto the platform just before the train swept into the station.
“Aware that I had saved him from certain death, he kissed my hand with tears of gratitude rolling down his cheeks.
“Sitting him down safely on a nearby bench, I returned to my own platform to catch a train back home. At the time, I distinctly remember feeling wide-awake and brilliantly alive, whereas previous to my encounter with him, I had been sleepy and somewhat despondent.”
Now here comes the good bit.
“In a certain sense, it was he who had saved me. I had been rescued from the despair of an atomized existence. The natural human capacity for mutual aid had kicked in, and I had taken direct action.
“It was not an act of heroism on my part, but an inherent act of human solidarity.”
Lots of people commit suicide in New York City by imitating Anna Karenina, by jumping in front of a train. Sakolsky had assumed the man was ill or drunk. Only when the man raised his hand towards him did it become clear to him that this man was not intending to commit suicide, that he had fallen and wanted to be saved.
It was a moment of spiritual re-birth, one that has served Sakolsky as a source of reverie ever since he literally lent a helping hand. He had peered down onto the tracks, “expecting to see the face of a stranger, but instead saw myself looking back up at me.”
The goal of Breaking Loose: Mutual Acquiescence or Mutual Aid? is to expand upon ideas Sakolsky first broached in an article for Green Anarchy magazine in 2006 called ‘Why Misery Loves Company.’ That piece gave rise to his term ‘mutual acquiescence.’
Sakolsky refined his thoughts for a 2011 conference, but he was uncomfortable with the notion that his thoughts might languish in what he calls ‘the academic ghetto.’ He consequently re-jigged the piece as ‘Mutual Aquiescence or Mutual Aid’ for the inaugural issue of Modern Slavery.
“I did not create the term mutual acquiescence as part of a doom and gloom scenario of despair,” he writes, “in which misery rules our lives, but as a way of understanding why and how people become immersed in the dead end of believing that misery is the only reality.”
Sakolsky is a sincere intellectual who writes with a passion to uplift; not destroy. His inspirational rhetoric emphasizes the value of pushing the envelope. He cites examples of modern activists who are doing so, such as the Zapatistas in Mexico or a hodge-podge of protesters in the French countryside called Zone to Defend who have established an encampment at the site of proposed second airport for the nearby city of Nantes to be built by the Vinci corporation.
Closer to home, he praises the bravado of indigenous resistance from the First Nations Unist’ot’en clan “in response to the voracious appetite of the colonial megamachine.” You don’t have to agree with his politics to enjoy some of the high octane ingenuity of his prose.
“Though the terrain of battle is localized, these struggles exude a ‘war of the worlds’ ethos,” he writes, “that counters the perpetual crisis management/state of emergency/anti-terrorist/counter-insurgency initiatives of governmental control in a google-eyed cybernetic age of endless apocalypse and perpetual surveillance with a land-based corporeal presence that is rooted in the visceral art of nurturing revolutionary becomings.”
Okay, don’t expect to see Ron Sakolsky invited to speak at any government-sponsored writers festivals. He seeks to wake us up, to inspire acts of revolt, to rage against the machine. It’s not an act. It’s a challenge to act.
“Whether we are locked securely in the gilded cages of consumerism, or are bouncing around contentedly in a technological bubble of recuperation; we are increasingly rendered inert… If we rebel, we often place reformist limits on our rebellion in the name of realism instead of inspiring each other to pursue our dreams of breaking loose.
“Whether we cast off the chains of mutual acquiescence among friends and accomplices or in larger rebel groupings, breaking loose and mutual aid tend to go hand in hand.
“Relations of mutual aid can reinforce our individual refusals, and together we can create unmapped zones of inspiration where we are encouraged to keep the wrecking ball of resistance rolling merrily along in the direction of creating anarchy.
“Rather than playing the mobilizing game of waiting for technological innovation to save us or expecting a revolutionary messiah to come forth who will lead the faithful to a heaven on earth, inspirational acts of revolt can sustain us in the upheaval of the here and now and spur us on to future revolutionary endeavours.”
Copies available for $8 from the author. Or order from:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
“I prefer Canada to the U.S. with the same wariness that makes me prefer a good cop to a bad cop.” — Ron Sakolsky
Ron Sakolsky of Denman Island edits and publishes the annual ‘zine’ called Oystercatcher, since 2011, and has written several books relating to anarchism and surrealism.
Having provided an overview of the surrealist movement in the United States for Surrealist Subversions (Autonomedia $22.95 US), Ron Sakolsky has collected his various writings since the turn of the 21st century for Creating Anarchy (Fifth Estate $15 U.S.), “all bathed in the subversive light of anarchy and mad love.”
With chapter headings such as ‘Refusing the Marketplace,’ ‘Why Consent to be Ruled at All?’ and ‘Anarchy in a Diasporic Key’, Sakolsky presents a collage of ideas and images that were mostly published previously, in slightly different forms, within publications that include Alternate Press Review, Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, Black Sun, Confluence, Fifth Estate, Green Anarchy, Je Ne Sais Quoi, Minus Tides, Social Anarchism, Utopian Studies and his own publication, The Oystercatcher.
In a piece entitled Dancing Waves, Sakolsky briefly looks at comparisons to be made between Denman Island and the Orkney islands off the northern tip of Scotland. “Only after I’d left my old landlocked Illinois life behind and moved here lock, stock and barreled,” he writes, “did I discover that Canada’s most well-known anarchist philosopher George Woodcock was a frequenter of Denman on his way to neighboring Hornby Island to visit his good friend, the painter, Jack Shadbolt–a fact that appealed to my sense of anarchist synchronicity.”
Swift Winds (Eberhardt Press $10) by Ron Sakolsky, is a collection of subversive texts, manifestos, mutinous rants, ideas, utopian dreams, impossible demands and incendiary broadsides strategically aimed at countering the pathos of miserabilism with the uncontrollable laughter of the insurgent imagination. Designed to fit in your back pocket and with artwork by Anais LaRue.
In Islands of Resistance, a collection of seventeen activist pieces, what pirate radio means to Canada is unveiled. “Pirate Radio” is defined as “an unlicensed form of radio broadcasting that relies on the airwaves for transmission rather than the internet-based mechanisms of podcasting or web radio.”
Scratching the Tiger’s Belly (Eberhardt Press $9.95) is a collection of hidden histories, rebel poems, prickly rants, black humor, slyly subversive stories, provocative parables and ideas-in-action.
CITY/TOWN: Denman Island, BC
DATE OF BIRTH: February 22, 1945
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York City
ARRIVAL IN CANADA: August, 2002
AWARDS: American Book Award, 1996 (for Sounding Off!)
Breaking Loose: Mutual Acquiescence or Mutual Aid (LBC Books 2015) Copies available for $8 from the author. Or order from:
Little Black Cart, POB 3920 Berkeley, California 94703 USA
Scratching the Tiger’s Belly (Eberhardt Press, 2012). 111-0-00009-248-1
Islands of Resistance: Pirate Radio in Canada, with Andrea Langlois & Marian van der Zon. (New Star Books, 2010) 978-1-55420-050-4 : $21.00.
Swift Winds, includes poetry, rants, manifestos, and utopian visions. (Eberhart Press $10)
Creating Anarchy (Liberty, Tennessee: Fifth Estate Books, 2005). 0-9772258-0-1
[Fifth Estate Books, PO Box 6, Liberty, TN 37095]
Editor. Surrealist Subversions: Rants, Writings & Images by the Surrealist Movement in the United States (Autonomedia, 2002). 1-57027-122-4
Co-editor. (with Stephen Dunifer), Seizing The Airwaves: A Free Radio Handbook (AK Press, 1998)
Co-editor. (with Fred Ho) Sounding Off!: Music as Subversion/Resistance/Revolution (Autonomedia, 1995)
Co-editor. (with James Koehnline) Gone To Croatan: Origins of North American Drop-Out Culture (Autonomedia, 1993)
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS: “My passional attractions as an author/editor include: anarchy, surrealism, music and pirate radio. My writer’s perch is on Denman Island, where the tides magically transform the landscape every day and the snow-capped Coastal Range mysteriously appears and disappears in the mist.”
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