Excerpt: Anarcho-Feminist Psychology: Contributing to Postformal Criticality

Anarchist Pedagogies: Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on Education

By Curry Stephenson Malott
The Alliance for Self-Directed Education
August 15th, 2019

Part three of four of a collection of essays from the book Anarchist Pedagogies.

This article is part three a four part mini series. It is an except of a chapter from the collection of essays,Anarchist Pedagogies, Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on Education. Many thanks to the publisher, PM Press and the editor, Robert H. Haworth for allowing us to reprint these excerpts.

A New Generation of Anarchists: Possibilities for an Enacted Militancy

First and foremost, we can reiterate by noting that the anarchist challenge is a challenge to more completely transgress the institutions of formalism, such as schools, colleges, and universities. While these spaces offer opportunities to produce knowledge from a diversity of epistemological frameworks, the qualitative limits to this work are defined by the institution itself. An anarchist psychology would extend Kincheloe’s insistence that learning is a libidinal, full-body experience, arguing that the revolutionary development of the mind flowers into full bloom only through the collective struggle against the indoctrinating institutions themselves and the capitalist relations of production.

Offering substantial hope here in “The New Anarchists,” David Graeber1 draws attention to the democratic organizing practices of a new generation of anarchist challengers to neoliberal domination. Often overlooked by Marxists and mainstream, academic, critical pedagogues and demonized by corporate media as violent, Graeber1 argues that such a mistake could not be more serious in these desperate times. Outlining who these new anarchists are and what their philosophy has looked like in practice, Graeber1 begins with the Indigenous, revolutionary Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico. The Zapatistas’ subjugated knowledge is precisely what Kincheloe’s postformalism argues is needed at this historical juncture. The revolutionary development of the mind flowers into full bloom only through the collective struggle against the indoctrinating institutions themselves and the capitalist relations of production.

Arguing that today’s global action networks against neoliberalism, such as the famous protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle in 1999, can be traced to the Zapatistas’ 1994 uprising and call for a worldwide network of opposition to neoliberalism, Graeber 1 underscores the postformalism of today’s new anarchists. Important here is the meaning of globalization, which has incorrectly been identified as a negative development. This analysis stems from the negative consequences of the liberalization of capital. However, the international movement of capital is actually antiglobalizing because it limits the free movement of people, possessions, and ideas across borders1, 2. In other words, deregulating capital has strengthened the ruling class and, as a result, limited the freedom of people creating a less globalized world. The Zapatistas’ call against neoliberalism is therefore a call for a more globalized world—a global movement against the abuses of ruling class power that takes the form of an international “network” rather than an “organizing structure” with a “central head or decision maker” and therefore has “no central command or hierarchies”1.

Beginning with the Zapatistas’ black ski masks, rubber boots, and white flags on their rifles symbolizing a paradox—guns that want to be silent—the new anarchists have embraced a playful engagement with outrageous symbolism matching the equally absurd era of neoliberal capitalism—an economic system that calls itself globalization while effectively limiting actual globalization (i.e., the free movement of people and information across borders) through such means as an explosion in the world’s border guards and the restriction of immigration from the underdeveloped so-called third-world to first-world or industrially developed areas.

Again, responding to the absurdity of the contemporary global context Graeber1 points to the street pedagogy of the ridiculous where anarchists in overstuffed, padded clown costumes lob fluffy stuffed animals at riot police confusing the military-minded police of the bosses. This pedagogical approach allows even the riot police themselves an opportunity to reflect on the absurdity of a system that treats humans like chattel and denies the creative impulse of the human biological endowment. Summarizing the spirit within these new anarchists Graeber1 notes that, “the general anarchistic inspiration of the movement, which is less about seizing state power than about exposing, delegitimizing and dismantling mechanisms of rule while winning ever-larger spaces of autonomy from it” is not necessarily about rejecting all organization but is about “creating new forms of organization”. For example, Graeber1 points to “spokecouncils,” which are:

Large assemblies that coordinate between smaller “affinity groups.” They are most often held before, and during, large-scale direct actions like Seattle or Quebec. Each affinity group (which might have between 4 and 20 people) selects a “spoke,” who is empowered to speak for them in the larger group. Only the spokes can take part in the actual process of finding consensus in the council, but before major decisions they break out into affinity groups again and each group comes to consensus on what position they want their spoke to take.1

Such organizational structure, not unlike the ancient governing model practiced by the Mayan-based Zapatistas offers exciting prospects for what life after neoliberal capitalism could possibly look like in practice. In other words, a more horizontal and less hierarchical society is not just an impossible ideal, but is actually realistic. However, such prospects are not without real challenges.

Barriers to an Anarchist Postformal Pedagogy

The barriers to enacting an anarchist postformal psychology are many, both interpersonal and institutional. What follows is a brief summary of these two types of barriers. However, before we proceed I should pause for a moment and acknowledge that the interpersonal and the institutional are not separate and unrelated entities, but are rather part of the same larger whole. In other words, institutions exist because groups of individuals constructed them and even larger groups of individuals either support and uncritically reproduce them or challenge and oppose them. Many scholars have identified this type of relationship as dialectical because it represents a tension of competing interests where institutions determine who individuals develop into while individuals simultaneously shape institutions through both critical and uncritical agency.

First and foremost, social structures, such as institutions of formalized education, have been constructed and developed around behaviorist models of lesson planning, curriculum development, and classroom management, and internalized by policy-makers, educational leaders, teachers, students, and caregivers to such an extent that they are viewed as just how it is, or a nonperspective. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, for instance, are examples of how behaviorist practices have been federally enforced through legislation. Of course nowhere within these examples of legislation does it say they are informed by behaviorist principles. Rather, they are presented as the objective results of what science tells us are the best methods of teaching literacy. The message is that they are not embedded with a political agenda, but represent an objective approach to learning.

Supporting this propaganda approach to education is the corporate media, which also has played a significant role demonizing the anarchist movement. Even many Marxists use the term anarchy to describe that which is assumed to be unorganized, undesirable, and unproductive, such as the anarchy of the market. While this tendency has historical presidents between Marx himself and prominent anarchists such as Bakunin, it is certainly not helpful to the movement for democratic globalization. However, the corporate media’s attack on anarchy has undoubtedly had far greater effects than Marxists who themselves tend to be ignored or demonized by the same media outlets. People must come to understand that the current neoliberal trajectory is not only unsustainable, but it is dangerously irresponsible.

Graeber1, for example, points to the media’s repeated insistence that the anarchists of the Seattle WTO protests were violent, despite the fact that they hurt no one. What the mainstream, corporate media seemed to be most frustrated with, argues Graeber1, was the fact that the new anarchists were decidedly not violent. That is, it is a lot more difficult to demonize and ignore a group’s ideology and position when they are nonviolent. The mass media would have had a much easier time convincing people anarchists were scary monsters had they actually been physically assaulting police officers and civilian bystanders.

It is therefore the challenge of critical postformal educators to demonstrate through our teaching and scholarship the practical reasons why critical theories and practices, such as anarchy, are favorable alternatives to the neoliberal order that currently dominates. People must come to understand that the current neoliberal trajectory is not only unsustainable, but it is dangerously irresponsible. The media has conditioned millions of people to equate democracy and freedom with capitalism rendering the struggle for genuine democracy an incredibly difficult undertaking. Consequently, many critical pedagogues have given up hope believing the only way paradigmatic change will come is through the catastrophic physical and economic collapse of the current system. What these institutional barriers suggest is that part of the solution requires an individual approach.

While Chomsky’s anarchism provides us with much insight regarding the biological context of human nature, other anarchisms and critical psychological theories are needed to better understand the social cognitive context of the mind in and through society. To begin recovering from the psychological damage done by an indoctrinating, white-supremacist, patriarchal, neoliberal society necessary to more fully embrace an anarcho-feminist, postformal psychology and critical pedagogy, we need something more. In keeping with our anarchist theme of expanding the circle of criticality, we can turn to the anarchist psychology of the late Paul Goodman3 who understood that conforming to this society would lead to illness, but not conforming would lead to dementia because this is the only society there is. That is, there are no other realities to escape to.

Similarly, feminist reinterpretations of Freud’s work in the 1970s began to observe how women internalize sexist oppression as a result of living under patriarchy rendering the psychological life unhealthy for most women4. Others5 argue that the story of how women consent to patriarchy is more complex than just the result of the normalizing consequence of socialization. For example, Amalia Sa’ar5 notes that some women consent to the larger system of sexist oppression because they benefit materially from their racial and class associations and affiliations. The challenge for critical educators, as suggested above, is therefore to demonstrate that the result of a world without oppression and crude exploitation would be far better for everyone, even those who currently benefit the most from the negative system that exists.

Conclusion: A Postformal, Anarchist Self-Reflection

The pressures are great living in this neoliberal, hyperconservative U.S. context where the value of ones identity is measured by their position within capitalist society. Based on the values of that capitalist society, at this moment in its development, most people are defined as redundant, losers, failures, and therefore not useful to the system. Consequently, from the dominant set of values most peoples’ current circumstances are a mark of shame and worthlessness. However, from another marginalized and subjugated set of values it can be viewed as a badge of honor to refuse to participate in the process of value production, wealth extraction, and plunder. Most people who find themselves on the margins, however, are not there by choice and therefore do not necessarily posses a critical understanding of their circumstances. As a result, we either live with those internal tensions and try to help push ahead, or we resort to our capitalist conditioning and assume our tacit place within Jung’s collective unconsciousness. Transgression of our identities in capitalist society, however, requires a collective uprising where society liberates itself from its old roles as wageworkers and subservient to elite power. An informed and empowered population understands how dominant forms of power operate and takes action to deny its existence so democracy and the power of the people can flourish. In other words, our identity cannot fully transform if the larger economic and political social structure and distribution of power remain the same. The result of a world without oppression and crude exploitation would be far better for everyone, even those who currently benefit the most from the negative system that exists.

To be successful, radicals, especially the most privileged (i.e., white) radicals, must engage in this scholarship and movement building without romanticizing oppression and suffering so many of us fail to correct within ourselves. For example, it is a romantic, privileged point of view or belief that the most oppressed citizens are critical thinkers because they are oppressed. This is a naïve idea informed by a simplistic and wrong understanding of the role of ideas in creating consent to the basic structures of power. Believing that all white people are rich and uncritical because of white-skin privilege is an equally inadequate and essentializing interpretive framework. Taking these precautions heightens the prospects of reaching others counterhegemonically, which, I believe, is one of the primary responsibilities of the postformal, anarcho-feminist critical pedagogue. In other words, it is our task to oppose the power structure we benefit from, which means reaching its primary supporters—white people as a socially constructed political, economic force and ideology. Again, this is done not just because it is unfair, but because it is the necessary for all people to reach their full, supported, independent potential. Otherwise, we’re missionaries, and missionary ideology is colonialist. To reiterate, we do not only pay attention to white people, hardly, we also work in solidarity with diverse communities from around the world. This is fundamental to our work and global movement against power and privilege. Again, this work is not simple or clear-cut; it is complex, too easily contradictory, and never straightforward. We nevertheless continue to negotiate these spaces of tension and contradiction as we oppose dominant forms of exploitative and oppressive power—sometimes with success, and other times suffering bitter defeats, but always knowing the struggle will continue.

[1] Graeber, D. (2002). The new anarchists. New Left Review, 13, January&ndashFebruary.
[2] Chomsky, N. (1999). Profit over people: Neoliberalism and global order. New York: Seven Stories.
[3] Goodman, P. (2010). Drawing the line once again: The anarchist writings of Paul Goodman.Oakland: PM Press.
[4] LeLand, D. (1989). Lacanian psychoanalysis and French feminism: Toward an adequate political psychology. Hypatia, 3(3), 81&ndash103.
[5] Sa’ar, A. (2005). Postcolonial feminism, the politics of identification, and the liberal bargain. Gender and Society, 19(5), 680&ndash700.

Curry Stephenson Malott is an assistant professor in the Department of Professional and Secondary Education at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He has published and presented in many areas of critical pedagogy from countercultures, cognition, neoliberalism, and leadership, to neocolonialism and Native North America.
August 15th, 2019

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