The role of the outsider

One area not covered in my recent online interview about The Anarchist Revelation was the idea of the “outsider” and how that fits in with anarchism.

This has been pretty central to what I’ve been writing over the last few years and relates closely to the concepts of “antibodies” and “anarchangels”.

Society (or humanity, or the planet), faced with a serious threat to its health and existence, throws up individuals who feel deeply opposed to the direction it is taking and strongly compelled to do something about it.

The role is more of a burden or responsibility than anything, a (usually non-fatal) form of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the wider community, although also at the same time an essential path to take for the individual concerned, who will forever feel listless, useless and unfulfilled if he or she doesn’t go with the flow of what they have to do.

So it doesn’t imply any kind of elitism or proto-hierarchy. It’s also a temporary role in that it would cease to exist if society changed in the desired way.

Furthermore, the sort of “outsiders” I’m talking about are not the kind of people who would want to assume any power or leadership over others, whether formally or informally. They are poets, prophets and seers rather than directors, controllers and head honchos – that’s in their very nature.

There’s also the added protection (in my formulation) of an anarchist context to the outsider’s struggle. An anarchism that embraces (amongst other things) the outsider mentality can infuse the individual outsider’s vision with anarchist principles and effectively inoculate him or her against any slide towards elitism or hierarchical thinking.

In addition, I have made it clear that the “outsider” process only begins with that sense of despair and alienation rooted in the individual identity. In order to turn this raw material of primal revolt into the gold of useful resistance, a person has to pass through the alchemical stages of ego-shedding, self-purification and the realisation of belonging to a wider whole.

There is absolutely no room here for any egotism, vanity or sense of personal specialness. An initial sense of individuality, and a desire to go deeper into the self, leads us to the discovery that our individuality is in many ways illusory and we ultimately belong to something very much bigger than ourselves.

However, the sense of responsibility that this engenders sends us back towards our individuality again, in the knowledge that we have this very real gift of being alive and are physically able to act for the greater good in a way that an abstract collective entity simply cannot.

This time, as we return to our individuality, all that anxiety and confusion has been replaced by a calm acceptance and a resolve to make ourselves as transparent and clear as possible so that we can best detect and channel the requirements of the greater good (in whichever way we define it) and transform them into action on the physical plane.

The Alchemy of Anarchy

The Alchemy of Anarchy is the title of a workshop I’ll be doing at the Stop G8 convergence centre in central London on Sunday June 9, at 12 noon.

Contrary to the general perception, alchemy isn’t principally about an unrealistic attempt to turn base metals into gold, but about the need for an inner renewal, also projected outside the individual on to society.

Its philosophy is linked to early Christian mysticism, to Sufism and also, I will argue, to anarchism.

If you think that sounds far-fetched, consider that Gustav Landauer writes about the “transformative ambitions” of anarchism, Michael Bakunin talks of the need to “purify our atmosphere and transform completely the surroundings in which we live” and Emma Goldman describes the anarchist revolution as a “mental and spiritual regenerator”.

I’ll be going into all this in more detail, and hopefully sparking a general discussion, at the meeting on June 9.

To find out where the convergence centre is and how to get there, keep an eye on

Transcendent anarchy

June Singer’s Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung’s Psychology, first published forty years ago, makes for very interesting reading and one particular section suggests strong parallels with the psychology of anarchism.

Note that this is not an attempt to devalue the significance of the individuation process on a personal level or to relate Singer’s work purely to certain political interests in some glib and superficial manner!

Indeed, the processes that lead to inner realisation and wholeness are as important for an anarchist as the external action that he or she undertakes.

There would be nothing strange in this thought for Carl Jung, immersed as he was in the alchemical tradition of microcosm and macrocosm, of correspondences between all levels of existence.

Anyway, the paragraph that first leads us in that direction is concerned with the reasons for which an individual develops a neurosis. Singer explains that it is not some kind of random mental fault, but that there is a purpose behind it.

She writes: “This involves correction of some conscious attitude that prevents the individual from more fully realizing his total capacity. When normal productive means of achieving one’s purpose are blocked off, neurosis develops as an effort to find a way over or around the obstruction.”

This echoes the metaphor of “antibodies” being activated to fight off the mental disease currently affecting humanity. When the natural self-correcting processes of society are blocked – by all the levels of repression and control that protect the status quo – then a neurosis develops as an “an effort to find a way over or around the obstruction”.

Those who look aghast at the confrontational approach recommended by anarchists have failed to understand its context. While the society to which anarchists look forward is peaceable and co-operative ( unlike the current so-called “order” which has to be imposed by violent force), the path to that is blocked and the only way to breach the block is to temporarily assume a more pro-active form.

This urgent need for action on the social level is reflected in Singer’s description of the individual process, when she says there is no time for self-pity or regrets and that “today we know what our task is and, therefore, today we must address ourselves to it”.

She writes that much individual emotional disturbance is due to “a lack of correspondence between the conscious orientation and the unconscious purposes” and we could continue the parallel on to the macrocosmic social level.

Millions of people today simply cannot cope with living in the modern world, in which our lives are so denuded of meaning. Increasing numbers take anti-depressants, others take to drink or drugs, most somehow numb themselves to a wider external reality that is too depressing or frightening to really think about. The buried awareness of our plight is our shared unconscious.

Meanwhile, at the same time, we are offered no alternative to this world. The confines of permissible thought are drawn tightly around variations on the same capitalist, industrialist, materialist theme. Anything else is derided as laughable, unrealistic or dangerous. This, on a political level, is our conscious orientation.

With an unconscious rejection of the modern world and a conscious commitment to preserving it, there is clearly a significant lack of correspondence between the two levels, leading to social neurosis.

The answer on an individual level, says Singer, is a third element called “the transcendent function”, which belongs neither to the ego sphere nor to the unconscious, and yet possesses access to each.

“It stands above them, participating in both. It is as though ego and unconscious were points at either end of the baseline of a triangle. The third element, at the apex of the triangle, transcends both the point of the ego and the point of the unconscious but is related to each of them. The transcendent function’s emergence grants autonomy to the ego and also to the unconscious by relating to both of them independently, and in doing so, unites them”.

This, on the larger scale, is the transcendent function of anarchy. Rooted in the collective unconscious of humanity, it is connected to the conscious political sphere but does not fully belong to it. The task for anarchism is to transcend the other two elements and thereby to unite them.

We must bring out the loathing of the capitalist-industrialist world that bubbles up in the unconscious soul of humanity and incorporate it into the realm of reality, of politics if you like, so that the neurosis of modernity can fulfil its purpose of freeing us from the prison of this civilization and allowing us to live naturally to our fullest and healthiest “total capacity”.