Archive for the ‘Anarchism’ Category

(Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow. Macmillan, 2017, 379 pp., $26.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

In Walkaway, Cory Doctorow takes on one of the most vexing matters of our time: Automation (more broadly, technological advances) is, at an accelerating rate, making human labor ever less necessary.

But what will it lead to?

A post-scarcity, egalitarian, “to each according to their wants” economy of abundance in which working is a matter of choice? Or to a version of the present artificial-scarcity economy in which there are an army of the poor and oppressed, and a few super-rich individuals who will resort to anything to retain their positions of power and privilege?

In Walkaway, the answer is both. In Doctorow’s medium-near future, there’s both a drastically more repressive version of current society — to alter the famous quotation from Lincoln Steffens, “I have seen the future, and it’s worse” — and a (small “l”) libertarian and egalitarian alternative built by those who “walk away” from the dominant “default” society, a “post-scarcity” alternative made possible by sweeping technological/productivity advances.

Therein lies the main virtue of Walkaway: Doctorow’s convincing, detailed, and attractive portrayal of that post-scarcity society and its workings.

To get a bit politically wonkish, what Doctorow describes, though he never uses the term, is an anarcho-communist society (in contrast to the other flavors of anarchism: individualist, mutualist, and syndicalist).

Other virtues include Doctorow’s insightful treatment of technological advances, notably in the liberatory and repressive possibilities they entail, and in the book’s humor, which mostly appears in its first 150 pages.

One of the main points Doctorow makes in support of a post-scarcity, egalitarian societal set-up is that meritocracy, in both authoritarian capitalist society and in libertarian alternatives, is a very bad idea, as the following dialogue between two of Doctorow’s characters, Gretyl and Iceweasel, illustrates:

“Your people are all fighting self-serving bullshit, the root of all evil. There’s no bullshit more self-serving than the idea that you’re a precious snowflake, irreplaceable and deserving . . .”

“I’ve heard all this. My dad used it to explain paying his workers as little as he could get away with, while taking as much pay as he could get away with. . . .”

“You’re assuming that because [the rich] talk about meritocracy, and because they’re full of shit, merit must be full of shit. It’s like astrology and astronomy: astrology talks about orbital mechanics and so does astronomy. But astronomers talk about orbital mechanics because they’ve systematically observed the sky, built falsifiable hypotheses from observations, and proceeded from there. Astrologers talk about orbital mechanics because it sounds sciencey and helps them kid the suckers.”

“You’re calling my dad an astrologer then?”

“That would be an insult to astrologers.”

Two other notable aspects of Walkaway are the full-spectrum sexual diversity of the characters, and that Doctorow includes two explicit, well written sex scenes. (This is in stark contrast to the usual, annoying avoidance of such scenes in the vast majority of science fiction novels, where disgustingly graphic depiction of violence is perfectly acceptable, but — horrors! — not graphic depiction of sex; the only other sci-fi authors I can think of who include explicit, fitting sex scenes in their work are Richard K. Morgan and Walter Mosley.)

As for the plot, it would give away too much to say more than that it revolves around the brutal repression of the walkaways, and their use of nonviolent resistance in response, after they develop a technology that the ultra-rich of “default” society find threatening.

The description of this conflict takes up more than two-thirds of the book, which is likely too much of it. In too many places, the latter portions of Walkaway drag. After reading the first 225 or so pages, I found myself wondering when it would ever end; I kept reading only because I wanted to see how Doctorow would resolve the conflict between the walkaways and “default.”

Anther problem with the book is that it seems disjointed at times. This is in part due to Doctorow’s using five p.o.v. characters. This isn’t necessarily a problem (see George Turner’s effective use of multiple [five] p.o.v.s in Drowning Towers), but it is here. Doctorow switches from one to another purely to advance the story, with the amount of time devoted to the different p.o.v.s varying considerably; and, as Walkaway progresses, it all but abandons the p.o.v. of what I originally thought was the primary p.o.v. character.

It doesn’t help that there’s little if any overlap — no differing views of the same things, a la Rashomon — in the events described from the different p.o.v.s, which aggravates the disjointedness problem.

Still, Walkaway‘s virtues — especially it’s detailed, attractive portrayal of a libertarian post-scarcity society — outweigh its faults.

Walkaway is quite probably the best fictional description of a post-scarcity society ever written.


* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, and on an unrelated sci-fi novel, in his copious free time.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover

Anarchist Cookbook front coverIn the new Anarchist Cookbook (2015), we considered various means to social change, recommending some and criticizing others, among them “simple living.” We noted its inadequacy as a primary approach to change, but also noted that both of us follow many “simple living” practices simply because they make sense.

A few days ago we received the following from Tammy Mackenzie, of the Print Our Home blog, which advocates simple living and has a large amount of material on various aspects of the subject. Her comments are presented here in their entirety.

Hello Mr. McHenry, Mr. Bufe:

Thank you for your excellent cookbook.

I humbly submit that your section “Simple Living”, page 48, is partially incorrect, and needlessly divisive. Here is a short essay to make the point and case, 800 words which include 17 primary and/or respected sources for reference. I hope that it can be of service.

Simple living is a process of making conscious choices about day to day life that are more ecological (2: Science Daily), more economical (3: Mother Earth News), and healthier (4: Johns Hopkins).  It is also adopted specifically by many people (5: Research Gate) as a way to reduce reliance on and destabilize consumerist / capitalist systems (6: Sagepub Journals). It’s called “simple”, because it happens that many healthy and affordable things are simpler than their mass-produced counterparts. Like vinegar for cleaning, or growing your own tomatoes instead of trucking them across continents.

Examples of ways in which people have “simplified”, or “found sufficiency” are well explained in your book’s chapter, Common Approaches to Social Change, page 48: “They include growing food locally, using alternatives to private cars, recycling, using recycled building materials, using environmentally friendly building practices (passive solar, etc.), using alternative energy sources, growing your own fruits and vegetables, and eating lower on the food chain.”

However, after acknowledging some of the very good reasons for making such choices, including large-scale stakes such as the fossil fuel industry and food additive subsidies, the conclusions of your book’s section on simple living are then incomplete, and partially incorrect, in 3 ways.


“Simple Living” is not a day-and-night drastic and expensive lifestyle change as your section concludes. For most people it is a series of incremental changes (7: Wikihow) towards better ways that save them time, money, and stress.

In fact, the “average” person who looks into Simple Living practices (8: Research Gate) is something like an enlightened soccer mom. Here are some demographics (6: Sagepub Journals).

  • They’re family-minded: 68% of them are married, 64% have children. In the literature, it is mostly women who report.
  • They’re urban and suburban omnivores: only 21% live on farms and though
  • 83% grow some food, only 21% are vegetarian or vegan.
  • They’re socially active: 67% are involved in community groups, 38% in barter or exchange groups, 90% want more political action on issues of pertinence to living simply.
  • They’re from all economic classes, with about 70% reducing their income as they go along.

87% of them are happier because of voluntary simplicity and, in western countries, some measure of simplifiying can be seen in 20% to 30% of the population, depending on the country.


Simplifying daily life contributes to non-violent social change in
important ways

  • Grows local economies: People in the habit of thinking in detail about how to improve little things tend to congregate into groups to share resources, think about bigger things, and start creating flexible local economies as well as food autonomy. Maker culture (9: Techshop) is an example of voluntary simplicity aggregating at mass scales.
  • Increases personal freedoms: Old (10: Yes Magazine) and new (11: Taylor & Francis Online) ways of doing things without mass-production are retained, and promoted, decreasing the population’s reliance on capitalist growth/waste cycles as well as on markets. It also saves people money (6: Sagepub Journals).
  • Inspires activism: Studies show that people get happier as they decrease their consumption of disposable goods and increase simplicity in daily life (6: Sagepub Journals). Further studies show that happy people are more likely to affect social change (12: Anyhow, that’s how it’s working in Canada (13: Carleton University).
  • Involves the whole population: Some people are left out (14: Notre Dame University) of many of the ways in which social change can be inspired. These include young families, seniors, and handicapped persons. Simple living, by virtue of being accessible to all as well as its other advantages, makes it possible to mobilize a lot more of the 3.5% of the population (15: Rational Insurgence) we look to for social power.

Teaches people to think rationally: It is a rewarding way for people from all economic and social classes to learn how to research, critically analyze, test, and repeat experiments. Such skills are fundamental to learning to understand the current political and ecological situation.


Intersectionality and respect are vital to social change.

The authorities and media have worked hard (16: Huffington Post, 17: Forbes) to make adherents of living simply look like cultish, dogmatic flower children. Consequently, even in anarchist and social change publications, derision is common and the strengths of simple living in educating people, helping to create community, and inspiring the autonomy that gives people courage to move are often overlooked.

Your book is truly a masterpiece, and will have an influence on humanity for a long time. I am concerned that the chapter on Simple Living as written risks being counter-productive to our shared social hopes, but am personally grateful for the many tools you have assembled for us.



















See Sharp Press will publish two titles during the Fall season:

Cutlure Wars (revised & expanded) coverCulture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom (revised & expanded), by Marie Alena Castle, graphically describe religious intrusions into the most intimate aspect of our lives — our rights to contraception, abortion, the right to marry, end-of-life decisions — and how preferential treatment of religion harms all of us financially.

The new edition with provide additional information on the rise of the religious right, its recent anti-women’s rights, anti-reproductive rights, and anti-LGBT campaigns, the Mormon Church’s misogynistic and homophobic attitudes and practices, the harm religious-right policies inflict on us when put into practice, with a particular focus on the havoc wrought in Mike Pence’s Indiana and Sam Brownback’s Kansas, and what we can do to combat the religious right’s assaults on our freedom.

Venezuelan Anarchism: The History of a MovementVenezuelan Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Rodolfo Montes de Oca, is the newest title in our “History of a Movement” series. (The two previous titles are Cuban Anarchism: The History of a Movement and African Anarchism: The History of a Movement.) In it, Venezuelan author, attorney, and human rights activist Rodolfo Montes de Oca traces the rise of the Venezuelan anarchist movement from colonial times to the present day.

During the Spring 2018 season we plan to publish at least one, probably two, new science fiction titles and a new atheist title. We’ll announce them when it’s nearer to their release dates.

The latest issue of Le Bulletin du CIRA (72), Automne 2016 (Centre de Recherches sur l’Anarchisme) has a brief but enlightening note, “L’invention de la typographie en drapeau” (pp.34-35), on the origins of ragged-right type: the style was invented in 1894 by the influential 19th-century American individualist anarchist (and typesetter) Benjamin Tucker, editor and publisher of the long-running anarchist paper, Liberty, and author of Instead of a Book.

Benjamin TuckerAt the time, fully justified type was almost universal, and handset type was still very commonly used, especially by small papers and magazines. With that means of typesetting, to produce justified type you have to insert additional spacers between words to produce lines of the same length, a time-consuming process.

To save time, Tucker came up with the idea of getting rid of the additional spacers and having the type justified only on the left margin, rather than fully justified. This was a radical enough innovation that Tucker devoted the front page of the March 24, 1894 issue of Liberty to justifying (sorry, couldn’t resist) the use of ragged-right type (“left justified” type in computerese). Here’s the opening of the first paragraph of “A Typographical Reform.”:

The first impression upon the minds of the readers of Liberty as they open their issue of this paper will be that the editor has either gone crazy or been seized by a mania for writing blank verse, but I hope and believe that further examination and a sober second thought will convince them that, far from being the freak of a lunatic or poet, this paper is the inauguration of a most useful, prosaic, practical, and enormously useful reform, — an invention indeed (if it can be called such) which, if generally adopted, will add fully one-third to the importance of the invention of printing itself.

Your guess is as good as mine as to how Tucker came up with “one-third”; nonetheless, his invention of ragged-right type was a significant typographical step forward. Justified type is still the rule, but ragged-right type is commonly used (as in this blog) and oits invention really was a significant step forward.

It’s but one of a great many useful innovations made by anarchists over the years. One can’t help but wish that more of them, especially those in the political and social sphere, had been put into practice.


El Libertario

Our friends at El Libertario, the Venezuelan anarchist periodical, are celebrating 20 years of uninterrupted publication with a special issue: “20 Years of Self-Management.”

Those who speak Spanish can find the online edition on  this Youtube channel.

Here’s the table of contents with the URLs:

2016 was a good year for us  (if not for U.S. democracy, the rest of the world, and the environment).

In our first half-year, in 2013, this blog received 2,500 hits; in our first full year, 2014, it received 8,000; in 2015, 9,800; and in 2016 the number jumped to 14,900.

We also hit 400 subscribers in December; had our best month ever in that same month, with over 2,100 hits; and had our best week ever, last week, with just under 1,000 hits.

Our 10 most popular posts in 2016 were:

  1. Anarchist Science Fiction: Essential Novels
  2. Alcoholics Anonymous Does More Harm than Good
  3. A very brief History of Calypso and Soca Music
  4. Back to the Terrifying Future: Sci-Fi E-book Giveaway
  5. A very brief History of Country Music
  6. God’s Thug: Brigham Young
  7. A very brief History of Funk Music
  8. Alt-Country Player Al Perry
  9. Review: The Martian, by Andy Weir
  10. Homecoming for Mormon Missionaries

During the coming year we’ll continue to post daily (well, we’ll try) on music, politics, science fiction, religion, atheism, cults, science, skepticism, humor, and anything else we think is interesting and that our readers might enjoy.

Over the coming month, we’ll post an excerpt from our upcoming title, Venezuelan Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Rodolof Montes de Oca, reviews of two new sci-fi novels, Ken Macleod’s Insurgence and Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year, more on the “Russian hacking” affair, more interesting and marginally useful Internet crap, and a good old fashioned Religion Roundup.

Be on the lookout for another e-book giveaway sometime reasonably soon.


With one of the most painful years in memory behind us, and an upcoming year that seems certain to be worse, it’s time to imagine a better world:

  • Imagine if people were responsible, self-directed adults who thought for themselves rather than followers who abdicate their responsibilities by worshiping power-grubbing sociopaths and their sacred texts (both religious and political).
  • Imagine if religious and political true believers had a live-and-let-live attitude rather than believing that they have the right, or even the duty, to impose their beliefs on others.
  • Imagine if people knew how to reason logically and allowed evidence to determine their conclusions rather than engaging in wishful thinking while ignoring inconvenient facts.
  • Imagine a world in which there wasn’t an inverse relationship between the usefulness of work and pay for it, a world in which those who do the dirtiest, most necessary work — farm workers, childcare workers, garbage collectors — were the highest paid, and parasitic hedge fund managers, day traders, and lobbyists weren’t paid at all.
  • Imagine if people wanted to hear original music or see original artwork rather than hearing or seeing things they’ve heard or seen ten thousand times before.
  • Imagine a world in which justice wasn’t a term of vicious mockery (as in “equal justice under the law”).
  • Imagine a world in which social isolation wasn’t the norm, in which architecture, housing design and patterns, the transportation system, and the economic system reduced social isolation rather than fostered it.
  • Imagine if the Ten Commandments prohibited slavery, torture, and subjugation of women rather than swearing, worshiping graven images, and thought-crime (coveting thy neighbor’s wife or ox).
  • Imagine if no one thought they were better than other people simply because they’re “the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people.”
  • Imagine a world in which some people didn’t make money by locking other people in cages.
  • Imagine if ethical conduct in business didn’t put you at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Imagine a society based on cooperation, voluntary association, and mutual aid rather than coercion, economic inequality, economic insecurity, and frantic accumulation of material goods (at any cost — to others).
  • Imagine an economic system that didn’t provide constant temptation to lie to and to cheat others in the pursuit of profit.
  • Imagine if the Catholic, Mormon, and other churches prohibited their members from breeding like rabbits rather than commanding them to worsen the population problem.
  • Imagine if the churches emphasized the Golden Rule rather than punishment of those who transgress their “moral” dictates.
  • Imagine if the churches’ concept of morality wasn’t focused on controlling the private sex lives of consenting adults  and instead focused on reducing harm to others.
  • Imagine if the Democratic Party was actually democratic.
  • Imagine if Donald Trump was a compassionate, ethical human being.
  • Imagine (and I know this is a stretch) that America really was the land of the free.