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The Well-Tempered Anarchist: Two (out of three) Cheers for Anarchism

The following is a couple excerpts from a book review from The American Conservative magazine of the book "Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play" by James C. Scott.

Scott considers that society's demand for organization is natural (and inevitable), and born of human's nature as social creatures, and the role that a heavy respect for and practice of anarchist attitude (two out of three cheers) plays in keeping the cold monster of statism at bay.

The review has me considering purchasing the book so I decided to share. :)

The excerpts:


"It is introduced by the story of his seeing German pedestrians habitually failing to cross an intersection against the light, despite the road being empty of traffic. He argues that the Germans could stand some practice at law-breaking, which would help avoid any possible repeat of the 1930s and ’40s. Well, certainly it is good to have the spine to break manifestly unjust laws. But Scott goes much further than that, suggesting that “every day or so” we should “break some law that makes no sense, even if it’s only jaywalking,” in what Scott calls “anarchist calisthenics.”"


"In the next chapter, “Vernacular Order, Official Order,” Scott revisits a theme he explored to great effect in Seeing Like a State: “The people” are attuned to a local, “vernacular” context and vocabulary that require intimate knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place. For instance, the people of Durham, Connecticut call a certain road “Guilford Road” because that is where it takes them. But the residents of Guilford call the same highway “Durham Road.” The state, on the other hand, operating as it were from on high, has a difficult time with such subtleties and so slaps on a label that fits the street into a larger, abstract scheme covering all of Connecticut, and so it becomes “Route 77.”

Taking such an aerial view can make sense at times, but it can also be destructive, as in the case of modernist urban planning, where Scott evokes the great urbanist Jane Jacobs:

One sees in the newspapers photographs from beaming city officials and architects looking down on the successful model as if they were in helicopters, or gods. What is astounding, from a vernacular perspective, is that no one ever experiences the city from that height or angle. The presumptive ground-level experience of real pedestrians—window-shoppers, errand-runners, aimlessly strolling lovers—is left entirely out of the urban-planning equation.

Scott is suspicious of impersonal, rationalist plans and institutions in general, not just those forwarded by the state. For instance, “scientific” forestry—the practice of planting “forests” in large monocrops of a single age—is another of his targets. Now, certainly states have been involved in that practice but so have large private firms. At first the practice seemed beneficial: the result was large tracts of trees that could be easily managed and harvested efficiently with predictable yields. But after a century, extremely low biodiversity and very high susceptibility to pests and diseases made these places famous not for their efficiency but for “forest death.”"


read the entire review here:

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