Wednesday, May 1, 2013

anarchism - book - 1998 - Against the Megamachine: Essays on Empire and its Enemies


1998
334 pages

David Watson is one of the ‘lifestyle anarchists’ criticized by Murray Bookchin in his well known text, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism.  He is also one of the major voices for anarchism in the post-Bookchin era and the editor of a long running anarchist periodical titled Fifth Estate.He is also the author of his own book length critique of Bookchin titled Beyond Bookchin.  

Bookchin’s critique of the lifestyle anarchists can be summarized by his attack on was he viewed as Hakim Bey's, John Zerzan's, and David Watson's equation of the individual's pleasure-seeking tendencies with a realization of anarchist principles - and that their use of new-age esotericism or anti-civilization ideas allowed them to sidestep analysis contemporary society and its structures. I understand Bookchin’s arguments as they apply to Bey and Zerzan, however Watson, at least in his essays collected in Against the Megamachine, appears allied with Bookchin.

The overlap of Watson with Bookchin occurs particularly in Watson's his view that human exploitation and the exploitation of nature are interconnected (which was the thesis at the core of Bookchin’s Remaking Society). Watson appears to differ with Bookchin in his views on technology, whereas the elder social-ecologist argued in his text Post-Scarcity Anarchism, that technology may be put towards the labour-saving Utopian vision as it was once offered to the public, Watson repeats the position throughout this collection that technology directs its use and determines the society that uses it to the detriment of the actual people who use it.

Watson is essentially an anti-civilization anarchist, much like John Zerzan. Where Zerzan does tend, in his essays, to lament a loss of freedom to the individual imposed by civilization, Watson emphasizes a loss of connection to nature and, by extension, to one-another, in the social realm. Watson’s essays, rooted in an anarchist environmentalist pathos, give an anti-civilization voice to the ideas of Lewis Mumford (probably the most heavily cited author in Watson’s essays), Jacques Ellul, and to a lesser extent, Romanian scholar of religions, Mircea Eliade. Watson is always returning to these authors and drawing a huge amount of inspiration from them for his own ends. One interesting aspect of the so-called lifestyle anarchists attacked by Bookchin is that they all have very strong influences that, with perhaps the exception of the Situationist International influence on Hakim Bey, come from outside the Marxist/Anarchist cannon of radical political thought.

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