Tag Archives: anarchism

The Story of High School

Imperial Stormtrooper with two high school girls

Photo by Danny Choo / CC BY-SA 2.0

I just started watching an anime series titled Beyond the Boundary. Yes, another one. This particular series is about a high school boy teaming up with his classmate to hunt down monsters. The animation is good, though the story’s a bit clichéd on the relationship front. In the end, I like it well enough as something to decompress with after a long day.

What strikes me, though, is the realization that there are a hell of a lot of anime series set in high school. Thinking about it some more, though, I have to admit that there are actually a lot of stories – anime and otherwise – set in high school.

The Japanese high school story is distinct from the American high school story, but both versions largely elide what takes up the majority of an actual high school student’s life: academics. We are shown scenes from before class, after class, whispered conversations during class, and interruptions during homework and study after school, but simply going from what is depicted we could not appreciate that these scenes are tiny particles of a student’s personal life snatched from the all-devouring temporal maw of the modern educational system. The state desires citizens and it will keep children in a totalizing and regulated environment until something more compliant comes out. Or until something not quite fitting into the system jumps out, but that’s mostly okay too, since modern society also needs poor people to exploit.

But we move away from the central topic. Like Don Quixote’s romantic tales of chivalry, which never mention knights-errant packing clean shirts or budgeting their travelling expenses, the high school story takes it for granted that the audience understands that the dull banalities of everyday life are being handled by the characters offscreen while the interesting stuff happens front and centre.

Inherently, then, the high school story is a fantasy story, for what is modern life but a collection of dull banalities, and what is fiction but an escape from those banalities? Here is what matters, says the high school story. Here, romance blossoms and ends, friends come and tearfully go, rivals clash and compete, adventure strikes, life is lived. Here is something better than reality – here is truth.

But this truth can only be found in fiction. Who has time to investigate a mystery or sabotage a date or spy on a committee meeting or do any one of the thousand clichés found in fiction? Who has time when ever more minutes of ever more days are increasingly scheduled and regulated and penciled in? And when one has free time, one must be preparing for the period when one does not. Get enough sleep, study, wash your school and work clothes, prepare your lunch for the next day, shop for groceries to make lunch with, and so on everyday over and over.

This explains the prevalence of the high school story. High school is essentially the last period in a middle class person’s life where they’re old enough to have grown-up wishes but young enough to have free time. Not as much as in previous generations, but certainly more then they would as young adults. And unlike undergrads, should things get too bad for a high school student then they still have the psychological safety blanket of running to mom and dad for help.

We fantasize about what we do not have, and what we fantasize about is doing anything else besides what we’re supposed to. Our secret yearnings are for some rose-coloured and nonexistent past when there were enough rules to protect us but not enough to constrict us.

Most of us don’t want to do what we’re currently doing. Why else does procrastination take place, and why else should so many Youtube videos be watched in the middle of the work day? People who lived outside of the strictures and constraints of the state did not all live happy and fulfilling lives, but they certainly spent a lot less time doing things they loathed. “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” is a guiding principle for them, not an insult. If I’m hungry I eat, if I’m sleepy I go to bed, and if I’m unhappy doing something I find something else to do.

From the problem, we come to the solution. But what solution? What could a better world look like? I think it would involve less regulation, less constriction, less hierarchy. In other worlds, less of the state and more anarchism. But whatever this better world looks like, I think we can all agree that it won’t look like the one we have right now.

A closing thought to ponder on – if alien archaeologists were to find the remains of extinct humanity millions of years hence, they might erect this epitaph: “Here lies the human race. They spent most of their time grinning and bearing it.”

La lucha sigue

Stalin strikes down Hitler with his superpowers while declaring, 1

Somewhat interesting news from New York about the growing popularity of communism in the Big Apple:

“As the economic crisis has gotten steeper in the country, it is not surprising that people are opening their minds to other ideas. Words like socialism and communism have been so stigmatized by the educational system that many people are afraid of those words. However, many studies have shown Americans support the redistribution of wealth but if you mention the socialism word they won’t agree with it anymore.”

Continue reading La lucha sigue

A Filipino blog, for once

Yes, this post is dangerously on-topic for me.  Rather, it would be if I still maintained the fiction that Sarapen is about my research on Filipino bloggers.

But back to the main plot.  Manuel Viloria at Viloria.com gives Tagalog lessons on the requisite formulas one needs to know to get by in various social situations in the Philippines: “Happy Birthday,” “it’s raining hard,” “I’ll avoid pork rinds for now.”  You know, the essential things.  The lessons are also being podcast, so you can listen to how things are supposed to be pronounced.

I’m not sure who the audience of these podcasts are supposed to be, though.  “Learn to speak Tagalog now (for free!) to give you the advantage when you travel to the Philippines.  So it’s for people outside the Philippines, then.  But which people?  Business travellers wouldn’t need this much Tagalog since English can take them almost anywhere in the Philippines, so I must assume these lessons are for second generation Filipinos and non-Filipinos with personal reasons for learning Tagalog (i.e., married to a Filipino).  Which makes sense given the range of social situations covered in the lessons.

Tangentially, I confess that I still haven’t got into podcasting.  I’d rather have a text to quickly skim through than a meandering recording that I’d have to listen to in its entirety just to find out if there’s anything interesting in it.  When considering blog post vs. podcast, I’d have to go with blog post just for that very reason.  For me, their unskimmability kills most podcasts for me.  Of course, in the case of this particular blog, podcasting is certainly helpful, but in general, I just can’t get into them.

And on another tangent, I used to to regularly write about anarchism on my old blog.  Mostly my posts revolved around David Graeber, an anarchist anthropologist.  Some month back, I discovered this video of him being interviewed on Youtube and I thought I might as well put it up now.  It’s all interesting stuff, I just wish the whole interview was on.


While I was egosurfing (i.e. checking out how popular Sarapen has become — admit it, you’ve Googled yourself before) I found out that this blog is apparently number 18 in Google’s results for the term “anarchist anthropology.” That’s because of these two posts about David Graeber’s pamphlet on the subject. I poked around and saw this post about the same thing but written last year. It’s rather critical of the piece, but I think it raises some interesting objections. To wit:

For I fear that here Graeber overly idealizes academia, and the discipline of anthropology in particular. Despite all his rote Foucault-bashing, and sneering at mainstream academics as “people who like to think of themselves as political radicals even though all they do is write essays likely to be read by a few dozen other people in an institutional environment” (71), he in fact buys into the authority of normative academic “knowledge” much more than I think is necessary or justified […] It’s not that Graeber doesn’t know that “the discipline we know today was made possible by horrific schemes of conquest, colonization, and mass murder” (96); but he seems to think that the “vast archive of human experience” possessed by anthropologists is uninflected by these origins, and only needs to be shared more publically in order to be efficacious.

I’m not sure if I agree, but anyway, check it out if you’re interested. Maybe I should make an “anarchism” tag, I keep bringing it up, or perhaps a tag devoted entirely to David Graeber.

Continuing on with this updating thing, I’ve found some more information about hikikomori, which relates to my post about the manga Welcome to the NHK. It’s an interview written in a journalistic style, so the article is really easy to read. It provides an added layer of depth to the hikikomori thing. I also didn’t know Italy had abolished mental hospitals, but apparently it has. I recommend Japan Focus anyway for its excellent articles on stuff relating to the Asia-Pacific region. A refereed and free electronic journal, good for whiling away the time on a Sunday afternoon.

While we’re on the subject of Japan Focus, have a gander at this article, “Invisible Immigrants: Undocumented Migration and Border Controls in Early Postwar Japan.” It certainly challenges the notion that immigration has not been a major factor in Japanese society until relatively recently and it nicely illustrates how states have the power to turn people invisible. Also interesting (and rather unsurprising) that immigration control was at first justified as a health initiative to protect the country from foreign diseases, though in actuality enacted to protect Japan from foreigners, period.

And that’s that for today. My search for a new bloghost continues, I’ll probably switch later this week.

Avengers assemble

Catfight! (Academic) catfight! Hmm, it doesn’t sound as sexy with the parenthetical qualification.

Yesterday I discussed David Graeber’s Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. In the new issue of American Anthropologist, David Graeber gets totally served in Rod Aya’s review of the pamphlet. Choice excerpts:

[Graeber] deems stateless societies anarchist if they are nonviolent – an Orinoco society where murder is “unheard of” is anarchist, an Amazon society where men gang rape women who “transgress proper gender roles” is not (pp. 27, 23) – and he expects that state societies split up into autonomous communities would be nonviolent as well . . .

The only violence Graeber considers is “symbolic” or “spectral” violence, meaning witchcraft . . . The “most peaceful societies” are “egalitarian societies” whose “imaginative constructions of the cosmos” are “haunted” by specters of perennial war” (pp. 25-26). Forget obvious counterexamples like E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s egalitarian, ultraviolent Nuer and hierarchical Azande where witchcraft occurs among equals. Forget the condescending reference to “imaginative constructions.” And forget that the theory is textbook functionalism . . .

Anarchist anthropology is realism itself compared with anarchist ideology, whose keyword is “counterpower,” meaning (for stateless societies) consensus through palaver and leveling through witchcraft, and (for state societies) “democratci self-organization” in “free enclaves” through “exodus,” not “seizing power” (pp. 60, 83) . . . Anarchist ideology predicts that millions will gladly forgo protection and income, and that the chief institution marked for abolition will perform an economic miracle. Cargo cult religion is sober by comparison (Aya 2006:591).

First, like I said before, Graeber’s work is just scattered fragments, it doesn’t pretend to theoretical coherence. Second, I think his proposals, while they can be criticized for being naive, should still be applauded for their boldness and optimism in contrast to the careerist quietism and unconstructive criticism inherent to much of academia. I’m reminded of David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope (2000), where, as the text on the back says, “Harvey dares to sketch a very personal vision in an appendix, one that leaves no doubt to his own geography of hope.” The main body of Spaces of Hope describes the injustices of globalizing capital; the appendix outlines what a truly just world might look like.

Marget Thatcher may have proclaimed, “There is no alternative” to neoliberalism; however, Harvey quotes the philosopher Ernst Bloch, who warns that there is “a very clear interest that has prevented the world from changing into the possible” (in Harvey 2000:258). Utopianism may be criticized not just for its naivete, but for the totalitarian excesses waged in its name (i.e., Marxism and liberal democracy), but when the alternative is to meekly accept the world’s ills, what is the alternative to this? The present is not the past, and today’s utopia’s are not yesterday’s, and believing that utopianism will inevitably lead to disaster is itself disastrous.


Aya, Rod (2006). “Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology: Review by Rod Aya”, American Anthropologist, 108(3): 590-591.

Graeber, David (2004). Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Harvey, David (2000). Spaces of Hope. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Marx went away but Karl stayed behind*

Just the other day I was in the lounge of my school’s student union building minding my own business when I suddenly found myself surrounded by Marxists. It turned out that the Marxism class had been overly popular and the professor had needed to accomodate the handful of students who were unable to attend the regular class. So they were there in the student union lounge holding their own little Marxism class. I figured out what was going on and asked to sit in. The prof readily agreed after first jokingly asking if I was a Mountie spy (as in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who are essentially the national, provincial, and local police force for much of Canada, and who rarely mount anything with four legs nowadays).

It was because of this that I learned that at one point, a third of the Communist Party in the United States was composed of FBI agents. In fact, the reds in the US were to a certain extent subsidized by the FBI, since FBI agents could pay their membership dues, as opposed to many of the party’s poorer members. Of course, as the prof pointed out, it’s not easy to fake a genuine commitment to Marxism, and how well run can a Communist Party be if it can be so easily infiltrated by those hostile to it?

Now, this prof is an old school Marxist. He is all about the original Marx. I mentioned that I’d actually read more Neo-Marxism than classical Marxism (which is rather common in anthropology) and he started going on about what he called academic Marxism and how it had in practice given up revolution. Fair enough, but as he went on I was reminded why Neo-Marxists started writing in the first place. The love affair with development and progress (making it kin to capitalism), the ordering of societies along a continuum from primitive to modern, the idea of the vanguard elite bestowing Marxist enlightenment upon the ignorant masses, and the ideological commitment to violence — these were all things that stuck in my craw. I was only a guest who hadn’t read the required readings and it would have been inappropriate for me to bring in more-sophisticated criticisms when the undergrads the class was designed for were still learning the basics, so I mostly kept my trap shut (though I was actually the second-most talkative person then even despite my self-censorship).

The prof mentioned anarchism as a competing ideology contemporaneous with early Marxism. He described it as a utopian project since it mostly rejected violent revolution. Rather, anarchists set up areas where they live as if the state did not exist and by doing so hope to inspire people to give up the state system by their example. Put that way, anarchism does sound rather naive, though it’s changed quite a bit since the 19th century.

I found the professor’s remarks interesting because I’d only recently read David Graeber’s Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. It’s a short little booklet outlining some ideas of what an anarchist world might look like given anthropological data on non-state anarchist societies. It’s not a scholarly work but a call to action and some proposals for anarchism. It really is just fragments of an anarchist anthropology and not a unified theoretical construct.

In Fragments, Graeber discusses hunter-gatherer groups such as the !Kung, who have — or rather, had — elaborate strictures and spiritual taboos designed to prevent the accumulation of surplus and the formation of hierarchy. He also brings in cases like Madagascar, where the government is so weak that in many places there exists an anarchist social order on the ground, while officially the areas are still under the control of the state. Graeber also discusses anarchism within industrialised state societies, especially in modern activism and Zapatismo.

Now, the more I study nations and the state, the more I get convinced that the state system is too inherently unjust to keep should we truly want to create a better world. I keep going closer and closer towards anarchism. So it was fortunate that a couple of days after my encounter with Marxism, I attended a talk given by my department’s new anthro prof about the Zapatistas and Zapatismo. One thing that I found particularly interesting was the elucidation of the relationship between Marxism, anarchism, and Zapatismo. Mexican leftists are of course quite steeped in Marxist thought, so when those cadres retreated to the jungles of Chiapas to foment rebellion, they tried to use Ye Olde Handbooke of Marxist Mobilization. Which didn’t really get them anywhere with the local people. The Chiapenos told them, “We understand your words but we don’t understand what you’re saying.” They could not see what kind of relevance to their everyday lives Marxist rhetoric could have. The leftist cadres had to change their strategy. What they came up with was Zapatismo.

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, the most visible of the Zapatista leaders, has referred to Zapatismo as an intuition. It is true that as a political philosophy it has no coherent theoretical whole. Rather, it seems to me that it is more like a set of general principles and methods. Zapatismo’s emphasis on practice over theory resembles some strains of anarchism, and its position that it will “Lead by obeying” certainly sounds anarchist (anarchy = “without leaders”). This is not surprising, since the Mexican leftists who helped found Zapatismo were also familiar with anarchism. However, the Zapatistas avowedly do not call themselves anarchists, but instead prefer to be simply called Zapatistas.

Zapatismo has of course spread beyond Mexico, becoming a symbol for the social justice movement in general (also called the anti-globalization movement by advocates of neoliberal globalization). It is not an ideological philosopher’s stone capable of healing all wounds and righting all injustices — in the talk on Zapatismo, for instance, my department’s new hire mentioned how women living in Zapatista territory appreciated the change in their lives: “Our husbands don’t drink as much and beat us less” — but I think it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Anyway, that was what I did last week.

*This is the title of an ethnography by Caroline Humphreys about her work in post-Soviet Russia. It’s a joke made by one of her informants, who was referring to the sign of the farm she did her work in — the sign originally said “Collective Farm of Karl Marx”, but the famous last name had weathered away. I’ve only read the preface of the book, which is reprinted in The Anthropology of Politics: a reader in ethnography, theory and critique, Joan Vincent (ed.), Oxford: Berg, 2002, pp. 387-98.