ANARCHISM ENERGIZES THE POLITICS OF ENERGY

"I consider anarchism the most beautiful and practical philosophy that has yet been thought of in its application to individual expression and the relation it establishes between the individual and society. Moreover, I am certain that anarchism is too vital and too close to human nature ever to die."

"I consider anarchism the most beautiful and practical philosophy that has yet been thought of in its application to individual expression and the relation it establishes between the individual and society. Moreover, I am certain that anarchism is too vital and too close to human nature ever to die."

So wrote Emma Goldman in an article for the December 1934 issue of Harper's Magazine, reprinted in the May 2000 issue.

Her expectation about anarchism's durability seems to be bearing up. Self-styled anarchists have populated events yielding memorable images over the past year: the fellow kicking in the window of a fast-food restaurant in Seattle to protest activities of the World Trade Organization; the demonstration of police force that kept demonstrations of the other kind from disrupting the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary; the guy stomping dents into the hood of a Philadelphia police vehicle during this week's Republican National Convention.

The oil and gas industry needs to pay attention to these manifestations of Goldman's prophecy. It can safely be assumed that anarchists harbor little sympathy for, say, oil and gas leasing of federal land in the US West or reconsideration of plans to remove nearly all sulfur from vehicle fuel. Indeed, anarchism and antioil environmentalism increasingly overlap.

So who are these people? The issue of Harper's that reprinted Goldman's 1934 essay offered answers.

An article by David Samuels reported on a community of anarchists in a neighborhood called Whiteaker of Eugene, Ore. Eugene seems to have been where the money ran out for a handful of what then were called hippies in the early 1970s. The folks paired off, settled in, had kids, got jobs, and now - or so interviews by Samuels indicate - spend a lot of time trying to reconcile adult realities to youthful fantasies they didn't outgrow.

People in the Whiteaker neighborhood get together to eat vegan food and watch videos of themselves or their friends committing vandalism and getting arrested on behalf of higher causes in Seattle.

The source of this footage is a videographer, the son of hippies, who told Samuels (expletives omitted), "I love to use a lot of the TV stuff as a mirror reflecting back on itself. I want people to walk down the street and freak...out. I want them to walk into McDonald's and look around and wonder, 'How do I get...out of this system?'"

Goldman used more elegant prose than this in the anarchist manifesto she wrote for Harper's during the Great Depression - after her 1919 deportation from the US, to which she had emigrated from Lithuania in 1885. Her activities in the US had included urging unemployed people to use force to acquire food, obstructing the military draft, and giving speeches cited as influential by the assassin of President William McKinley. She died in Toronto in 1940.

After listing complaints about how governments, including that of the US, oppress everyone except rich people, Goldman wrote, "...it is not only government in the sense of the state which is destructive of every individual value and quality. It is the whole complex of authority and institutional domination which strangles life. It is the superstition, myth, pretense, evasions, and subservience which support authority and institutional domination. It is the reverence for these institutions instilled in the school, the church, and the home in order that man may believe and obey without protest. Such a process of devitalizing and distorting personalities of the individual and of whole communities may have been a part of historical evolution, but it should be strenuously combated by every honest and independent mind in an age which has any pretense to enlightenment."

From such belief flows the anger of activists whose concepts of constructive activity include spending weeks in trees to prevent logging, marching in dinosaur costumes to protest everything about oil, and-here's the pinnacle-writhing righteously for the cameras while being toted to jail.

Of course, not everyone with a gripe about oil harbors either Goldman's profound resentment or the urge, apparent at the other end of anarchism's intellectual scale, to go places and break things. Industry managers need to remember that. At the same time, they should recognize that much environmental antagonism now derives its political energy from anarchistic thought.

For everyone else, which means nearly everyone in general, McDonald's remains just a handy place to buy pretty good French fries.

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