Getting Personal(istic)

My book Anarchy after Leftism, according to the ex-Dean, teems with falsehoods so numerous “that to correct even a small number of them would be a waste of the reader’s time.” AAL is “transparently motivated by a white-hot animosity toward [him],” in stark contrast to SALA, which is transparently motivated by Bookchin’s own impersonal, disinterested quest for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him History. “So malicious are its invectives [sic]” that the ex-Dean “will not dignify them with a reply.” Even a cursory reading of SALA – more than it merits – confirms that Bookchin himself is too high-minded to indulge in “invectives.” Never (except once) does he relegate Watson and other anarcho-primitivists to “the lifestyle zoo,” an expression so demeaning and vicious that I wonder why I didn’t think of it first. Nor does he descend, as does my “gutter journalism,” to the indiscriminate, malicious, and self-contradictory outpouring of such insults as “fascist,” “decadent,” “individualist,” “mystical,” “petit bourgeois,” “infantile,” “unsavory,” “personalistic,” “liberal,” “yuppie,” “lumpen,” “bourgeois,” “reactionary,” etc. Never does Bookchin, who is rationality incarnate, resort to these abusive epithets, except (a hundred times or so) as objective, scientifically validated characterizations of Lifestyle Anarchists. Bookchin is a hard act to follow, except with a pooper-scooper.

Since the ex-Deanly dialectic takes a little getting used to, consider another example. When he says that he will not dignify with a reply a critique full of numerous falsehoods and “intense and personalistic [sic] vilification,” such as mine, the reader unlearned in dialectics might naively suppose that Bookchin means that he will not dignify with a reply a critique full of numerous falsehoods and intense, personalistic vilification. Thus he would never dignify with a reply a book whose “almost every paragraph” contains “vituperative attacks, manic denunciations, ad hominem characterizations, and even gossipy rumors,” namely, David Watson’s Beyond Bookchin. And yet he does dignify (if that’s the word for what he does) Watson’s book with many thousands of turgid words of would-be rebuttal. Indeed , “almost every paragraph of BB is either an insult or a lie”: even I could scarcely have surpassed it in depravity. Once again I ask, what am I, chopped liver? (I wish Watson’s book was even a fraction as much fun as Bookchin makes it sound. Bookchin has given Watson a jacket blurb to die for.) But despair not, neophyte dialectician. Even a trained philosophy professor, avowed dialectician, and (for almost two decades) inner-circle Bookchin crony, John P. Clark, does not and – Bookchin belatedly relates – never did understand Dialectical Bookchinism. With the possible exception of his main squeeze Janet Biehl, only Bookchin is as yet a fully realized reasoning human who has mastered the dialectic and, deploying it masterfully, divines the “directionality” of the Universe itself. The rest of us are best advised not to play with fire but rather to play it safe and simply believe whatever Bookchin tells us this week.

If I had any reservations about the way I rudely and ruthlessly ridiculed the Dean in AAL – actually, I didn’t – “Whither Anarchism?” would have laid them to rest. In Beyond Bookchin, David Watson responded a lot more respectfully to Bookchin than I did, and a lot more respectfully than Bookchin ever responds to anybody. A fat lot of good it did him. The ex-Dean demonized Watson in the same hysterical terms he demonized me, but at much greater length. Bookchin isn’t remotely interested in being civil, reasonable or fair. To me, and not only to me, that was already obvious from SALA. Watson let himself be played for a sucker. I can’t say I’m especially sympathetic, since Watson affects a holier-than-thou attitude only a little less unctuous than Bookchin’s. He and his fellow anarcho-liberal Fifth Estate hippies gave me the silent treatment long before the ex-Dean did.

To correct even a small number of my errors, according to Bookchin, would be a waste of the reader’s time, unlike his correction of a large number of the errors of the miscreants Watson and Clark. The carping critic might complain that maybe the reader, not the writer, should get the chance to decide what is, and what isn’t a waste of the reader’s time. The number “one” is, if I remember my arithmetic, as small as a whole number can get, yet big enough for Bookchin to draw “one sample” to “demonstrate the overall dishonesty of [my] tract.” Bookchin, the self-appointed champion of science, does not even know the difference between an example and a sample. One observation is, to a statistician, not a sample from which anything can be reliably inferred about even a population of two, any more than a coin coming up “heads” has any tendency to indicate whether next time it comes up heads or tails.

That someone has made one error has no tendency to prove that he has made “numerous” errors. Even Bookchin – for the first time, so far as I know – now admits that he made what he considers errors, indeed serious errors, in his earlier, positive characterizations of “organic” (primitive) societies. If one error is justification enough to dismiss an entire book from consideration, then every book by Bookchin must be dismissed from consideration. In fact, probably every book by anyone must be dismissed from consideration. How are we ever to further what Bookchin fervently avows – progress, cumulative improvement in understanding – without mistakes to learn from?

If my entire book-length critique is to be dismissed on the basis of one error, it should be a profoundly important error, one going to the fundamentals of Bookchin’s dichotomy, his posited “unbridgeable chasm” between Social Anarchism and Lifestyle Anarchism, or my more meaningful dichotomy between leftist and post-leftist anarchism. Instead, this denouncer of the “personalistic” preoccupations he attributes to the Lifestyle Anarchists is, as to me, exclusively indignant about my alleged errors in sketching his own personalistic political biography, as I do in chapter 1 of Anarchy after Leftism. And even then, his only substantive quibble is with my referring to him as “a ‘dean’ at Goddard College (AAL, p. 18), a position that, [Black] would have his readers believe, endows me with the very substantial income that I need in order to advance my nefarious ambitions,” whereas the truth is that Bookchin “ended [his] professional connections with Goddard College (as well as Ramapo College, which [Black] also mentions) in 1981.” My citation to the 1995 Goddard College Off-Campus Catalog, “a rare document,” is an “outright fabrication,” as the Catalog does not identify Bookchin as a Dean.

Indeed it does not. I never said it did. For Bookchin to claim otherwise is an outright fabrication. This is what I did cite the Catalog for: “The material base for these superstructural effusions [i.e., the many books Bookchin cranked out in the 1980’s] was Bookchin’s providential appointment as a Dean at Goddard College near Burlington, Vermont, a cuddle-college for hippies and, more recently, punks, with wealthy parents (cf. Goddard College 1995 [the Off-Campus Catalog]). He also held an appointment at Ramapo College. Bookchin, who sneers at leftists who have embarked upon ‘alluring university careers’ [SALA, 67], is one of them.” I cited the Catalog, not to verify Bookchin’s academic career – I never suspected he would ever deny it, since he has boasted of it for so long – but rather in support of my characterization of what kind of a college Goddard College is, an expensive private college catering to the children of rich liberals. Maybe not an important point, but better a little truth than a big lie.

Still, if the credibility of my entire book turns on these three sentences, their truth assumes unwonted importance. Bookchin categorically asserts that he ended his professional connection with Ramapo College in 1981. But according to the jacket blurb for The Ecology of Freedom (1982), he “is currently Professor of Social Ecology at Ramapo College in New Jersey.” If Bookchin was not then professionally connected with Ramapo College, he and/or his publisher must have wanted people to think he was for marketing purposes. By 1987, according to the jacket blurb for The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship, he “is Professor Emeritus at the School of Environmental Studies, Ramapo College of New Jersey and Director Emeritus of the Institute for Social Ecology at Rochester, Vermont.” According to the 1994 Bookchin biography posted electronically “to Anarchy Archives on behalf of Murray Bookchin by Janet Biehl,” “in 1974, he [Bookchin] began teaching in Ramapo College in New Jersey, becoming full professor of social theory entering and retiring in 1983 in an emeritus status.” As all I said about that is that Bookchin held (notice the past tense) an appointment at Ramapo College, and all I implied was that this was in the 1980’s, Bookchin’s authorized spokeswoman confirms that I was right. She also confirms, contrary to Bookchin, that he did not end his professional association with Ramapo College in 1981, but rather in 1983. Does it matter? According to Bookchin it does, so who is anyone else to say it doesn’t?

Then there is the affiliation with Goddard College. Now in referring to Bookchin as “the Dean,” I was merely following the custom of referring to a distinguished retiree by his highest achieved dignitary title, the way people refer to “General Colin Powell” or Clinton referred to “Senator Dole” during the debates. Was my resort to this protocol, under the circumstances, ironic rather than honorific? Obviously. Bookchin is a self-important, pompous ass. He brings out the pie-throwing Groucho Marxist in me. Sure, I can also trounce him on his own sub-academic terms, and I did. So did Watson. But “beyond Bookchin” the pseudo-scholar is Bookchin the blowhard and Bookchin the bureaucrat. In a letter to me (April 28, 1998), C.A.L. Press publisher Jason McQuinn relates that “the first thing I did before I agreed to publish your book, was to call Goddard College to fact check the ‘Dean’ accusation. The first person to answer didn’t know who the hell he was, but someone else in the room confirmed that he had been such.” (I’d earlier made the same phone call and gotten the same answer.)

Bookchin’s stunning expose of my dishonesty rests, at best, on a pissant terminological quibble. As Janet Biehl says, “In 1974 he co-founded and directed the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont, which went on to acquire an international reputation for its advanced courses in ecophilosophy, social theory, and alternative technology that reflect his ideas.” For whatever legal or administrative reasons, the ISE was set up as an entity formally distinct from Goddard College, but for all practical purposes, it is the graduate school of Goddard College. Thus David Watson in Beyond Bookchin made what he undoubtedly considered an utterly noncontroversial reference to “the Institute for Social Ecology at Goddard College.” In almost the same words, Ulrike Heider writes: “In 1974 he founded the Institute for Social Ecology at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.” The administrator who has the title “Director” at the ISE has the title “Dean” at most other post-secondary schools. That’s why Goddard College spokesmen remember Bookchin as a dean. So Bookchin was a dean whether or not he was a Dean. And his “professional connection” with Goddard/ISE persisted at least until 1994 when, as Biehl then reported, “he still gives two core courses at the Institute for Social Ecology each summer, where he has the status of director emeritus. ”

Let us recur to why I devoted all of several pages out of 140 to the Director’s bureaucratic and academic career, which spanned a quarter of a century. One immediate purpose was simply to flag Bookchin’s gross hypocrisy in denouncing leftists who embarked upon “alluring academic careers” when he had done the same thing himself for over two decades. A broader purpose, opening out from that, was to challenge what, if anything, Bookchin meant by his shotgun epithet “bourgeois.” If it is an objective category of class analysis, then Bookchin (I suggested) – as a salaried professional and order-giving bureaucrat – is a bourgeois himself, unlike at least some of those he reviles as bourgeois, such as John Zerzan (a temp worker) and L. Susan Brown (an office worker), who are objectively proletarians. But if the Director’s use of the word is not objective and scientific, if he is not flexing his modest mental muscles – the “muscularity of thought” he says he brought to the mushminded Greens – then what does he mean by “bourgeois”? In what way is what he calls Lifestyle Anarchism bourgeois whereas what he calls Social Anarchism is not? He never says. For a devolved Marxist like Bookchin, “bourgeois” (and “fascist”) are, as H.L. Mencken remarked, just “general terms of abuse.”

The ex-Dean, with typical obtuseness, never notices the obvious irony in my repeatedly referring to him as “the Dean,” “presumably on the assumption that mere repetition will make my title a reality.” In SALA, Bookchin refers to Hakim Bey (the pseudonym of Peter Lamborn Wilson) at least 27 times as “the Bey,” presumably on the assumption that mere repetition will make his title a reality. Hakim Bey is not a Bey. Nowadays nobody is. A Bey was the governor of a province or district in the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which ceased to exist decades before Wilson was born.

I might have erred in Anarchy after Leftism in once referring to Bookchin as “high income,” but even that remains to be seen. Bookchin can always release his tax returns to settle the point. Undoubtedly his income fell when he retired, as does everyone’s, but from what to what? In addition to his salaries from two colleges, Bookchin collected royalties from the sales of over a dozen books (and, as he says, advances on others), and collected fees from lecturing in (his own words) every major university in the United States. I have no idea whether he managed all this money wisely, I only point out that he must have had a goodly chunk of change to manage. I stand by my original assertion that Bookchin probably has a higher income than anybody he denounces (it’s certainly higher than mine).

In “Whither Anarchism?” the narrow, impoverished critique of SALA is further foreshortened. In SALA (Inshallah), the Director Emeritus startled anarchists, whom he had neglected for many years, by abruptly departing the Green fields of Social Ecology for the killing fields of Social Anarchism. He argued – or rather, he declaimed – that a tendency he calls Lifestyle Anarchism, the sinister shadow of Social Anarchism, has since the 60’s increasingly supplanted the latter, a usurpation he attributes to a “climate of social reaction” which has prevailed for the last 25 years or more. Curiously, this was the period in which almost all the Director’s books were published, including all of them with even a little explicit anarchist content (several had none). Apparently the climate of social reaction proved as congenial to Bookchin as to the Lifestyle Anarchists, for whom he never had a discouraging word until recently. But in his reply to recent anarchist critics, the Director Emeritus addresses, not criticism of his Social Anarchism, but criticism of his Social Ecology. He changes the subject. And even on that plane, his rebuttal dwindles to not much more than denouncing David Watson and John P. Clark as mystics, which, even if true, is only name-calling, unresponsive to their concrete criticisms. And not even Bookchin is insolent enough to accuse me of mysticism.

The Director Emeritus and diviner of world-historical directionality disdains to debate me directly, except as to details of his biography, already dealt with to his disadvantage. Ignoring me didn’t work for him before and it won’t work now. It’s only an extreme expression of the essay’s monumental lack of proportion. He says nothing about work, organization, and municipal politics, but devotes 2-1/2 single-spaced pages (over 7% of the text) to debating with Watson the political meaning of a Goya engraving. The Director declines to explain or justify his previous abuse of the epithet “bourgeois” – in fact, he makes even more use of it, as if other words are failing him – but spares four pages to denounce Taoism. All his personalistic, self-serving stories – especially concerning John Clark’s decades of disciplehood – are, even if accurate, not a reply to critics. Judging Bookchin’s priorities from what he finds important to discuss, he is much less interested in the future of anarchism than in the future of his reputation. The irony is that SALA and the reaction to it have surely done more damage, and much sooner, to Bookchin’s anarchist reputation than has its molecular erosion by Lifestyle Anarchist tendencies.

Some of the Director’s ongoing obsessions are of only symptomatic interest to me. I don’t speak Spanish and I don’t know anything about Goya. Having never read Lewis Mumford, I continue to stay out of the unseemly custody struggle for his corpse – I meant to say, his corpus – between Bookchin and Watson. I don’t think that trees talk to each other, a possibility Watson reportedly does not rule out, but I do think that no tree could be a worse woodenheaded listener than Murray Bookchin.

Only a little more interesting to me is John Clark’s opinion that Taoism is, or could be, compatible with anarchism. Offhand it looks like it all depends on what you mean by Taoism and what you mean by anarchism; if this seems like a banal observation, it is. Bookchin now claims that he could “never accept Clark’s Taoism as part of social ecology,” but he kept his criticisms private so long as Clark acted in public as his loyal adjutant. According to the Director, “that my association with Clark lasted as long as it did is testimony to my silent endurance of his Taoist claptrap and my distinctly nondogmatic tolerance of views not in accordance with my own.” Such stoic fortitude! Such latitudinarian generosity! “But in the late 1980s, as this type of mystical quietism gained more and more influence into [sic] the ecology movement, I could no longer remain silent.” So then (the reader has been primed to expect) –more in sorrow than in anger – the Director went public with his critique of Clark, notwithstanding that Clark was “widely assumed” to be the Director’s “spokesman,” perhaps because “from the mid-1970s until early 1993, the author was a close associate of [his]”? Actually, not. As the Director goes on to say, in the late 1980s he critiqued, not Clark, but “deep ecologist” Dave Foreman of Earth First! Whatever Foreman’s failings, and they are many, he is no Taoist. Bookchin never openly repudiated Clark’s dabbling in Taoism until Clark broke with Bookchin in 1993. The Director’s “silent endurance” – silence, like “quietism,” is a quality Bookchin does not conspicuously display – looks more like opportunism than tolerance. Either way, Bookchin must never have thought that Taoism was any kind of serious threat to, or important influence on, contemporary anarchism – and it isn’t.

It does the Director no good to disinvite me to his (vanguard) party. Erisian that I am, I’m crashing it. I don’t need the Director’s direction to identify targets of opportunity. Of these, the most conspicuous is the Director’s dogged and dogmatic reiteration of the bourgeois Hobbesian myth of the lives of pre-urban anarchist foragers as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, in dramatic contrast to the life of Murray Bookchin: nasty, brutish, and long.

For all his huffing and puffing, the Director Emeritus adds nothing to the inadequate and dishonest “evidentiality” (one of his gratuitous neologisms) of SALA which Watson and I have already shown to be lacking. He continues to ignore the anthropological studies summarized in John Zerzan’s Future Primitive, Watson’s Beyond Bookchin, and my Friendly Fire and Anarchy after Leftism. He continues to pretend that the thesis that stateless hunter-gatherers enjoyed a sort of primitive affluence was a short-lived 60’s fad, like smoking banana peels – little more than the rebellious, euphoric romanticizing of non-Western peoples by tripped-out hippies, like the ones who fell for Carlos Casteneda’s “Don Juan” hoax. This anthropological aberration, he again assures us, has been corrected by the sober scholarship of the period of social reaction.

Before going into the merits of that contention (none), let us consider its implications for Bookchin’s own theory of a protracted period of “social reaction” as the explanation for why decadent Lifestyle Anarchism has supplanted heroic Social Anarchism over the last 30 years. The implication is that periods of – what? social progress? political turbulence? – foster theoretical progress, such as that accomplished by the Director. His clear implication, by dating the commencement of the period of social reaction to the 1970’s, is that the 60’s were not a period of social reaction. Indeed it was then that the Director came into his own as an anarchist theorist, proof enough of the fructifying influence of those heady times. Yet this was also when the hippie anthropologists concocted their ludicrous “primitive affluence” thesis based on little more than intensive ethnographic fieldwork and careful historical research. Incredibly, this absurd, empirically-grounded conception prevailed as anthropological orthodoxy, as the Director Emeritus complains, well into the 80’s. Undoubtedly it owed much of its undue influence to its qualified endorsement by the Director Emeritus himself in The Ecology of Freedom (1982), an epochal work which – as I demonstrated in AAL by surveying all its academic reviews (both of them) – took the world of social science by storm. If, and insofar as, there has been a professional reaction against the primitive-affluence thesis, it is entirely, like Social Ecology and Lifestyle Anarchism, the product of a period of social reaction. How odd (and yet, how dialectical) that from decadence, from decay, the life-force, conscious “second nature” – renewed by rot and reaction – is resurgent in the person and the praxis of the Director of directionality and such lackeys as he finds useful from time to time.