I don’t actually really know what epistomology means (and I have no idea if I’m spelling it right, cause this computer is spellchecking thinking I’m writing in Dutch), but today I ran across anarchapistemology. It’s a rather interesting anarcha-feminist blog. They’ve got a really solid analysis… almost non-analysis, of what happened in Pittsburgh at the g-20 (parts two and three are worth reading as well.) From the last post:

I wanted to write about the street medics who had created a clinic with skilled medical volunteers, anarchist staff, massage, acupuncture, herbalists. The street medics who stayed behind in Schenley Park to treat college students while all the activists got the hell out, and who got arrested mid-treatments, prevented from helping, held chained on buses for hours and hours in the cold, came out with handcuff injuries and tears. The injuries and the emotional trauma. The fear, the helplessness felt by unprepared victims of completely arbitrary police violence. The helplessness felt by the medics and friends trying to support a crowd of people who they couldn’t get to. Medic work is hard and important, and shouldn’t ever be overlooked or thankless. It is one of the greatest contributions to the new world that we are actively building right there, right there within the act of destroying the old!

The thing I love about this is that it sidesteps a false dichotomy. There are people who say “protests are traumatic, therefore we shouldn’t go to protests, and anyone who says we should is practically responsible for causing the trauma themselves.” and this irritates the piss out of me. And there are people who say “who cares about sissy stuff like trauma? we’ve got cops to fight! er, I mean, summits to counter-demonstrate!” who, clearly from my sardonic tone, I have no time for either. Instead, the author goes about describing how we can learn to be powerful, how we can address the mental wounds we will be taking as we confront state power.

I just came from a memorial for an israeli anarchist friend of mine, Tal, who died this past winter of cancer. She was one of the most powerful and vibrant and stern people I’ve known. It’s always the case that when people die, we use hyperboles to describe them, but Tal really was one of the most bad-ass folks I’d met. I, of course, wish I’d known her better. But when I came back to Amsterdam the second time, in 2006, she let me stay at her place. I was worrying about this or that emotional thing. She looked at me sternly: “You american anarchists. You’re all too sensitive.” Sometimes, I think she’s right. I’m a bit fond of cold, emotionless cultures myself. But we can’t just “toughen up” all the time, not internally, not within our own discourse among people who should be our allies.

One thought on “Anarchapistemology”

  1. epistemology is the branch of philosophy dedicated knowledge: how we know what we know, what it means to know, what the world looks like when we know it in a particular way. a couple of years ago i kept dropping the term “epistemological framework” into conversations i had with my students, pointing to the ways in which learning involves not simply absorbing and regurgitating factoids, but actually expanding the framework within which we see the world (e.g. not just learning the history of women’s rights, but rethinking the category of femininity and the gender binary that gives rise to it). i’m not sure if they ever totally got it, but every single one of them dropped the phrase into their final speech, as a cute way of making fun of their dorky, blue-haired, tattooed instructor.

    both of the two common responses to trauma which you refer to (the first which avoids it at all costs and the second which invalidates its legitimacy as an experience) proceed from a school of thought which bugs the shit out of me: the assumption that any experience which feels bad must BE bad (and that anyone who experiences it must similarly be bad for the choices which put them in proximity to trauma). i’m in the process of writing an essay about trauma survival, and these two approaches form a pattern i’ve been thinking about a lot. your approach, to both recognize the difficulty of this experience and the strength of those who survive it, busts up that particular epistemological framework. the world needs more examples of people willing to be emotionally radical in this way.

    all of that was a long way of saying: thanks for sharing.

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