Saturday, December 20, 2008

Time Management for Anarchists

Just so you know...

The next episode of House to Astonish will be up on Sunday (once we've recorded it, in other words).

Reviews... probably later that day, maybe Monday.

And the November sales analysis will be finished in a day or so.

But first... let's cover that one outstanding review I promised last weekend.

Time Management for Anarchists.
Writer: Jim Munroe
Artist: Marc Ngui

This is a one-shot from IDW, apparently in collaboration with the Ontario Arts Council. And when I picked it up, I was rather assuming that the title was ironic - like A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.

Well, it isn't. It's exactly what it claims to be - a book with advice for anarchists on how to be more productive.

Now, I'm not an anarchist. You don't get many of them in my line of the work. But I do think it's a somewhat interesting worldview which gets a rather bad press. People tend to think of anarchism in rather absolute terms, and it's true enough that a purely anarchist society sounds like a fairly unpleasant place. But you could say the same about a purely capitalist society, and hardly anybody seriously wants to bring about one of those.

You can understand capitalism (or socialism, or any other -ism) as being something to aspire to as far as reasonably possible, and there's no reason why you can't see anarchism in the same way. After all, as the anarchists rightly point out, the general trend of human society has been in their direction - from authoritarian monarchs to democracy to the relatively uncontrolled legal black holes of the internet - and many would say that's a good thing. Viewed in that light, anarchism starts to seem rather more relevant, and rather less theoretical. (I'll take this opportunity to plug Peter Marshall's excellent book Demanding the Impossible, if you want to read more on this.)

So: I'm not intrinsically opposed to a comic about anarchism. This one, however, isn't up to much.

It starts off quite promisingly. "In a timeshifted Toronto, political firebrand Emma Goldman is paying the rent as a graphic designer, just a few cubicles away from likeminded historic radical Mikahil Bakunin." This sounds like we're going to get a sitcom about philosophers transplanted to the modern day, which could actually work. And at first, it looks like that's what we're going to get.

But before long, the book shows its hand and turns into a lecture about the thoughts of Canadian anarchist Darren O'Donnell.

I call him an anarchist. The book explores that in more detail, with such gems of dialogue as this: "Do you consider yourself an anarchist?" "I identify as not being interested in authoritarian structures and heirarchies but I also believe that when you're surrounded by them you have to use them." So there you go. He might or might not be an anarchist, but he's definitely not interested in authoritarian structures and heirarchies.

O'Donnell's basic point - which is a fair one - is that people on the left tend to condemn out of hand anything that they associate with the corporate world. But some techniques of the corporate world are very effective, and in themselves ideologically neutral, and should be learned from.

Fine. He's right. However, this is an internal argument for those on the left; it's a discussion about how to get things done, premised on the assumption that we start with that kneejerk aversion to corporate techniques. If you don't start off with that attitude, then chances are you'll regard all this as blindingly obvious. Of course the techniques of the corporate world are effective - this is news?

I'm rather confused by IDW's decision to publish this book. It's certainly different, but it's not particularly good, and the subject matter is only really of interest to a fringe audience of anti-authoritarian activists. All a bit curious.

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