Radical Semiotics and The Need For Ontological Anarchism
"radical semiotics can be seen as an existentialist activity for meaning-making"
From Julian Langer
“The repression of an individual by the iron machinery of the State has rarely been so powerfully depicted. Yet this is only the beginning of the story.”
Anarchists have beautifully and articulately expressed many of the same criticisms and theories of classical anarchist and economic theories (predominantly classical liberalism and anti-state Marxist-style socialism), on repeat, in an eternal return that can appear never ending (and can get extremely boring). What have received far less attention within anarchist discourse are questions regarding what-it-is-we-are-actually-opposing and how do we make meaning while trapped within the culture we supposedly oppose.
This situation is basically that which Walter Benjamin discussed in his essay ‘The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction’, where the perpetual reproduction of the same critiques, ideas and theories leads to their losing their unique existence and presence in time and space.
So this piece might be considered as being an operation in friendly-fire, but as I move on to the following sections I’d like to emphasis the intended friendliness in this piece.
Well Known Feuds: Ancaps vs. Social-Anarchists
As I start this section, I want to get something “off my chest” – I am so fucking bored of arguments between anarcho-capitalists and social-anarchists, and this is largely why I avoid the bother of debating with either of these milieus (in real life or online). My choice to not bother debating them is largely because of the unending moral dogmatism that comes from both sides of this supposed cosmic-dualism, which appears more and more like theological disputes between varying sects of the same religious orders.
What do I mean by this? I mean that both of these ideological variants of anarchism worship the same deity, while remaining unable to agree on the exact meaning behind its teachings, nor the exact dimensions of its facial features. This deity is one we are all abundantly familiar with, as we navigate its body daily, through the business-as-usual of this culture. And whether or not you call it the Leviathan, the state, the economy, the nation, or civilisation, its body, with its means of consumption and excretion, regardless of who owns the means or who doesn’t, who gets paid what or whether or not they are communally shared, remains the same within both of these discourses.
This feature of social-ontics is one that green-anarchists of varying schools, as well as non-anarchist anti-civ schools of thought pick up on, but fail to fully account for; while often allying with Marxist-style and social-anarchist projects, out of a general anti-capitalist ideological commonality.
Christianity, Science, Paganism and Attacks on Wild-Being
Agriculture necessitates civilisation, which then necessitates organised religion and scientific means of technological advancement; both of which largely surmount to the same phenomenon. The unity of these apparently differing social-narratives stems from their both serving as means of violating wild-Being – the transient, organic flow of nature (for a quick definition). In the individual this surmounts to the repression of the self – as civilisation lover Freud identified – and direct technological mediation from naked immediateness, into the dressings of their narratives – the self becomes clothed and adorned with labels and categories of civilisation’s means of production.
Paganism, as a religious order distinguished from animism, arrives as a response to this violation of the wild-Being pagans long to return to. As such, paganism often stems from a desire to live outside of civilisation, but from the gaze of civilisation – so that wild-Being is something separate and not just the unrepressed metaphysical flow of Being. And because of this, while paganism can serve as a means of weakening and challenging the narratives of civilisation, unless pagans complete the process and abandon nature-as-Other, paganism can only be a practice in liberation theology, which doesn’t bring down its target.
The Christianised mask of civilisation is undoubtedly the one that has for the most part won-out, with its humanist dressings elevating science to the level of Christ, where science stands as a bridge for the civilised to cross over, in avoidance of hell on route to heaven. And industrialism and technology stand as means of transcendence from wild-Being, which civilisation attempts to escape, as it is seen as a cosmic evil Other for civilisation to overcome. This is marked by Christian morals regarding rights and scientific narratives regarding progress, whose Christian mirror is the manifest destiny of Christianised civilisation.
The reason why attacks on wild-Being largely go unnoticed is because wild-Being is viewed as the Other, rather than as part of the immediate naked self. As such, embracing the self as an extension of wild-Being, immersed in its transient flow, is of the utmost importance, if we are actual opponents of this culture that seeks to mediate us from this, through narratives that tie the self to the collective and its dressings.
Screw Society, We Want Situations and Events
Anarchism generally values society above all else – even pseudo-individualist ancap ideologies. But with this rejection of the social-ontology of civilisation we’ve arrived at as green-anarchists, society needs to be rejected too. This need not be vulgar misanthropy that deifies humans to the level of demons to be exorcised. No! Society has very little to do with those who inhabit it.
Rather, society is a set of mechanical means of perpetuating its own existence, whose physicality is the very social ontology we oppose. This might be maintained by active human participants, but their activity is largely of a passive nature and any invading force would likely see the same technological-mechanical apparatus perpetuating the same processes – so it largely doesn’t matter who it is operating it, just that it exists in-itself is the issue.
Wild-Being is the transient flow of situations through events, which are produced through the emergence of differential geo-spatial vectors – the active creation of new geographies, new topologies and new sets of relations between living beings. Semiotically, these are defined in a fluid state of ever changing meaning, which each living being will interpret based in their own subject-sensitive rationality, which makes them far messier for discussion, but makes discussion far more honest.
Neither Reform Nor Revolution: Involution (or Fuck Dialectics and Fuck Conservatism)
Time and history have largely consumed life into the slow meliorist project of progress, whether or not that is via reform (loved by liberals) or revolution (loved by anarchists and Marxists). Improvement of conditions via progress is always marked by an ideal that we remain alienated from at all points, but must strive towards. And under the name of civilisation, technology and the conditions of living in society, life is abandoned in favour of the historical project of progress.
Liberals, leftists and the right wing are all consumed by history and its slow march. History is shaped by politics and history needs to be abandoned.
History relies on a form of metaphysics, where the future exists as a destination to arrive at, whose form exists as an idealist truism, to become actual. Wild-Being is entirely physical though, and as such contradicts this notion. Rather wild-Being exists prior to time and history, in the transient present, which authentic consciousness perceives egoistically.
Because of this metaphysical rejection, our green-anarchist ontological anarchism needs to be based outside of time, in a transient-egoistic-presentism – the immediate phenomenology of the now.
This will largely involve collapsing the project of progress, in ways that are desirable in the immediate moment, so as to work towards the involutionary collapse of history and civilisation. This could be done through acts of poetic terrorism or eco-radical acts of direct action, but will ultimately look like something and be something very different from the projects of leftist revolutionaries or liberal reformists.
Meaningless Civilisation: Totalitarian Signs
The crisis of meaning currently underway within this hyperactive “stage” of civilisation, this “dialectic” of mass-technological mediation, daily terrorist violence and nuclear horror, is the totalitarianism of a semiology whose signs dictate nearly all aspects of lived experiences.
It is easy enough to recognise the construction of meaning through mediums such as the media, education, television, the internet or many other well known examples. But everyday totalitarian semiotics largely go unnoticed.
This is least noticed through the material dynamics of ideology, where the physicality of the social-environment of the techno-sphere and its means of consumption infect consciousness, so as to produce a world where meanings are nothing more than the perpetuation of its Symbolic ideology. And it largely goes unnoticed within groups and movements, unless an outsider remarks and upsets the semiotic field (Christian means of meaning-making are unquestioned within Christianity, liberal means of meaning-making are unquestioned within liberalism etc.) and we arrive in a totalitarian situation, where other semiologies are considered as threats to be stamped out at any opportunity. The shallow dogmatism of this ideological narrative is obvious to individualists, non-conformists and other “outsiders”, but remains something unchanging within this culture.
If we are to challenge this culture, we need to challenge totalitarian semiotics and actively create our own signs and means of meaning-making.
On Radical Semiotics and Ontological Anarchism
The inescapable potentialism of what I am to write about means that I will never be able to do justice to the topics of radical semiotics and ontological anarchism.
At the very least, these projects are based in a sense of self, value and allyship drawn from wild-Being, an involutionary rejection of history and progress, the active creation of situations and events and the rejection of totalitarian semiotics and their dogmatisms.
Regarding radical semiotics, these signs cannot be limited to the dictates of socially-normative Symbolic-culture, that seeks to define all of life into the categories of its signs. Rather they are best served challenging these signs, in ways that do not become amalgamated into the Spectacle of progress and history.
In this sense, radical semiotics are largely a nihilist project; or rather they would be, if it weren’t for the fact that they include the creation of subject-sensitive signs, whose beauty is found in the authenticity of the aesthetics of the poetry of the creator. As such, radical semiotics can be seen as an existentialist activity for meaning-making – an existentialism that arrived ultimately at eco-radicalism (rather than humanism) in embrace of the responsibility of our condemnation to freedom.
The project of ontological anarchism, following from all of this, then becomes one of the active creation of radical semiotics, so as to collapse civilisation by undermining its own means of meaning-making – in the sense described in the second paragraph of this section. And ontological anarchism becomes an activity of metaphysical-terrorism, working towards collapsing civilisation/history and its social-ontics.
Within my own lexicon, the project of radical semiotics is a feral activity and the project of ontological anarchism is an iconoclastic activity. So what I am describing here I choose to call feral iconoclasm and seems to me to be the project of eco-radicals and guerrilla ontologists, within the horrors of our contemporary situation.
“In the horrible extremity of today we can see the need to return all the way to the earth, to the multi-sensual intimacy of nature that obtained before symbolisation made living a reified, separated caricature of itself.”
Writer of Feral Consciousness: Deconstruction of the Modern Myth and Return to the Woods, blogger at Eco-Revolt, and has been published on a number of other sites. Eco-anarchist and guerilla ontologist philosopher. Lover of woods, deer, badgers and other wild beings. Musician and activist.