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An Anarchist FAQ: v. 1 (Afaq) [Paperback]

Iain McKay
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

21 Nov 2008 Afaq
Something of an encyclopaedic resource for anyone studying anarchism, this weighty tome is a comprehensive guide to the history, theory and practice. The transition from web to page has been long awaited, and this first volume will be an invaluable resource for those interested in finding out more about the philosophy as well as those who are studying at an academic level.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 555 pages
  • Publisher: AK Press (21 Nov 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1902593901
  • ISBN-13: 978-1902593906
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 21.6 x 27.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 643,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The Anarchist FAQ has been one of the standout achievements of the last decade in terms of its rigourous treatment of every aspect of the theory. Its translation from screen to print is long overdue. --Freedom

The most comprehensive resource available ... for a discussion on anarchism is An Anarchist FAQ. --Flint Jones, North-Eastern Federation Anarchist Communists

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading 20 July 2009
AFAQ makes its welcome debut on the printed page (over 550 pages to be exact!) This book is the essential starting point for anyone with a serious interest in anarchism as a political theory and action. Whether you want to find out about the origins of the black flag or why anarchism opposes both capitalism and state socialism this is the place to look. Well researched but accessible and very readible AFAQ is thoroughly recommneded.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A monumental work of anarchist scholarship! 20 Dec 2008
By wildflowerboy - Published on
Whether you are a long-time activist looking to deepen your knowledge of anarchist theory and history or someone merely wanting to better understand the ideological undercurrents behind the mass mobilizations in Seattle, Genoa, Buenos Aires, and Athens, you will much appreciate this ENORMOUS, well-written, and highly informative book. Debunking the myth of anarcho-capitalism, Ian McKay explains how the right-wing Libertarian Party has nothing whatsoever to do with libertarian socialism, as anarchism implies the absolute rejection of both the nation-state AND the free market economy. As such, anarcho-capitalism is an obvious oxymoron. Covering many topics like the Spanish Civil War, anarcho-syndicalism, ecology, anarcha-feminism, and anarcho-primitivism, as well as the ideas of leading left libertarian theorists like Noam Chomsky, Emma Goldman, Murray Bookchin, Peter Kropotkin, Voltairine de Cleyre, Alexander Berkman, and others, this is an extremely thorough and fascinating exploration of anarchist politics and movement history. Furthermore, when you consider the size and quality of the book, it is really very affordable. Hey, AK Press, when is volume II coming out???
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impressively thorough and 'reader friendly' body of work 9 Feb 2009
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
FAQ stands for 'Frequently Asked Questions'. Iain McKay's "An Anarchist FAQ" is a 555-page compendium packed with descriptive information on every aspect of the political concept of anarchy. Beginning with an extensive explanation of the term, McKay goes on to explain why anarchist oppose the current political system with its authority, hierarch, capitalism based private property constructs, and the continued existence of class systems within modern society. "An Anarchist FAQ" then addresses the commonly held myths of capitalist economics, the effects of statism and capitalism upon the society, anarchist perspectives on environmental and ecological issues, as wells as 'anarcho' (capitalism as a form of anarchism). Of special note is an appendix addressing the symbols of anarchy. "An Anarchist FAQ" is an impressively thorough and 'reader friendly' body of work which is very highly recommended for personal, community, and academic library Political Science reference collections and supplemental reading lists.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The answer yo every question. 6 April 2013
By Genti - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Everything combined to one. It is hard to find works with so much useful information and so carefully selected. Thank you for the hard work And what you did.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good information, but lacks proper ecological and psychological context. 1 Dec 2008
By J. D. Shockley - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
No doubt that workers' control of the means of production would offer a great improvement over today's society, but in An Anarchist FAQ Iain McKay has not properly considered the facts of (pre)history and the origins of hierarchy, and so 1) falls short of his own ideals, 2) lacks the necessary ecological and psychological context.
Experts consider the Holocene extinction, beginning around 10,000bc with the advent of civilization (and continuing to this day) the worst extinction event perpetrated by any single species in the history of the planet.

By any objective standard, this constitutes the most important--and most immoral-- event in the whole of human history; certainly in any general discussion of environmental destruction.
Yet McKay makes no mention of it. Or the fact that it started when we had a population of just about 5 million, with much lower production/consumption levels than any modern anarchist society could achieve. Things as basic as agriculture, roads and tree-felling sufficed to cause major habitat destruction.
Many scholars also believe that humans had a role in the (less extensive) Quaternary extinction that began with the upper paleolithic 50,000 years ago (hunting hypothesis), which would imply that we can only reach the ecological balance of other predators at even lower middle paleolithic population/production levels.
At any rate, though civilization did lead to great population/production growth, the biggest driver was the industrial revolution (hockey stick population increase)--leading up to state/corporate capitalism and our current ecological crisis.
Thus any objective person looking at the human species compared to the rest would have to conclude the following:
1-Bad: humans (mainly because of our greater potential for destruction)
2-Worse: civilization
3-Worser: Industrialism
4-Worsest: state/corporate capitalism
McKay wants to go from 4 to a self-managed 3, which would indeed constitute a great improvement. But to present this as some sort of great ecological position seems to me disingenous. Even in the highly unlikely scenario that anarchists could cut the current population number (7.2 billion) in half and make them all anarchists, does he really think that 3.6 Billion humans in an industrial society can cause fewer extinctions and habitat destruction than 5 million neolithic farmers who were already causing the Holocene extinction?
Then of course, we have the issue of the origin of hierarchy and authoritarianism. Mckay, in an effort to bypass the logic of primitivism, and without any evidence, tries to solve this question by adhering to some Reichian theory about children not having sexual freedom.
But because he cannot accept civilization and its culture as an authoritarian step in relation to nature, he misses on the explanation that makes most sense: Terror Management Theory, which has 25 years of evidence to back it up (look up the 1000s of studies on Google scholar). Since it originated from Ernest Becker's ideas, I'll quote him:
"Civilized society is a hopeful belief and protest that [art], science, money and goods make man count for more than any other animal. In this sense everything that man does is religious and heroic, and yet in danger of being fictitious and fallible... The real world is simply too terrible to admit. It tells man that he is a small trembling animal who will someday decay and die. Culture changes all of this, makes man seem important, vital to the universe. Immortal in some ways... If we were to peel away this massive disguise, the blocks of repression over human techniques for earning glory, we would arrive at the potentially most liberating question of all, the main problem of human life: How empirically true is the cultural hero system that sustains and drives men? "
The evolutionary explanation goes something like this:
++Hominids began using their emerging cognitive abilities to understand their world and meet basic needs for nutrition, mates, and other resources. But this happened before they had reached the point where significant self (and thus death) awareness arose. Death awareness thus developed as an unfortunate byproduct of prior adaptive functions--not as an adaptation selected for its advantages. Anxiety in response to the inevitability of death threatened to undermine adaptive functioning and therefore needed amelioration.
Any social formation that was to be widely accepted by the masses needed to provide a means of managing this terror--which we mostly bury in the unconscious. Thus humankind used the same intellectual capacities that gave rise to this problem to fashion cultural beliefs and values that provided protection against this potential anxiety. And while the emergence of morality and mutual aid evolved to facilitate co-existence within groups, the struggle to deny the finality of death, co-opted and changed morality's more primitive function.++
Hunter-gatherers themselves had religious beliefs and a place in the tribe that granted them meaning and value, but by and large seemed to have supressed their death fear by staying busy thinking about their next meal, doing interesting, immersive, purposeful, physically demanding work and by having a kind of contextual humbleness--seeing themselves as part of the natural world instead of the human-centric world of civilization.
No industrial society, no matter how anarchist, can provide this contextual non-human-centric humbleness. Even work, which is much of anarchism's focus, poses some problems: Even if unpleasant jobs like mining could be minimized, how can one compare the purposefulness of a hunt with that of, say, a curtain designer in an anarchist society? The latter will likely have to compensate for this lack with either other surrogate activities or delusions about the importance of his job. And this is quite apart from Ted Kaczinski's notions of technology changing the social landscape too quickly for our stone age brains to adapt.
In general, if humans need a certain level of ego delusion to supress their death anxiety, we shouldn't advocate for this delusion to take on a material form. In other words, material culture--civilization--materializes the ego delusion. It violates empirical reality by elevating humans above other animals and encouraging the pursuit of symbolic immortality--striving to become individuals of value in an illusory world of meaning. True, together with this great delusion and loss of contextual reality come small pockets of deeper understanding--some of the discoveries of science. But clearly these can't offset the delusion of a whole society.

In this sense, God creates a more powerful sense of immortality than other aspects of culture, which only provide a strong sense of symbolic immortality to those who can become individuals of value in its trumped-up world of meaning and continuity--most prominently its masters.
And so in saying No Gods, No Masters, the anarchist wants to eliminate some extremes of ego delusion in civilization--not its sociological foundations, which deny the reality of impermanence expressed by a Kalahari Bushman song:
"The day we die a soft breeze will wipe out our footprints in the sand. When the wind dies down, who will tell the timelessness that once we walked this way in the dawn of time?"
Of course, in these discussions certain more "pragmatic" considerations are always brought up , such as that (despite primitives' superior physical and mental health) modern medicine has great advantages over primitive medicine--without which child mortality would be enormous--as it was before the industrial revolution.
But unfortunately, this assumes that humans have the right to grow in number and continue the Holocene extinction. It ignores that if we use a balance scale like blind Justice holds, place all the species going extinct on one side, and place us on the other—giving us about a 500,000 times more weight because we invented the scales—the scales will tip in favor of our extinction, even with our weighted advantage.
And so not only does civilization encourage delusion, but morally speaking, humans don't have the right to it, or to a population above 5 million.
As the VHEM says, we should abstain from reproducing to "live long and die out", at least till we reach that number--to stop acting as a tyrannical, murderous elite over all the other species.
Context matters, even if we only want to go from 4 to 3. And even if we cannot reach the goal, we should always start with the truth.
Delusion has consequences. In this case, the Holocene extinction, which should become the general context of anarchist discussion.
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