Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
5 anarchists who are famous but all very different
It may come as a surprise to some to find that anarchism comes in as many flavors as Ben 'n Jerry's.
- Anarchists are often typecast in popular opinion as black-clothed bomb-throwers.
- However, many would be surprised by the number and identities of different anarchists.
- What's more, anarchist beliefs aren't simply that the state should be overthrown; there are many different variations and interpretations.
It takes an independent mind to declare oneself an anarchist, but even so, the stories and characters of people who identify as anarchists can be surprising. Here's five snapshots of different anarchists, each with a different take on the controversial political philosophy and different experiences. As a quick note, this list is in no way meant to be exhaustive; there are many more influential, controversial, famous, and infamous anarchists out there other than those described here.
1. Alan Moore
Flickr user Irish Typepad
Known for his influential graphic novels like Watchmen and for being a practicing magician, Alan Moore is also a self-professed anarchist. Here's his position:
[…] it seems to me that anarchy is the state that most naturally obtains when you're talking about ordinary human beings living their lives in a natural way. It's only when you get these fairly alien structures of order that are represented by our major political schools of thought, that you start to get these terrible problems arising—problems regarding our status within the hierarchy, the uncertainties and insecurities that are the result of that. […] It seems to me that the idea of leaders is an unnatural one that was probably thought up by a leader at some point in antiquity; leaders have been brutally enforcing that idea ever since, to the point where most people cannot conceive of an alternative.
Coming from the author of V for Vendetta, this political position should not be surprising. For the unfamiliar, V for Vendetta takes place in a future, fascist Britain, where the eponymous V — decked out in a cloak and Guy Fawkes mask — stages a revolutionary campaign through a series of bombings to bring down the fascist state and establish an anarchist society he calls "The Land of Do-as-You-Please."
As for the cinematic version of V for Vendetta, Alan Moore was displeased by how the dichotomy between fascism and anarchy had been bled out of his story: "Those words, 'fascism' and 'anarchy,' occur nowhere in the film. It's been turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country."
As for whether Moore believes that V's approach to anarchy is the correct one, he had this to say: "I really don't think that a violent revolution is ever going to provide a long-term solution to the problems of the ordinary person. I think that is something that we had best handle ourselves, and which we are most likely to achieve by the simple evolution of western society."
2. Leo Tolstoy
Image source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The author of War and Peace and The Kingdom of God Is Within You is widely regarded as among the greatest writers of all time. In his middle age, Tolstoy suffered an existential crisis, questioning whether God exists and, in turn, whether life had meaning. He wrote his way through this crisis in The Confession, and afterward became a Christian anarcho-pacifist.
In his piece On Anarchy, Tolstoy wrote
The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order and in the assertion that, without Authority there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that anarchy can be instituted by a violent revolution. […] This alone is needed, will certainly be successful. And this is the will of God, the teaching of Christ. There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man.
His faith led him to believe that all government was inherently violent and all violence inherently un-Christian. Because of this radical fusion of politics and religion, the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated him in 1901.
3. Emma Goldman
Easily one of the most famous and influential anarchists, Emma Goldman was unlike the others on this list thus far due to her advocacy for violence — violence was highly antithetical to Tolstoy's version of anarchy, and, although Alan Moore may cast evil spells on people, Moore also rejects anarchist violence.
Goldman initially became attracted to anarchy after the Haymarket Affair, an at-first peaceful demonstration of laborers striking for an eight-hour workday in Chicago. However, somebody threw a bomb at police officers during the strike, and eight anarchists were later arrested. Their trial, however, is widely believed to have been a miscarriage of justice: none of the accused had thrown the bomb, though there was some evidence that one of them had constructed it; the judge and jury were both prejudiced against the defendants because of their political views; and, as a result, most of the anarchists were sentenced to death despite it being unclear which were actually guilty. Two had their sentences commuted to life in prison, one was sentenced to 15 years hard labor, and another committed suicide.
In response to this event, Goldman affirmed her beliefs in anarchy and in the use of violence to establish an anarchical society, the so-called propaganda of the deed. Given her use of violence, an interesting quote from her essay, Anarchism and Other Essays, is
[…] Anarchism represents to the unthinking what the proverbial bad man does to the child, — a black monster bent on swallowing everything; in short, destruction and violence. Destruction and violence! How is the ordinary man to know that the most violent element in society is ignorance; that its power of destruction is the very thing Anarchism is combating? Nor is he aware that Anarchism […] destroys, not healthful tissue, but parasitic growths that feed on the life's essence of society. It is merely clearing the soil from weeds and sagebrush, that it may eventually bear healthy fruit.
In an attempt to destroy the "parasitic growths that feed on the life's essence of society," Emma Goldman and her friend Alexander Berkman plotted to assassinate industrialist Henry Clay Frick in retribution for his treatment of some of his striking workers during the Homestead Strike — Frick had hired the Pinkertons to violently end the strike, resulting in several deaths. Frick, however, survived the assassination, and Goldman and Berkman were sentenced to jail.
4. Howard Zinn
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
Best known for his seminal A People's History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn is also an anarchist. In a 2008 interview called Anarchism Shouldn't Be a Dirty Word, Zinn said this:
The term anarchism has become associated with two phenomena with which real anarchists don't want to associate themselves with. One is violence, and the other is disorder or chaos. The popular conception of anarchism is on the one hand bomb-throwing and terrorism, and on the other hand no rules, no regulations, no discipline, everybody does what they want, confusion, etc. That is why there is a reluctance to use the term anarchism. But actually the ideas of anarchism are incorporated in the way the movements of the 1960s began to think.
He went on to describe how many of the civil rights movements were anarchist in nature, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which participated in nonviolent, direct-action protests to secure African-American rights. Zinn's position was mainly that anarchist violence is counter-productive, though he has said that he is "not an absolute pacifist, because I can't rule out the possibility that under some, carefully defined circumstances, some degree of violence may be justified, if it is focused directly at a great evil." Rather than use violence to achieve an anarchist society, Zinn believed that:
Each situation has to be evaluated separately, for all are different. In general, I believe in non-violent direct action, which involve organizing large numbers of people, whereas too often violent uprisings are the product of a small group. If enough people are organized, violence can be minimized in bringing about social change.
5. Sacco and Vanzetti
Although these are two people, their histories are very much intertwined. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were two Italian immigrants in Boston who belonged to Gruppo Autonomo, an anarchist group committed to the violent overthrow of the government.
In 1920, two men were shot and killed carrying $15,000 in payroll money for a shoe factory in South Braintree. Sacco and Vanzetti, who were connected to the Buick that was used as the getaway car and owned guns, were accused of the crime.
Whether Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty of the crime is unclear today. It seems likely that, given later ballistics evidence, Sacco had probably shot one of the men, but no evidence existed to establish Vanzetti's guilt. Another criminal also confessed to the murder, the money was never recovered, and both Sacco and Vanzetti had alibis. What is widely understood, however, is that their trial was poorly mismanaged.
Judge Webster Thayer despised anarchists, going so far as to call Sacco and Vanzetti "anarchist bastards." The prosecution put on 45 witnesses with conflicting testimony, while witnesses who established Sacco's and Vanzetti's alibis were ignored. Anti-immigrant sentiment was high at the time, and after a few hours of deliberation, the jury sentenced both men to death. Supreme Court Justice William Douglas would later write that anybody reading the courtroom transcript "will have difficulty believing that the trial with which it deals took place in the United States."
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.
New study suggests the placebo effect can be as powerful as microdosing LSD.
- New research from Imperial College London investigated the psychological effects of microdosing LSD in 191 volunteers.
- While microdosers experienced beneficial mental health effects, the placebo group performed statistically similar to those who took LSD.
- Researchers believe the expectation of a trip could produce some of the same sensations as actually ingesting psychedelics.
Psychedelics: The scientific renaissance of mind-altering drugs<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92360c805fe66c11de38a75b0967f417"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5T0LmbWROKY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>For the study published in eLife, the team recruited 191 citizen cosmonauts to microdose either LSD or a placebo over the course of several weeks and note the psychological effects. Volunteers were already microdosing LSD, so there was no true control. Each volunteer was given instructions on creating their own low-dose gel capsules, some containing LSD, others not. Then they mixed the capsules in envelopes so they didn't know if they were taking the real thing or not.</p><p>The trial design was ingenious: each capsule featured a QR code that was scanned after the addition of ingredients but before they were placed in the envelope so that researchers knew what they were ingesting.</p><p>The problem: volunteers sourced their own LSD. Lack of quality control could have had a profound effect on the results. </p><p>The results: LSD microdosers reported feeling more mindful, satisfied with life, and better overall; they also noticed a reduction in feelings of paranoia. </p><p>The catch: the control group felt the same thing, with no statistical difference between the groups. </p><p>Lead author Balázs Szigeti comments on the findings: "This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug but can instead be explained by the placebo effect." </p>
Credit: Alexander / Adobe Stock<p>Psychedelics are notoriously difficult to control for given the intensity of the experience. Yet there is precedent for the above findings. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-020-05464-5" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that 61 percent of volunteers that took a placebo instead of psilocybin felt some psychedelic effects, with a few volunteers experiencing full-on trips.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Several stated that they saw the paintings on the walls 'move' or 'reshape' themselves, others felt 'heavy. . . as if gravity [had] a stronger hold', and one had a 'come down' before another 'wave' hit her."</p><p>The Imperial team believes the expectation of a trip might have been enough to produce similar results. Senior author David Erritzoe is excited for future studies on the topic, believing they tapped into a new wave of citizen science that could push forward our knowledge of psychedelic substances.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accounting for the placebo effect is important when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or users' expectations can lead to a strong placebo response. Self-blinding citizen science initiatives could be used as an inexpensive, initial screening tool before launching expensive clinical studies."</p><p>As investments into the psychedelics market explode, with one company <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-03/thiel-backed-magic-mushroom-firm-atai-hits-2-billion-valuation" target="_blank">reaching a $2 billion valuation</a>, a recurring irony appears in the long arc of psychedelics and research: the power of our minds might be enough to feel greater life satisfaction and a deeper sense of mindfulness. If that's possible with a placebo, we have to question why the rush to create more pharmacology is necessary. </p><p>This is, mind you, a separate conversation over the role of psychedelics and rituals for group bonding. The function of group cohesion around consciousness-altering substances will continue to play an important role in many communities. </p><p>Of course, we should continue to explore the efficacy of psychedelics on anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and addiction. <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">Pharmacological dependence</a> is a stain on the psychiatry industry. Whether or not psychedelics can be prescribed for daily use remains to be seen, but we know a moneyed interest is expecting a return on investment—the above company, ATAI Life Sciences, raised $157 million in its Series D round. </p><p>When it comes to wellbeing, some things money just can't buy. How we navigate the tricky terrain of mainstreaming psychedelics remains to be seen. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>