The refusal to reach is an old anarchist idea. It is above all an absolutely modern idea, anchored in the contemporary criticism of capitalist consumption, of productivism, and as a condensed objection to growth, emancipation and liberation of all living beings. On top of that, the refusal to reach is a political ethic in its own right.
Nothing seems easier, basically, than to refuse to arrive in a society dominated by a system based on hierarchy, consumerism, exploitation of nature, voluntary servitude, and so on. It is enough for that, simply, to extract ourselves from the oppressive roller, to do nothing to save this system which crushes us, and to free ourselves from the pseudo-consolations which it offers us in exchange of our submission.
But this posture of complete refusal of everything can however be transformed into a kind of feeling of superiority over the others, stultified by the system, alienated by its media, subjected in everything to the domination which is the background of almost all political systems, from neoliberalism to all the variants of Leninism. What then distinguishes the anarchist refusal to reach the ivory tower of the individual who believes himself superior? How not to give in to the temptation to abstract oneself from the world, which, let’s agree, is always very attractive?
TO REFUSE IS NOT TO BECOME PASSIVE!
The refusal to be an anarchist does not consist in remaining passive in front of the disorders of the world and the politics of domination. Refusing to enter this world means taking control of many of the elements of our lives in areas that the system has already organized for us.
To succeed means, under capitalism, to have access to facilities that the « successful » can afford: vacations at the other end of the world; food (organic, why not) already prepared by others, packaged and ready to use so as not to waste one’s precious time in menial tasks (the time of the parvenu is much more precious than that of the underlings who work for him); access to luxury products ; the possibility of compensating through consumption for all the humiliations suffered at work (in particular) and in social life (because achieving success has a price, we must not forget, for example in the mediocre constraints that the upstart accepts in the workplace and which translate into the idea that it is necessary to go through this, that it is life, society that is like that, and other nonsense whose only purpose is to push individuals to accept their fate).
The refusal to reach implies an inverse vision of the world, which results in a life very different from the one the system proposes and imposes. One cannot refuse to reach and « take advantage » of all the facilities of the system, or else the refusal to reach is only a hollow speech detached from reality. Refusing to achieve means refusing the adulterated consumer goods (for example, those manufactured at the end of the world) that are offered to us at every moment in the big cities and shopping malls, refusing luxury vacations to the Canaries or elsewhere, weekends on a plane for a change of scenery, refusing to climb the corporate ladder in order to secure a better salary at the price of dominating those who remain at the bottom.
THE REFUSERS ARE ABOVE ALL NOT SAINTS!
The refusal to reach is not a path to sanctification. This has nothing to do with the Christian or Gandhian type of saint. In fact, Gandhi himself used to get angry at the idea that he was called a saint. He answered logically that if he was a saint, then no one could come to live choices like his, which would remain inaccessible to the common man. And while putting aside the extremely troubled aspects of Gandhi’s personality, it is fundamental to measure to what extent living « like Gandhi », cultivating a plot of land, making one’s own cloth, cleaning one’s latrines (the « exploits » most often highlighted in Gandhian hagiography), is not at all extraordinary. Nowadays, and in a context very different from that of India in the first half of the twentieth century, the image remains strong: refusing to achieve, for many of us, would mean giving up so many facilities that one has to be a kind of saint to do so. Weird, isn’t it? What is behind it?
A LITTLE CONSISTENCY!
There is, for example, reason to be surprised by the opinion leaders, the « recognized » intellectuals or even those « super-activists », the ones that we ourselves sometimes put in the « spotlight » because we want to « get » them for a meeting or a review, when we learn that they travel by plane, that they have one, two or even three smartphones, and that, in general, they really think that the movement needs them, that they are indispensable and therefore have to travel here and there to spread the word, even if it is by plane. They probably believe that they are the only ones who can express what the rest of us would find difficult to say in the gallery, perhaps? However, their agreed-upon formulations, the ones that everyone expects and that ultimately make them successful, do not really move things forward on the political level. For a good reason: it sounds wrong somewhere.
We cannot preach degrowth, ethical consumption or even the refusal of consumption, while believing that we ourselves can and should get out of the lot of the « refusers », and that we are « entitled » (?) to a few small things, a few facilities from the world we are fighting, this world which is not ours. The refusal to achieve remains a coherent path to this dilemma in front of which capitalism has succeeded in placing almost all individuals: while it crushes us, the system forces us to save it by our daily cowardice, starting with our participation in the « joys » of consumption.
Thus, one of the most efficient ways for capitalism to insert us into its net of submission-domination is credit, which attaches us to a future already written, this future… capitalist which will allow to repay the loan. It is not always easy to extract ourselves from this(1), but in other areas of daily life, it is easy to start, today, to live simply so that we can all simply live.
The refusal to reach is a way of doing politics following a coherent ethics, which is in itself a politics of non-domination and non-submission. This is the crucial and essential point of the refusal to reach, which deeply links anarchy to the refusal of this world. To be an « anarchist » is a difficult proclamation of faith, in a world where, in any case, the relations of domination are omnipresent; in the same way, to proclaim oneself a « décroissant » when the autarky of humanity in relation to the planet by the total abolition of overconsumption is a very distant objective… On the other hand, the refusal to achieve is an authentic political and ethical practice, a daily anarchist and anti-productivist way of life, which makes sense today in the contemporary world. It is up to each of us to invent our own refusal to reach and to link it to other refusals, in a collective offensive against this deadly system. The refusal to reach, it is the anarchy in struggle.
- Voir à ce propos le chapitre de L’Anarchie ou le chaos consacré à l’argent, et également celui sur la consommation, Éditions du Calicot, 2017.
- Philippe Godard est l’auteur de L’Anarchie ou le chaos, ouvrage paru en 2017 au Calicot et qui aborde un certain nombre des thèmes chers à l’objection de croissance, à l’anti-productivisme, au refus du progrès machinique.