Speaking of fashionable o.g. anarchists, I recently ran across these pics of Ba Jin. I particularly like this first pic, it’s a little blurry, but I think that’s a white trench over a white button-up, and of course, the round glasses are a classic. As you perhaps have noticed, I’ve been wearing my round glasses as of late; I wore them in junior high and decided to bring them back after finding them last week during spring cleaning. Since I’ve started wearing them again, I’ve discovered that there are a lot more fashion critics in the world than you might have thought… harry potter, a hunky, young orville redenbacher, harry potter circa germany ’32, gandhi, and harry potter on his way to a carnival are some of the imaginative fashion comparisons I’ve received thus far. What I’m really going for, in case you budding sartorial critics are curious, is definitely something more in the way of Ba Jin in this top photo…
Anyway, Ba Jin was an amazing fellow. He was a participant in the May 4th Movement, is considered one of the greatest Chinese language writers for his Torrents trilogy, and was a survivor of torture and persecution by Maoists because of his anarchist affiliation. The only book of his I’ve been able to find in English is Family, but it is absolutely incredible. What I love about this book is the way he writes about the effect of the family on anarchism, and how politics are often derived from the personal experiences that we go through and the personal relationships that we form. I think that when we anarchists discuss the family, we tend to dismiss it as the most fundamental building block of the state, and in particular the homophobic mechanisms of the state, which I agree with. Because of legislation on the meaning of family, and zoning laws that only allow for a particular number of “family” members to live together, the state has decided what is and what is not a family, and most of the time that’s based on an erroneous concept of what is “natural” — the patriarchal nuclear family and the definition of family as relating to biology explicitly. But, when theorists dismiss the family outright it tends to leave radicals to fend for themselves in dealing with the complex interactions of familial love versus radical independence.
Clearly situations arise when dealing with family, when you ought to cut your losses, before wasting a lifetime feeling oppressed and unable to live your own life. But in many other situations, family can offer a support network that helps us learn a great deal about ourselves and helps to deepen our politics. Especially given the fact that family, contrary to the state’s definition, isn’t based on biology, but rather on the bonds that are created and reinforced through our formative experiences as we grow older, and thus our idea of family may extend out to include or completely rely on other members of our community. These formative experiences can happen anywhere, but only in a community that’s inclusive of a wide variety of ages, because as social beings we need those reflections of ourselves as youngsters and oldies to feel whole. The problem is that these experiences almost never happen in the “i’m gonna live forever” 18-to-25 year old anarchist culture. That type of youth culture will always end up feeling hollow and fleeting, because at the end of the day, we need those deeper community bonds, otherwise we will end up ‘growing out of it’ eventually.
Which is why a book like Family is so important. If we aren’t thinking about families and understanding them through the lens of anarchism, then every graduation, birthday, holiday or what-have-you will be weirdly guilty from an anarchist perspective; which they needn’t be at all, given that these can all be community building experiences that offer potential for radical growth. Aside from my experiences with anarchist youth culture, I feel like I personally became an anarchist through the influence of my family, especially my mom, who has always worked to create a family based on community rather than biology. She has always been both a diligent neighborhood organizer and a radical therapist for me, my dad and sister, our extended relatives, her best friend and her best friend’s kids and anyone else who fell into her spider’s web of motherly love! Growing up in this environment has taught me everything I know about community organizing and feminism, and I’m proud to be her sunny son!
Yay! Ba Jin! And happy birthday mom!