A philosophy of touch: against mass society

I was listening to an episode of John Zerzan’s Anarchy Radio this afternoon, in which Zerzan and Bellamy, who I’ve only recently  been made aware of, were discussing the relative merits of the labels ‘anti-left anarchism’ and ‘post-left anarchism’.

It occurred to me that my own view was that it doesn’t matter what you call a philosophical standpoint that rejects civilisation, patriarchy, and heteronomy. What matters most is you realise, recognise and remind anyone listening that this philosophy is necessarily incompatible with, and ought to be strongly against, the idea of mass society in and of itself.

To complete the circle, I jokingly wondered about what label could be applied to this approach, to satisfy those who care at all about the naming of things. I scoured the cluttered bureau of my memory for what the etymology of ‘mass’ was, hoping to find eventually the equivalent opposite word root, and fashion this label from that. I couldn’t produce the required information, so a visit to the net was required.

Research revealed that the source of the English word ‘mass’ was the French verb masser, which means ‘to massage’, and which in turn was taken, at the end of the 18th century, from the Arabic massa, which means ‘to touch or feel’.

What horrific irony then that a word indicating direct contact has come to mean its opposite – a system of ever greater alienation and isolation, a system that has no soul but soullessness, no aim but the extinction of individual aims, no dream but the extinguishing of all dreams…

And I immediately realised that to replace alienation, control and exploitation was to return to a world where touch is paramount. This in turn brought memories of just how delightful my weekly Thai massages are. The tradition of Thai massage clearly predates capitalism and currency, and began as a therapeutic, almost spiritual form of yoga. When I am being massaged, there is a definite connection between me and the masseuse (no lewd jokes please!). She is sensing my body, and taking away my pain and tension (no really, no jokes!)

Taken as a fundamental value, a truly free consentient community would, of course, consist only of equally-fulfilling direct connections and communications. This is simply not possible in a world where mass society rules supreme and tells us that such connections are irrelevant. We must therefore reject mass society entirely.

Given how radical a position this is, compared with all other ‘isms’ (to suggest the abolition of this system); and given how such an abolitionary goal cannot be aimed so wide as to encompass the mass society it seeks to erode (this is not a ‘prescription for mass society but for individuals that wish to escape and at the same time weaken that society); and given that this in turn eliminates the possibility of a mass movement working together to forward this goal…I must return to my original starting point: that it doesn’t matter what you call it.

To call for the end of mass society is anathema to most ‘anarchists’ because they want to find a remedy for a broken society. They do not realise that the society itself is an inseparable part of the beast that causes their woes.