Saturday, July 21, 2018

Abbie Hoffman

A few years ago I ran across a seminal book from Abbie Hoffman, called Steal this Book!  The book is interesting as an artifact of the zeitgeist of 1970s revolution.  It lays out some still-valid advice on how to survive with little to no money.  I don't vouch for the ethics of everything in there, since it mixes salvaging of resources (think dumpster diving for groceries) with outright stealing them.

The second part of the book is about means of waging a revolution.  Again, some of what is here would probably be accepted as legitimate by a large swath of the population (think printing your own publications or preparing for public demonstrations), though a lot of it, like bombmaking instructions, would not be.

All in all, the book articulates a pretty nihilistic vision of revolution.  Maybe this is because it is more a manual of the how, not the why.  Some of this is also due to its tone, which is designed to shock; I'm not sure how much of it to take at its word, and how much with a grain of salt.  In the end though, Hoffman seems so misanthropic and unconcerned with hurting others that one asks what his revolution is for, if not for the wellbeing of people.  I'm sure he would argue that he is only advocating destroying unjust systems or institutions that bring people down, but when you bring down an institution, you need to be aware of all the people who depend on that institution as it is, imperfect and ugly as it may be.  If you are callous about tearing something down, without a regard for the people you'll hurt in the process, it becomes harder and harder to sustain that you are, in fact, working for the good of those people.

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