Saturday, December 22, 2012

Learning political economy with Nono

My translation of Jean Grave's The Adventures of Nono has reached roughly the halfway point, at which point young Nono will be carried off, as has already been foreshadowed, to the land of money and capitalism, to learn the major lessons of the novel, which arguably makes a better argument against the status quo than it does for the future anarchist communist society. The land of Autonomie is a sort of curious place, peopled by children and various embodied principles, which play an explicitly tutelary role, it bears some of the characteristics we might expect from an anarchistic utopia, like the organization of tasks by attractive industry, but it is very much a child's garden of anarchy, while its neighboring kingdom is peopled by adults. It's worth asking what we are supposed to make of that, in a novel that is very obviously concerned with delivering a moral, symbolic message. One possibility is that the land of children really is supposed to represent anarchism, as a land of innocence, from which Nono is obviously going to be taken by a fall from grace. 

The imagery of the Garden and Fall are not subtle, however uncomfortably they may sit with some of the political elements of the story. But in this quick note I'm more interested in the economic context for Nono's fall than I am in the conventional elements. 

Autonomie is obviously located in a realm without scarcity. Nono's is fed so well by the wild creatures he helps along the way that he might have had his dinner spoiled, even without his gluttonous behavior in the orchard. And the slaughter of flowers that results from his lessons in garland-making is a display of truly excessive consumption. I was reminded in many ways of the slaughter of passenger pigeon's in James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers. It seems clear that we are supposed to think of Autonomie and its environs as a place of nearly inexhaustible plenty. 

But there always seems to be one rule in every garden that will get you thrown right on out, and Nono wastes no time in finding and breaking it. 

The severity of the punishment for taking food from the table is remarkable, and moreso because it seems obvious that there is no lack of food. But Nono is almost carried off to the land of capitalism for putting aside a couple of pieces of fruit. So what is the sin he is guilty of? 

It seems clear that Nono has attempted to establish a capital. He has "put aside" for himself. So we have a society in which any sort of saving, even the most minute forms of capital accumulation, simply disqualify one from participation.

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There's a hard line drawn here that fascinates me, but also repels me a bit. I think it is very useful to look at these arguments against saving, like the one Proudhon made in What is Property? There is still, I think a lesson for mutualists to learn about trusting in circulation to provide, in its own roundabout ways, without worrying about market mechanisms like price, and it is most likely we will learn that from (some of) the anarchist communists. But there is also a cautionary lesson here, I think, about avoiding certain kinds of absolutist thinking, which always imagine (for example) the emergence of capitalism from every piece of fruit smuggled off in a child's pocket, and therefore cannot tolerate the slightest deviation from the hard line against accumulation (all the while perhaps not talking resource use all that seriously.) 

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