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Thoughts on Children’s Games and the Temporary Autonomous Zone.

  • Essay
  • Feb 20 2023
  • Ido Nahari
    is a sociologist, researcher and writer who works in the fields of cultural revivalism, social welfare and the commodification of emotions. Born in Jerusalem and currently living in Berlin, Nahari holds a Master of Science in Culture and Society from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he investigated the marketability of authenticity.

Anarchism is a blanket fortress. It is a zone of make-believe, where different worlds are made anew with few to no resources; a shared platform for taking playfulness seriously. Unlike the dominating beliefs that have come to shape our lives, anyone could stumble across and even practice anarchism without even knowing it to be the case. While the same could not be said of accidentally privatizing public services or investing in stocks—if someone, say, happens to slip on a banana peel on Wall Street in a very particular way—anarchism is a kind of intuition that must be ditched and then forgotten over time, only to be dismissed as being completely nonsensical later. But long before our anarchist instinct was neglected, we had a different outlook on the blanket fortress: when children assemble it, they indulge themselves in creating temporary autonomous zones. Like other anarchist spaces that prosper due to an equal sense of communal freedom, the blanket fortress exists for as long as it is deemed pleasurable for its participants, or until a self-identified authoritative figure executes their power and decides to cut it out. (Thanks a lot, Dad.)

But as long as the fortress is not breached, it is “freed of time and place,” as Hakim Bey noted in his seminal book on the matter, The Temporary Autonomous Zone. A temporary autonomous zone is many things, but is first and foremost a manifestation of the imagination: “Whether open only to a few friends, like a dinner party, or to thousands of celebrants,” the temporary autonomous zone “is always ‘open’ because it is not ‘ordered.’” This, of course, is what separates the temporary autonomous zones referenced by Bey from the incredibly irritating, commercialized notion of the so-called retreat. The temporary autonomous zone is not a space that cynically banks on our desire to disappear from something, but is a self-created area of the mind or of the land; a space into which we can positively disappear. In other words, the merit of a temporary autonomous zone is not assessed solely in relation to the absence of something else. Bey, who was somewhat derogatorily dubbed as a “lifestyle anarchist” by his intellectual peers, points out throughout his book that our craving to be off the grid has slowly crept toward becoming a profit-oriented, money-making machine that continues to monitor our every move. Bolstered by burnout and social alienation, when commercials command us to “get away from it all,” they—in one way or another—echo the now-forgotten intuition we all once practiced and loved as kids, all while making a good buck from our general sense of entrapment. 

Come to think of it, it’s remarkable to think of just how many children's games are unknowingly based on anarchist principles, demonstrating anarchism’s innate tendency towards sociability, empathy, and friendship. Take, for example, hide and seek. Knowing how and where to hide—and, in so doing, creating a temporary autonomous zone—is a testament to intelligence, as the purpose of the game is to outsmart the seeker. Just like communes and squats, the fun of the game exists for as long as you can remain hidden—because the moment you’re found, be it by the State or by your friend, the game is over. Noticing its playfulness, Bey believed that the greatest asset of the temporary autonomous zone “lies in its invisibility.” As soon as it is found, represented, or mediated, “it must vanish,” and “it will vanish, leaving behind it an empty husk, only to spring up again somewhere else, once again invisible because undefinable in terms of the Spectacle.” But unlike our good-natured game of hide and seek, the cost of being found by the establishment is no child's play. You see, the reason why the temporary autonomous zone is, well, temporary, is because it must dissolve “itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it,” and crush it violently.

We’re now finding ourselves in a bit of a pickle. Being victims of their own success, temporary autonomous zones exist in a constant state of limbo, as they are both a potentially extractable resource of raw creativity, and a social and political threat to any existing order. It’s a risky territory—and such a tempting gamble. Surely there must be a way of gaining the former without risking the latter? Not to worry– certain people who enjoy exploitation just as much as they do subjugation have cracked the case! Digging beneath the shallow surface, we can unearth spaces that certainly may try to look and behave like temporary autonomous zones, but are instead forcefully domesticated and robbed of their spirit. This shell could be best described as hierarchical horizontality—an oligarchic organization that benefits either socially, financially, or politically from its false representation as democratic. In such cases, the temporary autonomous zone is no longer a blanket fortress. It’s a cover-up operation.

But what does hierarchical horizontality look like in action? Well, it can take up many familiar shapes. Maybe it’s a club that is paradoxically famed for being underground. On paper, it accommodates every kink and longing. But in principle, it is actually run by a single investor that gets to have a total say on the profile of who gets in and who stays out. Or maybe hierarchical horizontality is a so-called decentralized autonomous organization, where lines of code only serve the interests of those who programmed them. And, one final example—if you’ll indulge me—maybe hierarchical horizontality will mask itself as a temporary autonomous art fair that exists once every five years where, in an absolute oxymoronic fashion, a collective is selected to curate a socially progressive show by a largely anonymous, financially-driven, and completely unscrutinized board of trustees. In such instances, the structures effectively erase accountability for benefactors, scoring widespread support for their progressive inclusivity while fingers prepare to point at the anarchists who were put in charge of accumulating cultural capital, just in case something goes wrong. It’s all part of a well-calculated, profitable, and foolproof plan.

Anarchism has never been more discussed but so little named—the black elephant in the room. Its tentative principles are vilified while its style is mimicked, celebrated all the way into the crowded pockets of capitalists. The way to move beyond recuperation by an economic system that devours temporary autonomous zones and spits them out dry is a hefty, but necessary, process. In part, this transition depends on the constant blurring of borders between nation-states, institutions, or people. In another, it depends on an unmitigated and not necessarily communicative independence—a blanket fortress big enough for all of us.


    'Children in a blanket fortress, anarchist flag waves on top of it, socialist realism style', a prompt fed to DALL-E 2 by Ido Nahari.



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