Anarchy & Beauty – A brief ethnographic account of my day-to-day experiences with crafters


The problem that confronts us today , and which the nearest future is to solve,. is how to be one’s self and yet in oneness with others, to feel deeply with all human beings and still retain one’s own characteristic qualities. This seems to me to be the basis upon which the mass and the individual, the true democrat and the true individuality, man and woman, can meet without antagonism and opposition.

Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks

More, bigger, faster, cheaper, nastier has built an economy that might just be in furious pursuit of mediocrity…The pursuit of more, bigger, faster, cheaper, nastier too often seems to demand putting what, why, and who we love at the end of the list, the underworld of the inbox, the bottom of the heap. That’s a recipe for stagnation, whether for people, communities, cities, countries, or the globe. But the converse might just hold, too: if nations and corporations want to punch past the glass ceiling of mere opulence, to what I call eudaimonic prosperity — lives that are meaningfully well lived — well, then people might just have to begin by making if not radically, then at least marginally more meaningful choices themselves.

Umair Haque, A Roadmap to a Life that Matters, Harvard Business Review, 13 luglio 2011

It is ironic that the governmental structure we most prize (democracy) is the ideal representation of a power heterarchy. Heterarchy was first employed in a modern context by McCulloch (1945). He examined alternative cognitive structure(s), the collective organization of which he termed heterarchy. He demonstrated that the human brain, while reasonably orderly, was not organized hierarchically. This understanding revolutionized the neural study of the brain and solved major problems in the fields of artificial intelligence and computer design. To date, it has had little impact on the study of society. Heterarchy may be defined as the relation of elements to one another when they are unranked or when they possess the potential for being ranked in a number of different ways. Thus, three cities might be the same size but draw their importance from different realms: one hosts a military base, one is a manufacturing center, and the third is home to a great university. Similarly, a spiritual leader might have an international reputation but be without influence in the local business community. The relative importance of these community and individual power bases changes in response to the context of the inquiry and to changing (and frequently conflicting) values that result in the continual reranking of priorities.

Carole L. Crumley, Heterarchy and the Analysis of Complex Societies, Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 6 (1): 1–5, 1995


1377545_10152929554321289_4097202841800917400_nThe creative people we have met are curious, imaginative, industrious, humorous, spiritual, honest.

They use heart, head and hand, simultaneously (“Being a crafter means working both with your head and your heart” – an interview with Loredana Fioroli, WazArs, 15 August 2014).

They appear to enjoy life, because they have a purpose and see meaning in their everyday existence. They have self-governing attitudes and don’t like pecking orders. They tend to appreciate common sense, gregariousness, brotherhood (and sisterhood), some sort of “fellowship of equals”, hopefully on the path towards the universal motto “All for one, one for all.” (Grotesque inequality is not a natural part of being human, Guardian, 24 November 2014).

I am convinced that, generally, they are intuitively open to the possibility that evolution is a communal, spiritual enterprise, of people and communities linked by the Web and the right intent.  

They cultivate ideals and chase after their dreams. They sometimes are sentimental, cheesy, self-doubting, fickle, a little selfish, just like anyone else. They are indeed competitive, but know how to share too. Most of them seem to care about the welfare of other people and of the community in which they live.

Most importantly, they are not in the least cynical. You probably cannot be truly creative unless you believe in human potential, in your own skills and see nothing wrong in human attempts to reshape reality according to their own sense of purpose, vision, moral sensibility and meaning.

They are at once idealistic and practical, they don’t mind getting their hands dirty and consciously engaging in common endeavours. Intuition and creativeness are their common denominator and this makes them less dogmatic than the average person. Neither are they relativists, since they sense that there are universal standards of beauty and that if they resonate with them they will most likely go on to make a resounding success of their businesses.


Now, if you think about it, these are, in fact, the distinctive features of anarchists.

In order to work, a heterarchical society needs mature, responsible, empathic, individualized citizens, whose sense of right and wrong is not something being decreed from the outside and from above, but comes from within, from one’s spiritual and intellectual integrity guiding their behaviour.

Anarchists have no need for a higher authority to impose “harmony” and “discipline” upon them because they are not human predators; coercion, violence and subordination nauseate them. They understand that they are interdependent and complementary (like the organs of a body), and therefore cooperation, patience, open-mindedness and love is all they need.

Essentially, in such an ideal society – mostly comprising voluntary, episodic, irregular and temporary communities in which each individual’s potential is not realised at the expense of others, but along with others –, pyramidal, hierarchical government would be a symptom of some kind of deficiency for, as memorably stated by R. W. Emerson (Politics, 1844): “The appearance of character makes the State unnecessary”.

Anarchy & Beauty. William Morris and his Legacy, 1860-1960 exbibition, National Portrait Gallery, London, Britain - 15 Oct 2014The National Portrait Gallery‘s “Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy” opened on October 16 and runs until 11 January 2015

Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and His Legacy, 1860-1960 review – the virtues of simplicity: “As an absorbing new show curated by his biographer reveals, William Morris’s belief that everyone should make art had a huge impact on the 20th century”.

William Morris – beauty and anarchy in the UK: “Morris’s ideas about ‘art for the people‘ have exerted a powerful influence for more than a century. A new exhibition examines his legacy – from garden cities to Conran”.

ARTS AND CRAFTS: THE MEANING OF THE HANDMADE OBJECT: “The Arts and Crafts was a socially revolutionary movement which brought about a blurring of class boundaries, a dawning recognition of women as creative co-workers and an end to false distinctions between work and leisure in a world in which work itself was seen as joyous. The movement involved the invention of a whole new way of life”.

It is a society conscious of a wish to keep life simple, to forgo some of the power over nature won by past ages in order to be more human and less mechanical, and willing to sacrifice something to this end. It would be divided into small communities varying much within the limits allowed by due social ethics, but without rivalry between each other, looking with abhorrence at the idea of a holy race.

Being determined to be free…, men (and women too, of course) would do their work and take their pleasure in their own persons, and not vicariously: the social bond would be habitually and instinctively felt, so that there would be no need to be always asserting it by set forms: the family of blood-relationship would melt into that of the community and humanity. The pleasures of such a society would be founded on the free exercise of the senses and passions of a healthy human animal, so far as this did not injure the other individuals of the community and so offend against social unity: no one would be ashamed of humanity or ask for anything better than its due development.

But from this healthy freedom would spring up the pleasures of intellectual development, which the men of civilization so foolishly try to separate from sensuous life, and to glorify at its expense. Men would follow knowledge and the creation of beauty for their own sakes, and not for the enslavement of their fellows, and they would be rewarded by finding their most necessary work grow interesting and beautiful under their hands without their being conscious of it….

And amidst this pleasing labor, and the rest that went with it, would disappear from the earth’s face all the traces of the past slavery. Being no longer driven to death by anxiety and fear, we should have time to avoid disgracing the earth with filth and squalor, and accidental ugliness would disappear along with that which was the mere birth of fantastic perversity….”

William Morris, “News from Nowhere”


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