The Peaceful Anarchism of Mark Greenway
Leads to blunt determination
Leads to a backlash just because”
From “Backlash Just Because” by Napalm Death
I have a very vivid memory of seeing Napalm Death live. It was in 2016 at Webster Hall. I had just finished interviewing Napalm Death frontman Mark Greenway and Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne for a Psychology Today article on the power of individuality. I don’t recall whether Napalm Death or the Melvins were playing at the time, but I remember standing at one of the higher levels of the club looking down at the pit, which was rambunctiously raging as the band thrashed on. And as things were going full tilt, in an instance, it appeared as though about 50 people received a silent signal to stop what they were doing and be still. And suddenly, everyone took out their phones and shined a light on the floor. This seemed to go on for quite some time, and then all of a sudden, someone picked up a pair of glasses, held them in the air, gave a thumbs up, and on cue everyone started raging again.
Source: Gobinder Johitta, used with permission
To me there was nothing that unusual about the event. It was the type of caring attitude I often see at metal or hardcore shows. Let’s rage and let out all of the emotion – but let’s be safe about it. This is about healing wounds, not causing them. But there was something particularly poignant about this moment. I wasn’t sure how to describe it or what to call it. That was until I recently spoke with Greenway for the Hardcore Humanism with Dr. Mike Podcast. He used a term that was a perfect description of what I witnessed — peaceful anarchism.
To understand the meaning of and need for peaceful anarchism, we need to start with Greenway’s assessment of the core factor that motivates Greenway – humanity. Being humane to humans, animals and the planet is central to everything Greenway is and does. And he feels that humanity is in crisis in part because of our allegiance to politics over people.
“Human lives and other sentient lives as well, are more important than politics because … if you can’t ensure the welfare of those things, then politics is meaningless,” Greenway told me. And he went on to describe a “crisis of humanity” resulting from a large percentage of the world population being stuck in certain cultural standpoints and drawing red lines that they won’t cross. “And that’s problematic because then you prioritize the cultural aspects of the human being.”
Greenway uses the example of how various countries have treated migrants as evidence that politics can lead us in inhumane directions. “There is still a massive migration in the world, which is not in itself a problem. Let’s be really clear about that … The whole reason that the human race is as versatile and as dynamic as it is, is because of migration. People fail to understand that sometimes,” Greenway explained. “It’s not the migration in itself. That’s the problem. It’s the perception of those that migrate … and then this is where the political sort of aspects come in. Because it can be argued that without imperialist actions for the last however many hundred years, then we necessarily wouldn’t be in this position … where people are wanting to get away.”
He specifically points to nationalism as a political strain that is at odds with basic humanity. “Nationalism is big on the agenda right now. I mean, in all honesty, it’s never gone away. And anybody that says it’s the new thing — it’s not new,” he described. “It’s always been there … protectionism, nationalism to where … certain interests … seem to add more priority than human beings. … So that really problematic.”
One of the reasons that we may cling to nationalist politics in the face of migration is that we fear that our cultural identity may be threatened. He points to the example of loyalty to symbols at the expense of connection to others as risky. “I think that we’ve been conditioned to think that our identity is going to slip away … we are going to lose some kind of relevance,” Greenway said. “And that’s what we’ve been conditioned to think … I don’t need a flag to represent me … this emphasis on symbols like flags is really to the detriment of human beings.”
What naturally emerges is a willingness to exploit human beings or animals in the service of a symbol or political perspective. For example, Greenway acknowledges the deep meaning that flags hold for many people. But he points out that “you can’t alleviate hunger with a flag. You cannot stop somebody dropping a 100-pound bomb on a school with a flag…this kind of inability to understand that all human beings are important and just because somebody lives three continents away and appears to be expendable and basically fulfills, in some countries, the kind of need for cheap consumer objects for more wealthy countries. You know, I think it’s really problematic and I think flags can do that.”
So what is peaceful anarchism? According to Greenway, it is fundamental freedom. “The whole point of anarchy is not to be governed and you are your own god basically…
There are a lot of people who advocate for revolutionary anarchism with forceful means. For me, the very troublesome part of that is then you’re encouraging conflict again…,” he said. “Surely, for me, one of the things that underpins anarchism is to achieve a world where everybody can live with dignity and equality and such – like to where we understand that we don’t need to take up arms against each other anymore. That should be completely a thing of the past.”
Greenway advocates for more direct representation in local government. “It could be argued that, well, governments are all more or less the same thing. You know, they’re based upon the protection of capital, and therefore, if you sort of get rid of the whole governmental system like when the Roman Empire collapsed … you have a widespread of representation on councils,” Greenway suggested. “How many people on this earth don’t have representation by their governments … in terms of how things affect them, what they get from it? … I’m hoping that it would show people that they have more value, that they have more worth and, in turn, that would then encourage people to be more cooperative within a community system.”
What would emerge, according to Greenway, is a natural connection to human beings rather than symbols or governmental parties. “I want to be able to take every human being, as a human being … I don’t want to judge people by any other standard,” he explained “The whole sort of proud to be British thing, you know, the whole you’ve got to stand up for the flag and national anthem. No, I don’t, why should I? I don’t, for one thing believe in them and the monarchic system … so why should I stand up for something that I don’t think is particularly great for the human beings that live in this country?”
Greenway recognizes that this type of political change may not happen any time soon, if ever. But that does not stop him from living out those principles. “I want to be free and able to breathe and not strangled by this stuff … So when I walk out of where I live and want to take my bike out … I go down to the beach and I ride around, you know, sometimes I think about this stuff,” Greenway said. “And I think to myself, you know what, I’m here right now, or even when I go back home, I’m here and I’m free … Within myself, I am free because I’m not restricted by any kind of dictatorial kind of methodology … And that’s really liberating.”
So is peaceful anarchism going to save us? I don’t know. But I feel like I saw a glimpse of it at the Napalm Death show and I feel it very much alive in the discussions with Mark Greenway. I know one thing’s for certain, I’m going to try and resist the temptation to judge people by their politics or other affiliations and live more by those principles of humanity in my day-to-day life.
And there may be a few Napalm Death fans out there who are doing the same.