A Clothing Optional Revolution

Posted: July 17, 2010 in Free / Open Software, Nature, Orwell, Spanish Civil War
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Aren’t naked people something else? I’ll admit I get a hearty chuckle from them. But, no, I’m not thinking of the nudity that comes from sleazy, peeping-tommery, from the sordid dank-alley flasher, from the military monsters of Abu Ghraib. But, instead, I hold in mind honest, wholesome, public nudity, perhaps that streaker at the Queen’s garden party, no doubt a fine sort of chap who’s having a light-hearted bet with his pals one day and is showing off his crown jewels to Her Highness the next. He, I raise a glass to.

Enjoying the Olympics Curling

I’d like to unzip the breeches restraining my thoughts and expose a few naughty anarchist comments to the world, comments on clothes, costumes, uniforms, and the lack of such. Now, I’m certain an army of academics must have studied, analyzed and written on clothing, its role in cultural identity, its conveyance of rank and position, blah, blah. I bet a few curious professors have even been down to the nudie beach for the purpose, sirs and madams, of scientific exploration, you know. But when was the last time you heard an anarchy angle on this?

The nudists are easy to speak about, for they so obviously challenge society’s norms and the authority of the Church whose residual influence still coats our minds. The pre-Christians couldn’t have been as prudish as we. From the appearance of all that ancient art, the Greeks must have needed will-power of a Herculean proportion just to keep their togas on. And in more modern times, some “primitive” peoples hardly thought to wear a stitch at all—well, unless they were cold. Could it be that the more we layer society, the more we stack levels onto levels, growing the ponderous hierarchy, then the more we feel a necessity to add cloth and metal adornments into the mix? Robes, gowns, starched uniforms and polished Oxfords, three-piece suits with neckties, tiaras, medals, rolex watches, cuff links. Can you imagine Christ in a top hat and tails? Has the Pope ever skinny-dipped?

Nudists or naturists certainly have a liberatory spirit, not exactly of an anarchist nature but more in line with modern liberalism, a simple minority that want an additional right. But, nonetheless, they must be admired for their egality, their rejection of propriety, their ballsiness (I couldn’t resist). So, what appearances would the dress in an anarchist society have? I have three thoughts, one that I’ll dismiss right off. First, they wouldn’t wear a uniform like the Black Bloc anarchists. In this case, the uniform is part of the tactic that, I can only hope, is not a communal identity.

Second, the dress might be an assortment of working clothes. Let’s look at Barcelona, Spain in 1936. George Orwell writes in “Homage to Catalonia”, his greatest work:

The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing… Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no ‘well-dressed’ people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls, or some variant of the militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. (Chapter 1)

It appears the attire, at least in a transitionary period, would be very workman-like. None would want to come across as the sort of individual who puts on airs. And even the fighting forces would be imbibed with this sense of (clothing) equality:

Everyone from general to private drew the same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and mingled on terms of complete equality. If you wanted to slap the general commanding the division on the back and ask him for a cigarette, you could do so, and no one thought it curious. In theory at any rate each militia was a democracy and not a hierarchy. (Chapter 5)

Third, I’ve argued before that a good example of modern anarchism at work is the free software movement (I even wrote a fairly lengthy and, I was told, lively essay on the subject.) What is the stereotypical dress of computer geeks? We might think of ill-fitting jeans and Star Trek t-shirts. But to be fair, the dress is more complex as described in the Jargon File: tie-dye shirts, hiking boots, khakis, and “a very low tolerance of suits and other ‘business’ attire.” Simply put: wear what you will.

The wear-what-you-will freedom unfortunately vanished in Catalonia just a few months after Orwell’s initial observations as hierarchy reasserted itself :

The militia uniform and the blue overalls had almost disappeared… [T]here was a definite social difference, expressed by the difference of pay and uniform. The men wore a kind of coarse brown overalls, the officers wore an elegant khaki uniform with a tight waist, like a British Army officer’s uniform… (Chapter 9)

And the revolution was over.

Clothes don’t make the person; they make the society with all its stratification, coercion and domination. Emperors need clothes. None would take orders from a man in a loincloth or less.


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