What does it mean to sell out? A Personal Approach to Setting a Standard
What does it mean to sell out?
A Personal Approach to Setting a Standard
By Samantha Aliston of the Pacific North West Country Side
Selling out is the ironic reference to giving into social convention or forfeiting a period of claimed or perceived rebellion. It’s applied mostly to hippies or punks in the mainstream. Typically in the same tone of laughing off someone’s sub-cultural phase or period where they challenged society. This tone usually mocks the audacity seen by the mainstream made by someone even trying to challenge social norms and expectations, because inevitably one must give in “so why even try? (scoff).”
It has been used a lot in mostly middle to upper class circles and sub-cultures because in many instances being able to sell out in and of itself is a privilege of having such an option to embrace capitalism. Not everyone can go from homeless punk to yuppie with ease*, but this has been the classic reference I need to make before using this term in the way I do for this article’s theme.
The general sentiment is giving up rebellion due to convenience, privilege, or comfort offered by an opposing or imposing convention. More literally I assume it’s origins are in the idea that one can be bought out despite their convictions; hence “selling out”.
I believe that for anarchists, we can use this slightly juvenile term to set guidelines for our movement to prosper and to retain long term pride in our political struggles individually. Of course with time one gets disappointed, or in other ways is forced to adapt, or make some compromises in order to survive. But I want to set here some guidelines I follow for myself, and I use in judging or choosing those I affiliate with.
I wrote this as someone who I believe has not sold out based on the standards I will lay out here. I have been punished, had my life seriously disrupted, and face a clearly unstable and precarious financial future based on decisions and commitments I’ve made as an anarchist. However at this point in my life, and due to my lack of class privilege (no family support or assets to be inherited, no property to claim, no investments made, etc.) I don’t even know how I could begin to sell out in terms of becoming a yuppy or beneficiary of capitalist society. I think this subject goes way beyond just the classic rebel punk to yuppy reference. I believe our everyday life behavior and choices as anarchists in a society that coerces hypocrisy and compromise in order to survive can help to define what it means to sell out as well.
At the risk of coming off like I am setting revolutionary guidelines (informal rules to follow) I will say I happily accept the risk and admit to doing so.
Cooperating with the state at the expense of comrades, friends, or anyone at any time is selling out. This is as anarchists politically and socially. The police are never an option to call or work with in any way. There are a few exceptions. Such as getting hit by a nice car while walking or biking. Or general road incidents that require calling or cooperating with the police. Bribing police is also ok in some instances. Also in cases of being a woman there are exceptions. If you are frightened for your life and have no support, and are victim to sexual perpetration. However if your house is burglarized, this is not a reason to call the police. To call them after the fact implies you have an expectation of arresting those who stole your property and were most likely motivated by the poverty inflicted upon them by the system we as anarchists despise. Cooperating with the police in any investigation involving petty crime is selling out.
I myself was met with one of the toughest and confusing situations in my recent past. Where I was attacked by a poor person of color, and luckily survived the murder attempt. I was in a strange situation where they would have called the police on me if I avenged the inflicted wounds, or attacked first. Or I would have faced the wrath or his tough peers who knew where I lived and worked. While in the hospital I was interrogated and harassed by police while undergoing treatment for my wound. I chose to claim stupid with the interrogation, and avoid this person and their peers. I don’t want to prioritize my violent efforts in attacking a fellow struggling proletarian, and I would never feed to my enemy someone it would love to imprison. It’s a sad situation, but we live in a sad world, and I am proud to have never snitched, and not let it frighten me. Regardless I walked away with an unintentional tattoo, but my pride in tact. For sure I don’t snitch, cause I’m not a sell out.
More intensely, cooperating with the state in its pursuits of political repression in any way whatsoever is selling out. Speaking or even trying to reason with a grand jury or visiting local or federal officer in any way is selling out. Cooperating with the state regarding a crime you have been involved with for less time in prison at the expense of a comrade or friend is absolutely selling out. Cooperating or speaking to officers of the state regarding a friend, relative, comrade, neighbor, roommate, co worker, or any other human being is selling out. Lying to the officer is not selling out, but it is stupid. Lying to an officer to help someone else is not selling out, however if you choose to lie and are eventually punished for this, cooperating in anyway after the fact is selling out. So best to remain silent, because anything they already know they know, and anything you say will be used against you in the court of law. Cooperation over the inconvenience of prison, to avoid frequent state intimidation, or any cooperation in anyway with the state that comes at the expense of fellow revolutionary comrades or the broader security of our revolutionary anarchist communities is selling out.
I was met with intimidation and threats through my years. I never cooperated and will say I never will regardless of the consequences. Even if I am old and physically incapable of even getting out of bed, not to mention for sure not being able to riot in the streets, I will happily say I won’t cooperate, because I am an anarchist, and the preservation of this tension lies in the accountability demonstrated by decisions such as this.
In our personal relationships our decisions define us as well. This applies to different parts of our personal life. Our sexual or romantic relationships are a huge area where we must challenge social convention. We must do everything to challenge the rape culture that is normalized in the patriarchal civilizations that plague the world. Assuring consent, safety, respect, and honest communication in our relationships is part of not selling out. Violating someone’s sexual expectations or comforts, or taking advantage of someone based on institutional disadvantages is selling out. Rape, sexual assault, abusing partners, or similar acts of sexual perpetration are all absolutely selling out. Refusing to take responsibility for one’s own disrespectful behavior in this realm is absolutely selling out.
We all have to hustle. Capitalism is an economy of coercion. You either are one of the lucky beneficiaries of capitalism where you are set for life, or to varying degrees victimized by it, and forced to survive it’s obstacles. This is hard enough in and of itself, factoring the relentless hypocrisy that we feel or are forced to practice in surviving it as conscious anarchists opposing the system, it can make things even more miserable and confusing. Opening a business, or making money outside of the service sector is not selling out. But say applying double standards on wages for hired immigrants, would be selling out. If you are perceivably upper class due to your income and not donating money to political prisoners or anarchist-related projects you would claim to support as an anarchist that is selling out. Money is a utility to survive, it is never to be an ambition outside of revolutionary purposes.
Practicing any social inequities such as homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, or any other appendage of the social order of today is selling out. Or actively embracing an opposing ideology of nationalist or fascist nature is selling out. Right, liberal, most left, or conservative politics are selling out. We are anarchists, it is our responsibility to preserve our tension as a movement that negates all politics that entertain or rationalize the existence of the state or capitalism. With age I believe it’s possible to become more open minded, but we know what it is we are for and against. And any seasoned anarchist can cherry pick the information they need to understand the world even from it’s own retched news sources or loud opinions. The point here is to say that to reconsider such things such as a vehement animosity and active resistance to ALL dividing social inequities or institutions that stem from eurocentric, fascist, nationalist, or authoritarian thought is selling out. Embracing any contrary analysis that leaves room for our declared enemy institutions to exist or prosper isselling out.
These are all tangible personal practices that we can retain inside of ourselves and in our everyday lives. If you are forced to adapt in some ways to continue putting food on our plates or to simply retain a functional sanity, you can always remind yourself that we are still anarchists by practicing these principles. Maybe its too risky to be in the streets. Maybe you don’t have time to go to this or that event, or make this or that project. But I firmly believe that by practicing these guidelines I set here, we can feel good about ourselves; proud, and anarchist.
*Many of us are just bound to be miserable in society due to our class, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Our existence alone is a rebellion for the state and capitalism as we are evidence to it’s failure and permanent crisis.