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Kropotkin's Crab

"Oh, no, uh... Peter Kropotkin was a naturalist and anarchist philosopher from the 19th century and he saw a crab here in 1882..."

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Yachts are a signifier of wealth and luxury because owning and maintaining a boat as a hobby takes an amount of money and spare time that no just society would allow any individual to have.

After being invited to stay with my friend on his yacht in Brighton I discovered that the reality of living in one will melt those associations into the brine. During the off-season, the marina becomes a shanty town of people lured into floating caravans by cheap rent in an increasingly expensive city. At night seagulls drop crustaceans from heights great enough to shatter their tough carapaces. If you want to relieve yourself after hours you'll need to navigate the slimy jetties as crabs die around you like someone cracking walnuts in the dark.

"Have you heard about Kropotkin's crab?"

I didn't understand the question. He explained that the 19th century Russian naturalist and anarchist Peter Kropotkin wrote his essays on mutual aid - the principle of mutual voluntary co-operation which went on to become a founding principle of anarchist-communism worldwide - by observing a crab flip over another crab that was trapped on its back in Brighton Sea Life Centre in 1882. He suggested we go to visit it.

"Won't it be dead by now?"

"I heard that crabs can live forever."

That didn't sound right to me. I remembered the sound of walnuts in the night.

At the Sea Life Centre, every tank had two or three colourful fish that were named, colourful and conventionally attractive, and a cluster of unlabelled, non-descript proletarian grey fish which padded out the overall fish population without taking any attention from the celebs. It felt a lot like Brighton Sea Life Centre, one of the birthplaces of anarchist intellectual discovery, was imposing some of the worst elements of western society onto the fish in the form of a caste system. My urge to tweet was hitting fever pitch.

Eventually, it looked like we had seen everything this wet zoo had to offer. Not wanting to rule out that the crab was still lurking somewhere, perhaps in a special VIP area, I caught the attention of one of the less sullen-looking fishmasters.

"Excuse me. Do you know where I could find Kropotkin's crab?"

"I'm sorry, I've only worked here for a few months. I don't know everyone yet."

"Oh, no, uh... Peter Kropotkin was a naturalist and anarchist philosopher from the 19th century and he saw a crab here in 1882..."

I had approached this conversation with such an unreasonable amount of optimism. Suddenly it became obvious that both of us felt like we were drowning. I switched my tack.

"...how long do crabs live?"

"Crabs rarely live longer than 20-30 years"

"Yes. Of course. Thank you. Goodbye."

I felt my face glowing red. Sincerely asking to meet an animal that has been dead for over a century after two sleepless nights in the bow of a yacht. It was too much. To save myself further social embarrassment I tugged on a blood-red emergency switch, removing the glass from all the tanks, filling the hall with thick brine and allowing my body to be consumed by several varieties of uncelebrated, nameless grey fish.

It was lobsters. Lobsters can live forever. Their DNA replication process never degrades so they can never die of old age. They never weaken, slow or become infertile. But also, they never lift a finger to help anyone. Checkmate liberals.

Next article in issue 135

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