Thursday, April 22, 2010

A world where everyone's needs matter

Recently I visited Pittsburgh, PA and Columbus, OH and hung out with a bunch of different folks who either now or have in the past identified themselves as being "anarchists". This has been interesting for me in that on the one hand I no longer consider myself to be an "anarchist" and there are a number of different things about "anarchist" culture that I am personally very uncomfortable with. On the other hand, anarchism, and particularly the philosophy of anarchist communism, is simply just common sense to me. It always has been.

Here is the Wikipedia definition for "anarchist communism", in case you don't know what the hell I am talking about here:

"Anarchist communism is a theory of anarchism which advocates the abolition of the state, private property, and capitalism in favor of common ownership of the means of production, direct or consensus democracy and a horizontal network of voluntary associations and workers' councils with production and consumption based on the guiding principle: 'from each according to ability, to each according to need'"

(if the phrase "anarchist communism" here gets in the way of you understanding, or wanting to understand, what I am saying here, then please just pretend like I never used that phrase. You may substitute in your mind a different phrase that helps you hear better what I am trying to say.)

The "common sense" aspects of all of this goes like: "of course we all would want to share everything, not put anybody above or below another, and all work together voluntarily to figure out how we all can get our needs met." Any other system has simply never made any sense to me in a very core way.

Thinking about this, I also immediately feel fundamentally different from anyone else who would have affinity with this philosophy. My reason for this is because I also agree with this quote:

"The individual, and groupings of people, have to learn that they cannot reform society in reality, nor deal with others as reasonable people, unless the individual has learned to locate and allow for the various patterns of coercive institutions, formal and also informal, which rule him. No matter what his reason says, he will always relapse into obedience to the coercive agency while its pattern is with him." - Idries Shah, Caravan of Dreams

What this means to me is that I think that even if the miracle of an anarchist social revolution is achieved, everything that the critics of anarchism say will happen will happen. This is because people still carry within them the same personal and interpersonal dynamics upon which the structures of authority, domination, hierarchy, class, etc. are built.

This has been the case in my own life and in the case of different anarchist/counter-cultural projects & scenes I have personally come across. I have seen time & again how when an impasse is reached & the pressure is on, "when push comes to shove", that authority/obedience - in short, domination - is resorted to. This is done either by reaching for the roles & power that is offered by the larger social institutions surrounding us such as property ownership, laws, social norms. Or, it's done by recreating them anew within the social relationships themselves, such as giving up on your personal desires because of social fear, submitting to the rule of the heavy talkers, establishing a new informal alpha male elite, among other things.

The principle of "from each according to ability, to each according to need" mentioned above also stands out to me, particularly in light of the Nonviolent Communication perspective on fundamental human needs and my personal experience working with people with developmental disabilities.

Basically, what this all teaches me is the incredibly vital importance of sorting yourself out internally. This means doing the work, so to speak, to get really clear on and make a heart-felt connection with your own core motivating intentions & values that surround and underlie both the work that you do and the people whom you live with. Without doing this personal work & getting your heart back, the principle of "from each according to ability, to each according to need" won't work, it all will remain simply a vague nice-sounding slogan that is said.

At the same time, taking a path of simply just "working on yourself", "personal growth", and "creating a different kind of life for yourself" without an emphasis on profound broader social change as well does not appeal to me either. This is because, in my eyes, the world we live in is absolutely insane and genocidal to all life.

It does not make sense to me to ignore the world around us as we retreat either into a nuclear family structure, a self-help sub-culture, or an intentional community counter-culture that is primarily focused on profound personal change. Disregarding the suffering/oppression of those around us will inevitably result in those people who are pain-crazed and desperate enough interfering with your life. When people are in pain and craving relief they will do whatever it takes to get attention, and the world we live in seems fundamentally designed to create lots & lots of suffering for lots & lots of people all over.

In other words, no matter how wonderful a social bubble is created where health, growth, and positive relationships prevail, the rest of the world ("the real world") will sooner or later come crashing in. We still live together on the same planet. This also needs to be taken into account.

So that's the dilemma - how to support profound personal change, redoing your own fundamental personal programming, while at the same time supporting profound social change, rearranging our relationships & institutions in ways that address all the needs of everybody.

A third factor then enters the picture - how to do all this profound personal & social change stuff while at the same time actually surviving in this world - that is, getting your food, shelter, medical care, etc., needs met in sustainable ways that do not support or reproduce the old ways. This usually ties in with the previous question of how does one relate with the rest of the world, ie, "the real world", because often these needs can not be met now without interacting with everyone else.

Often I find myself faced with the sheer intense enormity of these questions, particularly all of these questions all at once, and my response is simply to shut down. It just gets to be too much. With that, it is easier to just ignore it all, to put everything aside and simply just live my life. But we still continue to live in this world, still continue to live with people, so really truly ignoring it all in the long-term simply does not work.

I also often find it challenging to try to reflect on these questions within a group of people, because either: a) what I am trying to say & address is either not understood or considered interesting enough to really think about b) the people listening already have some kind of pre-formulated ideology or system that they are trying to sell or c) one of the three factors that I mentioned above gets routinely overlooked or not sufficiently considered.

So this results in a certain kind of seemingly dead-end that I do not know what to do with.

Motivating me with all of this:

I know that I want myself & others to feel truly free, being keenly aware of our actions, reactions, and choices made.

I want both myself & others to have healthy, happy, mutually supportive social relationships where everyone, the whole world over, has their fundamental needs seen, valued, and considered.

And I want all of this to be very much practical, tangible, based in the real world that we all actually live in where we can all actually do this.


I continue on, as always. The only difference is that now I am a little less keen on finding a label and saying "this is it!", or finding a particular group of people and saying "these are the ones!" It all seems much bigger than that.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

WOW! You've given me a lot to think about (as always). Thank you. Again, I wonder if that I can share your writing with some friends or some students. Is this OK with you? Carla Jones

Dave Belden said...

Beautifully said. All your points at the end about simultaneously having to survive in this world are increased in magnitude when you have dependents - children, aged parents, and whomever - because we feel our first responsibility is to them. Just doing well enough to enable our families to survive takes up so much of our time and energy.

Dandelion said...

Ian-

I identify with and applaud your attempts to grapple with these issues.
I wouldn't say that I agree or disagree per se, but I would say that some points you make I see in the same terms and others I see differently, but more in a complementary than contradictory light.

I talked about this in person with you as well, but wanted to mention again that when you define anarchist communism and bring up the Idries Shah quote and then say, "Thinking about this, I also immediately feel fundamentally different from anyone else who would have affinity with this philosophy" that this is confusing for me because I don't understand if the people you think you are different from are self-labelled "anarchists" or "anarchist communists" or just anyone who feels, as you put it, that "of course we all would want to share everything, not put anybody above or below another, and all work together voluntarily to figure out how we all can get our needs met." I gathered when we spoke in person you meant more the first 2 than the third, but I feel you may be making an unfair generalization, and also that you don't support it in this piece with enough evidence, and also you don't explain in enough detail in this piece what exactly you are invoking with the Shah quote about the need to "the individual has learned to locate and allow for the various patterns of coercive institutions, formal and also informal, which rule him" -- or you don't explain it clearly enough for me to be able to agree with you and believe that all other anarchists or anarchist communists besides you don't agree with you about the necessity of that. Or perhaps do you mean that although many such self labeled people might agree in theory to that statement, but that they don't give sufficient attention to trying to accomplish it, in your opinion? Anyway, generally saying that you alone are different from any of the rest of a large group of people with similar ideas to yours, comes off as a bit extreme or even self important, although I know that isn't your intention.

Moving on, unlike the clear language and ideas elsewhere in the piece, this paragraph of the piece stood out to me as very vague, and full of self help scene buzzword type phrases that no longer have much meaning to me, and I think it would be helpful for you to get a lot more specific about what you mean: "Basically, what this all teaches me is the incredibly vital importance of sorting yourself out internally. This means doing the work, so to speak, to get really clear on and make a heart-felt connection with your own core motivating intentions & values that surround and underlie both the work that you do and the people whom you live with. Without doing this personal work & getting your heart back, the principle of "from each according to ability, to each according to need" won't work, it all will remain simply a vague nice-sounding slogan that is said."

I think those 2 points need work, but aside from that I think it was very well thought out and stimulating. I will re-read it again too soon hopefully and give you more specific points I liked or thought needed work.

One specific thing I did really like was you hammering in the point: "At the same time, taking a path of simply just "working on yourself", "personal growth", and "creating a different kind of life for yourself" without an emphasis on profound broader social change as well does not appeal to me either. This is because, in my eyes, the world we live in is absolutely insane and genocidal to all life."

In the meantime, I'm going to write another comment about what this post brings up for me...I can't fit all the text into this comment!

Dandelion said...
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Dandelion said...
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Dandelion said...
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Dandelion said...

I had posted my tangential rant here in 3 parts, but I've edited it again and souped it up and removed it from here and posted it at my own blog over at truemasterpiece.blogspot.com

Cheers!

Dandelion