Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thinking Like a State and Otherwise

The topic of anarchists voting, or not voting, has been coming up a lot lately. This is happening, of course, because the national Presidential Elections are coming up soon here in the U.S. More locally, pertaining to Minnesota in particular, there are two big amendment thingies that will be coming up for a popular vote as well. I have personally decided to vote for the Green Party candidates for president and vice president, and a group that I am connected with, the MARS Collective, has decided to publicly take a stand regarding the amendments that are to be voted on here in Minnesota. This all leaves some people, both anarchists and non-anarchists alike, reacting with a confused and surprised “What the hell?!”

I have decided to vote for the Green Party not because I am wanting there to be a “Green President” (or any “president” for that matter), but more as a way to publicly protest against both the Democrats and the Republicans while at the same time adding a little bit more weight to a general lefty public voice (assuming that that is a useful thing to do). The way that I view it, what I personally think about the topic of elections and politics in general are expressed by me when I talk about it and write about these subjects. Voting does not really express what people think and feel about things, it is simply just raw numbers being tallied up by a bureaucratic machine. Votes are in essence devoid of any real meaning in and of themselves – they are just that are put out there that other people can interpret and put whatever meaning they want to on them.

Given that the Green Party is usually thought of as being in favor of lefty things, adding one more number to their name could (and I am hoping would) be registered in the public eye as being a little bit more known support for lefty things. This is the same logic as going to protests or having political bumper stickers. It’s purely symbolic, and that may or may not possibly contribute to some positive social change. But in the end I do not think that it is all that important or interesting.

When looking at the topic of anarchism and voting, I think that it is important to examine – what is the state, per se? After all, voting and electoral politics over all are primarily functions of the state, they are one part of the general state apparatus (at least for the states that use a representative democracy system). The state is a social institution of organized force, control and coercion, and it is maintained and perpetuated by people acting in accordance with it, going along with it, and just generally playing the game by the rules that are drilled into us from birth. The state exists because you, me, and millions of others both believe in it and act accordingly.

To abolish the state, then, requires the opposite of all that. To abolish the state means that people stop believing in it and stop playing along. This means not voting, yes, but it also means so much more than that. It means not paying taxes, not following laws, not getting government-issued I.D.s, not using government-issued currencies, not filling out government-issued paperwork, and basically not operating based on the symbol structures that are set up and arranged by governments. It means counter-economics, basically.

The idea behind all of this is basically to “ignore” the state as much as possible, to “do your own thing” instead. It can be said that “laws” do not exist, but people with guns who are willing to forcefully put you into cages do. Relatedly, “money” also does not exist, but starvation does, as do those same aforementioned people with guns who are willing to put you into cages. All of these institutions are based on collectively agreed-upon social meanings that we choose to ascribe to things, and our willingness and ability to play along with them. Or not.

I view the act of voting as being a situation where people are being told that those folks who have their guns and their cages and who are making threats at you, as well as all those people who are playing the game of “money” and the whole series of chain-reactions of cause-and-affect that go along with that, could possibly maybe make certain choices and go in certain directions if you perform a particularly designated mass ritual and mark an “X” in one box or another. That’s super. But ultimately, so what?

There comes a time when it’s appropriate to put down the games, to turn off the entertainment, and to face the real world with the real people that are in it. And this brings me to Leah-Lynn Plante. This person, along with Matt Duran and Kteeo Olejnik decided to not play along with one of the games set up by the state, a game called “grand jury investigation”. As a result, people with guns forcefully put them into a cage. Now Leah-Lynn Plante is out of that cage, while the other two are still there, and it is currently unclear whether this was because she decided to start playing along with the state’s game or not.

This brings me to a point that I wanted to make – to be rigorously and consistently against the state, to absolutely refuse to go along with that whole thing, to live a life based on “counter-economics” essentially, is to completely be putting your life on the line. They can kidnap, torture and kill you – that’s what states do, it is a part of their basic function. To be against that, one needs to make a personal assessment and a personal decision of what one is willing and able to do. It must be understood that not everyone is at all times up for taking such enormous risks.

One of the things that was publicly known about Leah-Lynn Plante was that she struggled with various mental health issues. With that being the case, she may have decided to at some point start prioritizing her own mental health and well-being over consistently resisting the state and the various demands that are associated with it. If that is the case, I would urge there to be compassion and understanding for how she could make such a choice. Not everyone is cut out for being a public sacrificial martyr for a cause.

The case of Leah-Lynn Plante and the issue of anarchists voting is related in that we all, as individuals, have to determine for ourselves how much and in what ways we want to play along with the games of the state. We each determine what things we go along with, which mass functions we want to act in accordance with, and what meanings we want to ascribe to things. We each choose what lines we will draw, and what lines we will or will not cross.

In the case of the two Minnesota amendments, I plan on voting “no” on both of them, but for different reasons that other folks commonly give for this. “Voter I.D.”, just like any other kind of government-issued identification, is just one more form of state control and an arbitrary set of bureaucratic hoops to jump through that I would like for people to avoid. And the institution of “marriage” is not something that I want to have frozen in place, but instead see it be played with and experimented with. Of course let’s have same-sex marriages, but why stop there? How about having three or more people be married to each-other? How about having whole communities of people be married to each-other? To me, the focus should be on encouraging new forms of closeness and commitment between people, not on abiding by government laws.

So yes, I will vote, but in the end that is not all that important. The elections will come and go, and other rituals and demands associated with the state will come up as well. Time and time again I and other anarchists will be confronted with these realities, and will need to choose how we want to respond. We each need to determine for ourselves what choices are most in integrity with our values, what battles we want to fight, and when it will be best to save our energy to fight another day.

I do not want to establish universal moral codes or standards for all anarchists to follow regarding voting, or anything else for that matter. At its base this is a matter of individual responsibility and choice, and from that foundation we can then come together to determine what projects we can create that are more interesting than those that we have been presented with.


Matthis said...

I didn't really have much of a “What the hell?!”-reaction. It was more like a "Hey Ian! How are you doin'? Still into that anarchy stuff. Right on! I think I'm gonna leave a comment. But also because I'm interested to see the US election from a different point of view."-reaction.

That said, I think that this post is well put. I agree to most of it at least in some kind of way. But a special and universal truth rings through paragraph 11 and the last one.
Keep it up, yo!

spacetosimplify said...

Thanks for this, Ian. It's very refreshing to know that people remember and are thinking about political and social change work beyond just this specific election. I am totally with you on your perspective on the amendments- I'm voting 'no', but only because voting 'yes' is completely asinine, not because I actually think the parameters set by the 'no' vote will ultimately create a world I want to live in.


memeticist said...

Dearest (I)an-ok:

I asked you to write this blog post, in response to your recent complaining about all the dialog about the election and voting and not enough about real alternatives to the state. So thank you for writing it.

I am disappointed in this post for several reasons. The first is that the link to Leah Lynn-Plante is to the wikipedia entry on her. It is not a bad entry, in fact i wrote all most all the text for it and i put it up in the first place. But it is inferior in many ways (because wikipedia requires it to be encyclopedic) to my blog post on her and her important to be found at Who is Leah Lynn-Plante and why is she so important

Secondly, the prisoners still in jail because of this grand jury witch hunt Matt Duran and KteeO Olejnik do not even warrant a link when they are the most in need of support and i have even written about their plight and the many ways way people can help them.

Wikipedia does not need more traffic, my blog does.

But beyond just promoting my blog, i was hoping you would go deeper. i wanted you to talk about how people could exercise anti-state power and i was a bit discouraged that you were pushing the "oh and by the way the state may kill you if you do this" line, which while true is quite discouraging.

Instead i was hoping for a plug for intentional communities and especially income sharing intentional communities. Where we dont use money internally on most days, where we grow much of our food and have our own culture in place of TV. We have a tiny carbon footprint compared to our american counter parts and the key to this type of living is the mutual aid/sharing stuff which makes most anarchists light up in joy.

This is what to hear your thoughts on

Thanks for your effort

Paxus in Giza
Halloween 2012

Jaime Hokanson said...

thanks for sharing this blog entry with me, i appreciate the chance to read it!

interesting link bringing the nw grand jury into it - i wouldn't have made that connection probably. in regards to that, i feel compelled to make the point that in addition to having compassion for the situation someone like leah might be in, it should also be a lesson (of which we've had so many already) about preparing ourselves to match our commitments with follow-through, knowing our limitations and choosing our arenas of struggle wisely. given the fiery anti-state speeches and statements leah made before going to jail, this recent development probably sure doesn't make anarchists look terribly principled to many folks.

(also: straight up, talking to grand juries = bad news pretty much no matter what.)

i had another thing to say; maybe i'll remember it later. anyway, i'm glad to see this more nuanced analysis of the role elections play for those of us who oppose the state. i've done pretty much everything when it comes to voting - voted democrat, voted third party, and last presidential election didn't vote at all. this time i think i'll write in kodos or something.

oh, and also i would be interested to hear more about if/how your feelings about voting differ when it comes to referenda on the ballot, vs. local races, vs big-timey politicians...