I have been in an awkward position lately regarding the whole “anarchist” thing. Here in Minneapolis there has been a big controversy involving a group that I have volunteered with and people that I know (on all sides of the issue) that has gotten so incredibly nasty that I have started feeling embarrassed to be associated with any of this. And more than anything I feel just plain heart-broken that all of this is happening. Also, in places much farther away from here other self-proclaimed “anarchists” are doing other things that I have similar thoughts/feelings about, though since they are so much more distant from me these are not quite as intense as the local Twin Cities stuff. No matter how you cut it, though, it is all just pain, exhaustion, embarrassment and overwhelming defeat all around.
And yet, despite all of this stuff, I am still whole-heartedly into the whole anarchism thing. My reasoning is this – people who consider themselves to be “anarchists” are not necessarily the same people who actually make real-life "anarchy" happen. The people who publicly adorn themselves with that particular fringe-label are the folks who (hopefully) subscribe to particular political & social analyses, values, principles and other theoretical interpretations. The actual making-anarchy-happen part is another thing altogether, requiring an entirely different set of skills. Some of the people whom I’ve met in my life who I would say are very successful at living anarchically in their own lives and relationships are also often folks who have never even heard of “anarchism” and who would run away as fast they can if somebody wanted to try to instruct them on the theory about it.
The same goes with social and political change. In my life-time perhaps two of the people to who were most effective at enacting change in the world at large (although not necessarily the kind of change that I am wanting) have been folks like Mark Zuckerberg and Mohamed Bouazizi - not the scores of people out there who proudly proclaim themselves to be “revolutionaries”, “activists”, “organizers”, and “social change agents”. In this current era that we live in, mass social and political change seems to come about more from somebody happening to do something at the right place and the right time that sparks something within people that already exists within them but has been laying dormant waiting to come out. This is the same rationale behind anarchists and other self-proclaimed “revolutionaries” who endorse things like riots and armed struggle, but the difference is that I don’t think that those kinds of things are actually successful at achieving the kind of society that “anarchism” is supposedly all about.
I once asked a guy who was an anarchist for many years why he still stuck with it all. Throughout his “anarchist career” he had seen so many different failures, dysfunctional dynamics and sheer nonsense over the years being carried out by people within the “anarchist” scene, and yet he's still there. His response to me was “well, what is the alternative to being an anarchist? To become a jerk who starts bossing people around and making threats?”
It is exactly this – anarchism is a way to look at the world that takes away the masks and the lies of the things that we call “government”, “capitalism”, and “authority” in general. Seeing the truth of these things does not suddenly make one into an angel in one’s own behavior. An evil is still an evil even if one has failed at achieving the good. I am not about to start believing in something that I know is wrong, harmful, and is in fact destroying so much of life on this planet just because the alternative has not come about.
What it comes down to is that I believe that an anarchist society, and an anarchist social revolution that achieves such a society, is possible, not probable. That is the difference. “Can happen” and “will happen” are two separate things. I believe that in all likelihood various authoritarian regimes, alienated social relationships leading to social fragmentation and ecological devastation are the future for humanity. And, at the same time, I do believe that “another world is possible”.
I am reminded of a quote by Carl Rogers – “When I look at the world I'm pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic.” I believe that within each human being are great vast capacities for love, creativity, sharing, courage, cooperation and expression. The thing is that this is all safely locked away in people, made out of reach by fear, by anger, by old habits and sheer laziness. Continuing on with the same-old, same-old does nothing to unlock oneself nor does it contribute anything towards getting rid of the chains that the world at large has around us all.
The value that I find in anarchism is that of being an ethical framework that guides both how one sees the world and how one chooses to act within that world. The world is as it is, here and now, regardless of what labels are ostensibly placed upon that world or society. The people within any given society are behaving in certain ways and engaging in particular social dynamics, and the benefit of having an anarchist lens to view it with is that it enables one to more clearly determine how one wants to respond and act in relation to what is going on. In other words, one can see more clearly what one is contributing to, what one is not contributing to, how much, and in what ways. Certain dynamics, certain relationships, can be more liberatory, dare I say more “anarchist.” And these particular kinds of dynamics and relationships can build on each other to ultimately have an anarchist society, a new anarchist world.
Not that this will happen. But it can.