Friday, December 16, 2016

Voluntary Only

Among the whole world of ideological labels that I could potentially attach to myself, there is one in particular that I feel called to talk about. Voluntaryism. This is a label that I have for a long time now felt affinity with, and in recent times have been cozying up to more and more. According to the Wikipedia entry on Voluntaryism it signifies:

"a libertarian philosophy which holds that all forms of human association should be voluntary."

And since that definition immediately points to the other label of "libertarian", I will for good measure give the Wikipedia entry definition for that word as well:

"a collection of political philosophies that uphold liberty. Libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing the value of political freedom, voluntary association, and the importance of individual judgment."

What these two definitions describe are attitudes and approaches that I personally believe in. Hence, I am a voluntaryist, I believe that all human relationships should be voluntary.

It feels odd to me, in a way, that I believe that I should be publicly saying this, since in my eyes the philosophy of anarchism contains voluntaryism within it as a fundamental principle. However, as the years have gone on, I have had more and more reason to believe that many, if not most, people who call themselves "anarchist" do not in fact think that all human relationships should be voluntary. So-called "anarchists" have said and done things that have lead me to believe that they do think that certain things should be compulsory and forced on people whether they want it or not.

I say, to hell with that. If you believe that people must or must not do certain things, or must or must not belong to certain associations, and these people are not aggressing on anyone to begin with, then you are not an anarchist. Anarchism, in all of it's different varieties and complexities, grows out of the fertile soil of voluntaryism.

The fundamental starting-point principle here is: voluntary only. Everything must be voluntary. If it is forced, then it is rotten to the core. Having an association or interaction being voluntary ensures that people are authentically being themselves, and it lays the foundation for the association/interaction to be more thoroughly joyful and creative. This is a principle that I cherish.

The way that I determine whether something is truly voluntary or not is to see whether there is an explicit or implied threat hanging over someone if they were to say "no". For example, will one be physically attacked, killed, or forced into a cage if one did not comply with what is being asked of them? With the case of governments everywhere, these things will happen to people if they did not comply with the various commands associated with government. So government is then by it's very nature a kind of non-voluntary association, making it incompatible with voluntaryism.

However, here is where I begin to diverge from most people who consider themselves to be voluntaryist: I view the set-up that is created materially with the social constructs of capitalism and private property as being one where people are forced into non-voluntary relationships as well. This is because everything that one needs to physically survive, such as food, water, shelter, medical care, etc., has a price-tag associated with it. People are then put into the position of being compelled to jump through whatever hoops necessary to ensure their own survival and the survival of those they care about. Instead of the threat being "do this or be shot" or "do this or be forced into a cage", the threat then becomes "do this or starve to death" or "do this or die of exposure". The result is the same: a non-voluntary foundation.

Another direction that I take my voluntaryist philosophy has to do with the realm of the social needs. Human beings all have a need for intimate personal connections with other people, a need to be understood and accepted for who they are as individuals, and a need to belong in community with other people. These needs can all be met in a wide variety of different ways, there is no uniform strategy for meeting these needs. What remains universal, though, is that all human beings have these needs inside them yearning to be met in order to have happy and healthy lives.

With that being the case, the threat of social ostracism and dehumanization plays an equally coercive role resulting in people being compelled to jump through whatever hoops necessary in order to ensure that their social needs are met. This dynamic plays a large role in how social conformity and groupthink comes about. Since this particular form of coercion so often falls into the realm of the personal and interpersonal, it is often not noticed or recognized by people who have a political-oriented mindset. But just because it is often not seen does not mean that it is not there, nor does it mean that it is not felt by all of us as we go about our lives.

This then means that I see the various threats to a voluntary society as coming from three main directions: the overt political nature of men with guns coming to tell you what to do, the material/economic realm of the various threats and stresses associated with being forced to "make a living", and the social realm where the continuing threat of being excluded, alone and unloved is always present.

How to have a truly voluntary society then comes as a huge conundrum, since it goes against every existing model that we have for looking at political/social change. This is a big question, and one that I hope to tackle and address in various bits and pieces as time goes on. But to give a brief summary of my approach I will say this:

What I am advocating for is a certain kind of way for people to approach relating to one another where they are not aggressively threatening one another, where they try to honestly recognize and talk about whatever needs they have, where people are actively working together to try to get their needs met together, and where they are continually trying to better understand one another more deeply and without judgement. My approach is based on the Rogerian principles of having authentic conversations with sensitive empathy and unconditional caring present, while also ensuring that the basic material needs of everyone are being met, as well as ensuring that everyone feels free to leave the interactions/associations whenever they see fit.

This is a whole different way to view human interactions, but also one that I believe goes way back in time, before the vagaries of civilization made force and compulsion the norm within human relationships. "Voluntary only" is a wonderfully simple, yet quite powerful, principle that does a lot to get the conversation started on how we can all have free and happy lives. And it is for that reason that I am happy to call myself a "voluntaryist".

Saturday, December 3, 2016

My Kind of Anarchism

For quite some time now I have had this strong discomfort with the anarchist milieu. I believe that this discomfort stems from my strong desire to belong to a community and to be together with others who see things and value things in the same ways that I do. And on the other hand, I have the sense that the others who inhabit the anarchist social milieu are in some very important ways different from me, that they believe things and value things that in some crucial ways are at odds with where I am coming from. I find it difficult to just write these people off and forget about them because they identify with the philosophy of anarchism, which for whatever reason is a label for a philosophy that I find myself very much attached to.

So it seems to me to be important to take the time and effort to spell out exactly what it is that I do believe regarding "anarchism". I am assuming that by spelling out what I do believe, I can clarify and set apart the difference between my "anarchism" and that which is espoused by others.

First off, I am assuming that every and all forms of "anarchism" out there is against all kinds of domination, that capitalism and the state are rejected by all forms of anarchism as being manifestations of domination, and that all anarchists yearn for a new world of sovereign people freely associating with others as equals, cooperating, helping each other out and sharing together as they see fit. Now, perhaps this brief definition of anarchism is simply too much, and too radical, for how many people would define the term, but I don't care. This is just a baseline bare minimum definition of the term that I am using to begin elaborating on what my own anarchist philosophy looks like.

Also, as is probably obvious by now, I really do not see anarchism as being a political thing. I see anarchism as being primarily a social philosophy. In other words, I see it as being a kind of philosophy that advocates for particular kinds of human social relationships and social organization. Anarchism is against politics-as-it-is, all politics of the existing social orders, because each and every one of these are based upon domination, not the respect of people's autonomy. Anarchism is a very radical philosophy because it goes straight to the roots of things, how people relate and organize their affairs together. Politics, all politics, is a relatively superficial matter, compared to the depth of an anarchist gaze.

My approach to anarchism has for a very long time now held this one quote by Gustav Landauer as being a touchstone descriptor for how I approach things:

"The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another... We are the State and we shall continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community."

With this in mind, my approach to anarchism is mainly focused on what these "other relationships" will look like that would form the ideal new "real community" that is an alternative to the state and domination in general.

The primary crux for my anarchism is that coercion is not good for people. I have a strong belief that when people do things because they have a sense that it is coming from their own free choice, and not out of a fear of some kind of dire consequences that would befall them if they did not pursue that action, that that leaves them in a state where they are open to learning more and connecting with other people. When people do things out of coercion their minds are more distracted by the stress and pain that the coercion inflicts, making it all the more difficult to conjure up any kind of authentic curiosity that would support learning and connection with others.

I have mentioned a few times this phrase of "connecting with others", and I feel the need to elaborate on it some here. This is actually an element that I consider to be core to my own approach to anarchism, since it is the glue that holds people together. By "connecting" I am referring to seeing the humanity in someone else, and valuing it. It involves knowing where someone is coming from, knowing who they are and what they are about, and being able to personally relate with it in some way. And, importantly, it is having a reciprocal relationship where that feeling is mutual. If this sense of connection is not present, I don't believe that a social situation of anarchy can be real or lasting.

Another important aspect of my anarchism is that of individuals taking responsibility for their own choices and actions, and based on this being committed to continuing to develop and improve themselves in various ways. Yes, I do recognize and acknowledge the existence of social forces that impact and effect us all quite profoundly, but we can still think and make our own choices, and with that being the case, let's choose to improve our own situations.

A commitment to having an open mind, critical thinking, and continual learning would then go hand-in-hand with that of having a commitment to ongoing personal development and self-improvement. This involves having a commitment to becoming aware of and recognizing the myriad different ways that one can become encumbered by prejudices of different kinds, get trapped in ideology-based thought-prisons, or judge people, thereby resulting in narrow one or two-dimensional perceptions of them.

And in conjunction with people taking personal responsibility for their own choices, I also see the creation and maintenance of real communities as being essential. By "community", I mean that the people who you know and care about in your day-to-day in-person life also know and care about each other as well. This also pre-supposes that you know and care about a substantial number of people in your day-to-day in-person life in the first place!

A crucial part of a community of people being real and lasting is that people help each other out. We all need support of some kind, and part of the kind of community environment that I would like to see is one where people are interested and able to help each other out, out of a personal authentic desire to do so, and not because of some kind of coercion or implied threat.

And in order to have mutual aid within a community be able to actually happen effectively, you need to have ongoing substantive communication, cooperation and coordination of efforts taking place. Communication break-downs need to be tended to, the quality of communication needs to be constantly elevated, and those who for whatever reason are silent or unable to speak need to be remembered and reached out to.

So, to summarize, the core underlying principles to my own approach to anarchism are these eight things:

- Non-coercion

- Authentic connection between people

- Taking responsibility for choices

- Valuing ongoing self-improvement

- Free thinking and continual learning

- Real communities of people

- Mutual aid and mutual support

- Ongoing communication, cooperation and coordination

As a consequence of people developing along the lines of these eight principles, I foresee the concept of ownership becoming de-prioritized. Expropriation and confiscation are things that I would like to see avoided, not because I am a fan of the concept of "property", but because it involves a form coercion. And with the entry of coercion into the picture, the relationship between people is damaged, and chances are that there is a breakdown of communication between people going on as well. I do think that people's needs can be better met the less the focus is on "who owns what?", and the more the focus is instead on "how can we solve this problem?". But I don't even see people getting to the point of addressing a problem together, and valuing the needs of everyone involved, if these eight principles are not adhered to.

I have used a variety of different terms to describe my approach to anarchism in the past, from "communitarian anarchism", to "compassionate anarchism", to "buddhist anarchism". Looking at where I am at now, I think the term "humanistic anarchism" could be an accurate description of it. But, ultimately, none of these labels really matters. All too often I have seen people squabble over terminology, or circle their wagons around particular labels, thereby perpetuating "us vs. them" and "my beliefs vs. their beliefs" dynamics. Also, labels often have the tendency to start out as being tools, and then to eventually become chains. All of that is totally counter to what I am wanting to achieve with all of this. And frankly, I am just tired of all of those bullshit dynamics.

So here I am, this is what I believe, this is my approach to anarchism, all laid out for you, call it what you will. What do you think?