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?


Susan L said...

Anarchy literally means "without rulers" and thus invited self-organization, to which your eight principles contribute. Beyond that, I agree with you about rising above the demand to label and define. More important, I believe, is spotlighting the distinction between anarchy and chaos that is so often confounded in the media and thus among all the other -archies.

memeticist said...

I am not sure how the views of other anarchists differ so strongly from what you are advocating here. THese 8 principals seem a bit on the vanilla side. If anything, they do not go far enough or perhaps are not sufficiently elaborated.

And if you are looking for this authentic communication and community, then what are you doing to manifest it in your own life? Out here in the communes we are practicing transparency tools and clearnesses and consensus on a regular basis, all strengthening communication. And living together, sharing almost everything (including operating businesses and raising children and growing food) builds deep roots in community consciousness and anarchist practice. Are you doing these things on a daily basis? Or are you content to be an anarchist philosopher, who has great ideas which other people should be practicing?

Anonymous said...

Primitive foraging tribes had exactly this. Fierce egalitarianism. It seems only to work in groups of 150 or less. The real issue is whether we can form fierce egalitarian tribes in the limited space we have with billions of people. Can we replace close human cooperation and empathy with technology?

Unknown said...

What a wonderful article! I really love this way of thinking about anarchism, and it resonates with how I think about it too, especially after reading David Graeber's Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology introduced to me the "step beyond" the conventional modes of thinking about structure simply as the code of social order (bylaws in an organization, laws in a nation, etc.). I think this "step beyond" is exactly laid out by this article. Zimbardo said that if we with to understand "bad apples" it is more important to analyze the system which engendered those vices. Likewise, if you wish to analyze the system you must look at the fundamental interpersonal relationships within this structure--and this is exactly what David Graeber poses as an anthropologist, that if we look at systems like capitalism from this kind of interpersonal/anthropological perspective of analysis, we see capitalism is a kin system, due to the analysis of relationships occurring within that system. You so accurately called anarchism a kind of social philosophy, I would add that it is something which occurs when you do it, anarchism is an action, and I feel this aligns with the tenants of anarchism which you describe herein (non-coercion, authentic connection between people, etc.). The difficulty of this philosophy is ultimately conveying a path of change that tackles these fundamental problems in an immediately-significant enough way to present people with the reality of the alternative. I am sure you, like me, are no stranger to our views being reduced to "hippy garbage," or "touch-feelsy," etc. But I will cycle back again to what I said, systems engender vices, and interpersonal relationships engender systems--as you have so perfectly illustrated here with this article. So how do we produce this alternative? I think it aligns to the concept of little anarchist actions accumulating to the eventual distant point of a full revolution, like the second hand of a clock being an anarchist action, eventually a full revolution will occur and the second hand will be back point straight up at 0/12. This kind of gradient is definitely less satisfactory and less romantic than notions of immediate revolution, but it is perhaps the best way to maintain current infrastructure people rely on to survive, while appropriating that structure into something better, continuously, until that structure is something completely different.

As per how we get to "something completely different" and what that looks like, I think that falls into the caveat of a metanarrative, we should take incremental steps, not leaps, to the solution, so we are not fixed to a way of thinking about things from an earlier point in time, and we must always remain open minded and ready to accept the failures or successes of our experiments.

Thank you for writing this wonderful article!

Unknown said...

I apologize for all of the typos earlier. I thought I would also add to this something very crucial: Statist Realism. Statist Realism, or Hierarchical Realism, whatever you want to call it, is a natural anarchist conclusion to the book "Capitalist Realism" by Mark Fisher. Capitalist Realism illustrates how capitalism infects our imagination, permeating into all facets of life--whereby even schools use business ontologies. Capitalist Realism describes the ideological frame through which capitalism reinforces itself. Capitalist Realism thrives its own criticism, but how many times have we heard Churchill's words, "Capitalism: The worst economic system, except for all the others," manifested in many forms? It is becoming nearly impossible to imagine its alternative. It is the failure of the left to *provide* its alternative (beyond high theory). Shifting to Statist Realism, whereby hierarchical thinking infects our imagination as illustrated by The Starfish and the Spider, which opens with a description of how scientists initially thought the brain must store memories--neuroscientists thought that for the brain to be efficient it must use an extremely heirarchical method to store memories. This assumption, this ideology, this frame of Statist Realism, turned out to be totally off-base with reality. Now I turn this back to anarchist action accumulating to revolution, that gradient, in that every anarchist action combats this Statist Realism by poking at the alternative, which presents itself to others to be absorbed and reimplemented, extrapolated, built upon, and learned from, it incrementally introduces the real full alternative, the "revolution" through the accumulation of such actions. These actions go beyond critique and manifest descriptions of an alternative through real world action.

I am feeling fuzzy-headed from the nitro the dentist gave me, but I hope that wasn't too hard to follow due to my fuzziheadedness.

I would love to talk or collaborate in regard to your well presented concept in this article.

Unknown said...

Some compliments first...

Really nicely written. You are a good, clear, unpretentious writer expressing a very humanitarian outlook. And I love Landauer! He was a big influence on me, especiallyin my commune days. I didn't remember that quote. It's a great one.

My criticism is that--at least if this was all I read by you, which it almost is--yours is a utopian anarchism, so gentle that I don't see it fighting the massive oppression people face and the immense power and violence of the capitalist states and the nexus of private power that maintains the oppression and exploitation that is absolutely integral to how the world economy functions. I most fundamentally disagree with a categorical rejection of confiscation. Private ownership is already a kind of confiscation, and it general involved a very literal and brutal confiscation as it's origin (where land is concerned especially). There's a reason Proudon declared "property is theft." The stockholders of the corporation will decry the confiscation of "their" factory if the workers seize control of it. Fuck em. Their ownership is the proles exploitation.

I think what you are describing is the right ethic for a community that has already established the groundwork of equality. In the brutally unequal real larger world, it's the "we ain't takin this shit no more" side of anarchism that facing the system demands. Revolution ain't a Rainbow Gathering... although the afterparty might be.

I used to identify as anarchist. I don't much care now. I am probably not one when it comes to how I engage in the world and political choices I make. The live choices that might make some difference in some peoples lives are imperfect and hard to keep consistent with dogmatic antistaism.

I am for equality, complete and universal, at least for MY society, and that includes most of the world now that capitalism has engulfed nearly everyone. And no hierarchy--horizontal democracy. Marxist communism nailed the economic exploitaion part, the anarchists got the power relations part. I instincively sniff out the features of both in the status quo and movements for change. I am a believer in the unity of ends and means--in principle--but sometimes the ends do justify means that don't belong in the society we're striving for. This includes violence, although fortunately I think nonviolence is more effective now in my part of the world.

I am a utopiam dogmatist in holding onto my desire for free communism, but much less purist in supporting whatever seems to be moving most that way, even if it is so far from the mark to be a mockery of the ideal. But the kind of revolution that really made a leap in that direction would most certainly involve confiscation, so I cannot oppose that on principle. I am certainly not going to wait for the ones profiting by the system to see the light and give it away. No, I don't have faith in that day coming. My faith in humanity is based much more on the fact that the exploited WON'T wait for that.