How many ways to get what you want
May 14, 2012 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Anarchy is Boring
posted by Artw (120 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Zerzan's problem is not that he's boring.

Between the vandals and the primitivists it's like they set out (again, surprise) to make anarchists politics to look ludicrous and untenable. That's the media for you I guess. Primitivists are not the sober, realistic face of anarchist politics.


When the smoke has dispersed and the glass is swept up, the riots and smashups—the spectacular moments when newspapers and television stations pay attention to anarchists—are the exception, not the rule, of anarchy. The hard day-to-day work of building anarchist organizations is about figuring out budgets and scheduling meetings and getting into the thick muck of group decision making.

From the outside, anarchy might look threatening and scary and exciting. From the inside, anarchy can seem quite boring. But it is a profoundly hopeful type of boring.


I get the point he's trying to make here, but I'm struggling with the article. The day to day struggle of working on huge projects can be a bit mundane, but that's a sort of trite statement to make. The entire article seems to be written with wide eyed naivete, like the author just discovered that anarchists don't spend all their time shooting heroin into their eyelids. In that context I guess the inanity of that observation makes sense. I'll wait for a follow up article titled "Astronauts still have to do taxes and pay their mortgage!"
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:49 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Really not getting that he's calling it boring in a bad way - really you don't want you system to be TOO interesting, otherwise people start referring to it as The Purge or The Great Terror.
posted by Artw at 7:58 AM on May 14, 2012


"Anarchist people say, 'Abolish the cops.' But in this kind of society, you can't just do that," he says. "How are you going to go help vulnerable people if they're being attacked?"

So what's the solution?

"You need to create a healthy community before you can get there," he says. "You talk about smashing the state and getting rid of capitalism, but if you want to keep this level of complexity, you can't have that. The only way you can have it is to get rid of mass society, of modern mass society."


1. Cops are necessary
2. ????
3. Cops are unnecessary
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:58 AM on May 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


Okay, I agree that, shorn of all the rhetoric and utopianism, anarchists are just ordinary people who think that authority requires certain kinds of participation in order to be legitimate. But that's an old idea.

The problem with the utopian anarchism in the article is this: "gradually figuring out new ways of organizing everyday life which will, eventually, make currently existing forms of power seem stupid and beside the point."

It's not a priori impossible, and in fact it's the goal we should all be working towards, but it hasn't happened yet, right? So in the meantime what do we do about the institutions that are illegitimate but for which there is not yet an alternative? Comply pragmatically? Attack? Disobey in order to demonstrate the violence in the system? Anarchists face a tremendous challenge in the existence of the forms of power they oppose.

Robert Paul Wolf captures the "pragmatic compliance" attitude best in his In Defense of Anarchism:
In a sense, we might characterize the anarchist as a man without a country, for despite the ties which bind him to the land of his childhood, he stands in precisely the same moral relationship to "his" government as he does to the government of any other country in which he might happen to be staying for a time. When I take a vacation in Great Britain, I obey its laws, both because of prudential self-interest and because of the obvious moral considerations concerning the value of order, the general good consequences of preserving a system of property, and so forth. On my return to the United States, I have a sense of reentering my country, and if I think about the matter at all, I imagine myself to stand in a different and more intimate relation to American laws. They have been promulgated by my government, and I therefore have a special obligation to obey them. But the anarchist tells me that my feeling is purely sentimental and has no objective moral basis. All authority is equally illegitimate, although of course not therefore equally worthy or unworthy of support, and my obedience to American laws, if I am to be morally autonomous, must proceed from the same considerations which determine me abroad.
But there are other versions. Occupy is one. I'm personally a big fan of Eliinor Ostrom's work on common-pool resource management. But it's not clear that any of the extant forms of anarchist organization scale beyond relatively small communities of mutual recognition, and it's not clear that the kinds of social norms that actually work to enforce anarchist forms of organization are any more compatible with autonomy than the ones that ground state and market coercions.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:59 AM on May 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


A worthwhile counterweight to how anarchists are often shown, thanks for the link. Some may not be amazed that such groups are out there, but many will, and that they work.
posted by Jehan at 8:00 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This was a much better article than was suggested by the headline.
posted by empath at 8:04 AM on May 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


Anarchy isn't when you think about it. In any system involving human beings there will arise an order any attempt to modify or direct that order is antithetical to the founding principals. In the end anarchy must deal with antipathy .
posted by pdxpogo at 8:12 AM on May 14, 2012


Hard-hitting journalism from a site that seems to be primarily in the online dating business!
posted by clvrmnky at 8:14 AM on May 14, 2012


MML: An article profiling different forms of contemporary anarchism.
posted by zamboni at 8:15 AM on May 14, 2012


Any system is boring when one looks at the day to day functioning. It's the banality of evil or the banality of good; whatever system happens to rule at a given moment the paperwork still needs doing and the rubbish needs picking up.
posted by jaduncan at 8:16 AM on May 14, 2012


Humanity began with anarchy, and this is what we ended up with. On a long-term timescale, I'd say it has a fairly poor track record.
posted by compartment at 8:16 AM on May 14, 2012


Better title: Anarchist Green is [normal] people!
posted by jaduncan at 8:17 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good article, although one that clearly is addressing those who don't know much about the subject from the rip.

I actually really like a lot of Zerzan's writing, and it's nice to see him quoted kindly and not pilloried for some of the more head-scratching things he has written and his association to Kaczynski.
posted by broadway bill at 8:19 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think I'd rather have something like this,

1. Cops are necessary
2. ????
3. Cops are valued and valuable members of the communities they patrol who stop being so shitty
posted by Blasdelb at 8:21 AM on May 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


Seattle has dozens of functional anarchist organizations

Isn't that an oxymoron? Organization implies a platform and decision-making. I don't care if it is fully-equitable consensus decision making, it's still decision making for the group, which then places it in some sort of category of other -archy.

I don't care how agnostic and questioning you are, you're still a Unitarian.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:26 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]



When the smoke has dispersed and the glass is swept up, the riots and smashups—the spectacular moments when newspapers and television stations pay attention to anarchists—are the exception, not the rule, of anarchy. The hard day-to-day work of building anarchist organizations is about figuring out budgets and scheduling meetings and getting into the thick muck of group decision making.


Been there, done that, as a fratboy.

These people are entirely too caught up in the excitement of reinventing this wheel.
posted by ocschwar at 8:26 AM on May 14, 2012


This is an intelligent article but it's sort of self-trolling to start in the middle of the Black BlockTM.

The point re: boring is that "consensus" is a really hard goal, as versus "majority rule." The sort of social conventions and rules that make consensus based decision-making remotely viable are novel and profoundly boring. Practical anarchism e.g. collective houses is about paying attention to whole set of explicit (and implicit) rules.

If you take out the word anarchism and just think about consensus based decision-making it's really kind of an interesting experiment in living different and better. The point that Graeber makes is that 'corporations' are essentially little anarchist experiments in social organization. If you dismiss "anarchism" you are in many ways saying that "The Office" is some inevitable outgrowth of human nature, rather than the result of archaic or wrong-headed ideas about how to organize people.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:27 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seattle has dozens of functional anarchist organizations

Isn't that an oxymoron?


Seriously?
posted by broadway bill at 8:29 AM on May 14, 2012 [17 favorites]


I don't think that consensus is a necessary component of anarchist politics. You can still use majority decision making.

It's about institutionalized authority and hierarchy, not consensus versus majority rule. I've been involved in a lot of anarchist groups that run their meetings on Robert's Rules and most people (the majority, ha) felt that this did not conflict with their agenda or goals.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:30 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Humanity began with anarchy, and this is what we ended up with. On a long-term timescale, I'd say it has a fairly poor track record

Yes, because when I was a two-year-old, I couldn't drive a car or play the piano or not crap myself. So, on a long-term timescale, I probably have a bad track record too. The difference between now and the stone age is science and communication. And before you say "but we have those things because of capitalism!", I say no, we have those things because of people. Capitalism happened to be the framework in which our knowledge was applied (a Marxist would say capitalism was necessary for their discovery, but that doesn't mean it's the end-state of humanity). The internet is a tool for communication, for resource management, for disseminating knowledge about why things happen that is just fucking unprecedented in human history.

Anyway, a better encapsulation of the title would be "anarchy is work". But it's good work. In the U.S. today, we work to maintain the system. But it's a horribly inefficient system fraught with serious, intractable problems that create suffering and are on course to make the planet unsuitable for human life.

The hope is that the maintenance of anarchist systems would be less work and more efficient, with a more equitable distribution of the results of that system.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:33 AM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]




Humanity began with anarchy, and this is what we ended up with. On a long-term timescale, I'd say it has a fairly poor track record


Anarchy is not the lack of government.

There may be examples of anarchist organization in antiquity but they would not be terribly comparable to what we'd use now in a modern industrialized society. Which is why Zerzan is kind of a nut, primitivism will not work without a massive population collapse, and even then is probably not terribly desirable.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:38 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think that consensus is a necessary component of anarchist politics. You can still use majority decision making.

It's about institutionalized authority and hierarchy, not consensus versus majority rule. I've been involved in a lot of anarchist groups that run their meetings on Robert's Rules and most people (the majority, ha) felt that this did not conflict with their agenda or goals.


I basically agree, but on the other hand there have been thousands of years of political science experiments on majority rule. I think "consensus" minded folks would argue that once you have individuals submitting to the will of the group-decision-making apparatus you have already given birth to institutionalized authority.

In my experience, "democratic" organizations can quickly degenerate into recreations of bad lessons from history: tyrants, demagogues, back-room dealmaking, etc. I'm not saying that the consensus based approach is necessarily any better but the whole point is to experiment with social organization, not get stuck in thinking the way people have worked together in groups is the only way they can...
posted by ennui.bz at 8:39 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always think back to the huge march against the cuts I attended in London last spring.

The day afterwards, all the people I knew who weren't there asked me, 'Did you run into all those anarchists I read about in the papers? The ones dressed in black and smashing things?'

I told them that I did indeed run into anarchists, but that they were standing at the end of the march handing out free water and hummus to anyone who was feeling tired.

Those anarchists did not get into the papers.
posted by Acheman at 8:39 AM on May 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Humanity began with anarchy, and this is what we ended up with. On a long-term timescale, I'd say it has a fairly poor track record.

I'm on board with the "fairly poor track record," and I realize you're making a quip not meant to be taken literally. But the interesting thing is, humanity evolved from hominids with highly differentiated social roles and group behaviors--not a civilization, certainly, but a far cry from an anarchy. If it exists, anarchy is in our future, rather than our past.
posted by Gordion Knott at 8:40 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't that an oxymoron? Organization implies a platform and decision-making. I don't care if it is fully-equitable consensus decision making, it's still decision making for the group, which then places it in some sort of category of other -archy.

So long as you can willingly leave, I think there's a big gap between anarchist organization and other kinds that rest on authority. Maybe that puts many informal sports clubs, charities and the like in the anarchist camp, but maybe they really are? Quite a bit of civil society is voluntary and without compulsion of their members.
posted by Jehan at 8:41 AM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]



I basically agree, but on the other hand there have been thousands of years of political science experiments on majority rule. I think "consensus" minded folks would argue that once you have individuals submitting to the will of the group-decision-making apparatus you have already given birth to institutionalized authority.

In my experience, "democratic" organizations can quickly degenerate into recreations of bad lessons from history: tyrants, demagogues, back-room dealmaking, etc. I'm not saying that the consensus based approach is necessarily any better but the whole point is to experiment with social organization, not get stuck in thinking the way people have worked together in groups is the only way they can...
posted by ennui.bz at 8:39 AM on May 14 [+] [!]


My experience with consensus has been that it's incredibly easy for one or two personalities to hijack and bully. In a majority rule situation I can express my displeasure with a decision and sit back. In a consensus situation I'm forced to comply in order to move along with the agenda. It allows an individual to block the entire process, and forces the group to comply with the individual in order to proceed. Majority rules requires much more dissent to sway, one person can throw a spanner into consensus. Most of the groups I worked with seemed to use this to maintain conformity and discouraged people with dissenting views from joining or coming back.

With that said, I'm all for experiments, and I don't ever want to discourage people from experimenting with democratic models. There are fantastic projects using models that I don't necessarily support, and if they can make it work then all the more power to them.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:46 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Humanity began with anarchy, and this is what we ended up with. On a long-term timescale, I'd say it has a fairly poor track record.

This is only the case if you recieved an extremely poor anthropology/history education and you think that recorded history makes up the majority of human history. Buddy, it's only recently that human have stopped being hunter gatherers. Additionally, I would add that capitalism and the status quo have a pretty pretty significantly bad track record unless you want to ignore a bunch of history, so yeah, If you compare the effects of a long-term primitive society vs a hierarchical agricultural society you would see that your argument doesn't really make any sense.

Obviously we can't go back to primitivism (by choice, we may be forced to one day), but hardcore capitalism is clearly not sustainable either.
posted by fuq at 8:48 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyway the point isn't that consensus is better or worse, just that it is not generally considered to be essential to anarchist political theory. Many schools of thought do not rely on it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:49 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe that puts many informal sports clubs, charities and the like in the anarchist camp, but maybe they really are?

It puts pretty much anything outside of prison walls in that camp. We can all freely check out of society at any time, granted, we'd probably need a compound or a nice warm box over a steam vent to do so, but it wouldn't be that terribly difficult to just up and leave. So then what makes Anarchy a something then as opposed to just non-compulsive participation?

No snark intended here, I really am asking because I don't understand this line of thought.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:50 AM on May 14, 2012


It's funny how often the organisation thing comes up. Many of the biggest debates within the anarchist world are about how to organise, not whether to. One of the most influential documents in anarchist history was the 'Platform' - the Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists. It sparked debate not because it was a call for organisation, but because there were disagreements over whether it was the right form of organisation. Today most criticisms I see of platformism are not so much about the tactical/theoretical unity stuff but on the political positions many modern platformist groups seem to have taken.

There are anarchist internationals - the IAF/IFA (International of Anarchist Federations), IWA (International Workers Association - anarchosyndicalist, includes the CNT), Red and Black Co-ordination.

The other thing that often gets missed, and this is perhaps down to the higher visibility of a certain type of anarchism in the US, is that anarchism as a broader international movement has always been a form of socialism. Even the early individualist anarchists were generally explicitly socialist too.

Also, who the fuck listens to Zerzan anymore? That milieu has moved on to insurrectionism and reading stuff like The Call. Not that that's an improvement I'm afraid.
posted by spectrevsrector at 8:53 AM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


The low-key "revolutionary" experiments he documents here are thoughtful and compelling - so much so, that rather than a complement to popular anarchism, they act as a condemnation of the puerile smashy-smash playtime of the black block set.

This is a tough subject for me, because I both know and recognize smart, kind, justice-minded people who (somewhat indecipherably) identify as anarchists. But I also live in Toronto, and was on the streets at the G20, where a small band of "anarchist" vandals went on a limited smashing spree. For one reason or another, the police didn't intervene, the resulting pictures were looped 24/7 on TV, and the incident was used to justify a massive crackdown on peaceful crowds, leading to the largest peacetime detention of civilians in the country's history.

Not only was their "protest" self-indulgent and vacuous, these people became actively complicit with the police state that emerged that weekend. They were flip sides of the same coin. Both were itching, systemically, for violence. The vandals cheerfully gave the police all the excuse they needed to behave in a way that justifies "anarchy," while the "anarchists" gave the police and the state the justification they needed for their budgets and their actions. A lot of these people like to complain about state violence - while doing their best to provoke it.

Evidently, I'm not a revolutionary at heart, and evidently, I'm still angry about what these people - police, state, media, vandals, all of them - did to my city. I can have a lot of respect for non-violent revolutionaries. But not the ones who claim that property damage isn't violent, and that smashing a franchisee's window and running away constitutes a force for good in this world.
posted by bicyclefish at 8:55 AM on May 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Hard-hitting journalism from a site that seems to be primarily in the online dating business!

+

"pragmatic compliance"

=

where we seem to be
posted by philip-random at 8:59 AM on May 14, 2012


"Also, who the fuck listens to Zerzan anymore?"

As I said upthread, I really enjoy some of Zerzan's work (mostly the stuff that does not so directly deal with the politics of governance) and I asked this same question a lot when Derrick Jensen and Chris Hedges were trying to paint Zerzan as some sort of 2012 overlord of anarchist thought and ideology. Zerzan is an absolute non-factor in most modern anarchist circles outside of (some) crimethinc.
posted by broadway bill at 9:01 AM on May 14, 2012


> Good article, although one that clearly is addressing those who don't know much about the subject from the rip.

What do you mean, "although"? I'd much rather have an article laying these ideas (which are, yes, well known to those of us already familiar with them) out with clarity and good humor to a completely uninformed audience (which is around 99.9% of the population at large) than one more bit of ingrown discourse full of references intelligible only to those with a roomful of anarchist books and periodicals.

I especially liked this bit:
Anarchy, [Graeber] writes, is about gradually figuring out new ways of organizing everyday life "which will, eventually, make currently existing forms of power seem stupid and beside the point... there are endless examples of viable anarchism: pretty much any form of organization would count as one, so long as it was not imposed by some higher authority, from a klezmer band to the international postal service."
This is what I want people to understand: anarchy is neither the idiotic violence the media loves to portray nor an impossible dream; it's something that's all around us if we only look with fresh eyes.
posted by languagehat at 9:02 AM on May 14, 2012 [19 favorites]


Really not getting that he's calling it boring in a bad way

Exactly. Anarchy should be boring. Just as described.

Encouraging article. Thanks!

These people are entirely too caught up in the excitement of reinventing this wheel.

It seems like you are comparing the totality of human civilization with a single, simple (if revolutionary) technology.

It's not like I stop learning just because I'm 40 years old.

Seattle has dozens of functional anarchist organizations

Isn't that an oxymoron?


No, it's not, and really, I suppose that will be the main point of the article for many readers.

The whole point is that participation is at-will. Anarchy doesn't (just) mean total chaos.

Most of the groups I worked with seemed to use this to maintain conformity and discouraged people with dissenting views from joining or coming back.

Quakers would disagree.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:09 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I both know and recognize smart, kind, justice-minded people who (somewhat indecipherably) identify as anarchists.

For the record, I am an anarchist, and very much so, but I really can't stand American Black Blocs. I even think violence can be acceptable in some situations but really, American Anarchism is part of the problem and all the property destruction and snarling does nothing but give the police something to do and legitimize them, or, yes to what bicyclefish said.
posted by fuq at 9:09 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyway the point isn't that consensus is better or worse, just that it is not generally considered to be essential to anarchist political theory. Many schools of thought do not rely on it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:49 AM on May 14 [+] [!]


But the OccupyTM folks seem to be in the consensus school, hence the focus of this article (and ones like it.) While it's interesting to hear about anarchism in the popular media, I don't think the "success" of Occupy had much to do with the peoples microphone or other innovations in human organization but more to do with the fact that everyone fucking hates Wall Street.

There's a huge constituency for throwing a brick through the window of Goldman-Sachs and of course this would be a bad idea for lots of reasons... but the I think the enormous audience for Occupy themed events comes from this sort of vicarious feeling. You can't dismiss what the Black Block represents, even if they've been doing idiotic, self-defeating things, the first person to take out a major Wall Street data center is going to get a hero's welcome when they get out of solitary in 40 years.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:12 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]



The Propaganda of the Deed style of action tends to flourish when people are feeling particularly bitter and helpless, it was always the most desperate that pulled out the actual knives. People willing to do that kind of thing have almost always had an awkward relationship with the theorists. Violence has worked against anarchism more often than its worked for it, although I do take a deep delight in reading Lucy Parsons transcripts, where she instructs the homeless to take up knives and wait outside the houses of the rich.

I think it's important to remember that the roots of that kind of action are really in helplessness and despair, not empowerment. It's something that's going to become increasingly common as the gap between the rich and the poor grows and people feel less and less represented by their government. Rather than discrediting other models of organizing, it should be a powerful call to organize and empower individuals.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:18 AM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Most of the groups I worked with seemed to use this to maintain conformity and discouraged people with dissenting views from joining or coming back.

Quakers would disagree.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:09 AM on May 14 [1 favorite +] [!]



I'm used to being disagreed with. That's cool. I'm still casting my vote against consensus.

I was actually involved in an organization once that dedicated its first four hour meeting to an argument about consensus versus voting. After four bloody, grueling hours we decided we'd have to vote on how to govern ourselves. The consensus people won the vote by a narrow margin, which then opened the door to a two hour discussion about how to accommodate everyone and how to help us feel represented by the group. I found the entire thing deeply amusing.

Again, hey, it's great that people think they can make it work. I sincerely hope that they can make it work. I'm for action, progress, experiments, and learning from mistakes. Anything that moves us forward is fine with me.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:23 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Languagehat: I agree, and I didn't mean to imply that because of the target audience the article lost any merit. Just pointing out that it's very much an explanation of anarchist thought and not an expansion of same. I agree that more explanation is in order and is a good thing.

I have weird feelings on American black blocs too. I recognize the logic, validity, and (occasional) necessity of the tactic, but I think it has a tendency in America to spin out into something useless and potentially harmful to greater goals. On the other hand, I've seen bloc participation really change people for the better.
posted by broadway bill at 9:25 AM on May 14, 2012


I think the problem with Black Blocs in the US is they are tactic-fetishists and aren't thinking strategically about violence. They act like a revolution is just around the corner and it isn't, a long struggle is around the corner, and for that we need long-term thinking.
posted by fuq at 9:30 AM on May 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


just to self-clarify:

i think the "people's microphone" is neat, but Graeber makes a lot of out-manuevering other groups at the original Occupy gathering and I just don't think what happened was about process.

some people like Nike, some people like Starbucks, nobody likes the big Banks. a protest which actually shut-down Wall Street would be enormously more destructive in real terms than smashing a few windows: lost jobs, foreclosures, lives, etc. but would have a popular constituency.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:34 AM on May 14, 2012


I both know and recognize smart, kind, justice-minded people who (somewhat indecipherably) identify as anarchists.

There was a while in my early 20s when I self-identified as an anarchist (always small "a"), by which I meant I was big on a combination of personal responsibility and suspicion-of-power. Not that much has changed. I just long ago realized I was getting nowhere by referring to it as anarchy. That just provoked most people, good for something to argue about over beer for a few hours but it wasn't getting me anywhere.

And then there were those few times I endeavored to get more involved with something akin to "the movement" (capital "A" Anarchy). Unfortunately, like the title of this article suggests, that just bored the hell out of me (theory never goes well with machiavellian personalities, and I've always found those in capital "P" Political organizations, regardless of their leaning).

And anyway, as I grew a little older, life just kept getting more complicated. There was less and less time to think about stuff, to capital "O" Organize -- I was always just dealing with it. Which led pragmatically to what I now term my "armchair anarchism". That is, it's easy to sit back and see the positive and progressive logic that underlies much so-called anarchist thinking (particularly the non-chaotic kind), but mostly, I can't help but act from pragmatism, like someone out of that Graebner quote:

" ... there are endless examples of viable anarchism: pretty much any form of organization would count as one, so long as it was not imposed by some higher authority, from a klezmer band to the international postal service."

It might be a radio station, a strata council, an MFA program -- I'm always the guy in the room reminding folks that THE RULES are a fallback, not a means, that we're all really just neighbors trying to figure out how to live together with maximum peace, minimum drama (but there will always be some drama because we're a dramatic species). And so on. It's definitely the neighbor analogy I find myself falling back on the most, inspired by a line I heard from Noam Chomsky a long time ago.

"An anarchist is like a good neighbor -- there when you need him, invisible when you don't."
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


the first person to take out a major Wall Street data center is going to get a hero's welcome when they get out of solitary in 40 years

well, there's property violence, and then there's really effective property violence.

I am an anarchist of the communist variety. I believe sometimes that's called anarcho-communism. Modern life is ... a compromise.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2012


John Zerzan promotes the outrageous notion that obeying core moral principles to their truest extent may lead you to conclusions you don't like. In this, he is useful.

The black bloc participates in theatre that demonstrates that state actors like police are willing to harm you as collective punishment for disrupting capitalist institutions like banks and Starbucks, and that the relative harm to human beings matters not at all. In this, they are useful.

They exist in a broader ecology. The statist argument is that they're dangerous and dumb, but that relies on you not questioning certain critical assumptions. In Zerzan's case, it's the idea that this world of profound, inhuman exploitation of others is the best possible scenario. In the black bloc's case, it's that the police defend the best possible scenario. This keeps you from confronting the simple truth that beating the shit out of someone for breaking a window -- or more likely, being in the same general area -- is a wrong committed by the policeman. It makes you think that the Starbucks window represents something more important than a human being, that requires more violent force to protect than actual human beings.

Zerzan's primitivist end state is remarkably inhumane -- we need an infrastructure, and symbolic culture is beautiful. But these things have their abuses, and it's easy for us to get suckered into accepting them. On one hand, it's stupid to blame the black bloc for police violence but on the other, when we know for certain that the police will make an immoral decision when we do a thing, we have some responsibility for the consequences.

This is a helluva thing to process.
posted by mobunited at 10:03 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I believe sometimes that's called anarcho-communism. Modern life is ... a compromise.

anarcho-compromism?
posted by philip-random at 10:03 AM on May 14, 2012


Out of curiosity, does anybody know the context for this photo?
posted by destro at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that the more thoughtful of the anarchists are merely describing a different sort of government and state. Which seems to make the tag "anarchist" incorrect.

If it serves the functions of a government, has authority to impose sanctions, adjudicate disputes and enforce it's decisions, etc then to me it's a government.
posted by sotonohito at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2012


Anarcho-syndicalism is still the only version that's had a realistic field trial on a national scale (Republican Spain 1936-1939). Unfortunately, they had to simultaneously fight the Nazis, Italian fascists and half of their own country while their only ally (Stalinist Russia) worked to overthrow their government from within. Give them credit, they held out much better than democratic France did when it was their turn.

(aside: if Britain/France had given them the slightest bit of support there might have been battle hardened Republican divisions on the Western front at the beginning of WWII, troops with extensive experience dealing with German tactics. It might have been a different war.)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:22 AM on May 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


It seems to me that the more thoughtful of the anarchists are merely describing a different sort of government and state.

The difference as I understand is that small scale, local decision making is supposed to take priority over the will of the national government. If you're Bakunin, the nation state (to the extent that it exists, not much if at all) is supposed to be a voluntary association of local communities.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:26 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]



Anarcho-syndicalism is still the only version that's had a realistic field trial on a national scale (Republican Spain 1936-1939). Unfortunately, they had to simultaneously fight the Nazis, Italian fascists and half of their own country while their only ally (Stalinist Russia) worked to overthrow their government from within. Give them credit, they held out much better than democratic France did when it was their turn.


Hungary had a similar experiment shortly before the Soviets crushed them.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:26 AM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


We can all freely check out of society at any time, granted, we'd probably need a compound or a nice warm box over a steam vent to do so, but it wouldn't be that terribly difficult to just up and leave. So then what makes Anarchy a something then as opposed to just non-compulsive participation?

No one else seems to have directly addressed this, so I guess I'll make an awkward attempt at it...

One of the salient points of anarchist thought is that those moments of non-compulsive participation are pretty rare. To use your own example, it's extraordinarily difficult to just not participate in society unless you have a healthy alternative community that just kind of makes the society you're opposing seem quaint. Without that, your options for dropping out are limited to being homeless (a road with a great deal of personal suffering and no benefit that I can see), depending on others still participating in the system (not necessarily bad, but it limits your own autonomy and freedom of movement) or buying land and trying to make homesteading work (which requires money/privilege in society, is lots and lots and lots of work, and you're going to have to maintain connections with wider society anyway).

I think organizations like the anarchist housing mentioned in the article--which still participate in coercive societies, but come up with ways to resist coercion and inequality--are pretty healthy ways to go. I think that's what anarchist thought is fundamentally about; in a sense, it is just non-compulsive participation, but that's really difficult to pull off when every complex human society is built on authority and coercion.
posted by byanyothername at 10:36 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


You can't "drop out of society" unless you have the kind of resources that making dropping out moot.

If I decide to go live in the bush I'm still subject to the country's laws, they're going to come after me about place of residence, firearms licenses, trespassing laws, hunting limits, etc, etc, etc.

Anarchism is a political model, not the lack of a government. It's a structure for governing society through horizontal decision making, without rigid, hierarchical authorities or coercion.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:41 AM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


The difference as I understand is that small scale, local decision making is supposed to take priority over the will of the national government.
I hear the same sort of thing from Ron Paul, Libertarians, and Tenthers. What I've never heard is a good explanation for why, if local government is supposed to be so great, did it take the federal government to end segregation, Jim Crow, etc?

I'd argue history demonstrates that small, local government, often tends to become the mechanism by which bullies and bigots harm their victims and that larger government, which includes a wider variety of viewpoints, tends to avoid that sort of governmental folie à deux. Not that big governments can't do bad things of course, but small governments seem very much more prone to that sort of crazy excess.
posted by sotonohito at 10:45 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hear the same sort of thing from Ron Paul, Libertarians, and Tenthers. What I've never heard is a good explanation for why, if local government is supposed to be so great, did it take the federal government to end segregation, Jim Crow, etc?

Direct democracy has resulted in a lot of nasty stuff. There aren't easy answers for everything.

I would distinguish between the right wing's deregulation and most anarchist theories, most anarchist political theory is about moving power to the bottom of the pyramid, not leaving a vacuum. There's some understanding that deregulation just allows the powerful to trample more, not less.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:51 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


that is an interesting point sotonohito. i find myself remembering a discussion with some friends where there was talk about what one would replace cops with..people were talking about "community justice" which gets me uncomfortable, even as i intellectually recognize that the current rule of law is incredibly skewed toward the white and dude and moneyed and property-owning. sometimes i wonder if anarchist thought expects too much out of people, that they will all be hella informed and work super extra hard for their freedom &c. whatever. i'm just stoked to see emma goldman finishing school show up on metafilter!
posted by beefetish at 10:56 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can't "drop out of society" unless you have the kind of resources that making dropping out moot.

Jinx?
posted by byanyothername at 11:28 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd argue history demonstrates that small, local government, often tends to become the mechanism by which bullies and bigots harm their victims and that larger government, which includes a wider variety of viewpoints, tends to avoid that sort of governmental folie à deux.

There are also countless examples of big bully central governments hammering down on minority groups. It was no fun being Hugenot. That's not to say you're wrong. Our best option might be to give up on homo sapiens entirely and uplift the octopoda.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:39 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


> But it's not clear that any of the extant forms of anarchist organization scale beyond
> relatively small communities of mutual recognition,

Hard to see that as a problem for anarchism, since that's the only kind of community there is.
posted by jfuller at 11:44 AM on May 14, 2012


Somebody once wrote: anarchist = liberal in a leather jacket.
posted by jonmc at 11:52 AM on May 14, 2012


beefetish I think that sort of thinking pervades a lot of political thinking. Communism seems based on the idea that people are more community oriented and less greedy than they tend to be. Libertarianism and Lassiez Faire free marketism seem based on the idea that people are more competitive and more rational economic actors than they tend to be. Anarchism and Libertarianism seem based on the idea that people are more into freedom and less lazy than they tend to be.

One of the problems, I think, is that you can often find many people who would be perfectly able to work in any of those systems and those exceptional individuals give false hope that it's possible to have a system based on everyone acting as the exceptional people do.

You can get a smallish, or possibly even a medium sized, commune working on any number of principles, but there seems to be a scaling problem with a lot of ideas that sound good on paper.

I don't disagree at all that the American system has some massive, horrible, problems. In fact I'm pretty sure the American system has some very deep systemic problems that may fracture the republic sooner or later (increasing urbanization vs. the US Senate, for example).

I just don't see anarchism solving those problems anymore than i see Communism, Libertarianism, or Lassiez Faire capitalism solving those problem.

justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow As I said, certainly larger bodies have done bad things. Overall though I think it's harder to convince a group of 400+ people from geographically scattered areas to do something nasty to a minority than it is to convince a similarly sized body from a much smaller area.

Take, for example, black folks in the USA. What finally brought an end to their legally sanctioned oppression was people from outside the South, where the oppression was most legally embedded [1], voting to end it. It was hardly a perfect solution, black people had theoretically been free and legally equal since 1870, it was nearly 100 years later that the Civil Rights Act was passed. That's not what I'd call a great system.

But it brought about justice, eventually, and leaving it to local governments had failed to bring about justice and had given no indication whatsoever that it would ever bring about justice.

[1] Though the non-South was hardly what you'd call nice. One of the main reasons why there was very little migration of blacks from the South other than to a small number of established city populations was that very often when they tried they were murdered. Kind of put a damper on the idea of black people fleeing the South.
posted by sotonohito at 11:55 AM on May 14, 2012


> It seems to me that the more thoughtful of the anarchists are merely describing a different sort of government and state.

You need to actually read anarchist writings rather than just think about what anarchism might mean based on your preconceptions and ideas absorbed from the air around you. It took me years to get a handle on what anarchism was all about and why there was such a great variety of people calling themselves "anarchists," and that was starting from a position of liking the idea and wanting to understand. If you start from a position of "meh, it's all just Ron Paul" or whatever, you have little hope of getting anywhere. I would ask you to trust me when I say that any objection you can possibly come up with has been thought of and endlessly discussed over the last couple of centuries by anarchists themselves. If you want to learn, there's lots to read and actual anarchists to talk to, but don't expect someone in this thread to magically enlighten you. Understanding takes time and effort.
posted by languagehat at 12:10 PM on May 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


but don't expect someone in this thread to magically enlighten you

Just telling folks that "it's complicated" without any help in leading us down the path towards where we might find more information is not really helpful at all. Perhaps if you suggested some books or articles where we too might become enlightened?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:40 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Languagehat: even though I'm sympathetic, it's hard not to rewrite your comment replacing "anarchist" with "statist" and "Ron Paul" with "Bush" or "Hitler."

"Trust me, we've thought of all the objections" is a little absurd, even if a couple of people have made the stupid joke about anarchist organizations being an oxymoron.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:40 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


On reread, my post came off as incredibly snarky, so please let me rephrase.

I really am interested in learning more about the thinking that goes into this movement and what makes one join an "Anarchist" organization as opposed to any other social justice organization. If you have suggestions that might help me figure this out I would be glad to take them. Thanks.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:50 PM on May 14, 2012


What's more, some of the bigger objections have also led anarchists to change their mind, like Nathaniel Hawthorne's experiences with Brook Farm or George Orwell's experience with the inflitration and perversion of the Spanish anarchists' groups by Stalinist communists.

Just because those aren't 'theoretical' objections doesn't mean they don't have force. In fact, the practical problems seem more pointed than the theoretical ones.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:51 PM on May 14, 2012


Also, there is nothing more enlightening than conversing with other people. Take MeFi for instance. I'm a lot more likely to be greeted with useful information here than wading into a melee between the cops and black bloc to ask about their thinking!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:52 PM on May 14, 2012


Hey 10th Regiment.

If I were to write a manifesto, it might look something like this:
http://libcom.org/library/as-we-see-it-solidarity-group

Not exactly, but something like that.

If you want books thought, I posted this a while ago and got some great suggestions:
http://ask.metafilter.com/180769/Looking-for-books-on-labor-history-Focusing-on-anarchism-anarchosyndicalism-communes-etc
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:00 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


On preview - 10th Reg, hope this is useful...

languagehat: You need to actually read anarchist writings

If anyone's interested in further reading here are some suggestions (apologies for them being a bit UK-centric):

Introduction to Anarchist Communism (pdf), Anarchist Federation. Their reprinted pamphlet on the Hungarian Revolution is a good read too (pdf).

Libcom's library - it's huge, so start with the introductory guides.

Solidarity called themselves libertarian socialist rather than anarchist, but I don't see a difference - here's as close as they got to a manifesto. I'd also suggest the linked group Socialisme ou Barbarie/Socialism or Barbarism as worth looking at. (again, on preview - damn you Stagger Lee!)

The Anarchist FAQ. Rarely was the F in an FAQ such a misnomer, but there's a wealth of information in here.

For books The Housing Monster is available online and as a pdf.

Berkman's What is Anarchism (especially the parts sometimes taken out and published as the ABC of Anarchism is a little dated but ok, Rocker's Anarchosyndicalism is fine. Colin Ward's Anarchy in Action was a favourite when I was younger.

I'd also say some Council Communist stuff is as close enough as makes no different, e.g. Pannekoek's Workers Councils.
posted by spectrevsrector at 1:06 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good call there, Berkman's ABCs is fantastic in that it's easy to read and comprehensive. It's a bit dated and prone colorful rhetoric, but anyone reading it with an open mind will learn something.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:07 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I strong strong suggest reading. Ursula K LeGuin's "the Dispossessed" It's one of the best books about anarchy that exists in my opinion. It's actually very fair and very true.
posted by fuq at 1:09 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


also, strong strong I suggest grammer and proofreeding.
posted by fuq at 1:10 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll suggest Colin Ward's Anarchy in Action. It takes a somewhat anthropological look at anarchistic structures, and is intended to be read by those interested in or questioning anarchism, as opposed to those more familiar with the traditional anarchist philosophies. Not the most well-written thing I've ever read, but it's a really good book nonetheless.
posted by broadway bill at 1:15 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


languagehat I have read some anarchist writings, and they seem often to describe a different form of government or state rather than a government-less or state-less situation.

The most common thinking among anarcho-capitalists, for example, involves the establishment of law, for profit courts to settle legal disputes, for profit police to enforce the decisions of courts, etc.

When I apply the duck test to such proposals, they appear to be governments. Thus I find the claim that such proposals are state-less or government-less to be puzzling.

Similarly the anarchism described in the linked article appears to be not so much a proposal for a society without government, but merely a proposal for a society with a different form of government and I find myself puzzled again as to why they argue that their proposal doesn't involve a government.
posted by sotonohito at 1:25 PM on May 14, 2012


also, strong strong I suggest grammer and proofreeding.

That's one thing that just won't stick for me. I've tried, lord, I've tried!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:25 PM on May 14, 2012



Similarly the anarchism described in the linked article appears to be not so much a proposal for a society without government, but merely a proposal for a society with a different form of government and I find myself puzzled again as to why they argue that their proposal doesn't involve a government.
posted by sotonohito at 1:25 PM on May 14 [+] [!]



There is a governance structure, so in that sense there is "government." But it's decentralized form of governance, with the power at the ground floor. Most forms of anarchism by very definition don't require a centralized authority or borders to function. We're not talking about a state ruling individuals within borders, we're talking about people running their own communities.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:30 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


sotonohito, yes, I thought the Jim Crow era was what you had in mind. However, as bad as that was, I'd argue that the era of legal, state-sponsored slavery was considerably worse.

Overall though I think it's harder to convince a group of 400+ people from geographically scattered areas to do something nasty to a minority than it is to convince a similarly sized body from a much smaller area.

True, but it's surprisingly easy to convince a group of 400 000+ people from geographically scattered areas to do something nasty to a minority group. I suspect becoming a genocidaire is psychologically easier than becoming a member of a small scale lynch mob.

Don't get me wrong -- I agree with the point you're making that keeping government small scale and local isn't a magic trick that produces peace and concord. I like living in a continent-spanning, moderately centralized liberal democracy, partly because I think the exposure to diversity you get in a multiethnic, multicultural state is a good way of breaking down parochial prejudices. On the other hand, I'm aware of how many of the various European central governments came into being by means of a strong central government stomping down hard on minority groups until homogeneity had been achieved. The history of Europe might have been quite a lot happier if some variety of anarchism had been tried earlier and on a larger scale.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:47 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with anarchism, IMHO, is that once you dismantle the oppressive structures of central government and have a patchwork of autonomous collectives (or nuclear-armed sovereign individuals and floating Libertarian seasteaders, if you will), you have no disinterested mechanism of arbitration, so civilisation rapidly regresses to a culture of honour. You (as an individual or a collective) have to demonstrate that you're not to be fucked with, and that if anyone does try to fuck with you, you will bear a grudge and act on it. And soon, even the cuddly autonomous collectives have a strong sense of in-group vs. out-group, and are forming raiding parties to fight vendettas against the out-groups, picking off their stragglers and taking scalps.

On balance, central government has been a good thing. The murder rate in Europe dropped precipitously over the few centuries following the 14th (when it was higher than in Iraq during the recent war), largely due to central kingdoms cementing their power. Granted, the kings were often little more than bandits in finery, but they were stationary bandits, who at least had some incentive to not overexploit their subjects.

That is not to dismiss the problem of unanswerable authoritarian rule, lack of consent of the governed and so on. The answer to that is not to go back to Year Zero and attempt to establish some sort of Edenic idyll without all those complications, but to further refine the mechanisms of central government and arbitration, devolving or relinquishing powers where appropriate, and elsewhere embedding enough transparency and accountability. Of course, the other side of the equation is that a transparent government has to be accountable to an informed public who look at the issues, rather than people barracking for one team or the other and following horse-race-style coverage about why the other side are shitheads who eat live babies for breakfast. In such a system, two largely equal sides supporting one side or the other is little more than a low-pass filter on the views of whichever oligarchs control the media or set the terms of debate.

If there are any “anarchists” thinking in terms of a system with central, impartial arbitration, transparent and answerable to an informed citizenry, and how we may arrive at such a system and keep it from degenerating to an oligarchy or mob rule, then that is an enlightened view. I'm not sure whether one could rationally call that anarchism, though.
posted by acb at 3:09 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]



Don't get me wrong -- I agree with the point you're making that keeping government small scale and local isn't a magic trick that produces peace and concord.


Most of us don't claim it is. Everything takes work, and nothing is easy. We do believe that empowering people is a positive step forward though, to me a lot of it is about empowerment.

If you ask David Graeber, he'd suggest that economic pressures created slavery and racism as we know it, and connects all of that to the rise of the nation state and standing armies. He runs through that extensively in his debt book, and he's not the first one to argue that Marx's "material circumstances" might be turning us against each other and perpetuating social problems.

I'm not going to claim that eliminating poverty and coercive power would solve all of the world's social problems, but it's painfully obvious that they'd help. I think that there are a lot of details left to be worked out, but with any project that's half the fun. It's certainly not an indictment of the entire political philosophy to suggest that it can't bring about total peace and concord instantly.

I want to empowerment for everyone, to whatever degree possible.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:10 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]




The problem with anarchism, IMHO, is that once you dismantle the oppressive structures of central government and have a patchwork of autonomous collectives (or nuclear-armed sovereign individuals and floating Libertarian seasteaders, if you will), you have no disinterested mechanism of arbitration, so civilisation rapidly regresses to a culture of honour. You (as an individual or a collective) have to demonstrate that you're not to be fucked with, and that if anyone does try to fuck with you, you will bear a grudge and act on it. And soon, even the cuddly autonomous collectives have a strong sense of in-group vs. out-group, and are forming raiding parties to fight vendettas against the out-groups, picking off their stragglers and taking scalps.


I hate to jump into the "citation needed" boat, but I'm not sure what you're alluding to. Has this happened? Is there any particular reason to think that once deprived of central government people "regress to a culture of honor?"
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:12 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hate to jump into the "citation needed" boat, but I'm not sure what you're alluding to. Has this happened? Is there any particular reason to think that once deprived of central government people "regress to a culture of honor?"

The decline in the murder rate in Europe as central governments extended their reach is well-documented, as is the higher rate of violence in non-state societies than in state societies. Steven Pinker's The Better Angels Of Our Nature has a chapter devoted to this phenomenon.
posted by acb at 3:23 PM on May 14, 2012




The decline in the murder rate in Europe as central governments extended their reach is well-documented, as is the higher rate of violence in non-state societies than in state societies. Steven Pinker's The Better Angels Of Our Nature has a chapter devoted to this phenomenon.


Hearing the word "scalp" and "regress" side by side made me all squicky.


As for Europe, is it well docmented? What period exactly are you referring to? You can't use medieval Europe as an example of an anarchist society, it simply wasn't. Are you talking about the rise of feudalism, or the fall of feudalism? Or are you referring to the period before the Romans arrived?

Steven Picker is an evolutionary psychologist, so I wouldn't go to him for my history lessons.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:27 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for cultures of honour, they tend to exist where there is no impartial arbitration mechanism, and one cannot rely on the law to keep strangers from stealing one's shit or otherwise fucking with one (to use the technical terms). Which is why you get values of honour in a lot of tribal societies from remote and/or lawless regions, or from societies the fruits of whose labours are easily stolen and difficult to defend. These are often being passed down by cultural transmission generations after the conditions that formed them have ceased; the US South has a murder rate several times higher than the North, due to having been settled largely by migrants from cattle-ranching communities on the (then) lawless English-Scottish borderlands. Another example of a culture of honour is the "gangsta" culture of "respect" which comes from the urban drug trade (another area where impartial arbitration mechanisms cannot exist).
posted by acb at 3:29 PM on May 14, 2012


Hearing the word "scalp" and "regress" side by side made me all squicky.

That was not my intention; feel free to substitute any form of non-culturally-specific demonstrative communal violence in the example.

As for Europe, is it well docmented? What period exactly are you referring to? You can't use medieval Europe as an example of an anarchist society, it simply wasn't. Are you talking about the rise of feudalism, or the fall of feudalism? Or are you referring to the period before the Romans arrived?

It wasn't an anarchist society, because an "anarchist society" on any large scale did not exist. Though central governments were weak, and rather than a strong central government, there was a patchwork of baronies and fiefdoms, with (often violently) shifting borders. This led to grey areas, and disputes being resolved by violent means. Not to mention clashes between rival fiefdoms (one princeling felt slighted by another princeling, so raised an army and sent it to attach the other's fiefdom, slaughtering his peasants in their fields). And since one could not rely on an infrastructure of justice or law enforcement (either to resolve your problems or to prevent you from avenging yourself), people in disputes took the law into their hands.
posted by acb at 3:36 PM on May 14, 2012


I wouldn't want a patchwork of autonomous collectives. There'd have to be a reasonably complex network of interaction to facilitate production and distribution. Most anarchists also picture some form of political federation. Anarchists (unless you include 'anarcho'-capitalists) don't really regard Mad Max as a blueprint.
posted by spectrevsrector at 3:37 PM on May 14, 2012


For reading/resources, I also like the short and sweet little book "Anarchism and It's Aspirations" by Cindy Milstein.
posted by eviemath at 4:10 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


A large part of the confusion that arises from discussions about anarchism and its myriad schools of thought is the overlap, that is probably more felt by leftists, in that there is a blurring of distinction between one school of thought and the next.

I'm a socialist. While I disagree with some of my anarchist brothers and sisters on certain subjects, I recognize that these disagreements happen on a case-by-case basis, because you will seldom meet two anarchists (or socialists, really, for that matter) with the exact same ideas about class struggle, implementation of revolution, and organization. But I also see a lot of overlap in anarchist and socialist theories, e.g., non-hierarchical organization, direct democracy, the abolition of private (although not personal) property, and so on.

This is why some of you might be confused when you see anarchists here bristle at the very idea that anarchism is comparable to the ideas of Ron Paul or Somalian society. People have become so accustomed to the idea that political ideologies are monoliths, that one school of thought within a large ideology even remotely resembling another - no matter how distinct and different - triggers this reflex to assume they're the same if not very similar. From the inside, after hours upon hours of hair-pullingly frustrating debate about where we stand and how we differ, we see the distinctions very clearly. From the outside, to the unfamiliar, they all look like the same ol' gang.

Personally, I see this as a feature rather than a bug. Consensus is a pipe dream. We are far too distinct, and hail from far too many different backgrounds and cultures, to ever arrive at a total national mandate on What Anarchism Is, let alone a global one. There are, though, a number of basic common ideologies that hold anarchist together as a distinct school of thought, just as they have commonalities with socialists like myself or other leftists, which does affect the evolution of how we live our politics.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:11 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


> "Trust me, we've thought of all the objections" is a little absurd

For God's sake, I wasn't saying "Trust me, it's all been answered so take it on faith" (could you possibly have seriously thought that?), I was saying... well, what I actually said: "trust me when I say that any objection you can possibly come up with has been thought of and endlessly discussed over the last couple of centuries by anarchists themselves." In other words, you're not going to come up with some killer objection that will make hardened anarchists weep and repent. There are plenty of objections, obvious and not, and anarchists (beyond the dickhead window-smashing youth brigade) care a lot about them and discuss them endlessly. How would an anarchist society work? Nobody knows; there's never been one. It's fun and frustrating to discuss it. But smirking and saying "Oh yeah? How you gonna stop people robbing and killing, huh? Huh??" (as too many people tiresomely do—not in this thread, I'm just talking about my experience over the decades) is just dumb. (One obvious rejoiner: people rob and kill as it is.)

> I really am interested in learning more about the thinking that goes into this movement

I'm glad to hear it! There have been several threads full of recommendations, like the one Stagger Lee linked too, and there are some great ones in this thread already.

> Colin Ward's Anarchy in Action was a favourite when I was younger.

That's the book that made an anarchist of me! Wonderful, wonderful book; you couldn't pick a better starting place. It provides meaty selections from a whole range of very different thinkers, arguing with each other and making you do some intensive thinking.

> languagehat I have read some anarchist writings, and they seem often to describe a different form of government or state rather than a government-less or state-less situation.

I don't know what you've read, but it doesn't sound very anarchist. Unless you're confusing self-chosen rules and organizations with authoritarian, top-down government, which is what anarchists are against. (That's another common would-be argument, by the way: "Oh, you want organization? Then you're not really an anarchist!" Of course organization is necessary; the point is that it should be freely chosen and not imposed at the point of a gun. Read Kropotkin.)

On preview: I welcome my socialist brother Marisa Stole the Precious Thing to this interesting discussion!
posted by languagehat at 4:22 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


If there was no government, wouldn't there be chaos
Everybody running round, setting petrol bombs off?
And if there was no police force, tell me what you'd do
If thirty thousand rioters came running after you?
And who would clean the sewers? Who'd mend my television?
Wouldn't people lay about without some supervision?
Who'd drive the fire engines? Who'd fix my video?
If there were no prisons, well, where would robbers go?

What if there's no army to stop a big invasion?
Who'd clean the bogs and sweep the floors? We'd have all immigration!
Who'd pull the pint at the local pub? Where'd I get my fags?
Who'd empty out my dustbins? Would I still get plastic bags?
If there were no hospitals, and no doctors too,
If I'd broken both my legs, where would I run to?
If there's no medication, if there were no nurses,
Wouldn't people die a lot? And who would drive the hearses?

If there were no butchers shops, what would people eat?
You'd have everybody starving if they didn't get their meat.
If there was no water, what would people drink?
Who'd flush away the you-know-what? But of course MINE never stink.
What about the children? Who'd teach them in the schools?
Who'd make the buggers keep in line? Learn them all the rules?
Who's tell us whitewash windows? When to take down doors?
Tell us make a flask of tea and survive the holocaust?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:39 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Sorry, am just reminded of these lyrics - sans the "fuck offs" - whenever anarchism is discussed.)
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:44 PM on May 14, 2012


(Sorry, am just reminded of these lyrics - sans the "fuck offs" - whenever anarchism is discussed.)

When contemplating any system, a principle as important as Cui bono? (“Who profits?”) is Cui merda tollenda erit? (“Who will shovel the shit?”)
posted by acb at 5:28 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, what I like about the song is it supposes a bunch of positions about anarchism that many anarchists do not actually take, e.g., that there would be no medical care, teachers, or butcher's shops. I have seen discussions like that unfold before and they can either lead to some grudging understand although disagreement over the principles, or towards a shouting match about Mad Max and cogs of the system.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:39 PM on May 14, 2012


What I've never heard is a good explanation for why, if local government is supposed to be so great, did it take the federal government to end segregation, Jim Crow, etc?

I don't think any anarchist would claim that all local government is necessarily a good thing. Racist local governments in the Jim Crow South were founded on the disenfranchisement and violent oppression of a substantial part of the population, which is exactly the opposite of what anarchists want. The idea is that people can and should govern themselves, not that your rich neighbor and his buddies should be allowed to walk all over you.

It's also worth pointing out that Lyndon Johnson didn't magically end Jim Crow by fiat one day. People in the civil rights movement spent years working in their communities, organizing boycotts and sit-ins, building up popular support for their cause, pressuring the government to pass civil rights legislation, and ensuring that the new laws actually got enforced. In other words, for the most part it was ordinary people organizing themselves, working in solidarity with one another, who actually made things happen.
posted by twirlip at 5:43 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have seen discussions like that unfold before and they can either lead to some grudging understand although disagreement over the principles, or towards a shouting match about Mad Max and cogs of the system.

That's "understanding" of course. I just had second thoughts about oppressing the verb by nouning it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:44 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


languagehat Mostly I've read anarcho-capitalist stuff. And what they describe sounds very much like government to me, along with a large amount of blind faith that the market will simply make everything work out, and work out better than it does in the current setup.

Unless you're confusing self-chosen rules and organizations with authoritarian, top-down government, which is what anarchists are against.

What they describe doesn't involve purely self-chosen rules, rather they say people will subscribe to a Private Defense Association. Which has rules. And which negotiates with other PDA's to establish common rules. Exactly like our current government only with no actual voting, just closed doors, for profit, decisions made by rich people.

Anarcho-socialism I'm less familiar with, but it has much the same "government only with a different name" vibe I get from the anarcho-capitalists.

I've never encountered any anarchist thinking that says *all* rules will be self chosen, they've all recognized the problem of the guy who chooses not to abide by rules like "don't kill people" and devised ways to enforce other people's rules on such people. Which is one of those major defining characteristics of government.

Which is why I say it fails the duck test for me. All the supposedly anarchist stuff I've seen appears to boil down to government by a different name and with a somewhat different structure.

And that's cool. If we want to discuss which form of government is best I'm completely down with that discussion. But when the discussion starts with the claim that they're having a different discussion, a discussion about a stateless or governmentless existence I'm baffled. Because every single anarchist thing I've read is discussing a form of government.
posted by sotonohito at 5:58 PM on May 14, 2012


Which is why I say it fails the duck test for me. All the supposedly anarchist stuff I've seen appears to boil down to government by a different name and with a somewhat different structure.

I think there's some conflation going on here between "government" and "organization". The hierarchical nature of governing is what is rejected by anarchists; that it is in the nature of governments to have varying degrees of top-down-ness. Rejecting this is to reject the concept of government, and to instead adopt another way of organizing people. Going towards consensus rather than control, which is the central feature of what a government is and does.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:04 PM on May 14, 2012


I think there's some conflation going on here between "government" and "organization". The hierarchical nature of governing is what is rejected by anarchists; that it is in the nature of governments to have varying degrees of top-down-ness. Rejecting this is to reject the concept of government, and to instead adopt another way of organizing people. Going towards consensus rather than control, which is the central feature of what a government is and does.

Which suggests to me that, once one puts paid to the whole Rousseauvian noble-savage myth and the idea of self-sufficient autonomous collectives/sodalities/sovereign individuals/whatever operating with total freedom and responsibility and somehow getting along, "anarchism" starts to look like the asymptotic state of a properly functioning democracy, with government by consent, maximum transparency and an educated, informed and interested citizenry tending the machinery of consensual government with due care. Which sounds more a case of reform of the present system than some form of ripping it up and starting again.

In which case, we are all anarchists (well, except for authoritarians, fascists, various kinds of sadistic psychopaths and those with a corrupt vested interest in keeping large parts of the world's population in a profitable state of misery), and as in the case where, if everything in the universe were blue, the word "blue" would cease to have meaning, the term "anarchism"'s looking pretty meaningless.
posted by acb at 6:34 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which suggests to me that, once one puts paid to the whole Rousseauvian noble-savage myth and the idea of self-sufficient autonomous collectives/sodalities/sovereign individuals/whatever operating with total freedom and responsibility and somehow getting along, "anarchism" starts to look like the asymptotic state of a properly functioning democracy, with government by consent, maximum transparency and an educated, informed and interested citizenry tending the machinery of consensual government with due care.

Those qualities might be a part of what anarchism is trying to achieve; transparency, consent, informed citizenry - the central idea of anarchism isn't solely these qualities, but in changing the way people are organized; the very structure of human interaction and control is significantly changed. Even with the ideal properly functioning democracy model, you still of course have top-down decision making being made, all the time, in every facet of society. Anarchism supposes the end of top-down forms of human control, the central feature to what government is.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:52 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anarchism supposes the end of top-down forms of human control, the central feature to what government is.

quoting Joe Strummer from a 1982 Rolling Stone interview: "Fuck all bosses, total equality."
posted by philip-random at 7:00 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait, is everyone at this meeting a spy?
posted by GuyZero at 9:29 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


languagehat: the point is that it should be freely chosen and not imposed at the point of a gun.

Is it libertarians who are confused about the difference between anarchism and libertarianism or is it me?
posted by GuyZero at 9:33 PM on May 14, 2012


To paraphrase Malatesta, having no government does not mean you don't have the administration of things.

That will be the most boring part of our anarchist future, not just all the small collectives and the tedium of arriving at consensus within them, but the organizing of the countless larger federations and confederations and the centralizing of those things that operate best from a center, and decentralizing those things that operate best decentralized.

Right now centralization and top down control is facilitated by governments and states to support profit, to benefit the ruling class. In an anarchy, the need for any central organization is to benefit everybody.

Administrating things is not a government. Anarcho-capitalists are capitalists, they need a government to protect their property, enforce contracts, etc. They are not anarchists.
posted by bonefish at 2:22 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


As to the notion of "anarchism" being a played-out term, I agree. My Occupy experiences have opened my eyes: either you believe in capitalism and markets and property or you don't. If you believe, then you either vote or you petition your rulers, maybe even riot for bread when you have to, but those are your only options. If you are an anti-capitalist, you are either "red" and believe in the Party and the State, or you are "black" and believe in voluntary cooperation and mutual aid. There's also red/black anarcho-syndicalists. But the fundamental divide is either capitalist or anti-capitalist.

I find identifying as an anti-capitalist is better understood than using the "anarchist"
label. It allows me a lot more freedom in what I am fighting for and makes it very clear what I am fighting against.
posted by bonefish at 2:49 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


For God's sake, I wasn't saying "Trust me, it's all been answered so take it on faith" (could you possibly have seriously thought that?), I was saying... well, what I actually said: "trust me when I say that any objection you can possibly come up with has been thought of and endlessly discussed over the last couple of centuries by anarchists themselves." In other words, you're not going to come up with some killer objection that will make hardened anarchists weep and repent.

I'm sorry, LH, but you said exactly what I imputed to you.

My paraphrase:

"Trust me, we've thought of all the objections"

Your statement:
"trust me when I say that any objection you can possibly come up with has been thought of and endlessly discussed over the last couple of centuries by anarchists themselves."

And as I went on to explain, some anarchists have gone on to "repent" by way of adopting more statist solutions. sotonohito is making a similar point.

Which is okay: I take the basic anarchist insight that legitimate authority requires participatory self-governance to be akin to the basic democratic insight and the basic liberal insight.

My major concern, though, was with the idea that no Metafilter discussion could possibly illuminate either anarchism's true essence or reasonable objections to the same. There's a kind of cultish siloing of debate in radical leftist circles, suggesting that objections can only be leveled from within.

You hear similar epistemic closure arguments from very conservative Christians: i.e. "you can only understand the response to your objections if you first have faith." It's an appeal to authority when they do it, and it's an appeal to authority when you do it. (Actually, it's not quite the same as the classic argumentum ad verecundiam: it's more of a self-sealing argument.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:26 AM on May 15, 2012


@bonefish But when you have police, judges, prisons, and laws enforced on the unwilling that is a government.

And every form of thoughtful anarchism I've seen involves some form of enforcing rules on the unwilling. I'd argue it's pretty much impossible to have a society without some form of enforcing rules on the unwilling, and all anarchist writing I've read agrees with that argument. Which, to me, says they're not talking about ending government and states, but rather a different form.

Marisa Stole the Precious Thing "Anarchism supposes the end of top-down forms of human control, the central feature to what government is."

Bob declares he intends to murder/rape/steal/whatever. His neighbors prohibit this. Looks top down to me. Those with power (in this case the power of numbers) imposing their view on those without power. As it happens, I'm 100% in favor of the masses imposing some rules on the individual. I'd wager you are too.

Which means we aren't discussing an end to authority, an end to laws enforced on the unwilling, or an end to top down decision making, but rather different forms of all of the above and different ways to go about accomplishing those goals. In other words, we're discussing which *sort* of government is best, not rejecting government as a concept.
posted by sotonohito at 7:03 AM on May 15, 2012


That will be the most boring part of our anarchist future, not just all the small collectives and the tedium of arriving at consensus within them, but the organizing of the countless larger federations and confederations and the centralizing of those things that operate best from a center, and decentralizing those things that operate best decentralized.

I suspect that, while the anarchists and socialists and capitalists and social democrats and free-marketeers are debating this, the internet, and the resulting lack of friction in finding resources and participants for transactions, will decentralise everything behind their back, by rendering the old hierarchical models of organisation as unviable as classified ads and big record labels. The step of decentralisation will be not the bold implementation of an idealistic plan but a reaction to the fundamental constants governing how organisational units work changing.

And so, the Magna Carta, the US Declaration of Independence and the UN Declaration of Human Rights will be followed by a lolcat captioned with "O HAI. I DECENTRLIZED UR HIRARKIZ. KTHX"
posted by acb at 7:04 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


First off, let me say that I appreciate all the dissenters that actually approached this whole thing with an open mind and an interest in learning.



It wasn't an anarchist society, because an "anarchist society" on any large scale did not exist. Though central governments were weak, and rather than a strong central government, there was a patchwork of baronies and fiefdoms, with (often violently) shifting borders.


What you're describing here is feudalism, and it's almost the opposite of any anarchist society. Anarchism is not the lack of a strong central-government, that's critical to understand what we're talking about.


I suspect that, while the anarchists and socialists and capitalists and social democrats and free-marketeers are debating this, the internet, and the resulting lack of friction in finding resources and participants for transactions, will decentralise everything behind their back, by rendering the old hierarchical models of organisation as unviable as classified ads and big record labels. The step of decentralisation will be not the bold implementation of an idealistic plan but a reaction to the fundamental constants governing how organisational units work changing.


You're focusing a lot on the role of central government. The neo-liberal right is working harder than anyone to break up central governments right now, every time they take the state down a few notches private industry surges into the gap.

Your criticism strikes me as a more apt counter to right wing libertarians. Most anarchist philosophies are recommending new systems to replace the state, not just an absence of structure. Deregulated capitalism and local government is definitely a utopian fantasy, I'd agree with you on that, but it's not an anarchist fantasy.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:53 AM on May 15, 2012



My major concern, though, was with the idea that no Metafilter discussion could possibly illuminate either anarchism's true essence or reasonable objections to the same. There's a kind of cultish siloing of debate in radical leftist circles, suggesting that objections can only be leveled from within.

You hear similar epistemic closure arguments from very conservative Christians: i.e. "you can only understand the response to your objections if you first have faith." It's an appeal to authority when they do it, and it's an appeal to authority when you do it. (Actually, it's not quite the same as the classic argumentum ad verecundiam: it's more of a self-sealing argument.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:26 AM on May 15 [+] [!]


You're not going to radically change the direction of a movement by offering criticisms from outside the group. Especially when that movement has over a hundred years of organizing and literature under its belt. You're going to get a lot of people with varying degrees of patience drawing your attention to history or existing literature that's already dealt with your concerns.

People can answer questions, but if you come in with a bunch of criticisms you're going to be brushed off, one way or another. Growth in movements often comes from healthy internal criticism, based on a knowledge of the history of the group and its ideas, and practical feedback from hands on work.

I really think that you need to consider your expectations. Nobody is going to get converted here or alter the direction of a political movement, all we can do is share ideas and answer questions for each other.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:46 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bob declares he intends to murder/rape/steal/whatever. His neighbors prohibit this. Looks top down to me. Those with power (in this case the power of numbers) imposing their view on those without power. As it happens, I'm 100% in favor of the masses imposing some rules on the individual. I'd wager you are too.

Sorry, but me behaving badly and getting censured for it by my immediate neighbors is not an imposition of of top-down control. It's an application of power, yes, but it's not coming from above me (the mansion on the hill), it's coming from right next door, and across the street.

I mean, all politics is imposition of power, isn't it? The question is, who's got it and what are they doing with it?
posted by philip-random at 9:09 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I need to correct a misstatement I made up there: it wasn't Colin Ward's Anarchy in Action (much as I love it) that made an anarchist of me, it was Patterns of Anarchy, edited by Leonard I. Krimerman and Lewis Perry. Great book.

> My major concern, though, was with the idea that no Metafilter discussion could possibly illuminate either anarchism's true essence or reasonable objections to the same. There's a kind of cultish siloing of debate in radical leftist circles, suggesting that objections can only be leveled from within.

You hear similar epistemic closure arguments from very conservative Christians: i.e. "you can only understand the response to your objections if you first have faith." It's an appeal to authority when they do it, and it's an appeal to authority when you do it.


You clearly have no interest in interacting, only in playing your rhetorical games. Enjoy them yourself; I'm not playing.
posted by languagehat at 11:10 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is precisely the kind of disdainful refusal to engage that I complained about initially.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:59 AM on May 15, 2012


Hey, I engaged.

I'm not saying that there isn't a need for external criticism, but if you're not taking into account all of the literature and history of what you're trying to attack you'll find that it doesn't go terribly far.

Honestly, I feel the same way about dismissive attacks on Christian faith. As an atheist, it drives me crazy when people smugly say things along the lines of: "Well what about the dinosaurs, bet you didn't think about that huh?" There's a fair bet that they did think of it, and have had dialogue about that issue. If you want to really level criticism or have a respectful conversation, you have to be respectful of the group's own intellectual history.

You get out what you put in.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:03 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did I make a dismissive attack on anarchism? Look at my comments: I wrote supportively of two anarchists, Robert Paul Wolf and Elinor Ostrom. I'm quite fond of the anarchists I know in person: we agree on a lot and we work on projects together as needed. I just call myself something different and have less interest in the kind of anti-capitalist end-state speculations that motivate some anarchist folks.

The whole beauty of this post is that it emphasizes the banal public work that anarchists are constantly engaged in, building civic capacities and consensual organizations and common-pool resources. Rather than demanding that interested parties delve into the minutiae of inter-anarchist rivalries, why not look for the commonalities that the post itself calls out? Even liberals see value in non-state-centric engagement and institutional experimentation, or they ought to. When the liberal welfare state starts to look "stupid and beside the point" it will be because the concerns sotonohito and I mention have been dealt with in an obvious and public way, not when he and I have finally done all the required reading.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:24 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stagger Lee I think it depends entirely on the issue. With Christianity I think a reasonable argument can be made that there's no need to study the details because the initial premises have simply not been satisfactorily demonstrated to be valid.

It isn't necessary, for example, to understand the ins and outs of early discussion and argumentation that eventually resulted in the decisions of the Council of Nicaea in order to say that you consider Christianity not to be true. Arguments to the contrary are examples of the Courtier's Reply. Just as one need not be privy to the ins and outs of the discussions of Vulcan/Human reproduction to say that Star Trek is fiction.

With political systems there's a different sort of standard, and I do agree that an out of hand dismissal of anarchism is inappropriate. I'm inclined to reject, for example, Austrian Economics as merely another religion because Austrian Economics explicitly rejects empiricism and declares that experimentation, observation, etc are irrelevant to economics and a person of sufficient intelligence can simply *derive* a fully functional economic system by thinking about how they think people should act.

Anarchism doesn't have that sort of utterly preposterous thinking built in.

I just still don't see how it isn't basically a discussion of the merits of government A vs. government B.

philip-random yeah, but in any practical implementation it isn't going to be your immediate neighbors.

I don't know about you, but I don't have the training, temperament, or desire to act as either a cop or a judge. I'll bet most people fall into that category, quite possibly including you. Which means, no matter what system we implement, the people doing the censuring are going to be professionals hired for that purpose.

And it isn't going to be your immediate neighbors. In the USA over 80% of the population lives in urban or suburban areas. Cities in other words. Which means very large numbers, and unless you've got a really amazingly great system in mind that means delegation rather than direct democracy.

Maybe a tiny place with a population of fifty or sixty, possibly even a couple hundred, can directly censure their neighbors for violations of rules. But that doesn't describe how the vast majority of humanity lives.

So there's going to be an authority. And once there's an authority we're discussing systems of government, not government vs. not-government.

And that's a great discussion to have. I love discussing forms and systems of government. I'm still just not seeing how anarchism is not-government rather than a different sort of government.
posted by sotonohito at 12:39 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


yeah, but in any practical implementation it isn't going to be your immediate neighbors.

The scenario you put forward sounds more like a "woke up one morning and the state was gone" sort of scenario than what a lot of anarchists believe would be the process by which a governmentless country would come about; i.e., a transformation of values in terms of how we relate to each other. The aforementioned changing of the structure of how people organize doesn't spring fully formed out of nothing just because parliament was burned to the ground. It takes serious changes in the way people relate to each other. In other words, yes, there would be folks like Bob running around, but people would supposedly have a much more cohesive sense of community in banding together to deal with destructive people. In several anarchist theories anyway.

It feels awfully weird for me to come into this discussion several times clarifying anarchism. I'm not an anarchist, even though there's a lot of overlap between what they and I believe. Maybe the disagreements and confusion are arising from a difference of definition, as we saw earlier with the word "government", or just general disbelief that it would work. I, too, have my reservations - that's why I'm a socialist. I like there to be a state apparatus that ensures the social welfare. So my view is possibly tainted, and I welcome any of our better-versed anarchists to jump in here if I'm off-base about something here.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:55 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]



I just still don't see how it isn't basically a discussion of the merits of government A vs. government B.


Yeah, but your definition of government becomes very important when you reduce it to those terms. I'm fine with doing that, but you'll find yourself supplying that definition an awful lot.



It feels awfully weird for me to come into this discussion several times clarifying anarchism.

Yeah, and that's where the frustration begins, but it's a problem from all fronts. Anarchy suffers a lot from this one, and always has, the term becomes so vague as to be meaningless, and many of us put a lot of weight in one aspect. Even when anarchist theory was actually significant the theorists were running around like crazy trying to disassociate themselves from the propaganda of the deed types. There are a lot of schools of anarchist thought, but I don't take that as being special to anarchy, every system of economy or governance have competing models.


A lot of time is lost to misunderstandings. In my case, I'd like to see a fairly anarcho-syndicalist order, where decisions are made at the grass roots level. I model my own ideals off of some of the work that happened in places like Hungary and Spain, which might have been some of the best testing grounds we've had for a modern industrialized state where decisions are made at the level of workers. That is clearly NOT what most people think of when they think of anarchy, and it's still probably too loose of a definition to be useful for most people.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:03 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just still don't see how it isn't basically a discussion of the merits of government A vs. government B.

Like Stagger Lee says, it comes down to how you want to define the word.

My local hackerspace is a functioning anarchist collective. I mean, most of the members wouldn't describe it that way, but there is no standing central body with the authority to make decisions on behalf of the group and impose them on the rest of us without our consent. We're legally registered as a nonprofit, which means we're required to have a board and a treasurer, but our bylaws are structured so that all decision-making devolves to the membership as a whole and uses a form of consensus. When a decision needs to be made, we have a meeting or hold a discussion on the mailing list, and everyone's opinion counts for as much as everybody else's.

Is there a "government" here? We have "laws" that govern how we work (they're extremely minimal and flexible, but they're there), and not everyone has signing authority on the bank account. But there's nothing resembling a state -- nothing that has executive decision-making power separate from the group as a whole, nothing that can legitimately impose its will on the rest of us. As an anarchist, that satisfies my definition of anarchism.

Now, if you wanted to scale that up to something bigger than a group of 60-odd dues-paying nerds running a collective space, you'd need to find a way for separate communities to come to agreement where their needs or interests overlap. That doesn't have to be through a state (i.e. a single established institution, separate from the governed population, with a monopoly on the means to impose its will); it can just as easily be through one-off negotiations or voluntary arrangements as through some permanent federated delegate system. Maybe you feel that a de facto state would necessarily arise once you scale up; that's a fair position to take, and many people have taken it, but anarchists believe that we can manage our affairs without a state. And that's what they mean by "no government."
posted by twirlip at 2:40 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


am I the only one who thinks this discussion has gotten boring?
posted by philip-random at 4:05 PM on May 15, 2012


If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that question at a political discussion, I'd have enough money to distribute it fairly to the masses according to their needs.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:25 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd like to know how/if the anarchists in this thread feel about the small-r republicanism of Philip Pettit:
Someone who escapes arbitrary interference may doso in virtue of luck, cunning, or fawning; while not suffering interference in the actual world, they may suffer it in those nearby possible worlds where their fortune, wit, or charm fail. The person who possesses antipower, however, is not dependent on such contingencies for enjoying noninterference by arbitrary power: that no one has the capacity to interfere with them at will and with impunity means that even in those nearby worlds where fortune or wit or charm fails, they still continue to enjoy noninterference. This person enjoys the noninterference resiliently, not in virtue of any accident or contingency. Their antipower gives them the capacity to command noninterference, as we might say, and itself represents a distinctive sort of power.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:55 AM on May 16, 2012


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