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January 7, 2005 12:37 AM   Subscribe

Need the antidote to the current administration? 133 years ago, Mikhail Bakunin laid the groundwork for anarchism as a rational political system in his seminal work God and the State. Strongly critical of the dehumanizing effects of religion, Bakunin famously paraphrased Voltaire when he proclaimed, "if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him." If you can't make hide nor hair of the President's words, perhaps Bakunin's rationalism is what you're looking for.
posted by Netzapper (43 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Not to derail too far, but doesn't the recent MeTa debacle (mostly deleted from the site, so I can't link) sortof prove the need for some sort of leadership? I mean, in this relatively small community we proved our ability to dismantle a perfectly working system within 24 hours of being left to our own devices. Obviously not everybody was guilty (the vast majority of members didn't have anything to do with it), but two different problems arose that were severe enough to pretty much bring things down.

We can debate how much of a role the government (or Matt) should play, but I think the last couple of days prove that there needs to be some level of guidance and rule enforcement in the world (with power to enforce judgments - here by bannination), lest society devolve into full-time shit-flingers.

In regards to his critique that the state destroys freedom by its very nature, I disagree. I would like to be free from having my browser hijacked. That's apparently not a goal that can be accomplished well without #1 interfering and creating that freedom for me by deleting posts.

MeFi as a metaphor for the world. Who knew?
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:50 AM on January 7, 2005


Not to derail too far, but doesn't the recent MeTa debacle (mostly deleted from the site, so I can't link) sortof prove the need for some sort of leadership? I mean, in this relatively small community we proved our ability to dismantle a perfectly working system within 24 hours of being left to our own devices. Obviously not everybody was guilty (the vast majority of members didn't have anything to do with it), but two different problems arose that were severe enough to pretty much bring things down.

Frankly, that's absurd, given that in the context of metafilter there is little or no sustainable accountability anyway (unless paying $5 to re-register counts). Even if there was, a six-hour period of time is hardly a long enough stretch of time to suggest that anarchism would not work--there wasn't enough time for the structures to collapse and newer, more natural structures to take their place.

All that isn't to say that anarchism is a workable system; I'm simply suggesting that your metatalk analogy seems a little weak.

-----

That said, I'm going to go a little farther into those links. Thanks, Netzapper. This looks like fun (you know, if you find that kind of thing fun, which I do).
posted by The God Complex at 12:58 AM on January 7, 2005


I would like to be free from having my browser hijacked.

Don't you mean Thread, or post?

Browser hijacking is high seas piracy...(Argh!!)

Thread or post hijacking is someone speaking their mind. (or trolling for responces)

There might be a need to stop the former, but there is no need to hinder the latter.
posted by Balisong at 1:17 AM on January 7, 2005


Balisong - I was referring to the tinyurl link on the front page that (a) set off a cascade of popups (b) shook them around to make them impossible to close without resorting to the task manager (c) copied clipboard data into a form and (d) played annoying music. It was deleted by Matt as soon as he returned.

People speaking their mind is fine by me.

The God Complex - I'm still in awe over your "Presenting the best of MeFi" post. :) That said, it's possible that social norms would have pushed the MeTa debacle into obscurity quickly without Matt's help. But, the FPP with the tinyurl and the general GNAA problems would not be solved.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:40 AM on January 7, 2005


Accountability is a huge factor.
When someone does something stupid on mefi, you can't reach over and smack them.
(much as you might like to sometimes)
posted by nightchrome at 1:43 AM on January 7, 2005


nightchrome - yes, but what if I find something stupid that you posted? Can I smack you? What if you take offense to being smacked and smack me back... so on and so forth until one of us ends up taking a long walk off a short pier.

I'm sure that there would be social customs that would develop (or private psuedo-governments), but a government is the fastest way to force accountability. If I smack you without justification then the law (justified use of physical force) with make me accountable.

If MeTa isn't a good example, look at what happnes whenever there is a power vacuum in the world. Warlords (in other words, pseudo-governments backed by military force) spring up. See Afghanistan today - there is a distinct lack of government in the hinterlands and warlords have sprung up, imposing a semblence of government. The gravitational pull of government seems to overwhelm any inertia of anarchy.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:58 AM on January 7, 2005


Well, the fastest is almost always the worst possible solution to take.
Your example about the gravitational pull of government is kinda silly, because people living without regard for government don't exactly stand out. They're not a big organized mass with a mouthy leader cruising around the highways in jeeps. They're a bunch of farmers in a valley living as they always have, without concern for leading or following. Hardly something that'll be on the 11 o'clock news.
Sure, you can argue that *meaningful* anarchy is people organizing into coherent political groups to follow some kind of mutually-agreed-upon philosophy, but again, those farmers likely don't give a shit.
posted by nightchrome at 2:21 AM on January 7, 2005


"Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life--the passion for destruction is also a creative passion!" -- Mikhail Bakunin - 1892.

Some anarchists took this tenant as rule number one, and tainted the movement for a very long time -- shame really. Personally, I find Bakunin interesting but not in the same league as Proudhon or Kropotkin.
posted by gsb at 3:19 AM on January 7, 2005


oh bugger, that should be 1842.
posted by gsb at 3:19 AM on January 7, 2005


I used to be a big fan of anarchism. Then I spent three years living in a ten-bedroom share house. That taught me that (a) it only takes a small minority of sociopaths to break an otherwise cooperative community (b) sociopaths are never in short supply.

The Bastards (tm) will always and everywhere screw things up for the rest of us. With government built on representative democracy, at least we get to see some of what some of The Bastards are up to, and we get widely supported means for an occasional educational slapping-down of Bastards who go egregiously too far.

I forgot who said that "democracy is the worst possible way to run a country, except for all the other ways" but I think the sentiment is about right.

Now, if we can just find some way to help the status quo (international anarchy) evolve into some kind of global representative democracy, we might get somewhere.
posted by flabdablet at 3:32 AM on January 7, 2005


I remember reading Anarchy and the State in the early 90s. I was struck by his analysis of german militarism and the imminent collapse of the Balkans region, all from the previous century.
posted by infowar at 4:50 AM on January 7, 2005


TGC: there wasn't enough time for the structures to collapse and newer, more natural structures to take their place.

Is that how it's supposed to work?
In the places where something resembling anarchy really occurred (Somalia, Kongo, arguably some parts of Iraq), it seems that rather than the "natural structures", it's the guys with the greatest firepower that quickly assume control.
posted by sour cream at 5:27 AM on January 7, 2005


A functional anarchy that isn't in danger of being taken over by warlords, a predatory neighbouring nation or anything else is (just like any other society) one that can defend itself as required. The only difference would be that anarchists would be fighting to defend the absence of imposed government.
Anarchism doesn't mean people can't organise, and it certainly doesn't preclude violence. It is quite possible for an anarchy to have an army so long as what you're talking about is a voluntarily formed group.
In Somalia, to take on one of the examples above, anarchy never had a chance to build into something that could adequately defend itself. This is probably because the breakdown of Somali government involved economic issues. Many Somalis were simply struggling to survive and certainly didn't have the resources to organise a military defence force.
posted by snarfodox at 5:58 AM on January 7, 2005


snarfodox: A functional anarchy...

Isn't that an oxymoron?
Actually, I have no idea what a "functional anarchy" might look like. Can you give an example of what you're thinking? Has such a place ever existed?
posted by sour cream at 6:09 AM on January 7, 2005


The problem with anarchy is that it represents a vacuum. That said, it provides an excellent critique of hierarchy, but in itself, no solutions. If we bring down hierarchy, the resulting state of affairs (anarchy) is so unstable that it is only a matter of time before hierarchy re-emerges.

What is needed is a new, stable pattern to replace hierarchy. Blogs are a great example of this pattern: call it network, rhizome, whatever. The point is, the earlier comments that order is necessary are right on--but it doens't have to be a hierarchal order.
posted by DAJ at 6:11 AM on January 7, 2005


I'm fascinated in the apparent contradiction that an anarchy should be governed by a secret international congomerate.

Is this paradoxical?
posted by lyam at 6:47 AM on January 7, 2005


Oh, and right after I posted that, the tag under the Metafilter logo coincidentally read, "Self-policing since 1999".
posted by lyam at 6:49 AM on January 7, 2005


Anarchy: one of those things that sounds like a good idea until everyone starts doing it...
posted by scheptech at 7:21 AM on January 7, 2005


Well said, DAJ.

My only quibble is that order is not so much necessary as it is inevitable.
posted by sour cream at 7:23 AM on January 7, 2005


I have no idea what a "functional anarchy" might look like. Can you give an example of what you're thinking? Has such a place ever existed?

I don't really know much about it, but people usually point to the anarchists in Spain around the time of civil war. 1, 2. My general impression is that there was a kind of nascent anarchist society that seemed to be going okay, but they weren't strong enough to hold off the communists and fascists.

I would like to be free from having my browser hijacked. That's apparently not a goal that can be accomplished well without #1 interfering and creating that freedom for me by deleting posts.

I think a system where posts got deleted when some specific number of people voted to remove them would be reasonably close to an anarchist ideal. Something like the article selection process I remember on K5, except in reverse. That would of course be much less efficient than just having the supreme executive power of #1 taking care of it all for us. A benevolent dictator is a very convenient way to run things, so long as he remains benevolent and competent. For total anarchy on the internet, there's always usenet.
posted by sfenders at 7:35 AM on January 7, 2005


Isn't anarchy exactly like Libertarianism, but with even more doe-eyed idealism?
posted by BigFatWhale at 7:38 AM on January 7, 2005


Actually, I have no idea what a "functional anarchy" might look like. Can you give an example of what you're thinking? Has such a place ever existed?

it's unusual in terms of nation-states, however there are lots of large scale organizations that run on anarchistic principles even though they don't all declare themselves anarchist. Alcoholics Anonymous expresses the mutual aid idea pretty well and lacks any coercive hierarchy. Other more anarchistically aligned groups like Books to Prisoners or Food Not Bombs manage to do direct service work internationally without larger governing bodies. I'm not a total joiner w/r/t anarchist movements because, as flabdablet says, there's always a sociopath to come screw it up for you, but I've been impressed at what some of these groups have been able to do.

Additionaly, in regards to the other night's melee, one could argue that it is precisely because MeFi is not an anarchistic everyone's-in-charge type of place that everything got out of hand. Everyone had the power to wreck things [and don't act like it was one runaway poster, many people shat in MetaTalk and got nuts on that thread in ways that do not reflect well on them] but only #1 had the effective power to straighten things out once wrecked. It's a good argument FOR an anarchistic approach. If everyone has the ability to fix it, theoretically you wouldn't get such a lag before things were made right again.
posted by jessamyn at 7:51 AM on January 7, 2005


Isn't anarchy exactly like Libertarianism, but with even more doe-eyed idealism?

I don't think so. One thing that has always (I believe) been a part of Libertarianism is that it could still function within our current political framework. Anarchy would require dismantling all of that.

I also thought the "secret international group" was a bit contradictory, and was surprised to read that. Yet that's the most difficult element of Anarchy for myself and a lot of others to imagine: how would order be maintained when the desire is to limit governmental structure?

Personally, Anarchy is the "system" I've always identified with the most, despite the violent connotations it's wrongly associated with. However, I couldn't even imagine what an incredible failure it would be were it to be implemented in modern day America. It's simply the political system I would prefer for myself.
posted by r3tr0 at 8:07 AM on January 7, 2005


you can't compare an anarchy to mefi because there's a clear hierarchy of power here - matt is at the top of the heap.

i'm not saying this makes things easier for the pro-anarchy case, but recent examples from mefi are certainly not relevant - only matt can delete things, for example.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:20 AM on January 7, 2005


I'm an anarchist in theory, but not in practice. My home is run anarchically with consensus decisionmaking between my wife and myself. However, my town is not and I like it that way because I simply don't trust that all 21,103 people who live there are able to self-govern to the extent that my freedom would be protected.
posted by nathanrudy at 8:40 AM on January 7, 2005


i'm not saying this makes things easier for the pro-anarchy case, but recent examples from mefi are certainly not relevant - only matt can delete things, for example.

That was the poster's point - "imagine how much worse it would be without..."

Anarchy just doesn't seem well thought out to me. We were born into anarchy - the state of nature - and went about setting up structures in order to make things more fair. We've been working on it for a very long time, and it's still a mess, but it's much better than it once was. Without a justice system, "might makes right", and that isn't just a catch phrase. If you can physically overpower someone, you can do what you want with them, if you're not held accountable before civil society. The state of nature is a constant state of war.

Yes, their friends might get upset with you, which might put you in danger, so then you might try to rally your friends together to support your cause, promising them a share of the wealth if they'll help... and eventually perhaps someone will come along and say, let's see if we can work out a fair way to handle this...

the point is, that's exactly the trajectory that has led to government! Government isn't some external force the aliens dropped on us: it's what emerges when the interests of individuals conflict, and everyone tries to get their friends together to cause things to go a certain way. Some form of government will always emerge, because people are naturally social and naturally depend on a certain amount of stability (ie, there has to be a way to guarantee that you can't steal my chickens). In the beginning it can be all about vigilante justice, but this will go very wrong very fast.

A different form of government is an interesting question to ponder, but accountability cannot be passed on indefinitely or it will not be accountability, and without accountability there is no reason for justice or peace. The best answer so far derived is that accountability be spread among a variety of different offices, and that no individual holds the seat of power for too extended a period. As above, not great, but best option so far.
posted by mdn at 8:43 AM on January 7, 2005


So that's where KMFDM got that quote from. Thus ending a six-year quest.

Thank you!
posted by Eideteker at 8:52 AM on January 7, 2005


who says it would be worse? maybe bad threads would be deleted much sooner if everyone had the ability. my point is that you can't start by looking at something that is not anarchism and then say "it would be even worse if...", because it might never have got to the original state if people were more responsible - one way in which people might be more responsible being if they had some real power themselves, rather than existing as subjects to matt's will.

again, i'm not arguing that it wouldn't be worse, only making the point that the logic is broken in the argument given.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:06 AM on January 7, 2005


My copy of George Woodcock's Anarchism has a picture of a hammer on the cover. So yes, r3tr0, Anarchism has violent, or at least forceful, connotations, even with its proponents. A shame! The subtitle, BigFatWhale, is "A history of libertarian ideas and movements". But who says Woodcock knows everything? I'm just pointing out that these ideas are pre-existing and embraced by certain adherents to both doctrines.

thedevildancedlightly: But now you know better than to click on tinyurls from folks strange to you. The system works, and is self-correcting!
posted by Eideteker at 9:08 AM on January 7, 2005


Eideteker... yes, now I know. :) Although it seems a bad way to learn the lesson.

Regarding the (lack of) connection between libertarianism and anarchy - one of the key points of libertarianism is that a core right is that your property is yours to keep. This means that the government does do something by enforcing the fact that your property is yours and cannot be taken away by another with bigger guns. To the best of my understanding, an anarchical "system" would not have this protection. You'd have to be responsible for guarding your property at all times. Of course, people would get tired of sitting on their porches with shotguns, so they'd probably pay a local protection force to guard their neighborhood... which starts to sound like warlordism again.

As far as I can understand in temrs of property the result would be something like what happens in US prisons. "My, that's a nice care package you have there..."
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:41 AM on January 7, 2005


fwiw, woodcock wrote his book before "libertarian" took on the meaning it has now in the usa (at least in my copy, the preface to the 1986 edition refers only to anarchism in the usa wrt the 60s).
posted by andrew cooke at 12:04 PM on January 7, 2005


You'd have to be responsible for guarding your property at all times.

Sure, just like in Democracy, where you're responsible for running the government at all times.

Of course, people would get tired of sitting on their porches with shotguns, so they'd probably pay a local protection force to guard their neighborhood...

That's basically what most of the "libertarians" I've talked to seem to want. Privatize everything. Anarchism, I assume, would involve the same kind of thing except without the profit motive. Whatever level of policing people feel the need for, they have to organize it, one way or another. I don't see why an anarchist version of that would be much more difficult than anarchist versions of education, national defense, road maintenance, or any other government function. It's not like anarchism tries to do away with government. It aims to eliminate "the state", by organizing a system of government based on some other set of principles. Or something like that.

I'm sure Bakunin and Kropotkin deal with all this stuff, but I'm with the majority in that I can't really be bothered to read about it. The world is so far from ready for an anarchist revolution that it seems an entirely academic exercise.

The image that comes to mind when I think of anarchism is an old man sitting quietly, a distant look in his eyes, knowing that all he can do is give the world a slight nudge now and then to make it a bit more possible that his vision of social justice might happen in a few hundreds or thousands of years. At least, that's what he looked like to me. Very romantick. Excuse me, I have to go check on my investment portfolio now.
posted by sfenders at 12:24 PM on January 7, 2005


sfenders - In a true democracy we would be responsible for running the government all the time. That would suck pretty hard since we all have better things to do. That's why we live in a republic where we elect people to look out for our interests for us.

I recognize that in reality nobody would sit on their front porch with a shotgun all day. But, sfenders, in the absence of a police force what would stop me from just taking your stuff and running away with it?

Contra - true libertarians would believe in a government that would exist to protect property. Then again, people often call themselves by lables that don't fit.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:30 PM on January 7, 2005


Many of you could benefit from a basic understanding of anarchism (the political theory). Based upon some of the uses of the term Anarchy, I can easily tell you have no grasp of the concept.

Anarchism does not mean chaos or lack of structure. It simply means "no rulers," which does not imply no leadership. There are leaders in the anarchist movement. This is much (maybe too much) organization as well. Anarchists vote.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:48 PM on January 7, 2005


in the absence of a police force what would stop me from just taking your stuff and running away with it?

Yeah, because that never happens in our current society. Nice argument.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:50 PM on January 7, 2005


in the absence of a police force what would stop me from just taking your stuff and running away with it?

Beats me, man. I only have some vague idea that different kinds of anarchism treat that subject in different ways. In the only specific vision of an anarchist society with which I'm sort of familiar, that in Ursula LeGuin's novel, The Disposessed, nobody. But they could just as easily go down to the depot and pick up whatever they needed. As could you. There weren't any significant differences in that world between what you had and what your neighbour had, so therefore little motivation to steal stuff. Not that it wasn't occasionally troublesome. Anyway, reading that book will at least give you some things to think about. It's somewhat easier to get into than Bakunin, who has probably also devoted a few pages to the subject somewhere.
posted by sfenders at 1:05 PM on January 7, 2005


strangeleftydoublethink - 1st comment - I am aware that there is organization within an anarchic system, but that doesn't solve the police problem. If I choose to participate in a band of robbers and thieves then that would be a perfectly legitimate anarchical organization. We'd have our own structure and leaders, and not pay attention to what your band of hard-working workers said that we could or could not do. If there are more of us then you then you cannot stop us from imposing our will on you.

strangeleftydoublethink - 2nd comment - Murder happens too. Should we stop punishing murderers? I should have been clear - it will happen MORE. The fact that it happens despite the existence of police shows pretty clearly that people aren't compassionate enough nor sufficiently self-organizing to solve this problem.

sfenders - on preview - anarchic socialism is an interesting theory, that because we're all equally rich (or poor) then theft wouldn't be a problem. I'll check out the book sometime. I just see that we'd quickly slide into being very poor since I have absolutely no incentive to earn even a dollar more than my neighbors since I could quickly be de-posssesed of it.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:10 PM on January 7, 2005


Sour Cream,

I agree, order is inevitable... our best hope (I think) is to shape that order, rather than have it shape us.

I think that an alternative to hierarchy doesn't necessarily require a violent overthrow of the system. The foundation of hierarchy is the power-relationship of few over many--a power relationship maintained, among other reasons, because the many need something form the few. In our case, what we need is access to the hierarchal global economy, because very, very few of us could provide for completely for ourselves. I see this as a series of grays, where we can improve our freedom, and move closer towards a stable networked society peacefully simply by becoming more locally and individually self-reliant.

Not a perfect solution, or a total solution, certainly. But I do think that it is a realistic start, in a world that so often forces me to ask "but what the hell can I do about it?"
posted by DAJ at 1:47 PM on January 7, 2005


thedevil: I disagree on both your points.
1. I am assuming that a society organized around anarchist principles would have the same values as current society in respect to right and wrong. Just because you organize your band of robbers without a leader will not make it OK, unless the majority of people decide that robbing is OK. In anarchist organizations that I have been involved in, those who committed wrongs within the group were dealt with by the group.

2. Pure speculation. You have nothing to back up that claim. One could as easily argue that current society makes murder more likely. Murder is typically a crime of passion. You cannot generalize about the overall compassion of people based upon the small percentage who commit murder.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 4:51 PM on January 7, 2005


thedevildancedlightly: that's one of the central arguments of her book, that the profit motive is not the only (or the main) motive for work. Food, clothing, and shelter are, and there's plenty of pleasures to be had that don't require profit. It's just that we like our excesses. If society taught us to value social justice more than owning stuff, we'd all be better off. It's most excellent, very enlightening when you've been fed certain assumptions and biases... shows how they might very well be wrong. Oh, and doesn't assume that people are saints, either.

If you've read much anthopology, especially any of the classics concerning egalitarian hunter-gatherer tribes, you'd also have a better idea of how society can both be more fair and allow for the natural violence and disagreement between individuals. Or anything by Daniel Quinn.

Most of you folks should seriously read that wiki link before you run off further in a direction that has absolutely nothing to do with the political/philosophical theories of Bakunin/Kropotkin/et al, and relies on the negative connotations of "anarchism" that arise from the word being used as an ephithet against groups disliked by establishment governments.
posted by e^2 at 5:41 PM on January 7, 2005


Yeah, back when I was 15-16 I was a big fan of Anarchism.

Reality... Doh!
posted by afroblanca at 9:57 PM on January 7, 2005


Just because your concept of anarchism was unrealistic doesn't mean the idea is. Lots of people have dropped out of the system. They gave up a lot to do it, but that's what they thought they had to do.

Oops, reality. Well, too bad, that's something that can't be changed! Human nature, blah blah... what a pathetic excuse. What most people call human nature is what we teach ourselves to be like, not anything hard-wired genetically. We're flexible, we adapt, that's why we're successful. And if we don't adapt to our success, we'll make ourselves extinct, too.
posted by e^2 at 10:37 AM on January 8, 2005


Just to shed a little light on the subject, you might look at this Anarchist Theory FAQ . Anarchism, as a political theory, has (surprise!) a number of schisms, as discussed by Caplan in the linked article. Broadly speaking, there are left anarchists (anarcho-syndicalists, etc.) who tend to favor abolition of private property rights in favor of collective ownership of property, and right anarchists (anarcho-capitalists) who favor abolition of government control of private property rights. Both purport to have solutions to the various objections to anarchism voiced in this thread.
posted by bluffy at 2:45 PM on January 13, 2005


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