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bolo'bolo
December 15, 2010 1:17 PM   Subscribe

bolo`bolo is a book about an anarchist utopia, the name of the utopia itself and the plural of that utopia's organizational unit - the bolo. ... Bolo`bolo is also a plan for a transformation from our current state, the planetary work-machine, to another social organization mode based on local organization and a microclimate of cultures that form the unit of social cohesion.
posted by Joe Beese (100 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Got this book from Loompanics, years ago. I remember being filled with energy, wanting to go out and found a bolo.

But I didn't. Maybe I need to read it again.
posted by steambadger at 1:24 PM on December 15, 2010


What anarchist society isn't a utopia?
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 1:35 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hm... There might be something interesting here, but the author starts with the presumption that life was probably pretty good back in the "Old Stone Age" (50,000 years ago) when the average human probably spent 2 hours a day gathering food or hunting/trapping and spent the rest of the time "sleeping, dreaming, bathing, dancing, making love or chatting." That assertion, based on what I have read, is a fantastically naive view of the energy that had to go into the hunter/gatherer lifestyle, and I couldn't therefore get much beyond the first paragraph of the piece.
posted by Inkoate at 1:36 PM on December 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


In prehistoric times our deal seems not to have been so bad.

Oh christ, one of these?

During the Old Stone Age (50,000 years ago) we were few, food (plants and game) was plentiful and survival required only a little working time and moderate efforts.

Yeah, well, if your average life expectancy is less than 30 years you don't really have to worry about putting much effort into a diet, lifestyle, or, indeed, a society that can be sustained for many decades and provide care for the sick or elderly.
posted by dersins at 1:37 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


The constructed language described in the Wikipedia article seems strikingly similar to Toki Pona (or more likely, the other way around), and the 300-500 person size of the 'bolo' seems to anticipate Dunbar's number. Interesting stuff, although I'll admit that that the Introduction gives me a "desperately trying to be Bucky Fuller" impression.

Lots more anarchist utopias (my favorite kind!) at the @sf list.
posted by theodolite at 1:39 PM on December 15, 2010


Yeah, you get eaten by a T-Rex or summit before you're 20...
posted by Artw at 1:40 PM on December 15, 2010


I thought this was going to be about an anarchist utopia governed by enormous sentient battle tanks.
posted by gamera at 1:47 PM on December 15, 2010 [12 favorites]


In prehistoric times our deal seems not to have been so bad.

Yeah but I like having stuff like antibiotics and hot water and cameras and potato chips.
posted by Ratio at 1:50 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't wait for the man to stop repressing me so a bunch of dudes on motorcycles can surround my small compound and a guy called "Lord Humongous" can get on the mic and style to this:
There has been too much violence, too much pain.
None here are without sin.
I am gravely disappointed.
Again you have made me unleash my dogs of war.
Look at what remains of your gallant scouts.
Why? Because you're selfish!
You hoard your gasoline.

Now, my prisoners say
you plan to take your gasoline out of the Wasteland.
You sent them out this morning to find a vehicle.
A rig big enough to haul that fat tank of gas.
What a puny plan!
Look around you.
This is the Valley of Death.
See!
Nothing can escape! The Humungus rules the Wasteland!


But I have an honorable compromise.
Just walk away.
Give me the pump ,the oil ,the gasoline ,and the whole compound, and I'll spare your lives.

Just walk away. I will give you safe passage in the Wasteland.
Just walk away and there will be an end to the horror.
I await your answer.
You have one full day to decide.
oh, I forgot, everyone is going to play nice once the police go away.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:56 PM on December 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sorry, Ironmouth, now is not the time. Sleep, my dog of war.
posted by newmoistness at 1:59 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, well, if your average life expectancy is less than 30 years you don't really have to worry about putting much effort into a diet, lifestyle, or, indeed, a society that can be sustained for many decades and provide care for the sick or elderly.

a) quality (not quantity) matters

b) citation?

c) "putting much effort into a diet?" does this mean something?

d) fuck "lifestyles"

e) why do you need a society sustained for "many decades"? and, also, how do you know they didn't have one? after all, they were around for millennia before we started mucking about with "history" & such

f) are you sure early humanity didn't care for the sick & the elderly?
posted by jammy at 2:05 PM on December 15, 2010


Ironmouth: quoting Road Warrior is generally not considered a substantial rebuttal, either in a scientific or philosophical context

tho it is an *awesome* quote*

also, people often play nice when the police are away (& let's not get into the fact that police are often the ones who don't know how to play, right?) - do you always have an Officer Friendly present during your interactions with other people?
posted by jammy at 2:11 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


hmm... Looks like Emil Minty - "The Feral Kid" - now runs a jewelry store in Sydney. Thanks, Internet!
posted by Joe Beese at 2:17 PM on December 15, 2010


That book is a gem. You should read it. It's not at all primitivist, despite the foreword. It's an original answer to the problems of property, violence, sustainability, commerce. You can look at it as a blueprint to build all of Calvino's Invisible Cities.
posted by Baldons at 2:21 PM on December 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


are you sure early humanity didn't care for the sick & the elderly?

The obvious thing to point out is that we are not Neanderthals, and the "elderly" in that example died at 50.
posted by electroboy at 2:22 PM on December 15, 2010


Oh, and Ironmouth, you could have your own bolo full of policemen, so you can feel safe!
posted by Baldons at 2:23 PM on December 15, 2010


I don't think people just up and change their mode of social organization in appreciable numbers or for appreciable lengths of time very often, and the results are usually pretty gruesome when their intent is to escape the vagaries of the modern world. That's my impression, anyway. But I'm sure this effort would be totally different.
posted by clockzero at 2:24 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lord Humungus: the famous speech
posted by jammy at 2:24 PM on December 15, 2010


Sooner or later, every society is ruled by someone wearing a studded codpiece and hockey mask.

It's only a question of time.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:34 PM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


The obvious thing to point out is that we are not Neanderthals,

right - because there's no relation between "us" and Neanderthals

and the "elderly" in that example died at 50.

a) quality (not quantity) matters

and too: so fckn what? a friend of mine recently died & was only 60 - are you seriously going to tell me her life was somehow lacking in quality or meaning? because if you did, you'd be wrong - really, really wrong
posted by jammy at 2:38 PM on December 15, 2010


jammy, wouldn't it have been better, all else being equal, if your friend lived longer?
posted by chrchr at 2:44 PM on December 15, 2010


oh dear, sorry for the derail

if anyone likes or wants to continue scrapping about this little derail i can post a new fpp about neanderthals & early human society & we can get it on there, ok?
posted by jammy at 2:44 PM on December 15, 2010


chrchr: no, not necessarily - both my grandmums lived far beyond my grandads, and most of their friends as well - the world they knew, that knew them, was long gone - the person who loved them the most was gone, and every year made that wound ever deeper - true, they had many in the way of children and grandchildren but...

but still, they were *so eager* for death - they spoke about it every time i was with them, how they longed for it, how they just wished to *rest* - they so wanted to be done with this world

and too: they made me promise i wouldn't live too long - i.e. longer than i wished

mortality is a blessing, not a curse

quality, not quantity, is what matters
posted by jammy at 2:52 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sooner or later, every society is ruled by someone wearing a studded codpiece and hockey mask.

"2012: Sarah Palin's New Tea Party- no holds barred cage match! Sunday, sunday, sunday only! You'll swear you'll see Russia! Order now on Pay Per View!"
posted by yeloson at 2:53 PM on December 15, 2010


My admittedly limited understanding of anarchism, at least in some circles, is that you don't just storm parliament, burn the police stations down, declare "no government forever and ever" and everyone holds hands and sings. Rather, it's a question of changing attitudes about authority, nature and organization by a) separating yourself from "the grid" and striking out on your own, or with a band of like-minded individuals, and/or b) getting people to re-think government through informed discourse. It's supposedly a process that can take hundreds if not thousands of years to achieve, although there are smaller communities that function reasonably well with a non-hierarchical (i.e., consensus-based) democracy.

But then again, "anarchism" covers a pretty wide range of positions and attitudes, so even my feeble attempt here to try and outline a few of the ideas probably borrows from a number of different schools of anarchist thought.

My one major issue with the philosophy is the transitional period, moving from hierarchy towards consensus. Gradual attitudinal changes or no, that's going to be a bumpy ride, and might not ever prove worth it in the end.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:56 PM on December 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


*bashes libertarians, believes in anarchism; wonders why people are laughing*
posted by entropicamericana at 3:01 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


That assertion, based on what I have read, is a fantastically naive view of the energy that had to go into the hunter/gatherer lifestyle

If you happen to have cites handy for this, I'd love to peruse them. I haven't looked deeply into the subject, but most of what I've read (on both sides) has been heavy on assertion and light on evidence.

jammy, wouldn't it have been better, all else being equal, if your friend lived longer?

I see what you did there.
posted by twirlip at 3:09 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]



What anarchist society isn't a utopia?
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 1:35 PM on December 15


A major tenet of anarchism is, actually, that there is no such thing as utopia. Hence, situations ought to be confronted individually, by the persons affected, and not by absent rulers using blanket rules.
posted by relooreloo at 3:12 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


What anarchist society isn't a utopia?
"Therefore I must tell you, first of all, what Anarchism is not.
It is not bombs, disorder, or chaos.
It is not robbery and murder.
It is not a war of each against all.
It is not a return to barbarism or to the wild state of man.
Anarchism is the very opposite of all that.

Anarchism means that you should be free; that no one should enslave you, boss you, rob you, or impose upon you.

It means that you should be free to do the things you want to do; and that you should not be compelled to do what you don't want to do.

It means that you should have a chance to choose the kind of a life you want to live, and live it without anybody interfering.

It means that the next fellow should have the same freedom as you, that every one should have the same rights and liberties.

It means that all men are brothers, and that they should live like brothers, in peace and harmony.

That is to say, that there should be no war, no violence used by one set of men against another, no monopoly and no poverty, no oppression, no taking advantage of your fellow-man.

In short, Anarchism means a condition or society where all men and women are free, and where all enjoy equally the benefits of an ordered and sensible life.

'Can that be?' you ask; 'and how?'

'Not before we all become angels,' your friend remarks.

Well, let us talk it over. Maybe I can show you that we can be decent and live as decent folks even without growing wings."
Alexander Berkann - The ABC of Anarchism
posted by jammy at 3:22 PM on December 15, 2010


dammit: Alexander Berkman
posted by jammy at 3:22 PM on December 15, 2010


now i can't tell if i'm derailing or not...

time for dinner!
posted by jammy at 3:25 PM on December 15, 2010


The problem with not working so much and ruling by consensus is that you spend all your free time reaching consensus....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:38 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think people just up and change their mode of social organization in appreciable numbers or for appreciable lengths of time very often...

I suspect you're right. But incremental change is often spurred by radical proposals; and social experiments, even on a small scale, can give us new ways of looking at our existing social order.

So, yea, anarchists (at least the ones who don't get off on breaking shit).
posted by steambadger at 3:49 PM on December 15, 2010


Anyone else immediately think of StarTropics? Yeah, I know, that was a bola.
posted by limeonaire at 3:53 PM on December 15, 2010


right - because there's no relation between "us" and Neanderthals

So... because someone has hypothesized that there's some interspecies mixing between early humans and Neandertals....what?

quality (not quantity) matters

Qualities like not dying of easily preventable diseases or malnutrition?
posted by electroboy at 3:53 PM on December 15, 2010


Anarchism means that you should be free; that no one should enslave you, boss you, rob you, or impose upon you.

It means that you should be free to do the things you want to do; and that you should not be compelled to do what you don't want to do.

It means that you should have a chance to choose the kind of a life you want to live, and live it without anybody interfering.
We wanna be free! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna be free to ride. We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man! ... And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time. And that's what we are gonna do. We are gonna have a good time... We are gonna have a party.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:54 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth: quoting Road Warrior is generally not considered a substantial rebuttal, either in a scientific or philosophical context

A rebuttal need not be substantial to be effective.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:00 PM on December 15, 2010


Effective at what? Disrupting the conversation with jokey references to B-movies because you don't like the topic of the thread?
posted by twirlip at 4:08 PM on December 15, 2010


A rebuttal need not be substantial to be effective.

I'm not sure it's that effective to imply that any experiment in anarchism is bound to end up like a Mel Gibson movie.

But, hey: given a choice of dystopian hells, we could probably do a lot worse than winding up as the cringing subjects of a man whose title is "The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla".
posted by steambadger at 4:08 PM on December 15, 2010


What anarchist society isn't a utopia?

Republican Spain circa 1936.

When the fascists tried to overthrow the democratically elected government, anarcho-syndicalist labor union members formed militias and managed to hold on to half of the country. As the strongest faction in Republican Spain, they had the chance to act on their principles.

Anarchism worked out fairly well in practice. One example: anarchist collective farming (village scale organizations deciding how to run things so as to benefit themselves as a group) brought higher crop yields than the prewar sharecropping system, this despite the war. It was popular, too. If it hadn't been for the Germans, Italians, most of the prewar Spanish army, reactionary Catholicism, the indifference of the rest of the world and getting stabbed in the back by the Communists, Spanish-style anarchism might have caught on as an economic model.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:24 PM on December 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


We wanna be free! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do.

I like it better in this context, personally.
posted by dersins at 4:52 PM on December 15, 2010


Fundamentally incompatible with the Internet.

tldr; crap.
posted by mark242 at 4:53 PM on December 15, 2010


Everything I though I believed about a primitivist or anarchist future changed after I read The Road.

I want to have children and so I will fight against the collapse of human society tooth and nail. If you want to live without rules, Somalia is over there.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 4:59 PM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Imagine... a secret organization which has scattered its members in small groups over the whole territory of the Empire but is nevertheless firmly united: inspired by a common ideal... an organization which acts everywhere according to a common plan. These small groups, unknown by anybody as such, have no officially recognised power but they are strong in their ideal, which expresses the very essence of the people's instincts, desires and demands...Finally they are strong in their solidarity which ties all the obscure groups into one organic whole... This is what I call the collective dictatorship of the secret organization."

-Bakunin to Nechayev, 1870.
posted by clavdivs at 5:36 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Orwell believed in the Spanish cause enough to fight for it. Hemingway, too. Franco's victory was one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, IMO.
posted by Marla Singer at 6:00 PM on December 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'll preface this comment by saying that I'm an anarchist, although my self-definition has accreted so many qualifying adjectives at this point (post-left, non-direct-action, antipolitical, etc.) that it may not mean anything anymore.

Bolo'bolo, like most manifestos nowadays and despite its claims to the contrary, contains nothing fundamentally new. I've come to the conclusion that anarchism as an intellectual or theoretical movement is now totally bankrupt. In part, that's due to shit like this:

Republican Spain circa 1936.

When the fascists tried to overthrow the democratically elected government, anarcho-syndicalist labor union members formed militias and managed to hold on to half of the country. As the strongest faction in Republican Spain, they had the chance to act on their principles.


I don't think I've seen a single piece of contemporary anarchist writing (except maybe this post, I guess) that doesn't bring up Republican Spain (or the Paris Commune) as if it were a good example of anarchist political principles in action. This is ridiculous for a number of reasons. First of all, the Spanish anarchists didn't look much like the people we like to pretend they were; for instance, one significant pamphlet suggested that the movement be governed by a junta to ensure the preservation of anarchist achievements.

Second, and much more importantly, the test of a successful (a)political system is not how it functions in a moment of revolutionary euphoria--it's how it manages to secure the lives and happiness of the people involved in it over the long term. Spain and the Paris Commune and Makhno manifestly failed at this. Even if we grant the primitivist argument that hunting and gathering actually resulted in a better lifestyle--which I'm more than willing to do--we have no legitimate response to the following objections:

1) State systems almost always outcompete anarchist systems militarily and in other respects. This is, of course, obvious, but it's surprising how many people fail to take this into account. A common response to the claim that Makhno/the Spaniards/the Communards failed at sustaining their order long-term is "but they were crushed by the evil state apparatus, so it's not their fault!" This is a legitimate response only if your goal is to defend anarchism as an abstract principle. In reality, of course, anarchist societies (assuming they exist) will always have to compete with state-led societies, which means that adopting a form of non-government guaranteed to be annihilated in the near-term will become an inherently dicey proposition for a lot of reasonable people. Anarchist hunter-gatherer societies demonstrated their unfitness pretty dramatically once they were wiped out by stratified agriculturalists.

2) Contemporary societies, having been largely created, cultivated, and nourished by the state and its affiliated institutions, cannot be weaned from it without mass death and misery. The Green Revolution, which gave birth to billions of people who are unable to survive without industrialized farming, is the most obvious example, but things like medical care and the Internet are part of it too. The most common response to this is that people should, like, change their values, maaaaan, which is both immensely condescending and delusional. The second-most-common response is that anarchism doesn't mean we have to give anything up as long as we rely on workers' councils or whatever. This is equally delusional, because it ignores the degree to which our institutions and the vital structures that govern our lives are dependent on authoritarian or pseudo-democratic forms of administration.

So what does anarchism have to offer intellectually that contemporary leftist theory does not? There are a few things here which seem genuinely worthwhile, like the rejection of identity politics and the abandonment of vanguardism as an organizing principle. At the same time, contemporary leftist theory generally reads very much like anarchist literature, perhaps with a few more allusions to Marx. Despite the appearances, this is not a good thing for anarchists. It means anti-establishment movements have become so comfortable with their inability to accomplish anything that they've given up arguments about feasibility entirely.

One of the biggest problems is on full view in bolo'bolo. Just like leftists used to have "capitalism" to kick around, anarchists keeps coming up with variations on "the establishment" or "the Man" or "the system." This is incredibly misguided, because it encourages the substitution of easy agitprop for genuine understanding of social processes. If you're the Underground Man, it's easy to see the whole world as a conspiracy to keep you down--but in reality, the "Planetary Work-Machine" is every bit as plural, diffuse, rhizomatic, and contradictory as any conceivable anarchist system. As soon as you've started using a singular noun, you've begun to buy into the myth that what you're doing is fighting a big video-game boss battle in which a crucial attack somewhere will mean the difference between total victory and total defeat. Of course, the State will never wither away completely, and anarchist communities (even if these are successfully created on a large scale, which is doubtful) will never be freed from the responsibility of interacting materially and ideologically with state-led systems.

Equally problematic is the assumption that the agent is something called "we." "We" are held down by the Man. "We" lived better as hunter-gatherers. "We" need to start taking action and convince people that haven't realized that they're part of "we" to become part of "we." This is no more enlightened or intelligent than shit said by people who object to feminism or gay rights because "it should be about equality and equal rights for all of us, not just special-interest groups." You can't just wish away the contradictory interests, social locations, and commitments of various social groupings by pretending we're all one in the struggle. Even if a local and temporary alliance is achieved, it usually crumbles immediately if the participants don't do an adequate job of negotiating between the various groups involved. Likewise, ascribing all acts of work slowdown or subversion to a common goal of overthrowing the system is fundamentally short-sighted, because every scenario of engagement between "the system" and "we" ultimately resolves into a local interest-group conflict.

Anarchism has not only failed to resolve these questions, it has repeatedly abdicated any responsibility for resolving them other than making up fun new words and drawing maps of Anarchist Utopialand. Questions of real, as opposed to pretend, anti-state strategy have been avoided because they are obviously insoluble. Anarchism has neither popular support nor persuasive heft outside of the choir of the converted, and it has made zero effective use of the opportunities left open by the decline of the institutionalized radical left.

Instead, it has retreated into its memories: Spain, Paris, Ukraine, Neolithic Africa. Behind this mythologized shield, it is safe from any need to justify itself or argue on its own behalf. So it's not surprising that it hasn't produced a new idea in decades. It's just really sad.
posted by nasreddin at 6:17 PM on December 15, 2010 [28 favorites]


a) quality (not quantity) matters

Trust me; this sounds considerably more appealing at 20 than it does at 40.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:36 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


oh god I can't believe how long this response is I'm sorry

nasreddin, you might want to replace all those qualifying adjectives with one word: "disillusioned."

Your critique of anarchism is the best I've read in a very long time. I've tried to address some of your specific points below, but I'll start by pointing out that you are writing in response to a utopian text that was published by Autonomedia. Theoretical stuff like this can be interesting, and it has its uses, but it's certainly not the last word on anarchism. High theory has always been a weak spot for anarchism (David Graeber says somewhere that Marxism is a theoretical discourse about strategy, while anarchism is an ethical discourse about practice), and that's not necessarily a problem. I know plenty of anarchists who are too busy getting things done to spend their time retreating into theory and hazy memories of the Spanish Revolution.

1) State systems almost always outcompete anarchist systems militarily and in other respects. This is, of course, obvious, but it's surprising how many people fail to take this into account. A common response to the claim that Makhno/the Spaniards/the Communards failed at sustaining their order long-term is "but they were crushed by the evil state apparatus, so it's not their fault!" This is a legitimate response only if your goal is to defend anarchism as an abstract principle. In reality, of course, anarchist societies (assuming they exist) will always have to compete with state-led societies, which means that adopting a form of non-government guaranteed to be annihilated in the near-term will become an inherently dicey proposition for a lot of reasonable people. Anarchist hunter-gatherer societies demonstrated their unfitness pretty dramatically once they were wiped out by stratified agriculturalists.

Of the three examples you use -- Makhno, the Spanish anarchists, and the Paris Commune -- two were active during vicious civil wars, and the third came into being after a foreign invasion toppled the existing government. It's not just that they were defeated by the state, they were also formed in the wake of massive social upheavals at times when the entire population had been mobilized for war. Far from special pleading, this is simple historical context, and it can't be fairly ignored. Under different conditions, anarchist movements have been rather more successful. Look at the Zapatistas, who have been around for 17 years now despite ongoing attacks by the Mexican government (and who are no less anarchist than the Communards). Look at the countless examples of anarchism operating effectively at smaller scales, as described by people like Colin Ward.

Anyway, the fact that anarchist movements have failed in the past doesn't mean that they must inevitably fail in the future. Using Makhno and the Spaniards to prove that anarchism can't win is like using the Prague Spring and the Hungarian Revolution to prove that democratic movements would never be able to overthrow the Soviet system from within.

2) Contemporary societies, having been largely created, cultivated, and nourished by the state and its affiliated institutions, cannot be weaned from it without mass death and misery. The Green Revolution, which gave birth to billions of people who are unable to survive without industrialized farming, is the most obvious example, but things like medical care and the Internet are part of it too. The most common response to this is that people should, like, change their values, maaaaan, which is both immensely condescending and delusional.

I don't think it's inherently delusional to say that people should change their values. The American and French revolutions caused (and were caused by) fundamental changes to people's value systems. Democracy was a bad word in most places prior to the 1770s and for a long time thereafter, but almost everyone today (at least in the West) believes that legitimacy derives from the consent of the governed.

I certainly hope that we are capable of some fundamental shifts in our values, because our existing systems are unsustainable. Over the next few generations, we're going to have to change the way we live, whether we want to or not. Anarchism can actually help us deal with the inevitable changes because anarchists believe in building the structure of the new society in the shell of the old, bypassing the institutions that are failing us more and more each year. We need the kinds of solutions that anarchists are most interested in, because the "solutions" we currently have aren't going to last.

The second-most-common response is that anarchism doesn't mean we have to give anything up as long as we rely on workers' councils or whatever. This is equally delusional, because it ignores the degree to which our institutions and the vital structures that govern our lives are dependent on authoritarian or pseudo-democratic forms of administration.

The fact that our institutions are not currently democratic does not prove that their functions cannot be performed through democratic means.

Just like leftists used to have "capitalism" to kick around, anarchists keeps coming up with variations on "the establishment" or "the Man" or "the system." This is incredibly misguided, because it encourages the substitution of easy agitprop for genuine understanding of social processes.

If you don't want agitprop-style language, don't read agitprop. You might be interested in the work of James C. Scott, who is very good at analyzing how states actually work rather than spouting claptrap about rhizomes and biopower. It's certainly true that a lot of anarchists are more comfortable with moral absolutes than with the complexities of real life, but that's a cultural problem within the current anarchist scene (which I freely admit is a dead-end subculture and not a social movement) rather than an intrinsic flaw of anarchism.

Equally problematic is the assumption that the agent is something called "we." "We" are held down by the Man. "We" lived better as hunter-gatherers. "We" need to start taking action and convince people that haven't realized that they're part of "we" to become part of "we." This is no more enlightened or intelligent than shit said by people who object to feminism or gay rights because "it should be about equality and equal rights for all of us, not just special-interest groups." You can't just wish away the contradictory interests, social locations, and commitments of various social groupings by pretending we're all one in the struggle. Even if a local and temporary alliance is achieved, it usually crumbles immediately if the participants don't do an adequate job of negotiating between the various groups involved. Likewise, ascribing all acts of work slowdown or subversion to a common goal of overthrowing the system is fundamentally short-sighted, because every scenario of engagement between "the system" and "we" ultimately resolves into a local interest-group conflict.

"We" is another agitprop word; there's a time and a place for it, but it's certainly true that in reality you need to set aside the agitprop language and learn how to work with other people to get stuff done, even if they don't completely share your particular set of moral absolutes. There are plenty of contemporary anarchists who have no clue how to negotiate competing interests, but again, that's a failure in the culture of the anarchist scene, not a failure of anarchism per se. In my own life, some of the most successful community projects I've seen have been started by anarchists and run along anarchist principles, even though they didn't use that label or that rhetoric.

TL;DR: I respectfully disagree with nasreddin.
posted by twirlip at 8:26 PM on December 15, 2010 [9 favorites]


I know plenty of anarchists who are too busy getting things done to spend their time retreating into theory and hazy memories of the Spanish Revolution.

More power to them; I've always been a more thinky type than a do-ey type, and I'm just saying I'm not really finding anarchism very good to think with anymore.

Of the three examples you use -- Makhno, the Spanish anarchists, and the Paris Commune -- two were active during vicious civil wars, and the third came into being after a foreign invasion toppled the existing government. It's not just that they were defeated by the state, they were also formed in the wake of massive social upheavals at times when the entire population had been mobilized for war. Far from special pleading, this is simple historical context, and it can't be fairly ignored. Under different conditions, anarchist movements have been rather more successful. Look at the Zapatistas, who have been around for 17 years now despite ongoing attacks by the Mexican government (and who are no less anarchist than the Communards). Look at the countless examples of anarchism operating effectively at smaller scales, as described by people like Colin Ward.

Fair enough, although it's also worth pointing out that revolutionary situations have always been linked to wars in some form or other. In other words, this can be an argument against anarchism as well as an argument for it.

I don't deny that anarchism can work on a small scale. In fact, if forced to choose I'd say I subscribe to the Paul Goodman model of anarchism as a tactical response to excessively centralized and organized systems (which in his view means that Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson were anarchists). What I'm talking about here, however, is the big-picture anarchism on display in the post, which seems to have failed pretty decisively. (I'm not sure that the Zapatistas are all that good of an example, but maybe I'm just reacting to the '90s hype.)

Anyway, the fact that anarchist movements have failed in the past doesn't mean that they must inevitably fail in the future. Using Makhno and the Spaniards to prove that anarchism can't win is like using the Prague Spring and the Hungarian Revolution to prove that democratic movements would never be able to overthrow the Soviet system from within.


Sure, I can't prove a negative, but the examples you cited are singularly awful for proving your point. None of the serious recent research on the collapse of the Soviet Union justifies the widespread belief in "democratic movements" as a principal agent, and the most credible work on Eastern Europe is similarly skeptical. (Stephen Kotkin's books on the subject are readable classics here.) Anyway, the fact that the post-Soviet (and some Eastern Bloc) states have resoundingly failed to transform themselves into prosperous liberal democracies speaks volumes about the stability of institutional structures.


I don't think it's inherently delusional to say that people should change their values. The American and French revolutions caused (and were caused by) fundamental changes to people's value systems. Democracy was a bad word in most places prior to the 1770s and for a long time thereafter, but almost everyone today (at least in the West) believes that legitimacy derives from the consent of the governed.


In none of these examples was value change driven by a handful of activists or intellectuals hectoring people into submission. Political vocabularies do change, but very rarely do they evolve in predictable or consciously-governable ways. Anyway, that's neither here nor there--popular sovereignty had an infinitely greater constituency even before its triumph than anarchism ever has (or will).

Also, revolution as a genre of political activity is not something that can be invoked in support of a general argument. Revolutions happen, historically, in a very specific kind of sociopolitical configuration, and in the West their moment has long passed. (France had four revolutions between 1789 and 1871 and zero from 1871 to 2010, unless you count May '68 and the fall of the Fourth Republic.)


I certainly hope that we are capable of some fundamental shifts in our values, because our existing systems are unsustainable. Over the next few generations, we're going to have to change the way we live, whether we want to or not. Anarchism can actually help us deal with the inevitable changes because anarchists believe in building the structure of the new society in the shell of the old, bypassing the institutions that are failing us more and more each year. We need the kinds of solutions that anarchists are most interested in, because the "solutions" we currently have aren't going to last.


I'm not sure our institutions are unsustainable. The rhetoric and consciousness of crisis is a permanent feature of political discourse in all ages and countries; only rarely does it indicate a genuine potential for rupture. Even more problematic is the idea that we're "building a new society." Societies are more stable even than institutions, and when they change suddenly it's rarely in a positive direction.

If a new society really is being built, are anarchists the ones building it? Hardly. Sure, they take part in worthy causes and work in soup kitchens and stuff, but the language people are speaking when they reject institutions nowadays is very rarely the language of anarchism (it's generally closer to libertarianism or right-leaning populism of some sort). One of the reasons anarchism is becoming irrelevant as a way of thinking is its persistent refusal to recognize its own irrelevance to the people who ought to be the most receptive to anarchist messages.

You might be interested in the work of James C. Scott, who is very good at analyzing how states actually work rather than spouting claptrap about rhizomes and biopower. It's certainly true that a lot of anarchists are more comfortable with moral absolutes than with the complexities of real life, but that's a cultural problem within the current anarchist scene (which I freely admit is a dead-end subculture and not a social movement) rather than an intrinsic flaw of anarchism.

James Scott is rather obnoxious for a number of reasons that are explored in this discussion here (there are comments by me in there, sorry). He does have smart things to say sometimes, but he's so caught up in the "We versus the Machine" reductivism I talked about before that he's hard to read.

If we're talking "anarchism" as a way of thinking or something, then sure, it's not an intrinsic flaw of anarchism. I was talking about anarchism as a movement and social environment in which people work and think. The boundaries of this are necessarily vague, but I don't think any large group that self-identifies as anarchist has come up with any good way of avoiding these kinds of problems.

In my own life, some of the most successful community projects I've seen have been started by anarchists and run along anarchist principles, even though they didn't use that label or that rhetoric.


Right, which is why I wasn't talking about those kinds of projects.
posted by nasreddin at 9:04 PM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


'In this anti-authoritarian paradise, there would be compulsory residence in communal dormitories, rules for hours of work, feeding of children etc., on which Marx commented ironically:

“What a beautiful model of barrack-room communism! Here you have it all: communal eating, communal sleeping, assessors and offices regulating education, production, consumption, in a word, all social activity, and to crown all, Our Committee, anonymous and unknown to anyone, as the supreme dictator. This indeed is the purest anti-authoritarianism...”'
posted by clavdivs at 9:58 PM on December 15, 2010


I don't deny that anarchism can work on a small scale. In fact, if forced to choose I'd say I subscribe to the Paul Goodman model of anarchism as a tactical response to excessively centralized and organized systems (which in his view means that Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson were anarchists). What I'm talking about here, however, is the big-picture anarchism on display in the post, which seems to have failed pretty decisively.

The big-picture, theoretically-oriented approach has never been what anarchism is about; it's always existed, and it was formative of anarchism as a self-conscious ideology, but it is very much secondary to the question of tactics. That's what I was trying to get at with the paraphrase of David Graeber. We have a few simple ethical ideas, and some provisional notions about implementation, but actually putting them into practice -- trying those tactics, learning from what works -- is the only test that means anything. And we put them into practice by starting at the bottom and building up. If Makhno and the Spanish anarchists had been building on a solid, well-established foundation of successful small-scale libertarian political practice, maybe their undertakings would have survived the test of civil war.

Sure, I can't prove a negative, but the examples you cited are singularly awful for proving your point. None of the serious recent research on the collapse of the Soviet Union justifies the widespread belief in "democratic movements" as a principal agent, and the most credible work on Eastern Europe is similarly skeptical.

Yeah, my phrase about "overthrowing the Soviet system from within" was poorly chosen. The point is that folks like Vaclav Havel got what they had been agitating for a few decades earlier: the Czech Republic is a successful liberal democracy by liberal-democratic standards, and not a resounding failure, despite the failure of the Prague Spring to institute the same system back in 1968. Ditto Hungary, AFAICT. The new regimes have successfully competed with the old regimes they were opposed to. By analogy, the failures of Makhno and the Spanish anarchists don't necessarily mean that future attempts at creating anarchist societies are doomed. (And if some future anarchist revolution were to succeed, it would certainly face problems analogous to those the post-Soviet countries are dealing with. So it goes.) But I'm no expert on Eastern Europe, so I'm happy to stop beating this analogy to death.

In none of these examples was value change driven by a handful of activists or intellectuals hectoring people into submission. Political vocabularies do change, but very rarely do they evolve in predictable or consciously-governable ways. Anyway, that's neither here nor there--popular sovereignty had an infinitely greater constituency even before its triumph than anarchism ever has (or will).

Well now hang on a minute. Are you suggesting that folks like Voltaire and Tom Paine had no influence on the shift in values that fueled the revolutions in America and France? Obviously bolo'bolo isn't up there with Common Sense, but value change does happen and the intellectual discourse of the times does play a part. Sure, there are other factors, and you won't have much luck if hectoring people is all you do -- which is why I think anarchists have the right idea when they get out there and work to put their ideals into practice in their communities.

This gets back to that distinction between the big-picture approach and the tactical approach: anarchism needs less big-picture theorizing because it is basically all tactical. If you think people should govern themselves, theory like the bolo'bolo stuff can provide some interesting ideas, but ultimately it's up to the people in question to decide what works for them. This is one reason why the old model of revolution isn't all that relevant, except for that brief period between the fall of the old order and the imposition of the new: that's the only part of the traditional revolutionary process when people really are working out how to govern themselves, rather than having politicians of one stripe or another governing for them.

Also, popular sovereignty and anarchism have equally large constituencies, because anarchism is popular sovereignty taken to its logical conclusion.

I'm not sure our institutions are unsustainable.

We are living through a significant extinction event. Irreversible climate change is well underway. These are consequences of the basic, fundamental operations of our existing institutions. If we continue on our current path, the bottom will fall out, and I don't see anything preventing that at the moment.

If a new society really is being built, are anarchists the ones building it? Hardly. Sure, they take part in worthy causes and work in soup kitchens and stuff, but the language people are speaking when they reject institutions nowadays is very rarely the language of anarchism (it's generally closer to libertarianism or right-leaning populism of some sort). One of the reasons anarchism is becoming irrelevant as a way of thinking is its persistent refusal to recognize its own irrelevance to the people who ought to be the most receptive to anarchist messages.

I absolutely agree that this is one of the key failings of the current anarchist scene: too few of us know how to talk about anarchist ideas with people who aren't already anarchists. One of the things that makes our current situation into a crisis is that people who recognize they are being screwed are buying into right-wing populism, which is self-defeating and will perpetuate and accelerate the cycle of their own exploitation; as long as there is no viable left-wing alternative, things will keep getting worse. Of course many anarchists are involved in building alternatives, but there aren't enough of them and not enough of them speak to the people who would benefit from such alternatives. Again, this is a cultural problem, and not a problem with anarchism as a political theory or ideology or whatever.

Right, which is why I wasn't talking about those kinds of projects.

When you have enough of those kinds of projects, running along anarchist lines, taking care of stuff we used to rely on our old institutions for, then you are in the middle of an anarchist revolution.
posted by twirlip at 11:52 PM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


People are gonna change their minds (I can't be sure which way) mainly for three reasons: great new (or old) ideas, ecological-economical crisis, and technological disruption. Not in that order. We'll see some good and bad shit in the coming decades. And I think anarchist will always be there, helping, influencing every revolt, every change. Almost never guiding and directing it (luckily! We don't need ideological masters), but tipping things one way. It's a veritable phoenix, always dying and regenerating in new, surprising forms. Crimethinc Trustafarians distributing beautiful, elegant pamphlets, community currency use in crisis-struck Argentina, Book blocs in Bologna and London, fucking Wikipedia (how does it works?), the extraordinary Oaxaca Commune (in 2006 - incredible)... it's all a beautiful, contradictory mess, and it's helping humanity go forward. I think the next years are gonna be interesting.
posted by Baldons at 1:54 AM on December 16, 2010


Qualities like not dying of easily preventable diseases or malnutrition?

good point! we're so lucky that stuff doesn't happen anymore
posted by jammy at 4:42 AM on December 16, 2010


a) quality (not quantity) matters

Trust me; this sounds considerably more appealing at 20 than it does at 40.


hi, i'm older than 20, thanks - older than 40 as well - and so were both my grandmums

a long life does not necessarily mean a good life
posted by jammy at 4:44 AM on December 16, 2010


Effective at what? Disrupting the conversation with jokey references to B-movies because you don't like the topic of the thread?

A rebuttal need not be substantial to be effective.

I'm not sure it's that effective to imply that any experiment in anarchism is bound to end up like a Mel Gibson movie.

But, hey: given a choice of dystopian hells, we could probably do a lot worse than winding up as the cringing subjects of a man whose title is "The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla".


My point is simple. These systems rely on an idea that man is somehow actually capable of each and every time acting in the service of some greater good and that social pressure without deterrence is somehow enough. By making people work through the implication, rather than just react to what I write, I hope to help people draw their own conclusions. This is better than a lot of people disagreeing. Plus it brings out links to The Road Warrior and Mundhoney's In and Out of Grace.

But now I will try a thought experiment instead: how does an anarchistic society deal with child molesters and serial killers? I will limit your argument on one point--you are not allowed to argue that there will be no serial killers or child molesters in an anarchic future, because that is not answering the question.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:59 AM on December 16, 2010


Also--dersins--I've never actually seen that movie. Just listened to a lot of Mudhoney.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:06 AM on December 16, 2010


how does an anarchistic society deal with child molesters and serial killers?

i'll only try to answer this if you can show that the current manner of dealing with them is actually effective
posted by jammy at 6:40 AM on December 16, 2010


Ironmouth: "My point is simple. These systems rely on an idea that man is somehow actually capable of each and every time acting in the service of some greater good and that social pressure without deterrence is somehow enough."

While I agree with this point when it comes to libertarians, two points:

1. Anarchism does not usually advocate the absence of government but the absence of hierarchy. In other words, you could still have a "government" so long as it was at truly ground-level, guided by consensus, and more importantly,

2. very, very few anarchists actually believe we are right now ready to live without hierarchical government. Many of them believe we've been so conditioned to accept that hierarchy and authority are the way things should be structured, and the process of removing them does not begin and end with burning down city hall; that it's a process that begins with re-evaluation, critical thinking, discussion and education.

Not an anarchist myself, mind you, I just think it's helpful if we know what we're addressing here.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:49 AM on December 16, 2010


good point! we're so lucky that stuff doesn't happen anymore

It doesn't, in many places. Is your thesis that because not everyone can avoid contracting rickets that no one should be able to?

i'll only try to answer this if you can show that the current manner of dealing with them is actually effective

Translation: I have no idea.
posted by electroboy at 8:07 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


how does an anarchistic society deal with child molesters and serial killers?

Problems in an anarchistic society are generally solved through exclusion. You are sufficiently dependent on the good will and cooperation of your local community that being excluded from it is a major shock to your life. Unless your serial killer is a successful subsistence farmer or something (and really not even then) this will be enough to function as a deterrent (and good lines of communication between communities will give the solution more range).

That's one way of going about it. Another way is simply to accept that serial killers and (non-family or friend) child molesters are a fairly insignificant group both in terms of their numbers and their impact on a healthy society, and dealing with them aggressively--beyond exclusion of some sort--leads to the creation of all kinds of horrible and dangerous institutions. I would not hesitate to declare that I would prefer a society with serial killers over a society with cops, prisons, and total surveillance.
posted by nasreddin at 9:17 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


So how well does the long-haired hippy-shit Bolo compare with this Bolo? On the one hand, eating nuts and berries, and maybe catching a rattlesnake for dinner. On the other hand....
posted by happyroach at 9:25 AM on December 16, 2010


Problems in an anarchistic society are generally solved through exclusion. You are sufficiently dependent on the good will and cooperation of your local community that being excluded from it is a major shock to your life.

But how to enforce the exclusion? Some will say no and want to associate with the person.

You would need a group of people to do that. Probably best to have them armed. Maybe uniforms would make them more easily identified--nothing disturbing--a nice blue. Better yet, lock the guy up in one place. Easier than following him around, no? Suggest bars on the windows so that he can't run away.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:05 AM on December 16, 2010


a long life does not necessarily mean a good life

Things I currently enjoy but anticipate losing in jammy-land:

Interstate highways. Advanced medical care facilities. Supercolliders. Large public universities. The ability to fly from New York to LA in a day. The International Space Station. The Metropolitan Opera House. Electron microscopy. Cheap ibuprofen. Affordable electronic devices. Youtube. Mangoes in winter. etc.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:08 AM on December 16, 2010


how does an anarchistic society deal with child molesters and serial killers?

Hmmm. . .

I would not hesitate to declare that I would prefer a society with serial killers over a society with cops, prisons, and total surveillance.

I see what you did there. Kinda left out one category.

Why should I not, in this society with no authority, slay the one who molested my child or killed my spouse? Why is he allowed to to kill my loved ones, yet I cannot kill him?

Also, what about the family molesters? Let's see the plan.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:10 AM on December 16, 2010


But how to enforce the exclusion? Some will say no and want to associate with the person.

You would need a group of people to do that. Probably best to have them armed. Maybe uniforms would make them more easily identified--nothing disturbing--a nice blue. Better yet, lock the guy up in one place. Easier than following him around, no? Suggest bars on the windows so that he can't run away.


Why would you need to enforce it? If people don't want to stop associating with the serial killer, they don't have to. If they're a significant enough group in the community, then the onus is on the people who don't want to be killed or molested to go somewhere else. This often happens with societies with cops and prisons too, though I wager that it would happen less often in an anarchist society.

The idea that cops and prisons are somehow a natural or logical response to crime is insane. Prisons (in their modern form) and uniformed police are barely two centuries old as institutions, and you can read Discipline and Punish to get a sense of just how unnatural they are.
posted by nasreddin at 10:14 AM on December 16, 2010


If it hadn't been for the Germans, Italians, most of the prewar Spanish army, reactionary Catholicism, the indifference of the rest of the world and getting stabbed in the back by the Communists, Spanish-style anarchism might have caught on as an economic model.

We woulda won if those other guys hadn't been so highly organized over a large territory and thus been able to build those flying machines and send that Kondor Legion over to bomb us!
posted by Ironmouth at 10:17 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why would you need to enforce it? If people don't want to stop associating with the serial killer, they don't have to. If they're a significant enough group in the community, then the onus is on the people who don't want to be killed or molested to go somewhere else.

Yes, if those 4-year olds want to stop being molested, its up to them to go somewhere else.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:19 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


and you can read Discipline and Punish to get a sense of just how unnatural they are.

Just because Foucault says its "unnatural" doesn't make it so.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:22 AM on December 16, 2010


Why should I not, in this society with no authority, slay the one who molested my child or killed my spouse? Why is he allowed to to kill my loved ones, yet I cannot kill him?

Also, what about the family molesters? Let's see the plan.


Why can't you kill him? Sure, there's a lot of social pressure to resolve these questions in peaceful ways, but the option to kill him is still on the table, as long as you're willing to take responsibility for the consequences.

The point is that there is no plan. Every anarchist society works out its own way of doing things, because people are different and have different organizational preferences. I would not hesitate to raise my hypothetical children in a society in which child molesters are excluded rather than imprisoned if it means they get a chance to grow up without permanent records and paranoia.

Abuse in family settings is not adequately addressed in any society, but the existence of neighbors with some concrete investment in the well-being of their communities should help it become recognized and addressed better than the threat of being branded for life and possibly executed (which often leads to wagon-circling because families don't want Uncle Steve to be put away for life or killed even if he did abuse someone).
posted by nasreddin at 10:24 AM on December 16, 2010


Just because Foucault says its "unnatural" doesn't make it so.

He doesn't say it's unnatural (he rejects that distinction). Just read the damn book, I'm not your mother.

Anyway, this whole molestation debate is a classic example of statists using minor issues to derail serious discussions. If you think child molesters are the largest (or even a large) problem facing this or any other society--or for that matter if you think anarchist societies will have significantly greater rates of child abuse than other societies--we are never going to come to an agreement. I hope that anti-Wikileaks crusade works out for you.
posted by nasreddin at 10:29 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would not hesitate to raise my hypothetical children in a society in which child molesters are excluded rather than imprisoned if it means they get a chance to grow up without permanent records and paranoia.

I'll take permanent records over child molestation any day. I'll take DCFS over a few people in a comparatively free society having "paranoia," a medical condition. Let them have their 'permanent records' on me and the molesters. With every right a cost. At the end, anarchy is cake-eating. Freedom for me but not the 4-year old chained to the bed, because he should have gotten away from the child molesters under his own steam.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:34 AM on December 16, 2010


Killing millions of people in industrialized wars is a-ok, it's the four-year-olds that really matter! (And then only if they're being molested; if they happen to be brown and living in areas where there may have been an insurgent at some point, we can bomb them to bits and it's fine.)
posted by nasreddin at 10:41 AM on December 16, 2010


Anyway, this whole molestation debate is a classic example of statists using minor issues to derail serious discussions.

The rule of law protects those who cannot protect themselves, alibet imperfectly. This is an example, not a derail. There are dozens of examples, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the old, the infirm, the blind who would be utterly without rational, regularized protection from the association of the people known as the 'state.'. Your inability to answer even the simplest questions regarding how these persons are worthy of protection or how they would be protected.

As for derails, that's what your wikileaks quip is. A personal attack and a distraction from hard and critical about anarchism--questions you cannot answer.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:41 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


The rule of law protects those who cannot protect themselves, alibet imperfectly. This is an example, not a derail. There are dozens of examples, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the old, the infirm, the blind who would be utterly without rational, regularized protection from the association of the people known as the 'state.'. Your inability to answer even the simplest questions regarding how these persons are worthy of protection or how they would be protected.

I've offered answers. As for those other groups, anarchist and decentralized societies have historically been successful at caring and finding useful social roles for elderly and handicapped people. The fact that you perceive any answer other than LOCK 'EM UP, STRING 'EM UP as a non-answer says more about the limitations of your worldview than it does about anarchism as a viable way of organizing communities.
posted by nasreddin at 10:51 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Killing millions of people in industrialized wars is a-ok, it's the four-year-olds that really matter! (And then only if they're being molested; if they happen to be brown and living in areas where there may have been an insurgent at some point, we can bomb them to bits and it's fine.)

The classic straw man. Why I've said its ok to kill millions in wars! I've said its okay to kill 4 year olds!

These are all examples of the imperfection of human beings. From start to finish, my argument has been that anarchy would suffer from these same imperfections and would thus not result in any better condition for mankind--and indeed would result in much worse condition for mankind because the power of the community to organize against those who would do others wrong is greatly weakened. Although not perfect, our organization protects those amongst us who are weak. It is not perfect. But the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. So I argue for the rule of law, with democratic consent for the laws. This means of I get outvoted, I lose. But better that than the tyrannical domination of the 'Lord Houmonguses' out there.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:51 AM on December 16, 2010


Ironmouth: "So I argue for the rule of law, with democratic consent for the laws. This means of I get outvoted, I lose. But better that than the tyrannical domination of the 'Lord Houmonguses' out there"

You seem to be conflating "chaos" with anarchism which, as has been explained, can mean many things, among them a consensus-based, non-hierarchical direct democracy.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:54 AM on December 16, 2010


who would be utterly without rational, regularized protection from the association of the people known as the 'state.'

I like this typo.
posted by twirlip at 10:55 AM on December 16, 2010


The fact that you perceive any answer other than LOCK 'EM UP, STRING 'EM UP as a non-answer says more about the limitations of your worldview than it does about anarchism as a viable way of organizing communities.

For murders and child molesters convicted with due process of law my answer is 'lock them up.' You bet. Any day of the week over yor own statement--if molesters are protected by the community it is the responsibilty of the weak to get the hell out. This is morality run amok, against everything I stand for, that I have ever stood for. The rule of written law--the idea that we strive for equal protection for all and that we strive to hold others to a written code of conduct so as to protect the weak and reduce violence, rather than rely on the whims of fickle social organization and family ties for justice. Indeed your cure is worse than any disease.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:58 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


These are all examples of the imperfection of human beings. From start to finish, my argument has been that anarchy would suffer from these same imperfections and would thus not result in any better condition for mankind--and indeed would result in much worse condition for mankind because the power of the community to organize against those who would do others wrong is greatly weakened.

Millions of people were not being killed in wars before the formation of modern state systems in the early modern period and especially before the advent of universal conscription and nationalism in the late eighteenth century. The rise of industrialized warfare is directly tied to the expansion of the state (and of industrial capitalism, which is a related story).

Anarchists typically hold that people are flawed and imperfect and therefore that giving them coercive power over other human beings is insanity. This means that anarchists work towards building communities that limit the power of human imperfection to cause large-scale damage. Your ideological claims about the rule of law are belied by the exploitation and destruction that state systems always produce and the vastly unequal degrees of protection members of state societies enjoy.
posted by nasreddin at 10:59 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


who would be utterly without rational, regularized protection from the association of the people known as the 'state.'

I like this typo.


Its not a typo. Protection from others coming from the state.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:01 AM on December 16, 2010


Any day of the week over yor own statement--if molesters are protected by the community it is the responsibilty of the weak to get the hell out. This is morality run amok, against everything I stand for, that I have ever stood for.

Maybe it is, but that doesn't change the fact that it happens every day in state-led societies. In such cases the existence of coercive institutions makes justice more difficult to achieve because they are often used to silence victims instead of empowering them.
posted by nasreddin at 11:04 AM on December 16, 2010



Millions of people were not being killed in wars before the formation of modern state systems in the early modern period and especially before the advent of universal conscription and nationalism in the late eighteenth century. The rise of industrialized warfare is directly tied to the expansion of the state (and of industrial capitalism, which is a related story).


There weren't millions of people then. But you are mistaken if you believe that there wasn't greater violence and exploitation in the pre-industrial past. Rome and Greece were based entirely on a titanic machinery of slavery and exploitation.

I argue that anarchy provides less protection for the individual man. Breaking wars into smaller pieces does not make less war. Regularized war is far superior to the everyday everywhere war which anarchy is. Superior to all is no war, which international regulation can only provide.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:07 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


You seem to be conflating "chaos" with anarchism which, as has been explained, can mean many things, among them a consensus-based, non-hierarchical direct democracy.posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing

Do you have an example of non-heirarchical direct democracy other then a theory? Is there Praxis of this theory.
posted by clavdivs at 11:15 AM on December 16, 2010


Do you have an example of non-heirarchical direct democracy other then a theory? Is there Praxis of this theory.

The point is that Ironmouth seems to be arguing against a position that no one's really defending here, or he at least seems to be addressing a very narrow definition of a political philosophy with a pretty wide spectrum of beliefs. I'm not particular well-versed on my history of anarchist societies, to be honest, and I'm not really out to defend it. Just sort of hoping we could have people addressing the concepts they've put forth, rather than some fixed, imagined idea of what those concepts are.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:20 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess the problem is that, in theory, every anarchist society would be different and approach every problem (not just serial killers and child molestors) differently according to the community mores. But the problem with trying to argue for or against a system like that is you never really get down to the nuts and bolts of what society would look like.
posted by electroboy at 11:26 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


There weren't millions of people then. But you are mistaken if you believe that there wasn't greater violence and exploitation in the pre-industrial past. Rome and Greece were based entirely on a titanic machinery of slavery and exploitation.

Greco-Roman slavery was a lot better for the slaves than organized and rationalized slavery as it existed in America after 1600. Likewise, Russian serfdom took on its highly exploitative modern form only after the passage of a new state-power-expanding code of laws in 1649. You need to cite specific evidence of greater exploitation in the preindustrial past.

I'll take an example from my field. In 1720, Russia was one of the most militarized states in Europe. At that time, an especially harsh conscript levy would require one out of every twenty serfs to be called up, yielding armies that were tens or hundreds of thousands strong. In World War II, almost every non-industrially-employed male of appropriate age would be called up. This led to armies being millions or tens of millions strong and a disproportionate increase in casualties. The Great Northern War lasted twenty years, from 1700 to 1721, and produced about 75,000 casualties on the Russian side--about .5 percent of the total population of 15 million people. The Great Patriotic War lasted four years, from 1941 to 1945, and produced about 6.8 million military deaths alone--about 3 percent of the total population of 200 million people. That's a sixfold increase in violence compressed into a fifth of the time.

And yes, the Great Northern War was immensely significant and covered an analogous territory to World War II, and Peter I was just as authoritarian and heedless of human life as Stalin.
posted by nasreddin at 11:30 AM on December 16, 2010


Just sort of hoping we could have people addressing the concepts they've put forth, rather than some fixed, imagined idea of what those concepts are.

But that means taking them on their own dubious terms. There is no praxis, on a long term basis as has been pointed out. And I'm not going to be convinced that a complete throwing out of the baby with the bath water is going to work without some better arguments to go on. The question is do you put your energy into improving the system now, or toss it all out with uncertain results. The idea that people need to put it on themselves to get away from child molesters rather than rely on the state is less than appealing to me. In other words, the presented examples deal rather poorly with some serious problems that the state appears to deal with better. So I'm not convinced.

The problem is that these groups always seem to come down to inventing some sort of ersatz state that is "not really the state" when presented with actual problems of close-in societal interaction. These are the types of interactions that you and I have to deal with every day.

Its as if their solution to losing elections is to get rid of elections all together to enforce the political will that they were unable to win in the public square.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:55 AM on December 16, 2010


Just sort of hoping we could have people addressing the concepts they've put forth, rather than some fixed, imagined idea of what those concepts are.

The concepts put forth are Idée fixe.
posted by clavdivs at 12:00 PM on December 16, 2010


Me: If it hadn't been for the Germans, Italians, most of the prewar Spanish army, reactionary Catholicism, the indifference of the rest of the world and getting stabbed in the back by the Communists, Spanish-style anarchism might have caught on as an economic model.

Ironmouth: We woulda won if those other guys hadn't been so highly organized over a large territory and thus been able to build those flying machines and send that Kondor Legion over to bomb us!

If the Germans had not airlifted Franco's army from North Africa to Spain, Franco would have lost immediately.

Attacked by Germany, Italy and half of Spain the Spanish Republic held on for three years. When the French fought Germany, the French fell apart in two months. Years of bitter street fighting kept Madrid in Republican hands; the French Republic declared Paris an open city and let the Nazis roll in. When it came to fighting Nazis, Spanish anarchism was far more resilient and effective than French representative democracy. The inability of a small country to singlehandedly overcome the combined strength of European fascism is not evidence that there was something wrong with their political system.

The real weakness of the anarchist system was vulnerability to subversion. CNT leadership didn't notice that the Communists were worming into leadership positions in the army and civil service until it was far too late.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:12 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Spanish Republic as a whole was not anarchist. It was a center-right republic along the lines of Weimar. It was only when Stalin started giving them money that they suddenly turned into martyrs for the Left against Francoist fascism.
posted by nasreddin at 12:14 PM on December 16, 2010


I'll take an example from my field. In 1720, Russia was one of the most militarized states in Europe. At that time, an especially harsh conscript levy would require one out of every twenty serfs to be called up, yielding armies that were tens or hundreds of thousands strong. In World War II, almost every non-industrially-employed male of appropriate age would be called up. This led to armies being millions or tens of millions strong and a disproportionate increase in casualties. The Great Northern War lasted twenty years, from 1700 to 1721, and produced about 75,000 casualties on the Russian side--about .5 percent of the total population of 15 million people. The Great Patriotic War lasted four years, from 1941 to 1945, and produced about 6.8 million military deaths alone--about 3 percent of the total population of 200 million people. That's a sixfold increase in violence compressed into a fifth of the time.

And yes, the Great Northern War was immensely significant and covered an analogous territory to World War II, and Peter I was just as authoritarian and heedless of human life as Stalin.


Fortunately, my secondary field in graduate school is your primary field. But we can't just say, gee less people were killed when Charles XII invaded Russia than were killed when Hitler did it 141 years later, therefore anarchy yay! We have to balance the whole ledger out. And to say that somehow there was less oppression by the "Man" in Peter I's Russia is a claim that I think you'll be loath to make. So unless you are making an argument for Tsarist-style rule, to point out that gee, there were more casualties in 1700-1721 than 1941-1945 is off the mark.

You are not describing an anarchist society when you discuss Petrovian Russia. You are discussing a monarchy/rural oligarchy. This is even less free than our current system in the United States (where you and I live, currently). I'm saying that there would be even more deaths with an Anarchist system, because people would not be deterred by the state from killing others. There may have been less deaths under a system where Peter I, ruled, but that is far from anarchy.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:24 PM on December 16, 2010


Millions of people were not being killed in wars before the formation of modern state systems in the early modern period and especially before the advent of universal conscription and nationalism in the late eighteenth century.

This isn't even wrong. Just last night I read the section in "Guns, Germs and Steel" where Diamond discusses the state of permanent war that exists amongst bands of pre-modern humans. Like I've said before, as soon as you form your tribe you will be instantaneously plunged into resource conflict with the tribe next door. No nationalism or flag-waving required. You will be killed indiscriminately to put food on another person's table. This is the natural state of human society - it is the enforcement of the written law that allows us to transcend this way of life.
And while you may argue that we presently live in a state of constant war, it is a far cry from what our ancestors experienced. You can have that world today, if you'd like, I'll even help you pay for your one-way ticket to Liberia.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:27 PM on December 16, 2010


You are not describing an anarchist society when you discuss Petrovian Russia.

Whoa, seriously, man? I've been living a lie my whole life!

I'm making a claim about the expansion of the state's ability to mobilize human and social resources. This has ultimately very little to do with how "free" the society is. The United States had no problem at all with slaughtering millions of Vietnamese using the latest in military and organizational technology. Treating violence as if it were some kind of general category unmoored from its political and social context is unhelpful (which is why I'm not, as Baby_Balrog seems to think, making a noble savage argument: there is no "natural state" of society).

Anyway, it's obvious (as in that Wikileaks thread I referred to before) that you're not interested in argument, since you're happy to ignore anything you can't respond to. See ya.
posted by nasreddin at 12:50 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, sorry for being a jerk. I just don't think we're going to be able to find a common ground here.
posted by nasreddin at 1:45 PM on December 16, 2010


nasreddin! you were doing a great job - don't apologize

and i regret that my job, my real life job, doesn't allow me more time to participate in this discussion which, while contentious, is fascinating - in fact, even now, i really should be doing other things...

but, i'm not! so...

also, electroboy, sorry i'm pushing yr buttons - but i don't see the reason why i, or any other anarchist, has to come up with perfect answers to questions/issues that haven't been "solved" by authoritarian &/or capitalist systems

because, dig it: they haven't solved them, right? crime? crime is rampant! serial killers? umm... exist? and child molesters, the unholiest of unholy? well, gdamn! seems to be rife in this capitalist authoritarian utopia! so, seriously, tell me how capitalist &/or authoritarian measures are effectively dealing with these serious issues and i will try & respond with how these might be dealt with from an anti-capitalist & anti-authoritarian perspective

and too: yes it does matter that "not everyone" can have access to medical resources - and by "not everyone", i hope you'll agree, you mean "most of the planet" - because, ultimately, if there's a cure for rickets, and my grandmum can't afford it, then it ain't a cure for rickets, capiche?

and Baby Balrog, "Guns, Germs & Steel" is a very interesting book - but, seriously, Diamond is not the last word on what life was like "back in the day" - i really don't think you can prove a statement like: And while you may argue that we presently live in a state of constant war, it is a far cry from what our ancestors experienced. - what that is, is a political statement, and nothing but

but hell, maybe you can prove it? if so, go for it!
posted by jammy at 4:11 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


because, ultimately, if there's a cure for rickets, and my grandmum can't afford it, then it ain't a cure for rickets, capiche?

Yeah, see, if my grandmum had rickets and i could not afford it, I would do what I could to get it including stealing.

because, dig it: they haven't solved them
Platos cave is down the street next to the historical inevitability cafe.
posted by clavdivs at 5:39 PM on December 16, 2010


but i don't see the reason why i, or any other anarchist, has to come up with perfect answers to questions/issues that haven't been "solved" by authoritarian &/or capitalist systems

because, dig it: they haven't solved them, right? crime? crime is rampant! serial killers? umm... exist? and child molesters, the unholiest of unholy? well, gdamn! seems to be rife in this capitalist authoritarian utopia!


so, what, harm reduction doesn't exist? it's irrelevant? because 100% of x problem has not been solved, it's insoluble and not worthy of discussion? no one is asking that anarchism do what the status quo can't, but are asking that it do just as good, if not better. if it can't, or if the issue is handwaved away, or can't even provide some concrete examples, why should anarchism be taken all that seriously as a viable political project, as opposed to say, a philosophy?
posted by Snyder at 12:19 AM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


also, electroboy, sorry i'm pushing yr buttons - but i don't see the reason why i, or any other anarchist, has to come up with perfect answers to questions/issues that haven't been "solved" by authoritarian &/or capitalist systems

You're not pushing my buttons, but you're also not making much of an argument for anarchism. If the new system doesn't offer any new solutions for the same problems, why change?
posted by electroboy at 12:04 PM on December 17, 2010


or can't even provide some concrete examples

As a political philosophy, Anarchy is contingent upon societal factors that make all other political philosophies non-viable. To establish a premise you must first describe the societal conditions in which Anarchy is viable. The examples posited are valid. What makes discussion difficult is Anarchy being an ‘Idée fixe‘, which is an argument in itself.
posted by clavdivs at 12:08 PM on December 17, 2010


not making much of an argument for anarchism

To be fair he does need to. Anarchy can achieve an end with a variety of means. They are not contingent on static historical events.
posted by clavdivs at 12:12 PM on December 17, 2010


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