"To change anything, start everywhere"
January 25, 2015 7:24 AM   Subscribe

 
"Wanting to abolish authority in large-scale industry is tantamount to wanting to abolish industry itself, to destroy the power loom in order to return to the spinning wheel." -Friedrich Engels
posted by nerdler at 8:12 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


"To revolt is a natural tendency of life. Even a worm turns against the foot that crushes it. In general, the vitality and relative dignity of an animal can be measured by the intensity of its instinct to revolt.”

-Bakunin
posted by clavdivs at 8:21 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think my biggest problem with this video is that the creators imagine that human society can exist completely free of institutions, completely free of coercion, completely free from hierarchy. But institutions are not disposable plug-ins that we can toss into the trashcan of history as easily as we throw away an old toothbrush. We need institutions to navigate the complexity of large-scale social life. Hierarchy is not some imposition of capitalism, but seems to be ingrained in primate societies from chimp to bonobo. So the act of magically wiping all human institutions off the face of the earth would not make everything better--it would have the same effect on politics that a heavy dose of antibiotics has on your gut bacteria.
posted by festivemanb at 8:25 AM on January 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


Has there ever been a successful example of anarchist society? I'm asking genuinely. On a micro scale, it seems like Burning Man started out as an anarchist event, but in recent years they've had to develop authority structures because people are opportunistic shitheads. I don't know how you get around human nature.

Anyway, this video would have really appealed to me when I was 17, but at age 40, it strikes me as extremely naive.
posted by desjardins at 8:58 AM on January 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Much more interesting as strictly a polemic, rather than a "solution" to anything. Any self-deterministic society has always required a "system" of some kind, in order to keep the peace and make sure the rules work the way they're supposed to for the protection and "common good" of all. (Not that we have a done a great job of that here in America in recent times, or, dare I say, decades. I detect a whiff of Marx and Engels here as well, with major exceptions nonetheless. Otherwise this essay is just purely ideological rhetoric at best, and pseudo intellectual claptrap at worst.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 8:59 AM on January 25, 2015


Think glocally, act lobally.
posted by michaelh at 9:02 AM on January 25, 2015


This reminds me of something Dick Gregory once said. I paraphrase: If all the white people on earth were to suddenly disappear, I still couldn't get a job.

Institutions as purposeful entities divorced from the humans behind them.

As a political point of view, this video seems very naive. Hey!! You!!! Stop being an authority figure!

Same as the old boss.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:32 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


OMG INSTITUTIONS BAD

*ahem*

Off the top of my head, just making this about the US even though this is a global issue, here are the benefits of not having anarchy:

1. My child can't be stolen and conscripted into a labor camp or the sex trade. If someone went into my daughter's school and did that, I'm pretty sure there would be an immediate OMFG response.
2. Hey, school! That is a thing. Everyone gets to learn stuff, and that learning means something. Does a high school diploma guarantee anything? No, but it is a base line and generally that has a consistent value. (As opposed to whatever piece of paper "Andy Anarchist's School of 9th to 12th Grade" gives, which would have no inherent worth.)
3. Speaking of "worth," fiat currency is awesome. I can pay to have electricity sent to my house and I can pay for it remotely, using the symbolic language of currency! Good freaking luck doing that with barter and trade. (And before bitcoins are brought up -- currencies with no central governing handle are and always will be too variable for daily transactional use. Imagine if gas prices were indexed to the price of gold, for instance.)

I could do this all day but I have actual homework to do. The bottom line is this: We had millennia of anarchy before kingdoms, and we had centuries of kingdoms before democracies. The current system isn't perfect or even ideal, but it is better than everything that precedes it.
posted by andreaazure at 9:34 AM on January 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


The only thing worse than a formal hierarchy is an informal one:
Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness -- and that is not the nature of a human group.
This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an "objective" news story, "value-free" social science, or a "free" economy. A "laissez faire" group is about as realistic as a "laissez faire" society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others.
The problem with anarchism (and, to a lesser extent, libertarianism) is that anarchy becomes feudalism within a year.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 9:42 AM on January 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


I would be happy to be crushed under the heel of Swedish style socialism.
posted by benzenedream at 10:02 AM on January 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


We had millennia of anarchy before kingdoms

Anthropologically speaking, it doesn't look like anyone ever had anarchy. Before kingdoms, there were tribal organizations, and they had their own hierarchies and power structures. Systems of social behavior and organization are not even unique to humans, so there was likely no halcyon time when there was none of that.

The graphic design and overall production values are really nice. I wish the Democratic Socialists could catch up with that kind of succinct, decent-looking marketing and messaging.
posted by Miko at 10:02 AM on January 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


andreaazure, your comment is just so off that it honestly reads as some sort of concern trolling. Your arguments, as someone who's familiar with the philosophy and actual anarchist people, they're so off-base that it's the equivalent of "BUT if gays get married then people will marry THEIR DOGS!!!"

OMG INSTITUTIONS BAD
Literally no where does it say that. Thanks though.

1. My child can't be stolen and conscripted into a labor camp or the sex trade. If someone went into my daughter's school and did that, I'm pretty sure there would be an immediate OMFG response.

What does the even mean? Anarchists don't care about kidnapping? Like, come on. This logic is...it's not even logic. In a true anarchist world there wouldn't even be labor camps for one thing. And for two, how does "People don't want any authority, therefore anyone can steal my children and sell them and no one would care" even make any damn sense?

2. Hey, school! That is a thing. Everyone gets to learn stuff, and that learning means something. Does a high school diploma guarantee anything? No, but it is a base line and generally that has a consistent value. (As opposed to whatever piece of paper "Andy Anarchist's School of 9th to 12th Grade" gives, which would have no inherent worth.)

Anarchists aren't against school. Are you trying to weirdly imply that in anarchist society suddenly learning wouldn't mean anything? And the only reason "Andy Anarchist's School..." doesn't have inherent worth because it (hypothetically) exists in the current system. But what we're talking about here is an entirely new system-so talking about AA School's value now is worthless . Try and stretch your imagination a bit further.

I'll give you your argument re:money, because that actually makes sense, and was based on something other than a knee-jerk reaction to them radicals!
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:31 AM on January 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


Can you describe some possible structures, organizations, and funding models of an anarchist school?

based on something other than a knee-jerk reaction to them radicals!

I don't think we have a lot of that kind of thing here. In general people are fairly thoughtful and not reactionary apologists for government.
posted by Miko at 10:33 AM on January 25, 2015


It's not a bad idea to start to make distinctions between power and authority, as this video suggests. Moving towards anarchism appeals to me more than moving in the authoritarian direction (see: USA and Russia, for examples). Anarchism is possible; why not? It does not mean the abolishing of institutions. It means repurposing them for the benefit of people, not profit. Anarchists are not bearded bomb-throwers anymore. We are just idealists, maybe too much so, but I'd rather be accused of idealism than acquiescence any day.

I was a liberal in the 60's, as a teenager, but now that I'm in my 60's, I've moved further and further to the left. The last 50 years of increasing surveillance, militarization, environmental destruction and Empire have hardly encouraged me to become more complacent and conservative, as one is supposed to to when entering old age.
posted by kozad at 10:42 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Question Lack of Authority!
posted by chavenet at 10:56 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can you describe some possible structures, organizations, and funding models of an anarchist school?

This is one of the most talked about (beside labor and money, obvsly) subjects regarding anarchy. I'll edit my statement to say that not all anarchists are against schools, though some are. Anarchists, and those on the fringe, have brought about a lot of (pretty well known) ideas regarding the subject. I'm not going to google your homework for you when you're not actually interested in anything but some weird call out that's basically "oh yeah, well do YOU know?!"



based on something other than a knee-jerk reaction to them radicals!
I don't think we have a lot of that kind of thing here.


I didn't say we did. I was speaking specifically to one person and one comment, which I made clear by specifically addressing that person by name and quoting their comment.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:16 AM on January 25, 2015


Anarchism today isn't a specific government or social system, or even a family of them like communism, desjardins. It's the political philosophy that equalizing power improves outcomes.

American style separation of powers was anarchist because it sought to limit the concentration of power. Anti-trust laws are anarchist because they seek to equalize power between similar economic actors. Feminism is anarchism because it seeks to equalize power between the genders. etc.

Anarchism was not always the correct system because once upon a time the technological advanced by the minority of the ruling class outweighed the suffering that class imposed upon the underclass. At least in terms of the survival of the society, if not according to your particular ethical system.

Anarchism is correct in the modern world because today suffering is senseless given our state of technological advancement. All forms of inequality today inhibits our scientific, technological, and cultural by limiting the amount that most members of society can contribute.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:39 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's the political philosophy that equalizing power improves outcomes.

This definition makes a great bumper sticker slogan, but is so broad as to be meaningless, and obscures the central question of if there is a state or not, and how that state is administered. Depending on who power is being taken away from and who it's being given to in order to "equalize" power, I could see socialists, libertarians, and capitalists alike claiming it. Which, hey, is great if you're just trying to sell the idea of anarchism, but if you're hiding the ball by not confronting the question of where the state is and how much authority it's given, you're really just selling an empty set of platitudes.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:57 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


This definition makes a great bumper sticker slogan, but

Except that wasn't a definition. The sentence in the comment reads, "Anarchism today isn't… it's …". That's not language that provides a conceptual definition. A different point is being made there, i.e. describing a current socio-politico-intellectual climate or set of attitudes about something.

It helps to read things as exactly as possible.
posted by polymodus at 12:10 PM on January 25, 2015


It helps to read things as exactly as possible.

Sure. It also helps to be specific as possible when trying to say what an ideology is and isn't, and my point is that if you select specific instances of power being wrestled away from people who had too much of it and call them "anarchist" then of course anarchy sounds desirable, but the specifics of how you measure who has too much power, what entit(y|ies) have the authority to redistribute that power, etc. need to be discussed as part of that sales pitch.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:17 PM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anarchism is the broad principle that inequality in the distribution of power always harms outcomes, not wrestling away power from specific groups.

There are various proposals for demarchy/sortition with or without a state per se, but you or I might disagree on which proposal are formally stateless, but all posses some structure for making and enforcing decisions.

Almost all our organizations today still concentrate power into extremely few hands and fiercely protect those powerful people's ability to abuse their power.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:01 PM on January 25, 2015


To change nothing start everywhere.
posted by Poldo at 1:08 PM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anarchism is the broad principle that inequality in the distribution of power always harms outcomes, not wrestling away power from specific groups.

And like I said, phrasing it in these broad terms doesn't in any meaningful way distinguish it from socialism, libertarianism, or even capitalism. A direction on an axis doesn't an ideology make, especially when we don't agree about what is at each end of the axis.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:20 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why I love shoplifting.

I like the gloss but I couldn't find any references to Marx or Foucault so my first impression is they still have a bunch of homework to do.
posted by bukvich at 1:29 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to google your homework for you when you're not actually interested in anything but some weird call out that's basically "oh yeah, well do YOU know?!"

I'm interested in what you think about it. It's not my "homework" to make your argument for you, either.

Anarchism is the broad principle that inequality in the distribution of power always harms outcomes, not wrestling away power from specific groups.

I'm with tonycpsu here; I'm not sure why anarchism should get to claim this definition when other political philsophies can legitimately do so.
posted by Miko at 3:50 PM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Since this discussion seems to revolve upon definitions and naming conventions, maybe this is the right place to ask for advice. If I see centralized, unaccountable institutionalized power as one primary reason for the increasing suffering of mankind, and I oppose this power in all of its forms, what am I? Do I need to propose some kind of workable alternative in order to have a more socially acceptable (and defined) political philosophy?

(I'm asking seriously, not just to be cheeky)
posted by antonymous at 5:04 PM on January 25, 2015


Either libertarian or libertarian socialist would also work, depending on your preferred lunch table, but this wouldn't affect any argument upthread. Also consider plain old localism! (I know I wouldn't: a fair number of my neighbors suffer from severe dementia.)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:01 PM on January 25, 2015


If I see centralized, unaccountable institutionalized power as one primary reason for the increasing suffering of mankind, and I oppose this power in all of its forms, what am I? Do I need to propose some kind of workable alternative in order to have a more socially acceptable (and defined) political philosophy?

Opposing something doesn't make it go away, so my gut reaction is that, while you don't have to prove your political beliefs to me or anyone else, you ought to try to have some answers ready about how exactly disputes would be resolved when people do inevitably acquire power, centralize it, and institutionalize it. There are also questions of scalability in non-hierarchical social orders, where it's really hard for people to keep tabs on the reputation of so many other independent agents all acting in their own interest. And if you're so opposed to centralized power that the existence of a state is out of the question, well, there are many more questions that would be raised.

If you haven't thought through these things, I would respectfully say that your philosophy is more a set of first principles than a coherent, fully-examined ideology. Which is fine! Still, political ideologies don't get implemented without trying to convince others to join you (hence the slickly-produced video that spawned this FPP) so I'm afraid you may be waiting a long time for your ideology to gain traction, and if you're talking about social acceptance as "others accepting that your ideology is valid", I think you'll find people more receptive to ideologies that can withstand this scrutiny than ones that are simply "this is what I oppose, and this is how I want things to be." You don't have to have a step-by-step plan to get there, but a rough outline of the steps is certainly going to help.

If you have thought through these things, and just don't have unassailable answers, well, there's nothing wrong with that either, because if any ideology had all the answers, we probably would have settled on it and found utopia. The key is thinking about the questions, having answers to the ones you can answer, and being willing to acknowledge the real world factors that may make your ideology unworkable if widely-adopted.

Me, I'm a boring social democrat or democratic socialist depending on what mood you catch me in, so I recognize that my ideology is vulnerable to, among many other things, accusations that a powerful state that can undermine (and often has undermined) individual liberty. I have arguments in response to those accusations, but someone who opposes centralizing power in an institution called "the state", even if that state is nominally accountable to the citizens, probably isn't going to find my arguments convincing. That doesn't mean my ideology is undefined or socially unacceptable -- just that it, like all political ideologies, can't cope with everything that human nature throws at it.

Anyway, that's probably a lot more than you were looking for in response to a pretty simple question, but those are my thoughts. First principles only get you so far -- at some point, you do end up having to add humans (hypothetical ones if natural experiments aren't available) and see how those principles hold up.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:15 PM on January 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


desjardins: "Anyway, this video would have really appealed to me when I was 17, but at age 40, it strikes me as extremely naive."

I think I was about 17 when I first stumbled upon CrimethInc.
And having forgotten about them in the last 13 years, I am now quite surprised that they are still around. Seemingly completely unchanged, no less.
posted by bigendian at 6:34 PM on January 25, 2015


Do I need to propose some kind of workable alternative in order to have a more socially acceptable (and defined) political philosophy?

Not venturing into the "workable alternative" zone is fine, but at the same time, it's what leaves such philosophies open to the charge of being little more than immature fantasies. When you don't have to contend with real-world conditions and constraints, there is nothing to rub the theory up against to test its utility. There is so much to criticize, and we can all rant and criticize. At some point, offering a workable alternative is the only thing that takes a philosophy from "cranky but pointless rant against the status quo" to socially progressive movement with outcomes.
posted by Miko at 7:04 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the contrary - that's exactly the type of answer I was hoping for.

I feel underwhelmed with discussions around "how I want things to be." Perhaps it's that I accept that there are too many "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns" (sorry Mr. Rumsfeld) to account for, and that hundreds of years of institutional evolution have created a complicated history to sift through. Some of our current problems could be nipped in the bud by a more powerful (and accountable) judicial system - which is not to say its creation (in the US) was short-sighted, but that it hasn't adjusted to the powers acquired by the other two branches of government. Is a fair and accountable judicial system a proper/modern basis for a society?

I also think a vast majority of people who share my viewpoints really can't conceptualize life without a "state" - it really requires one to bend the mind in ways only good SciFi can do. It's hard to conceptualize a dispute-resolution mechanism that doesn't involve some central authority. An informed discussion of alternatives can only happen when the existing infrastructure is laid bare (which is not to say it's not worth discussing now as well).

Miko, would you consider Occupy as an example of what you're describing? It seems like that movement had things it opposed but was unable to impact "real" (read: legislative/judicial) change. And my related question is how are institutions able to effectively resist such movements for so long? Perhaps that's the question that needs addressing (which gets into a whole other can o' worms).
posted by antonymous at 7:23 PM on January 25, 2015


I"m confused. You seem to be advocating a more powerful (and accountable) judicial system, but then you're saying we should try to think about life without the state. It's not that something that could be described as a judicial system can't exist without a state, but specifically a more powerful judicial system -- how does that happen without a robust mechanism for enforcing the laws and ensuring that the verdicts are universally honored instead of ignored by people if they choose to do so?

(Incidentally, I do share your desire for more accountability in the judicial system, which is why I support long but finite terms for court appointments.)
posted by tonycpsu at 7:37 PM on January 25, 2015


Miko, would you consider Occupy as an example of what you're describing? It seems like that movement had things it opposed but was unable to impact "real" (read: legislative/judicial) change

Yes, and if you happened across my commenting history here you'll find that this was my enormous frustration with Occupy, in which I was a participant and which I was the single largest progressive movement in recent historym promising the potential for social change to create lasting positive impact for the bottom and middle classes immeasurably, but then dissolved into an obsessive fascination with its own practices and ideologies and postures and thus completely emasculated itself. It is somewhat heartbreaking for me and certainly is linked to my frustration that bandying about political philosophies is not in the least necessarily connected to positive social change, and that ideological purity is probably progress' greatest enemy.

It's hard to conceptualize a dispute-resolution mechanism that doesn't involve some central authority.

It may be hard to conceptualize - but I think rather than just being difficult to do, it's a question of what other goods you're willing to sacrifice to achieve that good. You can't have authority-free dispute resolution without ceding something else that people find important: time - opportunity costs - health - impartiality - and so on. There are things about a highly structured justice system that help society to move more freely rather than bogging itself down in unending disputes and discussion processes.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wrote those paragraphs separately, and didn't mean for them to necessarily be a single idea. The reformer in me envisions a similar state-based society to today's, but with the judicial branch playing a stronger role. The size of the envisioned state can help inform the "accountability vs power" debate that will arise (and yes, may require some sort of judicial "hierarchy" which the anarchists will hate). My hypothesis is that an accountable judiciary branch should be in better position to respond to societal norms than the executive.
posted by antonymous at 8:06 PM on January 25, 2015


Ah, the precedent you're looking for is Xeer... jury's still out on how well it would mesh with our culture today, though.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:59 PM on January 25, 2015


orwell on anarchist spain! [1,2,3]

oh and, fwiw, a real time/world example that i think may be instructive...
Why Bitcoin is and isn't like the Internet
My hunch is that The Blockchain will be to banking, law and accountancy as The Internet was to media, commerce and advertising. It will lower costs, disintermediate many layers of business and reduce friction. As we know, one person’s friction is another person’s revenue.

One of the main things we worked on when I was on the board of ICANN was trying to keep the Internet from forking. There were many organizations that didn’t agree with ICANN’s policies or didn’t like the US’s excessive influence over the Internet. Our job was to listen to everyone and create an inclusive and consensus-based process so that people felt that the benefits of the network effect outweighed the energy and cost of dealing with this process. In general we succeeded. It helped that almost all of the founders and key technical minds and technical standards organizations that designed and ran the Internet worked together with ICANN. This interface between the policy makers and the technologists -- however painful -- was viewed as something that wasn’t great but worked better than any of the other alternatives.

One question is whether there is an ICANN equivalent needed for Bitcoin. Is Bitcoin email and The Blockchain TCP/IP?

One argument about why it might not be the same is that ICANN fundamentally had to deal with the centralization caused by the name space problem created by domain names. Domain names are essential for the way we think the Internet works and you need a standards body to deal with the conflicts. The solutions to Bitcoin’s centralization problems will look nothing like a domain name system (DNS), because although there is currently centralization in the form of mining pools and core development, the protocol is fundamentally designed to need decentralization to function at all. You could argue that the Internet requires a degree of decentralization, but it has so far survived its relationship with ICANN.

One other important function that ICANN provides is a way to discuss changes to the core technology. It also coordinates the policy conversation between the various stakeholders: the technology people, the users, business and governments. The registrars and registries were the main stakeholders since they ran the “business” that feeds ICANN and provides a lot of the infrastructure together with the ISPs.

For Bitcoin it’s the miners -- the people and companies that do the computation required to secure the network by producing the cryptographically secure blockchain at the core of Bitcoin -- all in exchange for bitcoin rewards from the network itself. Any technical changes that the developers want to make to Bitcoin will not be adopted unless the miners adopt them, and the developers and the miners have different incentives. It’s possible that the miners have some similarities to the registrars and registries, but they are fundamentally different in that they are not customer-facing and don’t really care what you think.

As with ICANN, the users do matter and are key for the network effect value of Bitcoin, but without the miners the engine doesn’t run. The miners aren’t as easy to identify as the registrars and registries and it’s unclear how the dynamics of incentives for the miners will develop with the value of bitcoin fluctuating, the difficulty of mining increasing and the transaction fees being market driven. It’s possible that they will develop into a community with a user interface and a governance function, but they are mostly hidden and independent for a variety of reasons that are unlikely to change for now...
viz. this is just a way of ensuring we agree on the facts: who owns what? Who has agreed to what?
cf. who do I need to trust and what am I trusting them about?

also btw, you may be a peer progressive :P
posted by kliuless at 4:44 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


We've an incredible amount to gain from radical transparency, and pseudo-anonymous radical transparency like bitcoin, including doing away with many authoritarian institutions. We don't necessarily need proof of work based systems like bitcoin to implement it though.

Namecoin is a blockchain based DNS registrar. And the GNU Name System provides a non-hierarchical name system. See : NSA’s MORECOWBELL : Knell for DNS
posted by jeffburdges at 5:43 PM on January 26, 2015


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