Why more people are not anarchists
Anarchy does not mean chaos. The way most anarchists use it, it just means the absence of a coercive authority. In most democracies, it is widely assumed that no government would mean, in various nightmarish forms, huge amounts of violence and terror. The reason I think otherwise is because we could not have any kind of voluntarism, a society based on voluntary virtues and not coercion, without widespread agreement among the people that the initiation of force is wrong, and that voluntary institutions are preferable. Unfortunately, the people aren’t ready yet.
Hearing some people’s objections to anarchism is interesting. People tend to assume that we need government for everything that they have not used their imaginations to reconsider yet. As such, whenever we do not want to think how a private firm might make money solving a problem, we say the government should do it. But why? Can we trust the government? I might be wrong, but it just doesn’t seem to do anything very well. Yet it’s the default option. Why is that?
Some anarchists say the problem is we are never presented with the idea because your schools and universities are government-fed, so those who teach have a vested interest in the status quo. This idea is not without merit. We have been persuaded by our culture that we need government, and that without a government we would all be killing each other. People tend to fear the unknown. But when presented with better ideas, they should consider how to put them into practice.
I believe we simply suffer from a lack of ideas. Very few people take the time to educate themselves on the anarchist position. They dismiss it partly because they think it is dangerous or unrealistic but also because they just assume that democracy has proven itself the best system in existence. Why even consider other ideas when we have the best one here? This might be due to ethnocentrism, which is when we believe our culture is right and the best simply because we understand it better than any other, and we have internalised it so we take all its workings for granted.
And partly due to this ethnocentrism and related natural fear of change, people are pretty closed minded. Some democrats can get so emotional. When they hear the idea of anarchy, they jump on the offensive, as if you have insulted their mothers, and refuse to consider your side. They don’t address your arguments or they brush them off. You give logical explanations of what is bad about government and they say, “That’s the price you pay to live in a society, asshole!” Then you explain the alternatives and they say, “No, the only alternatives are chaos or fascism.” That argument betrays a serious lack of critical thinking and imagination. So, incidentally, does the hope that if we just get more people out to vote, we will reform and maybe even perfect the system. If I thought that was possible, I might be a democrat.
Another objection I hear is that we get so many things from the government—education at all levels, cheap or free health care, police, fire departments and so on, and those things are generally good. What I do not understand is where people think that money comes from. That money comes from us. Does it not follow that if there were no government, we would have all that money back? So we could still buy those services, couldn’t we? Or did you think that the rich pay for all of those things for us? And since a lot of that money goes toward the people who administer it like the IRS, plus all the trillions of dollars wasted on overseas military adventurism, given to farmers and corporations who don’t need it, repaying debts for things we didn’t even buy, and god knows what the CIA is doing, without government we would have even more money to pay for what we want.
But there will still be objections. For instance, there is an interesting assumption among educated people that extremes can never work. As an extreme in thought in and of itself, this question is worth examining.
There are, of course, many examples in history where extremes appear to always fail. On the other hand, there are some extremes that are practiced every day that we do not see as extreme because, for us, they are normal.
For example, many people live in a world where no one except agents of the government are allowed to own guns. They accept it as the right way to live. If one suggested to them that everyone should be allowed to own a gun, like in Switzerland (and they’re not killing each other much in Switzerland), people would call one an extremist. And yet, extremism is already the norm. We are just considering the other end of the continuum.
Is it extremist to say things like “awesome”, “100%”, “perfect” and “absolutely”? Probably not, but it does evince that we sometimes think in extremes. And that is fine. It is fine to say “George Bush was the worst president ever”, or “I would like to kill George Bush” or even “George Bush is the cause of all the world’s problems”, although they are all extreme. The question is not, “is it extreme”, but rather, is it true? As such, scientists test extreme hypotheses every day. Some they can reject, and some turn out to be true.
Reasonable people will agree that arguments are only fairly evaluated when they are evaluated on their logic. Truth is truth whether or not one would like to admit it. And it is possible that the extreme is the truth. In the 19th century, it was unthinkable that women, all women, should be allowed to vote. The suffragettes were extremists, and radical feminists have relentlessly pushed for equality with men for more than a hundred years. They were granted the vote and a raft of other privileges that made them equal to men in many areas of life (though whether enough, more than enough or not enough is still up for debate). Gradually, the feminist arguments made more and more sense to everyone, and the extreme became the norm. Such is our capacity for logic.
Whatever your opinions on life, understand that there is room for left and right, up and down, in and out. We live in world of balance, and of extremes. What works best may just be the extreme in thought, so an open mind to every point on the spectrum helps us figure out what is right.
Ideas evolve. They gain or lose followers, the develop, they spread. It was, for a long time, believed that kings had the divine right to rule over us, and thus could do no wrong. That idea is now dead. Then ideas about constitutions that restrained absolute power came along. But as they say, give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. When the people got a taste of freedom, they wanted more. Power slowly spread from the king and a few aristocrats to all propertied males, and then in the past century to everyone else over 18. These ideas of freedom set slaves free, and now slavery has been nearly universally abolished. But barely a hundred and fifty years ago, there were people who thought that if the slaves were freed, there would be chaos, and that anyway the slaves were stupid and probably better off the way they were. Each old idea was taken as given until a new idea took hold. We needed to learn as a society that these new ideas were actually better than the old ones. Now it’s time to take it a step further.
I expect some people will say that the anarchist vision of no government is unrealistic, so there is no point in working toward it. I wonder how realistic they believe it is to try to perfect a system based on violence. These are people who believe that elections and laws will somehow turn the people who are currently pointing a gun at you into angels. If they want to believe that, I will continue to believe that a little education can help them discover a better idea.