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Anarchist vision

March 18, 2019 Leave a comment

Considering how many anarchists there are writing blogs and making Youtube videos, there is something of a lack of details about how any of us envision an anarchist society available for those curious about anarchism. I myself am guilty of giving out endless bitter critique but little to aspire to (though I have written a bit on the subject here). I have sometimes said I cannot paint an accurate picture of an anarchist society because, given how free it would be, forms of organization will likely be so various I could not explain it in the present. However, there are some things we could say about the free society. This post will sketch my vision of an ideal society based on anarchist principles.

Culture is made up of norms, which are beliefs and assumptions about the way things are and actions that derive from those beliefs. Norms govern a great deal of our behavior. They make it easy to think the way things are is the only, the best or even the “natural” way to be. Many or most people in the world believe it is normal for them to work long hours, pay taxes, rent and debt, and fear the very real violence of the police. Anarchists think this state of affairs should never be considered normal. If anarchist goals become more widespread (and of course one does not have to identify as anarchist to believe in any of the below), a free society can grow in the ruins of the authoritarian one we have today.

Autonomy

Freedom, liberty, autonomy, independence–whatever you want to call it, anarchists believe the people should be as free as possible be to pursue what they want. Most people are fairweather friends of freedom and do not realize the potential benefits of it. While not everyone agrees on what freedom means, surely it would at least mean making and taking responsibility for one’s own decisions, instead of letting others impose their will on us. Most laws that exist are destructive of freedom, so we would no longer value laws written by someone else. No one would stop you from doing things that did not hurt others, but you would still take responsibility for your actions.

Freedom to do the things we want could be impeded by others bullying, threatening, harassing or other oppressive behaviors; an anarchist society would actively stamp out such practices. Therefore, not only would slavery be a thing of the past, but so would harassment. Thanks to mutual aid and solidarity (see below), poverty would be gone as well, so people would have the time and energy to pursue those things they want for most of the time, rather than spend all day at work.

I think privacy would be an important part of freedom as well. People in cultures that value privacy will expect others not to spy and collect information on them the way states and corporations do today. That said, norms would emerge regarding when to intervene, say, when there is a dog in a hot car, or when neighbors suspect a man is keeping someone locked up in his basement.

Prison is another tool of oppression that will need to be torn down. A free society would not threaten people with imprisonment and all its concomitant violence except as a last resort. While forms of governance will vary (see below), it is likely free people would deal with the problem locally, focus on getting to the root of the problem, repayment and reconciliation. Violent punishment for non-conformity is not conducive to a free society.

As I will explain more below, an anarchist world would be one where people could associate with whom they want, move where they want and, unless it oppresses others, do what they want. They would be free from slavery, incarceration, stress, discrimination, poverty and violence, or at least, much freer in all those respects than they are today.

Equality

In the society I envision, it would be normal to treat everyone equally. We like to think we already do that but we do not. Class, money and status are measures of inequality, and our culture accepts them. People discriminate against others based on race and gender, as well, often due to the unconscious influence of culture, in spite of our conscious efforts. These norms of unequal treatment are not just “differences of opinion”. They lead to violence. For example, landlords can and do deny people a place to live because they are transgender, and bosses deny people employment due to their skin color. As a result, racial or gender minorities (and especially people who are both) are more likely to be unemployed, poor or living on the street. This kind of violence is known as structural violence: The landlord himself may not have raised a hand to you, but the police will if you do not comply. But none of this discrimination or violence is necessary, and does not exist in egalitarian societies. In a post-landlord world, no one would own land or homes. They would simply inhabit them, owning them in effect but not having any rights to the place if they move. I see no reason we could not have decent homes for everyone, enough food that people could have all they want, and access to whatever other goods they choose. (Indeed, they might well have much better goods, as capitalism is a highly inefficient form of production and innovation.)

It has been proposed (eg. here) that people have decision-making power to the extent they are affected by something. My decision to put a photo on the wall of my bedroom was presumably not one taken democratically but dictatorially. My decision to paint a mural on a building downtown might concern far more people and should therefore be taken democratically. Perhaps we could have an app with which to vote collectively (which already exists, eg. here). What if I wanted to put on a play in the park but someone else wanted to hold a wedding there at the same time? An organized society might create a website one could visit to see who might want to use the park for what activities at what times, thus avoiding the need to bring everyone who could possibly be affected together to make a minor decision.

Equality would not mean some kind of perfect equality achieved through constant violence, like some people seem to think it means. There is no need to hamper those with significant abilities, like in Harrison Bergeron; indeed, in a free world, they would have whatever they wanted to thrive. They would just not get to amplify their power over others, because there would be no means (ie. a state) for them to do so.

Along with eliminating poverty, equal access to necessities would greatly reduce stress among working people who spend most of their waking time struggling to survive. Reducing stress and eliminating the stark inequalities of today’s society would improve mental health and reduce all kinds of violence.

Mutual aid

So if everyone can have their own house, who is going to build them? In a word, anyone. Mutual aid just means taking care of each other. State welfare is not an example of mutual aid. In today’s pre-revolution world, mutual aid might mean a community banding together to make sure all its members have health insurance. It might mean sharing food. It might mean providing services for free to those in need. As a teacher by profession, I also think it should mean educating each other. And if I have anything to do with it, that will mean tearing down schools and designing education for each student. We want education, after all, not schooling.

I would also like to mention that without mutual aid, there is no revolution. A revolution (or at least the only kind I want to be a part of) is one that decentralizes power. In other words, instead of giving power to make major decisions to just a few people, the purpose of revolution is to distribute that power to everyone. Mutual aid is how we ensure power goes to everyone, that no one is left out because they are too poor to pay for heating or medical treatment, or because of their race, or because they do not conform to our expectations of gender. People ask me what would happen to all those the state takes care of now through welfare. I tell those people, if we aren’t taking care of those people, the revolution will have failed.

The Black Panthers provided breakfast for children in their communities.

Mutual aid would also mean mutual protection of each other. Safety is essential. An anarchist society would be one with much less fear. Vigilance is important, but fear of police, terrorists, military occupation, poverty and discrimination will be gone. People would organize as communities to make decisions and engage in mutual aid, but they would also doubtless organize across communities to protect against invasion by a state or whatever form the violence they face might take.

Voluntary association

Another principle many people believe in in the abstract but hardly ever in practice is freedom of association. We like to think everyone should be free to associate but at birth we are inducted into a number of involuntary associations, such as the nation state and a religion. But if the nation state or religious community does not help us as individuals, if it is not an association I would enter into voluntarily, then it has no authority over me and should not exist.

Freedom to associate would mean being a part of any group, organization, community, etc. that helps the individual achieve their goals, and leaving them when they have outlived their usefulness. It would mean being able to move anywhere in the world without the need for papers, passports, stamps, fees, background checks, patdowns and all the other security theater designed to keep us divided into a hierarchy of nation states.

So if no one rules us, how are decisions made? Quite simply, we make them. Instead of government, meaning rule by a few, we would have governance, which is just another word for making and implementing decisions for a society. Plenty of societies have governance that does not require imposing one’s will on others. Those decisions that need to be made in groups will likely be made in the smallest possible groups, such as in a neighborhood of houses or a block of flats, the workers at a factory, or perhaps a family. If people want to fix or build a road, there is no need for them to call other people and ask them for permission. They can do what is in their interest, as long as their perceived interest does not step on others’ toes. If it might step on another’s toes, that person is affected and should be consulted.

When a decision could affect more than a handful of people, or when there are major problems, people would turn not only to their immediate communities but to a wider confederation of communities. Imagine someone was trying to invade the country where you live, but the country has already eliminated a central military command. Communities would likely have little hesitation in committing resources to fend off the struggle. They might have an app that allows them to communicate and vote easily (such things already exist, after all), so they can support each other and the wider self-defense effort. Moreover, no one would need to wait for the approval of another before they actually start defending themselves from the invaders. People would be accustomed to helping each other and would have no belief in property, so they would also accept refugees.

Forms of governance will vary from town to town. Governance is easier and more transparent when there is a constitution, especially if everyone needed to agree to the constitution to ratify it or to be a part of the community in the first place. The constitution might say nothing more than how decisions are made and implemented, a few rules (eg. don’t hurt each other and take care of each other) and the process for dealing with people who break those rules. A community of 50 people might prefer to make all collective decisions by consensus. A community of 100 people might say majority rule is fine for most things but 2/3 votes need to be cast to amend the local constitution. Punishment is likely to defer to reconciliation wherever possible, but a community might also punish someone harshly for murder or kidnapping. Punishments could be a reprimand for something small or a first offense, ranging to being kicked out of the community and being put on an online register for something much worse. In a land that prefers not to punish, prisons would only be for people who clearly could not control themselves. In every case, instead of asking who did what, we would also look more carefully at why. Trials could be conducted by a random representation of the town’s adults, or all the town’s adults, or even just one judge voted in, with everyone else watching, keeping check on the judge to make sure they do not abuse their power.

While there would be no laws punishing victimless crimes, we would still be expected to take responsibility for our actions. Our local communities might be expected to punish us if we dumped trash in the local park or river. We might get our names put on a list everyone has access to if we were caught harassing someone. If I hit you in your town, the norm might be that your community punishes me for it. Norms would spread in a stateless world, so many forms of governance or rules or how to deal with people would likely be the same in nearby places.

I personally am in a historical limbo, with no legitimate “leaders” of any kind, and will therefore recognize no master. However, not everyone in the world would consider freedom, justice and equality to mean having no leaders at all. Many indigenous people around the world are governed by groups of elders or even just one person. Of course such arrangements could be abused but elders, in stark contrast to politicians, are very close to the people. White anarchists like me should do nothing to change them and merely support them in decolonizing so they can actually live their culture. (That is freedom, after all.) Likewise, many small towns around the world have just one policeman, who is much more a symbol of following the rules than someone who will shoot you in the name of the War on Drugs. Again, there is no real reason to change such an arrangement, except, again, to observe the person and make sure they do not abuse their power. It is likely that someone in a position of authority, such a policeman, the chair of a committee, head of a council, would in some communities be on a rotating basis, randomly selected or at least up for election.

I expect there are people still asking about the difference from the way things are today, but the difference is night and day. We currently live under a political system with a constitution that we did not consent to. New laws are passed all the time, bringing more power over more things under the power of those who control the states. But why would we need so many millions of laws? How is any of this in our interest? We can design structures of governance that actually empower us, rather than one that makes all the important decisions for us, and we make decisions for ourselves, rather than letting others make them on behalf of a few rich people. We would no longer live under the constant threat of violence for non-conformity to someone else’s laws.

Common ownership of the means of production

Like collective decision-making, reconciliation, leaving people alone and taking responsibility for one’s actions, cooperation would be a major part of a revolution. Cooperation is one of humanity’s greatest strengths and will be absolutely necessary both to succeed in the initial parts of the revolution (eg. tearing down the state) and to remain free in the later parts (after the state is gone). It will thereby be a cornerstone of the free society. We will not be atomized and alone. We will have thriving communities where children learn from all the people around them. We will decide together how to use our resources. We will protect our environments from destruction. And we will own the means of production together.

One part of an anarchist revolution would need to include seizing the means of production. When they get class consciousness, those working in factories, offices and other soul-sucking places will kick out the bosses, managers and owners and run them for themselves. In other words, at some point, workers will need to use force to become managers. Anarchism is about freedom, and owning your own workplace gives that freedom. Anarchism is about equality, so instead of the hierarchy pyramid of the corporation, workers will now have equal say in how the business is run and (until money is phased out) how the profits are distributed.

Many jobs and entire businesses are unnecessary and wasteful. If they are not oriented to pro-social goals, they can be eliminated. Some people work in tax compliance, but when there are no taxes, the job will be redundant. Advertisers will not be necessary anymore, either. But they have nothing to fear if mutual aid has become the norm, because they will be just as well taken care of as anyone else, and they can do other things. Many businesses can be merged. Look at how inefficient it is to work separately in several different organizations to develop a new drug. In the absence of competition, all those scientists could be combining their research and working far more efficiently. Workers would not under pressure to perform all the time, under the baleful eye of cameras and time cards and bosses, thus considerably reducing their stress.

There are many other tendencies within anarchism that would also be part of the revolution, such as care for the environment (see Murray Bookchin on social ecology). Critical thinking is not actually a principle of anarchism but I think it is absolutely necessary to it. For one, without thinking critically about the ways things are, most people will not become anarchists or join the revolution. For another, even during the revolution there would still be some people tempted to recreate states, monopolize resources, enslave others, etc., and people will need to recognize the signs and work together to prevent anyone from retaking power. Practicing critical thinking is a kind of individual safeguard against someone else’s influence, and it can be taught.

All of this vision is achievable and has been realized in one form or another throughout history, so we know it is possible. Building a new world is a very difficult task but I think it is worth it.

Is slavery still relevant in the US?

October 10, 2018 Leave a comment

White Americans, especially conservatives, love to talk about how slavery is simply not relevant anymore, and as such, black people need to “get over it” and “move on”. But is it no longer relevant? Or do they just want to feel good about the country they were born in? This incomplete guide to the enduring legacy of slavery might help high-school-history teachers answer the question.

The origins of racism

Racism originated with the Transatlantic slave trade. No, slavery was not the first time anyone had been racist. The point is, all modern racism in Europe, the Americas and to a lesser extent the rest of the world was “invented” to legitimize slavery. The rich Europeans who wanted slaves naturally had an interest in pretending blacks were inferior, or not even human, as they would therefore be unworthy of respect, freedom or justice. They needed soldiers, slave catchers, plantation hands and so on, to make sure the slaves remained in their place, so not only the elites were made to believe in slavery. The whole white population would be made to feel superior to others, thus making them willing to help with slavery or at least turn a blind eye to it, and deflecting criticism of the elite to other races. (Moreover, the “Indians” they found in the Americas, as well as the Arabs, Asians and whatever other groups they met on their adventures of conquest, could also be subjugated if judged inferior.)

The racism that began with the slave trade has not died. It continues to exist in many forms. It is easy and necessary to point to the large number of right-wing militias that exist largely for the sake of starting a race war. They are killing people and spreading lies about people of color. It is harder but also necessary to see the subtle racism of everyday life. When the media tell us about whites who break the law, we hear about their home lives, their hobbies, their friends. When the media tell us about blacks who break the law, we hear about the severity of their crimes, and even (as if it were relevant) about other laws they may have broken. Blacks don’t get picked for jobs or promotions as often as whites. They get harassed by the police more often. They are more likely to get arrested, jailed or killed by a supposedly blind justice system for the same crimes as whites. These are not accidents. They are the product of centuries of actions by a white-supremacist state.

The history of the US is not one of slavery but then happiness and freedom for black people. It is bad enough that slaves were not given the land they worked their whole lives. Slavery was followed by sharecropping, segregation, eugenics, lynching, bombings, police brutality, incarceration and, at every stage, blacks being mocked for their wretchedness. (The Nazis got many of their ideas from the US.) When they have tried to fight back, it was considered proof that blacks are inherently violent, untrustworthy and unworthy of freedom. The same is true today. Look at how the media and conservatives talk about Black Lives Matter or Colin Kaepernick. They never gave them a chance. They never listened. They mock them by saying “what about black-on-black crime?” and tell them to shut up by saying “all lives matter”. Some actually use the word “terrorism” to describe an attempt by marginalized people to make others believe they are equally worthy of respect. And the same white people who say “all lives matter”, who never listen to black protesters and who hate Colin Kaepernick would balk at the accusation that they are racist. They seem to think the time of denying black people equal rights based on their skin color died with MLK.

White Americans have always been unwilling to acknowledge real problems in the US. They seem to have no idea, for example, that they are not free. There are laws restricting their every behavior, and police or other security forces breathing down their necks at every turn, but “we are free” because we have been told we are free. Racism is another thing white Americans have trouble seeing. Most conservatives will actually deny there is much racism against people of color in the US, to the infuriating extent that they believe white people are the true victims. But that is what happens when you get your information from other racists and not from the actual victims. You might think because you saw a video of some black people angry at whites that means whites are all going to be killed. You might have seen countless stories of black people committing crimes and very few of white people. You may take it for granted that white police who kill black civilians were acting in self-defense. White conservatives rarely acknowledge any racism by white people but revel in pointing out “race baiters” like Barack Obama (where he has said anything anti-white I am not aware) and Al Sharpton, who they seem to think is the king of angry black people.

White skin, black self-hate

In the US and all around the world, people are taught that darker skin is uglier, dirtier, a dishonor, a sad genetic accident. Why? Because white people have spread the idea, and because people in power in places like East Asia have an interest in keeping that idea alive. Darker-skinned people, especially women, tend to get the short end of the stick. Black and brown people end up hating themselves for their hair. Their hair! What could be wrong with “black” hair? But that is what happens when white supremacy spreads around the world. People of color in the US find themselves in the same culture as whites, so it should not be surprising many of them hate themselves and hate other people of color, while believing in white politicians, bureaucrats, bosses and preachers.

Slavery destroyed the black family and the culture of every person who was enslaved. The psychological effect of having your home, your culture and family taken away with you is immeasurable. These things last beyond the initially enslaved and turn into generational problems. But black people, both while enslaved and since then, have created and maintained a vibrant new black American culture. Afro-American culture created jazz, blues, rock n roll and hip hop, something the world should be grateful for. And yet, it gets mocked, ignored, delegitimized.

Slavers used to have no compunction about taking slaves’ children away from them. They did not treat slaves as human; why would they care if their slaves got upset? I cannot comment on the lasting psychological effects I am sure that heartless cruelty had. I can, however, point out that descendants of people who owned slaves still do not care about separating brown people from their parents, as the policy continues to this day at the border. They turn a blind eye or use words to justify it to themselves. They do not care that children are being separated from their parents, that children are being kept in cages, or even that the people in government are getting rich from it, because it has all happened before. It was considered normal. The racism created then to make people feel nothing for slaves continues as people feel nothing for “illegals”.

Indeed, slavery itself is still alive and well in the US. The prison industry houses nearly 1% of the US population. This figure is much higher than any other country in the world. Prisoners tell of all forms of abuse from guards, along with rape among inmates. But they are also worked as slaves, making peanuts for themselves and making a few people rich. Some whites have become so cold they consider abuse and slavery part of the punishment (for whatever crime, however minor or victimless). How could they object so strongly to a black person selling weed or a brown person crossing a border as crimes but have nothing to say about ruining someone’s life and making them a slave for the profit of the elite? Racism would seem to be the only explanation.

When slavery ended, the era of mass incarceration began. Whites occasionally went to jail for terrorizing black people, but police have never gone to jail for selectively enforcing the law. Black people are disproportionately jailed, particularly in places where slavery existed most prominently–in other words, where fomenting racism against blacks was most important for the elite. Is it just an amazing coincidence?

From wars for slaves to wars for empire

The Civil War was not the only one fought over slavery. Nor is it the only war who causes have been virtually erased in history lessons. Many of the US’s wars that took place during slavery were demanded by slaveowners who wanted to expand the legal territory for owning and catching slaves. The British helped thousands of slaves escape during the War of 1812. Slavery was threatened in East Texas by Mexico, so the US started a war with Mexico to expand the number of slave states. Countless wars on native tribes meant expanding the US’s territory, and was often related to slavery, such as the Seminole Wars that ended up annexing Florida. Slavers wanted more territory, so the US went to war. Slavers wanted to catch runaway slaves, so the US went to war. Each time, it killed people of color and expanded its territory. It should be obvious that the effect of these wars has lasted into the present, as (like all countries) war and conquest has given the US the territory it has today.

But these wars are also still relevant because the US is still making war all over the world. People used to profit off war then, and they continue to do so today. Indeed, the profit of the rich was usually the reason for the US’s wars, just like today. Once the US had finished expanding across the continent, it went to East Asia and conquered territory overseas. It now reserves the right to make war anywhere in the world on whatever flimsy pretext (eg. invading Afghanistan and Iraq because of a terrorist attack), and kill as many brown people as it likes. A white-supremacist state is not necessarily a genocidal one. It is one that can make war on non-whites for the wealth and power of the elite and its white subjects could not care less about the wars (or even encourage them), because only brown people are dying.

With the prospect of indiscriminately killing and torturing brown people, is it any wonder so many outright white supremacists are soldiers, along with police and prison guards?

Conclusion

It is clear the legacy of slavery is still alive. Descendants of slaves are treated as criminals to be jailed and re-enslaved, and mocked whenever they try to shed light on their condition. The territory gained through wars for slavery remains part of the state. The contempt for non-whites is present in political discourse. And when confronted with evidence of racism, privileged white people dismiss it. “I’m not racist,” they will say, as if that is the end of the discussion. They need to acknowledge the past or else continue to live with it. It is not because you are white that you are the problem but because you have internalized the values of a white-supremacist state. You learned to think one way and you can unlearn.

The point of this post is not to blame white people. What would be the point? They should not feel guilty but angry. They should not feel they are helpless because of history but stirred into action by the present. They could start by educating themselves, which consists mostly of listening but sometimes calling out racism among friends and pointing out the history behind the oppressive institutions of today. People are still trying to divide us, including rich elites giving money to far-right racists. We should unite against the dividers.