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Why anarchism? Freedom.

October 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Anarchism is the idea that we should be free, free from other people’s rules and laws, other people’s systems, other people’s violence, unless for some reason we think it is worth it and we consent. It means organizing society horizontally, without hierarchy, force or violence. The only idea or philosophy out there that really seeks to liberate is anarchism. All other ideas promote a different kind of oppression.

The main reason so many people who know what anarchism is (a small percentage of people who have heard the word) object to the philosophy is, for whatever reason, they don’t believe in freedom. They may think a few laws here and there should change or even the whole government, but none of them propose permanently doing away with all systems of oppression and injustice.

I think the reason most people do not want freedom is they are simply used to have someone in charge, in control, telling others what to do. They assume we need people at the top (with good intentions) to get things done. I think there is no evidence for this belief. It comes from our indoctrination. School, media, government, business–all of them collude in creating a perception of human nature and society that tells us we should not be truly free, so don’t listen to those dangerous people who tell you otherwise. Indeed, university is such good indoctrination it teaches millions who go through its halls how to uphold the status quo while thinking they are questioning it. As such, people do not prioritize their own freedom and often actively campaign to eliminate that of other people. The elite have an interest in promoting a fear of freedom.

They tell us we are already free, because voting is political freedom and the market is economic freedom. Anything more would be chaos. They proceed to prove it by pointing to instances of violence as examples of anarchy when in fact they are the opposite: products of a society in which power is highly concentrated. And until we start listening to the dangerous people and seeing the world more clearly, we believe the lies. These beliefs form part of our identity, to the point that people would rather attack the messenger as “an extremist” or some other word that closes the mind than admit they are not as free as they thought they were.

I said anarchism seeks to liberate but all it can really do is help people see the world differently. In the end, only you can liberate yourself. Even if I break you out of jail or help you escape the plantation, you still need to be the one to decide it is right for you. I can only show you the door. It is your decision whether or not to walk through it.

Anarchism is a person on a street corner shouting “you don’t need a president! You don’t need a king! You don’t need a boss! You can handle freedom!” and getting blank stares from 99% of passersby.

Finally, if you want to know “why freedom?”, you may want to read this post on what freedom could mean for the world.

Hierarchy

February 2, 2017 2 comments

This post is part 2 of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist.

A pure focus on the state distracts somewhat from the more general problem of hierarchy. Not all “authority” is bad, since I defer to the authority of the carpenter, the tailor, the bus driver and so on every day. That is ad-hoc authority: I follow them for now for my own benefit. Institutionalized authority is the problem. Anarcho-capitalists (ancaps) agree with this idea but limit their focus to the institutions of the state. But it is not only the state’s authority that is harmful.

Power corrupts. The state is not the only source of power. In a world where money buys influence, the lack of a state would only partially diminish that power. Money could still buy authoritative-looking media sources and spread any kind of lies, fear, hatred, etc.; it could be used to bribe any kind of leader (such as union leaders or town elders); it could be used to raise a private army, and once those things had taken place, the non-aggression principle (or NAP) would be no longer a norm but would return to, as it is today, little more than an ideal to aspire toward. The state would be reborn.

I disagree with other anarchists who look down on anarcho-capitalism because they think it would be even more tyrannical than today. If that were true, why would the rich not be at the forefront of calls to eliminate the state? They are the true beneficiaries of the state. They might be able to reconstitute the state if it were eliminated, but without it the accumulation of wealth and power would be more difficult. When I was an ancap, I wrote about how people in a stateless world could defend themselves against people trying to restore the state. I do not disagree with ancaps on everything. However, I no longer see anarcho-capitalism as the ideal. We could go much further toward freedom and justice if we dig deeper into anarchist theory.

Anarchists oppose institutional hierarchy. Hierarchy as we know it today is largely a product of state violence, what Marx called primitive accumulation, but does not exist solely in the state. It has transformed people from hunter-gatherers and self-sufficient farmers into dependent cogs in the wheels of the capitalist/corporatist/whatever-you-call-it system. The majority is, by the design of the system, locked out of making decisions regarding it. That is just as true in a corporate hierarchy as in the state.

capitalism Mr Peanut

People with money are far more likely to become owners and bosses than people without money. They can afford the best education and the best means to impress others (eg. nice suits, lavish parties). They can afford to start their own businesses and do not have to work for minimum wage. They can afford the accountants and lawyers necessary to navigate the complex regulatory state. The owners and bosses make decisions, including the decisions about whom to promote up the ranks. Hierarchy thus reproduces itself. When there are other hierarchies in society, such as in unions, powerful people can co-opt them by buying the influence of the leaders. Hierarchy thereby creates a class system, buoying the people on top not only through the state but through their informal influence, and keeping the people on the bottom down by locking them out of the decision-making process.

But why should workers not participate in decision making at the organizations where they work? It seems cruel to tell them they should buy stock in the company or start their own when these things are far easier said than done. It sounds a bit like “if you don’t like it here, move”. Moreover, ancaps often say those things in regard to the current economic system, not some ideal free market. It is almost as if they are mocking people for not having enough money to buy influence over decisions that affect their lives when the system they live under makes doing so impossible.

Business is full of high-profile scandals (along with countless others we never hear about) involving people in positions of power using those positions to harass or go to bed with those lower down the ladder. If you want to be part of our organization, or to get a raise, or whatever, you must “play ball”. You could call this activity abuse of power but any hierarchical system enables it.

All these reasons are why anarchists believe in non-hierarchical or horizontal organization–no superiors, no subordinates, everyone on an equal footing regarding decision making. In my view, that does not necessarily mean equal salary: I might choose to divide my time between two organizations and thus take only half the salary from each. It does, however, mean all employees can decide those things together, and do not have to beg or butter up their bosses for raises and time off or live in constant fear of getting fired for some mistake or failing.

To address the ancap concern, non-hierarchical organization does not require violence. It requires creating such structures as viable alternatives to the life of class, money and power. It could mean starting cooperatives, where employees are also owners; it could mean starting communes, where property is voluntarily given up; it could mean any other form of mutual aid, working with the people around you to solve your problems. The abolition of hierarchy is an ideal to be striven for, just like non-aggression.

Turning fear into empowerment motivates people and reduces stress. They take responsibility. They are accountable to each other. They do not need to compete for dominance. These things distinguish communities from corporations. Hierarchy, on the other hand, creates stress and fear, as people worry about getting told off or fired or merely docked an hour’s pay for coming in five minutes late. The people in charge have no responsibility to their employees beyond the necessarily unequal terms on which they were hired. (And in a stateless society, who is to force a boss to honor a contract? I have written on this subject too, and yet can no longer see how someone begging to be hired could ever bargain on equal terms with a rich person who can afford better representation.) As such, bosses can, say, fire employees en masse with no notice. Hierarchy creates positions of better pay and power over others that only a minority can fill, which others can only compete for like crabs in a bucket. (And if you do not think the ability to fire another for any reason you like is power over that person, we must agree to disagree. Being able to quit, at least in today’s world, does not compare, since the company can simply hire someone else.) People jockeying for power are forced to defer to the people on top, to kiss their boots, to show themselves willing to serve and dominate, to play a rigged game with a smile.

These hierarchies are not “voluntary”. Ancaps say we should own the product of our labor, but do not oppose bosses and hierarchies like anarchists do. They only mean we should not have to pay taxes. The wage labor system, like the state, are forced on us. All employers claim the product of our labor and give us back a small portion of it in the form of money. And we are not “free” just because we can choose a different employer (as the new employer will also control the product of our labor) or start our own businesses (because of how difficult it is to do so in a world of endless regulations and taxes).

Hierarchy, anarchy, solidarity, freedom

To illustrate the problem, consider racism. A racist seeks to impose a kind of hierarchy. A racial hierarchy is not very different from a social hierarchy. I know of no perfectly fluid class societies where it is a simple matter for poor people to get rich. At least one survey has found a majority of poor Americans never even make it to the middle class. A racial hierarchy makes it impossible for all within the subordinate race to reach the top (without a revolution), though the masters can elevate some members of the subordinate race by creating house negroes and field negroes, dividing the subordinate race and refining the hierarchy. A social hierarchy is only somewhat less bad in that it makes it impossible for most to reach the top. That should come as small consolation to the poor.

Hierarchy necessarily creates inequality. Though my next post will focus on inequality, for the time being I can point out inequality is not an ideal. Forced equality is not, either, of course (again, anarchists are not Stalinists), but most inequality is simply unnecessary and harmful and too readily tolerated by ancaps. If we somehow eliminated the state without eliminating the stark inequality of power in society, the dominance and submission we know today would not disappear. It would simply regroup and return in a different form.