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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.

Consent

September 17, 2018 1 comment

Why is consent only important at some times and not others? Consent is necessary for sex; otherwise, it is rape, and rape is never ok. Regarding sex, it is assumed we are in voluntary relationships with the people who touch us. But we are also in non-consensual relationships and people never talk about them.

For instance, why do I need a “representative”? Surely, to represent me they would need to act in my interests. What if my so-called representative does not represent me? Can I withdraw consent from this relationship? Can I vote for no one? No. Their decisions apply to me. I didn’t join anything. I never gave any hint I wanted them to represent me. They never even asked me.

The police are authorized to arrest you if you have drugs. In other words, there are people who will use violence against you for ingesting or possessing something that someone in another city decided you were to face violence for ingesting or possessing. You are not allowed to ingest or possess something if that guy in a suit in the other city wrote down that you were not allowed to. If you do, the people who will use violence against you might hit you, kidnap you and throw you in a cage (and even force you to work as a slave), or kill you. When did I consent to any of this? Why does consent not matter in this case?

The example of drugs shows us the state considers our bodies its own property. Laws against taking drugs show that our masters do not allow us to put things into our own bodies, as if they were loving parents and we were children getting into the chemicals under the sink. The power to criminalize prostitution is another example of the state’s claim to have the final say in what you do with your body.

You pay taxes. In other words, if you do not pay money every day to a group of people you do not know who will decide what to do with it, regardless of your opinion on what they do with it, some people can kidnap you at gunpoint and lock you in a cage. Why do you not get to decide how that money is spent? What if you have better ideas than what politicians owned by lobby groups have in mind? Why does consent not matter in this case either?

And I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to care that some of the money we make goes toward making war. In other words, some people take your money and use it to buy weapons to kill and torture people neither you nor they have ever met in other parts of the world, making the people who made these decisions richer and thus more influential over the very system that rewards killing people all around the world. Do you consent to that? Or does your consent not matter?

I have been told that we tacitly consent, usually because we are not actively fighting against these things. But that is not how consent works. Consent must be positive. If want to take your clothes off, I need your consent. If I do not know whether or not it is all right with you, it isn’t. However, if I want to harass you, kidnap you, cage you, beat you or kill you, I just need a badge.

Why does consent not matter to us? Because the system that feels normal to us does not ask for it.

A truly democratic system would be one where decisions were made together, and when one does not consent, the others can coax, plead, bargain or apply pressure but should not force the dissenter. That is why such decisions should be taken in groups of 100 or less, not in groups of millions where it is impossible to come to a consensus and an elite develops. We do not need an elite. We can govern ourselves.

Governance just means making and enforcing rules. Government, on the other hand, is an institution that claims a monopoly on governance over its conquered territory. All societies have governance. Not all societies have government. Self-governing, egalitarian, non-hierarchical societies and organizations exist and have always existed. We do not need too many rules. Each of us should play a part in creating them, or if we just arrived, agree to them. We can all have the power to enforce them. At any rate, most of our rules would come from norms, as they already do, rather than written rules that might differ in detail from place to place.

Though nearly all decisions would be made in small groups, such as families, clubs, factories, and so on, for the occasional decision that needed to be made in a larger group, it would be possible to delegate authority to a representative. In other words, you could tell someone to vote yes on a certain proposition. If they do not vote yes, the decision must be retaken or considered null. That said, nowadays even the idea of delegates is probably obsolete, as we have the technology to make decisions across decentralized organizations in minutes.

When is an organization democratic? Joining the organization is presumably consenting to its mission, structure and policies, and members can leave at any time. (Cooperatives often start new people on probation before they can become full members.) At minimum, all members should have a vote on leadership (if there are leaders) and new policies. There should be no secrecy: Meeting minutes and other important information should be available to all members. The members should be able to recall leaders for violating a policy, such as acting outside the scope of their mandate. Again, these organizations would ideally be small, as the smaller they are, the more democratic they can be, as each member has proportionally more influence over decisions. Such organizations do not need to compete with each other to exploit others like the corporation but cooperate to empower people as part of their mission.

Politicians do not consult us on their votes. We do not have access to meetings between lobbyists and their clients, or lobbyists and politicians. We do not know what people who are making the decisions that affect our lives with our money are saying to each other behind closed doors. Why would we ever consent to such a system? Because we’ve been told it’s necessary?

Consent matters.

Authority is not inevitable

August 3, 2018 Leave a comment

“That is what I have always understood to be the essence of anarchism: the conviction that the burden of proof has to be placed on authority, and that it should be dismantled if that burden cannot be met.” – Noam Chomsky

Anarchists are informed every day that authority, hierarchy and law are inevitable, universal and necessary. Without them, society would collapse into chaos. These critics do not realize their point of view comes from their immediate culture and the beliefs that inform it. There is more to the story.

First, let us think about what authority is. There are two basic meanings in common usage. The first is of superior knowledge. I accept the authority of the plumber because they understand where the water in my home comes and goes from better than I do. I listen to them, pay them and let them work unimpeded because of their superior knowledge. However, I do not let them force me to accept their services or their prices. I have the final decision.

Not so with the second use of the word “authority”. Authority is also used to mean the people in power, usually government and its agents (the police). In this case, I have no choice but to submit to their will or be attacked. Their superiority lies not in some greater knowledge, some claim to moral authority or even, as is the case with (some) parents, a plausible claim to care about my welfare. It lies only in their greater capacity for violence. As such, if I do not submit to the authority of the state, I am liable to be fined (my money forcibly taken), incarcerated (kidnapped and thrown into a cage), beaten until I submit, or killed. It is clearly wrong to conflate these two definitions of “authority”.

Has authority, by the second definition, always existed? The answer is no. History has countless examples of societies free of authority. Indeed, such authority, in any form that could be recognizable today, did not come into existence until about 5000 years ago–a blip on the monitor of humankind’s history. And when it appeared, authority, which led eventually to the state, consisted only of slavers and warlords.

Society existed long before the state. As the latest research indicates, proto-states came into existence when a few people decided to steal the surplus of other people’s labor on the land. Appropriating the surplus of the labor of the majority is the constant of all states, the one defining trait that all states, regardless of time or place, have in common. They must have had a society whose labor they exploited in order to establish their states, one which grew and gathered more food than it needed, so that the few could live parasitically off the many. And those societies must have had governance.

It is often assumed by those arguing against anarchism that government has always existed. This thinking confuses government with governance. Governance is simply making and enforcing rules. Government is a monopoly on making and enforcing rules, thus creating a class that rules over the majority. When people say we need some form of law and law enforcement, they are probably correct. Few anarchists would disagree. Their mistake is in believing authority to make and enforce laws needs to be in the hands of the few. Most societies throughout history let everyone, or all adults, or perhaps some group of “elders”, come up with and enforce laws. (As an example, you can read how John Hasnas explains how laws were enforced in Britain before law was monopolized by the state, or how laws are enforced in kin groups in Somalia.) None of these groups were thought to be unchallengeable authorities.

In his book The Art of Not Being Governed, James C. Scott explains a number of ways people have avoided both the states that threatened them and the hierarchy that leads to illegitimate authority. There is no reason the rest of us could not also avoid being ruled by other people. We could band together to prevent others from forcing us into their regimes and laws. People have at many times in many places. We do not have to submit.

Moreover, why would want to impose authority on yourself and others? Do you need to be ruled by others? Would you run around killing if there were no police? Or is that only everyone else? Many people want to be free of rule by authority they consider illegitimate. Why would you not support them?

I have elsewhere pointed out the dangers of hierarchy and inequality. Here I have shown why history tells us they are not inevitable. They will continue as long as people continue to make excuses for them. But even if things like hierarchy and authority were constants throughout human history, it would still beg the question to assume that meant we needed states. Today’s states are vastly more powerful than anything history has ever seen. Anarchists are called extremists, but what would you call concentrating trillions of dollars in the hands of a few hundred people while billions go hungry? What would you call waging war on the other side of the world? What would you call locking millions of people away in jail for stealing food, smoking a plant or moving to a new part of the world? If anything, the status quo is extreme and anarchists merely want to restore some balance.

In conclusion, those who assume we need modern institutions to have any semblance of society need to prove their point far beyond merely asserting they have always existed, because they have not.