The Value of Anarchism
I am often asked why on earth anyone should get interested in anarchism, when there is virtually no chance that a stateless society will ever come into existence in our lifetime, or in the foreseeable future at all.
This is a very interesting question, and to some degree it involves a very personal answer, and so I hope you will forgive me if I forego the odd syllogism or two, and speak directly from the heart.
The story of the progress of human morals is almost entirely populated by people who did not live to see the world that they loved in their minds. Those to whom the idea of the separation of church and state arose as a tiny, faint glimmer over the burning horizon of religious warfare, did not live to see these two whores pried apart by the power of philosophy.
Those who first dreamed of a world free of slavery lived only to see slavery increase and worsen, not diminish and collapse.
Those who dreamed of reason, evidence, and science in the late Middle Ages saw their dreams go up in endless flames – and, all too often, themselves as well, under the burning mercies of Christian “salvation.”
Those who dream of peaceful debate rather than flashing swords taste the bitter dregs of hemlock, not the sweet nectar of victory.
It is an inevitable consequence of inertia and corruption that those who dream of a better world almost always die before those dreams come true. The entrenched and pompous self-righteousness of viciousness and exploitation always moves to discredit any attack with all the resources it has stolen. The embedded corruptions of existing familial, professional, economic, and political relationships is a sinewy Hydra that a thousand people with a thousand swords cannot possibly bring down in one generation.
However, you may say, even if this is true, what form of altruistic madness could take hold of us to the point where we are willing to sacrifice so many comforts in this world in order to secure a better one for people we shall never meet? Why should I care for people who are living two hundred years from now, and their opinion of me, and those who fight beside me in a war whose spoils only the unborn will receive? Even if they thank us, and build statues in our names, what possible good can that do for us now? Why should we give up all the creature comforts of blind conformity and refuse to surrender to the endless momentum of the cultural rip-tide, gaining no love and peace in the present, but rather only willed incomprehension and spiteful calumny?
There may be those among us who are motivated for the most part by a love for a future that they shall never inhabit. There may be those of us willing to sit in the dark and tell tales of green fields to our fellow dungeon-dwellers, so that our grand-children's children, whose lineage has been sustained by the bright stories of a free world beyond their walls, can emerge from the rubble of their crumbling jails into a sunlight that has been pictured and predicted, though not seen, for many decades.
And it will be our world, this world of the future, that we shall never tread. The evils and pettiness of the world that is will fall away from our rising ideals, like unneeded past boosters from a rocket piercing the stratosphere and launching to the stars. The door to this world of beauty, plenty, generosity, peace, and benevolence can only be opened by the key of philosophy, of wisdom. I personally consider it the greatest possible honour to do my part in helping to fashion this golden key. I am a kind of intransigent warrior, far more at home in this time of war, the war for the future, than I would be I think in this world of the future, where all major foes and evils have been laid to rest. A natural warrior can rejoice to be born in a time of war – I am just such a born fighter, and take enormous pride and satisfaction in confronting and attempting to master the embedded evils and lies of the human mind. The size of my soul, it has turned out, is directly proportional to the size of my enemies, the enemies of wisdom and virtue. In this time, where the exploration of this world has largely ceased, but the exploration of other worlds has yet to begin, my restless, combative, and explorative nature finds its true natural home and greatest possible purpose in the mental wrestling with unseen demons.
Thus, I can genuinely say that I could not conceivably wish to be born or to live in any other time. This new universe of instantaneous communication is my natural element, and the endless potential of these unexplored lands of thoughts, feelings, dreams, and insights has given my soul scope to expand in a way that I never imagined possible. I am hopefully slightly larger than the size of my enemies; and certainly far smaller than the scope of the world I explore.
For me, then, the small pleasures of social conformity shrink to insignificance next to the glory of leading the charge in this kind of battle, the thrill of reasoning out new connections, the excitement of lighting up my own mind, and helping to light up the minds of others. To feel the power of significant evolution within the span of a few years, within my own mind, within my own soul, within my own life, is for me a staggering and unprecedented gift, which I would live a thousand years of social discomfort in order to attain.
I am also acutely aware of the reality that had I been born and lived in a different time – a later time, or an earlier one – I would have been pedalling a bicycle with a broken chain, if you understand me. The power of the conversation that I have initiated and am involved in is what gives my mind traction, links, and engages it in the real world; it is the other stick that brings the new fire.
Thus for me it is an irreplaceable privilege to be doing what I am, where I am, during this time in history. I am a man who is excited by navigation, not the unloading of cargo. I live to explore, not to settle and consolidate. I live for battle, not administration.
I fully realise that my joys are not everyone’s joys. If you do not happen to have my particular fetish for the endless swordplay of abstract battles, why on earth would you be interested in exploring and understanding the characteristics of a land you will never set foot on?
Anarchy and Relationships
Within our minds, because of our personal histories, there exists – for want of a better phrase – a kind of “dead zone,” which is the black and broken scar tissue of the endless dictatorial commandments we were subjected to as children.
These commandments may have existed within your own home, but without a doubt this is exactly what you were subjected to in school. When you were a young child, opening up and exploring your own mind, and the new world before you, your teachers – and by proxy, your parents – never asked you what you most wanted to learn and explore.
Instead, you were jammed into a little desk, in a tight boxlike row with other children, while a teacher scratched with grating chalk on an old blackboard. Your individuality was not respected and explored; the natural and specific direction of your mind was not harnessed and expanded; your latent talents and abilities were not teased and conjured into full, magnificent view.
This was a dictatorial, almost entirely one-sided “relationship” – and this “relationship” showed up in school, in church, and very likely at home as well. Who really cared what you thought? Who really cared what you preferred to do? Were you not in general treated, at home, in school, and at church, as a generally disobedient and largely inconvenient kind of pet? Did people talk to you, ask you questions, sit down and open you up to yourself – or did they feed you, clothe you, wash you, and manage you? Was your childhood a more or less endless series of little commandments and “suggestions” – put that down, pick that up, don’t go there, go here, share, be nice, don’t raise your voice, go and read a book, turn that off, brush your teeth, finish your homework, don’t use those words, use these words, stop play-acting, calm down, go to bed, wake up – all of these teeth-gritting and petty commandments circle your childhood like an endless buzzing cloud of little gnats, that can never be swatted, are never full, and can never be escaped.
In the face of the needs and preferences of others – particularly those in authority – do we not fall back on a kind of empty, dull, and resentful conformity? When others get irritated with us – particularly in our personal relationships – do we not either flash up with resentment, or sink back with resentment? Do we not either bully back, or surrender and plot?
When we explore anarchy as a theoretical ideal, we slowly and surely – and painfully – make gradual inroads back into this “dead zone.” Like the last man in a city struggling to start the generator that will bring it back to life, when we continually re-imagine what it is like to sit on the other side of that negotiating table, we re-grow these deadened nerve endings of resentful conformity and dull compliance.
In the statist paradigm, we listen only to God, and obey His commandments.
In the anarchist paradigm, God also listens to us, and we negotiate as equals.
When we mentally practice sitting on the other side of that negotiating table, we re-learn a lesson that has long been pounded out of us – the lesson of empathy and mutually-advantageous debate. When we imagine being a DRO owner and attempting to sell our services to a community, we challenge and break the mental habits of evasion or compliance to authority.
By far the most popular video that I have ever produced has been an off-the-cuff discussion of how best to approach a job interview. This video explicitly follows anarchic principles, in so far as I remind people that although they are being interviewed, they are also the ones doing the interviewing, and evaluating the person who is evaluating them. In the same way, when you are on a first date, if you only worry about how you are being perceived, rather than being curious about how you are perceiving the other person, then you are not in fact having a relationship at all, but rather are acting out an empty form of self-erasure and compliance to the needs and preferences of someone else.
When you explore the anarchic paradigm of human interactions, you continually imagine sitting on the other side of the negotiating table and attempting to provide benefits to yourself.
In the statist paradigm, we struggle to exist under a coercive and one-sided monopoly. We never practice sitting on the other side of that table, because there is no other side to that table, any more than slaves get to negotiate their wages. We seethe with resentment or hysterical “Stockholm Syndrome” patriotism, but we no more think of reasoning with our political masters then we think of trying to control a plane psychically while jammed in the back of “economy class.”
When we are on the receiving end of brutal and coercive instructions, our self-esteem, our very souls, fade and flicker and diminish and collapse. We cannot think of ourselves fundamentally as having value because we are never treated as if we have value in and of ourselves. Our teachers seem constantly irritated with us, our parents are constantly correcting and managing us, and our preachers are constantly informing us of our sins.
Self-esteem has a lot to do with believing (or at least understanding) that we have value in and of ourselves, and that our feelings and thoughts are worthy of consideration. We are treated so little this way when we are children that I strongly believe that we grow up fundamentally scarred in our ability to comprehend our own independent value.
For instance, I can only remember one incident in my childhood when I was able to sit with an adult and chat in a relaxed fashion – and be asked questions – for any length of time. It was with a camp counsellor, when I was thirteen or so. I couldn’t sleep, and we sat out front of our cabin, looking up at the stars, and chatting easily back and forth about our thoughts.
When we repeatedly picture the natural “win-win” interactions of an anarchist society, we unconsciously remind ourselves that we are worthy of being negotiated with, and that other people have to bring value to the table if they want to interact with us – that we do not exist simply to fulfil the greedy needs of others.
This mental exercise has staggering benefits in our personal relationships – and is the surest and most stable set of bricks that we can use to build a bridge to the future. Once we get used to the idea that we are worthy of negotiation, and that other people need to bring value to our lives in order to be of value to us, our self-esteem necessarily rises proportionally.
I face this quite often in my conversation with people in a variety of forums, including the Freedomain Radio Board. People will be difficult, or negative, or hostile, or evasive – and genuinely believe that I have some duty or obligation to continue to interact with them.
This is fundamentally a statist position, insofar as these people do not believe that they have to provide consistent or overall value in order to receive resources from others. In the past, before I became an anarchist and practised this way of thinking, I was very susceptible to this kind of entitlement and manipulation. Now, however, it has become almost funny for me to see the shock that people experience when I simply find interacting with them more negative than positive. Almost inevitably, they will attempt to “rope” me in by attempting to snag me with my own values (“I thought you valued debate!”) – or, if I ban them for being genuinely unpleasant or abusive, they haughtily inform me that I am “censoring” them, and going against “anarchism,” and rejecting the values I proclaim on my very website (“free”) and so on.
The truth of the matter is that I am acting in complete accordance with anarchistic principles when I refrain from interacting with people who do not bring me value. The fact that they are unable to “sit on the other side of the table” and empathise with my perception of the interaction only tells me that they have a long way to go in the journey towards understanding what voluntarism really means. The idea that I – or anyone – “owe” them any form of interaction is entirely statist in its essence. It is the belief that value does not have to be reciprocal, that one side can dictate terms to the other – and, most fundamentally, and most subtly, that the “values” of the person not receiving value should force them to continue the interaction.
When we get used to sitting on both sides of the table, so to speak, it becomes that much harder to exploit us, and press us into the service of other people’s neurotic defences, needs, and desires. We get habitually used to “checking in” with our own feelings, to see whether or not we are enjoying a particular interaction – and if we are not, we feel perfectly free to disengage. We do not “owe” other people time, energy or resources – they must “earn” our attention through positivity, just as an entrepreneur must “earn” our business through the provision of value.
When we raise our standards in this manner, it is certainly true that large numbers of people will react with incomprehension (and sometimes hostility), because we are in a very real sense rewriting our social contract with those around us. Before, they could count on us to provide them with what they wanted, and they did not have to trouble themselves by considering what we wanted. When we begin to require reciprocity in our relationships, people tend to get upset with us, because we are in fact highlighting their own entitled narcissism.
To give a minor example, as you may know I give listener conversations for free over the Internet, which I then publish as podcasts if the listener agrees. The majority of people politely request these conversations – however, a not-insignificant minority simply inform me that they are “ready” for a conversation. This is always surprising to me, the idea that I somehow “owe” them a conversation, because I am “dedicated” to philosophy and mental health.
Helping people to understand that they need to provide value in their relationships is a very tricky and challenging endeavour – but one that is vastly easier with people who have genuinely and deeply explored anarchism and voluntarism, particularly in their own personal relationships.
Once people understand that if they do not provide value in their relationships, they do not in fact have relationships, but rather are just using people in an exploitive manner, then they can work to undo the damage of the legacy that they have inherited from their family, their school, and their church, which is that you either take value from people, or you give value to people – but a mutual exchange of value is not possible. You either steal, or you are stolen from – this is not the best paradigm for having a strong, deep, and emotional understanding of the “free market of relationships” that is the primary characteristic of an anarchic world view.
Thus, exploring anarchy will free you in your world right now, the world you actually live in, the world of your professional, familial, and social relationships. Learning how to negotiate from both sides of the table will make you a more powerful and effective employee; a better and more loving spouse; a happier and more credible parent – it will bring you all the joys and liberties of a free society, even as you labour under excessive taxation and regulation.
Finally – and not insignificantly – the more that we can teach people, directly or by example, that relationships must be mutually beneficial in order to be considered positive, the more we will teach people that the State is evil, because it is one-sided, violent, and exploitive.
The world will be free of the State when we finally see that the State is inferior to all of our personal and professional relationships. When we are completely used to thinking in terms of mutual advantage, the violent exploitation of the State will finally become clear to us, and it will fall away.
- ↑ I clearly remember him telling me that everyone thought Frankenstein was the monster, when in fact it was the name of the doctor who created him – and I know that I remember that for very clear reasons, to do with my family! For anyone who is interested, I used that interaction as the basis of the sleepover conversation between the two girls in my novel “The God of Atheists”.
- ↑ “Don’t you love your country?”
- ↑ This entitlement is all the more jaw-dropping when these people tell me in advance that they do not want to this conversation released as a podcast – and don’t even offer to donate either!