The Form Of The Revolution

I’ve been thinking about anarchism for the last couple months. Thoreau captures my basic thought with the quote:

“That government is best which governs not at all” and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

My interest is primarily the second part of that statement: “when men are prepared for it.”

This is essentially the question I asked about TI’s Whatever You Like: why do some people, like Singer not eat at restaurants so they can give their money to the poor while other people pay thousands of dollars for jeweled teeth?

How do those people come to be so different?

A life where no one tries to coerce me into doing something with the threat of jail or unemployment or violence sounds pretty nice. One where I wake up in the morning and think to myself “what would I like to do today?” and then I do that.

A world full of Singers (or Ghandis or Dali Lamas or whatever) could be that way. They’d probably like some general rules like traffic lights to avoid accidents, but these are people though who, when given absolute freedom, would still do the right thing. Some mornings they would wake up and want to do things to help the less fortunate simply because they’re moral people and the suffering of others bothers them.

Most people use the term “anarchy” to be roughly synonymous with “chaos.” The basic idea is if we just told everyone tomorrow, “ok, you’re free to do whatever you like,” there’d be riots in the streets as people run amok breaking and stealing everything.

Honestly, I’m not sure that wouldn’t happen. Most everyone has at least a little part of themselves that would enjoy a little bit of mayhem. If that ball started rolling, and everyone let that little bit of mayhem loose at the same time, it probably would be a pretty nasty scene.

I think that the traditional approach to anarchism solely from a political standpoint is too limited. The theorists discuss the system and its relationship to an abstract individual, but there’s rarely discussion of how to fit the system onto an existing society.

It’s simple enough to come up with a system that would make everyone much happier if they all agree to play by the rules. To actually do anything though it’s somewhat important to ask if people actually would play by the rules. Just tearing down the prison walls and letting all the prisoners free won’t suddenly erase the qualities of those people that landed them in prison in the first place.

Certainly if you had a revolution then there would be some degree of consensus and social pressure would help bring about a certain amount of behavior change. Corrigibility works both ways though. Some people are going to turn good, but others are going to turn bad. As time goes on, what happens depends much more on the people that abstract political ideals.

A much better approach, in my opinion, is to start with the people. Assume that the Buddhists are right in saying that everyone, somewhere deep down has a drive toward transcendence. Or, use the more contemporary work of Frankl or Maslow and say that people have a fundamental driving need for meaning beyond materialism.

If it is fundamental to human nature for people essentially be nice to each other, then the question isn’t about how to change the government to give people freedom, but rather what to do to help people realize this (perhaps very latent) characteristic.

First and foremost, you have to see that people are fed and not worried that some unexpected event will have huge unnecessary social repercussions.

People make all sorts of judgments about the poor, and in all honesty, it’s the poor that we are mostly afraid will wreak havoc if laws are loosened. Humanist psychology suggests that it’s unrealistic to expect people how have to wait to get paid to buy baby formula to care about society at large.

One can argue the morality and the ethics of it until the cows come home. I can decide that my cat has an ethical obligation to wash my dishes. I can come up with eloquent arguments and get righteously upset that my cat doesn’t wash my dishes like it should. None of this, however, is going to get my dishes washed.

Certainly poor people have more decision making abilities than my cat, but the point is that the research suggests that people don’t invest significantly in their broader social worlds until they feel comfortable in their personal space. This is apparently a natural characteristic of the human organism and no amount of moralizing or debate is going to change it.

Focusing on development works well for the anarchists as well. Anarchism is in serious need of a media makeover. Even beyond the panic and disinformation spread by the popular media, there is a contingent of well-meaning, but ultimately counterproductive, anarchists who say, “I have this awesome idea about how we can all get along and respect each other. Awesome as this idea is though, I am going to need a bunch of people to probably hit other people with sticks and blow some shit up to make it happen.”

Why would someone whose goal it is to have fewer laws and less governmental control make people feel unsafe? Modern America is nothing if not a case study in the horrible sorts of things a nation will do to itself and other countries when people fear for their security.

Let anarchism be fundamentally about a system that is as fundamentally non-violent as a system can be. In an anarchist world, people don’t do what they do because they’re afraid of starving or getting thrown in jail. They do what they do because they choose to. Anarchism can be about attempting to give people as much freedom from coercion as possible, but, as I mentioned, that’s only possible if the people involved all agree to behave.

Getting people to a point that they behave is partially what Monroe is describing as building the mental muscles for self-discipline without external authority. Developmental ethicists such as Perry and Kohlberg suggest that the same sort of thing is true of morality.

One doesn’t become moral simply by getting older, one learns how to consider the effects of their actions and how to balance concerns with practice.

Let anarchism be about the individual learning to live in such a way that they don’t need the government to keep them in line. At the point that you’re doing what you do because you believe it is right given the world you live in, are you not an anarchist?

The actions of Thoreau, King and Gandhi are inherently anarchistic because they all came to a point where their personal moral code was in conflict with their society, and they chose to break an unjust law rather than go against what they thought was right.

Being an anarchist means never being able to say, “I had no choice,” but it also means never having to feel helpless.

The actions that arise from viewing anarchy as a both a personal transformation as well as a political movement are akin to Darren O’Donnell‘s social acupuncture, except you’re not picking a particular place to stick a needle, instead you’re put something out into the environment, and, if the science is right, you should see changes. It’s more a social terraforming than acupuncture.

Like the mutualists, I’ve got some ideas on how one might go about enticing people to take part in systems that encourage ethical development, if I could just free myself of these damned robots, I’d love to get to work on them. ☺

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