*asked of this anarchist about anarchism
I know, I know. There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers or bad teachers or what have you. Still, anarchism is so widely and wildly misunderstood, especially in this country, that it does become a bit exasperating trying to address all the misapprehensions and slander that are floating around. So first, a hopelessly incomplete and imperfect definition before we begin the questioning. Anarchy, the dictionary will tell us, is a society without rulers or government. Anarchism, we may project, is the philosophy of such a system. Well, that doesn't tell us a lot - what it isn't, rather than what it is. This is at least partly responsible for some of the common misunderstandings about anarchism - for example, that it simply means "chaos" or "disorder." Not necessarily true.
There are lots of different definitions; one would be "a society based upon mutual aid, cooperation, and free association, without heirarchy or authority." Another way to look at it is as a democracy so radical that the idea of government as a seperate pursuit, profession or activity dissolves: "government," or more accurately self-government, becomes so decentralized, so deeply woven into the fabric of existance, that it loses meaning as a distinct discipline. Imagine a group of friends getting together to build a deck, or make a meal: no one has to draw up rules; reasonable people will yield temporarily to an individual's competence or expertise. This isn't authority, because it is constantly questioned, and reassesed throughout the project - it's based on a consensual agreement about each individual's skill or knowledge, not on wealth or title or any other arbitrary or enforced distinction. An important part of any brand of anarchism is the idea that people will behave and respond differently in different kinds of societies or structures. This may seem obvious - kick a dog and it will bite you; be friendly and it will do the same - but the implications for a society are huge. How would we expect people to respond to a culture of greed and competition? What sort of citizen does that create? And what sort of citizen might a society based on differnt values create? At one level, that's what anarchism is all about - trying to answer those questions. So, here are some questions that, if not stupid, at least often reflect some common misunderstandings.
Q: "So. You've got a society without government, hierarchy, or authority. Who's going to take out the trash?" The premise is that there is an undesirable task that must be dispensed with. Implicit is the assumption that the asker will never be a refuse removal officer. To paraphrase: "I'm an American, and can't help but noticing that around the globe there are all manner of horrible jobs that the accident of my birth keeps me from (see also road building, ditch digging, all manufacturing). How can you ensure that in this new society I will be able to keep my hands clean?"
A: I can ensure, in fact, that your hands will be on occasion quite soiled. You make trash, you deal with it, or work it out with your neighbors. You want roads, you build them! No one's going to do your dirty work for you, bourgeoisie scum! Just kidding. Not really. The point is that if everyone did a share of such work we might realize quite quickly that our lovely post industrial wasteland isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Q: "Are you saying everyone should earn the same wage?" First of all, in a truly anarchistic society, there would be no money and therefore no wages. Communities would be designed around the satisfaction of needs (real ones like food and shelter and bikes, not all that crap TV tells us we "need.") But, OK, let's talk about a next step, along the lines of democratic socialism or anarcho-syndicalism. Plato said that no business or society could function with a ratio of wealth, poorest to richest, of more than 1 to 7. In this country the ratio of average worker income to average CEO income is more than 1 to 200. The way to address this, and the wage issue in general, is to have democracy in the workplace. Businesses would be owned by the workers. The setting of wages, and indeed all decisions, would be make by the entire company. No one gets laid off to please stockholders; the company is its people, so it can't move in search of sweatshops or slave labor. And no, no one is likely to "earn" $5000 an hour for sitting a desk figuring out how to exploit someone else. But again, to paraphrase; "I'm an American family, and earn on average about $30,000 a year. I can't help noticing that per capita global income is about $1000 a year. Am I going to have to give up Star Wars defense systems, the insurance industry, and SUVs?"
Q: "Will people work if there's no profit motive?"
Ah, the profit motive! Have you been reading an economics text? Naughty! We Americans like to believe that the rich earned their wealth through moxie, gumption, elbow grease, and other disgusting fluids. Or rather, we Americans are told to believe this by the rich. There are only two known ways to make money: innovation and exploitation. We like to believe that most of our most popular and influential corporations attained their unprecedented size through great ideas: you know, "stick a wheel on that!" or "What if we rounded the edges?" or "If we use jellied gasoline it would stick until it burned to the bone!" The global history of wealth, however, is more along the lines of "What if we sell them the land and then steal it back?" or "Let's just dump this waste in the river" or "If we work them 18 hours a day they'll be too exhausted to resist" or "Surely these savages don't need [land, freedom, rights, etc.]." Not to sell capitalism short, so to speak - sweatshops, slavery, child labor, and temp agencies are innovations - innovations in exploitation, but innovative nonetheless.
A: Oh yeah, the profit motive. So, yes, I think we'll do just fine without it, thank you. If someone really wants to develop S&Ls and the advertising industry, you know, just for shits and giggles, they're free to do so.
Q: "This sounds like a bucolic, pastoral existence. But what if I like my job, providing factory air-conditioning from my fully factory air-conditioned, air conditioning factory?"
A: That does sound great. Again, it has a lot to do with perspective. For Americans to occasionally "like their jobs" is no surprise - we are, after all, the beneficiaries of the whole global bloody economy. It's all for you! If the richest group of people in the history of the planet wasn't pleased with the prevailing economic order, something really would be amiss. We've got 5% of the world's population, and consume 20% of its resources. "Liking it" is about as surprising and profound as an ante-bellum Southern slave holder saying he approves of slavery. It's like you're the belle of the ball at Tara, and you say you like it? Yeah, no shit, but that sucker is going to burn!
Q: "What about criminals?"
A: This is sort of like the question about the trash: people asking it usually assume that they are and always will be on the "right" side of the law. Listen: theft by corporations, the production of weapons, the destruction of the environment, and the enslavement of foreign workers are not only legal but keenly encouraged; capitalism is highly organized and motivated theft. Meanwhile, the sale of alcohol, our state-sanctioned drug of choice, is quite profitable, while the jails are clogged with pot smokers and CIA-sponsored crack addicts. I'll let you look up the statistics in your Cypress Hill albums. Anyone in jail is an amateur; the really skilled mass murderers and thieves are safely cloaked in their robes of state.