Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Anarchy as Democracy

Don't ask me how, but I've fallen in with anarchists.  No, I'm not switching to anarchy.  I've just gotten into a discussion with them.  And as with any time I'm in a discussion, I discuss to win.  And that means I need to know more about their belief system than they do.  That's what makes me so great. 

And one thing I've found is that I'm really not that different from anarchists.  Well, some anarchists.  In fact, one of the ironic things about anarchy is that there are about as many different visions of anarchy as there are anarchists, if not more.  And while some anarchists hate capitalism, others embrace it.  And you never know which type you're dealing with until you assume it's the other type and get corrected.  And I'm not sure, but I think in my discussion, I've gotten involved with the two different types and now I'm totally confused.

But one anarchist tried to help me out by sending me to An Introduction to Anarchism.  But for god's sake, don't click on that link!  You'll most assuredly regret it.  It's long.  Ungodly long.  You can read it if you really want, but don't say I didn't warn you.  And while I appreciate the thoroughness, most of it was meaningless for what I was wanting to know, and it takes so long to get to the actual intro of what anarchy is that you'll probably have stopped reading long before you get there.  Because most of it is about what anarchy isn't.

Anarchy isn't lawlessness.  Anarchy isn't utopianism.  Anarchy isn't equality.  And of course, anarchy isn't the current system, which involves government taking advantage of you to oppress you, yadda yadda yadda.  Ok, I get it.  But what is it?  I'm not exactly sure.  I read all that stuff, and can only conclude that anarchy is whatever you want it to be.  It seems to be more of a feeling than an actual form of government.  And you can bet it's a good feeling.

And you'd think it meant no government, but you'd be wrong.  It basically comes down to anarchy being a free-form democracy run by the people.  That's it.  And they'll have rules that can be enforced, but it just won't be powerful, and I think they won't tax you.  Oh, and while they can enforce laws, they still don't have power over you.  Again, anarchy seems to be more of a feeling than an actual form of government.

No Domination

Here, try this, from the intro:
Perhaps the best way to describe anarchism is as the rejection of all forms of domination of one person over another.

Oookaaaaaay.  Yeah.  The rejection of all forms of domination of one person over another.  Right.  That's going to form the basis of a real government.  Of course.  But notice, this still isn't a description of what it is.  It's just more attack on the current system.  And I'm not shitting you, according to the intro, anarchy will protect "a worker who is declared useless to society and thrown out of the business he’s been working at for 30 years."  Oh, and apparently, the president can currently order airstrikes on civilian populations, something that anarchy will also put a stop to.

And that's the thing: These people aren't actually railing against our government.  They're railing against some fictional government in which we're stuck with a "few" leaders who have unlimited power and can't be stopped.  In their universe, our laws don't apply to our politicians.  Or our police.  As was explained to me, liberals believe in hiring wolves to protect the sheep and nothing can protect us from the wolves, as the laws only apply to us and not them.  Oh, and while the government is all-powerful, it's actually controlled by capitalists; who I guess are also above the law.

And when you really get down to it, you'll find that these anarchists want government.  They just don't want our government, or any government that's ever existed.  They want a government that they can control.  And they think that if you get together with all your neighbors, you can solve the problems that arise and people can work for themselves and won't need to worry about being fired.  In other words, they want democracy, mixed with a strong dash of fairy dust.

Government of the Neighbors

And it's like these people have never been to any meeting with people who disagreed before.  I've seen PTA meetings that got quite heated.  A neighborhood association where I once lived had a meeting that erupted in anger and shouting and almost fighting (thank god I never attend these stupid things) over some stupid issue that I can't even remember.  I once saw an actual coup d'etat at a Knights of Columbus meeting, because the guys who did most of the cooking were never being picked for leadership positions, and so they stacked the election meeting with new members who elected them to all the top positions.  My dad was on the nomination committee and was LIVID over what these jerks did.  It took years for that brauhaw to settle down.

And yet we're to imagine that neighbors will get together and settle real issues?  Property disputes, and rape accusations, and murder?  Really?? I'm going to trust my neighbors to handle this stuff?  Hell, I like my neighbors and live in a cool area with highly educated people who all vote the same way I vote, yet I'd prefer to let the professional police handle my burglary, thank you very much.  And by the time they catch on to my Ponzi Scheme, I'll be in the next county, pulling it again.

Oh, but did I say burglary?  There will be no need for crime, once we get anarchy.  You see, once we get all the money and property away from the "few" who possess it, then we'll all be living in the land of plenty and work will be easier than crime.  And kids will educate themselves and electricity will generate itself and iPod's will rain down like manna from the skies; while no one is ever fired.  Huzzah huzzah! 

And apparently, hunger is created by "the few," because they're all sitting on a giant stack of cheeseburgers that's just waiting to be eaten, if only we could use our anarchy to free the burgers for our own consumption.  And honestly, is it possible for a realist to debate someone with such fantasy expectations? 

Anachronistic Anarchists

And I'm not even going to get into the problems of how we handle healthcare or the elderly or education or any of that.  What's the point?  I read a long ass essay as an "intro" and still lack any sort of real world understanding of how their government is supposed to work.  I'm an accountant, dammit!  Not some pansy-assed philosophy grad.  I need real answers, like how long fixed assets depreciate in anarchy.  I'm a guy who's actually seen the faces of the faceless bureaucrats at the IRS.  Stop telling me about how all-powerful they supposedly are and start telling me how we replace them.

And honestly, I'm not going to keep going with this.  Because I really don't feel confident enough in my knowledge of anarchy to truly snark it properly.  But that's just because every damn person who's trying to explain it to me keeps explaining it in la-la magical fairy terms.  I'm told endlessly about how unfair the government treats me (unbeknownst to me), yet very little as to how this really will work.  Yeah, great, we all live in harmony, but who's going to protect my daughter from rape?  Sounds to me like a tribal justice system or vigilantes, or...something that involves one group having dominance over another, yet I was assured that this wouldn't happen.  But maybe there's no reason to rape once we get anarchy.  Maybe the rapists can rape themselves.  I don't know.

And overall, I think their main problem is that they're stealing rhetoric from the original anarchists, who were describing a different world than the one we live in.  This stuff was created back when governments really were mysterious organizations with almost unlimited powers.  But these days, Cheney can't disappear someone like Jose Padilla without everyone and his brother knowing he was on a navy ship.  And it really IS possible for a black kid from a broken home to end up in the Whitehouse.

One of my favorite books is In the Days of the Comet by HG Wells, in which he describes to a future person how horrible things were in his age, due to lack of zoning laws, employment laws, environmental laws, and the ownership of much by the few.  And while not all of these problems have been solved, it's funny looking back at this as we really have solved many of the problems he's describing.  We're so far removed from his world that it's hard to believe it was written in a century I've lived in. 

Yet, these anarchists are still describing that world, the one where we're all powerless and even educated people are completely at the mercy of a corrupt system..  Because the rhetoric they're using is still caught in the past.  These are anachronistic anarchists.  And these days, you really can be your own boss and be treated as an equal if you have a boss and be paid for what your time is worth.  And if there's a group trying to make this easier and bring about more protection and accountability for citizens, it's liberals and we're using the government to do it.

And their solution, far from getting the laws that helped remedy the situations the original anarchists were railing against, is to blame the govenrment and imagine that we can solve it all if only the government went away and let us solve them.  Somehow, we'll be able to boycott businesses that are bad in ways that our current boycotts fail.  I guess the government is blocking those too.


Grants Specialist said...

The appeal of anarchist ideas for me, when I was in high school, is that it discussed political issues from from a perspective that felt familiar. I wasn't well educated about politics or civics when I was young. Almost all of my political education came from reading history, and things where generally much harsher in the past. I knew that I didn't like nazis or totalitarians, but I didn't have a clear set of political values to judge contemporary politicians.
When I started hanging around a music scene, anarchism was kind of a default political position. It had a symbol system, slogans, and utopian ideals. Since, at the time, the political parties didn't even attempt to speak to me, I thought there was something there. It didn't take me long to figure out that all the coherent anarchists thinkers, like Proudhon, were dead and speaking to a different era. Once I figured out that Ron Paul is the most successful politician to espouse views reflective of political anarchism, I knew I had to look at different political orientations for solutions.

Once I paid attention to real political problems, I saw that the Democrats actually fought for helpful practical positions, and I was able to move past the distaste for all elected politicians beaten into me by network news.

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

Looks like I don't have to tell you how confusing it can all get when diving into the current pool of anarchists. Recently, there was a debate war between propertarians and anti-propertarians that closely resembled a soccer riot.

Some of them are full of nothing but ideals. Some are very practical and active, and absolutely every one of them has their own idea of what the world should be.

One thing that I hope you realize is that you are an exception, a discerning, intelligent and thoughtful person who is genuinely curious and not just out for another internet pissing match. So, that means you're seeing this a lot more clearly than most of the anarchists and their opponents.

Doctor Biobrain said...

The appeal of anarchist ideas for me, when I was in high school...

You're lucky. I was confused enough in high school that I was a Republican. In fact, I even used to watch the Rush Limbaugh TV show and enjoyed it. Yikes! At least anarchy was cool. I don't even score points for style.

I can still picture the all-white male audience wearing identical business suits, cherring on Limbaugh's inane rambling. Honestly, I think watching his TV show was the beginning of the end of my conservativism, as it was shortly after that that I switched sides. Putting a face on evil made a difference.

Doctor Biobrain said...

One thing that I hope you realize is that you are an exception, a discerning, intelligent and thoughtful person who is genuinely curious and not just out for another internet pissing match.

Wow, I felt I was a bit harsh with my assessment and perhaps a bit unfair (I hastily finished this, as I needed to sleep), so I'm glad to see it wasn't taken as being super-rude. I genuinely am interested in learning more and didn't want to give the impression I was dismissing everyone with what I wrote. I can't imagine being persuaded to support such ideas, but I'm always open to new things.

To be honest, I've only known one anarchist (of the communist variety) and she could politely be called "violently confused". She once insisted that the bad economy was to blame for rising prices. I tried explaining to her that a recession couldn't cause inflation, but soon realized that she didn't know what inflation was and after a few efforts at trying to explain basic economics to her, I quickly ended the discussion.

Another time, she was upset that her boyfriend couldn't make a living as a glass artist (ie, bong maker) because too many amateurs were flooding the market with cheap products whenever they needed to pay their rent. Somehow, she imagined that the world owed this guy a living, even if it meant other people couldn't pay their rent. And because of this problem, she had to support him with a job that she was woofully incompetent at (she worked for one of my clients).

Applying this lesson to anarchy, I see definite problems with the idea of people working for themselves and imagining they'll always be able to pay the bills. Trust me, the hardest part about running your own business is finding customers. Making products is easy; selling them is difficult. And when business is bad, the employees get paid while the owner bites the bullet (with the exception of Corporate America, which has suspended the normal rules of economics).

Anyway, I found it interesting to learn that there were anarchists who weren't nearly as confused as this person was. Overall, I definitely see this anarchy thing in a new light, though only because it really doesn't sound particularly anarchic. But I think I'd prefer to stick with people who actually understand modern politics and economics, and avoid the ones who still think we're living in the 19th century.

BTW, the word "anarchy" sucks and needs to be replaced. It was hard enough for us to resurrect "liberal" from the grave, but saving "anarchy" is a hopeless cause. The word evokes punk rocker nihilists and really isn't particularly accurate. I recommend something with the word democracy in it, as that's really what it sounds like. "Grassroots Democracy" is perhaps a bit too cutsy, but something along those lines would help.