• LX – What Is Anarchy?

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    I
    have mixed feelings about the use of labels to describe philosophical
    views, whether of myself or others. It is difficult to avoid doing
    so because our efforts to understand and communicate about the world
    necessarily involve the use of words and words are, as Alfred Korzybski
    warned us, abstractions that never equate with what they are meant
    to describe. His oft-quoted statement that "the map is not
    the territory" offers a caveat whose implications for confusion
    are further compounded when addressing such abstract topics as political
    philosophy.

    One
    philosophical abstraction that seems to befuddle most people is
    "anarchy." To those challenged by complexity — such as
    radio talk show hosts and cable-TV "newscasters" who are
    convinced that all political opinions can be confined to the categories
    of "liberal" and "conservative" — the word anarchy
    evokes an unfocused fear of uncertain forces. Images of bomb-throwing
    thugs who smash and burn the property of others are routinely conjured
    up by politicians and the media to frighten people into an extension
    of police authority over their lives. "Disorder" and "lawless
    confusion" are common dictionary definitions of this word.

    That
    there have been some, calling themselves "anarchists,"
    who have engaged in violence on behalf of their political ambitions,
    is not to be denied. Nor can we overlook the provocateuring
    occasionally engaged in by undercover policemen — operating under
    the guise of "anarchists" — to justify harsh reprisals
    against political protests. But to condemn a philosophic viewpoint
    because a few wish to corrupt its meaning for their narrow advantage
    is no more justifiable than condemning Christianity because a man
    murders his family and defends his acts on the grounds "God
    told me to do it!"

    As
    long as a president continues to rationalize war against the Iraqi
    people as "operation freedom"; as long as the Strategic
    Air Command insists that "peace is our profession"; and
    as long as police departments advertise that they are there "to
    serve and protect," intelligent minds must be prepared to look
    behind the superficiality and imagery of words to discover their
    deeper meaning. Such is the case with the word "anarchy."

    The
    late Robert LeFevre made one such effort to transcend the popular
    meaning of the word when he declared that "an anarchist is
    anyone who believes in less government than you do." But an
    even better understanding of the concept can be derived from the
    Greek origins of the word (anarkhos) which meant "without
    a ruler." It is this definition of the word that members of
    the political power structure (i.e., your "rulers") do
    not want you to consider. Far better that you fear the hidden monsters
    and hobgoblins who are just waiting to bring terror and havoc to
    your lives should efforts to increase police powers or budgets fail.

    Are
    there murderers, kidnappers, rapists, and arsonists in our world?
    Of course there are, and there will always be, and they do not all
    work for the state. It is amazing that, with all the powers and
    money conferred upon the state to "protect" us from such
    threats, they continue to occur with a regularity that seems to
    have increased with the size of government! Even the current "mad
    cow disease" scare is being used, by the statists, as a reason
    for more government regulation, an effort that conveniently ignores
    the fact that the federal government has been closely regulating
    meat production for many decades.

    Nor
    can we ignore the history of the state in visiting upon humanity
    the very death and destruction that its defenders insist upon as
    a rationale for political power. Those who condemn anarchy should
    engage in some quantitative analysis. In the twentieth century alone,
    governments managed to kill — through wars, genocides, and other
    deadly practices — some 200,000,000 men, women, and children. How
    many people were killed by anarchists during this period? Governments,
    not anarchists, have been the deadly "bomb-throwers" of
    human history!

    Because
    of the disingenuous manner in which this word has been employed,
    I endeavor to be as precise in my use of the term as possible. I
    employ the word "anarchy" not as a noun,
    but as a verb. I envision no utopian community, no "Galt's
    Gulch" to which free men and women can repair. I prefer to
    think of anarchy as a way in which people deal with one another
    in a peaceful, cooperative manner; respectful of the inviolability
    of each other's lives and property interests; resorting to contract
    and voluntary transactions rather than coercion and expropriation
    as a way of functioning in society.

    I
    am often asked if anarchy has ever existed in our world, to which
    I answer: almost all of your daily behavior is an anarchistic expression.
    How you deal with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow customers in
    shopping malls or grocery stores, is often determined by subtle
    processes of negotiation and cooperation. Social pressures, unrelated
    to statutory enactments, influence our behavior on crowded freeways
    or grocery checkout lines. If we dealt with our colleagues at work
    in the same coercive and threatening manner by which the state insists
    on dealing with us, our employment would be immediately terminated.
    We would soon be without friends were we to demand that they adhere
    to specific behavioral standards that we had mandated for their
    lives.

    Should
    you come over to our home for a visit, you will not be taxed, searched,
    required to show a passport or driver's license, fined, jailed,
    threatened, handcuffed, or prohibited from leaving. I suspect that
    your relationships with your friends are conducted on the same basis
    of mutual respect. In short, virtually all of our dealings with
    friends and strangers alike are grounded in practices that are peaceful,
    voluntary, and devoid of coercion.

    A
    very interesting study of the orderly nature of anarchy is found
    in John Phillip Reid's book, Law
    for the Elephant
    . Reid studied numerous diaries and letters
    written by persons crossing the overland trail in wagon trains going
    from St. Joseph, Missouri to Oregon and California. The institutions
    we have been conditioned to equate with "law and order"
    (e.g., police, prisons, judges, etc.) were absent along the frontier,
    and Reid was interested in discovering how people behaved toward
    one another in such circumstances. He discovered that most people
    respected property and contract rights, and settled whatever differences
    they had in a peaceful manner, all of this in spite of the fact
    that there were no "authorities" to call in to enforce
    a decision. Such traits went so far as to include respect for the
    property claims of Indians. The values and integrities that individuals
    brought with them were sufficient to keep the wagon trains as peaceful
    communities.

    Having
    spent many years driving on California freeways, I have observed
    an informal order amongst motorists who are complete strangers to
    one another. There is a general — albeit not universal — courtesy
    exhibited when one driver wishes to make a lane change and, in spite
    of noncooperative drivers, a spontaneous order arises from this
    interplay. A major reason for the cooperative order lies in the
    fact that a driving mistake can result in serious injury or death,
    and that such consequences will be felt at once, and by the
    actor, unlike political decision-making that shifts the costs to
    others.

    One
    may answer that freeway driving is regulated by the state, and that
    driving habits are not indicative of anarchistic behavior. The same
    response can be made concerning our behavior generally (i.e., that
    government laws dictate our conduct in all settings). But this misconceives
    the causal connections at work. The supervision of our moment-to-moment
    activities by the state is too remote to affect our actions. We
    are polite to fellow shoppers or our neighbor for reasons that have
    nothing to do with legal prescripts. What makes our dealings with
    others peaceful and respectful comes from within ourselves,
    not from beyond. For precisely the same reason, a society can be
    utterly destroyed by the corruption of such subjective influences,
    and no blizzard of legislative enactments or quadrupling of police
    forces will be able to avert the entropic outcome. Do you now understand
    the social meaning of the "Humpty-Dumpty" nursery rhyme?

    The
    study of complexity, or chaos, informs us of patterns of regularity
    that lie hidden in our world, but which spontaneously manifest themselves
    to generate the order that we like to pretend authorities have created
    for us. There is much to discover about the interplay of unseen
    forces that work, without conscious direction, to make our lives
    more productive and peaceful than even the best-intended autocrat
    can accomplish. As the disruptive histories of state planning and
    regulation reveal, efforts to impose order by fiat often produce
    disorder, a phenomenon whose explanation is to be found in the dynamical
    nature of complexity. In the words of Terry Pratchett: "Chaos
    is found in greatest abundance wherever order is being sought. Chaos
    always defeats order because it is better organized."

    "Anarchy"
    is an expression of social behavior that reflects the individualized
    nature of life. Only as living beings are free to pursue their particular
    interests in the unique circumstances in which they find themselves,
    can conditions for the well-being of all be attained. Anarchy presumes
    decentralized and cooperative systems that serve the mutual interests
    of the individuals comprising them, without the systems ever becoming
    their own reasons for being. It is this thinking, and the practices
    that result therefrom, that is alone responsible for whatever peace
    and order exists in society.

    Political
    thinking, by contrast, presumes the supremacy of the systems (i.e.,
    the state) and reduces individuals to the status of resources for
    the accomplishment of their ends. Such systems are grounded in the
    mass-minded conditioning and behavior that has produced the deadly
    wars, economic dislocations, genocides, and police-state oppressions
    that comprise the essence of political history.

    Men
    and women need nothing so much right now as to rediscover and reenergize
    their own souls. They will never be able to accomplish such purposes
    in the dehumanizing and dispirited state systems that insist upon
    controlling their lives and property. In the sentiments underlying
    anarchistic thinking, men and women may be able to find the individualized
    sense of being and self-direction that they long ago abandoned in
    marbled halls and citadels.

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