I’m an anarchist and so are you (probably)

Guest post by Jennifer
By: snappa – CC BY 2.0
By: snappaCC BY 2.0

Smashing the windows of Starbucks, a giant red encircled A, and the music of the Sex Pistols… these are the things, images, and sounds that may be evoked when people are discussing anarchy. I’m writing to set the record straight and share with you the ways in which anarchy can and should be incorporated into everyday life.

First off, a quick quiz:

  1. In the absence of police/regulators do you wait your turn in line to get on the bus, pay at your cafeteria, or mail something at the post office?
  2. Are you part of an organization or sports team etc that makes decisions based on general consensus rather than putting one individual in charge?
  3. Do you think the current economic system is often unfair — encouraging winners and losers?

If you answered yes to any of these you are practicing anarchism!

For those people less familiar with anarchism, it is a political philosophy that differs depending on the perspective of the advocate, from extreme individualism to collective or social anarchism. The anarchism I’m writing about today is a more collectivist anarchism rather than a form of libertarianism.

This anarchist tradition was borne out of dissatisfaction with the authority and hierarchies imposed and strengthened by the state. The philosophy even dismisses communism, which was and is considered by anarchists to be a great move away from capitalism, but a political ideology that will eventually lead to corruption and authoritarianism (I’m simplifying here for brevity).

Bakunin, and other anarchists (Kropotkin, Reclus, Proudhon etc.) believed that human nature requires freedom and release from political and social hierarchies that suppress and subjugate, but that as humans we also need and value community, inclusion, and equality.

So how do we get freedom and community within one political system? From this perspective, the state is problematic, people need personal autonomy that the state limits, so let’s free ourselves from the state as much as is possible and practice mutual aid.

Mutual aid is the reciprocal exchange of things and/or services. It’s an intrinsic element of communal society that has been practiced in most ancient civilizations. Today, many people practice mutual aid by “paying it forward,” but there are also methods of mutual aid that people don’t even recognize as anarchist practices. See, ya’ll just might be anarchists too without knowing it!

Helping out a neighbour (literal or figurative) in a time of need — like jump-starting someone’s car who you may not know, sharing apples from a tree that grows in your backyard, or posting items as “free” on Craigslist are all anarchist actions — neither bureaucratic nor forced. Scaling up from the individual level, having a portion of the food grown within a community garden go to a local food bank, or participating in lending circles are also common practices based on anarchism. As you can see these are not violent, or non-destructive actions, but they do promote decentralized and community-driven responses that can address issues without capitalism or authoritarianism. They are revolutionary, regardless of the scale.

Many of the problems we face today have been created and/or strengthened by our political and economic systems (environmental degradation comes to mind). We can’t undo the problems of this system by further embedding it in our problem-solving actions. For example, water conservation and pollution are often addressed through water privatization. The problem is caused by our political and economic system and then further solved by the same system — usually not very successfully.

It’s time to get radical — not by smashing windows, but by encouraging and participating in social anarchism. Participate in or lead a clothing exchange among friends, join your local community garden, act on the basis of equality — gender, sexual, racial, religious, and income equality. Show solidarity with individuals who may be experiencing suppression by socially constructed hierarchies. Practicing anarchism in your daily life can do a lot to disengage from this problematic system. I get that we can’t all live off the grid, but take control over your own life to the greatest degree possible and help others do the same.

Now you’re an anarchist!

Comments on I’m an anarchist and so are you (probably)

  1. I love these examples of daily practices that can be understood as revolutionary and anarchist. My partner is somewhat more of an anarchist than I am (and he is probably less of an anarchist than he was in the past). But I really appreciate these descriptions. Just the other day, I was thinking about the time I gave away all my furniture via a community listserv because I was moving into a furnished room and didn’t want to deal with negotiating prices. According to the post, that’s anarchy – awesome! I’m wondering if you have read Ursula K. LeGuin’s classic The Dispossessed? It presents (and questions, but does not entirely dismiss) a society organized around precisely the type of community actions that you describe.

    • Giving away your furniture is most certainly mutual aid which is an anarchist practice/ principle! Even if your intent was more about avoiding frustration than altruism it is still mutual aid in my book 🙂 you did not do it based on coercion or burocracy!

      It’s been a long time since I read The Dispossessed, but from what I recall I thought the centralized government and the putting of the community first was much more similar to the problems associated with communism that Bakunin spelled out (much to the chagrin of Marx who was in part responsible for having Bakunin sent to a Siberian prison – talk about not taking criticism well!). Within social anarchism you want to avoid controlling others and limit the amount that you are controlled, so the whole idea of the school system within the book does not speak to anarchism in my understanding.

      • There are some aspects of the society in The Dispossessed that remind me of the social anarchism you describe because of the way characters act altruistically within communities (not because they are forced to but in the same way that we stand in line at the post office), which is what I was thinking of most. However, you are right that the society of the novel exerts lots of control over personal freedom. LeGuin is ultimately entering a discussion about anarchist communism and its limitations, so she doesn’t portray an ideal by any means (and that’s the point).

        • That definitely sounds like social anarchism – I just don’t remember the book as well as you 🙂 I had thought the state mandated altruism, but I just don’t remember it all that well!

  2. Interesting. I think a lot of these things work great on a small scale among groups that are either a) homogenous or b) open and accepting (and homogenous in terms of that mindset if not in other ways), especially decentralized decision-making. I guess the question is, how do you scale it? Or do you even want to try to scale it at all? My inclination is to say that this is best applied to one’s local communities through the kinds of actions you described in your post.

    Even though I completely agree with things like paying it forward, helping out those in need regardless of whether you know them or not (and I have definitely done and continue to do those things), I can’t help but feel grateful for certain types of technological leaps and breakthroughs that we have achieved in a competitive system, and which I’m not certain we would have achieved without such a system. Some examples: basically any healthcare advance you can think of, but especially those related to contraception and the ability to control when/if to reproduce.

    That being said, I think that there’s a happy median somewhere. Because our current system, and the systems that have preceded it, are pretty jacked in a variety of ways that I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on.

    • Most anarchists advocate for keeping to a small scale. In fact most anarchists were originally geographers who advocated for living within the means of the ecosystem in order to avoid the need for intercommunity trading (generally – this is a pretty simple reading of some of the texts, but you know what I mean :))… generally a 100mile diet + strategy.

      I’m sure there are lots of examples wherein a competitive market was useful, but insulin was developed within a mutual aid framework and so was the pill (Banting didn’t patent his invention because he wanted insulin to be readily available and not cost prohibitive; planned parenthood developed the first birth control pill and they are a not for profit organization and other birth control methods are so old its hard to know the motivation behind their invention), so I’m not completely convinced that a competitive market is inherently necessary for medical advances.

      • I think there’s a lot to be said for living locally within the means of an ecosystem and not exploiting the environment. We are also at the point population-wise though, where I don’t think it’s really possible to get by without trade. So then I suppose we are left with trying to figure out ways to feed everyone and keep epidemics under control without messing up the planet we live on any more than we already have. I hope that a combination of technology and emphasis on community and cooperation will help achieve that.

        As for what you mentioned about birth control, I guess it just depends on how you are definining your terms and to what level. I wouldn’t consider not patenting something to be anarchist, but I definitely see the argument for it. In addition to the development of such things though, you also have to consider the transportation required to distribute them effectively, as well as the conditions that made it possible to create them. Getting the infrastucture in place to develop and distribute over a large population and area requires a large organizational structure of some kind to exist. Otherwise you get lots of isolated communities that not only don’t trade goods, but also don’t trade ideas. When you don’t trade ideas, innovation happens much more slowly, and if you don’t trade goods, then advances that get made in isolation never have the chance to benefit anyone outside of the immediate community.

  3. From a fellow anarchist-yeah! I think I originally started calling myself an anarchist after a “what anarchism means to me” discussion I had with a friend in college that was along the lines of this post. Before that my ideas were all connected to the stereotypes you mentioned, but then I started learning that it is so much more.

  4. This is fine as a personal philosophy, however, understand that those of us who work in government, specifically legal and political advocacy, do not work to gain power over our constituents and clients, but rather to uphold social institutions and laws that were built to protect individual interests from being swallowed by powerful majorities. The reason you are able to publish about anarchism and speak out against these institutions is because you have that right, and that is something that civil liberties lawyers and activists fight to uphold as their profession. We are not all corrupt.

    If you truly believe that there are problems with our government and its entanglements with private interests, vote (in every election), call your reps. and enter your opinion as a constituent, comment on regulations at regulations.gov, volunteer as a victim advocate, and actively PARTICIPATE. Fight apathy. You are part of this world, make it better.

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