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:
- 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?
- Are you part of an organization or sports team etc that makes decisions based on general consensus rather than putting one individual in charge?
- 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!