Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Anarchist Quitter

I have argued with people online for a long time. When my dad got an AOL account in 1994, I was 12, and I started arguing in chat rooms and message boards. I evolved from an angry Catholic to a bemused atheist in the intervening 16 years. I went from being a staunchly conservative opponent of Bill Clinton to being too liberal to vote Democrat. From viewing women as inferior to equals, from schmoozing with the rich to sympathizing only with the poor, from an ignorant fool into an open minded asshole…

Despite a litany of alterations to my mental processes, I think the biggest change I have experienced is a rise in determination. I was always stubborn, but that’s different. Stubbornness is nothing but the determination to not budge; determination is only effective when you refuse to stop moving forward.

In my experience, anarchists are quitters. I have failed many times in attempting to bridge our gaps in ideology, to understand what I perceive to be the unworkable underpinnings of an anarchist “system” (or I guess lack thereof in some cases). And it dawned on me why our two lines of thought are completely incompatible.

Anarchists are quitters, and I can’t relate to that.

Obviously, making this observation is not some nail in the coffin of anarchists. Instead, it merely explains and puts into context what I perceive to be the emotionally driven arguments that anarchists present. The anarchist is essentially exasperated, and I can’t say I blame them.

The United States government is doing some really dumb and destructive things. Anarchists know it, I know it, basically anyone paying attention knows it. We’re all working from the same premise. The difference is, anarchists seem to have endured some traumatic existential crisis that has crippled their civic-mindedness and left them feeling impotent.

The anarchist sees the state as requiring obedience in order to function. I see the state as requiring civil disobedience in order to function. I think this may be the fundamental difference in our views of “the state.”

Every minority in US history has fought the system. For some reason, a small portion of middle class white males have turned to anarchy because they refuse to stand up to the same system that held down women, blacks, gays, etc.

Anarchists need to wake up and realize their opinion matters. They must know this on some level, because many of them have blogs where they voice their views. The problems they point to are usually valid, and it is important that they be publicized and addressed, but it is difficult to take anyone seriously when they accompany their complaints with calls for ridiculous courses of action – or no action at all.

What kind of success would women have experienced if they had argued for the dissolution of the US, rather than seeking the right to vote? It is arguable that they still would not have suffrage, because a group that seeks to achieve ridiculous and impossible goals often only succeeds in being a complete failure. I’m all for idealism as an outlet for creative political development. All great ideas started in the mind of an idealist, but to be fair, so have all of the abhorrent ones.

I don’t think anarchy is one of the great ideas. I could be wrong, of course, and if you’re reading this, then odds are you think I’m full of shit. To be fair, I don’t think anarchy is a useless ideology with nothing to offer me. If I thought this, I wouldn’t be writing this now; I would stop posting here and move on to greener pastures. I suppose I’m just not a quitter.

Rather than write off anarchists as fools, I search for what aspects of anarchy are appealing to anarchists and attempt to find ways to work them into schemes I imagine to be superior. Anarchy is notably noble for attempting to dissolve hierarchies and support liberty, I just don’t see egalitarianism and freedom to be the natural state of humanity. This doesn’t mean freedom and equality are any less preferable, it simply means they require maintenance. I have yet to see the methods by which their upkeep is maintained in an anarchy.

From my brief back-and-forth with Francois Tremblay, I am not impressed. And why would I be impressed by someone who so rapidly abandons the ideas being discussed in favor of accusing his opponent of close-minded opposition (hell, even I can do that). I found this to be a polite mutual exchange, clearly he did not. I hope this doesn’t discourage him from commenting, and I don’t know how to take the pseudo-threat of his loss of respect for SE.

I do want to apologize briefly to Nikk, because I know he has quoted and linked to Tremblay in the past, so I am profusely sorry if I have embarrassed you and your blog in front of someone you respect. I don’t know your level of admiration for Tremblay, but I hope the level of respect I showed him was appropriate. If Gerald Celente came on here and commented on my post, I wouldn’t jump to calling him a retard (at least not immediately).

But back to how anarchists are defeatists… I think anarchy in general is a quitter’s mentality projected upon a society. Perhaps this is why every anarchy is doomed, because every anarchy does inevitably give up when faced with a serious organized threat. However, one should note that it is not solely statists that rise up against anarchy, it is always accompanied by religious zealots.

Perhaps this is why I fear anarchy: it is the foothold religion needs. Religion has lost ground to the state, and religion needs the dissolution of the secular state in order for it to rise to prominence again. Every anarchy in history was accompanied by a subsequent theocracy:

- The English civil war was followed by the theocracy of Cromwell and an overbearing religio-statism influenced by Hobbes’ “Leviathan”

- The French Revolution resulted in Napoleon’s theocratic alliance with the Catholic Church

- The Spanish Civil War ended with egalitarian anarchy… that was quickly quashed by Franco and his organized Catholic allies in the Spanish Revolution

- Today, in Somalia, the dissolution of the government has resulted in the rising influence of fundamentalist Islam

I like my freedoms, which is why I so fervently oppose anarchy. Anarchists are the unwitting ushers of theocratic oppression. I’m not sure how any student of history could see otherwise. The only problem is, you can’t convince any anarchist of this, because he’s convinced that theocracy can only march through the front door, not sneak in the back door which has been left ajar by anarchy.

Can religious despots seize power by traditional means? Clearly. However, I fail to see what good can come from saying, “A tyrant can be elected,” because the possibility of tyranny is less frightening to me than anarchy’s assurance of it. Tyrants can and are elected. It is not only the citizenry’s responsibility to oppose those that are, but it is clearly in their best interest to do so.

What drew me to anarchists is their willingness to criticize all sides of the political spectrum. I can relate to this. However, there are those who say the anarchist can be equated to the atheist, and while I have no problem denying the gods I cannot see or feel, I am technically agnostic because I don’t know. While I am derided as a “statist,” I am not. I can’t pretend to know what is best, only what I perceive to be the best based on historical examples; I would more accurately be an agnostic on matters of governance.

This is an unenviable position for me, because I have long ago adopted atheism while simultaneously still being an agnostic. Identifying as an agnostic means you are criticized by both theists and atheists. I decided to side with atheists as a matter of practicality. I am, for all intents and purposes, living and acting as if there were no gods. Ergo, I am a de facto practicing atheist, though I cannot say with certainty something like “there are no gods,” because I do not have irrefutable evidence.

While I an uncertain of anarchy, I see holes in it which are perhaps too large to be patched. My view of anarchists as quitters seems to be reinforced by the utter lack of tangible courses of action being presented by anarchists. Perhaps the anarchist position is to gain the reins of power through incessant criticism, though how this would happen and what they would do if it did is a mystery to me.

Criticism is good. It is the most important ingredient in any healthy society. What worries me most is not the anarchist’s criticism of others, but their inability to take it. Anarchism has a glass jaw, and seems to go down for the count quickly in any sort of discussion that aims criticism at anarchy rather than at “the state.”

What’s more, anarchy relies on demonizing and dehumanizing government to the point of seeing it as separate and apart from society. The anarchist position almost seems to be that the government is being bred and indoctrinated somewhere apart from the rest of us, that the government is anything but us.

The anarchist has conflated his decision to remain powerless in the debate (by never presenting a real solution or taking any sort of constructive action) and projected this powerlessness upon society as a whole, imagining the common person as somehow apart from the government. This has always been the stance of rebellious ideologies: it’s Us versus Them. The anarchist seems to be saying that while They are big and evil, We are small but noble, and We should not tolerate Them, so They have to go.

This just isn’t how I see things. This isn’t the reality I have observed. I have never seen Them, only Us, and if We can’t get it to work, it’s because We failed. Place the blame where it belongs: on Us. More importantly, anarchists need to do something or come up with real solutions, not spout emotional responses to the very real problems we face.


  1. True irony requires showing your own weakness in the bargain. You failed to do that here.

    Fred Bethune tried the approach you're using here, in two different variants, over at SMBIVA. It didn't persuade under Bethune, and it's not too persuasive here.

    It presents a pretty good Emily Littella moment though, where you put yourself into the position of being dead-wrong in your assumptions because of a misunderstanding of something simple. So there's minor comic value in that.

    And now, I quit this comment thread.

  2. I'm not surprised by your non-answer. What I am surprised by is your incoherence.

  3. I've never considered myself to be anarchist or anarcho-capitalist (which isn't true anarchism, apparently). But I don't see government as a necessity in our lives. Despite the best efforts of government to address the prevailing social, economic, and moral failings of man, there are huge leaks in the system that never seem to be plugged up, promises to the contrary.

    Government is, in essence, a monopoly of 'legal' force. It's primary function is to inflict force on individuals, given a certain set of parameters, usually related to crime and foreign invasion. I believe that no individual has a right to take away another individual's property through force. Since government is made up of a series of individuals, they violate this fundamental belief of mine.

    For whatever reason you may believe, man is imperfect in some fashion. We can behave irrationally at times and sometimes downright evil. Allowing people to have power over others doesn't seem to have resolved this because even the best of us can behave incredibly wicked at times. So having people in government doesn't seem to be working out.

    As for your comments on revolutionary Anarchism, I oppose it as well for the same reasons. But such a system can still be implemented gradually without force. It starts by having individuals create alternatives to government services and directly competing with them. I am believe that the vast majority of people accept government services because there is no suitable alternative prominently offered.

  4. For whatever reason you may believe, man is imperfect in some fashion. We can behave irrationally at times and sometimes downright evil. Allowing people to have power over others doesn't seem to have resolved this because even the best of us can behave incredibly wicked at times. So having people in government doesn't seem to be working out.

    I need to do a post on power and where it comes from, because I get the feeling that anarchists don't look at it the same way that I do.

    I think a did a post a while back on how I view anarchism as an end-game socio-political goal, but that it takes a gradual evolution. I also want to add the caveat that I think anarchism only works on a global scale, as this eliminates the threat of outside aggressors. Sorry if any one's "one world government" radar just dinged.

  5. You need to work that Empty Suit angle a bit harder, Bret. Seriously. Almost there.

  6. I always saw myself as more of an empty sweater and track pants.

  7. Gotta give you credit Brett. You can take as well as you can dish.

  8. Don't you ever fucking call me Brett again, you ignorant pile of laundry!


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