Are You An Anarchist? The Answer May Surprise You! – (David Graeber)

David Graeber

graeberDavid Graeber một nhà nhân chủng xã hội học Mỹ, cũng là nhà vận động chính trị và viết sách. Ông hiện là giáo sư tại trường Kinh Tế Luân Đôn- trước đây từng là phó giáo sư nhân chủng xã hội học tại đại học Yale. Ông là một trong những người tiên phong trợ lực tổ chức và dấy động các cao trào công lý xã hội như Occupy Wall St. Ông viết nhiều bài viết và sách về nguyên lý Phi Quyền Chính, trong đó có một quyển nổi tiếng và gây nhiều tranh luận như The Democracy Project, and Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011)
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Rất có thể bạn đã nghe qua đại khái về những người phi quyền chính họ ra làm sao và họ tin vào những tư tưởng gì. Và cũng rất có thể hầu hết những gì bạn nghe qua đó đều là vớ vẩn sai bét. Rất nhiều người nghĩ rằng phi quyền chính là những người ủng hộ bạo lực, hỗn loạn và hành động phá hoại, rằng họ chống lại bất cứ hình thức trật tự và tổ chức loại nào, hoặc họ là những người theo thuyết hư vô điên rồ chỉ muốn phá hủy mọi vật trên đời này. Trong thực tế, thì những nhận định này chẳng có gì gần với sự thật hết.

Những người Phi Quyền Chính đơn giản là những người tin là loài người có khả năng hành xử một cách hợp lý mà không cần phải bị cưỡng chế.. Nó thực sự là một khái niệm rất đơn giản. Nhưng nó chính là một trong những nguyên lý sống mà bọn người giàu có và quyền lực luôn cảm thấy cực kỳ nguy hiểm đối với họ.

Ở mức đơn giản nhất, người phi quyền chính tin vào hai giả định cơ bản như sau. Thứ nhất là con người ở những hoàn cảnh bình thường, họ hành xử hợp lý và đúng đắn khi họ được hoạt động tự do, và có khả năng tự tổ chức giữa họ và cộng đồng của họ mà không cần thiết phải bị ra lệnh làm như thế nào. Thứ hai là quyền lực là băng hoại. Hầu hết, phi quyền chính chỉ là vấn đề của việc có đủ can đảm để ứng dụng những nguyên lý đơn giản của tính tốt đẹp thông thường mà tất cả chúng ta sống theo, và theo những nguyên lý này để thông đạt đến những kết luận hợp lý. Mặc dù điều này nghe có vẻ kỳ quặc, nhưng trong hầu hết những cách xử thế quan trọng, bạn có lẽ đã là một người phi quyền chính rồi mà bạn chỉ chưa nhận ra đó thôi.

Hãy khời đầu với vài thí dụ từ hành xử hàng ngày của chúng ta:

  • Nếu có một dẫy người xếp hàng để lên một xe buýt đông người, bạn có tuần tự đợi đến lượt của bạn mà không chen lấn xô đẩy người khác để giành đi lên trước không, ngay cả trong trường hợp không có cảnh sát?

Nếu bạn trả lời “có”, thì đó chính là bạn từng hành động như một người phi quyền chính! Nguyên tắc phi quyền chính cơ bản nhất là sự tự tổ chức xếp đặt hành xử tương tác: trong quan niệm rằng con người không cần phải bị đe dọa bắt bớ để có những hành động hiểu biết hợp lý với nhau, hoặc đối xử với nhau một cách tôn trọng. ((hay nguyên lý “trật tự tự phát” (spontaneous order) mà Pierre Joseph Proudhon từng diễn giải – và một số nhà nghiên cứu đã thấy rằng nguyên lý này đã được Trang Tử Zhuangzi (369–286 BCE) đề xuất trong Nam Hoa Kinh- người dịch chú thích)

Mọi người đều tin rằng tự chính họ có khả năng hành xử hợp lý . Nếu họ nghĩ rằng luật pháp và cảnh sát là cần thiết, đó chỉ là vì họ không tin rằng những người khác cũng có khả năng tự hành xử hợp lý như họ. Nhưng nếu bạn suy nghĩ kỹ hơn chút, thì có phải tất cả những người đó cũng suy nghĩ chính xác như vậy về bản thân bạn không?

Người Phi quyền chính cho rằng gần như tất cả các hành vi chống đối xã hội mà làm cho chúng ta nghĩ rằng cần thiết để có quân đội, cảnh sát, nhà tù, và nhà nước chính phủ để kiểm soát cuộc sống của chúng ta, thực sự là do chính sự bất bình đẳng và bất công có hệ thống của chính quân đội, cảnh sát, nhà tù và nhà nước chính phủ tạo ra. Nó là tất cả một vòng tròn luẩn quẩn bạo ngược.

Khi con người bị thường xuyên đối xử, chẳng hạn như coi những ý kiến của họ không có tí nào quan trọng hết, họ có thể trở nên tức giận và hoài nghi, thậm chí còn bạo lực – và tất nhiên những hành xử phản ứng này rất dễ dàng để cho những người cầm quyền hành trong tay qui kết rằng những ý kiến của họ không có một giá trị nào hết.

Một khi con người hiểu rằng ý kiến của họ thực sự giá trị giống như bất kỳ của ai khác, họ lại có xu hướng hiểu biết và cảm thông đáng kể. Nói ngắn gọn là: Người phi quyền chính qui kết rằng phần lớn của vấn nạn nằm ngay tại chính quyền lực, và những tác động của quyền lực mới làm cho người ta ngu tối và vô trách nhiệm.

  • Bạn có phải là thành viên của một câu lạc bộ hay đội thể thao, hay bất kỳ một tổ chức tự nguyện nào khác, nơi mà quyết định không bị áp đặt từ một vị lãnh đạo mà được thực hiện dựa trên cơ sở đồng thuận chung?

Nếu bạn trả lời “có”, thì bạn thuộc một tổ chức đang hoạt động trên nguyên tắc Phi quyền chính! Một nguyên lý cơ bản nữa của Phi quyền chính là sự tự nguyện tham gia kết hợp. Điều này chỉ đơn giản là việc áp dụng các nguyên tắc dân chủ trong cuộc sống bình thường.

Sự khác biệt duy nhất là Phi quyền chính tin rằng chúng ta có thể gầy dựng một xã hội mà trong đó tất cả mọi thứ đều có thể được tổ chức dựa theo những nguyên tắc cơ bản trên, tất cả các tổ chức hội đoàn đều dựa trên cơ sở tự nguyện của các thành viên của họ, và do đó, rằng tất cả các cơ quan tổ chức hành xử theo lề lối hàng dọc cao thấp từ trên xuống, tuân hành mệnh lệnh của tổ chức như quân đội hoặc hệ thống thư lại quyền chính hay các tập đoàn lớn, dựa vào hệ thống quân giai- (mệnh lệnh đi từ vị trí tôn ti cấp bậc cao xuống thấp) sẽ không còn cần thiết nữa.

Có lẽ bạn không tin rằng điều này khả thi. Hoặc cũng có thể bạn tin. Tuy nhiên, mỗi khi bạn đạt đến một thỏa thuận qua sự đồng thuận, chứ không phải do bị đe dọa, mỗi khi bạn thực hiện một thỏa thuận từ sự tự nguyện với một người khác, đạt đến một sự thông cảm, hoặc đi đến một thỏa hiệp bằng cách cân nhắc đến hoàn cảnh đặc biệt hay nhu cầu cụ thể của người khác, thì chính bạn đang là một người Phi quyền chính – ngay cả nếu như bạn không nhận ra được điều này.

Phi quyền chính chỉ là cái cách mọi người hành động khi họ được tự do làm những gì họ tùy chọn, và khi họ tương tác với những người khác cũng đều tự do tự nguyện bình đẳng như họ – và do đó nhận thức được trách nhiệm đòi hỏi giữa mình và những người khác.

Điều này đưa đến một điểm then chốt: Rằng dù người ta có thể biết điều và quan tâm tử tế khi hành xử trong bình đẳng, nhưng bản chất tự nhiên của người ta là điều kiện mà khi được trao quyền lực lên trên người khác, thì không thể tin tưởng họ sẽ hành xử tốt như vậy nữa. Trao cho một người nào đó quyền lực như thế, họ sẽ hầu như hoàn toàn lạm dụng nó cách này hay cách khác.

  • Bạn có tin rằng hầu hết các chính trị gia ích kỷ, tồi tàn, tự cao tự đại, chẳng thực sự quan tâm đến lợi ích quần chúng? Bạn có nghĩ rằng chúng ta đang sống trong một hệ thống kinh tế ngu xuẩn và bất công?

Nếu bạn trả lời “có”, thì bạn cùng tư tưởng phê phán xã hội ngày nay với một người phi quyền chính – ít nhất, trong quan điểm tổng quát nhất của nó. Người Phi quyền chính tin rằng quyền lực là lũng đoạn băng hoại, và những người dành toàn bộ cuộc sống của họ để tìm kiếm quyền lực là những người ít đáng cầm quyền lực nhất. Những người phi quyền chính qui kết rằng hệ thống kinh tế hiện nay của chúng ta đang ở khuynh hướng tạo quyền lợi cho những kẻ ích kỷ và bất lương thay vì cho những người tử tế, có tấm lòng quan tâm đến tha nhân. Đa số con người đều cảm nhận hiện trạng kinh tế ngày nay là như vậy. Sự khác biệt duy nhất là hầu hết mọi người nghĩ rằng không còn có phương pháp nào, đường lối nào để thay đổi cái hiện trạng kinh tế này – và đây là lập luận mà bọn tôi tớ trung thành của đám quyền lực luôn nhấn mạnh rằng- bất cứ điều gì không mang đến kết cuộc sẽ làm vấn đề tồi tệ hơn.

Nhưng nếu điều này không đúng sự thật thì sao?

Thật sự có bất kỳ lý do gì để tin điều này chăng? Khi bạn có thể thực sự thử nghiệm chúng, hầu hết các tiên đoán trước giờ về những gì sẽ xảy ra khi không có nhà nước hay chủ nghĩa tư bản, lại hóa ra là hoàn toàn không đúng sự thật.

Hàng ngàn năm trước con người từng sống không có chính phủ. Có rất nhiều nơi trên thế giới ngày nay con người sống ngoài vòng kiểm soát của chính phủ. Họ chẳng giết hại lẫn nhau. Hầu hết là họ sinh hoạt, tương tác hàng ngày trong cuộc sống của họ cũng giống như bất cứ ai khác sinh hoạt và tương tác thôi.

Đương nhiên trong một xã hội công kỹ nghệ, đô thị hổn hợp thì tất cả những điều này sẽ phức tạp hơn: nhưng chính công kỹ nghệ cũng có thể làm cho những vấn đề này được giải quyết dễ dàng hơn nhiều. Thậm chí trong thực tế, chúng ta chưa từng bắt đầu suy nghĩ về cuộc sống của chúng ta có thể sẽ ra làm sao nếu công kỹ nghệ được thực sự áp dụng để phù hợp với nhu cầu của con người.

Chúng ta mỗi người thực sự cần phải làm việc bao nhiêu giờ trong một ngày để duy trì một xã hội đầy đủ chức năng của nó- có nghĩa là, nếu chúng ta chấm dứt hết tất cả các nghề nghiệp vô tích sự hay tác hại như: khuyến mại viên qua điện thoại, luật sư, cai tù, kinh tế gia phân tích, chuyên gia xoay ý quần chúng, hành chính thư lại và chính trị gia, mà chuyển những bộ óc khoa học giỏi nhất của chúng ta từ những việc đang chế tạo vũ khí không gian hoặc thị trường chứng khoán qua việc cơ giới hóa những công việc nguy hiểm và gây phiền toái như đào mỏ than hoặc là lau chùi nhà vệ sinh, và phân phối những công việc tốt còn lại cho mọi người một cách bình đẳng. Sẽ là 5 giờ một ngày, Bốn giờ? Ba giờ? Hai giờ? Chẳng ai biết được, vì thậm chí chưa ai đặt ra những câu hỏi như thế. Những người phi quyền chính cho rằng đây chính là những câu hỏi chúng ta cần đặt ra.

  • Bạn có thật sự tin vào những điều bạn dạy con cái bạn không (hay những điều cha mẹ bạn từng dạy bạn?)

“Không thành vấn đề ai khởi sự điều sai trước (sai là sai -dù trước hay sau).” “Cả hai sai không có nghĩa là sự việc trở thành một điều đúng” “phải tự gánh trách nhiệm hậu qủa sai trái của mình,” “Hãy đối xử với người khác như mình muốn được đối xử… “Đừng đối xử tệ hại với người ta chỉ vì họ khác mình”.

(ghi chú nhỏ của người dịch- Thời ngày xưa còn bé ở Việt Nam, đám trẻ chơi đùa thường hay xảy ra cãi vả đánh nhau, rồi đi “mách” cha mẹ…Và kết quả thường là cả hai bên đều bị những bố mẹ biết điều phạt đòn vì tội “đánh nhau”. Không cần biết đứa nào gây hấn trước, giải pháp “đánh nhau” đã là sai, nên đều bị đòn!)

Có lẽ chúng ta nên quyết định là chúng ta có đang dối trá con cái chúng ta hay không khi chúng ta dạy chúng về đạo lý đúng, sai, hoặc là chúng ta có thật muốn thực hiện những giá trị đạo lý của chúng ta một cách nghiêm chỉnh hay không. Vì nếu quí vị đặt những nguyên tắc đạo lý này đến những kết luận thuận lý của nó, quí vị sẽ thấy ngay đó là nguyên lý phi quyền chính.

Hãy lấy nguyên tắc rằng cả hai sai không có nghiã là sự việc trở thành một điều đúng. Nếu bạn hành xử nguyên tắc này một cách nghiêm túc, chính nguyên tắc này thôi sẽ loại đi gần như toàn bộ cơ sở của chiến tranh và hệ thống pháp lý hình sự. Điều này cũng đúng với nguyên tắc về sự san sẻ chia chung: chúng ta luôn luôn dạy con em chúng ta rằng cần học tập sự san sẻ, chia chung, học tập quan tâm đến những nhu cầu của nhau, học giúp đỡ lẫn nhau; nhưng rồi sau đó chúng ta lại bỏ đi để khi vào cái thế giới thực, thì chúng ta lại cho rằng tất cả con người bản chất tự nhiên là ích kỷ và tranh giành nhau.

Nhưng một người phi quyền chính sẽ chỉ ra rằng: thật sự, những gì chúng ta dạy con em chúng ta đều là đúng. Gần như hầu hết mỗi thành tích giá trị đạt được trong lịch sử nhân loại, mỗi khám phá hay thành tựu cải thiện đời sống con người chúng ta, đều đã được dựa trên những nguyên tắc hợp tác và hỗ trợ lẫn nhau; ngay cả bây giờ, đa số chúng ta xử dụng nhiều tiền bạc của chúng ta cho bạn bè và thân nhân hơn là cho bản thân chúng ta; mặc dù thế giới luôn luôn có những con người thích tranh giành, tuy vậy không có lý do gì để xã hội con người phải dựa trên sự cổ vũ, khuyến khích các hành vi như vậy, chưa kể đến việc đẩy con người ta phải tranh giành nhau những nhu cầu căn bản trong đời sống.

Như thế chỉ phục vụ cho quyền lợi của những kẻ nắm quyền lực mà thôi, những kẻ quyền lực chỉ muốn chúng ta sống trong sự sợ hãi lẫn nhau.

Đó là lý do tại sao người phi quyền chính kêu gọi xây dựng một xã hội không chỉ dựa trên sự liên kết tự do thôi mà cả sự hỗ trợ lẫn nhau nữa. Điều thực tế là đa số trẻ em lớn lên tin vào những giá trị đạo lý của nguyên lý phi quyền chính, rồi sau đó dần dần lại nhận ra rằng cái thế giới của người lớn không thực sự hành xử theo những đường lối đó. Và đó là lý do tại sao có rất nhiều người trở nên phản kháng, hoặc xa lánh, thậm chí tự tử khi còn ở tuổi vị thành niên hay cuối cùng đi tới cam chịu và gay gắt khi trưởng thành; và niềm an ủi duy nhất của họ, thường xuyên là một khả năng nuôi dưỡng con em của họ trong sự giả vờ với chính họ rằng thế giới là công bằng.

Việc gì sẽ xãy ra nếu chúng ta thực sự tối thiểu có thể bắt đầu xây dựng một thế giới đích thực thành lập dựa trên nguyên lý của công chính? Có phải đây chính là món quà lớn nhất đối với con cái của một người mà người đó trao tặng cho chúng không?

  • Bạn có tin rằng bản chất con người là băng hoại và độc ác, hoặc có một mẫu người nhất định (như phụ nữ, người da mầu, người bình dân không giầu có và học vấn không cao) là loại người thấp kém sanh ra để bị cai trị bởi những người giỏi dang hơn?

Nếu bạn trả lời “có”, thế thì đành thôi, rốt cuộc xem ra bạn không phải là một người phi quyền chính. Nhưng nếu bạn trả lời “không”, thì rất có thể là bạn đã tán thành 90% những nguyên tắc phi quyền chính rồi, và rất có thể, bạn đang sống phần lớn cuộc sống của bạn dựa theo những nguyên tắc này.

Mỗi lần bạn đối xử với người khác dựa trên sự cân nhắc và tôn trọng, thì bạn đang hành xử như một người phi quyền chính. Mỗi lần bạn tìm giải đáp cho sự khác biệt của bạn với những người khác bằng cách thỏa hiệp hợp lý, bạn lắng nghe những gì mọi người nói thay vì để cho một người quyết định hết tất cả cho mọi người khác, thì bạn đang hành xử như một người phi quyền chính. Mỗi khi bạn có cơ hội để buộc một ai đó làm một điều gì đó, nhưng thay vì vậy, bạn lại quyết định xem xét đến cảm giác lý lẽ của họ hay sự công bằng, thì bạn đang hành xử như một người phi quyền chính. Điều này cũng đúng cho việc mỗi lần bạn san sẻ cái gì đó với một người bạn, hoặc quyết định ai sẽ là người rửa chén, hoặc làm tất cả bất cứ điều gì dưới một con mắt công bằng.

Hiện thời, chắc bạn chỉ đồng ý rằng tất cả điều này là tốt và tốt cho các nhóm nhỏ của người dân để có thể đối xử được với nhau như thế, nhưng việc quản lý một thành phố, hay một quốc gia, là cả một vấn đề hoàn toàn khác. Và tất nhiên điều suy nghĩ này của bạn là có cơ sở. Thậm chí nếu xã hội được tản quyền và trao hầu hết quyền lực trong tay của các cộng đồng nhỏ, thì vẫn sẽ có rất nhiều thứ cần phải được phối hợp, từ hoạt động các hệ thống xe điện đến quyết định chiều hướng nghiên cứu cho y khoa. Nhưng chỉ vì cho rằng một cái gì đó phức tạp không có nghĩa là không có cách nào để khắc phục được điều đó một cách dân chủ. Vấn đề có thể đơn giản chỉ là vì phức tạp. Trong thực tế, những người phi quyền chính có rất nhiều ý tưởng và tầm nhìn khác nhau cho một xã hội  đa hợp  mà chính cái xã hội đa hợp  đó có thể tự quản lý lấy nó. Để giải thích rõ những ý tưởng và tầm nhìn này, đòi hỏi phài đi xa hơn phạm vi của một bài viết nhỏ giới thiệu về Phi quyền chính như thế này. Tuy nhiên nó đủ để nói rằng, thứ nhất là đã và đang có rất nhiều người dành rất nhiều thời gian đưa ra những mô hình như thế nào cho một xã hội thực sự dân chủ, thực sự lành mạnh có thể hoạt động; nhưng điều thứ hai và cũng cùng tầm quan trọng như điều thứ nhất, là không có người phi quyền chính nào tuyên bố có một mô hình toàn hảo hết cả. Vì đó là điều cuối cùng mà chúng ta muốn là áp đặt các mô hình đúc sẵn cho cả xã hội.

Thậm chí sự thật là chúng ta chưa thể tưởng tượng được đến một nửa số lượng các vấn đề sẽ hiện ra khi chúng ta cố gắng tạo ra một xã hội dân chủ; nhưng dù sao, chúng ta tin chắc rằng, tính thông minh sáng tạo của con người là đúng thật như vậy, thì các vấn đề như thế luôn luôn có thể giải quyết được, miễn là nó luôn ở trong tinh thần nguyên lý căn bản phi quyền chính của chúng ta – mà trong lý giải cuối cùng, nó đơn giản chỉ là những nguyên tắc căn bản được dựa trên tính liêm sỉ của con người.

(Đông Sơn phỏng dịch)

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NGUỒN THAM KHẢO ĐỌC THÊM

1-Are You An Anarchist? The Answer May Surprise You!
2-What Is Anarchy? by Butler Shaffer by Butler Shaffer
3-Zhuangzi: The Second Daoist Sage and the World’s First Anarchistby Dr. Emanuel Paparella2009-06-22 10:08:50
4-Libertarianism in Ancient China
5-An Introduction to Spontaneous Order
6-THE NEW ANARCHISTS

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1- Are You An Anarchist? The Answer May Surprise You!

David Graeber

graeberChances are you have already heard something about who anarchists are and what they are supposed to believe. Chances are almost everything you have heard is nonsense. Many people seem to think that anarchists are proponents of violence, chaos, and destruction, that they are against all forms of order and organization, or that they are crazed nihilists who just want to blow everything up. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchists are simply people who believe human beings are capable of behaving in a reasonable fashion without having to be forced to. It is really a very simple notion. But it’s one that the rich and powerful have always found extremely dangerous.
At their very simplest, anarchist beliefs turn on to two elementary assumptions. The first is that human beings are, under ordinary circumstances, about as reasonable and decent as they are allowed to be, and can organize themselves and their communities without needing to be told how. The second is that power corrupts. Most of all, anarchism is just a matter of having the courage to take the simple principles of common decency that we all live by, and to follow them through to their logical conclusions. Odd though this may seem, in most important ways you are probably already an anarchist — you just don’t realize it.
Let’s start by taking a few examples from everyday life.
  • If there’s a line to get on a crowded bus, do you wait your turn and refrain from elbowing your way past others even in the absence of police?
If you answered “yes”, then you are used to acting like an anarchist! The most basic anarchist principle is self-organization: the assumption that human beings do not need to be threatened with prosecution in order to be able to come to reasonable understandings with each other, or to treat each other with dignity and respect.
Everyone believes they are capable of behaving reasonably themselves. If they think laws and police are necessary, it is only because they don’t believe that other people are. But if you think about it, don’t those people all feel exactly the same way about you? Anarchists argue that almost all the anti-social behavior which makes us think it’s necessary to have armies, police, prisons, and governments to control our lives, is actually caused by the systematic inequalities and injustice those armies, police, prisons and governments make possible. It’s all a vicious circle. If people are used to being treated like their opinions do not matter, they are likely to become angry and cynical, even violent — which of course makes it easy for those in power to say that their opinions do not matter. Once they understand that their opinions really do matter just as much as anyone else’s, they tend to become remarkably understanding. To cut a long story short: anarchists believe that for the most part it is power itself, and the effects of power, that make people stupid and irresponsible.
  • Are you a member of a club or sports team or any other voluntary organization where decisions are not imposed by one leader but made on the basis of general consent?
If you answered “yes”, then you belong to an organization which works on anarchist principles! Another basic anarchist principle is voluntary association. This is simply a matter of applying democratic principles to ordinary life. The only difference is that anarchists believe it should be possible to have a society in which everything could be organized along these lines, all groups based on the free consent of their members, and therefore, that all top-down, military styles of organization like armies or bureaucracies or large corporations, based on chains of command, would no longer be necessary. Perhaps you don’t believe that would be possible. Perhaps you do. But every time you reach an agreement by consensus, rather than threats, every time you make a voluntary arrangement with another person, come to an understanding, or reach a compromise by taking due consideration of the other person’s particular situation or needs, you are being an anarchist — even if you don’t realize it.
Anarchism is just the way people act when they are free to do as they choose, and when they deal with others who are equally free — and therefore aware of the responsibility to others that entails. This leads to another crucial point: that while people can be reasonable and considerate when they are dealing with equals, human nature is such that they cannot be trusted to do so when given power over others. Give someone such power, they will almost invariably abuse it in some way or another.
  • Do you believe that most politicians are selfish, egotistical swine who don’t really care about the public interest? Do you think we live in an economic system which is stupid and unfair?
If you answered “yes”, then you subscribe to the anarchist critique of today’s society — at least, in its broadest outlines. Anarchists believe that power corrupts and those who spend their entire lives seeking power are the very last people who should have it. Anarchists believe that our present economic system is more likely to reward people for selfish and unscrupulous behavior than for being decent, caring human beings. Most people feel that way. The only difference is that most people don’t think there’s anything that can be done about it, or anyway — and this is what the faithful servants of the powerful are always most likely to insist — anything that won’t end up making things even worse.
But what if that weren’t true?
And is there really any reason to believe this? When you can actually test them, most of the usual predictions about what would happen without states or capitalism turn out to be entirely untrue. For thousands of years people lived without governments. In many parts of the world people live outside of the control of governments today. They do not all kill each other. Mostly they just get on about their lives the same as anyone else would. Of course, in a complex, urban, technological society all this would be more complicated: but technology can also make all these problems a lot easier to solve. In fact, we have not even begun to think about what our lives could be like if technology were really marshaled to fit human needs. How many hours would we really need to work in order to maintain a functional society — that is, if we got rid of all the useless or destructive occupations like telemarketers, lawyers, prison guards, financial analysts, public relations experts, bureaucrats and politicians, and turn our best scientific minds away from working on space weaponry or stock market systems to mechanizing away dangerous or annoying tasks like coal mining or cleaning the bathroom, and distribute the remaining work among everyone equally? Five hours a day? Four? Three? Two? Nobody knows because no one is even asking this kind of question. Anarchists think these are the very questions we should be asking.
  • Do you really believe those things you tell your children (or that your parents told you)?
“It doesn’t matter who started it.” “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” “Clean up your own mess.” “Do unto others…” “Don’t be mean to people just because they’re different.” Perhaps we should decide whether we’re lying to our children when we tell them about right and wrong, or whether we’re willing to take our own injunctions seriously. Because if you take these moral principles to their logical conclusions, you arrive at anarchism.
Take the principle that two wrongs don’t make a right. If you really took it seriously, that alone would knock away almost the entire basis for war and the criminal justice system. The same goes for sharing: we’re always telling children that they have to learn to share, to be considerate of each other’s needs, to help each other; then we go off into the real world where we assume that everyone is naturally selfish and competitive. But an anarchist would point out: in fact, what we say to our children is right. Pretty much every great worthwhile achievement in human history, every discovery or accomplishment that’s improved our lives, has been based on cooperation and mutual aid; even now, most of us spend more of our money on our friends and families than on ourselves; while likely as not there will always be competitive people in the world, there’s no reason why society has to be based on encouraging such behavior, let alone making people compete over the basic necessities of life. That only serves the interests of people in power, who want us to live in fear of one another. That’s why anarchists call for a society based not only on free association but mutual aid. The fact is that most children grow up believing in anarchist morality, and then gradually have to realize that the adult world doesn’t really work that way. That’s why so many become rebellious, or alienated, even suicidal as adolescents, and finally, resigned and bitter as adults; their only solace, often, being the ability to raise children of their own and pretend to them that the world is fair. But what if we really could start to build a world which really was at least founded on principles of justice? Wouldn’t that be the greatest gift to one’s children one could possibly give?
  • Do you believe that human beings are fundamentally corrupt and evil, or that certain sorts of people (women, people of color, ordinary folk who are not rich or highly educated) are inferior specimens, destined to be ruled by their betters?
If you answered “yes”, then, well, it looks like you aren’t an anarchist after all. But if you answered “no”, then chances are you already subscribe to 90% of anarchist principles, and, likely as not, are living your life largely in accord with them. Every time you treat another human with consideration and respect, you are being an anarchist. Every time you work out your differences with others by coming to reasonable compromise, listening to what everyone has to say rather than letting one person decide for everyone else, you are being an anarchist. Every time you have the opportunity to force someone to do something, but decide to appeal to their sense of reason or justice instead, you are being an anarchist. The same goes for every time you share something with a friend, or decide who is going to do the dishes, or do anything at all with an eye to fairness.
Now, you might object that all this is well and good as a way for small groups of people to get on with each other, but managing a city, or a country, is an entirely different matter. And of course there is something to this. Even if you decentralize society and put as much power as possible in the hands of small communities, there will still be plenty of things that need to be coordinated, from running railroads to deciding on directions for medical research.But just because something is complicated does not mean there is no way to do it democratically. It would just be complicated. In fact, anarchists have all sorts of different ideas and visions about how a complex society might manage itself. To explain them though would go far beyond the scope of a little introductory text like this. Suffice it to say, first of all, that a lot of people have spent a lot of time coming up with models for how a really democratic, healthy society might work; but second, and just as importantly, no anarchist claims to have a perfect blueprint. The last thing we want is to impose prefab models on society anyway. The truth is we probably can’t even imagine half the problems that will come up when we try to create a democratic society; still, we’re confident that, human ingenuity being what it is, such problems can always be solved, so long as it is in the spirit of our basic principles — which are, in the final analysis, simply the principles of fundamental human decency.
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2- What Is Anarchy?

                                                 by Butler Shaffer

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.

January 13, 2004Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.

Copyright © 2004 LewRockwell.com

 

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Zhuangzi: The Second Daoist Sage and the World's First Anarchist Zhuangzi: The Second Daoist Sage and the World’s First Anarchistby Dr. Emanuel Paparella2009-06-22 10:08:50
“Once Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly…Then he woke up, and was in his own solid body…But he didn’t know if he was Zhuangzi dreaming that he was a butterfly, or the butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuangzi.”
–Zhuangzi
Zhuangzi or Master Zhuang was born in 370 B.C. in the state of Song or what is now the Henan province of China, and died in 301 B.C. He is considered the second most important Daoist philosopher after Laotzi and is the author of one of the classic Daoist text which bears his name and which articulates many core Daoists concepts in a witty, entertaining way. It helped ensure the survival of the Daoist philosophy. Those stories reveal a life-loving man who enjoyed simple pleasures while rejecting the stresses and strains of politics. They stress the ultimate harmony of nature, in particular death which is not to be feared but is simply part of the natural process of transformation. Eventually the text came to be revered as a sacred text in its own right, and not just for its elaboration of Laotzu’ original Daoist vision.In general, Zhuangzi’s philosophy is mildly skeptical, arguing that life is limited and the amount of things to know is unlimited. To use the limited to pursue the unlimited is foolish. Our language and cognition in general presuppose a dao to which each of us is committed by our separate past—our paths. Consequently, we should be aware that our most carefully considered conclusions might seem misguided had we experienced a different past.Zhuangzi’s thought can also be considered a precursor of relativism in systems of value. His relativism even leads him to doubt the basis of pragmatic arguments since this presupposes that life is good and death bad. In the fourth section of “The Great Happiness” (chapter 18), Zhuangzi expresses pity to a skull he sees lying at the side of the road. Zhuangzi laments that the skull is now dead, but the skull retorts, “How do you know it’s bad to be dead?”
The dream of the butterfly above hints at many questions in the philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and epistemology. The name of the passage has become a common Chinese idiom, and has spread into Western languages as well. It appears, inter alia, as an illustration in Jorge Luis Borges’’ famous essay “A New Refutation of Time” and may have inspired H.P. Lovecraft’s 1918 short story “Polaris.”
According to Murray Rothbard, Zhuangzi was “perhaps the world’s first anarchist” for he said that the world “does not need governing; in fact it should not be governed,” and, “Good order results spontaneously when things are let alone.” Rothbard claims that Zhuangzi was the first to work out the idea of spontaneous order, before Proudhon and Hayek.Zhuangzi for a while worked for a company making varnish from trees but eventually withdrew from every day life and became a hermit. He refused public office preferring the happiness derived from simplicity and poverty which emerges from his writings together with his individuality. He thus became one of the perfect human beings who can ascend to heaven but also return to earth to help other people; i.e., what in Christian jargon we call a saint.

Many of Zhuangzi’s stories poke gentle fun at Confucian officials, however in some of those stories it is the Confucian who reveals Daoist wisdom thus revealing the consummate Chinese ability to draw from other disciplines when needed. Zhuangzi thought that in an ideal society everyone would conform to Dao by clearing their minds of self-centered desires, meditating or perhaps receiving a sudden enlightenment. These concepts mirror quite closely those of Zen Buddhism.

Here is one of the stories revealing the wisdom of Zhuangzi. When the envoys of the King of Chu went to offer Zhuangzi the office of prime minister, he was fishing in a river. He said to them: “I have heard that in the King’s temple in Chu there is kept the body of a huge tortoise that lived so long that when it was 3,000 years old it was killed and worshipped. What would the old tortoise want—to be dead and worshipped, or alive and crawling around in mud?” The envoys replied instantly: “To be alive and crawling around in mud.” Zhuangzi answered: “I’ll be the tortoise in the mud.”

4- Libertarianism in Ancient China

December 23, 2009

 

[This article is excerpted from Economic Thought Before Adam Smith. An MP3 audio file of this article, read by Jeff Riggenbach, is available for download.]

The three main schools of political thought: the Legalists, the Taoists, and the Confucians, were established from the sixth to the fourth centuries BC. Roughly, the Legalists, the latest of the three broad schools, simply believed in maximal power to the state, and advised rulers how to increase that power. The Taoists were the world’s first libertarians, who believed in virtually no interference by the state in economy or society, and the Confucians were middle-of-the-roaders on this critical issue. The towering figure of Confucius (551–479 BC), whose name was actually Ch’iu Chung-ni, was an erudite man from an impoverished but aristocratic family of the fallen Yin dynasty, who became Grand Marshal of the state of Sung. In practice, though far more idealistic, Confucian thought differed little from the Legalists, since Confucianism was largely dedicated to installing an educated philosophically minded bureaucracy to rule in China.
By far the most interesting of the Chinese political philosophers were the Taoists, founded by the immensely important but shadowy figure of Lao Tzu. Little is known about Lao Tzu’s life, but he was apparently a contemporary and personal acquaintance of Confucius. Like the latter he came originally from the state of Sung and was a descendant of lower aristocracy of the Yin dynasty. Both men lived in a time of turmoil, wars and statism, but each reacted very differently. For Lao Tzu worked out the view that the individual and his happiness was the key unit of society. If social institutions hampered the individual’s flowering and his happiness, then those institutions should be reduced or abolished altogether. To the individualist Lao Tzu, government, with its “laws and regulations more numerous than the hairs of an ox,” was a vicious oppressor of the individual, and “more to be feared than fierce tigers.” Government, in sum, must be limited to the smallest possible minimum; “inaction” became the watchword for Lao Tzu, since only inaction of government can permit the individual to flourish and achieve happiness. Any intervention by government, he declared, would be counterproductive, and would lead to confusion and turmoil. The first political economist to discern the systemic effects of government intervention, Lao Tzu, after referring to the common experience of mankind, came to his penetrating conclusion: “The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished — The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be.”
The worst of government interventions, according to Lao Tzu, was heavy taxation and war. “The people hunger because theft superiors consume an excess in taxation” and, “where armies have been stationed, thorns and brambles grow. After a great war, harsh years of famine are sure to follow.”
The wisest course is to keep the government simple and inactive, for then the world “stabilizes itself.”
As Lao Tzu put it: “Therefore, the Sage says: I take no action yet the people transform themselves, I favor quiescence and the people right themselves, I take no action and the people enrich themselves—”
Deeply pessimistic, and seeing no hope for a mass movement to correct oppressive government, Lao Tzu counseled the now familiar Taoist path of withdrawal, retreat, and limitation of one’s desires.
Two centuries later, Lao Tzu’s great follower Chuang Tzu (369–c.286 BC) built on the master’s ideas of laissez-faire to push them to their logical conclusion: individualist anarchism. The influential Chuang Tzu, a great stylist who wrote in allegorical parables, was therefore the first anarchist in the history of human thought. The highly learned Chuang Tzu was a native of the state of Meng (now probably in Honan province), and also descended from the old aristocracy. A minor official in his native state, Chuang Tzu’s fame spread far and wide throughout China, so much so that King Wei of the Ch’u kingdom sent an emissary to Chuang Tzu bearing great gifts and urging him to become the king’s chief minister of state. Chuang Tzu’s scornful rejection of the king’s offer is one of the great declarations in history on the evils underlying the trappings of state power and the contrasting virtues of the private life:

A thousand ounces of gold is indeed a great reward, and the office of chief minister is truly an elevated position. But have you, sir, not seen the sacrificial ox awaiting the sacrifices at the royal shrine of state? It is well cared for and fed for a few years, caparisoned with rich brocades, so that it will be ready to be led into the Great Temple. At that moment, even though it would gladly change places with any solitary pig, can it do so? So, quick and be off with you! Don’t sully me. I would rather roam and idle about in a muddy ditch, at my awn amusement, than to be put under the restraints that the ruler would impose. I will never take any official service, and thereby I will [be free] to satisfy my own purposes.

Chuang Tzu reiterated and embellished Lao Tzu’s devotion to laissez-faire and opposition to state rule: “There has been such a thing as letting mankind alone; there has never been such a thing as governing mankind [with success].” Chuang Tzu was also the first to work out the idea of “spontaneous order,” independently discovered by Proudhon in the nineteenth century, and developed by F.A. von Hayek of the Austrian School in the twentieth. Thus, Chuang Tzu: “Good order results spontaneously when things are let alone.”
But while people in their “natural freedom” can run their lives very well by themselves, government rules and edicts distort that nature into an artificial Procrustean bed. As Chuang Tzu wrote, “The common people have a constant nature; they spin and are clothed, till and are fed — it is what may be called their ‘natural freedom.'” These people of natural freedom were born and died themselves, suffered from no restrictions or restraints, and were neither quarrelsome nor disorderly. If rulers were to establish rites and laws to govern the people, “it would indeed be no different from stretching the short legs of the duck and trimming off the long legs of the heron” or “haltering a horse.” Such rules would not only be of no benefit, but would work great harm. In short, Chuang Tzu concluded, the world “does simply not need governing; in fact it should not be governed.”
Chuang Tzu, moreover, was perhaps the first theorist to see the state as a brigand writ large: “A petty thief is put in jail. A great brigand becomes a ruler of a State.” Thus, the only difference between state rulers and out-and-out robber chieftains is the size of their depredations. This theme of ruler-as-robber was to be repeated, as we have seen, by Cicero, and later by Christian thinkers in the Middle Ages, though of course these were arrived at independently.
Taoist thought flourished for several centuries, culminating in the most determinedly anarchistic thinker, Pao Ching-yen, who lived in the early fourth century AD, and about whose life nothing is known. Elaborating on Chuang-Tzu, Pao contrasted the idyllic ways of ancient times that had had no rulers and no government with the misery inflicted by the rulers of the current age. In the earliest days, wrote Pao, “there were no rulers and no officials. [People] dug wells and drank, tilled fields and ate. When the sun rose, they went to work; and when it set, they rested. Placidly going their ways with no encumbrances, they grandly achieved their own fulfillment.” In the stateless age, there was no warfare and no disorder:

Where knights and hosts could not be assembled there was no warfare afield — Ideas of using power for advantage had not yet burgeoned. Disaster and disorder did not occur. Shields and spears were not used; city walls and moats were not built — People munched their food and disported themselves; they were carefree and contented.

Into this idyll of peace and contentment, wrote Pao Ching-yen, there came the violence and deceit instituted by the state. The history of government is the history of violence, of the strong plundering the weak. Wicked tyrants engage in orgies of violence; being rulers they “could give free rein to all desires.” Furthermore, the government’s institutionalization of violence meant that the petty disorders of daily life would be greatly intensified and expanded on a much larger scale. As Pao put it:

Disputes among the ordinary people are merely trivial matters, for what scope of consequences can a contest of strength between ordinary fellows generate? They have no spreading lands to arouse avarice — they wield no authority through which they can advance their struggle. Their power is not such that they can assemble mass followings, and they command no awe that might quell [such gatherings] by their opponents. How can they compare with a display of the royal anger, which can deploy armies and move battalions, making people who hold no enmities attack states that have done no wrong?

To the common charge that he has overlooked good and benevolent rulers, Pao replied that the government itself is a violent exploitation of the weak by the strong. The system itself is the problem, and the object of government is not to benefit the people, but to control and plunder them. There is no ruler who can compare in virtue with a condition of non-rule.
Pao Ching-yen also engaged in a masterful study in political psychology by pointing out that the very existence of institutionalized violence by the state generates imitative violence among the people. In a happy and stateless world, declared Pao, the people would naturally turn to thoughts of good order and not be interested in plundering their neighbors. But rulers oppress and loot the people and “make them toil without rest and wrest away things from them endlessly.” In that way, theft and banditry are stimulated among the unhappy people, and arms and armor, intended to pacify the public, are stolen by bandits to intensify their plunder. “All these things are brought about because there are rulers.” The common idea, concluded Pao, that strong government is needed to combat disorders among the people, commits the serious error of confusing cause and effect.
The only Chinese with notable views in the more strictly economic realm was the distinguished second century B.C. historian, Ssu-ma Ch’ien (145-c.90 BC). Ch’ien was an advocate of laissez-faire, and pointed out that minimal government made for abundance of food and clothing, as did the abstinence of government from competing with private enterprise. This was similar to the Taoist view, but Ch’ien, a worldly and sophisticated man, dismissed the idea that people could solve the economic problem by reducing desires to a minimum. People, Ch’ien maintained, preferred the best and most attainable goods and services, as well as ease and comfort. Men are therefore habitual seekers after wealth.
Since Ch’ien thought very little of the idea of limiting one’s desires, he was impelled, far more than the Taoists, to investigate and analyze free market activities. He therefore saw that specialization and the division of labor on the market produced goods and services in an orderly fashion:

Each man has only to be left to utilize his own abilities and exert his strength to obtain what he wishes — When each person works away at his own occupation and delights in his own business, then like water flowing downward, goods will naturally flow ceaselessly day and night without being summoned, and the people will produce commodities without having been asked.

To Ch’ien, this was the natural outcome of the free market. “Does this not ally with reason? Is it not a natural result?” Furthermore, prices are regulated on the market, since excessively cheap or dear prices tend to correct themselves and reach a proper level.

But if the free market is self-regulating, asked Ch’ien perceptively, “what need is there for government directives, mobilizations of labor, or periodic assemblies?” What need indeed?

Ssu-ma Ch’ien also set forth the function of entrepreneurship on the market. The entrepreneur accumulates wealth and functions by anticipating conditions (i.e., forecasting) and acting accordingly. In short, he keeps “a sharp eye out for the opportunities of the times.”
Finally, Ch’ien was one of the world’s first monetary theorists. He pointed out that increased quantity and a debased quality of coinage by government depreciates the value of money and makes prices rise. And he saw too that government inherently tended to engage in this sort of inflation and debasement.

5- An Introduction to Spontaneous Order

But whether we’re talking about law and order or the New World Order… we are ultimately talking about the same thing: an order based on a hierarchical view of society where a few lawgivers regulate, proscribe, manipulate, inhibit and control the actions of the masses.

April 25 2015, By James Corbett

If you’re like most people, you’ll think of something related to “law and order,” an old adage connoting justice and safety in a well-regulated society. This should be no surprise; the phrase “law and order” is invoked as a type of campaign promise or motto by any number of politicians in any number of countries around the world every single day. If nothing else, it has been drilled into the heads of American television viewers for the last two and a half decades thanks to the legal drama series of the same name.
A handful of more savvy individuals will think of the phrase “New World Order,” a political idea popularized by Bush’s now infamous September 11th (1990) speech but boasting its own colorful political history going back to the post-WWI era of Wilsonian diplomacy and H.G. Wells’ 1940 book of the same name.
Some may even connect it to the Latin phrase Ordo Ab Chao (“order from chaos”) which is a motto of the 33rd Degree of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. ‘Order out of chaos’ is, not coincidentally, a perfect description of false flag terrorism and other methods of manipulating public opinion: create a chaotic situation so that you can impose your pre-ordained “order.”
But whether we’re talking about “law and order” or the “New World Order” or “order out of chaos,” we’re ultimately talking about the same thing: an “order” based on a hierarchical view of society where a few lawgivers regulate, proscribe, manipulate, inhibit and control the actions of the masses.
What if I were to tell you there’s an entirely different conception of societal order, one that doesn’t revolve around hierarchy but in fact specifically refutes it? Well there is, and it’s called “spontaneous order.” In a nutshell, instead of envisioning society as a pyramid ordered by rules and regulations dictated by the elite at the top and enforced on the masses by an enforcer class, spontaneous order theory posits that society best functions as a decentralized network of free individuals participating in voluntary interactions.
The concept of “spontaneous order” has arguably been around since Zhuang Zhou, the Chinese philosopher of the 4th century BC who wrote that “Good order results spontaneously when things are let alone.” The idea was further developed in the 18th century by the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment and in the 19th century by thinkers like Frédéric Bastiat. It wasn’t until the 20th century, however, that the theory was named, codified and popularized by Austrian-born philosopher and economist F.A. Hayek.
In one (rather long) sentence of (rather inscrutable) academic jargon, Hayek described the idea of spontaneous order this way:
“The central concept of liberalism is that under the enforcement of universal rules of just conduct, protecting a recognizable private domain of individuals, a spontaneous order of human activities of much greater complexity will form itself than could ever be produced by deliberate arrangement, and that in consequence the coercive activities of government should be limited to the enforcement of such rules, whatever other services government may at the same time render by administering those particular resources which have been placed at its disposal for those purposes”
In ordinary English, Hayek’s observation is at once embarrassingly simple and mischievously profound: the social order that arises from the free choice of individuals acting to protect their own interests will be more secure and more complex than any rationally ordered system could be.
In order to see why this is so, let’s turn to the brilliant 1958 Leonard Read essay, “I, Pencil,” in which an ordinary pencil narrates the surprisingly complex process by which it is assembled and manufactured from its constituent ingredients:
“I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.”
The central idea of the essay is that, as seemingly simple as the pencil appears to be, “not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.”
Why? Because the creation of a pencil is not a one or two step process of assembling materials in a factory, but a globe-spanning effort involving the harvesting of cedar in Oregon, the mining of graphite in Ceylon, the collection of Mississippi clay, Italian pumice, rape-seed oil from the Dutch East Indies and dozens of other ingredients. Each of these ingredients has to be prepared in its own way. The cedar logs are shipped hundreds of miles away to be cut, kiln dried, tinted, waxed, and kiln dried again. The Mississippi clay is refined with ammonium hydroxide, mixed with graphite and sulfonated tallow and baked at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit before being treated with a hot mixture which includes candelilla wax from Mexico, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated natural fats. The rape-seed oil is reacted with sulfur chloride and mixed with various binding, vulcanizing and accelerating agents.
As confusing as this (partial) list is becoming, it only scrapes the surface of what is really involved in coordinating the assembly of these ingredients. Think of all the various people involved in the mining and transportation of the graphite for the pencil’s core. There are not only the miners in Ceylon, but those who make their mining tools, those who make the paper sacks the graphite is transported in, those who make the string for tying the paper sacks, the crews who load the sacks onto ships for transport and the crews who make the ships themselves, the ship’s captain and crew, the harbor masters and lighthouse keepers that guide the shipment to its destination and those who transport it to the factory, not to mention all those who supply these workers with food and clothes and other necessities. And that’s just the graphite.
In the end it is truly mind-boggling to contemplate just how complex the production of one simple little pencil actually is. Surely no one person could even itemize and keep track of all of this activity, let alone direct it all. And yet it happens. The “simple” little pencil sitting on your desk is proof of that.
The lesson of Read’s essay is that, counter-intuitive as it may seem, extremely complex operations not only require no single organizing authority but in fact don’t even permit one.
As interesting as this idea is, so far it is still largely an economic (and academic) one. Yes, granted, the creation of various finished products from their constituent materials can be a complex process. And yes, granted, there isn’t a single person who coordinates each and every worker in each and every part of that process. But what does this have to do with the ordering of society itself? We might not need a group of people to direct the making of pencils, but surely we need to regulate the complex and often dangerous activities we engage in as a society, don’t we?
Well let’s look at another example from our daily life. Statistics show that driving a car is one of the most dangerous activities that we engage in every single day, and few people could contemplate the idea of removing traffic lights, speed limits, lane markings and other basic regulations from the streets. Surely the rules of the road are what keep traffic flowing smoothly and prevent accidents, aren’t they?
Surprisingly, the removal of various traffic restrictions have not only been tried time and again in cities across the world, but they have consistently been shown to lead to safer streets with reduced commute times with happier drivers and pedestrians. How is this possible?
As I pointed out in a recent video on my website, the concept of “spontaneous order” is one that has been demonstrated time and again on the roads of various cities around the world. The example I highlighted in that video–that of Portishead in the UK, whose experiment in removing traffic lights from a key junction was so successful that they decided to make it permanent–is just one of many examples of a road design ideology known as “Shared Space.”
Relying on the principles of spontaneous order, Shared Space advocates like the late Dutch traffic designer Hans Monderman postulate that making the roads “riskier” in fact made them safer. Rather than having everyone negotiating with the impersonal and inflexible rules of the road (signs, lights and markings), roads without such regulations require people to negotiate with the other people around them directly. Instead of seeing other road users as mere obstacles between themselves and the next green light, drivers are now forced to see and interact with other road users as actual humans. As crazy as the idea sounds, it has been implemented in a number of towns across Europe, from Ipswitch in England to Ejby in Denmark to Ostende in Belgium and Makkinga in Holland, and the result has been a dramatic decline in accidents. It seems that drivers, when left to negotiate with others for space on unrestricted roads, can act like adults, and a type of order emerges from those negotiations.
But what about the “hard cases?” It’s one thing to talk about order on the roads, but another thing to talk about order in a society where there are robberies, assaults, rapes and murders occurring on a daily basis. Is it possible to imagine any way of dealing with these types of problems other than how they are dealt with under the current system? Can we replace legislatures and court systems and law enforcement “authorities” with a decentralized, non-hierarchical system of justice? And if so, what would such a system look like?
Here again the problem may only seem like a problem because we have been conditioned to believe that the current system of laws, courts, and police are the only forms of justice imaginable. This system relies on the idea that the best way to deal with crime is to give the power to a handful of individuals to create laws that must be adhered to by all people at all times in all situations and contexts and which must be enforced with a prescribed punishment. Some amount of discretion is left to individual law enforcement or judges in the application of these rules, but the rules are the rules and the procedures they prescribe are expected to be followed by anyone within their jurisdiction.
Opposed to this is the idea of a restorative justice system in which victims and communities are brought into dialogue to help determine how best to deal with offenders. What if the victim of a robbery (and the community as a whole) would actually benefit more from confronting and dialoguing with their offender than they would from putting him in a prison cell for x number of months?
Again, although the idea might seem counter-intuitive, restorative justice processes have been shown to leave victims with less post-traumatic stress and less longing for revenge against their offenders, and leaves violent offenders less likely to re-offend than traditional court trials. The process has been used to great success literally all over the world, from the violent slums of urban Brazil (where murder is the principal cause of death for those under the age of 25) to the Huikahi Restorative Circle in Hawaii.
From the economy to the roads to the justice system, there are ways to imagine a society where central planners and glorified “lawgivers” are not needed in order to maintain “order.” This is not to say that we can transition from a highly centralized society to a completely decentralized one overnight. We have been conditioned our whole lives to interact with others around us through the laws, rules and procedures of our highly centralized society. It will take much deprogramming for us to re-discover how to interact with those around us as fellow human beings. But it can be done.
In effect, we are on the brink of a transition from a youthful society that relies on “mommy government” and “daddy policeman” to govern our every interaction to an adult society that is discovering it can order and govern itself. It will not be an easy process, nor will it be a utopian one; there will always be law-breakers and those who go against the order of society. But we must understand that the idea that those disorderly elements can only be dealt with by ceding more of our power to centralized authorities is exactly what has led us to the brink of economic and societal collapse.
Sometimes the best way to govern is not to govern at all.

6- THE NEW ANARCHISTS

DAVID GRAEBER

It’s hard to think of another time when there has been such a gulf between intellectuals and activists; between theorists of revolution and its practitioners. Writers who for years have been publishing essays that sound like position papers for vast social movements that do not in fact exist seem seized with confusion or worse, dismissive contempt, now that real ones are everywhere emerging. It’s particularly scandalous in the case of what’s still, for no particularly good reason, referred to as the ‘anti-globalization’ movement, one that has in a mere two or three years managed to transform completely the sense of historical possibilities for millions across the planet. This may be the result of sheer ignorance, or of relying on what might be gleaned from such overtly hostile sources as the New York Times; then again, most of what’s written even in progressive outlets seems largely to miss the point—or at least, rarely focuses on what participants in the movement really think is most important about it.
As an anthropologist and active participant—particularly in the more radical, direct-action end of the movement—I may be able to clear up some common points of misunderstanding; but the news may not be gratefully received. Much of the hesitation, I suspect, lies in the reluctance of those who have long fancied themselves radicals of some sort to come to terms with the fact that they are really liberals: interested in expanding individual freedoms and pursuing social justice, but not in ways that would seriously challenge the existence of reigning institutions like capital or state. And even many of those who would like to see revolutionary change might not feel entirely happy about having to accept that most of the creative energy for radical politics is now coming from anarchism—a tradition that they have hitherto mostly dismissed—and that taking this movement seriously will necessarily also mean a respectful engagement with it.
I am writing as an anarchist; but in a sense, counting how many people involved in the movement actually call themselves ‘anarchists’, and in what contexts, is a bit beside the point. [1] The very notion of direct action, with its rejection of a politics which appeals to governments to modify their behaviour, in favour of physical intervention against state power in a form that itself prefigures an alternative—all of this emerges directly from the libertarian tradition. Anarchism is the heart of the movement, its soul; the source of most of what’s new and hopeful about it. In what follows, then, I will try to clear up what seem to be the three most common misconceptions about the movement—our supposed opposition to something called ‘globalization’, our supposed ‘violence’, and our supposed lack of a coherent ideology—and then suggest how radical intellectuals might think about reimagining their own theoretical practice in the light of all of this.

A globalization movement?

The phrase ‘anti-globalization movement’ is a coinage of the US media and activists have never felt comfortable with it. Insofar as this is a movement against anything, it’s against neoliberalism, which can be defined as a kind of market fundamentalism—or, better, market Stalinism—that holds there is only one possible direction for human historical development. The map is held by an elite of economists and corporate flacks, to whom must be ceded all power once held by institutions with any shred of democratic accountability; from now on it will be wielded largely through unelected treaty organizations like the IMF, WTO or NAFTA. In Argentina, or Estonia, or Taiwan, it would be possible to say this straight out: ‘We are a movement against neoliberalism’. But in the US, language is always a problem. The corporate media here is probably the most politically monolithic on the planet: neoliberalism is all there is to see—the background reality; as a result, the word itself cannot be used. The issues involved can only be addressed using propaganda terms like ‘free trade’ or ‘the free market’. So American activists find themselves in a quandary: if one suggests putting ‘the N word’ (as it’s often called) in a pamphlet or press release, alarm bells immediately go off: one is being exclusionary, playing only to an educated elite. There have been all sorts of attempts to frame alternative expressions—we’re a ‘global justice movement’, we’re a movement ‘against corporate globalization’. None are especially elegant or quite satisfying and, as a result, it is common in meetings to hear the speakers using ‘globalization movement’ and ‘anti-globalization movement’ pretty much interchangeably.
The phrase ‘globalization movement’, though, is really quite apropos. If one takes globalization to mean the effacement of borders and the free movement of people, possessions and ideas, then it’s pretty clear that not only is the movement itself a product of globalization, but the majority of groups involved in it—the most radical ones in particular—are far more supportive of globalization in general than are the IMF or WTO. It was an international network called People’s Global Action, for example, that put out the first summons for planet-wide days of action such as J18 and N30—the latter the original call for protest against the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle. And PGA in turn owes its origins to the famous International Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism, which took place knee-deep in the jungle mud of rainy-season Chiapas, in August 1996; and was itself initiated, as Subcomandante Marcos put it, ‘by all the rebels around the world’. People from over 50 countries came streaming into the Zapatista-held village of La Realidad. The vision for an ‘intercontinental network of resistance’ was laid out in the Second Declaration of La Realidad: ‘We declare that we will make a collective network of all our particular struggles and resistances, an intercontinental network of resistance against neoliberalism, an intercontinental network of resistance for humanity’:

Let it be a network of voices that resist the war Power wages on them.
A network of voices that not only speak, but also struggle and resist for humanity and against neoliberalism.
A network that covers the five continents and helps to resist the death that Power promises us. [2]

This, the Declaration made clear, was ‘not an organizing structure; it has no central head or decision maker; it has no central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who resist.’
The following year, European Zapatista supporters in the Ya Basta! groups organized a second encuentro in Spain, where the idea of the network process was taken forward: PGA was born at a meeting in Geneva in February 1998. From the start, it included not only anarchist groups and radical trade unions in Spain, Britain and Germany, but a Gandhian socialist farmers’ league in India (the KRRS), associations of Indonesian and Sri Lankan fisherfolk, the Argentinian teachers’ union, indigenous groups such as the Maori of New Zealand and Kuna of Ecuador, the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement, a network made up of communities founded by escaped slaves in South and Central America—and any number of others. For a long time, North America was scarcely represented, save for the Canadian Postal Workers’ Union—which acted as PGA’s main communications hub, until it was largely replaced by the internet—and a Montreal-based anarchist group called CLAC.
If the movement’s origins are internationalist, so are its demands. The three-plank programme of Ya Basta! in Italy, for instance, calls for a universally guaranteed ‘basic income’, global citizenship, guaranteeing free movement of people across borders, and free access to new technology—which in practice would mean extreme limits on patent rights (themselves a very insidious form of protectionism). The noborder network—their slogan: ‘No One is Illegal’—has organized week-long campsites, laboratories for creative resistance, on the Polish–German and Ukrainian borders, in Sicily and at Tarifa in Spain. Activists have dressed up as border guards, built boat-bridges across the River Oder and blockaded Frankfurt Airport with a full classical orchestra to protest against the deportation of immigrants (deportees have died of suffocation on Lufthansa and KLM flights). This summer’s camp is planned for Strasbourg, home of the Schengen Information System, a search-and-control database with tens of thousands of terminals across Europe, targeting the movements of migrants, activists, anyone they like.
More and more, activists have been trying to draw attention to the fact that the neoliberal vision of ‘globalization’ is pretty much limited to the movement of capital and commodities, and actually increases barriers against the free flow of people, information and ideas—the size of the US border guard has almost tripled since the signing of NAFTA. Hardly surprising: if it were not possible to effectively imprison the majority of people in the world in impoverished enclaves, there would be no incentive for Nike or The Gap to move production there to begin with. Given a free movement of people, the whole neoliberal project would collapse. This is another thing to bear in mind when people talk about the decline of ‘sovereignty’ in the contemporary world: the main achievement of the nation-state in the last century has been the establishment of a uniform grid of heavily policed barriers across the world. It is precisely this international system of control that we are fighting against, in the name of genuine globalization.
These connexions—and the broader links between neoliberal policies and mechanisms of state coercion (police, prisons, militarism)—have played a more and more salient role in our analyses as we ourselves have confronted escalating levels of state repression. Borders became a major issue in Europe during the IMF meetings at Prague, and later EU meetings in Nice. At the FTAA summit in Quebec City last summer, invisible lines that had previously been treated as if they didn’t exist (at least for white people) were converted overnight into fortifications against the movement of would-be global citizens, demanding the right to petition their rulers. The three-kilometre ‘wall’ constructed through the center of Quebec City, to shield the heads of state junketing inside from any contact with the populace, became the perfect symbol for what neoliberalism actually means in human terms. The spectacle of the Black Bloc, armed with wire cutters and grappling hooks, joined by everyone from Steelworkers to Mohawk warriors to tear down the wall, became—for that very reason—one of the most powerful moments in the movement’s history. [3]
There is one striking contrast between this and earlier internationalisms, however. The former usually ended up exporting Western organizational models to the rest of the world; in this, the flow has if anything been the other way around. Many, perhaps most, of the movement’s signature techniques—including mass nonviolent civil disobedience itself—were first developed in the global South. In the long run, this may well prove the single most radical thing about it.

Billionaires and clowns

In the corporate media, the word ‘violent’ is invoked as a kind of mantra—invariably, repeatedly—whenever a large action takes place: ‘violent protests’, ‘violent clashes’, ‘police raid headquarters of violent protesters’, even ‘violent riots’ (there are other kinds?). Such expressions are typically invoked when a simple, plain-English description of what took place (people throwing paint-bombs, breaking windows of empty storefronts, holding hands as they blockaded intersections, cops beating them with sticks) might give the impression that the only truly violent parties were the police. The US media is probably the biggest offender here—and this despite the fact that, after two years of increasingly militant direct action, it is still impossible to produce a single example of anyone to whom a US activist has caused physical injury. I would say that what really disturbs the powers-that-be is not the ‘violence’ of the movement but its relative lack of it; governments simply do not know how to deal with an overtly revolutionary movement that refuses to fall into familiar patterns of armed resistance.
The effort to destroy existing paradigms is usually quite self-conscious. Where once it seemed that the only alternatives to marching along with signs were either Gandhian non-violent civil disobedience or outright insurrection, groups like the Direct Action Network, Reclaim the Streets, Black Blocs or Tute Bianche have all, in their own ways, been trying to map out a completely new territory in between. They’re attempting to invent what many call a ‘new language’ of civil disobedience, combining elements of street theatre, festival and what can only be called non-violent warfare—non-violent in the sense adopted by, say, Black Bloc anarchists, in that it eschews any direct physical harm to human beings. Ya Basta! for example is famous for its tute bianche or white-overalls tactics: men and women dressed in elaborate forms of padding, ranging from foam armour to inner tubes to rubber-ducky flotation devices, helmets and chemical-proof white jumpsuits (their British cousins are well-clad Wombles). As this mock army pushes its way through police barricades, all the while protecting each other against injury or arrest, the ridiculous gear seems to reduce human beings to cartoon characters—misshapen, ungainly, foolish, largely indestructible. The effect is only increased when lines of costumed figures attack police with balloons and water pistols or, like the ‘Pink Bloc’ at Prague and elsewhere, dress as fairies and tickle them with feather dusters.
At the American Party Conventions, Billionaires for Bush (or Gore) dressed in high-camp tuxedos and evening gowns and tried to press wads of fake money into the cops’ pockets, thanking them for repressing the dissent. None were even slightly hurt—perhaps police are given aversion therapy against hitting anyone in a tuxedo. The Revolutionary Anarchist Clown Bloc, with their high bicycles, rainbow wigs and squeaky mallets, confused the cops by attacking each other (or the billionaires). They had all the best chants: ‘Democracy? Ha Ha Ha!’, ‘The pizza united can never be defeated’, ‘Hey ho, hey ho—ha ha, hee hee!’, as well as meta-chants like ‘Call! Response! Call! Response!’ and—everyone’s favourite—‘Three Word Chant! Three Word Chant!’
In Quebec City, a giant catapult built along mediaeval lines (with help from the left caucus of the Society for Creative Anachronism) lobbed soft toys at the FTAA. Ancient-warfare techniques have been studied to adopt for non-violent but very militant forms of confrontation: there were peltasts and hoplites (the former mainly from the Prince Edwards Islands, the latter from Montreal) at Quebec City, and research continues into Roman-style shield walls. Blockading has become an art form: if you make a huge web of strands of yarn across an intersection, it’s actually impossible to cross; motorcycle cops get trapped like flies. The Liberation Puppet with its arms fully extended can block a four-lane highway, while snake-dances can be a form of mobile blockade. Rebels in London last Mayday planned Monopoly Board actions—Building Hotels on Mayfair for the homeless, Sale of the Century in Oxford Street, Guerrilla Gardening—only partly disrupted by heavy policing and torrential rain. But even the most militant of the militant—eco-saboteurs like the Earth Liberation Front—scrupulously avoid doing anything that would cause harm to human beings (or animals, for that matter). It’s this scrambling of conventional categories that so throws the forces of order and makes them desperate to bring things back to familiar territory (simple violence): even to the point, as in Genoa, of encouraging fascist hooligans to run riot as an excuse to use overwhelming force against everybody else.
One could trace these forms of action back to the stunts and guerrilla theater of the Yippies or Italian ‘metropolitan Indians’ in the sixties, the squatter battles in Germany or Italy in the seventies and eighties, even the peasant resistance to the expansion of Tokyo airport. But it seems to me that here, too, the really crucial origins lie with the Zapatistas, and other movements in the global South. In many ways, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) represents an attempt by people who have always been denied the right to non-violent, civil resistance to seize it; essentially, to call the bluff of neoliberalism and its pretenses to democratization and yielding power to ‘civil society’. It is, as its commanders say, an army which aspires not to be an army any more (it’s something of an open secret that, for the last five years at least, they have not even been carrying real guns). As Marcos explains their conversion from standard tactics of guerrilla war:

We thought the people would either not pay attention to us, or come together with us to fight. But they did not react in either of these two ways. It turned out that all these people, who were thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, did not want to rise up with us but . . . neither did they want us to be annihilated. They wanted us to dialogue. This completely broke our scheme and ended up defining zapatismo, the neo-zapatismo. [4]

Now the EZLN is the sort of army that organizes ‘invasions’ of Mexican military bases in which hundreds of rebels sweep in entirely unarmed to yell at and try to shame the resident soldiers. Similarly, mass actions by the Landless Workers’ Movement gain an enormous moral authority in Brazil by reoccupying unused lands entirely non-violently. In either case, it’s pretty clear that if the same people had tried the same thing twenty years ago, they would simply have been shot.

Anarchy and peace

However you choose to trace their origins, these new tactics are perfectly in accord with the general anarchistic inspiration of the movement, which is less about seizing state power than about exposing, delegitimizing and dismantling mechanisms of rule while winning ever-larger spaces of autonomy from it. The critical thing, though, is that all this is only possible in a general atmosphere of peace. In fact, it seems to me that these are the ultimate stakes of struggle at the moment: one that may well determine the overall direction of the twenty-first century. We should remember that during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when most Marxist parties were rapidly becoming reformist social democrats, anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism were the centre of the revolutionary left. [5] The situation only really changed with World War I and the Russian Revolution. It was the Bolsheviks’ success, we are usually told, that led to the decline of anarchism—with the glorious exception of Spain—and catapulted Communism to the fore. But it seems to me one could look at this another way.
In the late nineteenth century most people honestly believed that war between industrialized powers was becoming obsolete; colonial adventures were a constant, but a war between France and England, on French or English soil, seemed as unthinkable as it would today. By 1900, even the use of passports was considered an antiquated barbarism. The ‘short twentieth century’ was, by contrast, probably the most violent in human history, almost entirely preoccupied with either waging world wars or preparing for them. Hardly surprising, then, that anarchism quickly came to seem unrealistic, if the ultimate measure of political effectiveness became the ability to maintain huge mechanized killing machines. This is one thing that anarchists, by definition, can never be very good at. Neither is it surprising that Marxist parties —who have been only too good at it—seemed eminently practical and realistic in comparison. Whereas the moment the Cold War ended, and war between industrialized powers once again seemed unthinkable, anarchism reappeared just where it had been at the end of the nineteenth century, as an international movement at the very centre of the revolutionary left.
If this is right, it becomes clearer what the ultimate stakes of the current ‘anti-terrorist’ mobilization are. In the short run, things do look very frightening. Governments who were desperately scrambling for some way to convince the public we were terrorists even before September 11 now feel they’ve been given carteblanche; there is little doubt that a lot of good people are about to suffer terrible repression. But in the long run, a return to twentieth-century levels of violence is simply impossible. The September 11 attacks were clearly something of a fluke (the first wildly ambitious terrorist scheme in history that actually worked); the spread of nuclear weapons is ensuring that larger and larger portions of the globe will be for all practical purposes off-limits to conventional warfare. And if war is the health of the state, the prospects for anarchist-style organizing can only be improving.

Practising direct democracy

A constant complaint about the globalization movement in the progressive press is that, while tactically brilliant, it lacks any central theme or coherent ideology. (This seems to be the left equivalent of the corporate media’s claims that we are a bunch of dumb kids touting a bundle of completely unrelated causes—free Mumia, dump the debt, save the old-growth forests.) Another line of attack is that the movement is plagued by a generic opposition to all forms of structure or organization. It’s distressing that, two years after Seattle, I should have to write this, but someone obviously should: in North America especially, this is a movement about reinventing democracy. It is not opposed to organization. It is about creating new forms of organization. It is not lacking in ideology. Those new forms of organization are its ideology. It is about creating and enacting horizontal networks instead of top-down structures like states, parties or corporations; networks based on principles of decentralized, non-hierarchical consensus democracy. Ultimately, it aspires to be much more than that, because ultimately it aspires to reinvent daily life as whole. But unlike many other forms of radicalism, it has first organized itself in the political sphere—mainly because this was a territory that the powers that be (who have shifted all their heavy artillery into the economic) have largely abandoned.
Over the past decade, activists in North America have been putting enormous creative energy into reinventing their groups’ own internal processes, to create viable models of what functioning direct democracy could actually look like. In this we’ve drawn particularly, as I’ve noted, on examples from outside the Western tradition, which almost invariably rely on some process of consensus finding, rather than majority vote. The result is a rich and growing panoply of organizational instruments—spokescouncils, affinity groups, facilitation tools, break-outs, fishbowls, blocking concerns, vibe-watchers and so on—all aimed at creating forms of democratic process that allow initiatives to rise from below and attain maximum effective solidarity, without stifling dissenting voices, creating leadership positions or compelling anyone to do anything which they have not freely agreed to do.
The basic idea of consensus process is that, rather than voting, you try to come up with proposals acceptable to everyone—or at least, not highly objectionable to anyone: first state the proposal, then ask for ‘concerns’ and try to address them. Often, at this point, people in the group will propose ‘friendly amendments’ to add to the original proposal, or otherwise alter it, to ensure concerns are addressed. Then, finally, when you call for consensus, you ask if anyone wishes to ‘block’ or ‘stand aside’. Standing aside is just saying, ‘I would not myself be willing to take part in this action, but I wouldn’t stop anyone else from doing it’. Blocking is a way of saying ‘I think this violates the fundamental principles or purposes of being in the group’. It functions as a veto: any one person can kill a proposal completely by blocking it—although there are ways to challenge whether a block is genuinely principled.
There are different sorts of groups. Spokescouncils, for example, are large assemblies that coordinate between smaller ‘affinity groups’. They are most often held before, and during, large-scale direct actions like Seattle or Quebec. Each affinity group (which might have between 4 and 20 people) selects a ‘spoke’, who is empowered to speak for them in the larger group. Only the spokes can take part in the actual process of finding consensus at the council, but before major decisions they break out into affinity groups again and each group comes to consensus on what position they want their spoke to take (not as unwieldy as it might sound). Break-outs, on the other hand, are when a large meeting temporarily splits up into smaller ones that will focus on making decisions or generating proposals, which can then be presented for approval before the whole group when it reassembles. Facilitation tools are used to resolve problems or move things along if they seem to be bogging down. You can ask for a brainstorming session, in which people are only allowed to present ideas but not to criticize other people’s; or for a non-binding straw poll, where people raise their hands just to see how everyone feels about a proposal, rather than to make a decision. A fishbowl would only be used if there is a profound difference of opinion: you can take two representatives for each side—one man and one woman—and have the four of them sit in the middle, everyone else surrounding them silently, and see if the four can’t work out a synthesis or compromise together, which they can then present as a proposal to the whole group.

Prefigurative politics

This is very much a work in progress, and creating a culture of democracy among people who have little experience of such things is necessarily a painful and uneven business, full of all sorts of stumblings and false starts, but—as almost any police chief who has faced us on the streets can attest—direct democracy of this sort can be astoundingly effective. And it is difficult to find anyone who has fully participated in such an action whose sense of human possibilities has not been profoundly transformed as a result. It’s one thing to say, ‘Another world is possible’. It’s another to experience it, however momentarily. Perhaps the best way to start thinking about these organizations—the Direct Action Network, for example—is to see them as the diametrical opposite of the sectarian Marxist groups; or, for that matter, of the sectarian Anarchist groups. [6] Where the democratic-centralist ‘party’ puts its emphasis on achieving a complete and correct theoretical analysis, demands ideological uniformity and tends to juxtapose the vision of an egalitarian future with extremely authoritarian forms of organization in the present, these openly seek diversity. Debate always focuses on particular courses of action; it’s taken for granted that no one will ever convert anyone else entirely to their point of view. The motto might be, ‘If you are willing to act like an anarchist now, your long-term vision is pretty much your own business’. Which seems only sensible: none of us know how far these principles can actually take us, or what a complex society based on them would end up looking like. Their ideology, then, is immanent in the anti-authoritarian principles that underlie their practice, and one of their more explicit principles is that things should stay this way.
Finally, I’d like to tease out some of the questions the direct-action networks raise about alienation, and its broader implications for political practice. For example: why is it that, even when there is next to no other constituency for revolutionary politics in a capitalist society, the one group most likely to be sympathetic to its project consists of artists, musicians, writers, and others involved in some form of non-alienated production? Surely there must be a link between the actual experience of first imagining things and then bringing them into being, individually or collectively, and the ability to envision social alternatives—particularly, the possibility of a society itself premised on less alienated forms of creativity? One might even suggest that revolutionary coalitions always tend to rely on a kind of alliance between a society’s least alienated and its most oppressed; actual revolutions, one could then say, have tended to happen when these two categories most broadly overlap.
This would, at least, help explain why it almost always seems to be peasants and craftsmen—or even more, newly proletarianized former peasants and craftsmen—who actually overthrow capitalist regimes; and not those inured to generations of wage labour. It would also help explain the extraordinary importance of indigenous people’s struggles in the new movement: such people tend to be simultaneously the very least alienated and most oppressed people on earth. Now that new communication technologies have made it possible to include them in global revolutionary alliances, as well as local resistance and revolt, it is well-nigh inevitable that they should play a profoundly inspirational role.
Previous texts in this series have been Naomi Klein, ‘Reclaiming the Commons’ (NLR 9), Subcomandante Marcos, ‘The Punch Card and the Hourglass’ (NLR 9), John Sellers, ‘Raising a Ruckus’ (NLR 10) and José Bové, ‘A Farmers’ International?’ (NLR 12).

 

[1] There are some who take anarchist principles of anti-sectarianism and open-endedness so seriously that they are sometimes reluctant to call themselves ‘anarchists’ for that very reason.
[2] Read by Subcomandante Marcos during the closing session of the First Intercontinental Encuentro, 3 August 1996: Our Word is Our Weapon: Selected Writings, Juana Ponce de León, ed., New York 2001.
[3] Helping tear it down was certainly one of the more exhilarating experiences of this author’s life.
[4] Interviewed by Yvon LeBot, Subcomandante Marcos: El Sueño Zapatista, Barcelona 1997, pp. 214–5; Bill Weinberg, Homage to Chiapas, London 2000, p. 188.
[5] ‘In 1905–1914 the Marxist left had in most countries been on the fringe of the revolutionary movement, the main body of Marxists had been identified with a de facto non-revolutionary social democracy, while the bulk of the revolutionary left was anarcho-syndicalist, or at least much closer to the ideas and the mood of anarcho-syndicalism than to that of classical Marxism.’ Eric Hobsbawm, ‘Bolshevism and the Anarchists’, Revolutionaries, New York 1973, p. 61.
[6] What one might call capital-A anarchist groups, such as, say, the North East Federation of Anarchist Communists—whose members must accept the Platform of the Anarchist Communists set down in 1926 by Nestor Makhno—do still exist, of course. But the small-a anarchists are the real locus of historical dynamism right now.
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