Column: Why I’m not an anarchist

The Tree of Liberty

What is anarchism? Anarchism is the view that “… holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful, or, alternatively, as opposing authority or hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations.” (Wikipedia)

There are many variants of anarchism. Sometimes, anarchism is packaged with capitalism as a view known as anarcho-capitalism. Other times anarchism is associated with some form of socialism (see the column by Brian Moen on Thursdays).

All of these variants, for a variety of reasons, tend to be skeptical of concentrations of power, especially in governments. In this way, anarchists share a similar attitude to many libertarians, who generally support reducing the state to a great extent, or even completely.

I want to distinguish myself from these views — while I think our government is now corrupt insofar as it violates our rights, I think government is good and important insofar as it protects our rights. Moreover, I think the size of government is inconsequential; what matters is whether it is fulfilling its proper purpose (which may require it to be large, or not).

We need government for a variety of reasons, but basically the case for government can be grasped by observing that in a state of anarchy, as Thomas Hobbes once keenly observed, life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” What he correctly identified is that without government to establish the rule of law, humans must rely on themselves to defend against the use of force. In a lawless society, humans cannot flourish. Who would plant a field, build a factory or design an iPhone if their security even in the next day were not guaranteed? It is inconceivable.

More fundamentally, as Ayn Rand wrote in her essay “The Nature of Government,” “Since man’s mind is his basic tool of survival, his means of gaining knowledge to guide his actions — the basic condition he requires is the freedom to think and to act according to his rational judgment.”

Humans, unlike the other animals or plants that rely on what is already available in their environment, need to produce goods to survive, by rearranging the material of nature to create artificial objects such as boats, skyscrapers, furniture and computers. In turn, this requires the use of reason — the advanced level of consciousness that allows us to use language, engage in science, think about causes and effects and have an abstract understanding of relationships between classes of objects in our world.

Society is supremely beneficial to us insofar as others are productive and rational and don’t expropriate our values or our lives. We benefit from a division of labor whereby different people produce different things and we can engage in trade.

But the benefits of living in society can only exist if that society is secure; a society where our rights can be violated at any moment, or our ability to use our reason independently and pursue our values and interests can be curtailed with impunity is not a society that can flourish.

Government, the institution that (ideally) primarily punishes those who violate our rights, is therefore a precondition for a flourishing, advanced society.

So much for opposing power in the hands of government. What about hierarchies, or concentrations of power more generally?

Well, it depends on what we mean. Some hierarchies, like the caste system in ancient India or the marginalization of black people caused by racism in the post-reconstruction South, were irrational and, to that extent, should be opposed. Other hierarchies result from the rational behavior of humans interacting in a social context: It is proper that the person that owns a business has more income than a new employee, and that an employee who has worked longer is less likely to be dismissed than one who has worked less, etc.

Sometimes, when people speak of the “accumulation of power” by individuals or institutions, they are guilty of equivocation. If power in this context means “the influence that one has over others,” then there is at least one crucial distinction worth making: economic power vs. political power.

Economic power is the power that capitalists in a free society have: the power of wealth, or capital. This just means that to the extent that they can persuade others (by offering them money or a job, for instance), capitalists can get people to do what they want them to.

Political power is the legal power to use force. Ideally, the government uses this power only against those who violate our rights, by putting them in jail or charging them fines. This is the kind of power, when used improperly, is a threat to our lives and our pursuit of happiness.

Once again, the essential problem is not where power as such is concentrated, or whether we have hierarchies, or how big the government is. The pertinent issue is our ability to pursue values and live the best possible lives we can; to do this, we need a proper, limited government.

TRISTAN DE LIÈGE can be found not being an anarchist at tflenaerts@ucdavis.edu.

21 Comments

  • szophee
    January 15, 2013

    Hello, I registered just to leave this comment because articles like this annoy me so much.

    Why on earth do you need to drag Hobbes into this? Look at a historical example of anarchism and you will see a society or order and reason.

    After the Anarchist Communist revolution in Spain there was a highly successful three years in which the anarchists organised all production collectively and democratically, without any central authority. They were highly literate and the very epitome of ‘reason.’ The society did not descend into chaos as Hobbes would predict. They even ran worker’s patrols to replace the police service (although this was during a time of civil war so was perhaps only temporarily necessary). Ultimately, the solidarity that anarchist thought had fostered between each member of society meant that each person was able to think beyond their immediately selfish needs.

    • James Madison
      January 15, 2013

      So you’re basing your praise of the Anarchist Communist revolution in Spain on a successful 3 years? Not only is that a hugely insignificant amount of time on the anthropological scale, it’s also completely irrelevant. Communism does not work on the long term because people inevitably want to strive for something better – it’s human nature. Communism rejects this idea of working hard and reaping the benefits of one’s own work. The only way communism works is when the entire population is brainwashed into believing it and rejecting their own desires for wealth, prosperity, and success.

      But then again, why am I even bothering to argue with such a porous line of reasoning?

      JM

      • szophee
        January 15, 2013

        It’s an example that it can work – it was only ended by the civil war. You don’t even need to look at the society in action – I don’t believe you can have read any anarchist literature because most of it advocates nothing like ‘chaos,’ just a different way of organising society (without central authority). “Communism does not work on the long term because people inevitably want to strive for something better – it’s human nature” is also a statement with NO evidence to support it (it also sounds like a statement from someone who has no knowledge of the history of anarchist communism, which is absolutely distinct from the USSR style ‘communism’ most western propaganda focuses on) . So, how do you know about human nature? Read David Graeber’s ‘Debt, the first 5000 years,’ and you will discover that markets and money were the creation of goverment – they are nothing do with any human propensity to ‘truck, barter and exchange.’ All the ethnographical evidence suggests that we have no such propensity.

        • James Madison
          January 15, 2013

          And why was there civil war? Because there was a general distaste with the quality of life in Spain? Because some people didn’t agree with anarchist communism? In a free trade, free market, republic (such as the USA) with given rights to citizens, you’re allowed to practice whatever beliefs you want (such as your strange beliefs) and I can say nothing of it. What if I disagree with the anarchy? The anarchy only supports one thing, and that is a lack of organization. So what do you do with those that want to congregrate and establish more order for their communities?

          Quoting your text above: “Communism does not work on the long term because people inevitably want to strive for something better – it’s human nature” is also a statement with NO evidence to support it (it also sounds like a statement from someone who has no knowledge of the history of anarchist communism, which is absolutely distinct from the USSR style ‘communism’ most western propaganda focuses on)”

          It absolutely has plenty of evidence to support it! I just thought I didn’t have to lecture you on the fall of Eastern European communism – because people heard and saw what life was like in the West and they realized that’s what they wanted. Because the system of communsim there was stagnant and/or failing. They wanted a better life that capitalism and free markets and a republic provided them. We see this even NOW with defectors form North Korea who, once they see what life is like in say South Korea, or the USA, they wonder why they ever were satisfied with a communist lifestyle. Don’t you dare lecture me on the strengths of communism in historical context because it’s a road I’m well versed with.

          SO WHAT if markets and money were created by government, they were created as a means for people to do business easier! Because people didn’t want to go into a village and have to barter corn in exchange for rice. To barter with lambs for chickens, or pottery for clothing. Ancient monetary systems arose from a basic NEED from humans to be able to conduct trade across multiple persons and ‘markets’ (FYI can be defined as the trading of goods in exchange for monies or services, which would likely have to occur in your anarchist communism). The logistics behind bartering in a world where populations were expanding (both in numbers and geographically) were too difficult so they developed monetary systems so that value behind products could become streamlined.

          You really have no idea about economics do you? You’re just behind this idea of anarchist communism ideologically but your logic completely unravels if you try to discuss economics – which is what makes a society or community function (and don’t give me more BS about how markets and money were created by government).

          If you’re going to argue with me at least bring some sound reasoning to the table.

          • szophee
            January 16, 2013

            I am actually genuinely shocked by your lack of historical knowledge here James, not to mention your ignorance of anarchist ideas. I’ll start with the history lesson. The civil war in Spain began BEFORE the revolution, and was fought between the ‘democratic’ (although still repressive) government, and Franco’s fascists. The north of Spain was already heavily anarchist – about 80% of workers were in the anarchist union. Once the fascists struck, the democratic government hesitated and failed to fight back. It was the anarchists who took to the streets and beat back the fascists – it was after they had successfully liberated Madrid and Barcelona from the fascists that the head of the democratic government told the anarchists that he’d hand power to them (although the anarchists refused to take control of the parliament as it was against their beliefs). The revolution was eventually lost, as they were losing the civil war with Franco (who had weapons from Hitler), and Stalin also attacked the anarchists from behind.

            Next a bit of basic knowledge about anarchism. You think it only supports one thing, ‘lack of organisation.’ This is absolutely false – anarchism is ABOUT organisation. Think about it – there can be many types of organisation. You can have organisation which is dictated by politicians at the top (what we have now), or you can have more diffuse organisation without a central authority, where everyone gets to have their say (anarchism is basically a form of direct democracy). Anarchism is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the world, sadly.

            As I said, the majority of the population in Spain were anarchists, and most adapted to the new way of life very easily. Those who were determined to be individualists were allowed to continue to live separately!
            I agree with you about Eastern ‘Communism’ – my husband was one of those who grew up under the Russians – but to my eyes, and to the eyes of the anarchists, that is NOT communism, not as it was originally conceived. Stalin saw what happened in Spain as a threat, as he recognised it as a genuine worker’s movement. Libertarian communism does not involve the basically fascistic state as seen in the USSR.

            Anyway, I think I might have touched a nerve about economics, and I’m afraid that is you that is clueless. Every (biased) economics textbook tells the story of money arising from barter, but this has been proved false by a huge body of anthropological research. There are NO examples of primitive barter economies – none at all. The theory of money as arising from barter is just a fantasy dreamt up by Adam Smith and his successors, who didn’t have much access to anthropological research at the time. Read David Graeber, as I said, or one of many other anthropologists and value theorists who have written about this. You will find that they have the evidence on their side, and those arguing that barter economies existed have nothing. It blows away the idea that money and markets are essential expressions of human nature.

      • szophee
        January 15, 2013

        “Communism rejects this idea of working hard and reaping the benefits of one’s own work”

        Also, you would realise the absolute irony of this sentence if you educated yourself about anarchism. Anarchist communism involves workers owning their own work, and not having to sell their labour for a wage. There are interviews with surviving Spanish Anarchists saying ‘I worked so much harder, because I was working for myself and not for a boss.’

        • James Madison
          January 15, 2013

          Then please explain to me what happens to the human psyche when they work countless years only to gain nothing in return except the same life? We are evolutionary creatures that were born into a world of ‘survival of the fittest’. Only the best survive. When we are all the same in a communist society this halts evolution (technological, emotional, intellectual), it stagnates ideas and innovation and removes the impetus to create and evolve as a species. I won’t even begin to argue with you that capitalism has done infinitely more for human innovation and society development than communism ever has.

          Great to see that you can quote abstract persons who loved Anarchist communism. I can show you quotes from Che Guevara and his followers that would sound similar. How did that turn out for him? Oh that’s right, after years of perpetual stagnation in a communist/Marxist regime the people got tired and revolted because they were unhappy. We can go back and forth and you’ll keep quoting some Spaniard who loved Anarchist Communism and I can show you the national GDP, innovation record, and quality of life that the United States of America’s capitalistic society has provided for you and for everyone else in this country.

          You also fail to address my point that Communism relies upon total equality. This is the case in ‘anarchist communism’ and more modern communism – it’s rooted in its definition. No one person can have more than the person next to him/her, and if they do have more then it must be redistributed. The idea that ‘anarchist communism’ is vastly different than the general idea of communsim is laughable. You simply advocate that we practice communism without a government to rule over us and redistribute the wealth for us. What happens when half the population doesn’t agree with you or wants to retain their wealth and products of labor? Who will ‘enforce’ your anarchy when others want organization, free trade, and free markets? I’d love to hear that answer because I’m sure it’s hilarious.

          JM

          • szophee
            January 16, 2013

            I think you are changing the subject rather majestically here James, hats off to you, ha ha!

            I was using that quote (from this film http://bit.ly/SJeWSM) to illustrate something that is at the heart of anarchism/anarchist communism – ‘worker self management.’ This was to counter your point that communism ‘rejects this idea of working hard and reaping the benefits of one’s own work.’ If you actually read any anarchist literature, or if you watch that film (doubt you will) you will see that is disproves all the pre-concieved notions you have about communism halting progress. Make no mistake, I am not defending the USSR, but that was not communism, that was a form of fascism.

            About equality: There is more to life than ‘moving up the ladder’ and buying luxury goods. What good are they when we don’t have freedom? When we have to slave for a boss doing crappy unproductive jobs, when we have to work longer and longer hours to produce enough consumerist junk to keep the economy growing, when industrialisation has already ensured the end of scarcity? Freed from this we could have more free time for art, philopsophy, science – that would be REAL progress. Then we can develop into real individuals, not the sleepwalking consumers we are now (to whom material wealth is the only thing that matters).

            The ‘survival of the fittest’ is a concept that is also much abused. By ‘fittest’ Darwin did not meant the strongest or fastest. He meant those with the most appropriate skills. In an age of impending environmental catastrophe, I think that those who can look beyond capitalism (and its insistence of growth and overproduction) might well be the fittest. Industrialisation is to thank for bringing scarcity to an end, thankfully, but if we continue to support the capitalist mode of production we are done for I think.

            Let me tell you my hilarious answer to your last question – there isn’t a way to ‘enforce’ anarchy – that’s at the heart of anarchist thought. It has to be the will of the majority. Yes, there would be those who resist, and this would involve violence. But capitalism is a form of systematic violence and repression, so this is justified.

          • szophee
            January 16, 2013

            You would also see from that film how the anarchists were committed to technological progress…

          • James Madison
            January 16, 2013

            As I had guessed, a hilarious answer. Violence? Please tell me how and/or why 1. You condone the use of violence to persuade or enforce the anarchist rule. 2. How do you condone using violence to suppress those that want a free market upon which they can trade goods? 3. How can you begin to propose an economic system of anarchy in which I can have all of the comforts that I currently have (electricity, heating, an enormous variety of foods and clothing, at a variety of prices) in an anarchist society with no money, no markets, no central government and only an ‘anarchist union’. And don’t BS me with a ‘that’s just materialistic’ answer because to live a healthy and comfortable life, most human beings would absolutely want all of those things mentioned above. You cannot expect everyone to be live some hippie-utopian lifestyle with no modern amenities. But if you want to start an anarchist-communist commune of 1,000 people, be my guest.

            I will admit that anarchism/communism can be a stable society if you have an entire population devoted to the cause with no ambitions beyond what the ‘union’ wants. Each cog in the wheel works to produce for others without seeing anymore benefits than another. But you fail to recognize that it indeed requires 100% support. In a capitalist society, members are free to do whatever they choose – even live in communes practically separated from the world/society. However, one cannot be a capitalist in an anarchist communism because they would be forced to give all their additional fruits of labor back to the ‘union’. How can you expect to compare someone who works 40hrs/week bagging groceries with someone who works 80hrs/week on a cure for cancer? In your society their labors would be equal, and this would de-motivate folks from aspiring to higher degrees, discovery, and the likes. It’s the same theory that we are seeing in practice with Obamacare – thousands of medical practitioners forced to retire/quit/change careers because their services are being arbitrarily devalued by the government.

            Your philosophical motivations for your morals that fight against this ‘consumerism’ is quite confusing. You do realize that consumerism must occur even in a barter economy, don’t you? It’s silly to think a single human can produce all of the necessities it needs without utilizing the labor of others.

            But alas, I feel that we fundamentally disagree. Just as you believe I have some preconceived notion that anarchism and communism do not work, you also have a preconceived notion that all capitalism is just about ‘materialistic’, ‘luxury goods’ and being a ‘slave’. Capitalism is about improving life through competition – which plays into Darwins original theories about survival of the fittest with respect to the most ‘appropriate skills’. If we always strive to improve and do better, no one should be ‘doing crappy unproductive jobs’. In a capitalist society, with hard work you can improve your job, standard of living, and future for your family. So cut the BS when you say people are stuck in unproductive jobs. If you want to create art for a living and not work at Target, go out and do it. But you need to be talented in order to make it work. If your art sucks, why would I want to buy it? In anarchist communism, there’s no motivation to do any better than what is the bare minimum.

            JM

          • szophee
            January 16, 2013

            I am not getting the option to reply to your comment at 7.49 below, so I’ll answer here.

            I’ve already answered the question of why violence is justified, so I won’t do it again. If you were a capitalist living in the USSR, would you bother to answer someone who asked you why violence was justified to change the system? Anyway, to go into more detail would take up more time than I’m willing to spend on you.

            OK, so: of course it would be possible to have material comforts under anarchism – it is possible to achieve this on a basis of co-operation, not competition/markets. Everyone wants a decent standard of life with healthcare and modernity, and anarchists would not argue otherwise . This in no way relates to my comment on consumerism/materialism. That was intended as a response to your negative thoughts about equality, which seem to rest solely on the premise that personal development, freedom and individuality rest solely on having the ability to strive to make more money than other people. That is the concept I am challenging.

            Your idea that capitalism is about ‘improving life through competition’ also takes us back in a circular fashion to previous comments about consumerism. How do we define ‘improving life’? You are trying to suggest I have preconceived notions about capitalism being about consumerism, when in fact it was you who defended it in this way by claiming that under communism “No one person can have more than the person next to him/her.” This was obviously an unfavourable comparison to capitalism, when people are free to have more than the next person.

            “In a capitalist society, members are free to do whatever they choose” – this is false, as private ownership of land (often owned by people who sit on generations’ worth of stolen wealth) prevents any significant attempts to run society collectively. Look at the ‘diggers’ for a historical example of people who tried this and were crushed by the forces of capitalism.

            Your idea that people would be demotivated is false. Having more control over your work PROVIDES motivation – this is well known! And that is what anarchism is about. I don’t know why you are mentioning the barter economy – did you see my post above about how the barter myth has been disproved by anthropological work? This shows that markets aren’t innate to human nature. There wouldn’t be a market of any sorts, including barter, under most people’s conception of anarchy. Resource allocation would be decided democratically, not by a market!

            I’m afraid social Darwinism is a thoroughly flawed way of thinking about society, but I really don’t have the time or energy to go into it here. Suffice to say that there is plenty of evidence that animals and humans have plenty of instincts that are co-operative and altruistic. We also have competitive instincts, and unfortunately these are the only ones that are encouraged in a capitalist society.

            My comments about ‘unproductive jobs’ – I am referring to things like working in insurance sales call centres. These kinds of jobs really don’t benefit society in any way, and it is those and others like them that would no longer be necessary after capitalism.

            And finally…”If your art sucks, why would I want to buy it? ” – this reminds me of a saying by Oscar Wilde. “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” You wouldn’t be making art to try to sell it. You would be making it to give your life meaning.

          • szophee
            January 16, 2013

            One last thing.

            During the Spanish revolution, when factories in Aragon were put under worker control productivity jumped by 20%- and living standards rose by 50-100%

            Source: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Battle-Spain-Spanish-Civil-1936-1939/dp/0297848321

      • szophee
        January 15, 2013

        But then again, why am I even bothering to argue with someone who repeats tired old cliches about communism like a trained parrot

        • James Madison
          January 16, 2013

          Your arguments are seriously devolving because apparently you ‘don’t have the energy to go into that’ and you love to just sit there and quote me David Graeber, a well known supporter of anarchism. Show me someone who is not a pronounced member of that line of thought and with unbiased academic pedigree who agrees with all of your claims about anarchism.

          Let me address each of your points. Violence is NEVER justified when you are trying to support your own political beliefs, why are you any different? If I lived in a society such as the USSR I would organize myself democratically with others who shared my views and stand up to the government. Yes there would be violent repression on me but a very wise man once said that non-violence is the key to protestation (coughGandhicough). The fact that you continually think violence is OK puts you right next to the Tea Partiers, neo-Nazis, and others in terms of what means you will take to press your beliefs upon others.

          You seem to keep harkening back to my points about ‘striving for success, improvement in quality of life, and others’ is related to ‘making more money’. You, along with many other liberals around the world, have this stupidly conceived notion (based on little evidence) that all rich people are ego-maniacs and money-driven persons. When in reality, so many of those who ‘make a lot of money’ have developed highly trained skillsets that present enormous value to our society (engineers who make vaccines, scientists who research disease cures, businessmen/women who pioneer entrepreneurial businesses that support the needs of different markets. They are rewarded for their hard work and success with more value than someone who never went to school, doesn’t care about society, and spends their days watching reality junk TV programming and working at a call center because they have no aspirations. What do you do with people who have no aspirations in anarchist communism? Do you use violence to coerce them? Because if they have no aspirations and no work ethic, then they will be a drag on your society. Yet, under anarchist communism they would still receive the same benefits as those who work hard and put effort into their work. In capitalism these people are (and should be) penalize for mooching off society. That is a fatal flaw of communism/socialism that can only be addressed by enforcing groupthink mentality.

          Please tell me where socialism/communism in history (other than this small, small subset of anarchist communism in Spain) has proven more motivation to work? And please back it up with facts, not just saying ‘because it’s been proven!’

          I talk consistenly about barter economics because that is what you would live under. No monetary system means you would be trading goods/services. Your anarchist ‘unions’ would also then ‘democratically’ place value on each good or service that is produced in the community. You thereby create a market in which these items are traded (or bartered, because when you trade and you base the trade on some value, whether it is negotiated or set, you are creating a market). So please tell me how that is not innately human? Do other animals conduct bartering for the most recent carcass they killed? No. And to address my point of Darwinism, I’d love to see videos of packs of wolves who equally share the most recent kill. Or those that stop to pick up a wounded member. In nature, survival is based on who is the best at surviving – those characteristics are thus governed by what is most important for your species to survive. Humans share this competition and that’s why we’ve evolved and had things like the Iron Age, Medieval Ages, Industrial Revolution, and now the Information Technology revolution. All of which have improved hte quality of life so that it becomes easier to survive, and thus the population grows. Yes humans are altruistic, but they are not altruistic when it comes to making a decision about whether or not they survive, except in extreme scenarios (e.g. the military). If you ask the average American if they would sacrifice their life for a random other American who needed their help, I’m quite sure you wouldn’t get an overwhelmingly positive response.

          Your response to my art comment really missed my original point. I was referring to those who would be creating art as a method of survival – i.e. a provider of services in the anarchist community. If I live in the anarchist community and I want to sacrific some of my labor to be exchanged for a piece of art, I want a good piece of art. But then how is the value of my work compared with the value of the artist’s? What if I think my work is worth more than the artist’s quality? In your community I would less choices than I would in a free market community.

          And lastly, your comment about the Spanish factories jumps in productivity is quite vague. Please give more details, as I have not read the book. Over how many years are the statistics you cite calculated? How is productivity defined? Are the number of workers constant? How is ‘living standard’ defined? Why is there a large range of increase in standards (’50-100%’)? Were any of these workers benefitting from contracts to produce goods for the countries involved in WWII? What happened to this productivity during and after the war? I fear that you are confusing causation of the results with concomitant changes in the global economic landscape (WWII inflated economies heavily, even in the USA ‘living standards’ increased because unemployment decreased and more people took home consistent wages).
          I don’t doubt that Franco’s oppression was heinous, but one could very easily argue that ANY change to the dynamics of industry in Spain during that time would have provided similar, if not larger, increases in productivity and living standards. I wonder if you are just using this example because it neatly fits into your reasoning, not because it actually created this change. Statistics is a cruel dame that many abuse.

          Since you love quotes, I’ll leave you with a doozy:
          “A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it … gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”
          M. Friedman

          • szophee
            January 17, 2013

            Nobody is unbiased James. I’m not really sure what you’re trying to prove here.

            Capitalism uses violence to maintain its supremacy. It is a system of exploitation, and if it is defended by a violent minority who wish to hold on to power, then violence maybe unavoidable to overcome this defence. I would much rather see a gradual revolution without violence, but given the large state apparatus dedicated to oppression I fear that this may be impossible. Your suggestion that this makes me in any way like a Tea Partier or Neo Nazi is ludicrous.

            “You seem to keep harkening back to my points about ‘striving for success, improvement in quality of life, and others’ is related to ‘making more money’.“

            As I said, YOU are the person who built the debate around those terms. And I am not a liberal!

            I think there are very few people who have no aspirations, so much of what you say is rather irrelevant. I think capitalism tends to destroy the aspirations of those who are not the right kind of personality, or who don’t have the money to get on and go to university.

            The way you speak about people suggests that you are full of hatred and resentment of your fellow humans.

            I’ve given you facts, I’ve given you logical reasons why controlling your own work is a source of motivation. I’m not here to educate you, go and read a book.

            What you must realise is that an anarchist society would NOT be a barter economy. The barter myth has been proven to be false, end of. If you can come up with some evidence that there have ever been barter societies, I might take you seriously. Even when people exchanged goods instead of money, it was usually as gifts, or as a substitute for money (ie they were already aware of money and were using it as a unit of account even if they did not have the coinage to hand, as in the dark ages. Even prisoners using cigarettes as currency in prison have grown up with money, these activities do not reveal anything about human nature).

            In Native American society, goods were kept in a communal longhouse and allocated by a committee of women on the basis of need. There are countless other examples of humans living along communistic lines. You appear to be so ideologically blinkered that you are unable to see past the idea of barter.

            How can you, with a straight face (or perhaps you are smirking), tell me what anarchist ‘unions’ would be doing? I haven’t even stated that anarchist ‘unions’ would play a central role (that is more the anarcho-syndicalist model). There are other models based around local communities, which can be federated into a larger strategic decision making group.

            Back to the tedious Social Darwinism. There are plenty of animal groups who do work together, and you know that. Chimps, elephants – even rats have been shown to release other trapped rats from a cage, and save food for them too. These characteristics have helped them to survive. We also have these characteristics, and can choose to emphasise whichever ones we want. There is so much that is communistic in human nature – family bonds, friendship, even cadging a cigaratte from a stranger.

            Most crucially, it is impossible to compare markets to other natural environments like ‘the jungle’ or ‘the great plains.’ Markets are an artificial construct and natural laws do not apply.

            Again, you missed my point about art. I wasn’t suggesting people would create art as a method of survival. And most importantly of all, it wouldn’t be LABOUR. I am saying that technological advances have created such efficient production that we could now all labour for four hours a day, and then spend the afternoon on what I see as human kind’s REAL purpose – being with family, being creative, thinking, writing, creating art. I am talking about art as an activity, not as a commodity, silly!

            You are thinking in terms of comparing values. What you really need to understand is that there would be no more need to compare values. Seeing all human activity through the lens of money and trade demeans us as human beings. This way of thinking is an abstraction so ingrained that most people are no longer able to perceive it for what it is, just as a fish can’t perceive the water they swim in.

            Loving the Milton Friedman quote – the man was a financial fascist who instigated the most disastrous economic policies ever conceived. At least the IMF have been forced to back down from his ideas to some extent.

            Capitalism is the antithesis of freedom – capital accumulation means that there will always be some more powerful, sometimes grossly so (having inherited generations’ worth of unearned wealth), who impinge on the freedom of others.

          • James Madison
            January 17, 2013

            “In Native American society, goods were kept in a communal longhouse and allocated by a committee of women on the basis of need. There are countless other examples of humans living along communistic lines. You appear to be so ideologically blinkered that you are unable to see past the idea of barter.”

            I harken back to barter because you neglect to address the idea that humans are not perfect. If you allow the governing and ‘allocating’ of resources to humans, you will introduce corruption over time. This occurs in a communist, capitalist, and fascist society. Unlike capitalism, communism and fascism allow less chance for members to ‘break from the mould’ so to speak, and escape from corruption. If there is corruption in capitalism and someone has ‘accumulated’ capital unfairly or without labour? Then it is up to YOU to work hard and create your own capital. The motivation lies with YOU to create a living. In a communist society people have less mobility to change the status quo if (and when) they start to realize they may be treated unfairly.

            When you arbitrarily allow a small group of people (such as in your Native American example) to fix value to a set of goods, then you begin to eliminate the compulsion to improve the processes by which those goods are made. If I’m making spears for the clan and so is Joe X, and we both donate them to the committee who appropriates them, then who regulates the quality of them? Who is to say that Joe X’s spears are the same quality as mine? And what will motivate Joe X and I to improve the spear design to hunt larger game if we currently receive enough food and services in return for our products? Your exmaples of nature that do include communistic behaviors do not address examples where the status quo is enough for survival, but not enough for evolution and improvement.

            And ‘working for 4 hours a day’ because we’re technologically advanced is bollocks. Even the Natives and early homo sapiens ‘worked’ for nearly every waking hour – they gathered, hunted, planned movements of nomadic tribes, etc. What happens to those cultures that spend more time ‘thinking, writing, creating art’ than they do producing goods and services for their community? What happens when no one wants to work the 18hrs/day on the farm and everyone wants to just cook the meals and sit down and think, write, and create art? There are tasks and jobs in modern day that take much longer than 4hrs/day so your theory on that is off a bit.

            The fact is that nearly all of the greatest improvements in human history to life, technology, health, and others, were created in markets. Who the hell cares if they are ‘artifically designed’ or ‘not innately human’ (which I disagree with, but you seem to have glossed over my previous points and just attack whatever words you like in my writing).

            I have no resentment for people, nor hatred. I have no RESPECT for people that have no aspirations and no drive to work and improve their own lives and the lives of those around them. Maybe you live in some sheltered utopia but where I live in the South, there are millions of people who mooch off government entitlements, abuse the system of welfare, and contribute very very little to the community they live in. Yet, in a free republic such as this, I do recognize their right to freedom. But yet they have no motivation to do any good or positive work for others and themselves. This is mainly due to the gross growth of government over the past several decades but I won’t get into that debate here. Don’t you dare tell me I hate people.

            Just as you can say ‘capitalism is the antithesis of freedom’, I can easily say communism is the antithesis of freedom. In a community in which only a select few are allowed to ‘allocate’ goods that immediately speaks of a lack of freedom. At least in capitalism most people have earned and worked their way to a privelege of obtaining certain services. In communism there is no light at the end of the tunnel that ‘if I work hard one day, I’ll get to have some of those goods’. No, I have to wait for Sally, Sandy, and Susan to say if I’m allowed to have corn this weekend. Hooray freedom!

            Has there ever been a society that was not based on values? First, your comment is hilariously hypocritical – you mention how you would want your commune to spend more time ‘thinking, writing, creating art’ than working per day. Therefore you place more value on creation than you do labour, and thus value is present in your community. Even in Native American societies they valued certain labourers more than others (the hunters were most often times revered, and became chieftains when the scrawny men who were not physically fit for battle were less likely to succeed). This has been proven (stealing one of your lines here!). That example is a perfect form of placing value on something – physical abilities! No society with an intelligence would risk their group’s future meals on sending out men/women who were not physically fit if they could afford to send out ones who were fit. Now this is just a small tidbit of how there is indeed value in all things in life. That’s what makes us different than animals – we can communicate to each other verbally, and through that communication we instill our own values on our lives and those around us. We choose certain things over others. By choosing to grow corn instead of wheat, we place more value on corn because it yields more food and calories. etc etc etc. I wouldn’t want to live in a world/society/community without value.

            You failed to address my questions regarding the statistics that you cited. I clicked on the link that you sent and found no evidence of those statistics cited. However I would be curious to know more about them since I have post-graduate training in statistics. Hopefully you will address some or all of my questions presently.

            JM

          • szophee
            January 17, 2013

            I don’t think I’ll bother to argue with the preposterous idea that capitalism somehow introduces less corruption. I think I’ll let the mafia capitalism we currently enjoy and the governments that go with it speak for themselves.
            People have more say in the running of society under communism, as direct democracy.
            “Then it is up to YOU to work hard and create your own capital.”
            Due to the zero sum nature of capitalist exploitation, this is not true. There will always be exploiter and exploited. And why would I want to be an exploiter myself?
            “Your exmaples of nature that do include communistic behaviors do not address examples where the status quo is enough for survival, but not enough for evolution and improvement.”
            Humans are naturally curious, and to some extent rational. Technological improvements allow us to work less – why would we not want to instigate them? In 1936 Spain, one of the first things that the anarchists did was set up farming experiments to improve production. They experimented with workflow in the factories, finding that they could work quicker and more efficiently without the impediment of layers of management. They ordered modern equipment in that previous managers had refused to invest in, and built new structures. You can knock these efforts down all you like, but I included these examples to show that that the drive to improve and to create was very much alive under communism. Yes, there was the impetus of the war, but this creative attitude is at the heart of anarchist thought – reading, educating, thinking,creating.
            Most importantly, if we are materially comfortable, why must there be a constant drive to produce more efficiently? Perhaps we should consider how efficient our society is at giving us freedom over our work, and allowing us to enjoy it. Work can be a mode of self expression. There are many different ways to measure progress. The amount of freedom we feel in our work might sometimes be more important than how many widgets we can knock out at the factory.
            And ‘working for 4 hours a day’ because we’re technologically advanced is bollocks.
            Which brings me to this. The Natives and early humans did have to work a lot – because they existed before industrialisation.
            “What happens to those cultures that spend more time ‘thinking, writing, creating art’ than they do producing goods and services for their community?”
            They develop meaningful and mutually beneficial intellectual lives.
            “What happens when no one wants to work the 18hrs/day on the farm and everyone wants to just cook the meals and sit down and think, write, and create art? There are tasks and jobs in modern day that take much longer than 4hrs/day so your theory on that is off a bit.”
            I don’t think anyone would need to work 18 hours, or at least not regularly. With full employment, job sharing and the exclusion of unnecessary work (a large proportion of work under capitalism is necessary only to fund consumerist growth), there would be much more labour free to be devoted to essential tasks like farming.
            Besides, I can’t see that having more free time would be some kind of slippery slope that leads to no one wanting to work. Particularly as working practices would be much more free and personalised, therefore work more attractive.
            And why do you think cooking isn’t work? What is traditionally ‘women’s work,’ raising children etc, is what keeps society going, in fact it is the most important work in the world. We just don’t get paid for it.
            “The fact is that nearly all of the greatest improvements in human history to life, technology, health, and others, were created in markets. Who the hell cares if they are ‘artifically designed’ or ‘not innately human’ (which I disagree with, but you seem to have glossed over my previous points and just attack whatever words you like in my writing).”
            I haven’t glossed over anything – I feel like you ignored my point about barter because it was rather inconvenient to you.
            I don’t think you can really argue that our ‘greatest improvements’ all hail from markets. Industrialisation has revolutionised the way we produce for sure, but it doesn’t have to be capitalist. Markets always have to be coddled by the state to be productive None of our advances in computing would have happened without state defence spending. The internet would not exist without it. Health is a particularly bad example. We have a shortage of new antibiotics because it’s not profitable for the market to research new ones. We might all soon be dying from a sore throat as a result.
            “I have no resentment for people, nor hatred.”
            The ‘moochers’ you describe have been failed by capitalism – I can’t condone selfish behaviour but I can see it as a product of the society we find ourselves living in.
            “In a community in which only a select few are allowed to ‘allocate’ goods that immediately speaks of a lack of freedom.“
            That’s not necessarily how it would work – it’s just one historical example I gave. I think whatever emerged after capitalism would have to be decided democratically and based on experiment. In any case, the idea is that every person in any kind of position of power being democratically elected and subject to immediate recall.
            At least in capitalism most people have earned and worked their way to a privelege of obtaining certain services. In communism there is no light at the end of the tunnel that ‘if I work hard one day, I’ll get to have some of those goods’
            At least in communism everybody can access the services they need. In capitalism there is no light at the end of the tunnel that ‘I will always be able to access those goods when I’m in dire need, I will always have work I enjoy, I will never be left to sleep on the streets or live without health insurance.’
            ‘Has there ever been a society that was not based on values?’
            I mean comparing exchange value, obviously – the kind of value by which markets function, which says ‘this is exactly equal to that’.
            I’ll ignore your other comments as you misunderstood what I meant by value. Of course, without placing value on things, we would not be able to prioritise and make decisions. I don’t understand how you could ever assume I would think otherwise
            I don’t have that book handy unfortunately as I was in the library when I quoted it – you’ll have to take it out yourself! However, it’s really not central to what I’m trying to say, as I think you’ll have seen above.

    • ttime09
      January 15, 2013

      I used the quote by Hobbes because I think it illustrates the constant danger that any anarchist society, or any individual living in one, is potentially subject to.

      The society created in Spain, from the perspective of individual rights, was an utterly evil. Private property was essentially abolished, and it was a society dominated by coercion. Notice what the Spanish Revolution led to in its aftermath: decades of totalitarian rule.

      But clearly, we have totally different moral frameworks. I think it is good and moral for people to be concerned with their (rational) self-interest, which means among other things being productive, rational, honest, and pursuing a harmonious and happy life. I think this is incompatible with a society that robs one of the fruits of his own labor.

      Tristan

      • szophee
        January 18, 2013

        Funny that you are bringing religious terminology into this – ‘evil,’ eh?

        I must take you to task for your lazy manipulation of history. The civil war began before the revolution – the Anarchist communist forces were in NO way to blame for the totalitarian rule that followed. In fact, without them, fascism would have engulfed Catalonia almost immediately.

        I also think that it’s good to be productive, honest and all the rest(who wouldn’t be?). But I reject the validity of property rights in the Lockean sense. Property is theft! I am also well aware that the rational economic actor portrayed in economics text books does not exist, and secondly that, if they did, it is clear that an economic system in which everyone acts in their own interest does NOT serve the greater good. Besides the suffering this notion has already caused, it now appears that we threaten to wipe out humanity through environmental catastrophe. Perhaps the collection of rational individuals has aggregated to collective insanity. Capitalism will be responsible for history’s greatest mass murder if we don’t stop it.

        • ttime09
          January 18, 2013

          ‘Evil’ is not a religious term. It is a moral term, which can be used by those making ethical statements from a secular standpoint as well.

          And I’m not particularly interested in interpreting the history of the Spanish Revolution; I am no expert on the matter, and I probably haven’t read about it as much as you have. So I’ll concede that point. It suffices for my purposes I think to point out that there is a strong correlation between communist movements in general and totalitarianism.

          Obviously, I disagree that property is theft. (I think you disagree also on some level, since I think you would object to me coming to your house and taking your computer away – or do you not mind being a thief yourself?).

          I don’t care about the “greater good”. I am not a utilitarian – my standard is the individual. Only individual humans exist – there is no such one entity as “the public” or the “people” aside from each individual person. So if you really care about humanity, you should care about individuals, their rights, and their ability to freely pursue their values.

          Unfortunately I think we have so many disagreements that this site is not the place for a proper discussion. But if you’d like to email me to continue it, or even meet in person and talk about these issues, I’d be happy to do so. In any case, I’m glad that my article has created some conversation about political issues that too often get ignored.

          Tristan

          • szophee
            January 21, 2013

            Evil is an absolute term that really only makes sense in the context of religion. As an individualist, I’d have thought that rather than using terms which suggest receieved wisdom, you might agree that it is down to every person to create their own values.

            Also, there is a difference between personal possessions and property! A personal possession is an object that you use regularly. Property is usually something that is used for social production.

            It is not true that only individuals exist. A society is more than a group of individuals, more than the sum of its parts. Being part of a community is one of the things that defines who we are. Everything we do – the language we think in – is caught up in this web of interactions. We don’t make sense outside of it.

            Anyway, as my last post I’d just like to put in a disclaimer for surveillance services that I am a student of politics who is speaking hypothetically. I am not attempting to launch a violent revolution!

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment. Login »