“Accept as your savior our Lord Jesus Christ or your soul will burn in Hell for all eternity!”
“Acknowledge the authority of an aggressive state or all of society will descend into violence and chaos!”
These are similar fear tactics often used in place of a reasoned argument. The second one seems more desperate and irrational to me because it’s so paradoxical- supporting institutionalized slavery on a massive scale, backed by the constant threat of violence against predominantly innocent people, to prevent violence. And yet it’s a fear tactic that works even better than the first. Note that I’m not actually making fun of religion, not right now anyway. I’m making fun of a frequently-used tactic.
My friend wrote a piece that compliments today’s cartoon and expresses many of my own thoughts really well so I’m reposting it here.
It’s already been published on Strike the Root, in Keene Free Press, and the New Hampshire Underground. This will be the longest post ever on Anarchy In Your Head where I usually keep the verbiage really brief. I hope that says something about what I think of this article. It’s worth your time. If you like it, please digg it using the link at the end. The digg link above will digg my cartoon.
Why I’m an Anarchist
by Caleb Johnson
I suppose that our evaluation of others is based, not so much on who they are as themselves, but rather on the face that they present to the world, and thus it is that often others are surprised when they learn that I am an anarchist. And I suppose that I can empathize with the initial confusion, for I myself only gradually came to accept the label of `anarchist’ for many of the same reasons.
Now, I can only imagine what gruesome scenario enters the mind of each person as he envisions just what, exactly, anarchy might mean for the world, but I know what it used to mean to me. The mental picture that I formed of the anarchist was of an angry young man throwing a homemade bomb. The society he hoped for could only be one of chaos and disorder, where organized bands of thugs plundered without abandon and citizens huddled in the darkness of their homes, shivering for fear and praying for some escape back to civility and civilization. And this melancholy picture, of course, is as offensive to me as it is to you, being as I am a peaceful person, more at home sipping tea in a coffeeshop than I am burning effigies, and more inclined to vacation at a tropical paradise than to the heart of Somalia.
So, I permit the reader a degree of astonishment at the revelation that I am an anarchist. It was, in fact, only reluctantly that I adopted the anarchist label; I learned that many other anarchists have also eschewed the anarchist label, preferring a more obscure and therefore less-maligned designation. So why is it that I unabashedly claim to be an anarchist?
An ancient Jewish scripture makes what I deem to be an accurate observation, that “one man rules over another to his hurt.” At every time and at every place throughout history is found the same story: man’s states achieve the subjugation of the masses under the control of the rich and powerful. War is routine. Tyranny runs rampant. Minorities are oppressed. Men are conscripted and enslaved. The belongings of the poor are plundered to pay for greater and greater extravagancies by those who enjoy the reins of power. The masses starve while a few live in shameful luxury. Justice is perverted, and people live under constant threat that their security will be undermined. We tolerate this depravity for one reason, and one reason only: We are convinced that, for as bad as the state may be, it is better than the chaos of anarchy. And it is for this reason that the state must do everything in its power to demonize anarchy, to equate it with chaos and disorder.
But it seems to me that a great lie has been perpetrated on mankind. Every war that has ever been fought was created and nurtured by states. War, that great scourge of mankind, can only exist among states. When individuals disagree with each other, the argument may escalate to fisticuffs. Yet, when states squabble, the end result is too often war, with the millions of deaths and injuries, as well as the poverty and disease that war entails. And yet the state, the sole author of the scourge of war, is held on a pedestal. We sing songs to honor it, make oaths and pledges to it, place its banner in our own places of worship. We display our loyalty to it with countless banners and emblems, placed prominently so that all may see our pride. We are not averse to even permitting our children to be sacrificed in its interests.
Meanwhile, we deride the anarchist as “reactionary”, but we do not even comprehend what we mean by such a statement. For it is everywhere acknowledged that states do evil things. Some men say, as Thomas Braden famously did in the Saturday Evening Post so many years ago, that they are glad that the state is immoral. Others say, as did one religious man with whom I conversed recently, that he prefers not to know everything that the state does for the ease of his own conscience. And almost universally, when it comes time to vote people will say things like, “I voted for the lesser of two evils,” or “I held my nose and voted.” When polled, only very few claim to be “extremely satisfied” by their rulers, most claiming to be somewhere between “somewhat satisfied” and “somewhat dissatisfied” by those who hold office. So whatever else the situation might be, it cannot be claimed that people view the state as a paragon of virtue and morality. Yet, the second a person suggests that we might dispose of the state, he is subjected to ridicule, derision, even violence. So it seems to me that the true reactionary position is the one that is averse to considering what alternatives might be available.
This situation is as puzzling as it is disturbing. It would seem that every man, seeing as he does that the state is, at best, an imperfect solution, would incline his ear to see what alternatives present themselves, hoping that the situation might improve. But this is not the case. Rather, he satisfies himself that anarchy is impracticable from the outset, then refuses to entertain any suggestions to the contrary, his reaction being to put forward any conceivable obstacle with a sort of desperate finality, as if the fact that there are obstacles to peace mandates that we continue on in our incredibly destructive course.
“What,” he asks, “are we to do about murderers? Let them run the streets?” Now, this is a curious question, because states are themselves murderers, only they accomplish their killings by the millions rather than individually. And we not only let them run our streets, as it were, but we let them patrol them. So it is as if we hire the bank robber to keep the children from stealing from our raspberry bush; not only that, we give him the key to our safe. Then we console ourselves that our bank robber is not as bad as the one that the neighbors hired to safeguard their raspberry bush.
This situation would be funny if it were not so sad. For it seems to me that men have been duped. “Listen,” says the would be ruler, “Men are very evil, and they will try to hurt you, so you need me to protect you.” But if men are so evil, then how can we trust men to rule over us? And how can we trust men to follow whatever rules are set up anyway?
Last year, I did not steal, nor did I rape, nor did I plunder or kill or defraud. Nor would I have done those things even if they had been legal. I needed no law to inform me of right and wrong; nor, I trust, did you. On the other hand, how many men did things that they otherwise would not have done, merely because the state said that it was okay? Would hundreds of thousands of young men, merely on their own initiative, have armed themselves to the teeth and journeyed to Iraq to torture, kill, and terrorize? No, to accomplish that great evil they needed a state to tell them that it was alright to do what they would otherwise find repugnant.
I am often told, once I have explained myself, that my position sounds Utopian. But I wonder if this is not merely the speaker projecting his own dilemma onto me. For I cannot help but feel that the state is able to maintain itself only as a result of Utopian thinking.
The anarchist sees crime as inevitable; there are unfortunately a few deviants who do not care about harming others, or, worse yet, even enjoy harming others. So the anarchist accepts this reality. It is a fact of life. All he can do is try to minimize the risk to himself or to those he cares about. But the person with Utopian thinking, on the other hand, is unable to accept this reality. He continues to grasp at the illusion that crime might be eliminated if only a suitable agency can be formed. He is oblivious to the fact that any agency powerful enough to stand up to the strongest evil is also strong enough to become the strongest evil. It remains only for the criminals to seize control of this agency. He is also oblivious to the fact that by attempting to preemptively stop crime he creates the very societal conditions which allow it to flourish: fear, mistrust, division.
And with what cost does he purchase this increased threat of crime and violence? The sacrifice of his own liberty. For all of mankind’s experience speaks to the fact that by far the single most common aggressor against the rights of mankind is, and always will be, states. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson expressed the concept that states exist for the purpose of securing our rights. Yet, what a misguided notion! To see how misguided this notion is, one merely needs to read the so-called Bill of Rights to the Constitution. This document attempts to secure for all Americans the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to bear arms, security against having the military quartered in my home, security against unreasonable searches and seizures, and security against unfair judicial proceedings. But who is it that threatens these rights if it is not states? The argument is, therefore, circular: I need a state to secure my rights, which rights are only threatened by states.
Now, before I end this essay, I need to make one thing very clear, because I think there is a very common misunderstanding of anarchists, and it is a misunderstanding rooted deeply in our very language. In this essay, I have consistently used the word state. I have tried to avoid the word “government”. In the minds of many people, these words are synonymous. And it is for this reason that it is difficult to conceive of a life without the state.
It is a truism that interaction between men requires a sort of government. This is evident in all of man’s social dealings. A family exists in some sort of governmental arrangement, inasmuch as there are roles and understood norms of conduct within each family. Often, government in this sense is merely informal. In larger groups of people, it is likely to be more explicit. But what distinguishes these forms of government from the state is that the state is not voluntary. The state is really a very specific type of government. It is an authoritarian model of government that enforces its rule over anyone that it considers to be within its jurisdiction, regardless of whether or not they have consented to its rule. In this respect, a state is exactly like the mafia. In fact, the state differs from the mafia in exactly one respect. The sole difference between the state and the mafia is that a majority of the people in any given area acknowledge the legitimacy of the state. If the majority of people acknowledged the mafia, it would be called “the government”. That is the sole difference between the two organizations. And the reader would do well to reflect on that. Because it is a universally acknowledged principle that the minority are entitled to the same considerations as the majority. But how can this be if the majority reserve the right to impose, at the most fundamental level, a form of governance upon the minority that is opposed to his conscience?
It is sad that all of mankind’s “national governments” are states. What an anarchist objects to is being forced to adhere to an organization to which he has not given his consent, from which he may not withdraw if it violates his conscience, and which provides its “services” in a coercive rather than a voluntary way. At the heart of the anarchist argument is a desire to uphold peace and morality, freedom and brotherhood. An anarchist acknowledges a simple truth: that any relationship that is not consensual can only result in further violence; but that a relationship among a group of people that recognizes the value of each individual, that acknowledges his ultimate ability to choose whether to continue that relationship, is based on the greatest bonds of fraternity. This, and not bomb-throwing, is the legacy of anarchism.
If you like Caleb’s article, please click here to digg the original post.