Anarchy Isn’t The Answer

Anarchy Isn’t The Answer

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a massive super computer is asked for a simple answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. It spends 7 and a half million years to determine that the answer is 42. Of course, the realization is quickly made that a simple answer to an extremely complex question, or more accurately many difficult questions, is ridiculous on its face. The real answers to all the big problems are not easy, however badly we may desire them to be.

A lot of irrational beliefs have been fostered and perpetuated by barbaric civilizations in their desperate quest for answers. Virgins have been thrown into volcanoes to appease angry volcano gods. Rain dances have been performed to water dried up crops. People pray to various gods to heal a sick loved one. I happen to be an atheist*. If I tell a person his prayers won’t work because his god doesn’t exist, it’s not so I can give him a new god to pray to instead. The point is encouraging him to abandon the simplistic answer to a very difficult problem so he can face the cold hard reality. There are many realistic cures for cancer being pursued with varying degrees of success, but they can be painful, time-consuming, expensive, and don’t always work. If he pursues these and his loved one gets better, his god will get the credit. If not, he will make excuses. Perhaps his faith wasn’t strong enough! Through an atheist’s eyes, his prayers had little to do with his loved one getting better except perhaps from a placebo effect.

We look to governments in much the same way we look to gods, to offer us easy answers. Similarly, when things work, we give governments credit. When they don’t, we make excuses. We still have crime, war, car accidents, poverty, sickness, and death, despite the fix-all of authoritarian monopolistic governments, and sometimes because of. Instead, governments are forgiven for these massive failures and we continue to insist they have some crucial role to play.

I don’t present anarchy as an alternative fix-all solution just as atheism is not a cure for cancer. If I tell you that your prayers are doing nothing to heal a sick loved one, that doesn’t mean I have a cure for their cancer. It just means I’m encouraging you to seek any one of many possible treatments that have some basis in reality. Otherwise your efforts are futile at best, and possibly even harmful if they’re delaying you from pursuing real solutions.

The answers to the difficult problems aren’t simplistic. We can’t simply pass the buck to gods and governments and expect them to get resolved. It’s a hard pill that we each must swallow if we’re to evolve our societies. Our irrational beliefs provide comforting delusions not easily given up. This is true of notions of gods, mysticism, and paternalistic governments.

When someone asks me something like how anarchy will prevent crime, the question sounds absurd. The question has it’s origins in an incorrect presumption that our governments are preventing crime. Instead, police spend most of their time creating and enforcing false crimes like making plant possession illegal, and writing tickets to predominantly innocent people to pay their own salaries. Meanwhile, the false sense of security they provide to true believers prevents them from taking measures that would actually make them safer like fortifying their homes, getting sufficient insurance, and arming themselves for self protection. Anarchy won’t prevent crime, but preventing the crimes perpetrated by governments would certainly be a good start in the right direction.

As an anarchist, I will confidently tell you that violent authoritarian models of government are not answers at all. They don’t solve life’s many complex problems. It doesn’t mean I have a simple solution to offer in their place. The answer many will not want to hear is that there is no superior government to offer, just as there are no new gods with healing powers to replace those whose existence I have denied. The unpleasant but truthful response is to shatter the comforting delusions so we can start the hard but inevitable march toward finding real solutions to the problems life throws at us.

Just like religions, governments comfort us with fantasies. They claim we need them to protect us from crime, but they’re the greatest perpetrators of crime. Governments take more money from us on a regular basis than thieves would ever manage to steal in their absence. Police are locking up innocent people for victimless crimes, sometimes killing them in the line of duty or torturing them with tasers while their government status protects them from the repercussions of their actions. The supposedly free country of the U.S. locks up a larger percentage of the population than any country in history. The exorbitantly expensive war in Iraq is killing our loved ones as well as countless Iraqis, all the while fueling anger that makes us more likely targets for terrorism. Right now the massive bailout is taking money from our economy and giving it to favored elite in the name of helping us. They’re swiping more wealth from the poor and middle class in one fell swoop than all the welfare they’ve ever offered throughout history, and handing it over to their wealthy supporters. They’ll amputate our legs and then offer us a free wheelchair to show how badly we need them. Authoritarian governments haven’t reduced crime. They’ve simply claimed a monopoly on it.

Why doesn’t the rain come when we do the dance? We all have a sense that governments are horribly off in some way or another but can’t quite put our fingers on it so we keep doing all the same rituals to try and fix it. Democrat and Republican candidates get more alike each election, but voters keep thinking that if they just get their guys in there, the “good guys”, and get the “bad guys” out, it will make things better. The truth is they’re all bad guys and the inherently corrupt system makes them that way. The vote they recently had was a ritual designed to reinforce and validate an irrational belief that authoritarian monopolies can be in any way accountable to the people.

Governments continue to fail us because we’ve put our faith in something that makes no sense. We’ve consolidated power but we haven’t consolidated morality. We handed our teeth and our testicles over to governments, attempting to delegate solving all the really difficult problems. People have faith that it will act on their behalf, but there’s no logic backing that faith. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In our desperation for simple answers, we have perpetuated an irrational belief that the only way society can function peacefully is if one organization has all of the power. Many call it a monopoly on violence as if that’s a good and necessary thing! They insist that governments be monopolistic over a region and that means they have to exercise violence or the threat thereof to maintain those monopolies, usually against innocent people. In essence, they claim government can only work if it’s a criminal organization. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The checks and balances that the founding fathers tried to institute are nothing more than internal checks and balances of a criminal organization on itself. There is no way to watch the watchers. Effective checks and balances can exist only to the extent that we manage to distribute power back out to sovereign individuals.

To those with a continued religious faith in the state, I say the authoritarian but also benevolent government you want is a paradox. It does not exist and cannot be created no matter how badly you desire it. Just as atheism is only a solution to futile mysticism, anarchy is only a solution to one problem, but one which is quite pervasive– the irrational belief that an organization which is inherently criminal can also be benevolent. Anarchy is not an answer in itself. It’s simply a rejection of the false answer.

There are many paths and many solutions to the difficult problems. There are many ways for us to work together without enslaving all of humanity under tyrannical mob bosses. There are many ways to fight crime without becoming criminals ourselves. There are many ways to help the poor without becoming thieves. In fact, there would be a lot less poor if governments stopped pillaging the economy. If someone doesn’t amputate your legs, you won’t need them to provide a wheelchair. Problems are solved by many people with expertise in different areas all focusing on what they’re good at. The ultimate checks and balances are the result of a truly free market of individuals working together. I’m skilled in many areas, but there are far more areas where I lack expertise. I have no idea how to make shoes and yet I am wearing nice shoes which government didn’t provide.

So anarchy isn’t the answer. However, it is the beginning of finding real answers. Anarchy is merely a rejection of falsities. The anarchist has chosen to abandon childish fantasies and face reality, and in so doing is better equipped for pooling his skills in a mutually voluntary fashion with other awakened individuals toward finding real solutions. Realizing that the magic bullet solution we’ve been pursuing is irrational and hopeless is only the first step, but it’s an absolutely crucial step if we’re to make progress toward real freedom, peace, and prosperity.

If this is your first visit to the site, make sure you check out the comic strips before you leave.

* UPDATE 2011/04/08: At some point since I wrote this article, I find the term “panentheist” a better description than “atheist” for describing myself, bearing in mind that single-word labels will always be over simplistic for describing people.


Discussion (30)¬

  1. Crystal says:

    I think an interesting thing to ponder is the idea that the way we live in our personal lives is already anarchistic. We don’t force loved ones at gunpoint to marry us, we don’t blackmail our bosses into giving us promotions, we don’t hold guns to people’s heads instead of debating…. so we already live as anarchists. So when debating a statist, just ask them, “If violence is the way we find answers to problems in the world, why are you debating me? Why aren’t you holding a knife to my gut and telling me that violence solves disputes?” Most people already agree how to solve problems; they just don’t know it.
    Great article!

  2. Mihai says:

    Really excellent article. I’ve been thinking and reading about anarchy for some time now, but you brought up several facets of this whole issue that I’d never quite thought of before. They will be useful as I continue to defend my philosophy from the lynchings of statists. Thank you!

  3. susan28 says:

    nice one dale, and EXCELLENT one Crystal! great response to statist: what would anarchy be like? “we’re doing it right now!!”.

  4. oh no the anarchy man is doing a lecture series

  5. PhysicistDave says:

    Nice essay.

    I’d like to add a couple points about the terms “atheist/atheism” and “anarchist/anarchism.” Because of the –ist/-ism endings, people understandably assume that atheism is like Catholicism or Hinduism and that anarchism is like Communism or conservatism – i.e., that these are “positive” doctrines that are trying to convince people to believe in something, rather than simply being expressions of lack of belief.

    For that reason, rather than calling myself an “atheist,” I usually try to say something such as “I don’t believe in any sort of god, and I think it is clear that the gods of religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and so on are simply myths.” At that point, if someone wants to declare that I am an atheist, I’ll say something like, “Well, you certainly could call me that, and I would not object as long as we understand that I’m not claiming to believe in something called ‘atheism’ but rather that I simply disbelieve in all the different religions.”

    Along the same lines, I’m finding it fruitful to point out that government is simply an organization that carries out actions in broad daylight that common criminals tend to carry out under cover of darkness. That, after all, is simply a fact, and focuses attention where it belongs – on what government actually does, rather than on my personal beliefs. If someone declares that my having such a perspective makes me an anarchist, I try to reply with something like, “Well, if you feel that being honest about government makes me an anarchist, I suppose you could call me an anarchist, as long as we realize that I do not believe in some doctrine called ‘anarchism’ but rather that I simple believe in being honest about the actions of governments.”

    I’m also waiting to see some people complain that your essay, by linking atheism and anarchism, is divisive between theist anarchists and atheist anarchists (as if divisiveness is necessarily bad!). I’d point out that your central point holds, even if religion is true: governmentalists are behaving towards government as religious believers behave towards religion. To a true religious believer, that is gross idolatry towards government, and therefore deserves strong condemnation. So, pious believers should be even more upset about the obvious analogy between religious and political beliefs than you and I are.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  6. H. Rearden says:

    I agree that anarchy is not the answer. That is why I am not an anarchist. I am an advocate for liberty. There are different categories of anarchists because different anarchists think that anarchy will mean different things are lead to different things. Many of them probably would not happy if anarchy did not turn out the way they thought it would if there were anarchy. THere have been anarchists experiements that have failed. The leftest type of anarchy in particular. THe so called free movement and commune movement in particular. THe free movement was ridiculous. If something is free that means it has no value. People at least for long are not going to give away that wich they have or produce for free. The whole summer of love in Sanfrancisco about 40 years ago was about some people’s idea of anarchy. I advocate what is right and moral; I advocate liberty.

  7. rancemuhamitz says:

    “If we can’t be free, at least we can be cheap.” -FZ

  8. Mitch says:

    Great essay. One of the most eloquent and powerful things I’ve read on anarchy.

  9. [...] 2, 2008 by Todd Andrew Barnett Here’s another great Anarchy In Your Head strip by Dale Everett, the creator of the anti-state comic, dated November 28, [...]

  10. Kevin Dean says:

    You’ve been getting better and better Dale, all I can say is “Damn.”

  11. John Galt says:

    Dale…

    THAT was awesome!

    Comments were mostly on target also except for rearden…one of the multitudes who’s misconceptions about the word “anarchy” still shackles them to the false advocacy that the only way the world will have “order” is through “just a little bit of gunpoint mobocracy”

    Perhaps those folks might use “voluntaryist” as opposed to “anarchy”

    There are no “simple” answers but empowering others will achieve much more than what we have now in the slave-nation global-gulag prison-planet

    An armed society is a polite society

    Fences make good neighbors

    A man’s got to know his limitations

    Make my day

    enjoy

  12. H. Rearden says:

    What was off target about my comments Galt? Have you not heard about the so called summer of love in SF during the 60′s? Have you not heard about the so called free movement? Are you not aware of the various categories of anarchists?

    I am a freethinker.

  13. [...] Everett over at AnarchyInYourHead.com has a great new comic strip and article Anarchy Isn’t The Answer in which he makes some great observations about Government and the general perception of it: We look [...]

  14. Manu says:

    The smartest thing I heard today. After 10 hours of classes at university.

  15. Dale says:

    “I’d point out that your central point holds, even if religion is true: governmentalists are behaving towards government as religious believers behave towards religion. To a true religious believer, that is gross idolatry towards government, and therefore deserves strong condemnation. So, pious believers should be even more upset about the obvious analogy between religious and political beliefs than you and I are.”

    QFT

  16. Bob Robertson says:

    For anyone interested, I heartedly recommend “Answers to 10 objections to Anarchy” by Roderick Long, on Mises.org.

    http://mises.org/mp3/MU2004/Long2.mp3

  17. eliot says:

    I wonder why I hear that “Anarchism is a religion”

  18. Marvelous! Exactly the point I keep trying to get across. I read this after reading your post on trying to defend minarchy (http://anarchyinyourhead.com/2009/06/29/is-minarchy-possible/#more-660) and find that in two posts you’ve more eloquently stated what I’ve been trying to in nearly 100 videos. Damn it.

    So I’m going to shamelessly hijack some quotes :) And yes, I will credit you and hopefully drive up your traffic. Keep up the good work!

  19. Walt Cunningham says:

    “I have no idea how to make shoes and yet I am wearing nice shoes which government didn’t provide.”

    Are you walking on a nice shaded sidewalk the government DID provide?

  20. Eric Pavao says:

    Excellent article! The best yet on this site. And even the comments are good. Where else can you get a debate between Hank Rearden and John Galt!

  21. Jim Davidson says:

    I’m not an anarchist either. I’m a sovereign individual. Which means that I govern myself. No, I don’t consent to be governed. No, I don’t consent to govern anyone else. I’m not interested in any form of government except self-government: the government of me, by me, for my benefit.

    Now, some say, “that’s only anarchy.” And it might seem that way. But I really do have to govern my baser instincts, desires, and whims. I really do govern myself. And y’all might choose to govern yourselves.

    As it happens, most sidewalks are built by private construction companies and provided by real estate developers as property enhancements. Governments don’t provide anything. They steal money from some and at times, grudgingly, spend it on maintaining things like sidewalks, generally after corruptly allocating a contract or three and spending ten times as much as the private sector would.

    The same is true of most streets made in the USA, by the way. Real estate developers build them. Sometimes homeowners associations maintain them. Often, after a time, the streets are turned over to a county or city government. But that doesn’t mean they are provided by government. It simply means that the maintenance is provided by stealing.

    If you get the idea that other methods can be used, why, sure. Malls, for example, provide covered sidewalks with air conditioning, sometimes carpet or tile, and other amenities, and it is all private.

    So, Walter Cunningham, you can’t get back to the Moon on a government rocket. They won’t let you.

  22. Dinnerboi says:

    @Jim Davidson: Reminds me of a saying: “The State does not have any wealth. In order for it to give wealth to one person, it must first take from another.”

  23. Excellent article! The best yet on this site. I love it

  24. T Here have been anarchists experiments that have failed. The leftest type of anarchy in particular. The so called free movement and commune movement in particular.

  25. [...] Anarchy is not an answer. Anarchy – as the admission that violence is not the way, but rather exclusively voluntary interaction, a free market – is merely the recognition of the fact that there is no single answer and that solutions are best found when individuals are let free to apply their unique creative abilities, without compulsion, to find solutions to the problems that we face. And that’s the only way we stand a chance at building a stable and perpetually prosperous and accelerating economy which can last for not merely decades before the collapses or years between recessions, but centuries and millenia. [...]

  26. I agree that a lot of governments are corrupt and abuse their power by violating our individual rights, but that is not an argument for anarchy. It’s an argument for setting up a proper government and having a rational culture in which in can prosper. Ultimately, it comes down to the quality of the people in the country. You can’t just be like, “Government uses force so it’s never good.” It’s not enough to identify the problem; you have to offer a solution…and unless you CAN offer a solution, you can’t rationally advocate anarchy (not that you ever could anyway).

  27. Dale says:

    “It’s not enough to identify the problem; you have to offer a solution…”

    The whole point of the article was to address the fallacy of exactly this line of thinking. Therefore, I don’t find your post compelling.

  28. Kwazai says:

    hitchikers- the movie- at the very end the answer is written in the stump as 6×9.
    go figure the answer wasn’t the answer anyway…

  29. 0verdose says:

    thanks for ruining the movie for me.

  30. 0verdose says:

    PhysicistDave, I actually enjoyed that quite a bit. Too often the “branding” and devisivness of atheist/anarchist are brought together and in my experience demonized- no surprise there. However, my particular favorate is (and I believe it’s particularly been stimulated by outspoken advocates such as Ricky Gervais) I get particulary frustrated when atheist/atheism is referred to or acknowledged as a religeon. I guess what I am trying to say I have witnessed the perception that it’s a choice not to believe as apposed to what it means to me which is simply put the total abscense of any concern at all.

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