The other day, an interesting question was posed to me by a commenter in Broadsnark’s blog who was asking how Anarchist principles (i.e. Mutual Aid and Direct Action) can help him in his current life:
35 yr. old male, struggling to survive in the trading pits of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange with Fed controlled interest rates serving as the main cause of my detriment[…]The Fed is crushing my first entrepreneurial attempt, the state is delaying my second. What can I learn from, support, and make use of Anarchist principles in my day to day life both economically and in regards to my pursuit of making my life and my family the best for us, while living my life by standards that I believe are beneficial to my family, as well as my community?
This is undoubtedly a question that anyone who might be investigating Anarchism might be asking. “How can this philosophy improve my current conditions?” and it certainly deserves some consideration.
The first problem is in the way that this question is posed. It puts forth a lot of premises that are incompatible in the first place and then asks how one would reconcile this. It’s obvious that the author of the comment has already decided that the State regulations is his primary problem and thus a beneficial solution should be one that has such a deregulation in the solution. This of course only serves to exemplify further how people tend to choose their political orientation from their immediate short-term situation.
In this case, the author’s main issue is that in his current choice of work, the state regulation are constricting him being more wealthy. It therefore follows that whatever will reduce such regulations, will improve his life. Right-Libertarianism proposes to reduce such regulations as a general plan of action. Thus right-libertarianism is seen as the most viable solution. In a very similar way we can see how others might end up supporting one ideology over another based on the same short-term thinking. A factory capitalist might see the worker’s union as his main source of grief, since their collective bargaining is eroding his profits. He thus promotes ideologies such as neoliberalism which suggest that there should be no state protection of unions. A factory worker sees the power differential between himself and the boss as the source of his low income and thus promotes trade unionism which he believes will allow him to demand more.The truck driver sees the increased weight-based taxes on the roads as the source of his problem and thus supports socialization of costs and flat-rate taxes for all as a solution.
But the problem is that the short-term solution for each individual situation is not necessarily compatible with Anarchism. In fact, the whole profession which one might be in can in it self be something incompatible. Take the factory boss for example. His solution is one which would retain himself as the boss and also improve his life as is. But within Anarchism there’s not supposed to be any bosses in the first place! Thus the whole question of “How can Anarchism help me improve my conditions as a capitalist boss?” is oxymoronic.
In a similar vein, asking how Anarchism can improve your life in Finance Capitalism is also flawed since Anarchism is anti-capitalist in the first place. It’s impossible for a theory opposed to a whole profession to offer any solution for improving that profession.
This of course is quite logical to lead people to reject Anarchism because it does not provide a solution to their immediate problems as they perceive it. After all, what is the point in espousing Mutual Aid when crass Individualism will provide a far better ROI? What is the point in espousing Direct Action when putting myself as an Authority will also provide me with the lion’s share of the wealth?
And this is the sticking point. The solutions that Anarchism provides is to point that your perception of where the problem lies is wrong in the first place. To put it into perspective, imagine playing various versions of the Prisoner’s Dilemma in real life. Your standard solution is to defect, to look at one’s interests in the short term and expecting everyone else to do the same. Your solutions focus around either making it easier for you to defect, hide such defection, and make it harder for others to defect when you do. This will all maximize your own benefits. Anarchism is trying to explain how mutual co-operation is superior and how to setup a system where any kind of defection is either difficult or impossible to hide.
Those people asking me what solutions Anarchism offers in their particular short-term problems are akin to asking me how Anarchism can help them defect faster, smarter or sneakier.
If you see how the world works, you notice exactly this kind of pattern. All that Politics is, is a continuous tug-o-war between various competing factions pulling in different directions. The Truckers want flat-tax while those without cars want weight+mileage based tax (if any). The Finance Capitalists want more deregulation while the industrial capitalist want more regulation. The plutocracy want a stronger state and a powerful military to “open markets”, while the progressive small businessmen want as little state regulation and intervention as possible. The workers want more wages while the capitalists want more profits.
Politicians are only there to represent the various interests in a peaceful manner (i.e. to avoid the losing party from using force to equalize the game).
Each of those factions keeps looking at their immediate short-term interest and does not realize that in the game of defection you either have to have a “sucker” or everyone suffers. The original commenter for example does not realize that further deregulation of the financial capital will only mean that the current plutocracy, the big dogs will abuse the system far more than they do now. The small investors will suffer and most likely the cost is going to be taken by the middle and lower classes even moreso than now. The middle/lower classes have already seen this once so they are loathe to permit it again (if they can) so they oppose it in their own interests. Both factions in this case can have their own ideologies explaining rationally why theirs is the superior choice. The Neoliberals, Friedmanists, Reaganites etc on one side and the Keynesians, Krugmanites etc on the other. Both factions coming to blows and never reaching an agreement because their short-term interests are directly opposed.
The whole game of politics is simply the same thing, only spread out in thousands of different conflicts. And where two factions are opposite on one issue, they may become allies against a third in another.
Anarchism however suggests that all situations where such conflicting interests exist is flawed. If you have two competing factions, the answer is not to join one and seek to give it more power. The answer is to make such conflict obsolete in the first place so that the end result is mutual co-operation instead. The result of such co-operation always benefits both sides who co-operate more in aggregate, than defective practices. We ask that if any two such factions notice that they are in opposition to each other, that they look at the premises for such opposition and change the scenario itself, rather than fight out for dominance.
Of course, this is not always possible as very often one faction is perpetually on the winning side and co-operating will reduce their wealth. Think of it again in the context of a Prisoner’s Dilemma where one prisoner is forced to always co-operate while the other can defect at will. Obviously the defector will not want to change the rules of the game, even if it means both co-operating, for the current setup is far more to his own benefit than any alternative. In this case the current setup must be dismantled and smashed with force if necessary due to its inherent unfairness. The benefiting party will whine, complain, subvert, lie, obfuscate and finally fight to preserve things as they are due to the obvious way it’s gaining, but this will not change the exploitative nature of such benefits. It will not change the fact that mutual co-operation is the superior result and can only be prevented via some kind of applied coercion on one party and not the other.
Now to go back to the original question, it is clear that Anarchism cannot provide a solution within the defined premises. However it can provide the solution on how to redefine the premises so as to follow anarchist principles and that would necessitate a change of career for the author. He may not like it, he may wish to remain working in finance capitalism because it is exciting but it will not change the fact that his career is built on the exploitation of labour via usury and is only possible via state backing (i.e. corporate laws).
Is it possible that this might not allow him to maintain his current suburban lifestyle? Possibly. As much as it wouldn’t allow the luxurious lifestyle of the ruling elite either. But one must willingly close his eyes to the destitution others must suffer for such a lifestyle to be maintained in order to accept this in the first place. Those that oppose the systematic change required to improve the lives of everyone are the ones that are already at the top of the “foodchain” so to speak, who would be the minority which would have to lose some of their privileges in order for the rest to gain their basic human needs in life and dignity.
Unfortunately those at the top would never be convinced to let go of their privileges, no matter how good the arguments. Fortunately those at the top are the small minority and only because the vast majority is still convinced to play by the current unfair rules. We don’t have to convince those at the top. We only have to deprogram the propaganda from the majority.
Perhaps the OP will ask me now: “But you never answered my question. Why should I ever embrace Anarchist principles when my interest lies in simple deregulation?”
The answer to this question is simple: Your interest is irrational as it bring a collectively worse result, even if you end up benefiting from it in the short-term. You are already at the privileged few on the top of the world so you’re already at diminishing returns even if you don’t realize it. Equalizing the rest of the world in terms of power is the only thing that can improve your life by taking away the real causes of “pain” such as stress caused by having to maintain a luxurious lifestyle or the lost dignity when you have to cower before your “superiors”.
If you’re still not convinced. If you still believe that your life would be better if only you had more money, more luxuries, more power, then before you even consider Anarchism, I suggest a change of Philosophy first.
- 07.12.09 / 10am