The psychological grounding of Direct Action

I just read this article about human psychology and the counter-intuitive way our brain functions in regards to the things we like or hate. The more I read into it, the more it seemed to validate on the most common practice of Anarchism: Direct Action. Or more specifically the core concept of anarchist theory that the only actual systematic change can come from each of us by actively doing things ourselves.

Very often I’ll speak with people of differing ideologies who support this or that political party and during the conversation I often say something like: “This all sounds nice and well in theory, but how do you plan to get your party into power, or otherwise put your theory into practice”? The disappointing answer inevitably is something along the lines of “proper education” or “more convincing others” (from the optimists at least). Subsequent questions on where this education should come from tend to be unsatisfying.

On the other hand, pessimists or people rejecting anarchist theory, tend to say that no signicant change can come because people are too stupid/ignorant/lazy to take care of their societies and as such, not only is Anarchism painted as a utopian ideal, but even their own theories are deemed as impossible to actualize (Or patently ridiculous plans are suggested)

But anarchism, tends to suggest something different; that change can only come by putting practice first. It is by having people actually put the future society we’d like to have, into practice, that we actually demolish the current one. Surprisingly, original Anarchist theorists seemed to have understood exactly how we need to act, given what we’ve recently discovered about human psychology: The way we act forms the person that we are.

This is the reason why anarchists support forms of self-organization such as unions, co-operatives, mutual banks, communes etc. A workplace union is not just a place for syndicalists to join, it’s an actual conversion tool! A worker who joins a union starts getting converted to a mutual aid personality. It does not wholly1 matter if they were lazy or ignorant before, because taking part in such an org will actually change how they act.

Same is true for neighborhood unions or any other form of direct action mutual aid. By actively having people practice mutual aid, you make them the kind of people who want to do so.

This is why always the most important question about a political theory is: “But how are you going to achiveve it?”, because if it’s just based on “convincing people first” it’s just doomed to fail. Nobody will be convinced if what they’re currently doing in their daily lives is the completely opposite of what you’re suggesting, regardless of how good what suggest is in theory.

  1. I suspect there are limits to how much personalities can change given a starting point []

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