Are anarchists naive in their solutions to problems in contemporary society? No, we simply recognise the harmful long-term effects of statist intervetnion.
Recently someone in /r/Anarchism inquired what action should Anarchists ought to take against violent crime in contemporary society, something which triggered quite a thought-provoking discussion since this is a subject which does not really have an easy or simple answer. The subsequent misconstruement from a non-anarchist who happened to be browsing the subreddit at the time, triggered me to put my thoughts down on the general subject of anarchist problem solving and hopefully present a perspective that makes sense and does not sound simply “naive.”
One of the most basic concepts of anarchism, and one that people – who routinely dismiss anarchist solutions – do not know or refuse to understand, is the idea that it’s the methods we use to try and change the world that define how society will look like after we’ve succeeded. To put it more simply: Changing the world via authoritarianism, will create an authoritarian society. Changing the world via violence, will lead to a violent society. Using “bad” tactics, will lead to “bad” society. And as naturally follows, using the right tactics, will lead to the right kind of societal result.
As such, when anarchists see something something that is not right, they look for ways to fix it, that are compatible to the future society they wish to have. And since the two main cores of that future society will be direct action and mutual aid, any way to resolve a contemporary problem will most likely revolve around them primarily. The problem arises when the current society as it exists makes such methods difficult or outright unviable. This, more often than not, is because to allow them would undermine the legitimacy and requirement for the state itself.
In practical terms this means that anarchists will initially try to find a solution to a social ailing which they can implement themselves, via their own power, and when that is lacking by the cooperative power of the community affected by the problem. They will not immediately turn to the state’s aid, even when that is easier to do (in mental and physical effort) because we recognize that not only are most of these problems the result of state action in the first place, but to go to them for solutions only serves to de-power us in favour of those who caused the problem and more often than not, creates peripheral problems that are of equal or greater intensity.
The cop that you empower and trust to protect you from violent crime and activity you wish to prevent, ends up performing it itself, either as a form of corruption (i.e. turning the blind eye to the criminals who can pay him) or as a result of the authority and power that only he possesses (i.e. bullying, uncalled violence, violation of rights etc). And whereas you could fight alone or with your community against crime, you are now powerless against the police.
The judge that you empower and trust to take the objective and right decisions, ends up following the rules that have been decided for society by biased people (politicians), has far more connection (and therefore bias) towards the wealthier society due to his status and is easily manipulated by money (i.e. who can buy the best laywer). As a result, justice is skewed towards the rich, sometimes in very crass ways. Much like the previous example, a distributed, democratic solution would serve a justice that was far closer to the real sentiments of people, which is in fact why trial by jury was implemented (and subsequently corrupted by the way the system works), but as the system stands now, your only options for justice are via costly and time consuming means, which of course end up favouring those with spare time and/or money.
So instead of this, we try to find a way which would be both anarchistic and viable. In the discussion above, people (inlcuding me) attempted to posit answers to the long term problem of violent crime in contemporary society. We recognize the limitations we have to work with, i.e. that as long as the state, capitalism and gross inequality persist, violent crime will never go away, and thus propose solutions which are effective in the short and in the long run. The person who dismissed anarchism because of its proponent’s unwillingness to use state power to combat violent crime only looks at the short term solution and even worse, from a punitive, rather than a reformative perspective.
But the problem is not how to stop this particular gang of thugs in the short term. It doesn’t really matter when the system you empower to do this, will endlessly grind more people into this lifestyle and as long as communities of people cower in their homes unless the police comes to help them – not to mention when those thugs come out of the inhumane prison system far worse than they entered it. It’s like fighting fire with oil. Sure,if you use quite a lot of it, you may end up smothering the flames for a bit, but not only did you create a mess of the place in order to do this, but it wouldn’t take a lot of effort now to end up with even a worse conflagration than before. Just a spark.
Let me present you an example from my own life to see what my own actions and perspective are.
Almost one year ago, me and my girlfriend finally moved together into a larger house. The area we live in is a classic German residential one. As a result there’s a lot of teenagers around who are bored and alienated from society, especially German society which is ridiculously uptight. As one would expect, there’s also the usual samples of discontent youth who just don’t care about the rules enforced on them. The Germans call them “Asis” which basically means “anti-socials” and don’t really want them around. Not because they’re dangerous per-se, but because they’re unruly and will most likely give you the finger if you try to tell them to follow “The German Way”.
As a result, most residents around here, many of which are middle-aged or old try to get rid of them whenever they see them and their main course of action of course is to (threaten to) call the police. This means that the Asis end up in a nomadic style, moving around the neighborhood every time some old fart threatens to call the cops because they don’t like their presence (they’ll imagine some excuse). Eventually some of them ended up sitting close to our balcony, boozing, smoking and whatever and I really couldn’t care less. Not only did we not care if they sat there all day, but my girlfriend at some point even waved at them in friendship.
And it seems that was a mistake. Shortly after this, snowballs started pelting our balcony window now and then, something that is quite shocking if you’re having a calm night watching a movie or something. I didn’t notice it often because I’m either not here or in my own world behind the monitor. However the gf is really starting to get upset about it, not just from the snowballs per-se, but because some of them ended up breaking a plant pot or two and she’s afraid one of them if going to think to throw of beer bottle eventually, which our window will probably not survive.
Now a typical German would have called the Police a long long while ago but my gf (who is slowly moving towards anarchism herself) didn’t and asked me what our joint course of action should be. She had already tried talking, explaining, shouting, and even approaching them in person and she was at the end of her wits. They seemed not to listen and whenever we tried to go down to speak to them, they thought we were trying to catch them or something, and run away.
Now this is difficult situation for me as we need to find a solution to this problem (stuff on our balcony likely to break and we need to then pay for replacement) but I am loathe to involve the state. Thinking about it, we’ve decided that our first actions would be to somehow reach out to them and explain what effects their actions have. The original idea we have is to see when they’re around and then go down to talk to them. If they flee when they see us, we could try to leave them a message and a beer or two, and explain within how we really don’t mind them around but we would appreciate them not breaking our stuff. Will it work? Hopefully. If not, we’ll adapt our tactic.
There is always the case that nothing we think of will make them stop. There’s always the case that my solutions are foiled because I unfortunately live in the current society and not a future anarchist one. I could try to organize something like a neighborhood watch or something similar but given the community’s rather large alienation from each other (a normal middle-class city-dweller’s mind frame really, exaggerated by the German ideas) and my personal language isolation, it will most likely fail. Thus it may come to be that I will indeed have to call the police. The difference is that I will do it as a measure of last resort, and fully recognize that I had to involve them mostly because of the mess they, and all they stand for, have caused. I will rightly blame the state, not thank it, for taking away all my options except going to the state. Much like I would blame a Mafia, not thank it, when my store doesn’t “accidentally” burn down while I pay them for “protection”.
That unfortunately I sometimes may have to go against the ideal solution I would like to have is simply an indication of the non-ideal system we live in. It is not a betrayal of principles any more than working for a capitalist or renting an apartment is a betrayal. We’ve been forced to live in an unfair system which very often leaves us with no choice. However the difference is that as anarchists we will explore all other possibilities which are closer to how we’d like things to be done, before accepting a bad option. And then agitate and point to the unfairness of being left with no choice but to perpetuate evil practices.
In short, anarchists may be visionaries but we are are also pragmatic. We will first try to exhaust the options which would be compatible with our future society before moving on to the “lesser evil” solutions as a measure of last resort when no other possibility is left for us. And even then, the consequences of not taking the “lesser evil” solution need to severely overwhelm the negative effects of such actions, which anarchists are often all to aware of.