If you hate Absolute Monarchy so much

To all you naive utopians who think that anything other than absolute monarchy can work, these are the real results. Beware and don’t challenge the status quo.

Quoth Bowers of Paradise

What can we learn from this?  To all opponents of absolute monarchy, torture, enforced superstition, and feudalism, the message is obvious: this is what your naive, utopian views lead to in practice.  Your views sound beautiful in theory, but they forget to take into account Human Nature™, which as any wise person knows makes inevitable the eternal rule of the House of Normandy.

The post above hilariously points out the fallacy of using the Human Nature™ argument to argue against anarchism, and the flawed idea that whatever follows the collapse/disorganization of the society one lives in, is Anarchy by default.

The later thing is quite often used in fact, even by people who should know better.


Cory Doctorow created a masterpiece in his For The Win novel. While everyone should thoroughly enjoy it, Anarchist will find it especially gripping.

I just realized that I haven’t mentioned this book already here and I think it’s high time I do.

During my recent vacation I went through Cory Doctorow’s latest novel: For The Win and it was immediately a favourite. It’s not often that a book which can extract such strong sentiments out of me but this one did it spades. I kept alternating between anger, excitement, happiness and so on, as I was rooting for the heroes, feeling their pain and being gripped to my seat by the very believable action happening inside.

I don’t know if Cory is an anarchist but he seems to have got the practice of anarcho-syndicalism down pat. The only thing that I think would have been improved is if the organizers of the International Workers of the World Wide Web (IWWWW, or Webblies. I kid you not, these were some of the more awesome concepts he came up with) were more decentralized rather than basically being controlled by a few of the heroes and therefore suffering tragic blows when those heroes where directly assaulted. But then again, this is a story and I’m no author so I don’t know how much one can avoid having main actors in the story that one can identify with. Also, while distribution of power is always the optimal  way to organize a union, in the real life gritty practice, that can get sidetracked. So in a sense perhaps the book was more realistic this way, while also pointing out the flaws of even a small centralization.

On the other hand, it’s obvious how much research and knowledge Cory has invested in learning about gaming and especially MMORPGs and their surrounding Agorism. This is something that might make the novel a bit more difficult to follow for internet/gaming illiterates but on the other hand it will be easier to identify with for a younger audience which has grown into this culture, and perhaps introduce them to the dark underbelly of the beast they’re feeding every month, the dark world around it and the surrounding lives of those who try to make a living out of it.

All in all, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s not written for anarchists in any sense but I can only imagine that anarchists will love it. But I also believe that it will also provide a realistic example of what Anarchist struggle is in practice to all those who prefer to imagine us as either Terrorists or Hippies.

Buy it if you can or download it for free if you can’t. Since it’s published in a Copyleft license, you’re free to read and distribute and I hope that, like me, you’ll also choose to talk and write about it. It’s definitely worth it and it’s easily the best book I’ve read in the last 3 years.

The power of bad arguments

Bad arguments and insults do not really win you any converts, no matter how many arguments you “win”

Coffee Argument
Image by alasdair.d via Flickr

I’ve spent the better part of last week arguing in length with a Pareconist in the comments of the Division by Zer0 about, what else, Parecon. The discussion grew enormously large with multiple threads and arguments all over the place, to the point of having around 10 replies per day, per person. As it progressed, it became increasingly frustrating because of the way the other person went around arguing his point.

You see, when I entered into this conversation, I was cautiously neutral about Parecon, I considered that it’s unnecessary and most likely unworkable on a large scale but didn’t have any other particular issue with it any more than I have with mutualism. However after I finished this discussion (I’ve simply stopped wasting my time) I am now pretty much hostile to the idea of Parecon.

And it’s one person’s arguments that managed to do this.

To be precise, it wasn’t just the arguments themselves. Those were simply wrong most of the time. It was the sheer amount of bad arguments which gave me the distressing impression that I was wasting my time arguing with someone who was fractally wrong and therefore this discussion could only grow longer and longer with no end in sight. But if that wasn’t enough, that person had some of the worst ways to put his point forward. Uncharitable interpretations of what I said. Jumping to conclusions on what I suggested or what my ideas are. “Scare quotes”. Unbased assertions. Red herrings. Parecon-lingo (which I assume makes perfect sense to those familiar with their terminology but not for me) used as a definite argument etc.

The most blatant example was when I was classified as a Mutualist as soon as I pointed out the distinction between Private Property and Possession. This persisted even after I explicitly explained that I was in fact, a Anarcho-Communist and I do not support money or markets. This was then used to argue against Mutualism, over my continuous explanation that I might not be the best person to defend it.This was just the top of the iceberg.

If you’ve ever been into such a debate, you certainly know how frustrating it becomes to have to constantly correct the assertions and interpretations of the other person every time you reply. You get the feeling that they’re just interested in “winning” the argument rather than understand your position; throwing half-thought conclusions at every step is only a way to make people give up.

Perhaps this might have made some sense in a public forum where people are watching the discussion, although I’m pretty certain that the audience would quickly see through those tactics. However it makes even less sense to do this in the comments of private blog. A discussion held here is unlikely to be seen by anyone other than the blog owner and thus the only possible point would be to make that person rethink their position. Does anyone think they will achieve this by frustrating them? In my case, it brought the completely opposite reaction. I am now hostile to Parecon and have a really sour taste of Pareconists. In any future discussion on this issue, I’m very likely to (even subconsciously) recall the experience I had last week and take immediately the anti-Parecon side.

The way that that Parecon was argued for gave me the distinct impression that it’s very badly thought out and will lead to even worse results than what I originally expected. I got the impression that those promoting it have far more in common with Social Democrats and other ideologies which take a very bad view on “human nature” and then use to to argue for authoritarian measures as a way to limit those bad aspects. Some of the arguments sounded downright horrifying, especially coming from an anarchist, such as the idea that all productive means should be collectivized forcefully if necessary, for “the common good”.

I thus have to wonder, what can people arguing this way be possibly thinking? Are they trying to create vocal opposition to their ideas? If you’re going to go to another person’s blog to argue your ideas, at least try to be convincing instead of frustrating.

This goes doubly as much of course to my actual Anarchist peers. I’d hate for people to get the wrong idea of our movement just because we can’t avoid misrepresenting their position for emotional effect to the invisible audience. Also it’s very important to  keep oneself grounded in science. The owner of the blog may make unbased assertions on “human nature” for example, but you won’t achieve much by simply stating the opposite. Rather, point to the empirical evidence that counters humans as being inherently greedy, egoistical, crass individualist or requiring hierarchies. Keep a few links handy in your bookmarks or make your own little groups. Even if the blog owner denies the evidence, it might still convince anyone reading the comments in the future.

It also makes little sense to argue in length with people in denial and reaching the point of insults. It will only make them more hostile and nobody else will see the argument anyway as very few people bother to even start going through comment wars. It’s far better to make your point as concisely and factually as possible and bow out once you notice that no actual progress is being made. Not only will you be able to find another discussion which will be more constructive, you’ll save yourself quite a lot of annoyingment.

And as much as this applies to commenters in other people’s blogs, it doubly applies to blog owners themselves. I care very little to convince commenters who do not wish to be convinced and I will not waste my time countering endless bad arguments while being annoyed by how much my position is misrepresented instead. The people arguing this way may end up “winning” the argument by driving their opponent away, but it will only be a Pyrrhic victory in the grand scheme of things.

PS: As for Parecon, I’m still fairly ignorant of it, but needless to say, the latest discussion did not make me eager to learn more, any more than frothing at the mouth creationists make me eager to learn about Christianity. However I did look around for some LibCom opinions on Parecon and it basically seems that they are mirroring my own sentiments. I suggest you check out this debate between libcom.org and ppsuk.org.uk which has been abandoned by the latter. The last salvo from libcom is exactly where I stand currently.

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The Politics of Change

Or: My, what a can of worms I opened yesterday…

A segment of a social network
Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday I discovered how the Starcraft reddit had implemented little icons next to each user’s name (of those that wanted it) which could display which faction they belonged to. I found the idea cute and an interesting way to add some more character into the discussion. I thought that something similar would be a nice addition to the /r/anarchism so I experimented a bit and then implemented it to see what others thought about it.

Initially I opened a thread announcing it. Everyone could request any icon they wished for among the available options. I figured that if people don’t want one, they can simply ignore it and those who do can get one. If very few got a star, the change would be practically invisible. If many wanted one, then it would show that it was indeed a good option to have.

I expected some people not to like it and I just assumed that if they had a good argument against it, a democratic vote would decide if people agreed with them to take the stylesheet change down or keep it up. I did not expect to be called a dictator…

I won’t respond to the shallow baiting some are all too eager to fling around when things don’t go their way (read: when the community does not back them up) but I thought it would be useful to explain why I act the way I do, why this is beneficial and why the alternative is not a good idea.

Change Boldly, Reverse Democratically.

My theory on changes is that any of them that are opt-in and easy to reverse do not need democratic consensus to be attempted. I get my idea from Wikipedia and the brilliant way it’s worked for that until now where it urges people to be bold in their changes since any mistake can be easily fixed and/or reversed when needed and the damage should be non-existent until it is. Much like that, I believe that any change in society that affects only those who decide to follow it, does not have the capacity to cause immediate damage and can be reversed easily should it be requested, should be tried boldly.

This usually affect the most novel and the most interesting ideas. Being for opt-in ideas, it practically limits this practice to those ideas that enhance individualism rather than modify the collective as a whole. In the end, it affects those ideas which are the most likely to be opposed by conservative minds and those ideas who are very likely to be rejected by those who have not experienced them.

This is important to clarify because it’s these ideas that not only make a society or community more interesting and colourful, but are the ones that promote individualism, creativity and serve as the “beachhead” and basis for others to build upon them. It is exactly those ideas which change the chaotic environment in unexpected ways and allow a new and better emergent order. The throttling of those ideas would be disastrous for the cultural health of a community.

To give you real life example of such ideas, think of creativity and innovation. For example, a person designing a new style of clothing, or an engineer designing a revolutionary technology like the steam engine or the TCP/IP protocol, or even a person who starts living in a completely novel lifestyle. Certainly nobody would request that those people refrain from introducing such changes until a consensus has been reached in society. Those changes affect the individual first and foremost and only those who want them would embrace them.

And yet, that those changes would affect the environment and the society as a whole is certain. Some will do it far more than others but everything that affects individuals – from fashion, to lifestyle to technology – can in turn change the society once a critical mass of individuals start following it. One can simply see how for example, the Internet, which is a completely opt-in technology, has shaped and continues to shape the face of our global society in it short existence. And the more people that start to use it, the more powerful it becomes to perform this change. Mannerisms, clothes, lifestyle practices etc also have the same possibilities which can easily be seen in our history.

Is this an argument to request consensus decision before those are introduced? If this was an anarchist society and a technology like the early Internet was developed, do you think it would be a good idea to block it until a democratic vote was taken on it? Those enthusiasts old enough to remember those early days will certainly remember the rampart scaremongering surrounding it during those times. You could find practically weekly a columnist from one traditional newspaper or another warning us of all the horrible consequences it would have when it became widespread. I don’t think any of them came even closer to materializing. Instead, new ways of use were discovered which further changed the way it was used in ways that nobody could even imagine.

Think of Twitter for example. At the early ages of the internet, it couldn’t be even imagined. When it was first introduced, it was widely dismissed and/or assaulted by a vocal minority (among the majority who didn’t use it) that was nevertheless bigger than the majority which found it exciting and interesting. If one would have a democratic vote at that point, at the point of introduction, twitter would not exist today. The majority who was hostile to it was simply larger than the bleeding edge minority that wanted to try it. This is a fact of reality. The conservative vocal minority will always be larger at the start-of-life of a particular innovation, than the progressive vocal minority who wants to use it.

Twitter, much like the internet persisted. Slowly,the progressive minority found more and more novel ways to use it, the membership of Twitter increased and a critical mass was reached. A critical mass which, while still a minority among Internet users, has a profound and significant effect on society. Twitter is starting to have a real societal effect in the way people communicate. From the political campaigns, to advertising, to reactionary communications among anarchists during riots!

Think: Nobody would have even thought this was possible until it happened naturally. Until order emerged out of chaos.

Nobody could argue that Twitter did not have a profound effect on the community it was introduced into (The Internet community first, the greater society second). And yet, nobody but the very misguided would suggest that it was a mistake that Twitter was not introduced consensually. Twitter was introduced boldly but as an opt-in method. People who wanted it can use it and the success of it as a service would depend on those opting-in. That means, that if it was discovered that it had a harmful effect, it would eventually change or die a natural death as people stopped using it and were not replaced. This is the first security valve that exist for all the bold opt-in changes.

The second one does not exist in all societies but the truly democratic ones. The option for a community to convene and decide if they wish to ban a particular change that is having a harmful effect on them. This is however the nuclear option and one which can have as much a harmful effect on creative changes as the ones I mentioned above, as voting before each change. If a democratic vote it convened at the early life of a change, the vocal conservative minority will once again out-weight the vocal progressive minority which will not have had a chance to grow by showing the beneficial effects of the change.

This democratic choice needs to be taken not just when a change has been introduced but when the practice of it has empirically and materially had a harmful effect. It needs to be base on evidence, on balancing the good against the bad and not scaremongering. It requires thus enough of a trial time on any change to allow it to be judged in practice. However, unlike a market economy or a dictatorship, this “nuclear option” can be a life-saviour on a technology which is indeed harmful due to its externalities. And while some will certainly complain about the loss of freedom of banning something which a minority might still want, the luxuries of the few should never out-weight the damage done to the many.

This is primarily why bold changes need to be easily reversible. While I’m all for such modifications, I would never dream of instituting a change that cannot be reversed or that has such likelihood of further implications that make it irreversible. My change on /r/anarchism’s stylesheet for example can be removed in 3 clicks. However when I say “implications” this obviously does not include democratic support for a good idea, as some have implied. Such a support does not mean that a change is technically irreversible but rather that people wish for it to stay. A technical implication would rather be something like digging an oil rig in the sea when knowing that that there’s a change for it to explode and pollute the surrounding environment catastrophically. In short, a change which cannot be reversed given democratic opposition.

When such reversibility is existent, being bold is not an issue. Any of us can make mistakes or miss some consequence that emerges later on and being able to quickly revert things to the way they were is the fallback solution to a bold change that did not work as intended. However, like before, the harmful effect needs to be existent and not theoretical. Scaremongering will not do. Such harmful effects will then convince the community to oppose it democratically and reverse it or modify it so as to avoid those effects. No real argument will be required.

Furthermore, bold changes can be done on top of bold changes to as to improve on them and give more options. This does not include the bold change of reversing them without them having a chance to be trialed. Say for example that the stylesheet change I did ended up looking fugly (and indeed my initial change was also opposed exactly for this point by some). While one change is for it to be reversed, another one which is also quicker (as it would not require a democratic vote) and better would be to make it nicer. And indeed this is what another mod did, by replacing the big flags I used with small stylish stars. Not only was he bold in turn, but in a future vote we can have three options rather than just two. Flags, Stars or Removal.

Isn’t this dictatorship?

One thing that some anarchists were very eager to throw against me was the accusation of acting like a dictator to the subreddit. They claim that because I acted without consent, I forced everyone to accept my change. But this should be fairly easy to see why it’s false.

First of all, dictators don’t make their choices opt-in. They force them on the society at large because they want them to happen. Had dictators made unpopular decisions as opt-in, they would have never had any effect as people would simply ignore them. This is why dictators and oligarchies end up dragging the unwilling populace behind their “visions”.

On one hand, the ease by which such visions can be attempted is a particular benefit for a dictatorship, allowing a progressive dictator to make rapid changes. This is naturally outweighted by all the bad things that follow a dictatorship, especially the inability to reverse a bad decision or even opt-out of it. The trick to is to keep the good (easy progressive changes) and discard the bad (not being able to reverse bad ones, among everything else). This is what bold changes attempt to achieve.

A dictators decision would not be reversible given democratic opposition. The people accusing me of acting like one, take the considerable support my idea has had and claim that because they can now not reverse the change as people like it, it might as well have been a dictatorial edict. But the little option that the idea is only irreversible because people want it makes all the difference in the world. It means that when and if harmful effects are discovered from it, it can still be removed or fixed. You do not have such an option with a dictatorial edict. In fact, especially because that was the idea of the supreme ruler, it’s very unlikely that he would change it even when harmful effects are obvious, simply because of personal pride.

I consider such accusation to be nothing more than baiting. Trying to shame me with a label which does not fit, just because they know anarchist abhor this accusation and are especially sensitive to it. IMO The accusation itself is shameful to those making it.

I was planning on writing about the issues that will occur if we require consensus before every change but I notice that this post is already getting quite long so instead I’m going to close this post now and write about the harmful effects of democratic fetishism in a future post.

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Voting is bad, M'kay?

Why I don’t vote in state elections and neither should you.

Second round of the French presidential electi...

It seems a lot of discussions have been going on lately, both in the Anarchosphere and in reddit, on the subject of voting in state elections. Surprisingly a lot of anarchists have come out in favour of voting with various arguments on the issue. Since I keep getting caught in these discussions, I’ll try to explain my own reasoning on why I refuse to participate in elections, why this is not bad and counter some of the arguments for voting commonly thrown around by anarchists.

Why I refuse to vote

I used to vote black/white and I used to vote for third/small parties. Then I wisened up. I realized that no matter who one votes for, they end up voting for the system as a whole as well. Our choice between the few bad options we’re presented within a rigged game only serve to reinforce the lie that the government is simply following “the will of the people”.

To give a more extreme example to make the point: If some random people suddenly asked your society to vote on whether you’d prefer to become chattel slaves, work in a sweatshop, or become sex slave, it’s obvious that some choice might be better than the others for you. Some of those would be the “lesser evil”. However, as a whole, all those options are worse than many other alternatives which involves neither of these three. If you society nevertheless voted on one of these three and the majority decided that they’d prefer to become sweatshop workers, you have just granted legitimacy to those random people to decide the options by which you’d have to live. The healthy option would have been to wonder why these crazy people are asking you to vote on crazy options and ignore them while you continue with your lives.

Now imagine that those random people forcefully conquered your society anyway and made you all chattel slaves. After a while, when the people in your society have increased their power and outright military control is not enough, the conquerors get “enlightened”, declare a democracy and ask you to choose from one of the three options above. Only a fool would not notice that this is a desperate ploy to defuse the situation before a revolt. Only a fool would not notice that the choices given are not as good as what preceded the military conquest.

The difference between this theoretical example and the situation we are now is only that we’ve already been forced into one of the worst choices by historical precedence (i.e. the state violence that preceded and support capitalism) and instead of outright discarding all the bad choices and laughing at the crazy people who ask us to make them, we instead vote on the slightly better choice that will naturally retain the power of those random people. The difference is that we do not see the alternatives as clearly as would those theoretical people who started out free.The difference is that the conquerors left a few generations pass so that we now consider our situation normal and voting an improvement.

In short, voting serves to masquerade the violent acts which preceded it and make the bad choices we’re presented seem as better than they truly are. The reason we should not vote is because we need to expose the farce that is representative democracy and point out that we’re not bound by the options set by conquerors. The more people that do this, the shakier the propaganda the state has to legitimize itself. Once the percentage of people voting drops very low then the government starts looking a lot less like “the will of the people” and much more than the usurpers of power and the gendarme of the ruling elite that they truly are. Once less than 25% percent of people vote, I can easily argue that a government that is ignored by 3/4ths of the population has no legitimacy to govern over me and agitate that any use of force by the police or the army is an act of aggression by an external party.

But I cannot argue this as easily when the majority of people around me continue to vote and continue to think that the government, while not exactly representing themselves, represents the collective will. And this is why it’s especially counter-productive for anarchists to vote. We’re the ones who should be setting the example for fuck’s sake. If even we can’t refrain from participating in the farce, how do we expect that non-anarchists would even consider that there’s anything horribly wrong about it? How does one then answer the question “If you think elections don’t work, then why do you participate?” by a non-anarchist? Do you tell them that they work a little instead? But if they “work a little” for an anarchist, certainly they would work a lot for a non-anarchist. If for someone who is aiming for a stateless society, elections can be useful at times, then for someone who still believes in the state, proper participation in electioneering campaigns and putting one’s efforts in that area, would be a worthwhile prospect.

Is Non-Voting Bad?

Not if one considers that “democratic” governments don’t work for us. Not voting for the bad choices that I’m presented with will not change anything about my situation. Oh we hear talk about the greater and lesser evil and rampart fear-mongering from both sides of the puppet show, but the truth of the matter is that no matter how evil the other side is to us, they end up acting very similar in actual practice. There’s very very little substantial differences between parties in power at the moment, no matter their rhetoric.

And yet it seems people still listen to their rhetoric and believe it. They still believe that labour governments will be better than “Right-wing” ones, or that conservative governments will be more responsible than liberal ones. But in the end, they end up doing practically the same and often even worse. “Labour” governments usually assault workers with harsher measures than their predecessors. Conservative governments end up spending more. Liberal democracies end up restricting more. Communist parties end up increasing the rates of exploitation. And yet, some anarchists still believe that voting for Labour over Tory or Barack over McCain is somehow going to make things be less bad.

But this is based on faith and nothing else. The basic argument after the fact is always something like: Well, so-and-so is worse than I expected but certainly he’s not as bad as the other guy would have been. But this is based on nothing more than personal delusions. Both would have been just as bad as they serve primarily the same interests. Anarchists then engage in the same self-delusion that the rest of the “moderate left” is, by simply bloating the failing of those they consider the greater evil and trivializing the ones from the lesser evil. For example, all Clinton, Bush and Obama initiated wars of aggression and intensified already existing ones, covertly committed atrocities, sold their economies, destroyed labour orgs etc. The idea that Gore would not have done what Bush did is silly when we see what Clinton did. The idea that Bush would have been worse than Obama is silly when we see what Obama is doing (i.e. look past his promises and to his actual acts).

So how exactly is non-voting making things worse? Only a personal delusion of what-might-have-been gives the conviction that it did. But for someone like me, who stays away from the voting process altogether, they’re all as bad as each other and I don’t expect that any of them would have done anything less than the other if the ruling elite commanded it of them.

By far, the most common argument of this sort of course is that if we don’t vote, we allow the Fascists to gain power. However I’ll counter this point in another post as I’m already getting a bit long-winded. Until then, just remember: Voting is bad, m’kay?

Anarchist Convertions

How various redditors ended up being anarchists.

An interesting self post has come up in reddit ((For the uninitiated, as self post is a submission that is not linking to an external site as normal but rather a request for discussion on a particular subject in reddit proper)) where people have been asked to explain how they ended up as Anarchists.I’ve already posted my history on this in the past so I won’t repeat it but I thought you might find some other perspectives interesting. Some examples: Read more “Anarchist Convertions”

This is what stubborn refusal to understand Anarchism looks like

More often than not we see intellectual dishonesty rather than valid criticism when Anarchism is concerned.

There we go again. Another blatantly dishonest anti-anarchist rant from the Barefoot Bum who apparently has no limits to how much he will twist the reality of the situation to excuse himself about throwing unsubstantiated and horribly misinformed slanders against anarchists and the movement.

Once again he whines about hostility coming to him when he innocently and pleasantly tried to understand the threory. He forgets to mention how he crassly insulted anyone who tried to explain things to him, how he alienated any anarchists who attempted to clarify some concepts and how he banned and silenced all discussion in his own blog when he had no arguments. Is it any wonder that he’s faced hostility after he practically goaded for it? There’s only so much abuse anyone will suffer when trying to explain a concept to someone who’s convinced they are “fucktards”.

The Barefoot Bum is a classic example of deliberate obtusity. It’s not that he cannot understand. It’s not that people have no tried to explain things politely. It’s not that Anarchism is difficult to grasp as a concept. It’s that he steadfastly refuses to listen. He has no interest to find out what the theory says because that would mean that he can’t strawman it by using definitional arguments or that he can’t compare it to US Libertarianism (which he egregiously calls “Right Anarchism”).

It may seem that I’m beating a dead horse by continuously pointing out the dishonest methods of TBB but I can’t help that he constantly places himself on the pedestal of bad argumentation. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving triggers to show how not to blog and how not to argue against Anarchism. Take this for example:

I do not understand what anarchists mean by “hierarchical authority” (or the related concept of Libertarian and right-anarchism of “initiation of coercion”). The best explanations I’ve read of these concepts boil down to the presence or exercise of authority or coercion the anarchist does not herself like.

Which is a blatant lie. A most cursory examination of available and primarily suggested material shows that anarchist opposition to hierarchical authority is far more nuanced than TBB claims. Any anarchist who understands the theory they espouse worth a shit will argue in a similar vein and in fact, I’ve done so already and he’s even seen it! To take all this explanation and clarification that I and other anarchists have provided on this exact issue and claim it is nothing more than “exercise of authority or coercion the anarchist does not herself like” can only signify intellectual dishonesty of epic proportions.

Unfortunately this is the classic way by which people have been arguing against Anarchism for far longer than when TBB first started cutting his lying teeth.  Lenin, Trotsky, Drapper and a great number of other Marxist-Leninists have a proud tradition of purposefully misrepresenting Anarchist ideology in order to convince people not take serious notice of it. Lest they become “infected” one imagines. It’s funny really how both sides of the statist camp, left and right, are so similar in the ways they oppose anarchism: By refusing to argue against what it really suggests. This should really point out to anyone how little they can actually argue against the actual anarchist suggestions. Lenin’s book State and Revolution is characteristic in this regard as it was written in a period where the Bolsheviks were practically acting like anarchists and thus he needed to completely misrepresent anarchism within the boook so as to clarify that they were not the same.

Much like Lenin, TBB persists in claiming that Anarchists only mindlessly oppose The System. He bases this conclusion on the fact that Anarchists do not support nonsense such as “Governmental Communism” or “Transitory States” which he himself supports. The argument is as stupid as “As long as you do not support the existence of a transitory state of some sort, you’re being naive or immature”. Read any Marxist-Leninist anti-anarchist tirade and you will see this argument at the core of it ad nauseum. It never gets old apparently. Just look at this:

In other words, I’m not sure it’s even important for me to understand anarchism. If anarchism labels an affinity group of people who simply want to oppose The System without worrying overmuch about the specifics, then good for them. Although it’s not my personal affinity, anarchists in this sense must exist and to a certain extent thrive in any good system, especially a system of governance.

You see? Anarchists are just rebels without a cause and nothing more. ((Even Better: “I have come to the conclusion (which I of course can change based on additional evidence) that left anarchists are infantile faithists because they passionately defend a concept they are unable to explain and seems basically incoherent.”))

Much like all the classic anti-anarchist bullshit commonly flung around, TBB then proudly informs us that:

if anarchism really were, as many of its proponents suggest, a coherent, rational and practical political philosophy, then I do want to know about it and be rationally convinced.

…While stubbornly refusing to listen, understand or be “rationally convinced” of anything that does not already coincide with his currently held views.

For everyone else, I hope that TBB once more serves as a lesson on how not to behave. Anarchists are more than happy to help anyone understand and to clarify any concept you might have about the thory – as long as you extend the same courtesy you expect in return. Such examples are plentiful. But if you go out of your way to insult, silence and dishonestly misrepresent our opinions and those who try to engage you, then you have no leg to stand on to claim that you are open to being “rationally convinced” nor to complain about “hostility”.

What would an Anarchist society look like?

How can one describe a future society which by its very nature will break away from everything familiar to us?

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If there one question that gets asked ridiculously often to anarchists is to describe how the future society would look like, how would an anarchistic world function. Any answer given to this question can but only raise more questions and open more venues for criticism as any system described can only be simplistic and full of conceptual holes. Therefore I dislike this question with a passion, as not only it is commonly used as a basis for dismissal of anarchism without bothering to look any deeper but also misses the greater point that anarchism is about the process rather than the end result.

However today I had a small epiphany on this topic while watching the excellent BBC documentary The Secret Life of Chaos. At some point in the film, Prof. Al Khalili made the point that while migrating birds have no leaders and no complex system of organization or rules to guide their flights, their flocks nevertheless not only manage to achieve great feats such as flying over whole continents but also display stunning patterns of flight formations, surprisingly suitable for their purpose (such as flying in a V-shape formation) or simply beautiful, while managing to avoid even colliding with each other.

What surprised me about this statement is how incredibly similar this type of organization sounds to an anarchist society. A society which has no leaders and no complex rules and yet manages to function and even create a very complex societal organization and order which serves to maximize the happiness of every human within it. The complexity of it arises, not despite the simple rules underlying the system but because of them and the existence of chaos. In short because of the natural complexity that arises when one combines simple rules with feedback.

And human societies, if anything, are nothing but feedback.

And this, I realized, is why one can never describe an anarchistic society. The simple fact of humans starting to follow simple  anarchistic rules will create such levels of complexity and radical, strange and wonderful patterns and formations of social organization, that any prediction one of us makes now can only end up horribly wrong. In fact, the only accurate prediction one can make about a system that follows a certain set of rules within a chaotic environment is…that the system will follow those rules. Nothing else. You cannot predict the end result any more than one can predict the shape a flock of birds will take or how a certain pattern will look like when zooming 10x in a Mandelbrot set, while starting at a random location.

What does this mean? That any targets we set for a future society, such as the end of crime or having conquered the galaxy with billions of human colonies is impossible to predict with any certainty. No matter the system we setup to achieve this, because the smallest changes in our environment and behaviour will radically change what we expect. Just look at how science fiction looked even a mere 100 years ago (not to mention even longer) and you will see how little resemblance it has to our world. In fact, even looking at popular conceptions of the future, as crystalized in various movies produced a mere 30 years ago we can see that most of them are way off base. Personally, I’m still waiting for the flying cars.

And yet, even 30 years ago, nobody could even imagine something like the internet and how it would completely revolutionize our whole way of thinking and interacting with each other.

And yet, when one simple technological innovation completely re-shapes significant parts whole world in one short generation, you ask us to describe how an anarchist society, which would require a whole change of social relations, not to mention technology and lifestyle – in the face of rapid climate change and disentanglement from oil – would look like?! This is simply impossible.

However we can predict one thing: An Anarchy, that is, a society where humans individually follow and promote anarchist principles will…have anarchist principles. Simple nü?

So let me clarify this. One of the most fundamental anarchist principles is true democracy; the very simple concept that the power of one to affect a decision should be directly proportional to how much that decision affects them. As far as social rules go, this is as simple as “One person – One vote” or “The King’s choice is infallible”. We cannot remotely predict how a society based on this rule will look like any more than classical Greek democrats could ever foresee the US political system. What we can predict though is that the society will at its core allow people to have a truly democratic voice in their lives and thus greater control. Such a society would be definition need to have all hierarchies abolished (and that includes for example prison and business hierarchies) and will not have any  prohibition on recreational drugs of any sort.

The rule is simple but the society that will form around it will be incredibly complex and impossible to predict.

This, I realize, is the only way to think about societal change. There is no point making utopian constructions in one’s head about how a future society must function for all humans to be happy, as this is moored in current social relations and current technological levels. This is the fatal flaw all such ideas had, from communist Utopias to “anarcho”-capitalist conceptions of freed markets and competing defence organizations. They assume a static world and a have a distinctly “Newtonian” understanding of social sciences. They assume that they have discovered the perfect equation which will bring about the perfect society…if only humans were smart enough to follow it to the letter.

But no matter how smart humans are the end result predicted is impossible. Not only because of minor, minuscule changes in the system (not to speak of major changes such as a new revolutionary technology being innovated), but fundamentally because of feedback, the end utopia will never come to be. All one will end up with is a vague trace of the original idea, somewhere in the developing society. Much like someone, paying very close attention, might discern the flame of a candle as it is moved within a video-feedback system.

In fact, our current society is nothing more than the end result of humans following a host of other basic rules of organization such as respect of free speech, respect for private property, promotion of classical freedom (i.e. your rights end where my rights begin), “one person-one vote”, secularism, gender and race equality, promotion of and respect for the scientific method and many others ((If you thought it’s merely very difficult to predict a future society based on only 1 rule, I want to see you juggle 5 or 10)). However, society did not change overnight, we did not move from feudalism to capitalism in one month, nor did we embrace modern science in a few years. It took centuries for those ideas to become mainstream because of the societal evolution. And those ideas only even got a hold in the first place because of the same evolution that came before them. Because of the way the system ended up forming from the ideas that were dominant in the past. And the funny thing is that those ideas might have been the complete opposite of what they produced.

What this means is that while we may have reached where we are because of the ideals that came before us, the capitalist mode of production which came after feudalism and slavery, which came after theocracy which came after imperialism and so on, we are still capable of changing where we are headed by the simple act of embracing different ideals. We will not know how exactly we will turn out, but we will know that we’ll have those ideas in action ((that is, unless there are no conflicting ideals as well. In fact, this is why we cannot have a free society or even one that is simply gender or race egalitarian. Those conflict with respect for private property and respect for authority which breeds hierarchies and thus perpetuates patriarchy minority oppression)) and thus can rule at least the things out that conflict with them.

In the end, the order of human societies are the complex result of simple rules, much like chaos theory predicts. However there is a factor which is absent from every other chaotic system we see around us. A simple detail which gives a whole new dimension of complexity to the evolutionary progress:

Humans can modify their own environment.

This simple fact I have come to realize is surprisingly important. Whereas every other organism (or simple pattern) can only adapt to  how the environment around it changes and will only slowly change its basic rules as a result of natural selection, humans can to a large extent modify both their behaviour and their social rules instantly (in an evolutionary timescale) by using their primary trait, their reason, to discover a better optimal path than the one they were following until then. This means that they can follow a particular rule-set until it stalls or it becomes obvious that it is detrimental and then either modify their environment until this is not the case anymore, or simply discard their rule set for a superior one ((Of course, by going one level of abstraction back, this human ability to modify their environment and behaviour is only the result of evolution again, which has granted the humans the best capacity to expand their number given the nature of the planet and the universe as a whole))

Looking back at human history from this perspective, it’s impossible to miss this process. Humans adapted to their environment by using a specific system of social organization and production. When their environment changed (say by the introduction of a new technology or resource) they changed then either or both of them accordingly. Thus the slavery as a mode of production led to Imperialism (as well as, surprisingly, Democracy in classical Greece – remember the things we can’t predict?). The discovery of the steam engine and oil and the general industrial revolution led to the widespread abolition of slavery in favour of wage-slavery.All these things happened not because of fate, or the will of a creator and whatnot, but because of simple rules and material changes and feedback which always worked mindlessly to create the best combination of social organization given the existing environment for the maximal human spread.

And this is in fact the crux of the cookie. The current socioeconomic framework is not optimal anymore. The environment has changed far too much since the dawn of capitalism. Not only has the technological level broken the barriers of the system and thus made the ground fertile for different organizations (much like the industrial revolution made slavery sub-optimal) but the way the environment changes because of the system (such as global climate change and peak oil) has made the current one not only simply detrimental but outright destructive for the evolutionary success of humans (i.e. our continued existence as a species).

And this is where Anarchism comes in. I can only but consider it but the latest of an human societal recalibration required to work with the current and changing environment. It is no wonder than the first flickers of the idea occurred just as the capitalist system completed its dominance as the chosen method of production. It’s as if human history cunningly winks at us, while it hints to what is to follow. In fact, I consider it even more noteworthy that anarchist theorists had intuitively grasped the chaotic nature of social change approximately half a century before Turing made his breakthrough research into biological patterns. If there’s one thing that has always been a primary concept behind the anarchist movement is how it gives far more weight to the means to achieve change than it does to the ends.  For me at least, the more I learn, the more this fact is  solidified and the current post is only the latest of such knowledge.

Is Anarchism (or Marx’s “Pure Communism) to be the last sociopolitical stage? I used to think so but now, highly doubt it. As much as we can’t even remotely predict the future, so can we not predict the circumstances that might make Anarchism obsolete. Perhaps it will be enough to save us from annihilation by our own hands but not enough to survive contact with Alien races. Who knows? As much as Adam Smith could not even imagine a system like Anarchism when the Free Markets he suggested was itself a radical concept, so can I not even imagine what could possibly follow Anarchism.

But what I do know, is that no anarchist will be ever be able to accurately describe what Anarchy will look like. Only that like a flock of birds, it will be complex in its simplicity.

Anarchy is Order.

And Order comes from Chaos…

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Unwillingness to understand the Anarchist "opposition to authority"

Is Anarchism opposed to any and all forms of authority? Does it oppose coercion of any and all forms? Most importantly, can one criticize it by assuming your own answers to those questions?

Ah, another day, another horribly misguided anti-anarchist post from the Barefoot Bum who seemingly simply refuses to even listen to  what anarchists propose before criticizing Anarchism. It’s kind of sad really, especially seeing that it’s someone who wishes to pass himself as a radical intellectual and yet is too stubborn to know his enemy and rather prefers to imagine what their position is and counter that. It’s starts to feel as if he purposefully avoids knowledge just so that he cannot be accused of willful strawmanning. But one cannot avoid pointing out that this kind of behaviour goes far beyond simple misunderstanding, and rather points out a stubborn unwillingness to understand the other position. This is unfortunately only exaggerated when one is closed to all dialogue and would rather close his ears while shouting at the wind ((It’s not even worth pointing out how astonishingly hypocritical he is to claim that he faces “hostility and contempt”, when he is practically the one making people hostile by treating them like shit, banning them from his site when they disagree with him and then talking shit about others where he cannot be countered. When he is criticized elsewhere, he faces “hostility and contempt”. Hah.)).

Still, it does seem that when sufficiently demolished, TBB just might realize how egregiously wrong he is and jump to another strawman. At best, one can expect him to eventually run out of strawmen. At worst, this might serve to prevent someone who does not know better from being taken in by this kind of nonsense. So, without further ado, lets take a look at the arguments put forward in this article.

First of all anarchism is criticized for not having a sufficiently succinct definition like “Communism” which he mistakenly defines as governmental control of capital. One can provide quite a lot of descriptions of Anarchism but you cannot understand the sociopolitical system from just a description. That requires either reading, or a discussion with actual Anarchists and you cannot do the latter by acting like a twat. Nevertheless, one can describe Anarchism as egalitarianism via prevention of concentration of political or economical power. The replacement of hierarchical control with individual voluntarism and the replacement of competition as the driving force of progress with cooperation. As TBB said, the devil is in the details but fundamentally anarchism is predicated on the idea that distributed capital is order more effective than concentrated capital ((And this is something sufficiently shown by looking at reality historically and empirically rather than pulling facts out of one’s own arse.)) and that self-determination and mutual aid allows humans to achieve personal happiness that is orders higher than authoritarian top-down management can ever achieve.

TBB then moves to wonder what anarchists mean when they say that they “oppose authority” which is something that indeed needs clarification. But if one actually read what Anarchists had to say about this, they shouldn’t really have any confusion on this issue. This is really not a subject that is easy to explain, nor does it spring up from the definition of anarchism or from sound-bites one heard in a forum discussion and unfortunately that is precisely what TBB is doing and then wondering why it makes no sense. Anarchists recognise very well the distinctions of “authority” and are very clear on what exactly they oppose. In the words of Colin Ward:

“You can be in authority, or you can be an authority, or you can have authority. The first derives from your rank in some chain of command, the second derives special knowledge, and the third from special wisdom. But knowledge and wisdom are not distributed in order of rank, and they are no one person’s monopoly in any undertaking. The fantastic inefficiency of any hierarchical organisation — any factory, office, university, warehouse or hospital — is the outcome of two almost invariable characteristics. One is that the knowledge and wisdom of the people at the bottom of the pyramid finds no place in the decision-making leadership hierarchy of the institution. Frequently it is devoted to making the institution work in spite of the formal leadership structure, or alternatively to sabotaging the ostensible function of the institution, because it is none of their choosing. The other is that they would rather not be there anyway: they are there through economic necessity rather than through identification with a common task which throws up its own shifting and functional leadership.”Perhaps the greatest crime of the industrial system is the way it systematically thwarts the investing genius of the majority of its workers.”

It is blatantly obvious, when one retains intellectual honesty and does even a light attempt at discovering what anarchists oppose, that it is hierarchical authority. We oppose the authority which comes from people being in control only in lieu of them having more power than others. In very short, we oppose coerced authority. Either passively or actively coerced, that is either authority enforced by force of arms, or authority imposed by taking away all other choices. TBB proceeds to doubt wether coercion can be imposed as it’s always “within society” but that is blatantly false as any society which has been invaded by another should make abundantly clear.

He also argued:

The anarchist opposition to “hierarchy” does seems really nonsensical; a small group that exercised coercive power should be objectionable even if it were organized other than hierarchically. For example, the capitalist ruling class employs hierarchical structures, but is not itself organized hierarchically.

This is irrelevant, since the capitalist coercive power can only be maintained by hierarchical control. Taking away hierarchical control would necessarily require the abolition of capitalism and therefore the capitalist class. In short, it is not possible to have a “ruling elite” without hierarchical authority, ie someone to rule over.

Anarchists of course do not aim to abolish all coercion, as that is simply impossible. At the most basic level, we still need to use coercion to prevent the imposition of coercion. Eg, we need to physically prevent someone beating up people who will not become his slaves. It is the use of coercion that matters and how it is applied and anarchists argue that using coercion to form coercive hierarchies is bad, because hierarchical coercion is bad for humans. The reasons why this is so, is a lengthy subject for another day.

Furthermore, his argument that distributed coercion is worse than hierarchical coercion is of course pure nonsense.

Finally, he also posits the following “paradox”

Another important consideration is that there are intrinsic variations in individuals and in the organization of more-or-less “voluntary” associations. These variations can combine naturally to afford some groups more power to effect their desires than other groups. And, of course, one natural desire is for more power. Not only does power naturally concentrate, but the concentration of power forms a positive feedback loop. In order to keep power distributed, some group would have to have the authority — the coercive power — to block or reverse natural concentrations of power. Concentration of power is necessary to stop concentration of power, a nifty paradox.

If there’s one thing that an anarchist who has had to debate quite a lot has learned to look out for, it’s the common fallacy from human nature. There’s key words and phrases which should automatically ring alarm bells to the heads of everyone reading such arguments as they attempt to call out to previous assumptions of the reader about “facts of human nature” and work from there. Such is the argument TBB is doing by saying “And, of course, one natural desire is for more power” where he doesn’t attempt to base his arguments on anything other than a very shaky assumptions of what is a “natural desire” for humans. Once you challenge this, the whole “paradox” topples down like a house of cards.

There is in fact no reason for humans to form coercive authority in order to prevent coercive authority. We can firstly prevent hierarchies from forming by not enabling them (which is where the abolition of private property comes in) and by distributedly coercing those who would impose them. But it is not tyranny to oppose tyranny. TBB would like us to believe that humans naturally would try to accumulate power and that groups of people will somehow manage to do this within themselves before extending over others. This of course will not work as within the group, those who are in the lower rungs of the hierarchy will soon rebel and demand equality. This “natural movement or humans within a positive loop” that TBB asserts is nothing more than an unrealistic idea based on assuming a human who acts however you’d like and on the pre-existence of a system which would  naturally select for such a behaviour (such as any propertarian system).

While I was writing this, TBB also wrote an article against voluntary co-operation, unfortunately filled with the same kind of misunderstandings of what Anarchism stands for. This is a perfect example of why it makes no sense to argue against a theory, any theory, without first bothering to at least understand what that theory suggests in the first place. It is unfortunate to say this but TBB is only following in the proud tradition of Marxist-Leninists (I’m certain he’ll reject this classification too and call it slanderous) who  go out and make strawman after strawman as they attempt to make people pre-emptively dismiss Anarchism.

Update: Also see joeldavis’ great point-by-point refutation in reddit.