Friday, September 10, 2010

Anarchy ≠ Chaos

In Ishmal, Daniel Quinn’s gorilla talks about the voice of mother culture, by which he means the memes and narratives of civilization that we have incorporated so deeply into our worldview that we are blind to their organizing and biasing presence.  One of the most prevalent unspoken and unquestioned truths of civilization is the need for organizational hierarchy.  Civilization is built on division of labor, specialization, expertise, and the unequal access to resources and the power differentials that emerge as a result.  It would not be hyperbole to equate civilization with these things.  The need for unequal distribution of power and control is a cornerstone of the civilized worldview.  The understanding that decision making needs to be grounded in hierarchy is woven into the very fiber of our “democratic” system of government.  Anarchy, one half of the anarcho-primitivist formula, is the barefaced denial of the legitimacy of hierarchy.  

The term anarchy is frequently used as a synonym for chaos.  The conflation of anarchy with chaos comes right out of mother culture’s insistence that power must be unequally distributed, and that without top-down control all would be confusion.  Anarchy in this sense reflects the assumed state of disorder that would result from a lack of control over the masses.  But who or what it is that should have this control in the first place, and what makes the exercise of this control legitimate, is rarely mentioned; and when it is, it is through the use of abstract and reified terms such as the social contract, the government, the rule of law.
In addition to chaos, anarchy is frequently coupled with violence: the caricature of the anarchist as a bomb-carrying thug.  Violence, unfortunately, is an unavoidable element of the anarchy equation.  But anarchy is not the source of the violence.  Violence is built into our hierarchical system.  The only way to maintain a system with such dramatic disparities in power and access to resources is through violence.  And the more extreme the disparities, the more violent the methods of maintenance need to be.  Because violence is the mortar that holds the bricks of the hierarchical system in place, any meaningful attempt to dismantle the system will elicit violence.  Also, because anarchists are usually people who want to overthrow the existing power structure, it makes some sense to think that they would probably employ violent means to do so.  How could it be otherwise?  You need to fight fire with fire.  But here we need to distinguish between the ends and the means, between anarchy as a goal-state, and the methods for bringing that state about.  And it is important to keep in mind that when it comes to means there is no necessary relationship between violence and effectiveness.  It may be possible to bring our corporate consumer system down in a relatively non violent fashion simply by finding a way for enough of us to avoid playing the corporate consumer game.  

Then again, we may have to blowup a few things.

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