Monday, February 13, 2012

Power's Cures, Anarchy's Cures

I remember, a while ago, I argued with Jack Crow about the tyranny of violence. I argued that all wars became tyrannical once someone started to win. What began as a contest ends as rule. After all, are not all states merely the successors of campaigns?

Well, no shit! No wonder this introduction seems eerily significant--it's the point on which I started this meager weblog last July. If you'd like to see a couple of posts on the matter, head back to the wild world of 2011.

"The Tipping Point" and "On the Violence in Norway"

Anyway, what brings me to this question again, of anarchy's response to violence, is a post Crow linked to on his page. On From Wine to Water, Ivan writes rather more eloquently than I recognized in my immediate response, over on Crow's weblog.

I encourage you to read the entire post, because its thoughts stand on its own. It poses questions any should be willing to answer.

Let me first glibly reply, in bold, to the rhetorical questions.

Is there some serious projection being done by anarchists? Yes. Are folks considering their own habits, desires, values, etc.; Yes. and the roles that government does and does not play in their own lives; Yes. and concluding from this that we’d all be better off without government—but failing to adequately consider the full diversity of people being governed? God, yes. Are violent criminals and street thugs, for example, out of sight and out of mind?

I can't speak for the anarchists whose comments Ivan has read, but the anarchish, libertarianisch folks I've known, absolutely are motivated by psychology and aesthetics. (Does this mark them as different from other people in terms of political affiliation? Not really.) Failing to consider the people being governed! Fuck that! There are heroes and there are scavengers, paragons and parasites. There's Mad Max, that's me, and then there are the pitiless ones who refuse to support themselves. And as far as violent criminals? Ivan, Ivan, Ivan. Libertarianish, anarchish folks think they're Mal Reynolds. They believe the best men win in gunfights. Maybe there are still some utopian anarchists. I've definitely seen a lot of that streak. But I also see the anti-heroic pretenders, who quaintly believe that lawlessness will be as respectful to their tender bodies as this grand veal crate we call society. Maybe some ignore the violent, the thugs. Others believe they will be swiftly swept away by the new order. I think both ignorance and swift dismissal are foolish, so that still leaves Ivan's point. What do we do about all the bastards?

Ivan goes on to grant the very important realities that violent crime is often unreasonably feared, and that fear of crime is often used by the powerful. He grants that economic circumstances, political history, and local culture all play their part. But he comes back to the question of how we deal with these individuals.

I’m just thinking about how violent crime is, in fact, a reality. And some violent criminals can only be stopped by force. And I’m glad that I don’t have to try to marshal that force myself.

Then I don't think you'd like anarchism, because that's what anarchism means, at least as I understand it. The modern, industrial or post-industrial state relies on division of labor. What is the cost of you not having to be a soldier part of the time? That someone is a soldier all of the time, for part or all of their lives. And this is not a response to Ivan but once again a response to others, friends or otherwise, who believe that their goodness must be pure: if you believe that anarchy will bring about a shortage of violence, then I want to see your math. All evil does not flow from the state. Much of it does, but much more may simply move through the state.

The state is a very efficient means of violence, but it is not the only means. And it is certainly predated by the individual tyrannies of rape, theft, assault, murder... Will they survive the state? Of course they will.

So let us say that we get to the point where anarchy is in hand, and we can no longer fault violence on economy and policy and the larger systemic woes of the state. I will say we have already won a great deal, but let's say we get there and we find that some people are still bastards. This will, of course, be the case, for there will always be someone who stops to ask, "Why shouldn't I take hers?" This isn't the poverty-as-envy shtick you hear from Republican uncles or the poverty-as-indolence you hear from same. This is actually a rather basic question but one which troubles all philosophies. All things being equal, why shouldn't we do as we please to others? After all, the war-of-all-against-all used as a cudgel by Hobbes is just as logically consistent as Kant's categorical dialect. Consistency works both for considerate people and for total bastards. So why the fuck can't I, under anarchy as well as law, do what I please and take what I like? Under anarchy especially, who's going to tell me "no"?

Whoever pleases. Whoever contests it. And whether fair or not, it'll either be respected, or it'll lead to revenge killings. It might lead to a war. Or it might not. You'll have some individuals form cooperative communities, some individuals handing their rights over to others, all in the name of security. This will happen again, because it has happened before. Or do you think we've really progressed since we lived in caves?

If you don't want to work in a field a little or split rails a little or slaughter chickens a little or practice your aim a little, then don't become an anarchist. But if you want Farmville excellence, unhireable specialization, styrofoam-backed meat, and to never smell cordite or blood while you wage war, then stay where you are.


  1. Would like to hear about the projection: its dimensions and scope; and the way you divined its occurrence.

  2. Oh, I don't think I can prove armchair sociology there. You can put down the lawyer now. No, I just feel that most radicalish types do project upon the future some kind of social or natural rules which would serve them. In short, I feel that I have lived among too many who said, "Well if everyone would just--" or "If we could change the culture--" And I've said it too, sometimes jokingly, sometimes "educationally." But the fact is that if you build a world for people, we usually forget how other people are. Anarchists, with no pole to look at, paint on the future their fantasies. I haven't known a representative sample. I know I'm not speaking empirically. In any case, I certainly do not believe all, or even most, anarchists are that way.

    Of course, at least one sort of anarchist, I'd wager, would point out the Cairo rebellion and the looting that followed, or mention crime rates in Civil War Catalonia. Somehow people managed. Perhaps Ivan believes culture has shifted toward bestiality. I'd say the economics of the handgun have also shifted in the side of easy mass murder.

  3. Glad you framed it up this way.

    A couple thoughts:

    "So why the fuck can't I, under anarchy as well as law, do what I please and take what I like? Under anarchy especially, who's going to tell me "no"?"

    Do you screw people over with abandon now? I assume you don't. You'd feel bad if you did, right? That's why I don't do it. Well, hurt people, yes, just not with abandon. If I beat someone up and took their bike, the guilt would be more painful than the bike ownership would be pleasureable. I don't think an elaborate theory or ethical proof is necessary here. I may feel like a computer sometimes, especially when I'm out for a walk and my mind is wandering but it's a trick these abstractions play, seeming more important than they are.

    "...the war-of-all-against-all used as a cudgel by Hobbes is just as logically consistent as Kant's categorical dialect."

    Let's say you try to practice that. You're going around beating people up and taking their stuff. You're thinking it's right or OK or just how it is. Then someone does it to you. If you're being consistent at that moment, you'll say, "Oh well, that's cool. It's perfectly in line with my principles." I don't think that ever happens. Maybe MMA fighters hugging after a fight would be a decent counterargument although you'd still find a grudging respect there at best, not hate-free absolution, and the fight itself is pure hate... Anyway, Netanyahu would not be OK with Iran even responding to an invasion with force. He'd take the moral high ground, as bastards always do, and make them the bad guy based on some thoroughly inconsistent faux principles. Same with any gangsters. In fact, the recognition of someone as an enemy is exactly the feeling that what they're doing is not OK. No Hobbesian would lay down and accept their beating, right? Their resistance is a betrayal of their supposed principles. Hobbesianism is contradiction in its purest form, which reflects how the world is or often is or is from a certain angle but it's anything but consistent.

  4. But moral feeling is personal and variable and also completely irrelevant to the nature of the Fucking Universe™. Just because you're going to make, and I'm going to make, certain decisions in a sandbox world doesn't mean that we can't make other decisions, should we like.

    I act in certain ways based on my tastes, what's necessary in order to get me what I want (or what I hope will), and my abilities. So does everyone. But we can do anything within our abilities.

    I think you have me confused. Resistance is not a betrayal. If the world is Hobbesian (I certainly wouldn't call myself a Hobbesian--I just think the world is anarchic and amoral), then you don't have to grant others the right to beat you. Everyone's free to do whatever they can. Now if you accept the amorality of the world, you can fight back, you can accept defeat, you can do whatever you please so long as you don't say "That is wrong." The most I'll say is "I feel that's wrong," but our moral assertions mean fuck all to humanity, to the world, to the universe.

    Personally, I'm not a nihilist; I just believe the world is amoral. I believe all morality is a fiction, but I'm happy with the fiction. I assert. I declare. I may be wrong, and probably am on a few things. But I do respect the logical consistency of nihilism: "everybody does whatever they want, and when they contest they do whatever they can." It's not my ethos but it's a possible one an anarchist may adopt. Just because mainstreams think of anarchists as caricatures of this mindset doesn't justify sweeping it under the rug.

  5. This reminds me of Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil." I think we can agree on dismissing transcendent ethics. I'm placing ethics in real individual bodies. Truth is personal. My ethics is a matter of taste, yes, but my taste leads to less misery and fewer violations of autonomy than an all-against-all world. And unlike that way of thinking, it's not a big, glaring contradiction.

    "Resistance is not a betrayal. If the world is Hobbesian (I certainly wouldn't call myself a Hobbesian--I just think the world is anarchic and amoral), then you don't have to grant others the right to beat you. Everyone's free to do whatever they can."

    One of my points here is that one's body gives the lie to this illusion of absolute freedom. One's body does not give permission, though stoic self-deception, for example, might allow you to suppress the realization somewhat. There seems to be a disembodied, transcendent subject in your thinking. Is that a fair assessment? Concepts are free in a sense but the rest of you is still bound. Descartes' mind/body split was a twisted fantasy.

    Also, the absence of transcendent truth doesn't make the world amoral. The opposite, I suspect.

    "But moral feeling is personal and variable..."
    Yes, but our DNA is remarkably similar. This is the common ground. I'm not gunna let a modern Western obsession with subjectivity-based epistemic purity keep me from saying that pain is pain, and that there's a certain amount of genetic hard-wiring we can make confident claims about.

    "...and also completely irrelevant to the nature of the Fucking Universe™."
    Well, I get that the non-human universe is being consistent in not giving a shit, just like answering "what color are zebras?" with "22" every time someone asks is consistent. I'm saying that unlike the non-human universe, humans necessarily do give a shit, and do resist until broken, at which point they still carry the pain. Even a nihilist depressed by life's meaninglessness gives a shit. Depression is just one more way of giving a shit. Again, the claim that Hobbesianism is consistent only make sense with disembodied subjects.

  6. Then the same is true of Kantianism, anarchist or otherwise.