Friday, 11 October 2013

Rebranding Anarchy

Once upon a time, when the world was much emptier of people than it is now, the few humans that did live in it formed little tribal groups. To this day, on the very margins of Earth's habitable space, a minute fraction of humanity still live in the old way, even if their traditional opportunism means saying Yes to Industrial Man's steel knives and machine-woven cotton clothes. In some places, the tribes are firmly egalitarian, to the point of lynching megalomaniacs, while others adopt an authoritarian order, so it is no longer possible to be sure what the natural order of human nature might have been: Perhaps just to do things differently from the next tribe for the sake of difference. A nomad's life in a wilderness needs no government, however, little though governments laying claim to the nomads' wildernesses may like it.

The apparent freedom of the tribal nomad may appeal to a contemporary urban wage-slave. Nevertheless, those who once lived, or still live, the life tend to find a great deal of constraint on their freedom in practice. They may contentedly accept the strict, inflexibly rule-bound social codes of tribal life as the way things ought to be, but the shadow darkening the edges of all their lives is that of food insecurity. Failure to find or catch enough to eat means immediate misery and immanent extinction, so all their lives must revolve around sourcing the next meal.

Planting crops was a massive game-changer. Suddenly, by taking possession of the land and tending it, a sufficiency and even surplus of food freed at least some of the people, some of the time, for the myriad of other activities that make civilised life so much more satisfying for those who live it. However, to make it worth the farmers' while to feed the rest, they needed reciprocal benefits, at least indirectly, such as protection and craftsman-made goods. It was more practical and reliable to actively organise this new social order than to gamble on spontaneous emergence. And so, hierarchical government evolved to fill the niche.

For thousands of years, the existence of governments has served most of their people well most of the time. Of course, there are countless examples of corrupt or incompetent governments visiting disaster upon their unfortunate citizens, instead. That may be so, but, on reflection, it is plain that the problems are with the corruption and incompetence, not the intrinsic existence of government.

Anyone who fancies themself a realist would endorse the old proverb, that you can't please all of the people all of the time. Thus, some are discontented, and some of them in turn come to believe the remedy to their grievances would be to abolish any government. Therefore, the extreme position for any rebel, egalitarian or other shade of left-winger has always been anarchy. Anarchy may sound attractive, no state to boss you around and tax your money, but pragmatists don't usually fancy the consequences of the power vacuum, unless they themselves feel equipped to become one of the robber barons filling it.

While civilisation is dependent on government, there is a very broad range of tenable opinions as to how much governments should do to deliver civilisation's benefits to their citizens. There is also an equally broad range of opinions on what the reciprocal relationship of the citizen towards the state should be. Moreover, amongst those who are much bigger on feeling than thinking, the same person's opinions on the two may not even be compatible.

Those of us, who have had the benefit of growing up in a secure and prosperous civilised country, develop a sense of entitlement to the liberties civilisation and wealth make possible. A tribal goatherd will usually accept his destiny as the way his life was always going to be, and the only thing it could be, while anyone in a position to be reading this will have their brain washed with the idea that they could have been anything they wanted to be, and, if it didn't happen, they couldn't have tried hard enough. This individualistic and self-directed view of life naturally impinges on how we feel about our reciprocal duties towards the state that nurtures us. So, often the self-made take the background for their own struggle to succeed for granted, and overlook the importance of the physical and social infrastructure that enabled them to achieve.

A worse consequence of denying the contribution of humanity in general to one's own successes, is that it leads one to correspondingly overestimate the contribution the unsuccessful make to their own misfortune. Instead of the able seeing a duty to help arrange the world so that the less able have opportunities to contribute to the satisfaction of themselves and others, the relatively successful sometimes fall into an attitude that their good fortune proves they must deserve it, and so the unfortunate must deserve to be unfortunate, too. Sure enough, some indeed do get the lives they deserve, but I would challenge the generality of the rule.

However, if you have made the error of not reckoning the common goods you built our life on, and judge others' efforts purely by what they get to show for them, you can convince yourself that not only do you never need any help, but anyone who does, cannot deserve to get it, and least of all at your expense. This then provides a moral framework to call for a descent into anarchy, so that the clever and the strong may be relieved of the duty to support the stupid and the weak as their fellow humans. This brand of anarchism is rather unattractive to people of integrity, when spelled out, so, it has become fashionable to pass it off as libertarianism, instead.

Really, libertarianism is as much a triage to spare government or society the trouble of unnecessary intervention, as it is an assertion of the right of an individual to be as free in how they choose to live, as can be accommodated by the reciprocal freedom of others. However, once you distort the morality with the idea that needing help forfeits the right to it, it simply becomes a shallow rebranding of an exceptionally vicious and degenerate variety of anarchism, for a generation raised to distrust the old tag.

Let us lay this nonsense to rest. Humankind's heritage and destiny has been and will always be to be a social animal. An occasional castaway may have to go feral, and, more commonly and dangerously, some go feral in the midst of human society, from flaws in the brain denying them the crucial part of human nature that links the individual into their group. But in the main, all of our busy life is just expansion and refinement of life in a troop of monkeys. Doing your fair share, one way or another, does not make you a victim of a confidence trick; it is not only your moral duty, but your biological purpose. It is how we function, as a species. The confidence trick is the one that tells you to abjure your humanity and go your own way with no more than a parting sneer for those you owed. The “Libertarian” anarchists pitch their corrupting manipulations shrewdly, but look through the emotive style to the harsh, inhuman, even sub-simian substance, and reject it. It would make a lesser human of you, should you swallow the bait.


Anonymous said...
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Nick Palmer said...

Darius might turn up soon to say something :)

Ugh, It's Him! said...

Oops! lost a comment with an accidental click. Will see if I can reinstate it.

Ugh, It's Him! said...

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Rebranding Anarchy":

That's a good read and imo a fair description of some of the realities underlying the human condition.

In societies there is a dynamic balance between cooperating/sharing vs. competing.
The more severe the environment the more cooperation is essential to survival.
The larger the group the less chance of receiving back a favour shown to a particular individual or of being very closely related to them.
Compare the behaviour of a group of desert tribe with that of the city dweller; anonymous amongst the 'swarm'.
Be amazed at the adaptability of the species !

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Posted by Anonymous to Ugh, it's him! at 11 October 2013 22:59

TonyTheProf said...

That's a horrid font!

Ugh, It's Him! said...

Yes. I typed it in 10pt, but it somehow jumped down a size in the pasting.