Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why I Favor Anarchy for Social Direction

“If you get three anarchists together you’ll have five definitions of anarchy.”

Defining anarchy remains elusive and contentious because it unifies personal, political, and social philosophies.

An excellent site on anarchy in the UK says it means simply no government. Of course being an anarchist I have to disagree—that’s what we do with each other. Volumes of barely-coherent text continue to flow out of this past time.

I see “archy” as dominance or ruling, rather than government, so I define an-archy as no rulers: no hierarchy. Anarchist governments could exist if everyone would be equally responsible. No one would enforce rules we all agreed upon by consensus. Yes, rules could exist, though “agreements” is more like it. We could agree to drive, bike, and walk to the right so we don’t run into each other, for example.

Collectively, we’re not quite responsible enough for an anarchistic society, so in the meantime I make do with personal anarchy: I subvert the hierarchy I’m placed within—both up and down.

Most of us have more control over our personal lives than we acknowledge or accept. Relegating authority to authority can be comfortable and convenient, but it’s also irresponsible and immature.

Taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions removes justification for controlling us. This applies from childhood through the rest of our lives. Parents, bosses, law enforcement, and so on sometimes abuse their petty power, naturally, but when we’re acting responsibly and maintaining ourselves, their rationale for doing so is diminished if not eliminated.

School system hierarchy is well-defined, but in my experience, very few supervisors go out of their way to assert their authority. They’re too busy and only do it when situations force them to do so. The unfortunate exceptions create a miserable feeling among teachers and staff, who aim for transfers if possible. I simply stop accepting positions at that school. (This isn’t intended as a value judgment against consensual S&M or Sub-Dom orientations).

The other half of personal anarchy involves the authority over others we are given by authority. Jesus is quoted as giving Pontius Pilot a stinging reminder that he wouldn’t have any authority if it weren’t given to him. Using the authority given to us by authority gives authority more authority, so I avoid it.

Teachers, especially substitute teachers, might assume that being in control of the class is job number one. It’s not. Getting the class in control of themselves lays the foundation for a positively productive time.

Chemicals in our brain make us feel good when we’re in control and not so good when we’re not in control. Placing students in the subservient position retards their mental abilities. Most are more easily controlled as well, so for teachers, dominance is tempting—maybe irresistible on a subconscious level. For “old school” teachers it’s a conscious activity, learned from their teachers.

Respecting students as equals enhances their ability to learn. A few are unaccustomed to behaving responsibly on their own, and need a reminder. An agreement concerning the value of behaving responsibly might be required. Ultimately, the choice to stay or leave is the student’s, though I have to be the one coordinating the choices.

When everyone is behaving responsibly in a classroom for which I’m the teacher of record, anarchy rules.

Beyond personal anarchy

I’m an evolutionary anarchist: I think society should evolve in the direction of anarchy, even if we’ll never get all the way there. It’s the opposite direction of fascism.

Revolutionary anarchists, on the other hand, prefer to promote anarchy now, and society will have to adjust. This difference seems to be divided by age for the most part.

At peace rallies in Portland, a contingent of anarchists dressed in black and known as the Black Block, makes a stunning appearance when followed by a line of bicycle cops wearing black and yellow.

They sometimes break away from the “sheeple” and the “peace fascists” who keep participants from breaking windows or provoking fights with opposing bystanders. After all, how can we obediently follow the route laid out by the authorities when we oppose that authority? There’s some validity to this objection.

When the authorities set up “free speech zones” away from what the free speech is addressing, and then surround them with chainlink fencing, going along to get along undermines everyone’s freedom. Corralling people in this manner crosses the line from maintaining an orderly expression to suppressing expression. If one doesn’t get into the free speech pen, another pen awaits. Suppression quickly becomes oppression.

Choosing the manner of resistance to fascistic practices is a personal matter.

Perhaps the number one objection to anarchy is that it doesn’t work. The implication is that our hierarchical system does work. Seems to me it barely holds together and relies on brute force to work: we obey laws and pay taxes at gunpoint.

The threat of chaos and lawlessness—the dictionary definition of anarchy—motivates societies to relinquish liberties, while the consequences of fascism are usually underestimated or overlooked.

The Stanford Prison Experiment shows what ordinary people are likely to do when given excessive authority. The Milgram Experiment shows how easily we can be intimidated by authority into doing what we know is wrong. Mindless obedience is evil's great multiplier.

Responses to hurricane Katrina provide a harsh lesson on the difference between anarchy and hierarchy. Help came immediately from people who worked without authority to do so. When the federal and state authorities finally arrived, their dominance prevented rescue efforts, abused victims, and in the end billions of dollars of relief money was looted by private contractors.

Personal accounts from survivors make it clear that anarchy worked well: volunteers from around the country rushed in and saved lives without a chain of command coordinating the efforts. Grassroots groups like the Common Ground Collective formed to meet the needs of victims, and continue to do so. Relief workers with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) were most effective when they ignored orders from above and joined volunteers.

Praise for authoritarian relief efforts only came from those in authority: they did a “heckava job.” Survivors of the storm, particularly poor and marginalized folks, seem to agree with that summation.

When we spontaneously gather to play sports in public parks, we all agree to established rules. No authority figure enforces the rules because all are equally in charge. Anarchy rules.

Most rules outside of games really are for fools, as they say. Only fools need, “Thou shalt not steal.” Do we have to be told that it’s wrong to take something that belongs to someone else? We need very few rules and, if we’re responsible, no rulers.

The vast majority of us are so accustomed to functioning in a hierarchy that we barely question it. However, observing what works and what doesn’t work in our society reveals the truth.

A teacher asked me rhetorically, “Why don’t they just get out of our way and let us teach?” “They” being those removed from the reality of classrooms who mandate policies and curricula.

What about your own situation? Are your efforts helped or hampered by those who make decisions about what you are supposed to do each day? Where do the most ridiculous requirements and procedures come from?

Communication, consensus, and coordination facilitate group efforts without hierarchy. Hierarchies are inherently evil and we should grow out of them... well, if we reach a consensus to do so, anyway.

Famous American anarchists

“If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one—if he had the power—would be justified in silencing mankind.”
~John Stuart Mill

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
~Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981

Republican candidate for US president in 2008, Mike Huckabee, explained to Jon Stewart how society could evolve to need less government if everyone “did the right thing” and followed the Golden Rule: evolutionary anarchy, basically. Stewart asked if there are unicorns in this mythical society.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why I don’t pledge my allegiance to a flag, nor stand for the national anthem

I don’t pledge my allegiance to the flag of any geopolitical entity, nor do I stand for the US national anthem, singing praises for “bombs bursting in air.” I stand up for what I believe in by sitting down for what don’t believe in.

To begin with, why should we pledge allegiance to the republic for which it stands? The republic should pledge allegiance to us: we’re supposed to be the ones who decide what it does. We’ve created an artificial political entity and now we’re supposed to swear loyalty to symbols of it? I could pile a few rocks up and call it a venerated object, to which I swear my allegiance above all other piles of rocks. Most sane folks would consider that pretty wacky—harmless though.

Nationalism, a first cousin to racism, is not so harmless. It promotes a Them vs Us attitude. We’re all Earthlings, sharing the same air. We should be working together for the good of all.

A flag pledge ritual begun early in life instills an emotional trigger symbol to be exploited later in life. It doesn’t matter that young children have no idea what the words mean. Standing together with hands over hearts, paying reverence to a piece of cloth, profoundly indoctrinates. It leads to mindless acceptance of unethical actions committed under the aegis of that flag. Emotional reactions to the flag by otherwise rational adults demonstrates the effectiveness of this conditioning. For example, some would likely experience anger at the words I’ve written here.

In public schools, the institution which mandates attendance also coerces pledging allegiance to it. Despite this conflict of interests, the pledge could be legally required of teachers and students in public schools before West Virginia's mandate was ruled unconstitutional in 1943.

These days, the legitimate options of not pledging and not standing are simply not presented. Many teachers aren’t aware that neither can legally be required. It may be rare today for a teacher to ignorantly coerce recitation of the pledge, but students are usually told they must stand and remove their hats for both the pledge and the national anthem. This isn't seen as requiring participation, merely courtesy to others. However, standing legitimizes this display of institutionalized mob mentality.

Another teacher once told me ”Stand up!“ as the anthem started.
I said, “Too much like religion for me.” He pointed at me and said, “I will report you.”
The next day I asked if he needed help with his report and he said he’d just done it informally, adding something about the principal being the commander and we should do what he says.
I slowly shook my head and he said, “I won’t debate it with you,” and left.

A security guard I was on friendly terms with asked me why I didn’t participate in the pledge and I said, “I’m not into nationalism.”
He seemed surprised by the simplicity. “That’s it?” He thought maybe I was a Jehovah’s Witness, and he knew they don’t pledge.

Pledging allegiance and standing for the national anthem, both often with hand over heart, look a lot like religious ritual. Our First Amendment forbids establishment of religion, which precludes a state-established religion of The State as well.

Patriotism and pride in one’s nation-state are promoted as positive attributes by society’s institutions, notably the nation-state itself. Attaching a positive feeling such as pride to a concept that serves the state drives indoctrination deeper.

Stating a lack of loyalty to the United States of America borders on heresy with serious consequences for those in public view. We still have freedom of expression—we won’t be arrested for most speech—but as many have discovered, seeming unpatriotic can be devastating to one’s ability to earn a living. Election to public office without pledging is highly unlikely.

William Penn said, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” I think each of us has a responsibility to determine for ourselves what’s right and what’s wrong.

I pledge allegiance to what’s right, and to the earth on which we stand, one planet, under siege, with liberty and justice for all life.

American public school students pledging their allegiance to the fatherland. This photo was likely taken at the end of the pledge when the hand was moved from the heart to the direction of the flag and then slowly down to the side. That part of the salute was discontinued in the early 1940s.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Respect for Life

It's Sunday, January 17th, 2010, and Right to Life Oregon is sponsoring a "Walk for Life," culminating in a rally at Courthouse Square, and Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette is holding a counter-protest for choice across the street. I have to attend.

Arriving in downtown, I lift my bike off the front of the bus and walk it past the pro-choice protesters behind metal barricades. One uses a bullhorn to lead chants and they're holding signs like "Keep your laws off my body" and "If you don't like abortion, don't have one."

They don't need me here. I cross to the rally where a huge covered stage with a black backdrop fills one corner of the block-sized square. A sea of umbrellas faces the stage where a live band plays upbeat rock and roll. Volunteers, mostly in pairs, surround the square, passing out literature in plastic bags. I take one to look at later. Now I can say, "I have one."

Directly across the street from the pro-choice crowd, a similar group holds signs and shouts back. I doubt either side can hear the other. This is where the Church of Euthanasia would unite them all: against them. In Boston, they would show up with a bullhorn, "God wants these women to have abortions! Abortion is a sacrament!" Plus a vertical banner that would dwarf all here, proclaiming: "Eat a queer fetus for Jesus." Everyone wanted them to just go away.

I too would like to unite the two sides, with something a bit more positive. I find a rack and lose the bike so I can work the crowd. I have a stack of bumper stickers to give away: "Vasectomy prevents Abortion."

For the next two hours, I meander around, holding the stickers in front of me and if someone reads it I offer, "Free bumper sticker."

Rally attendees seem to be either in high school or over 40. A dearth of young adults is evident.

I pass a pleasant looking man who holds a white plastic pipe with a large color photo of a mutilated baby, purported to be an aborted fetus, mounted on it. "Meet 'Baby Choice'" it reads. I nod a greeting as I make eye contact. He reads my sticker and slowly shakes his head.

I talk with a man who identifies himself as Catholic, says he has nine kids. "What do you think about vasectomy preventing abortions?"
"Statistically, in countries where birth control is available, abortion rates go up."
Maybe his statistics come from the American Life League. The opposite is true, but this fits his view that contraception devalues life, making abortions more acceptable. He says he doesn't think abortion should be against the law, although it's against God's law. I commend his tolerance and shake his hand, leaving him with, "Nice talking with you."

A young man passing out packets declines the sticker and tells me,"Natural family planning is 99% effective when used correctly, when you're in touch with your cycle. It's not that hard."
I resist using that old joke, "What do you call a couple who practices the rhythm method? Parents."

I arrive back at the man with the bloody baby photo. He says, "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," I assure him sincerely as I go by.
The next time my wanderings bring me around to him I stop to talk.
"A friend of mine is evangelical and he got a vasectomy, and..."
"He had it reversed," I butt in.
"And he had it reversed. I see his point."
"How many children we have is up to God?"
A woman joins our conversation and I continue to offer the stickers to passers-by while we talk.
Another woman approaches and tells me in a disapproving paternal tone, "Don't pass those out here. That's not what we're about. We're pro-life."
"Don't you want to prevent abortions?"
"Yes, but not like that." She goes on to explain how men are just using women when the possibility of new life is taken out of sex. "It cheapens it." Apparently people are supposed to wait until marriage to have sex. "The purpose of marriage is procreation," she states emphatically.
"So that's why they do it." I slap my forehead. "I knew there had to be a reason."
She seems to be trying to figure out how serious I am. "Do you think there are some people who shouldn't be parents?" I ask.
"Where are you going with this?"
"Well, I don't think everyone is suited for parenthood."
"And who's going to decide if they are?"
"The people themselves."
"Do you think those people are going to make the right choice?" She points across the street.

A preacher is on the stage accusing Planned Parenthood of eugenics, which is less inflammatory than genocide. I can't see him but he sounds like he's Black. "They're moving their headquarters from an area that's four percent African-American to an area that's 42 percent African-American." He decries the higher percent of abortions in the US being performed on Black women. I think about the irresponsible men getting them pregnant contrary to their wishes.

"There's a man behind every abortion," I say to a couple of volunteers and one woman replies, "Amen to that!"

A young woman with a "Volunteer" badge is standing alone, though almost all the others are at least couples. She's not passing out bags of literature or collecting donations, just standing there looking a little dazed, watching the two sides face off. I'd already said "Hi" and made eye contact a couple of times as I circled the crowd. I asked how she was doing. She wasn't sure. I tell her "I've had some mixed reactions, but most have been positive."
"Yeah, me too. I've even been spit at."
"No. That's rude. I'm sorry to hear that."
I wonder if that could be true because I've seen no maliciousness from anyone, except the rude shouts back and forth on the front lines.
"Some of those women are pregnant," she points across the street. "Don't they think about the life that's growing inside them?"
"But they want to be pregnant. Y'know, we really should unite both sides. We all have respect for life. Almost all abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies. Some are for medical reasons, but if men would use condoms and get vasectomies there would be very few abortions."
I'm presenting this cheerfully, but I think this event can't end soon enough for her.

I recognize a couple of brothers as they arrive, one a former student and the other still in high school. I give them stickers and they head over to the pro-choice rally.

A woman under an umbrella catches up with me and asks what I'm doing. I don't know if she identifies as pro-life or not, but I explain that I'd like to see both sides get together and prevent unwanted pregnancies.
"I've had two abortions," she tells me.
"You're not unusual."
"My ex-boyfriend and I had problems with condoms, because of the rubber plantations, it's not good for the people who work there."
As we part I say, "I hope your next boyfriend has a vasectomy."

A few times a passer-by realizes what the sticker says after they pass and then turn around and ask for one with a smile.

I exchange pleasantries with a woman in a baseball cap reading something like "Jesus is love". She's wearing a large placard, "Science proves creation" and giving away DVDs.
A solemn-faced man passes us and turns around with a grin, "I'll take one of those."
"Here you go."
"For my daughter's boyfriend!" he shouts back over his shoulder.
"Did you hear what he said?" I ask her.
"He said it's for his daughter's boyfriend."
She gets a hearty laugh out of that.

I talk with a young man standing with his girl friend, looking over at the pro-choice side disapprovingly until the train blocks our view. "I'm from the country and I'm sorry, but if someone gets in my face..." He looks down at his boot as it stamps the pavement. No government is going to tell him and his girlfriend they can't have an abortion. He's pro-choice but can't see himself standing with those Lefties, chanting, "Hey, hey, Right Wing, abortion rights are here to stay!"

The rally goes silent as a bell tolls ominously. I hold off on encounters as there's a prayer-like mood. Maybe each one represents thousands of abortions or something. The other side of the street continues their cacophony.

A man talking with bicycle police officers turns down my offer of a free sticker. "There's only one bumper sticker I've seen that I'd consider putting on, 'Wise men still seek Him.'" He remembers the female officer next to him and adds, "And women too."
"Yeah, gotta be inclusive," I kid him
"Wise people," She says. We agree with her.

Preachers take turns between tearful testimonials by women who had abortions. "If you ask a three-year-old if it's okay to kill a baby in its mother's womb they'll say 'No!' recoil in disgust. But ask them 10 years later after they've been to public school and they'll say it's okay. Where are we going as a society when the values we cherish are forgotten?"

A female Tri-Met officer working the barricades smiles and quietly tells me, "I think you've got the best thing going here."

A young man asks what group I'm with. "Respect for Life" I point to the url on the sticker.
"How do you identify your group?"
"We're anti-abortion and pro-choice. We want to unite our efforts to end unwanted pregnancies."
"I'm gay so I don't need a vasectomy."
"Ya never know, a weak moment..." His lip curls and he leans back. "Sorry to paint a horror picture for you."

I see the brothers again walking outside the square. They're depressed by the disparity of the two sides, which is about 10 to one. "They've got churches to draw from and we don't. You ought to go in and mingle, get a feel for the crowd. Just don't step on any toes." They aren't up for that.

A woman passes by without stopping, "Vasectomies let men sleep around."
"They don't prevent STDs," I call after her.

As the rally ends and people stream out to the sidewalks, I find myself standing between two volunteers holding donation milk jugs. I make the most of it and a few accept the stickers I offer.

I go over to the pro-choice side and they enthusiastically take the stickers. By the time I get to the other end of the group, they're chanting "Vasectomy prevents abortion!" I go back in front of the middle and hold up stickers. "Cue cards! Get your cue cards!" Some take a second one to share with friends.

They decide to use some of their remaining energy to have a little Walk for Choice, though it's not official. I join them for a few blocks and a man tells me he's not comfortable with "prevent abortion" in the sticker's phrase.
"But don't we want to prevent abortions?"
"Sure, but it should be there."
"The choice women really want is the choice to not need an abortion in the first place."
"True, ideally, but..."

Disagreement and agreement from both sides. I call that success. The rain picks up from the drizzle we've been enduring, but all the rain in Portland can't dampen the good feeling I have about this day's ministry. Time for a beer.