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.