Sunday, November 21, 2010

Correlations ("Anarchism, Part III")


Now that a groundwork for the essential ideas of anarchism have been laid, it is useful to see how they may be directly applied to modern society, and despite the intuition otherwise, the adaptation may not be incredibly difficult. In order to see how anarchist ideas may be integrated, we can compare the tenets of other ideas, such as the notion of "democracy".

Pericles, the Athenian statesman, defined the Athenian constitution by saying "[i]t is called a government of the people [demokratia] because we live in consideration not of the few, but of the majority." Democracy, in western civilization was thus firstly quoted by the Greeks, and thereafter applied as a term to later governments through out the world. And although in the past "democracy" has often been elitist, racist, and often very far from "rule by the majority", it has come to mean any government "by the people".[38]

Since anarchists emphasize the freedom of the individual, they believe that every person should have a say in every facet of their life. When the scope of an individual's life is enlarged to contain a nation or large organization, it is especially important that an individual can submit his/her opinion. If they cannot, any decision that such a large body makes without individual input and opinion will contradict the reason that those individuals belong to the body and will violate their freedoms. It is for this reason that anarchists state that only via democracy can individuals successfully control an organization of any type without violating others rights and freedoms.[39]

Democracy within an anarchist frame contains many elements that present society does not often consider. The primary instance of this is anarchist's preference of direct democracy over representative democracy. Representative democracy can be found in nearly all countries declared to be "democratic" in the form of parliaments, congresses, or some form of committee. In these cases, the vast majority of the people surrender their opinions to their representative, who is expected to act within the law and policy making bodies according to their wishes. It is obscenely misleading to assume that this happens well, or that representatives will always respect the initiative from their constituency.[40]

With direct democracy the intent is to include all individuals in all decision-making situations, with full capacity to affect outcomes. A referendum is an example of direct democracy. In this light, all voting may be seen as a form of direct democracy, although often most voting is done to select a representative for a government position. Yet, the referendum does not select a single person to represent everyone, but determines the majority's desire on a certain issue or question. So, "direct democratic voting on policy decisions within free associations is the political counterpart of free agreement". The key is that the voting exists in a context of free associations. Thus, if someone is forced to vote on something that they don't wish to be a part of in the first place, it is not democratic, nor is giving them only two choices from which they must pick, while neither is preferable.[41]

The easiest way to facilitate a functional organization with direct democracy without it being unwieldy or constantly deadlocked is to form into associations which take certain actions generally agreed upon by all members. One person equals one vote in such a group, and with a group that is not overly large, voting can avoid the problems of massive disagreement that huge organizations have. Thus, to anarchists the way to achieve direct democracy is through smaller collective groups. Yet, they caution against going so far that consensus is required, whereas that can be coercive within itself, forcing everyone to agree upon everything at all times. Even within groups where dissent exists in the minority it is possible to respect that disagreement and make concessions to handle that minority through percentage-based solutions and the like. To anarchists, that diversity and dissent should be celebrated and negotiated with not condemned and suppressed. The downside to small collectives is that they cannot often accomplish large tasks or meet wider-ranging goals. This problem may be best dealt with by the collective entering into associations with other collective to increase their problem solving capacity.[42]

Direct democracy leads to direct action in which the people who decide to do something do it themselves or directly aid those who do it, to allow individuals to ensure that the outcome results from their input and decisions. Voltairine De Cleyre states that:
Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.[43]


Another important comparison to make is one of humanism to anarchy, whereupon another close connection is found. "Humanism" is defined as "a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason". In this definition the opposition to authority is seen in the rejection of "supernaturalism" (which can include any leader who props him/herself up since they are "superior"), while emphasizing everyone's freedom and abilities.[44]

According to Frederick Edwords, of the American Humanist Association, humanism is a philosophy for those who think for themselves, and use reason and science in the pursuit of knowledge. It is a philosophy of compassion, and works to meet human needs and answer human problems. He asserts:
Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy for those in love with life. Humanists take responsibility for their own lives and relish the adventure of being part of new discoveries, seeking new knowledge, exploring new options. Instead of finding solace in prefabricated answers to the great questions of life, Humanists enjoy the open-endedness of a quest and the freedom of discovery that this entails.[45]

This idea of relying on logic, rejecting authorities, emphasizing social interaction, and working on human problems is directly akin to anarchism's goals. In fact, many anarchists readily call themselves humanists as well, such as Peter Kropotkin. For such people "socialism" is not simply an economic attitude, but a way of conduct and community interaction. Daniel Guérin wrote that "[a]narchism is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man." Humanism is also directly synonymous to anarchism; it emphasizes the priority of individual human needs and those of human society over the needs of "civilization" or what leaders dictate.[46]

According to Kropotkin, "the interactions between individuals does develop into a social maxim which ... [may] be summarised as 'Is it useful to society? Then it is good. Is it hurtful? Then it is bad.'" To anarchists and humanists, unethical behavior is essentially "anything that denies the most precious achievement of history: the liberty, uniqueness, and dignity of the individual".[47]


38. Portland State University, "Ancient Greek Politics between 515 and 450 B.C. in Athens", Thucydides quoting Pericles' funeral oration for the men who died in the Peloponnesian War. Democracy's past problems are simply drawn from a variety of nation's histories, including the United States. Merrian-Webster's WWW Dictionary for definition.

39. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.9. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, "Parliamentary Isolation", from "The Anarchist Reader", 110-111.

40. Ibid.

41. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.11 and Michael Bakunin, "The Illusion of Universal Suffrage", from "The Anarchist Reader", 108-110.

42. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.11 and Anarchy FAQ Section A.2.12 "Is consensus an alternative to direct democracy?" The assertion that a percentage-based solution may be sought and is feasible is personally observed and practiced.

43. Voltairine De Cleyre, "Direct Action", from the Spunk Library. De Cleyre's optimism for direct action is echoed by Noam Chomsky: "If you assume that there's no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, [that] there are opportunities to change things, [then] there's a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours."

44. Merriam-Webster's WWW Dictionary.

45. Frederick Edwords, "What is Humanism?", 1989. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.19 "What ethical views do anarchists hold?"

46. Daniel Guérin, "Anarchism: from theory to practice", New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.19.

47. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.19. Kropotkin quote starts "Is it useful...", the rest of citation is taken from the FAQ's text.

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