Saturday, August 1, 2009

Everyday Anarchy 2: Everyday Anarchy


By Stefan Molyneux


For instance, take dating, marriage and family.

In any reasonably free society, these activities do not fall in the realm of political coercion. No government agency chooses who you are to marry and have children with, and punishes you with jail for disobeying their rulings. Voluntarism, incentive, mutual advantage - dare we say "advertising"? - all run the free market of love, sex and marriage.

What about your career? Did a government official call you up at the end of high school and inform you that you were to become a doctor, a lawyer, a factory worker, a waiter, an actor, a programmer - or a philosopher? Of course not. You were left free to choose the career that best matched your interests, abilities and initiative.

What about your major financial decisions? Each month, does a government agent come to your house and tell you exactly how much you should save, how much you should spend, whether you can afford that new couch or old painting? Did you have to apply to the government to buy a new car, a new house, a plasma television or a toothbrush?

No, in all the areas mentioned above - love, marriage, family, career, finances - we all make our major decisions in the complete absence of direct political coercion.

Thus - if anarchy is such an all-consuming, universal evil, why is it the default - and virtuous - freedom that we demand in order to achieve just liberty in our daily lives?

If the government told you tomorrow that it was going to choose for you where to live, how to earn your keep, and who to marry - would you fall to your knees and thank the heavens that you have been saved from such terrible anarchy - the anarchy of making your own decisions in the absence of direct political coercion?

Of course not - quite the opposite - you would be horrified, and would oppose such an encroaching dictatorship with all your might.

This is what I mean when I say that we consider anarchy to be an irreducible evil - and also an irreducible good. It is both feared and despised - and considered necessary and virtuous.

If you were told that tomorrow you would wake up and there would be no government, you would doubtless fear the specter of "anarchy."

If you were told tomorrow that you would have to apply for a government permit to have children, you would doubtless fear the specter of "dictatorship," and long for the days of "anarchy," when you could decide such things without the intervention of political coercion.

Thus we can see that we human beings are deeply, almost ferociously ambivalent about "anarchy." We desperately desire it in our personal lives, and just as desperately fear it politically.

Another way of putting this is that we love the anarchy we live, and yet fear the anarchy we imagine.

One more point, and then you can decide whether my patient is beyond hope or not.

It has been pointed out that a totalitarian dictatorship is characterized by the almost complete absence of rules. When Solzhenitsyn was arrested, he had no idea what he was really being charged with, and when he was given his 10-year sentence, there was no court of appeal, or any legal proceedings whatsoever. He had displeased someone in power, and so it was off to the gulags with him!

When we examine countries where government power is at its greatest, we see situations of extreme instability, and a marked absence of objective rules or standards. The tinpot dictatorships of third world countries are regions arbitrarily and violently ruled by gangs of sociopathic thugs.

Closer to home, for most of us, is the example of inner-city government-run schools, ringed by metal detectors, and saturated with brutality, violence, sexual harassment, and bullying. The surrounding neighborhoods are also under the tight control of the state, which runs welfare programs, public housing, the roads, the police, the buses, the hospitals, the sewers, the water, the electricity and just about everything else in sight. These sorts of neighborhoods have moved beyond democratic socialism, and actually lie closer to dictatorial communism.

Similarly, when we think of these inner cities as a whole, we can also understand that the majority of the endemic violence results from the drug trade, which directly resulted from government bans on the manufacture and sale of certain kinds of drugs. Treating drug addiction rather than arresting addicts would, it is estimated, reduce criminal activity by up to 80%.

Here, again, where there is a concentration of political power, we see violence, mayhem, shootings, stabbings, rapes and all the attendant despair and nihilism - everything that "anarchism" is endlessly accused of!

What about prisons, where political power is surely at its greatest? Prisons seethe with rapes, murders, stabbings and assaults - not to mention drug addiction. Sadistic guards beat on sadistic prisoners, to the point where the only difference at times seems to be the costumes. Here we have a "society" that seems like a parody of "anarchy" - a nihilistic and ugly universe usually described by the word "anarchy" which actually results from a maximization of political power, or the exact opposite of "anarchy."

Now, we certainly could argue that yes, it may be true that an excess of political power breeds anarchy - but that a deficiency of political power breeds anarchy as well! Perhaps "order" is a sort of Aristotelian mean, which lies somewhere between the chaos of a complete absence of political coercion, and the chaos of an excess of political coercion.

However, we utterly reject that approach in the other areas mentioned above - love, marriage, finances, career etc. We understand that any intrusion of political coercion into these realms would be a complete disaster for our freedoms. We do not say, with regards to marriage, "Well, we wouldn't want the government choosing everyone's spouse - but neither do we want the government having no involvement in choosing people spouses! The correct amount of government coercion lies somewhere in the middle."

No, we specifically and unequivocally reject the intrusion of political coercion into such personal aspects of our lives.

Thus once more we must at least recognize the basic paradox that we desperately need and desire the reality of anarchy in our personal lives - and yet desperately hate and fear the idea of anarchy in our political environment.

We love the anarchy we live. We fear the anarchy we imagine - the anarchy we are taught to fear.

Until we can discuss the realities of our ambivalence towards this kind of voluntarism, we shall remain fundamentally stuck as a species - like any individual who wallpapers over his ambivalence, we shall spend our lives in distracted and oscillating avoidance, to the detriment of our own present, and our children's future.

This is why I cannot just let this patient die. I still feel a heartbeat - and a strong one too!

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