This blog’s becoming less and less focused over time. And possibly less and less informative.
I suppose most of it still comes under the general heading of “humanism”, be it science or religion or politics or human rights stuff. But maybe I should try to narrow my scope, and specialise a bit more, and try not to talk about everything that interests me all in one place.
You know whenever I finally get a cat I’m going to be flooding this place with pictures though.
Anyway, in this post I’m veering briefly back into my adventures with anarchy. I’m still ploughing through An Anarchist FAQ, trying to understand the philosophy as I decide how useful I think it is.
It’s still interesting, albeit really not written in the format of a particularly helpful introduction to anarchism for the uninitiated – at least, not if you just read it through from the start like I’m doing. Maybe I’d be getting more out of it if I dipped into the different sections as it pleased me, but on the whole it doesn’t really address the basic novice questions in the order they’re likely to arise.
It does have some good ideas, though, even if they do sometimes take some ferreting out. The stuff on capitalist economics is interesting, and ideally I’d try to read up on the same concepts from a different perspective as well, to get a better idea of how well the anarchist critique holds up. But sometimes I can’t tell whether I disagree with their politics, or am simply alienated by the way it’s presented.
For instance. I’ve considered myself, broadly, a supporter of capitalism for some years now. The basic economics books or essays that I’ve read have made pretty clear what it has going for it, and the benefits that come from having a system of open competition driving the markets. It makes a certain sense that companies should have to work hard to provide the most worthwhile service to the consumer, unlike in state socialism where everyone has to queue for hours to have things handed out with some gross approximation of “fairness”.
I’m less convinced these days. I’m becoming jaded about the sustainability of a truly free market, the way it’s supposed to exist, where perfect competition between companies means consumers really will be provided with the best possible service because of their spending power.
But it’s not been the anarchist critique of economics that’s won me over. I’m still not empathising with their antipathy to the basic capitalist principle of workers being paid wages for their labour, instead of owning the direct results of their output themselves.
The part of the FAQ I’ve been reading most recently is making it clear that anarchists really don’t like this idea. But I still don’t see anything obviously unjust about the part of the system where I do work and get paid. I’m not saying there’s nothing objectionable about the hierarchical way things are structured, but I don’t see wages as an inherently offensive concept.
Speaking for myself, I don’t think I especially want to own the output of my labour – which, at present, mostly consists of neatly typed letters and spreadsheets of medical data, which are of no direct use to me whatsoever. But there’s value in the work being done, and I trade my work – even if it’s not a totally free trade – for shelter and food and books, via the useful fiction of money.
Isn’t something similar always going to happen, in any society that isn’t entirely populated with clones of Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal? Under anarchism, would I still get to live in a house that someone else built and eat dinner that someone else has already killed for me?
These might be painfully basic questions which demonstrate how far I’m missing the point, but I can’t tell that from the polemical anti-capitalism of the FAQ I’m reading. And as I think I’ve said before, it’d be a shame if I or others like me don’t manage to figure out that the anarchists are right, just because their rationale sounds like it comes straight out of a revolutionary pamphlet from Russia in 1917 and so doesn’t seem to apply to the society I’m familiar with.
On the other hand, one thing that has bolstered my skepticism of capitalist economics has been the research done into human rationality, and specifically how bad we are at it. Watch Dan Ariely’s TED talk, for instance, or read his book Predictably Irrational, and try telling me there’s any hope that logically consistent human behaviour will save the day.
I really don’t know what the answer is. I’m not totally sure that capitalism can’t be fixed, but I wouldn’t know where to start, and we’re a long way from getting that done now. (And what’s going to fix it? Government? Ugh.)
Maybe I should find somewhere else to discuss this kind of thing, and try getting some answers from people who know what they’re talking about, before I end up just blathering at length here. I think the number of people following this blog who have any knowledge of or interest in anarchy as a political philosophy is very limited, and I don’t want Mel to feel like she has to write a whole new essay for me each time I half-understand a new idea. (Though you’re welcome to try!)
Oh look, there’s a weekend. I wonder if it’ll be friends with me.