Here’s another of those things where I read something that bugs me and I want to write about, I make a note of it, I completely forget to take down any citation or contextual link or reminder of where it came from, weeks pass, and then I find it again and can’t remember what the hell it was about but I might as well blog about it because I’m here now anyway. People love those, right?
This was the quote I had opinions on:
Anarchists: your utopia will never happen. People are too crap.
I’m still dithering on what label best suits my half-baked collection of political ideas. “Libertarian socialist” I’m pretty comfortable with; “anarchist” I have a lot of sympathies with, but I’m not sure. I’ve read enough about it, though, to pick up some obvious objections to a claim like this.
It’s something anarchists respond to quite a lot, the idea that people’s inherently crap nature is an absolute limit on how lovely and free of authoritarian ruthlessness the world can ever be. (Sometimes it’s couched in more fancy philosophical jargon, but “people are crap” is something everyone can understand.) And it doesn’t take more than a cursory look at the history of human behaviour to see where this claim is coming from. From genocide to that dick on your bus who plays his music too loud, human crapness abounds.
But if this crapness is hindering our positive development as a society, we have to ask: who, exactly, is crap?
Is it you? Or is it those other people, the ones you can pick out and identify as being especially crap? Or is it just everyone?
Are other people so crap that you need to control their lives?
Or are you so crap that you need someone else to control yours?
But for the sake of argument, let’s go with this premise for a while. Yeah, people do kinda suck, in ways that really inconvenience the rest of us. (Or, y’know, in ways that leave innocent millions dead and dying.) So maybe it makes sense to rein in that inherent suckitude, by giving some extra power and authority to the best of us – those with the most wisdom and foresight, the kindest and strongest hearts – so that they can counteract our collective crapness, with their sensible diplomacy and intelligent, benevolent leadership.
That sounds like it’ll make things much nicer.
Either that, or it’ll put George W. Bush1 in charge of everything.
People of Britain, we’re all crap, we could never get by on our own, we’d cock up any attempt at society we tried to put together… so let’s put David Cameron in charge. He’ll delegate the Work and Pensions bit to Iain Duncan Smith. And the hospitals to Jeremy Hunt. And the schools to Gove. Hurrah, we’re saved!
Anarchy isn’t about abandoning all the rules and letting everyone run amuck and make it all up as they go, totally ad hoc, and just trusting in humanity’s better instincts. Well, probably it is for some people who wave the black flag, but that’s not how it’s seen by those serious enough about this philosophy to have written essays on it. It’s about organising ourselves in ways that don’t allow humanity’s worse instincts to take over and start institutionally harming and destroying us.
Trying to inspire and nurture the best in us should be an obvious course anyway, and some people have decided that this is best achieved by abandoning all hierarchical authority, so that nobody is in a position to abuse it, or to be abused by it, or to use it to gather ever more authority to themselves and start a cycle of tyranny, or to start infringing others’ rights and justifying it as part of their remit to defend the “greater good”, and so on. Perhaps that form of organisation is, inevitably, one that does more harm than good.
I mean, if people are crap, why do you want to keep giving them so much power over you?
If we’re too crap for anarchy, but the best makeshift solution we can come up with is putting a ruling class in charge of everything, then I’m not sure I want to live on this planet any more.
1I use Bush instead of Obama as an example of executive power gone horribly wrong, because I suspect my audience is still largely left-leaning, and so the memory of Dubya with the nuclear launch codes will invoke a more visceral reaction of horror and disgust. It’s still true that Obama’s worse in most of the ways that allegedly matter to his supporters.
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