Saturday, November 28, 2009

Anarchy in the UK

I was one of the office workers dressing down last April during the G20 protests (although I hasten to add that I am not a financier).

I was involved in a similar protest myself as a teenager in the 1980s, and I was able to see it from the other side of the barricades, so to speak

It made me think again about the motivations of the anti-capitalist movement.

First of all they are very selective about what they are against.

Capitalism is perfectly OK as long as it is the global cannabis trade; do not try to oppress their right to sell organic hash-cookies or to buy top-ups for their pay-as-you-go mobiles.

Some would say that it is just unfettered global corporate capitalism that they are opposed to. Fair enough, but who is going to regulate it? The only entity capable of doing that is the State, and the protesters are anarchists; they do not believe that there should be a State.

The position that they take is so amorphous as to be incoherent. All they are really communicating is the message ‘young, scruffy and disapproving’. In fact, hormones played a much larger role than economic theory in the protests of last April.

It set me thinking what a nonsense the notion of anarchy is. I remember I was never really convinced as a teenager either, but I didn’t quite know how to articulate why.

Just as ‘a-theist’ means ‘without a god’, the word ‘an-archy’ means without a ruler; if a monarchy is rule by one person, and an oligarchy is rule by a small clique, then anarchy is the rule of no-one. No State.

There are only two alternatives to the State, both short-lived.

The first one is a Hobbesian ‘war of all against all’, a nightmarish gangster-run wilderness of violent competition between petty groups. The hippies tend to refer to this as ‘chaos’ rather than anarchy, and most of them espouse non-violence, but let’s consider it for the sake of argument. What would happen in the long term? Cliques would merge and become larger, wiping out or absorbing other cliques, until one dominated in the end; a State. A bit like Mongolia before Genghis Khan came along and knocked everyone into line. Or anywhere before the State emerged, in fact.

The second alternative is the anarchy the protesters love so much, a pacifist version of the same thing, a middle-class fantasy in which consenting adults form agreements with each other to mend the fence or empty the drains in exchange for all the organic stew they can eat; a kind of permanent Woodstock, but with a sense of social responsibility. A settled middle-class life in which tee-pees and wind-chimes take the place of white picket fences and lawns. There are several problems with this Eden-like vision.

Firstly, it requires an extremely high degree of co-operation, discipline and social responsibility from every individual, without any personal incentive to gain or fear of punishment. Anarchy is the system of government for a land populated entirely by saints, and with no external competition. It is unrealistic. Not even monasteries are conflict-free.

Most of the people who espouse anarchy tend to be especially lacking in the social responsibility department. They may talk endlessly about the plight of the planet, but they still manage to avoid doing any productive work.

Selfish individuals will flourish. Let’s not forget that 1% of people are psychopaths. Hustlers and middle-men will see the main chance. Cult leaders will emerge immediately and dominate the group. Many will welcome their leadership.

It will be an armchair lawyer’s heaven, a society in which everything is ultimately done by contract between consenting adults. What happens if someone reneges on the contract? There will have to be sanctions. Probably everyone will call them a fascist, go on a downer, and no-one will pass them the joint.

How will they organise boring stuff like communications and engineering? We still expect our mobiles, man. We got to score somehow. What if a foreign invasion happens? The community will have to organise a military defence or get wiped out. These things can only be done by large-scale social formations involving hierarchical organisation and central planning. That means taxation, record-keeping, the whole thing, man.

Pretty soon, in short, you will have the State back again, and that should come as no surprise, because we should bear in mind that the State emerged the first time around for exactly the same reasons.

1 comment:

tiredofitall said...

It set me thinking what a nonsense the notion of anarchy is. I remember I was never really convinced as a teenager either, but I didn’t quite know how to articulate why.

I don't remember who said it, but it goes, "Anarchy will only last until the first clogged-up toilet."

Which I always took to mean that the people who preach anarchy are so soft that when the rug of civilization is pulled out from underneath them will willingly crawl back and beg to be ruled.

Just so long as they can enjoy all the amenities "evil" society has made for them that is...