….and why they are inseparable
Anarchism is a political philosophy that cannot be separated from love: love for humanity, love for oneself, and love for the planet.
Love, you know, that thing money can’t buy, according to the Beatles. Our resistance, according to Muse. A thing that cannot be forced, bought, or sold, that obeys no codified hierarchy, occurs spontaneously and universally, is caused by everything and nothing, alive with its own order that, to a structured hierarchy, appears to be chaotic.
Love is intrinsically anarchist, and anarchism is, to me, the natural base for building a society on Love.
To begin, what is Love?
In short: seeing fully, and taking as a part of oneself. In shorter: interbeing.*
To keep things simple: to love is to see someone fully as an agent unto themselves, and to take their needs as a part of your needs. This is not to bulldoze your own needs in service of another’s, or to treat another as an extension of yourself. Love has a wholly different quality. It is understanding the full totality and distinctness of another, whole unto themselves, and viewing yourself as not separate from that other. The happiness of another is a part of your happiness. The needs of another are a part of your needs. Your happiness and theirs simply become happiness that is experienced, and your needs and theirs become simply needs that are needed.
Love is given freely, and can only be given from a place of having freedom.
If you’ve ever loved anyone or anything, you already know how this feels. You will also know that love is so often confused with many things that are not love.
Just like anarchism.
What is Anarchism?
Anarchism is a political philosophy of horizontalism, self-determination, cooperation and shared power. Anarchism believes there is no need or desire for a coercive, authoritarian State. Entrenched power hierarchies of any kind are fundamentally incompatible with anarchism.** These include hierarchies of power between owners (shareholders) and workers, between governments and the governed, and between citizens and all “civil servants,” with a particular focus often given to police.
In anarchist philosophy, each person is full unto themselves, and should be empowered to make decisions for themselves.
Fundamental tenets of anarchism include not using force to coerce action from others, allowing all people free association and disassociation from one another, and giving individuals the utmost opportunity to freely engage in mutual aid to meet their needs.
Each person has the opportunity to consent freely to any person in a place of power over them, and to disassociate or challenge that power when it no longer meets their needs. Each person has the ability to get their needs met in cooperation with others through mutual aid that meets the needs of all involved, and to disassociate when those needs cannot be met in cooperation with that other person.
As a basis for social order, anarchist philosophy teaches us to find commonalities between our needs and to find mutually beneficial paths to any shared needs. It requires us to have equitable power over resources and actions, so that no one is forced into doing things. It requires us to be aware of ourselves and of our needs, and the space for sovereignty over ourselves as individuals within our communities.
Anarchism is a philosophy of seeing ourselves and each other as full humans with legitimate needs, and taking each other’s needs as a part of ourselves when we authentically can.
You know, like love.
Why does power matter?
If you’re wondering why equitable power is crucial to both anarchism and love, it is for the simple fact of consent. Consent is a free choice to allow something to happen. If your freedom is too constrained, the choice no longer feels like a choice.
When your society has entrenched power hierarchies about who is allowed to do what and who gets to decide, there can be no authentic consent. When you do not have the option to disassociate from someone’s rule if you find it does not meet your needs, there can be no consent.
This is why, for example, any modern invocation of the “Social Contract” is self-aggrandizing lip service. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the “Social Contract” was an Age of Enlightenment theory describing the relationship entered into between the government and the governed in a democratic society. To put it very simply, the governed, We the People, give up certain rights unto the government in exchange for social order and the protection of our remaining rights. It’s imagined to be a kind of consensual contract between purportedly equal parties.
The problem with the Social Contract is that power begets power, and concentration of power begets concentration of power. Nobody has every possible option available to meet their needs, but power structures can expand or constrain those options. When more people are empowered to meet their needs themselves, and to find for themselves the utmost possible options to have their needs met by others, we have the utmost possible freedom.
To call contemporary American “democracy” a consensual social contract is akin to saying a twelve-year-old can consent to have sex with her teacher. This is not because We the People are children, but because We the People are in a position of far lesser power than those who make decisions for us. This includes the difference in power between people and government, and between workers and owners/executives/shareholders.
If there is no equality of power, there is no consent. If there is no consent, there is inherent violence.
Isn’t Anarchism violent?
People can be violent. Anarchism is, in my view, the least violent philosophy of governance. To quote our lord and savior Pamela Anderson discussing the Yellow Vests movement in France: “I despise violence…but what is the violence of all these people and burned luxurious cars, compared to the structural violence of the French — and global — elites?”
Violence can be great or small, physical or emotional, and is determined by one simple thing: lack of desire or consent. Punching someone in the face can be violent, and it can be a consensual boxing match. Physically restraining someone can be violent, and it can be consensual BDSM play. We should all know the difference between sex and rape.
Slavery is violence. Servitude is violence. Obedience without authentically giving consent is violence.
Most of us are used to hearing the word “consent” only in conversations around sex, but consent is simply a choice freely made, and consent and non-consent come up in every aspect of our lives in every single day.
Leaving anyone in a state of housing precariousness when we have more than enough housing for every homeless person in America is violent. Letting anyone go hungry when we have more than enough food to feed every person in the world is violent. Denying someone power and self-determination is violent. Closing an arbitrary line in the sand to those in need of refuge is violent. Denying someone access to healthcare is violent. Denying someone access to an education is violent.
The state and the capitalist mode of production are violent. Power hierarchies are violent.
In the face of such enormous systems of violence, is a punk rocker throwing a brick at a BMW really such a huge act of violence? Even if it is, is creating a racist, violent, morally corrosive “justice” system really the best response?
In the immortal words of Pat the Bunny, “There’s no ballot we can cast to set us free … but there’s no brick we can throw that will end poverty.”
More to the point, not all anarchists throw bricks. In fact, most of us don’t. I’ve never thrown a brick at anything. I’m not sure if I know any anarchists who have. I want to throw bricks sometimes, but only because in those select moments, I don’t feel I have other options within the set of narrow confines proscribed by an unjust system to make my voice heard directly and advocate for my needs myself, and those in power seem to love not listening to those over whom they have power.
Power concentration begets power concentration, and too much power is a disease.
Is human nature the problem?
What we call human nature is a pattern of responses to human nurture. We simply have no idea what our “nature” is without our conditioning, which is being perpetuated and reinforced through the societies and structures in which we were raised and currently live. Psychologists and anthropologists frequently find themselves at odds with one another over this question — the one looks for universal human natures, usually through experimenting on college students in laboratory settings; the other looks for distinction and difference based on cultural context.
What I can say about human nature is that people love and people fear, no matter who they are or how they’re raised. The less reason we have to fear harm from one another, the more we can act from a place of love and communion. The more freedom everyone has to get their needs met without trying to control, dominate or harm one another to get there, the less we have to fear. The more freedom we each have to access necessities, the less violence there will be.
We live in a world with more than enough resources to meet everyone’s needs, and in which people go hungry, go cold, go unhoused, are murdered and raped and brutalized and controlled. That is not shrewd policy; it’s sadism.
People have the capacity for kindness and for violence. As the old adage goes, both wolves battle within us. The one that wins is the one we feed. Which wolf do we want our political and economic systems to feed? Which do we want our society to elevate, glorify, strive for and encourage?
What does an anarchist society actually look like?
I can’t determine that for you. That’s… the whole point. I can only tell you what I think:
I think an anarchist society looks like Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It looks like exercising far less control over others, and far more control over ourselves. It looks like self-determination, consent, and the sharing of resources in community. Complex social order at the grassroots, responsive to individuals’ needs, with the equitable distribution of power amongst all people and an openness of access to the things we all need to survive and thrive. Free association and mutual aid. Less atomization and competition, more community and cooperation, and structures that encourage the latter while retaining the free choice of the former.
To me, an anarchist society looks less like corporate grocery stores and more like community gardens. It looks less like real estate developments and more like community land trusts. It looks less like the White House and more like block clubs, less like the Capitol and more like neighborhood assemblies. It looks less like militarized police and prisons, and more like restorative justice councils, community mental health institutions and conflict mediators. It looks like worker cooperatives and gift economies, not shareholders’ meetings and stock markets. It works for the needs of people, not for the profits of few. It has no borders or nations, but it does have mutual agreements between communities. It has a diversity of power centers, distributed in communities across the world, with decision-making power held by the people.
It allows community and leaders to rise if and as needed, and subside when no longer needed. It looks like real democracy. It is flexible, responsive, individual and collective.
It does not need to be perfect, and nothing ever will be. The work really isn’t that hard to make the world far less sadistic, and far more consensual. The work starts with your choices, your awareness, and claiming your inalienable right to choose.
An anarchist society looks like each of us getting what we need, in the least violent possible way: sharing resources, sharing power, free association and mutual aid. It looks like seeing, understanding and caring for ourselves, seeing, understanding and caring for others, and being seen, understood and cared for.
In short, it looks like love.
* For more on this, I wrote an essay a while ago that is helpfully titled “What is Love?” I won’t delve into the concept of interbeing too deeply here, as the late Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh can explain it far better than I can, and I’d like to keep this essay as secular as possible.
** For an introduction to why “anarcho-capitalism” is not a thing, I recommend this article.