****DISCLAIMER: This column is, and probably always will be, primarily a series of opinion pieces, and should never be mistaken for, or treated as, Actual Journalism. The following represents the views of the author alone and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or viewpoint of All In Network, its management, or any affiliates.****
In a little under six weeks we'll be asked to vote for president between a credibly-accused rapist who believes violent anarchists are destroying our major cities, and a credibly-accused serial rapist who says violent anarchists are destroying our major cities (unless you're voting third party, which I am, but that's another week's topic). Given the emotionally-charged nature of the word "anarchy," I'd say it's a good time to continue our discussion about scarewords by giving you the inside scoop on what anarchy is and what it isn't - from me, an Anarchist.
As before, we'll start with a brief overview.
Once again - anarchy:
People tend to understand anarchy as chaos and wanton death, and by extension, anarchists as lawless maniacs who want to kill and rob random strangers while blowing up buildings - and growing up under governments that insist "law" and "order" are the same thing, I'd say that's downright forgivable. But it's definitely absolutely wrong.
Aside from The Joker and the self-aggrandizing whiteboys who idolize him, nobody alive actually wants chaos. Hell, even The Joker wanting chaos is debatable (but stay the hell away from those whiteboys). Almost everyone wants order: conservatives, liberals, fascists, anarchists, and any other group of people. It's human nature to seek order - we have religions because we have a need for things to happen for a reason; the thing that sets human intelligence apart from current artificial intelligence is our natural ability to notice complex patterns in seemingly unrelated data. For whatever reason, it's part of our basic neurological makeup to want things to be ordered and organized.
Most people on the spectrum of opinions on government - fascists at the authoritarian end, traditional conservatives and liberals somewhere in the middle, and up to (but not including) anarchists on the other end - all agree that order is achieved through law, hence the phrase "law and order." All disagree vehemently on what the laws should be, the extent to which they should be enforced, etc; but overall they all hold the attitude that we have to have laws, because without laws, we'd live in chaos with rampant rape and murder and burglary.
What sets anarchists apart is the idea that law and order are separate concepts, often at odds with each other. Anarchy is the belief that it's each person's personal responsibility to behave in an ethical manner and encourage others to do the same.
I know you have something to say about that. Hold on to it. We'll address your knee-jerk response to that statement later in the discussion. Just keep reading.
I could talk more here about law and order being opposed to each other (different sentences for the same crime based on race, sex, gender, net worth, or political affiliation is pretty chaotic if you ask me), or even about legality not being an accurate gauge of whether a thing is morally good or bad (slavery and the Holocaust were legal, resisting them was illegal; literal highway robbery by the police is legal, peacefully living in a public park is illegal; theft from your employer leads to an arrest, wage theft by your employer leads to a settlement), but plenty of people are talking about those things already.
Instead, I'm going to come at this from an angle I don't see a lot of people talking about:
Every single human being on the earth is either a sociopath or, on a personal level, an anarchist.
No, I'm serious. You, personally, if you're reading this, you are most likely an anarchist. No matter what your opinions are on government and law in general, when it comes to how you comport yourself in your day-to-day life, are already exercising the philosophy behind anarchy, and I'll show you what I mean with three examples.
Murder is illegal. Obviously. I mean, not really obviously - there are the different degrees of murder, there's self-defense, etc - but for the purposes of this example we're talking about clear-cut, cold-blooded, walked-up-and-capped-a-guy murder. That's obviously illegal, and most people follow that law, including, I assume, You.
So - why? Do you not-murder people because it's illegal? Is that the only reason, or is it because, as a human being with empathy and compassion, you understand the gravity of taking a human life, and you don't take that lightly? If we all woke up tomorrow and murder was legal, would you be excited for the purge? Would you immediately go out and kill everyone who ever wronged you in any way, or would life continue more or less as normal for you?
(If you're reading this and, being completely honest with yourself, the only reason you don't go around killing random people is because it's illegal, then in all seriousness, please, please seek help. You may have any number of psychiatric conditions involving a lack of empathy, and that has serious implications well beyond hypothetical murder. Seriously, if the law is genuinely the only reason you don't murder, for the sake of yourself and your loved ones, please seek help. I can help you find a therapist if you need encouragement, but it's important you see someone.)
Conversely, are there exceptions for you? Everyone I've ever met agrees that if they ever walked in on someone harming their child - or any child, for many people, myself included - they would murder the absolute hell out of that person on sight (or as soon as they could do it without the child seeing - not a great idea to add another trauma to the child), and proudly turn themselves in and do their time. Some people say they wouldn't, but they don't judge people who would. Most people also agree that killing in self-defense is completely justified.
So the legality of the act matters on paper, but when it comes down to it, most of you don't go around killing people because you have an internal system for determining ethical behavior; one that's informed primarily by empathy - empathy for your fellow humans tells you it's generally wrong to kill people, and empathy for innocent children tells you that someone who harms children deserves to die. So really, the law is irrelevant as it pertains to how you decide to behave.
Speed limits are law. As codified and official as the laws against murder. Full-on, actual actual law.
Do you always drive under the speed limit?
Don't even lie - you and I and everyone else and God and Vishnu and Cthulhu and Bill Murray and the Unknowable Depths of the Eighth Dimension know damn well that you don't. Don't you lie to me on my own friggin' blog.
Nobody drives under the speed limit unless there's a practical reason to. We drive at or under the speed limit if the road is wet, icy or snowy, or if there's a cop behind us, or there's reason to believe a cop is ahead, or if someone cut us off and we're trying to piss them off - but aside from material conditions like those, we stay somewhere near the speed limit for the most part, but most people average 5-10MPH over at any given time.
So what's the difference? Do we speed because we're deranged criminals who hate society? Or is it more that our behavior is driven less by external influences and more by our own internal judgement of the right thing to do with regards to morality and practicality? Do we get off on flaunting the law, or do we just trust our own individual ability to determine the best thing to do?
So, you make your own decisions about how to act, and while the legality of an action may be one of the factors influencing your final decision, it's less about whether it being legal makes it right or wrong, and more about whether you're likely to get caught. Ultimately, the law is irrelevant.
We've explored a law that almost everyone follows, and a law that almost everyone breaks. Now it's time for a complex issue that many people follow for many reasons and many people break for even more reasons: drugs.
Do you consume any illegal drugs? I do. I smoke marijuana. I'm eligible for a medical marijuana license, but I'm pretty poor (that suit I'm wearing above was $8 at Goodwill, and it didn't come with pants), and they don't make it cheap. So for the medicine I need, I have to break the law. That's how it is for entirely too many people. We also have an epidemic of addiction, and a society that refuses to recognize it as a disease and refuses to provide civil support accordingly. We also have a lot of people who aren't addicts, have no medical need for drugs, but just straight-up like getting high (and honestly if we're cool with people drinking alcohol, we should be cool with that too). But in every case, regardless of our individual reasons, people who decide to do drugs know it's illegal and choose to do it anyway. Is it because they're just bad people? Nope, and honestly, go to hell if you disagree. The point is, they've made a personal decision for personal reasons, and the most the law comes into that decision is with regard to not getting caught.
(If you're suffering from addiction and you think you might be ready to get help, you might be able to find it here, here, here, or here, or you can try to find local support centers; if you're not ready to get help yet, hey, no judgement from me. Just try to be safe, yeah? Whatever you're going through I'm down to hear it. I mean that. And if you just like to get high, well...right on, blaze it, comrade.)
Do you not use illegal drugs? Why not? Is it only because they're illegal? Is it because you've internalized the Nixon-era propaganda that people who use drugs are bad people? Or is it because drugs just aren't your thing?
Either way, for the most part, "legal or illegal" is only a small factor in how most people make their decisions - and that small factor is usually about the risk of getting caught, not about the moral or practical value of the thing itself.
In the absence of codified laws, most people would make the same decisions they're making now. Full stop.
NOW you can let out that question that's been eroding your brain since paragraph six:
"Personal responsibility? Really?? This country is filled with violent psychopaths who want to kill everyone! I'm supposed to trust that they'll magically be nice when they're not legally required to??"
First of all, in order: Yes, yes, no it isn't, and yes.
This country is not filled with violent psychopaths (unless we're talking about cops, and we will, another time), and I feel really sad for you that you think so. Sad for how it must feel going through every day with that kind of expectation, but also sad for you and anyone around you that you're that convinced you're so special.
Think about it: are you a murderous psychopath? No? But you're convinced that most of the rest of the country is? So you're special, then. You're, what, part of the select few people who happens to not be a murderer? Check it out: according to the Bureau of Prisons, as of last month, exactly 3.3% of US prison inmates are incarcerated for "Homicide, Aggravated Assault, and Kidnapping Offenses," and 10.9% for "Sex Offenses" (those being the only two categories that involve any harm to other human beings), out of 155,530 inmates nationwide. If we look at those numbers as a percentage of the total population of the US, that comes out to about 0.005%, rounding UP. So about 0.005% of the population of the US is actually dangerous to other people (not counting cops, but again, another time).
If statistics don't do it for you, think about this: Is anyone you regularly spend time with a murderous psychopath? Is anyone they spend time with? If we just start extending our circles and extrapolating data, you start to notice that murderers are surprisingly hard to come by. Most people aren't murderers, and most people think they're totally different than everyone else. I'm sorry to break it to you, but you are not special. Most of us are far more alike than we are different, and statistically almost no one is a murderer.
Like - a lot of people die at the hands of other people, and I'm not discounting that; but there's a big difference between someone who's spent years in crippling poverty killing someone in a robbery, and some sick bastard going to a movie theater and shooting dozens of people because he gets off on it - namely, one can be prevented and the other can only be punished, and interestingly, liberals seem to stay confused about which is which.
Based on all that, yes, you're supposed to trust that most of the people you come in contact with are not secretly horny for murder. Because you already trust that now, and as we've discussed, they make the majority of their decisions based on everything but laws, same as you. Ultimately, the only thing you have to trust is that you're not special and everyone else is pretty much the same as you. If you think I'm wrong, move out of your hometown.
(Also, not for nothing, laws don't prevent crime. Laws punish crime. If you're worried about getting offed by some rando, you need to address the conditions that lead to it. But we'll get to that another time.)
That said, there definitely are some murderous douchebags out there:
As well as a handful of racist gun fetishists that we're seeing a lot of in the news lately. But I repeat myself.
In all seriousness, there really are those out there who get off on killing, some because of mental illness, some because they're terrible people. And even though the numbers are a lot lower than you might think, it is absolutely a valid concern, and any productive discussion about anarchy should address what should be done about that in an anarchic society (trust me, we do discuss it in our circles). And down the line as I talk more about these things, I'll let you in on the conversation.
But for now, the main thing I want you to take away from this is that anarchy is not what the major parties are trying to tell you it is, and anarchists are not, by and large, violent. We don't seek chaos, we seek order. We prioritize personal responsibility, and we foster it in ourselves. The violence being labeled "anarchy" right now is the natural human response to the violence perpetrated by the government against Black and Indigenous people - not to mention women, LGBTQ, the poor, the disabled, and all those for whom those intersect - for literally centuries. If you want this violence to end, you have to help us fight the violence that started it, and that starts with recognizing when you're being lied to. Don't let them scare you with talk of violent anarchists sowing seeds of chaos in our happy communities; unjust laws created the chaos. Anarchists want us to step up and create order within ourselves; that's the only way we'll ever have order in our communities.
But hey - what do I know? I'm just some anarchist in a suit. I am only an egg.