I often tell people that anarchism is my religion.
It’s as much a spiritual, personal and moral framework to me as it is a political one. Anarchism is my entire lens for understanding the world and everything in it, and to me it can be summed up as nothing more or less than people striking the balance between unique autonomy and collective liberation.
How do you strike that balance?
Only you can decide that within yourself, and only you can decide how you interplay your decision with the decisions of others. They get to choose for themselves too.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few weeks with libertarian socialists, and I find the people I’ve met unendingly inspiring. Their framework for how to achieve genuine social liberation is unparalleled to me. It is driven by an ethos of organic emergence of community, where individuals are empowered to make decisions and space is held publicly and shared based on need.
Libertarian municipalism, direct democracy, communal ownership, public space, these all make sense to me. I love them as philosophies, and I love the ways in which the people I have met are implementing them.
In my view, these libertarian socialists have the How down so well. But I want to talk about the Why.
While I align so strongly with libertarian socialist philosophies and movements in just about every sense, the fact remains that I am not, at my core, a libertarian socialist. I am, at my core, still an anarchist.
I heard someone at an Institute for Social Ecology conference draw the distinction between libertarian socialists and left anarchists as a policy difference: the former possesses a willingness to engage in the electoral system, while the latter rejects all state hierarchy and authority.
While I find this an interesting heuristic, it is not at all the distinction I draw. What speaks to me about anarchism, that resonates with libertarian socialism but differs from it, is the moral and philosophical understanding of what it means to be an anarchist. To me, what it means to be an anarchist is to practice self-determination. That means, practicing not-determining-for-others.
At its core, my anarchism is the philosophy of saying, “I do not claim to know what is right for you. I only claim to know what is right for me.”
My anarchism is a philosophy of liberation, freedom, and choice. It is the lack thereof, the absence of a codified framework for how the world ought to be built. It is a philosophy free from shoulds, where we can claim no right to determine anything beyond the meeting of our own needs and strive for harmony with the actions of others.
My freedom ends where someone else’s begins.
I choose where to draw that line, and so do they.
Sometimes those lines we draw are in harmony, and sometimes they are not.
Which is why, bar perhaps self-determination, the most important tenet of anarchism to me is free association.
I can envision a world in which there exists a multitude of possibilities for how to organize society. Why? Because there are a multitude of perspectives, needs and feelings that exist within and between individuals. And you cannot build a community on self-determination without allowing the selves involved to make determinations.
How do you reconcile differences in individuals’ self-determination? Through free association. Free association necessarily implies free disassociation.
I want a world founded on consent. Consent can be removed at any time for any reason. No one can act in absolute impunity, and by natural law, there are always consequences to each action.
So, there can be no absolute freedom, but there can be the greatest possible relative freedom. That’s what I’m aiming for: a world in which all people have the most possible freedom to live their unique vision of the good life.
See, the thing about your unique vision of the good life is that it’s your unique vision of the good life. Our versions might be completely different, and we can either find ways for our paths to those visions to overlap in natural harmony when we associate, or we can just not associate.
What do we do when it is not possible to just disassociate? We strike compromise wherever possible, and sometimes, conflicts arise.
My vision for an anarchist future involves finding the least coercive possible structures for association, decision making and conflict resolution. But my anarchism runs deeper than that, into the very core of who I am, into the beating, bleeding Why that colors and shapes every How of building a liberation society.
The why is that people are different. Their needs, feelings, experiences and biologies are not the same. These facets are often in harmony, often overlap, and often find common ground. But to build a society of freely associating, self-determined individuals who exist in the greatest possible harmony, there requires in there an understanding that someone else’s self-determination may not be what you want it to be.
And that’s okay. Why? Because their needs also make sense. Their feelings also make sense. Their experiences also make sense.
Anarchism, to me, is about seeking to understand rather than to judge. To find commonality where it emerges rather than force it to. To allow community to emerge rather than regulate what it looks like. To accept a diversity of perspectives, and allow them to coexist and be associated with and disassociated from at will.
I, personally, do not outright reject electoral politics, and yet I am an anarchist. I believe the path to liberation can be fought on all fronts, and the faster and more efficiently we can cultivate a society in which everyone has relative freedom to meet their needs without needing to harm one another to have their needs met, the greater the chance we have to live in harmony and have the freedom to live the good life. I can see the state playing a role in that, at least in the interim.
I can see libertarian municipalism and direct democracy and communal ownership and anti-fascism and direct action and free love and free expression and authentic interaction and non-judgmental individuals all playing roles. I can also see things I would never think of as cultivating liberation coming into play in ways I can’t imagine, because other people’s needs and feelings and paths to liberation may be different from my own.
What I mean when I say I’m an anarchist is a radical acceptance of the individual, and a desire for a society that emerges organically out of the needs of those individuals, where everyone has the greatest possible freedom to meet their needs.
Anarchist, socialist, libertarian, crackpot, call me what you will.