Anarchism is a Fatalism

There is, I think, one fundamental difference between anarchists – those who believe human association should be voluntary and reject the idea that the State has or can have benevolent motives – and people of most other political persuasions.  If you have barely any politics at all, if you are what Ortega y Gasset calls the mass-man, you might identify with the State because you feel it is a part of you and, like you, anonymous. All actions taken by the State, then, are in some sense your actions because the state is on your side. If you are a committed right-winger or left-winger in the mainstream sense, then you will believe one of two major parties to be fighting for your interests. Even if you are in some small sense a ‘radical’, there are still Communist Parties and Libertarian Movements to hold up your flag, to win small victories and make progress for your interests. Not so for the anarchist.

If you are an anarchist and even moderately honest, you must believe that there is nobody in the halls of power with a shred of concern for you. You must also believe that nobody there is much concerned about the mass-man or the left-winger either, but that is less important. The point is that while others might maintain hope in political change – in their side advancing in the endless battle for power – you must hold to the position that there is no hope, that if anybody champions your interests it will only be briefly and as a pretext for some less palatable goal. In short, to the extent an anarchist has an active political life (campaigning and voting, concerning herself with laws and bills) it must be a politics of despair.

Does this mean anarchists must despair themselves? I don’t think so. I think anarchism, rather than a route to political change or revolution, is a true understanding of the nature and manifestations of power. If it is a route anywhere it is a route out of politics, towards art or gardening or chess or whatever you like. The successful atheist doesn’t spend her time railing against the God she doesn’t believe in; rather she sleeps in on Sundays and drinks coffee with her friends.  Likewise, the successful anarchist doesn’t attempt somehow to change the face of politics. She stays home on voting day and plays with her dog. Here, I’ll stop trying to paraphrase Jacob Bacharach and just quote him:

It is futile to get worked up about these things. Your friends are all posting Proud to Be messages in their Facebook feeds, but you are bigger than that. Your soul is bigger. You walk into the kitchen. You put the music on loud and you get the nice fish out of the refrigerator. You give the dog some crackers, and you kiss your boyfriend, and you open a nice IPA, because you feel like a beer tonight. Martin Luther King, Jr. isn’t rolling in his grave, guys. He’s dead. And the dead have one up on us, for they are constitutionally incapable of giving a fuck. You kiss your boyfriend again on the lips, and you pay all those assholes exactly the attention they deserve, which is none at all.

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8 thoughts on “Anarchism is a Fatalism

  1. abonilox

    Agreed except nothing in what you have written entails fatalism. Cannot elaborate while typing on this crappy tablet. Hopefully remember to come back to this tomorrow.

    Reply
    1. Sean Post author

      No pressure, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter. To me “you must hold to the position that there is no hope, that if anybody champions your interests it will only be briefly and as a pretext for some less palatable goal” seems pretty fatalistic – are you interpreting the word differently, maybe?

      Reply
      1. Abonilox

        Hi Sean,

        Yeah, after I wrote that I started thinking about it and realized I was preoccupied with determinism as opposed to fatalism, which is a subjective, psychological attitude that says nothing about metaphysics or anything else.

        My initial reaction too was along the lines that the term fatalism goes against that most fundamental idea of anarchism which is individual autonomy. So if I’m fatalistic about the behavior of others, it seems more likely that I will be fatalistic about my own behavior as well, which I see as problematic for the anarchist, regardless of one’s position on free will/compatibilism etc. So even if fatalism is merely a psychological coping device it ought to work against the idea of anarchism. If the anarchist is motivated by an ethical judgment about the evil of coercive power, then in what way will a fatalistic response be useful? I guess what I’m getting at is you can come to the same conclusions about power that you mentioned without making the next move to fatalism and then just getting along with life. I’m sure there are thousands upon thousands of intelligent folks that made that observation somewhere along the way and turn their backs on the whole affair so they can go on with their gardening or whatever. That doesn’t make them anarchists–it makes them indifferent. And since at least in my country something less than half the population even bothers to vote, I’d say that’s a bit of a problem. It’s not as if those millions of people are not voting because they’re anarchists! Being aloof and above the fray, so to speak, doesn’t have much to do with anarchism, but it can be a healthy way to live one’s life (unless reality comes knocking on the door with an unexpected exercise of state power–which can happen to anyone).

        “If you are an anarchist and even moderately honest, you must believe that there is nobody in the halls of power with a shred of concern for you.”

        If I flip this around and say that If I believe the powerful don’t care for me, then I must be an anarchist, it makes no sense. For the anarchist, the idea that no one in power cares about me is utterly irrelevant anyway. I’m more worried that they do care and think they know what’s best for me.

        “I think anarchism, rather than a route to political change or revolution, is a true understanding of the nature and manifestations of power.”

        Yes. Yes. Yes. I consider anarchism to be a negative philosophy. By that I mean it is not prescriptive, but merely makes the claim that state power is illegitimate. How one responds to that is of course a matter of personal preference and individual autonomy. But one is just as likely to despair in the face of that recognition as go on about one’s business. It depends on the person.

        Why am I being so argumentative when I thought I agreed with you. There must be something wrong with me. I’m not as well adjusted as Jacob Bacharach.

  2. Abandon TV

    “..If you are an anarchist and even moderately honest, you must believe that there is nobody in the halls of power with a shred of concern for you…”

    I’m not so sure…

    It’s entirely possibly that some of them DO have concern for you – or that they THINK they do. Statism is based on the initiation of force, and yet in ordinary society the overwhelming majority of us reject the initiation of force as a legitimate, acceptable or civilised way to behave. This means the ruling class needs to twist the language, meaning, thoughts, beliefs and values of the population in order to get statism accepted and even embraced. And starting in state schools this is precisely what is done to us. Our minds are broken and we are loaded up with contradictions…… stealing is wrong, but taxation is right (and so on).

    Many politicians obviously are just corrupt, weak, power hungry sociopaths (especially those at the top of the hierarchy)… but there is another category of politicians who I think do want to make society better (as much as anybody ‘wants’ to do their job – like a cable guy ‘wants’ you to have access to a wider range of movies in the evening). What I mean is they don’t wish to HARM society. This category of politicians are people who have swallowed all the propaganda and can’t see the blatant contradictions in promoting perpetual wars for peace, stealing society’s wealth to make a fairer society, using violence to create a more civilised society etc.

    I think anarchists recognise this. They recognise the system itself is inherently flawed, ridiculous and downright immoral – and that it can be no other way, even if it was run by caring, fluffy bunny rabbits full of empathy and love.

    And by contrast it often seems to be the statists who complain that politicians are just in it for themselves. They believe the system itself is legitimate and the basis of a civilised society, it’s just that a ‘bad lot’ of self serving politicians have managed to get into power (“Damn!”), and if we can just vote them out and get the ‘good guys’ into positions of power then everything will be fixed.

    This idea is even promoted by the ruling class is and is how they sell ‘democracy’ to us. The message is: if you’re unhappy with how society is being run you should never question the system itself, and perhaps start thinking of an alternative way of organising society! ….. instead you should devote all your time, energy and money for the next five years attempting to get someone else elected…. someone who really cares about your needs! 😉

    Reply
    1. Sean Post author

      What an excellent comment! I think you make a very important distinction between having concern for somebody else and actually doing things to help somebody else. On reflection, I was unfair to imply that most politicians don’t care or actively dislike most citizens (although I believe that many at the higher levels do not, in fact, care at all). I think we agree that, regardless of their psychological state, most politicians do not act to benefit most citizens.

      Very interesting point about statism vs anarchism. Statists indeed continuously complain about the low ethics and untrustworthiness of politicians, more so than anarchists – probably because statism requires a belief that the State is designed to benefit its citizens. Since anarchists don’t believe this, bad behavior by politicians is unsurprising.

      It seems like you don’t really agree with my contention that political effort (in your words, “thinking of an alternative way of organising society”) is ultimately futile. Have I understood you?

      Reply
      1. Abandon TV

        “..On reflection, I was unfair to imply that most politicians don’t care or actively dislike most citizens (although I believe that many at the higher levels do not, in fact, care at all)…”

        This issue of politicians ‘caring’ is fascinating. What does it even mean? Is it even a good thing? A politician has at his disposal the government’s legal right to initiate force (including extreme violence) to redistribute everyone’s wealth or force everyone to obey certain rules etc. Now suppose your neighbour had that legal right too. Would you even WANT him to start ‘caring’ about the activities of everybody in your local neighbourhood?! Or would you hope he stayed out of your (and everybody else’s affairs)?! LOL

        Even with the best will in the world is your neighbour even ABLE to ‘care’ about all of you? Or does the concept of ‘caring’ only really make sense in personal or ‘small scale’ relationships?

        If your neighbour actually started pointing a gun at everyone and bossing you all about would you all start debating just how much he really cared about you all….. or would you all instantly agree he was acting like a crazed maniac and that he had no right to use force against ANYONE, regardless of his motives?

        Not only is government the initiation of force, it is also the centralisation of power and decision making. When power and decision making are centralised for an entire nation (millions of people) is it even *possible* to serve all their individual needs and wants – regardless of how much you ‘care’ as a political ruler?

        IMHO the only way to really ‘care’ for everyone’s needs and wants is to allow them to make decisions for themselves, in which case the only valid ‘caring’ act any politician can ever do is to resign from his job and let people live their own lives unmolested by the state! 😉

        There is a subtle yet profound difference between caring WHAT a person think and feels and caring ABOUT a person’s thoughts and feelings. The first is due to being somehow invested in the attitudes and thus the behaviour of other people, the second is due to not wanting to impinge on anyone else out of respect. These are very, VERY different motivations … yet both can be described in terms of ‘caring’ about the thoughts and feelings of other people.

        In the more negative sense Hitler ‘cared’ deeply what the German people thought and felt. That’s WHY he invested so much time and effort bombarding them with propaganda, as well as trying to solve some of their social and economic problems etc. The same is true of all political rulers… and all sociopaths in general.

        “.. I think we agree that, regardless of their psychological state, most politicians do not act to benefit most citizens…”

        Yes…. although they’ll generally do whatever it takes to achieve or maintain power and this might include offering voters ‘free stuff’ paid for with stolen money of some kind (debt, taxation, money printing etc). So they might benefit citizens in the short term, but obviously not the long term as the economy collapses.

        “… It seems like you don’t really agree with my contention that political effort (in your words, “thinking of an alternative way of organising society”) is ultimately futile. Have I understood you?..”

        What I meant by “thinking of an alternative way of organising society” was thinking BEYOND politics, beyond ‘democracy’ and beyond using force as the prime means to organise society. I meant that governments encourage us to believe the system itself (ie statism/ democracy) is not at fault (or can’t be improved) and to constantly focus instead on trying to get the ‘right people’ elected into the driving seat. In reality the ruling class MUST constantly erode the reputation of certain political people so that we always blame them for the dysfunction in society, instead of realising it’s the entire system which is the root cause.

        Not only is this system based around legalised coercion and violence in the hands of a few – as if that wasn’t bad enough! – but this huge concentration of power and weaponry inevitably attracts the most sociopathic members of society (control freaks). These people DO care about the affairs of everyone in society – but not in the healthy sense! They only care in the same way that parasites ‘care’ about their host victim…. their source of sustenance!

        The ruling class (including the political class) are basically parasites feeding on humanity. Their wealth, power, control and comfortable lifestyles are utterly dependent on our acceptance of this system. Our acceptance is, in turn, a product of relentless indoctrination via government schooling/ media etc.

        Our indoctrination is their biggest investment, and in this very twisted, abhorrent sense they do ‘care’ very much about us.

        – hope that makes some kind of sense, forgive long comments, fascinating subject 🙂

  3. Sean Post author

    ‘Not only is government the initiation of force, it is also the centralisation of power and decision making. When power and decision making are centralised for an entire nation (millions of people) is it even *possible* to serve all their individual needs and wants – regardless of how much you ‘care’ as a political ruler?” is a great point.

    “IMHO the only way to really ‘care’ for everyone’s needs and wants is to allow them to make decisions for themselves, in which case the only valid ‘caring’ act any politician can ever do is to resign from his job and let people live their own lives unmolested by the state!” is a bit hasty, I think, and leaves you open to the boilerplate liberal criticism:

    “but Abandon TV, people are more routinely molested by companies and corporations than the state! to care for people’s ability to make decisions means stepping in as a powerful state to prevent the economic enslavement of your citizens!”

    …which I have more than a little sympathy with, even if I think in general the state exists to aid said corporations and companies.

    Reply
    1. Abandon TV

      (quote) “but Abandon TV, people are more routinely molested by companies and corporations than the state! to care for people’s ability to make decisions means stepping in as a powerful state to prevent the economic enslavement of your citizens!”

      If someone said this I’d point out that a corporation is a creation of government, so the idea of having government protect us from them makes about as much sense as protecting a chicken from foxes by putting a ‘guard fox’ inside the chicken coup.

      A corporation is just an effect of government’s monopolistic legal right to use violence, which it uses to shield certain businesses from personal loss, from lawsuits…. from virtually all accountability – et voila! That’s a corporation.

      In addition government feeds these giant monsters by throwing our (stolen) money at them in the form of massive military, infrastructure or service industry contracts. It also creates ‘laws’ (ie opinions backed by force) which benefit these monsters in other ways, such as laws that eliminate competition or overrule other laws, such as planning.

      Without government’s legalised right to use violence these corporations would have to bear all costs themselves (economic and social) and they’d have to commit all violence themselves too, openly, in full view of the public.

      The public simply wouldn’t stand for corporations polluting the oceans, gambling away everyone’s money in fraudulent scams, or going massively over budget on infrastructure schemes which nobody wants and then going door-to-door pointing a gun at everyone and saying “You must now pay for our mess, or else!” ……. but this is exactly what government does ON THEIR BEHALF.

      I would also point out that we cannot ‘prevent the economic enslavement’ of citizens by giving one group the legal right to economically enslave the citizens. A government IS the economic enslavement of citizens!

      We are forced (at gunpoint) to participate in their monopolised fake economy. That’s enslavement. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the FED or the BoE creating mickey mouse money and offering it to the public as a bone fide currency….. what’s wrong is that we are all FORCED TO USE these worthless currencies. If we had a free market (ie a non coercive market) when it came to currencies then nobody would actually CHOOSE to use government issue money, just as nobody would CHOOSE to get their weekly groceries from a shop which sold out of date, rotten food infected with diseases.

      You cannot solve the problem of rape in a village by giving one small group the monopolistic legal right to commit rape. However it is worth pointing out that if you did this they WOULD stop everyone else from committing rape (after all, you cannot have a monopoly on X unless you stop everybody else from doing X). So this ‘almost’ works as a solution, but not quite. Rape would indeed be outlawed, but everyone would still end up being raped by the people who have outlawed rape.

      This illustrates why giving a small group called a ‘government’ the monopolistic legal right to initiate force (steal, murder, coerce, kidnap, imprison etc) is not a proper solution. Sure they outlaw these activities fro the rest of us, but that’s only as a by-product of their monopoly on the right to commit these crimes and get away with it!

      We’d never actually come up with this as a solution by ourselves. What happens is that we are born into a world where this is already the accepted solution. And then, via government controlled schools, we are bombarded with six hours of pro-government propaganda a day from the age of four until we are adults. After that we are bombarded with constant propaganda via the media until we die.

      History shows us that with that amount of propaganda you can get the public to go along with pretty much anything.

      Reply

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