On Somalia (Part One)

Some Background: I’ve noticed in casual statist critiques of anarchism that the charge of naivety or being “unrealistic” gets thrown around a lot. When asked for explanation, one is usually treated with a Hobbesian explanation of man’s state of nature, i.e. that without the state our lives are poor, nasty, brutish and short. Somalia is often mentioned. As an example, here’s a bit of an exchange that happened recently on The FaceBooks when a gentleman posted a link to The Karl Hess Institute, someone responded with:

There’s delusion for you.

And:

It would be lovely, I agree, if things worked that way: but they don’t. All of human history and comparison of present societies demonstrates that beyond question. Go this route and you get places like Somalia, Darfur, and the tribal areas of Pakistan. It is prescription for return to primitive chaos and violence where human potential is stunted. Civilization requires increasing order as a prerequisite.

My Take: Now, I have problems with a few of the positions taken here. First, I take issue with the Somalia canard. This is thrown in the faces of libertarians/anarchists quite a bit, and I’m not entirely sure it’s fair. First, it’s not even entirely clear that Somalia is what the statists say it is. As Kevin Carson points out:

Second, “Somalia” does not equal “Mogadishu.”  Most of the horrific, Mad Max scenes captured in Somalia are in Mogadishu, where the central state was most powerful before the collapse and the institutions of civil society were accordingly most atrophied.  As Roderick Long, director of C4SS’s parent body the Molinari Institute, put it, “the farther one gets away from Mogadishu, the more one gets into relatively peaceful areas that have always been anarchic or close to it, barring occasional intrusions from the statebuilders in the city.”  In other words, the further you get from Mogadishu, the less Somalia resembles “Somalia,” and the more it resembles the kind of stable society described by James Scott.

So, there’s a conflation going on already with the conditions in Somalia. Not only that, but there’s more than a hint of ethnocentrism in the mix, since the entire Somalia argument is predicated on comparing current conditions in Somalia to conditions in the U.S. (or Western Europe or what have you). Instead, the best point of comparison for Somalia now is Somalia when it had a state:

Third, the proper comparison to Somalia is not the United States and similar societies in the West, but to the actual state that existed in Somalia before the collapse of central power. Given that comparison, things in Somalia aren’t that bad at all.  For example:  a study by Benjamin Powell, Ryan Ford and Alex Nowrasteh took “a comparative institutional approach to examine Somalia’s performance relative to other African countries both when Somalia had a government and during its extended period of anarchy.”  And it found that Somalia, when subjected to an honest comparison — “between Somalia when it had a functioning government, and Somalia now” — is less poor, has higher life expectancy, and has experienced a drastic increase in telephone lines.

So, Somalia is probably better off now that it is stateless than when it had one of those shiny governments that keep the bloodthirsty rabble in line. Maybe it’s just me, but Somalia doesn’t sound like a clear-cut case against statelessness at all.

So, that’s the Somalia issue. But what of some of the other charges levied against anarchists, especially the position that there no examples of anarchism in practice? Well, for one thing, I’d argue that any time someone engages in mutual aid, that’s anarchism in action right there. But if you need Big and Grand examples of anarchism, all we have to do is look to southern Mexico:

Today, quite remarkably, the Zapatista’s continue to survive as a movement controlling a large swathe of Chiapas, probably around 150,000 people in around 1,300 communities that continues to build an infrastructure of eduction, health clinics and co-ops independent of the state. Much of the funding comes from the coffee co-ops which produce and sell organic Zatatista branded coffee. They remain isolated but Mexico is a powder keg due to the extreme division between wealth and poverty it contains both internally and due to the US border so the Zapatistas remain placed to break out of that isolation with the next wave of popular struggle.

A whole generation has now grown up in these free communities, a generation that the EZLN described in 2005 as “those who were children in that January of ’94 are now young people who have grown up in the resistance, and they have been trained in the rebel dignity lifted up by their elders throughout these 12 years of war. These young people have a political, technical and cultural training that we who began the zapatista movement did not have.”

The whole article is worth reading as an excellent (and short) primer on how the Zapatistas removed state power from Chiapas and, after 17 years, are still living in radical free communities. There may be things to disagree with in how the Zapatistas removed the state, or whether it’s a perfect vision of anarchism, but there are 150,000 people living in a free Chiapas who are a testament to the fact that anarchism can work. That’s pretty cool, and it seems odd for proponents of the state to erase these people from their discourse.

So, thirdly I guess, my problem with the argument presented against anarchists is that it takes a view of human nature that I do not hold. As I mentioned, the “government is needed to create order” position seems to be taken straight from the tradition of Hobbes, who viewed his fellows as little more than beasts to be feared. If that’s honestly how you feel about those around you: that your friends, your family, your co-workers, neighbors, etc., if not for the threat of the police and military, would all be giving into fearsome primal urges, then I feel a bit of pity for you. It must be a sad life to think so little of your fellow man. For my part, I think the evidence is overwhelming that people generally engage with each other for mutual benefit, not because the threat of violence hangs over their head like a spectre, but because most people generally recognize that mutually beneficial relationships are… mutually beneficial. The vast majority of transactions that occur daily between people have no significant involvement – or even threat of involvement – from the state, but we usually go about our business without man-made catastrophe awaiting every action.

It seems to be the tendency of statists to trumpet the great, sweeping wars and conflicts of history (usually perpetuated by state actors, it should be noted) as The True Face of Mankind, while ignoring the quiet, daily activity that – by far – makes up the experience of most people. Why should that be? At best, it would seem to be prudent to decide that “the jury is still out” when it comes to human nature, but in any case: if man is decent, as I believe, what need of a state? And if he is as terrible as the statists believe, why would you want him to rule over us?

Note: This is part one in an ongoing series. Look for more posts on this topic from Agreeable Anarchism’s other bloggers soon!

Posted in Mexico, Peace, Somalia, Violence | Leave a comment

Common Good and the Freedom To

This is a little rambling, so my apologies for the lack of composition. Just some thoughts from an article I read this morning.

http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/tgif/about-those-oil-company-tax-breaks/

While he at least outlines the libertarian case against selective tax breaks, I disagree with his conclusion. I just cannot find much sympathy in me for big oil. Those cartel-pricing bastards have benefited disproportionately from government interference in the market on their behalf, just like the rest of the elite.

At the same time, though, it’s not like increasing taxes on big oil would actually benefit the common person. It doesn’t go directly into the average person’s pocket, but rather into state coffers. Now, with the political climate as it is, they’d probably raise taxes and still slash social programs, while leaving all the less savory things the state does, like the military-industrial complex, completely untouched. The taxes would just go to state mischief.

That’s one area where the argument about taxes as paying back society, or reflecting duty to the common good, falls flat for me. I’m sympathetic to the idea that we all owe each other help. My debt to BroadSnark for these quotes:

Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.
– Jean Jacques Rousseau

I blame Rousseau, myself.  Man is not born free, he is born attached to his mother by a cord and is not capable of looking after himself for at least seven years (seventy in some cases).
– Katherine Whitehorn

The problem is that people move from that to justifying taxation–they skip the whole step of establishing that the state is actually the agent of the people and the common good. That to me is not at all trivial. Even a democratic state acts with its own will. I’m thinking here of this article comparing America’s war-making to the autocratic French court. The state acts more frequently on behalf of the specific good of particular groups than for any sort of definable common good. If you look at the state as selectively benefiting certain groups, you’ll have a lot more explanatory power than if you look at it as serving the common good.

While I’m a proponent of the belief that the non-aggressing individual should be free to secede from society to whatever extent they please (I find any social order that wants to criminalize the hermit perverse), I don’t go that Ayn Rand route of abstracting the individual. I don’t go in for Egoism with a capital E. So OK, I’ll go with you and say individuals in society might owe each other help. How do we provide for that common good while maintaining liberty?

Well, anarcho-communism is one solution: holding capital in common, working for each other and living in a condition of total mutual aid. Anarchist geoism has another–everybody who owns land pays a land tax (the amount differing depending upon the amount of land you have, I think) that goes to the community. Some geoists say it goes straight to funding services, while others (in my opinion a fairer route) say it goes back to the people of the community in equal portions and it’s up to the individual how to use that tax revenue. Mutualism deals with it by allowing for the ownership of capital and land, but saying you can only own as much as you can occupy and use by yourself. So if you need a lot of land or capital–if you want to expand–you have to partner up with people. Everybody gets a sort of equal right to land–no one person can own more land and capital than he or she can use/occupy. No one gets to lord property over others. And there are other ways beyond these. I like anarcho-communism and mutualism best of the options, myself.

I can believe in a duty to the common good, and I can agree with the idea of positive liberty. I think it’s unfortunate that people are so unimaginative as to think both have to be done through the state. I think it’s an error to see the state as an agent for both, and I’ve never understood why positive liberty should require infringement of negative liberty. Anarcho-communism is a great elaboration of a system with robust positive liberty that retains the essential quality of negative liberty: the right of association/secession.

And as a disclaimer, I don’t think any potential society would be a utopia. It’s not a matter of OK, do this and everything will be perfect, just a matter of do this and things could be better. Why shouldn’t we aim for a freer, fairer, and more peaceful society? I feel like most of the constituent aims are goods in themselves–for example, anti-authoritarian approaches to education or coops or mutual banks and time stores. Things we can do right now that have a positive effect.

Anyway, just a ramble…

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Site Update

Hello all,

I apologize for the quietness around here (not a great way to get a blog going, I know) but, of late, the non-plugged in life has been taking precedent for those of us here at Agreeable Anarchism. We still plan to make this blog active, but it requires a bit of a re-engagement on our part. For that, we apologize.

You may notice that the tagline of the blog has been slightly modified from “Anarchist Responses to Current Events” to “Current Events and Culture.” This just allows us to expand our focus a bit and give us a little more leeway in terms of what we’re writing about.

To your right, you will also notice the addition of a blogroll with… one entry. The blog is Anarchy in the News, and it’s an excellent resource for anyone looking to find, well, anarchists and anarchy in the news. We may add a few more links, especially any links to news sites we use regularly.

There’s a lot going on in the world, both at home and abroad, and we hope to comment on some of it soon. Cheers!

Posted in Blog Business | 1 Comment

The Egypt Protests

We’ll be revisiting Egypt here in future posts, but since there is a lot going on today it seems worthwhile to at least provide some links to the coverage and analysis we’ve been using to follow this situation.

-Promoting Peace’s What’s Happening in Egypt Explained

This is a great primer for anyone who needs some basic background about what the protests are all about in Egypt and the context they’re happening in. Also includes some live-updating as events transpire.

-Al Jazeera English’s Live Stream

Excellent coverage of events in Egypt. If you’re in the U.S. this coverage is better than anything you’ll get on the news networks (although, in fairness, CNN has been providing good coverage yesterday and today).

-Guardian’s  Protests in Egypt – Live Updates

The Guardian has also been providing live updates as they happen. Pretty thorough, although depending on what time zone you’re reading this in they might not be synced up to your schedule of regular updates.

-Canonical’s Why Egypt’s Popular Rebellion is the Greatest Historical Event in a Decade, and How Barack Obama Missed the Boat

Another rundown on Egypt, with special attention paid to the links between the United States and the Egyptian dictatorship. Also includes some discussion of Tunisia and what different outcomes of these protests could mean for the region.

-Dan Murphy’s Joe Biden Says Egypt’s Mubarak no Dictator, He Shouldn’t Step Down…

A relatively minor article, and linked within some of the above links, but for the brazen and rank hypocrisy of the U.S. government this is a fairly striking piece.

-Xeni Jarden’s Egypt in Chaos

BoingBoing’s own link roundup for Egypt. Not quite as robust as some of the above links, but worth checking out (and there’s a fair amount of overlap, naturally).

-For super up-to-the-minute reporting/linking/commentary, I’ve been following Jeremy Scahill,  Naomi Klein and Jacob Applebaum on Twitter. The Latter is definitely the best, and will make sure your twitter feed is filled with as many scraps of information on Egypt as possible, including ways in which Egyptians are circumventing the government Internet blackout. There are, of course, plenty of excellent journalists and regular folks from around the world covering and commenting on what’s happening. Popular hashtags on Twitter are #Egypt and, particularly, #jan25.

Posted in Egypt, Middle East | 1 Comment

The Palestine Papers

There is a lot going on in the Middle East right now, all of it deserving of attention. This will hopefully be the first in a series of posts over the next few weeks on issues and news focused on that region. One of the major events in the region recently, actually overshadowed by major uprisings in other countries, is Al Jazeera’s release of The Palestine Papers. For anyone who maintains any interest in the backroom dealings of ambassadors and politicians, these are fascinating releases in their own right and highlight much of the disconnect between what the public is told on the record and what goes on behind closed doors. Both Al Jazeera and The Guardian have a lot of good coverage of the contents of these documents and pretty decent analysis.

One takeaway that seems to be making the rounds in some form or another, and articulated fairly well in this Seumas Milne editorial, regards how these papers shows that what’s needed are the “right” kind of leaders, the proper constellation of powers and authority. From the editorial:

But simply to point the finger at Palestinian leaders is to miss the point. What has been highlighted by the documents is not a picture of genuine negotiation and necessary compromise, but of a gross imbalance of power that can’t deliver peace, let alone justice. What’s more, it’s one where the western powers repeatedly intervene to tilt the scales still further against the victims of the conflict.

What has become clearer from the confidential records is that the talk of “partners for peace” is a fantasy. A far more mainstream Israeli leadership than is now in power was not even close to accepting an offer that would anyway have been almost certainly rejected by Palestinians if they had been consulted.

And why would Israeli negotiators do anything else when their rejection was backed to the hilt by the US government? Reading the transcripts of the talks, they often seem to be simply going through the motions.

And:

For Palestinians, the priority has to be to start to change that lopsided balance of power. That will require a more representative and united national leadership, as the story told by the Palestine papers has rammed home – which means at the very least a democratic overhaul of Palestinian institutions, such as the PLO. In the wake of what has now emerged, pressure for change is bound to grow. Anyone who cares for the Palestinian cause must hope it succeeds.

There’s a lot that the article gets quite right. It is obviously true, and well documented in these papers, that there is a major disconnect between the Palestinian “leadership” and the people they supposedly represent. By the same token, Israeli and U.S. leaders have been extraordinarily reluctant to engage in any actions which would seriously change the power dynamics in the region. Where I would part ways with this analysis is in the proposed remedy. All the problems described in the editorial aren’t bugs in the system that can be fixed with The Right Leadership, they’re features that are intrinsic to a system of government power. Because, ultimately, the state has nothing to do with the people it supposedly represents. The problems are not simply a matter of getting the “right” leaders in in charge of a state, the problem is with the nature of the state itself.

Murray Rothbard makes some relevant points about the nature of the state in his essay The Anatomy of the State. On what the state is not:

We must, therefore, emphasize that “we” are not the government; the government is not “us.” The government does not in any accurate sense “represent” the majority of the people. But, even if it did, even if 70 percent of the people decided to murder the remaining 30 percent, this would still be murder and would not be voluntary suicide on the part of the slaughtered minority. No organicist metaphor, no irrelevant bromide that “we are all part of one another,” must be permitted to obscure this basic fact.

If, then, the State is not “us,” if it is not “the human family” getting together to decide mutual problems, if it is not a lodge meeting or country club, what is it? Briefly, the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion.

And on what the state is:

The State, in the words of Oppenheimer, is the “organization of the political means”; it is the systematization of the predatory process over a given territory. For crime, at best, is sporadic and uncertain; the parasitism is ephemeral, and the coercive, parasitic lifeline may be cut off at any time by the resistance of the victims. The State provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively “peaceful” the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society. Since production must always precede predation, the free market is anterior to the State. The State has never been created by a “social contract”; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation. The classic paradigm was a conquering tribe pausing in its time-honored method of looting and murdering a conquered tribe, to realize that the time-span of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant, if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute. One method of the birth of a State may be illustrated as follows: in the hills of southern “Ruritania,” a bandit group manages to obtain physical control over the territory, and finally the bandit chieftain proclaims himself “King of the sovereign and independent government of South Ruritania”; and, if he and his men have the force to maintain this rule for a while, lo and behold! a new State has joined the “family of nations,” and the former bandit leaders have been transformed into the lawful nobility of the realm.

When we speak of getting the “right leaders” in charge of a Palestinian authority or getting the “right people” in charge of the Israeli state, we fail to recognize that the problem isn’t that the people in power now simply are the “wrong” people but that the struggle of power playing out is simply the powers involved – disconnected from the concerns of the people – struggling to preserve and expand themselves. Any actions to securing the liberties or sercurities of the Palestinian or Israeli people will happen only insofar as it is necessary to secure the maximum power possible for the Palestinian and Israeli powers. Since, frankly, the Israeli state isn’t meaningfully threatened by the conditions of the Palestinian people either way, it has absolutely no incentive to do cede any of its power. And even if some kind of Palestinian state did emerge, it would only improve life for those under it enough to expand and secure its own ability to steal and exploit as much as it could from those it controls.

All these deals and and power plays, of course, have precious little to do with the actual opinions “on the ground” of Palestinians and Israelis. A fairly comprehensive roundup of polling data paints a picture of Israelis and Palestinians who are generally supportive of the existence of each other, and willing to work on a give and take to coexist peacefully. The linked article points out a decline in faith in democratic institutions and the democratic process, a reaction which seems justifiable given the complete lack of interest these institutions have shown in pursuing peace or equality for anyone up to this point.

Israelis and Palestinians have nothing to gain by replacing their leaders – who, the recent Palestine Papers show, have little interest in pursuing justice or peace for their peoples – with different leaders, which will just lead to more of the same. Because, you know, it’s structural, man. States and leaders do as states and leaders do, and a fair and equitable resolution to issues like this aren’t gonna be on the docket. So, put the power in the hands of the people who actually have a vested interest in peace (and have already demonstrated that they want it): the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. It’s not actually rocket science, yo.

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace | 1 Comment

Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself

Okay, so the fact that it’s taken me several days to do even my introductory post should be enough to set the tone for my future contributions to this blog.

My name is Jon Wolter. I live in Chicago, IL, though I grew up in Charleston, SC. I am 34 years old, in a heteronormative, state-approved marriage, and work a desk job in high-rise condominium property management, despite going to college for a degree in theatre I almost never use. I eat meat, drink Coca-Cola, and often fail to support local businesses. I’m an occasional sports fan and I get obsessive over music quite a bit. I was raised Southern Baptist, but I haven’t believed in any god or supernatural event since I was about 13.

I’ve been an anarchist since I was about 20. Go figure.

Prior to discovering anarchism, I was pretty much apolotical.  Sure, I was a fan of punk music, and listened to all sorts of bands that fell into the anarchist camp, but I also listened to bands that were totally apolitical, or borderline fascist in outlook. I discovered Noam Chomsky (whom I never even thought of as an anarchist at the time, though he seems lumped in there a lot) via a Jello Biafra spoken word album. From Chomsky, I discovered Rudolf Rocker, specifically his sprawling Nationalism and Culture. That was my “Damascus” moment. Specifically because he was my first exposure to the notion that anarchists weren’t all bomb-throwing, nihilist assassins. Rocker, unlike numerous other European anarchists, had no problem mining the American libertarian tradition, citing Jefferson and Spooner (among others), and taking the best aspects of Classical Liberalism to their logical conclusions. That appealed to me.

For years, I was a self-proclaimed Anarcho-Syndicalist due to Rocker’s influence, though I sometimes leaned towards Anarcho-Communism from my readings of Kropotkin.  Now, I think I’m a little more steeped in mutualism, localism, free-market-anti-capitalism, and about 9000 other -isms to determine which modifier to put before the hyphen. On Facebook, I describe myself as a Zenarchistic Jeffersonian Anticrat, which is probably as good a label as any.

I’m probably going to be the most sporadic poster on the blog – I have a tendency towards procrastination – with a focus that will probably seem more abstract. Expect me to speak less on politics (I’m often of the “throw up my hands in despair” school) and more on culture and literature, and how they tangentially relate to an anarchist mindset. Most of my political influences have already been touched on by my fellow bloggers in their far-more-well-thought out introductions, so I’ll save my link-dumping for future entries.

Ultimately, I think my views can be summed up by something thebuddhadada wrote a few days ago:

“Even if full anarchism is never achieved, a voluntary, peaceful society seems like a worthy goal.”

P.S. I’m also open to huge flame wars with other bloggers who think I’m too bourgeois to write on anarchism. You know, for kicks.

Posted in Blog Business | 2 Comments

Happy 202nd, Proudhon

It’s Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s 202nd birthday today. For anyone who hasn’t read it, What is Property? is considered one of those “foundational works” you hear so much about. Of course, he wrote plenty of other good stuff too.

Posted in anarchist thinkers | 1 Comment