Sunday, March 04, 2012
scott crow: Black Flags and Windmills - Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective; Michael Dean Benton: My Understanding of Anarchism
PM Press link for the book
also a full presentation by scott crow on the ideas and experiences in the book
This is a response by Michael Benton to Sara P. on the Occupy Education email list. Sara asked him to define in greater detail his understanding of Anarchism. There is a lot of confusion about what anarchism is, mostly because of the disinformation propagated by the corporate media. So it is important that that we each set down our understandings of anarchism and enter into the broader discussions/debates about anarchism:
Sara, remember this all on the fly here and I can explain in more detail later .....
You asked about the confusion in regards to the many uses of the words libertarian/libertarianism.
First, the political concept of "libertarianism" has many meanings/uses in American political discussions. Because of our corporate media's focus/support most Americans are familiar with right-libertarians (also known as economic libertarians)? This is the Tea Party's or Ron/Rand Paul's American version of libertarianism that wants to limit government and privatize everything.
On the other hand, there are the left-libertarians (also known as socialist libertarians). These are the traditional anarchists developing from earlier European versions that branched off from socialism (rejecting its authoritarian impulses) and sought to bring more autonomy into individual/collective lives while realizing the potential of liberated communities.
There are many more types of anarchism, but let me lay out some basics (I would also encourage you to watch scott crow's presentation in the video I provided -- he/Common Grounds is a great example of anarchist direct action. I would suggest going to see the screening of Howard Zinn's The People Speak:
For the record Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky both claim they are left-libertarians.
Anarchists do not seek complete absence of government. There is a need for basic communal structures to provide everyone with the necessary staples of life, for instance, a good example would be the provision of water for a large community. What anarchists do want is leadership, not leaders; in other words a society in which we cultivate the ability of all to step up and work for the greater collective good. They also demand, yes demand, transparency of actions/processes (our occupy movement processes are coming out of anarchist collective principles) and that leadership should always be held accountable. Most anarchists are also opposed to privatization of basic necessities (at the least) under the control of corporate oligarchies. These types of monopoly relations rest upon the infantilization of dependent populations, as well as the creation of elite syncophants in the government. We believe democracy doesn't come from the top, that it can only come from the people. We believe that democracy demands the resistance to illegitimate authority, like our current two part, corporate-capitalist oligarchy.
Anarchists do not believe in complete freedom for the individual. In fact we have a lot of problem with the word "freedom" which has its origins in slave societies. Also consider what is means to be free in our consumer society -- freedom is often an illusion. Instead anarchists seek "autonomy", for individuals and communities. For me, I think of autonomy in this way: autonomy = individual liberty + collective responsibility + creative learning + participatory economics. At every step of this formula is the development of individual liberty in tandem with collective responsibility. Anarchists believe that communities are best served by free-thinking, autonomous individuals (and this is the polar opposite of the "radical individualism" of consumer capitalism and economic libertarians) and that autonomous individuals are best cultivated in liberated, participatory collectives/communities. If anything, Anarchists are truly the most concerned with community because they struggle with the individual's role in communities. Responsibility = the ability to respond. The reason why anarchists hold such value on the creative development of autonomous individuals is because self-direction is a necessary step for the cultivation of responsibility. Consumer capitalism seeks fragmented, alienated, anxious individuals/communities because these are people that are the most easily exploited for profits. Furthermore, anxious, detached and fragmented people are incapable of response-ability to anything beyond their basic addictive appetites.
Anarchists are not opposed to profits. There is nothing wrong with co-ops, local markets, exchange of goods with ones neighbors. We just don't want to worship at the altar of profits or genuflect to a mythical corporate free market (lets face it, America has a massive corporate welfare system in place). We value people/places over money. Money is an illusion, a powerful one that has real effects in the world, but an illusion nonetheless.
I view anarchism as a personal philosophy (the personal is political and vice versa). Here is my take on it:
Anarchism is a person-centered philosophy. Its focus is on autonomy amidst the social and economic pressures of mass society for superficiality and conformism. It is our responsibility, as free and conscious beings, to create meaning out of life and to develop an authentic existence. It is also, in my opinion, in this regard, our duty to help others develop their response-ability to do the same (for me as a teacher this is the core of an anarchist pedagogy). In this anarchism is radically collective in orientation. We are cultivating autonomous, ethical and responsible individuals who care about their community. Anarchism does not discount other beings in this world, it is holistic, in the sense of recognizing that humans are just one set of beings that live and share in the development and continuation of the broader environment.
Freedom = Responsibility. Anarchism is a philosophy of freedom. It requires that we step back and reflect/reassess on what we have been doing and what effect our thoughts/actions have on the world. In this sense we are more than just individuals, we are members of larger collectives and our personal ethics always extend beyond ourselves (anarchism is not vulgar egotism). In this we can only be as "responsible" as we are "free." Response-ability, the ability for people to respond to the problems of their society and the impetus for them to care beyond themselves, is only realized by free, authentic and ethical beings. Where there is mindless conformism, shallow consumerism, or brutal oppression, you will see a breakdown in the development of response-ability (both in the ruled/rulers... or, manipulated/manipulators).
Ethical considerations are the primary questions. We all understand ethics and freedom differently, this is a given, and thus we must bring each of our understandings into play and sharpen our ideas through open/free public discourse. In this we, as individuals, as a community, as a society, and as a global ecosystem, should consider ethical questions as primary steps to building a better world. An autonomous individual is responsible to develop and consider the authenticity of their own personal lives in relation to their society. My authenticity should not be at the expense of your opportunity to realize yourself (for example, we are not bloated ticks that feed off the misery of others in order to realize some twisted sense of self).
I realize I am a flawed and difficult person. This is always a work in progress and I struggle as an individual.
To realize true liberty, autonomous citizens, participatory economics, and liberated communities .... that is all I have ever dreamed of since I was a little kid.... seriously -- it is all summed up in the usage of the word: "solidarity"
Here is a great discussion of current anarchist thought (esp. cindy milstein) in relation to the Occupy Movement
and once again to circle back again to scott crow -- why does the government/media/corporations fear anarchist so much?
NY Times: For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target