I hear a lot of talk about anarchy among my friends. Many of them seem to think that this is a reasonable solution to their anger towards the government.
And it’s a good idea in the same way that Communism is a good idea. Let’s take a look:
Communism: This is a system where everyone is expected to do the work they are able to do, and then each citizen is given what they need. There is a famous quote by Karl Marx that explains it well:
“From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”
In other words, it’s a system that respects the workers, like the carpenter and the janitor, as well as the doctor and the layer. The idea is that all should be able to lead a life of dignity and respect.
Of course this all sounds fine in theory, because I think we can all agree that each human being who works for a living deserves dignity and respect for their contributions to society.
However, the problem comes in when we realize that citizens need to participate. You see, the economics of Communism demand that the people own the means of production. That’s right. The people own the means of production.
And they all need to participate.
People are pretty lazy. Just look at how few people vote, and how rare it is that Congressmen get letters from their constituents. So it was realized that on a small scale it is fine if everyone has a say in everything all the time, but it is chaos on a large scale once you start having to elect leaders (going against the theory of a classless society by putting some in a position of more power than others.) Corruption ensures and then collapse.
So now let’s look at the theory of Anarchy.
Anarchy is the idea that a person or group of people reject as form of government or hierarchy. The idea is that people should only associate with one another if they choose, and should do so without the supervision of any overseeing body.
I am sure you can already see the problem, but let’s break it down a bit.
Imagine you have children. You don’t want their knowledge to be limited by what you know, nor do you want to devote your life to teaching them everything you know. It is not efficient or logical for each parent to teach each child.
However, anarchists don’t believe in taxes, because that is not part of a free association of people. So that means no money to build a school, pay teachers, or provide supplies.
Now imagine your house catches fire. You would like to call the fire department to put it out, but in an anarchist community there is not fire department, because this is another thing funded by taxes.
So, you put out your house on your own, or you watch it burn to the ground. If your neighbors choose to help you, they likely won’t have professional fire-fighting supplies. So, it is likely that you will lose everything.
Now imagine that you want to travel to the ocean for a vacation. You get in your car and realize that a different community built the road that goes in that direction, and they want three goats and a truckload of corn to travel it. But you have none of those things, nor do you have currency to simply pay a fee because freely associating people don’t develop currency.
So instead you stay home and realize that building a road is a huge and expensive cooperative effort that your community can’t afford, and so you are stuck in your area with no way to travel anywhere else.
Obviously I think National Parks and Public Utilities and such are really wonderful things, and I can’t see how anyone would contemplate living without them. And if we look at anarchist societies in history, we will see how successful they typically are.
Take, for example, Drop City. A bunch of people took over a field, smoked a lot of pot, and were cold and wet for a few years. Then they gave up and abandoned their yurts to go get jobs and rejoin society.
Then there is the Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities. They started out saying that they would have no government and promised people freedom, but then ended up becoming a military dictatorship with a few bullies in control of everyone there.
So the “anarchist” communities that have existed or do exist are hardly a utopia where everyone is equal and no one has to pay taxes but they still have nice things that people voluntarily build (and magically know how to build in the absence of schools.)
They like to say that people without any laws would be peaceful because they would all recognize what was best for every person and therefore there would be no reason for crime or violence.
However, this idealized view of humans fails to take into account what I think is our most distinctive characteristic; we’re kind of assholes.
And even if people suddenly all decided to be peaceful and wonderful and kind, and they all grew food for the community and helped raise barns, that wouldn’t allow for the production of larger things.
Like, for example, Netflix. I happen to enjoy Netflix. (By the way, to even get something as complex as Netflix, this necessarily requires enough people to “randomly associate “for long enough to produce something of that magnitude.)
When I come home and cook dinner, I like to have Netflix to entertain me. By the way, I also enjoy that while I am cooking in my kitchen, I am unlikely to die. This is because the condo I live in had to adhere to government regulations and standards when it was being built. A government building inspector checked it to ensure that it was safe. A competent contractor built it. And a realtor ho specialized in property in the area was able to match what I wanted with what was available in my price range.
Think of all the people involved in my dinner, then. Not just the farmers that grew the food. Not just the people who made my dishes. But also the people who made sure my kitchen was safe, and if I were a bad cook, even the fire department who would come save me.
This is organization on a massive scale, and so obviously it isn’t possible without structure and government. I think history can demonstrate this effectively (there has never been a successful anarchist community for very long, or ever with the quality of life we have in normal society these days.)
But let’s get personal. I have a friend involved in an anarchist collective called New Culture. They are a group of people who think that society is going to collapse, and they will be one step ahead of everyone with their small collection of buildings. They are supposed to get a septic tank some day, but right now they have port-o-potties. They have no shower facilities, minimal kitchen facilities, insufficient ability to produce enough food, and worst of all, no Netflix.
I say “It’s not for me” and they say “Well of course you have to sacrifice some things.”
What they do not tell you is that in reality, one of the things myself and people like me would have to sacrifice is our lives. You see, due to a life-long medical condition, I require regular blood tests and medicine. There is no “herbal alternative” and I literally will die without my medication. In a civilized society like South Korea, the government provides medical facilities and I can get care easily. It requires only an hour of my day every two weeks. The rest of the time, I can go about my life being a productive member of society.
However, my ability to do that is very largely based on the hospital I visit, the lab that does my blood work, the pills I take, and the government bodies that regulate all those things to make sure that they are safe for me.
For me to live, many people must contribute. (And I in turn contribute to society as a professor.)
Then you have to think about how I am mentally healthy and only have a small physical defect. What about people who have serious physical defects? What about people with serious mental problems? How does a society with no police, no jails, no therapists, and no medicine deal with a serial killer?
This is why every group of people on Earth has over time naturally tended towards forming a more complex society. More complex societies allow for more diversity. We know about black holes and various concepts in quantum physics because of Stephen Hawking. And he would have died in a society that had no facilities for someone with his physical problems.
So let’s think very clearly about all of that for a moment and realize that the more complex a society is, and the more complex things a society wants, the more structure it requires.
I don’t deny that at one point it was perfectly logical for a farmer to teach his children farming and maybe how to read when he got home from working the fields. And if he built his house poorly he would die in a fire or earthquake. If not, he and his children might live on if their health was good, and they would become farmers.
If that sounds like a life you want, then maybe anarchy is right for you. But I like hospitals and building inspectors and public roads that I am free to drive on in my car which meets the lately government safety regulations and has been inspected by someone who is an expert in cars. I like my Internet and my TV, and my protected parks where I can enjoy nature and meet a nice park ranger paid for by my taxes, who will give me a trail map and help me decide what I want to go explore.
This is not something that can, or ever has been, organized by people who are freely associating as long as it suits them with no laws or rules in place to govern commerce or behavior.
Many people have told me: “I am sick of the government! We should all just live in anarchist collectives!”
And I say, “Go ahead.”
But don’t come back, because I doubt you’re going to have vaccines and stuff for awhile (unless you find someone who will trade vaccines for goats) and I don’t want kids in the rest of society to get polio because of you.