Democracy – a New Anarchism?

Political, Pulpit

We’re all humans and there’s no reason why any one of us should be able to rule over any of the rest of us.

I understand that not everyone accepts this as a given, and I’m a little exhausted by that: people unwilling to use or presently incapable of using empathy. It’s nothing we can help. There’s a fateful inevitability to human proceedings that doesn’t make our lives any less interesting, but that does wear on you.

If you want anything big – some proper change – you have to make a pretty huge push in that kinda direction otherwise, like a ball tumbling downhill, society won’t turn round and go back the way you want. And big in this sense means involving large numbers of people, which in turn means that it can’t be something you want, it has to be something that we all want.

All human progress is about co-operation. This is clear and obvious. Various day-to-day facts make it hard for us to co-operate sometimes. The fabric of our society has been knitted wrong. We mistrust one another, we compete for false standing and stolen wealth, but that’s just how it is – I’m not criticising you personally. We all have to do it. Born into poor structures created by dying fools.

So if you’re looking at a goal, a place to work toward, a method of organisation that might work better and more efficiently for all than what we have now, well, it’s a totally co-operative society.

It’s what democracy should be, and that’s why the word democracy has been hijacked – because it promises so much. Communism was hijacked in the same way. Neither idea has generally been expressed with much eloquence or clarity. Instead, the powerful rhetoric and easy-to-follow sound bites have been on the enemy’s side. I say that wearily – there are no enemies except maybe something like the seven deadly sins and they’re not so much enemies as potentially harmful practices that the individual ought to carefully control within itself. I’m going to refer to people as “it”s at various points in this. That’s only because of my place in the whole gender pronouns debate. There’s “ze” I know, but I’ve not encountered any real consensus on neutral pronouns except “it”, which I know works and can be understood even if it’s clumsy. We’re all its, and then you can subdivide within that if you wanna.

Democracy is thought of as being a society in which leading figures within the state are elected on a regular basis by the majority of citizens. But democracy is simply “rule by the people”. No state, no elected representatives. What we have right now in much of Europe, America, the UK, for example, is elective oligarchy. That means rule by the elected few. Only it’s not entirely elective, since there are huge and influential business interests not subject to any kind of vote or other regulation from the mass of society. Hey, spending money on their shitty products doesn’t count. In fact there are huge and influential business interests that actively try to harm the mass of society, using societal corruption to feed their financial gain. But, like I say, we’ve all gotta make our way somehow.

Communism I believe is widely recognised by those who’ve read the founding texts as not being precisely defined. This is why it was so easy to hijack – supposed “Bolsheviks” took all the pretty semblance and cut the content. What content there was. Like disintegrating the person wearing a nice dress then putting the dress on a bear.

I’d just argue that the original sentiment with Communism, before disintegration, was peaceful co-operation and co-existence. The dictatorship of the proletariat thing is an old skool socialism off-shoot and well and truly fucked. It’s also something a lot of us run to in frustration “the benevolent dictator”. God, in one sense. Fucking Church. Don’t blame Christianity for that, it’s the Church’s fault. Supporting monarchs to further their own land grabbing and gold and silver plating. Scum.

I’ve styled myself as an anarchist for a few years now, believing that it was the purest expression of true democratic thought still widely available in the Western World, but even anarchism has had a really hard time staying true. Various nutters taking advantage of our peaceful ways and seeming love of chaos, turning that into excuses for terrorism and bomb threats. The only point to anarchism is not being organised like an ideology, not being some terrible thing happening in church halls and trade unions and over-attended rallies. The point is supposed to be that you just look at people as people, which really begs the question why do we even need to call ourselves anarchists at all? We don’t, and so I generally now don’t. It doesn’t add anything so we might as well cancel it out of the equation so to speak.

But in this very quick and likely unconvincing romp through a recent history of democratic ideas I’ve still not explained what democracy, what rule by the people, rule by individuals, rule by us…is.

Because the state exists we can’t start from a clean slate. We have to draw over what already exists. For the purposes of this metaphor, imagine the new drawing in invisible ink that will be revealed when the paper slips and falls in a puddle and all the state ink just fades away. Sounding too communist already? Well, I’ll clarify if the early commies didn’t. Revolutions don’t work. Take a history class in them: violence is not the solution. Society is built on peace, and if you take away the order that makes that peace, then you’re opening Pandora’s Box, right, you’re signalling to everyone that there is no law for a while and so they can do what they want. Being so accustomed to limits on their freedom, members of society will then tend to go fucking insane, torturing, stealing from, extorting those who haven’t yet gone insane. Just because they can. And for a lot of people it’s the first and only opportunity in life they’ve had to really DO something. The first moment of meaning. The first moment they’ve lived.

I’ve got nothing against a kind of order, and sudden ‘limitless’ freedom is overrated. Having a stable society saves a lot of lives – I think life is important – and for you capitalist scum it saves property. So we all like a bit of order.

Besides, you don’t win an argument by killing the person you’re arguing with, or by hurting them – you just make it harder for them to continue to argue a point they still believe in. As long as they want to keep arguing, you’ve failed. Winning the argument is about convincing someone else that they were wrong, so they might change to more or less your point of view on the topic. It’s resource management, you don’t kill your comrades and workers. Even if you’re a capitalist it’s bad business – much better that people willingly co-operate.

This is how we will have to bring about a democratic society: by convincing the state that it itself is wrong. And we won’t do that just by writing stupid little essays like this.

The democratic society has to be built over the oligarchical capitalist one, not with isolated communes of fellow travellers, but normal villages, whole towns, cities, counties changing their practices and methods of organisation to the democratic. And what does that mean?

Basically, legally, reorganising ourselves into co-operative groups capable of providing completely for themselves. At base level, given our present level of technological advancement, everyone could be living without governmental support or reliance on utility companies or outside farms. We could make everything we need ourselves. It’d cost money and effort, but so does everything else, everything we already have, everything we’re building. All those new flats and skyscrapers in London.

The only reason that any more of an advanced level of society than basic small-group self-reliance should exist is luxury. Luxury or possibly evolution. Yeah, I prefer evolution. Nothing wrong with luxury as such, but there’s a lot wrong with a merciless pursuit of it to excess. Same goes for anything pursued to great excess really – never turns out well. Evolution on the other hand – natural. We should be getting better and changing as a species.

Luxury, in a modern democracy, would be found both in what you can make yourselves in addition to what you need, and in what other people want to give you. If the way you acquire what you need for survival is streamlined to the point at which it requires minimal maintenance, you can spend a lot of your life on anything you want. And being human, you’ll want some nice extras as part of that. Entertaining fiction, drugs, artworks, extra tasty food and drink. Maybe a car if that’s your idea of a good time. What you want you could make for yourself – you’d have the time to do it. And a co-operative, democratic social setup would mean you’d be making plenty of pals with the other groups of people around, to the point at which you might want to give them things and they might want to give you things. Or where you might want to work together on a bigger project. Plus we’re not luddites, there’s a lot of brilliant tech around that means you can get more or less what you want. Maybe not a Porsche in just the right shade of black, but a fast car for example – you can make those at home mate, and do your own decoration rather than factory regular.

I feel like evolution is still a better guiding principle at this point though. Even if we’re basically hedonists, we could be working together to make breakthrough medical advances, engineering advances and shit, thinking openly and (relatively) efficiently about making humans better. That’s all humans by the way. None of your racist bullshit here. It’s not even about race – we’re all the fucking human race. Racism’s about idiot people making gang uniforms out of skin colour and language. Like we ought to be able to see through Trump, we ought to be able to see right through those shitstacks. But as with all gangs, criminals – they’re just doing what they need to do to survive, as they see it. We’ve got to get in there and show them there’s a better way.

And veganism – veganism makes for much better land use, saving huge amounts of resources, nevermind the health benefits. And no-one has to go totally vegan as long as we stop the farming. I mean animals are going to hunt eachother anyway, so why shouldn’t we join the party on occasion? As we help ourselves evolve, leave them to their own evolution in pleasant reserves and parks and ting. We like nature – it’s pretty, vaguely mystical, vaugely dangerous.

Now, this is where we get to some kind of politics. Democracy doesn’t need voting, since everyone is involved in whatever decision is made. That can sound quite sinister, until you remember that there is no state in democracy. There is no legal power above you, the individual. You don’t need to vote for representatives if there’s no issue being decided elsewhere that you would want to comment on. However, the need would arise to organise bigger projects like hospitals, science labs, factories. Possibly farms. These would all need to be equally owned and maintained by all the people setting them up. No ‘leaders’ with administrative power. The administrative power would lie in everyone wanting to achieve the same goal, everyone recognising one another’s strengths, everyone being empathic. And I need to step out here for a talk about what it is to be human, because if you were interested before now, this is where you start to doubt.

I agree: “oh we’ll just love eachother” isn’t enough. Why won’t someone want to take all the power and fuck over everyone else? Well, before we get on to the philosophy, there’s something in the structure here. Organising society at its lowest common denominator, a group of people living together (NOT a conventional family) means that there is nothing to take over. All necessities being provided means there’s not much demand for most people to fight for survival or fight for the basics – everything is already there. All you could fight over would be luxuries. Not people. People you need to get things done, you don’t need people as objects. Some folks think they can have people as objects. For sex, for example. Or for entertainment. Not as labour slaves, since they’ll work better for you if they’re not slaves. Fact. Actually with all things, people do it better with consent, it’s fucking obvious. Agreement, co-operation. Not many of us want to own others. What most of us want is an excess of some kind of luxury, and a lot of positive attention from other humans. In a democratic society, you’d have loads of positive attention from everyone as a kind of baseline – mutual love and respect. And the luxury? Well, you’d have loads of people willing to work with you to achieve an abundance of it. Maybe not more than you could ever possibly use, as some people like to get now (fleets of cars, mountains of coke, impossible sums of money) but more than enough.

So okay, agree with me that maybe there is some slight quality to the organisation of this democracy, maybe, although it hasn’t been very well explained here. What about the baseline of mutual love and respect?

Well, you wouldn’t try and join and live in this democratic society without it. And you wouldn’t be able to work within democratic organisation without it. Co-operation and empathy being the key phrases. Without them, the whole scheme just doesn’t work. It only happens with people who are capable of such things. I think all people are, but even if they’re not, democracy can still work. It doesn’t offend anyone. It doesn’t break laws or harm people. It doesn’t try and dismantle the establishment. It just does life better for those who want to practice it. And working in small community groups as a baseline means, unlike now, you’ll get to know everyone around you, everyone who effects your core ability to survive. You’ll be aware if a problem’s likely to arise, you’ll have friends standing by to support you. Conflict just starts to be seen as unhelpful, unlike the current way of things where conflict is standard.

There’s a whole background of thinking built on human experience that leads you to democracy, and I have written and am going to write plenty on it. But basically, why do you want these idiots in, for example, McDonalds headquarters, changing how you live your life? Cut out from the society they dominate and exist in one that treats people as equal parts in a genuinely positive and beautiful whole.

“Oh, oh, but if this “democracy” you’re talking about is so good, why don’t we have it already?”

Well, imaginary detractor:

A long time ago, someone called Thomas Hobbes wrote a book about how life for humanity that didn’t involve kings and governments would be “nasty, brutish and short”. This attitude to stateless society has become somehow famous and widely accepted. Hobbes’ book Leviathan (he even openly recognises with the title that the state too is monstrous) was published in 1651. That’s a time when most people were dying young having lived nasty and brutish lives. Most people were farmers or other kinds of labourer working for a selection of ‘aristocrats’, nobles, priests, who claimed superiority. Hobbes managed to live a life much divorced from that of the masses who lived the kind of nasty existence that he claims the state protects us from. Basically, he’s saying in the book “I did well out of the state, fuck you all.” Diminishing his message to be simply: better to be with the bigger monster than one of the smaller ones.

But to be fair, that’s not all he was trying to say, and that’s not all his life was about. Like Machiavelli and Aquinas in their essays to princes and Kings, Hobbes has underlying points beyond defence of the establishment. Some points about liberty, social contract, mobility of a kind. Everyone becomes complicated when you dig deeper than a famous quote. Complicated doesn’t save the state though, just explains it.

We’ve reached here and now because the early stages of human existence were hard. We pulled ourselves up to what looks like the top of the world, but it only looks that way to the people who aren’t still fighting to survive. Since the beginning of humanity and even now, people are fighting for basic survival, doing all they can just to get food on the table, just to avoid taking a beating or a bullet, to avoid seeing their loved ones, their friends, their family, suffer and die. For these people still struggling – most of the world’s population – life continues to be nasty, brutish and short. The sort of leaders they produce are made by the experience of struggle, of a basic lack of human essentials. And once they’re leading it’s like celebrity, being catapulted from nothing into a position of seemingly ultimate power. More than that it can be like minor transcendence or deification. For example, becoming the person who controls exactly the force you’ve all been fighting against: death.

There’s an ocean of pain and suffering in human cultural history. Much of our culture still has its roots there: in that kind of miserable competition. Slaves killing eachother for scraps of rotten food.

It’s easy to get distracted by all that pain (especially seeing as it hasn’t been eliminated pretty much anywhere) and so think that humanity is somehow evil in its nature. No, our circumstances are hard. Nothing is particularly evil. The world doesn’t judge, the world doesn’t have morality. We made morality in an attempt to better organise ourselves against one another and the corruption wrought on us by our very existence. But of course, in a sense, corruption isn’t corruption. It’s just another response to every-day necessity.

Morality isn’t the world, it’s just a response to the world.

I can’t accurately say that the horrific shit we’ve done to get to where we are today is wrong, but I can say there’s a perfectly good alternative that we could just start using, start living. And if it is really better, then why not? It’s not even a matter of morality, it’s just survival efficiency. If we can eliminate the basic need to survive, we can evolve into the next thing as a species. We often act – in popular culture – like we’ve already separated ourselves from the animals and the rest of nature. No, we’ll never separate ourselves from the very fabric of our existence. But if we organised ourselves such as to remove the elements of our lives that lead to destruction and death, we’d be pretty damn close to classifying ourselves as something other than animal at least.

I mean, I don’t think I’ll have you convinced from this little attempt here. Maybe I’ve got you thinking though. Check out some more various sources, some old-skool counter-culture, see what’s been accepted and what was held back. Look at the rise and fall of Rome, the history of Western Christendom, the Industrial Revolution – it’ll probably only take a year’s hobby reading to get a decent span of European history. I’m assuming you’re European, you might not be. Find what you need to find, get your historical context straight, get your Ivan Illich, some weird Henri Bergson philosophy, some Marx, some Hegel, some Aquinas, some More, Machiavelli for practicality…or don’t. I mean the historical layout gives you the material you need to see what’s wrong now. But fuck, if you can already see what’s wrong now then you’re right where you need to be. Add an open-minded, primarily peaceful outlook on the world and you’re probably already a little democrat working for a better future.

We just need to talk to eachother, work with eachother. Man this is why I love wordpress as a blogging community. So much room for discussion and chat, much less desire for the filthy realities of dagger-drawn combat. I can just put this out here, and we can do the communication thing. It’s beautiful.

Four

Political, Prosaic, Pulpit

Anarchy for the UK in 2000 Words (part 2 of 3)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Chaos 

Anarchism has had some bad press, okay, but that’s because it’s a bit of an easy target.

It eventually recommends the total restructuring of society, which, whether violent or not, tends to find enemies throughout the existing structure of any society. Understandable, right? Look at Gandhi: first he just wanted Indians in South Africa to be treated as equal human beings. Then later he just wanted his country to be able to govern itself. The whole time he demanded non-violent resistance only. He didn’t seek excessive power or pleasure. Although trained as a lawyer in Britain, heart and mind of the empire, he chose to accept and love the simple way of life led by the Indian peasant, the Hindu holy man, Christian monk, or devout pilgrim. He took pleasure from having some food, some shelter, and the ability to help his fellow human. And he was repeatedly imprisoned, sometimes beaten, as a revolutionary. A threat to the state. Can non-violent demands for better treatment really be considered “threatening”? Surely not in anything like the way a club to the head is threatening, a long sentence in jail is threatening.

But still, he was going to change the status quo – and you can see why the British rulers and competitors for power in India (he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist) didn’t want that. He proposed a way of living that prevented them from dominating. He was going to deprive them of their chosen lifestyle. Through non-violence and reason, yes, but they didn’t care. They were still going to lose, they thought, and he was going to gain. The well-being of millions of Hindus, Muslims and other denominations be damned.

This is the problem with the mass perception of anarchism. Our criticisms of present societies, our proposals for radical change: people can only imagine that we would right wrongs and enact changes by destroying what already exists. By harming. That’s what happened with communism after all. Well, anarchism doesn’t want to take over government. Doesn’t want to destroy. It wants to help people to learn about the world so that they choose to form their own self-sufficient communities within society. It wants to enable people to effectively govern themselves, to exist in a true democracy, legally of course. It wants to build a new structure over the rotten model under which we presently exist, replacing it as it naturally fails.

Really anarchism is best defined as a thinking discipline. It’s the tendency to completely deconstruct anything and everything, but especially commonly accepted and influential concepts that change how people live. In deconstructing these things, anarchists get a better understanding of what structures are strong, logical, workable, and which ones aren’t. But this process is conducted in a way that’s entirely defined by the individual. There are no official anarchist texts or thinkers. What influences anarchist philosophy is what influences the individual in question. That person’s central feature is an open-mindedness extending beyond anything normally considered reasonable, usually mixed with enough self-restraint to stop that open perspective becoming problematic.

Politically we tend to share one goal: ultimate democracy, or, in plainer terms, “localism”. But at the same time, we want to become apolitical. Anarchism contents that centralised or top-down government isn’t needed, and so politics proper departs with it. We want to restructure society, build power from the bottom up. Small community groups – familiar with each other, grown to understanding and trust – making ultimately unanimous decisions about their affairs. Anarchism is about steadily achieving real democracy. And some war-torn North African and Middle Eastern communities have already achieved that kind of anarcho-democratic rule as a necessary response to power vacuums created by war. So right now we’re just trying to de-mystify the cause and just get people interested in learning more, seeing real democracy in action. After all, there is no official anarchist organisation, no anarchist bible, just people doing what they think they should to make the world better. That’s what we want, that’s what we need.

Two

Political, Prosaic, Pulpit

Anarchy for the UK in 2000 words (Part 1 of 3)

A Note on Oligarchy

I just want you to take a look at the UK political system. I don’t see this as a criticism per se, just as a more honest description which highlights the flaws you already know are there in systems like this one.

I would classify the British government as a Parliamentary Oligarchy. That is, a state in which governmental power is held by a small minority of individuals, most of whom exercise their power though an elected parliamentary assembly.

We have 650 elected members in the House of Commons, tasked with representing the majority views of over 65 million people. Yes, we are ruled by 0.001% of the nation. Maybe 25 of them are involved in Cabinet – the core of government decision-making – while around 100 become different kinds of Ministers. So the 0.001% itself is dominated by 3.8% of its number. In 2016, Official Labour Market Statistics estimated the population of Hastings Council’s area of responsibility at 92,200. It has 32 councillors: not much hope in local government either. And the European Parliament isn’t worth mentioning because – never mind Brexit – it can’t legislate. It’s the European Union equivalent of our House of Lords. Our Watson chamber is the Lords, theirs is the only vaguely representative arm of European Union government. Go figure.

Moving on to parties. In 2015, the Conservatives formed a government on the “majority” of 37% of a 66% turnout. That’s 11,334,920 people getting representation versus 51,846,855 people in the general population (figures based on the 2011 Census) being given a government they disagree with.

In 2010, it was 36% of a 65% turnout: 10,703,744 people, so what roughly a sixth of the population – 17%! – getting minimal representation. Everyone else left high and dry, most still paying taxes. Over 40 million people regularly left without even the smallest tip-of-a-hat to representation.

That’s nationally. Locally, once again taking Hastings as a sample area, 2016 council elections, the highest turnout was in St Helens Ward: 47.2%. And that was the highest turnout of all wards by 6.3%. The Labour candidate got in by a relatively substantial 50.3% in St Helens. In rough terms, this all amounts to 1,000 people out of 4,000 getting what they voted for. 25% being represented.

In 2013, the Conservative party announced that it had 149,800 members. About 0.23% of the population. Labour claimed 552,000 members in June 2017. About 0.85% of the population. A September 2017 Parliamentary report on party membership put the total membership of Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and UKIP at 1,024,600, based on the most recent official figures available. Almost at full strength our very much disunited system of political parties might represent 1.58% of the population.

These figures alone show that we do not live in a democratic nation. We do however live in a nation where oligarchic government needs to seek some kind of approval or at least participation from an electorate of 46,835,433 people – based on the 2017 election – which translates to around 72.1% of the population. This is probably better than any other level of governmental representation in at least 1000 years of British history. So it’s still progress, but it’s not democracy. I’ll address this further in the following two parts, but to emphasise: voting is not equivalent to democracy. Voting is just voting.

All of my percentages are based on a rough tally of a total population of 65 million people. The latest UN estimates put it at 65,431,223 as of April 2017. Our 2011 census put it at 63,182,000. I suggest that even British people who are not part of the current electorate deserve consideration and representation under any kind of decent social contract. This is why I keep providing percentages out of the total population and not just the electorate. We’re talking about democracy here, not just voting.