Just as I’ve had to shed clothes that no longer suit me or fit my needs, I have often had to shed labels that no longer are suitable. I wrote some time back about why I cannot , in good conscience, describe myself as a Muslim. Yes, I converted, but that was mainly because I had to in order to marry my wife. My conception and belief in God is such that it doesn’t matter what label I choose, they can all fit or none of them can, but I certainly don’t pray in a prescribed way five times a day, I’m not fasting during ramadan, I eat bacon, I drink alcohol, and – well, I’m sure you get the point. I’m not a Muslim – though I am a man on the path of God who frequently submits his own ego to the expressed will of the divine – but that’s another story.
Through my teens, twenties, and even into my thirties – I was very much able to describe myself as an anarchist. For me, as for many people, the term was more of a statement of what I was against than what I was for. I was against the use of force by a coercive government, I was against bureaucracy and taxation without representation, I was against tyranny by the majority, I was against centralized control and decision making that left the individual out of the process. To some extent, I can still say that I am not a fan of those things. If you had asked me what I was for, I believe I would have said I was for personal responsibility – I still am. I have simply come to the conclusion that Santa Claus is more plausible than a society where all members take personal responsibility and act in a mode of enlightened self interest.
That is what has changed. In travelling the world, studying diverse cultures and history, and meeting countless people – I can say that I am pretty certain about one thing.
THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE GIVEN A CHOICE WITH NO IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCES WILL CHOOSE IN THEIR OWN IMMEDIATE SELF INTEREST REGARDLESS OF LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES TO THEMSELVES, OTHERS, OR SOCIETY AS A WHOLE.
A simple example is firewood. If there is one tree that provides wood for fires and no one regulating it, you can be sure that the dead wood will first be harvested and hoarded, then the accessible branches will be stripped, and then someone will come along and cut down the rest of the tree. Those who held back to share are left in a position where they must now buy what was a community resource and there is no longer a tree to provide dead wood next year. That is the true tragedy of the commons. You either grab as much as you can while the tree is standing or you end up beholden to those that did. The idealist is left to complain and theorize. What a bummer.
The only way to prevent the tree being looted is to have the threat of force i.e. enforcement which can roughly be translated to government. Government, when it comes down to it, is a body of enforcement whether it is a dictatorship, a democracy, or something else. Someone has to carry the stick which will be used to enforce laws for the common good – it can be an individual who appoints themselves through brute force or it can be an institution created and backed by the people. Government, i.e. an enforcement agency, is essential because the majority of people are either unwilling or unable to make decisions that extend beyond their own immediate self interest.
The problem, of course, is that the government itself is much like the tree. It can also be stripped and looted. First someone comes along and takes all of the dead wood, then someone a bit stronger comes and strips the branches, and finally someone comes and takes the rest of the tree and the rest of us are left beholden to them. It’s a much more dangerous situation than being left without wood though, because the government can then be used AGAINST the people for the immediate self interest of those who have seized control. At that point, the people are either forced into serfdom or when conditions become completely unbearable, they are forced to rise up and seize control of the enforcement agency from the thieves who have stolen it. Such was the case in the Arab Spring, the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution. In fact, every popular revolt is such an uprising against unbearable conditions.
The challenge at that point is to create a system which has protection against thugs seizing control. This is the point of our checks and balances in the USA. The President is kept in check by the Supreme Court and the Congress, the Congress is kept in check by the Judiciary and the Executive, and the Judiciary is kept in check by the President and the Congress – at least in theory. Also in theory, all of these bodies are directly accountable to the people. The problem, is that when we allowed corporations to lobby and interfere in elections, lobbying, and appointments – we were giving the wealthy people behind those businesses a bigger axe to cut down the tree with. Suddenly decisions were being made that were of greater benefit to business than to individuals – short term decisions that lined pockets at the expense of our future. That’s the problem, that’s where we stand now.
Given all of that, I can’t describe myself as an anarchist. We need a government. We need a threat force. We just don’t need a government and threat force that is working to make us all into serfs. The current government is killing the future for us and our children, grand-children, and generations to come. By favoring business over education, profits over parks, and the needs of the few over the needs of the many – our government is slowly screwing our backs to the wall – they are stripping the tree right in front of our eyes. At what point does common sense dictate that we stand up and defend the tree of liberty?