Anarchism Talk – University of Hawaii
Talk on Anarchism
University of Hawaii, April 26, 1990
George Bush, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi are all stranded on a desert island – who would survive? [Pause] We would, a bit of Anarchist humor.
When people here the word anarchy, the vision which jumps to mind is chaos. When someone says they are an anarchist, you picture a scruffy person, dressed in black, with a maniacal grin on their face, holding a bomb [Mess up hair, grin and pull mock bomb out of bag].
I’m going to try to shatter some of these illusions.
The word anarchy comes from the Greek “without rule”
Anarchists generally believe that governments are fundamentally coercive organizations, drawing there power from violence and that man made laws are a restriction of freedom and therefore both governments and laws should be abolished. Or if you want to look at it in a more affirmative sense, Anarchists seek to:
1) Maximize freedom 2) Minimize coercion
You are probably thinking “Laudable goals, but impossible to obtain without some type of hierarchy to maintain order.”
Let me share with you the experience which first convinced me that there were non-hierarchical solutions to problems.
We were choosing teams for an ultimate Frisbee game, someone said “Find someone of approximately your ability and pair up with them.” after about half a minute we were in pairs “now everyone on the left is on one team and everyone on the right is on the other”. Now normally, captains are selected choices are alternated, w/ ego invested first picks and embarrassing last pick and the whole operation takes much longer. Why do we stick with this hierarchical system, which takes responsibility away from the individual, when it is inferior in so many ways – because it is what we know, what we are taught.
Now you are thinking “Nice trick, but life is not a frisbee game, what about more complex social organizations”
If the structure or “topology”, if you will, of the hierarchy is a pyramid. Then what is the large scale model for anarchist organizations? Why it is the buzz word of the 80’s – networks.
I’ve been involved in three different types of network each sheds a bit of light on how anarchists structure things.
First is collective businesses. Workers make the decisions. Frequently, they will choose to give authority to a manager or project leader. But these are fundamentally different from normal corporate managers, they serve a specific project or until the group replaces them, the workers give them the power to lead and volunteer to follow their instructions. Most collectives use a consensus decision model, borrowed from the feminists, in which problems are worked on until everyone agrees on the solution – this is a very different than a voting model. Typically business collectives don’t grow to be huge, but in my experience they are much nicer places to work.
Secondly are collective houses. I want to focus on a single aspect of a collective house i lived in called Paradox to illustrate a point. Big houses w/ a lot of people (10 in this case) perpetually have problems keeping the place clean. At Paradox we developed a system where post-it notes with cleaning tasks were placed on a big calendar on the date they were last done. When you felt like doing housework, you went to the calendar, found what had not been done in a while, did that task and moved the post-it. Nowhere in this process is your name listed next to your fine work, it is a self policing system. The group having taken responsibility, when things slipped, as they always do occasionally, someone would bring it up in a house meeting and people would generally admit to not having done enuf – this worked better than rigid job wheels in my experience.
The third and last type of network is the political collective. These are important because they deal with the problems of bringing large groups of people together, frequently in short periods to solve specific problems. An affinity group structure is used, usually friends who make decisions using consensus. Often specific tasks are handled by an affinity group, media outreach, writing a handbook, transportation coordination, first aid, food preparation, etc. But the “spokesperson council” will make a decision for the entire group using consensus. Your thinking “It can’t work for a group over a hundred”, I’ve seen it work for several thousand. Not easy but doable.
And you end up with a better quality of decisions.
Now you are thinking “Okay, maybe this stuff works in special cases, but no government, means no police, no military – civilization will collapse!”
My contention is that these institutions do more to foster collapse than prevent it. Consider the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima after the Japanese petitioned for conditional surrender. Consider that 90% of the 2 million killed in Vietnam were civilians. Consider the Reagan-Bush escapades in Libya, Granada, Nicaragua and Panama. Or if you find these uncompelling, consider the Orwellian double think of nuclear weapons “Build more of these world destroying devices and the world will be safer” Sounds like civilization is quite sick to me.
“But we need the police!” you call. I want to do a survey, how many people in this room have been robbed in the last 20 years [about 80% raise hands] and how many of these crimes were solved with the criminal caught and punished [about 5% raise hands]. So what is the solution here, more police? No, the solution is to change the way society looks at property.
The point is that government is a responsibility dodge, we put it there to deal with the things we don’t want to deal with, and once in place it does things we don’t want it to do. Now you are thinking “This guy is dreaming of places which can’t exist”.
I want tell you about a place called Twin Oaks, it is an intentional community of 70 adults and about a dozen kids in rural Virginia – they don’t bill themselves as anarchists, but rather they use words like egalitarian, feminist and “embracing diversity” it amounts to the same thing. It is directly democratic (rather than a representative one), workers control everything (similar to the collective business i mentioned before), they don’t use money internally (tho they generate over a million dollars in exports a year), they contract with each other to work the same number of hours a week (writing software is worth the same as doing the dishes or childcare), they have some personal property but almost anything large is owned collectively. From the large list of possible jobs they are free to choose the which ones they like and when they will do them. And guess what, no crime. Probably $10 million in physical plant, equipment, and tools and no locks inthe whole place. Fourteen cars and trucks with the keys in them and only one has been stolen in the last 20 years – doing a lot better than this audience. “Well, they must be very restrictive about who they let in.” you are thinking. Nope, a significant majority of people who apply are accepted.
Now maybe you are thinking “I’m not quite sure what to make of all this stuff, but i don’t think these anarchist ideas will ever affect my life.”
I contend that everyone in this room has been effected by a relatively recent anarchist revolution, the sexual revolution. Not long ago, the church, state and nuclear family had incredible power over our sexual relationships. “Living in sin” was not a joke, adultery was a serious punishable crime. People said “this is fundamentally my choice” and whole scale rejected the external authority. The laws stayed on the books, people just ignored them and they became unenforced and unenforceable. They decided to form a network of lovers, if you will, mostly quite small, but the hierarchy lost it’s control over this issue.
So next time someone tells you they are an anarchist, don’t think about bombs, think about freedom [throw mock bomb to Rez in the audience]
I hope i have shattered some illusions.
[Total time 5 minutes 30 seconds]
Other related post – Why i am an anarchist